With just about a month to go before my authorial debut, The Striker’s Chance, releases from Carina Press on September 2nd, I thought it would be fun to share one of my favorite excerpts from the novel! The Striker’s Chance is the story of Kepler de Klerk, a high-flying South African soccer player who hits the ground hard when a car crash ends his illustrious European career and lands him in a bottom-of-the-league American team, and Holly Taylor, the publicist charged with revamping his image who instantly finds him too hot to handle – in all senses of the word.
One of the best moments in any romance – in my humble opinions! – is the first kiss, that moment when the burgeoning tension cracks just enough to let characters get close. In this excerpt Holly has taken Kepler to view houses, and he decides to show her just how ineffectual her PR campaign has been so far – with an unexpected result for them both.
* * *
He smirked as they reached the front door. “I appreciate the appeal to my ego, but I have no illusions about the extent of my fame in Charlotte.”
The realtor appeared at the other end of the entry hall and began walking toward them. Kepler turned to Holly with a mischievous twinkle in his eye that filled her with dread.
“Watch,” he said, “I’ll prove it.”
“Kepler, wait.” But it was too late. Although her heavily applied makeup made her look older, Holly guessed the realtor was in her early twenties. She was blonde, slim and tall, and her partially unbuttoned blouse walked a thin line between sexy and skanky. She shot Kepler a toothpaste-ad smile as she handed them both brochures on the property. Holly hated her instantly.
Please don’t flirt with her in front of me. She didn’t think she could survive five bedrooms’ worth of watching Kepler deploy his smoothest lines on this infuriatingly attractive young woman.
“Welcome, y’all. Thanks so much for coming down. I’m Leslie-Ann and I can’t wait to show you around this amazing house.”
Holly fought the urge to roll her eyes, but Kepler grinned and stuck out his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Leslie-Ann.” He pumped the girl’s hand with more warmth and animation than Holly had thought him capable of. “I’m Kepler, and this is my gorgeous wife, Holly.”
He slung his arm around Holly’s shoulders and pulled her into his side. Somewhere between the shock of his statement and the intoxicating heat and scent of his body against hers, she found enough mental clarity to notice Leslie-Ann glance skeptically at their bare ring fingers.
“We had to get married quickly for his green card,” Holly blurted out, possibly surprising herself even more than Kepler, who glanced at her with a playful grin.
“That’s right,” he confirmed. “We’re only just getting down to basics now. Like buying a house.”
“I see.” Leslie-Ann nodded, her perky smile never leaving her face. “And where did you move here from?”
Leslie-Ann’s pretty green eyes widened. “Wow.” She tilted her head sympathetically. “It must be so overwhelming to move somewhere so different. But I promise you one thing, every house here in Charlotte has an indoor toilet, including this one.”
Holly had no patience for ignorance and was about to interject that Africa was a diverse continent with a huge variety of plumbing options, when Kepler replied, “God bless America” with such earnestness that instead she struggled to stifle a laugh.
Leslie-Ann nodded solemnly and gestured to the rest of the house. “Let me take you through.”
As soon as the realtor turned around, Holly squirmed out of Kepler’s grasp and shook her head to clear it.
“What are we doing?” she whispered as they followed the girl down the hall. Now that Holly had extricated herself from his hold and the giddy excitement of his proximity—which she planned to worry about later—was subsiding, all her professional alarm bells were ringing.
“Viewing a property.”
She sighed in exasperation. “You know what I mean. What if someone recognizes you? What if people think we’ve really gotten married?”
“Stop worrying so much. I’m proving my point. No one knows who I am.”
“That means I’m not doing my job.”
Kepler shot her a withering look, but before he could speak Leslie-Ann ushered them into what she described as the French country kitchen.
“And in here you’ve got granite countertops and fabulous painted cabinets.” She spun to face them wearing an expectant smile.
“Uh, great,” Holly said uncertainly, but Kepler flashed his gorgeous grin.
“Holly loves to cook.” He slipped his hand across her lower back. “Don’t you, honey?”
“Absolutely,” she agreed, trying to ignore the thrill of his touch. She knew she shouldn’t encourage him and that she should put a stop to this—but she didn’t want to.
“I cook all his favorites, lots of African delicacies,” she elaborated, getting caught up in the joke. “But mostly I’m just trying to find the best way to mask the poison so I can collect his life insurance.” She gave Leslie-Ann a conspiratorial wink.
The realtor’s carefully maintained smile faltered ever so slightly, but Kepler’s reaction was stronger. He dissolved into hearty, genuine laughter.
Holly realized she’d never heard him laugh before. It was an awesome, infectious sound, boyish and full of mischief, lighting up his whole face.
At that moment another couple wandered into the hallway outside the kitchen, and Leslie-Ann turned to them gratefully, her smile already back to full force. Holly heard her describing the simply fantastic iron balustrade staircase as she guided the newcomers back toward the foyer.
Holly twisted to face Kepler, but he didn’t drop his hand; instead he raised his other one to rest at her waist.
“I should’ve known you were trying to kill me,” he murmured, his lips curled in amusement. He tightened his grip on her waist and spread his fingers so his thumbs brushed her hipbones.
She swallowed. This situation had spun completely out of her control, and she had no idea how to claw it back.
“Come on, Kepler.” She tried to make her tone light and joking. “I’m not your consolation prize. You played the wrong card with Leslie-Ann back there. You might have had her with the exotic accent, but she’s not the type to let a man cheat on his wife. Even I could see that.”
Confusion clouded his handsome face for a split second, and then he shook his head. “I was never interested in the realtor. Not my type. But you’re right—you’re no one’s consolation prize.”
He pulled her against him so suddenly that her hands flew to his arms to steady herself. She spread her palms over his biceps, indulging in the feel of him, smooth skin pulled taut over the hard swell of muscle.
A creak in the hallway outside sent panic fluttering in her chest. This was an expensive neighborhood—what if someone from the team was house hunting and came upon them like this? What was Kepler doing, anyway? He seemed so underwhelmed by her earlier in the day, and now…
…now he was lowering his lips to hers. She’d been too preoccupied with worry to anticipate his kiss, and there was no time to stop it.
He kissed like he moved on the pitch: confident, patient, unyielding. Holly jerked in surprise at the first crush of his mouth, but as the initial shock wore off she melted into his embrace. The logical, rational, utterly boring part of her brain shut down layer by layer until her mind was blissfully overtaken by sizzling, sensual heat.
Kepler made a sound like he’d just tasted something utterly delicious and the pressure of his mouth increased. Blood pounded in her veins as the rest of the world fell away. There was only the touch of his hands, the hard lines of his body, the gentle exploration of his tongue. She parted her lips, eager to welcome him deeper, and he responded hungrily.
The jingle of keys in the kitchen doorway was like a bucketful of cold water on her overheated senses. She and Kepler jolted apart like guilty teenagers.
Leslie-Ann stood with one hand on her hip, looking extremely displeased, a middle-aged couple behind her. While the husband seemed amused, the wife gave Kepler a quick onceover and shot Holly a blatantly impressed look.
“We were just leaving,” Kepler said huskily, grabbing Holly’s hand and leading her through the kitchen. They had to pass the couple as they snaked through the doorway, and he paused long enough to say, “Granite countertops—great stuff,” before practically dragging her to the foyer and out the front door.
As they burst into the bright summer sunshine, the full impact of what had happened hit Holly like a ton of bricks. For a moment she was paralyzed with fear. If anyone found out about this, she would lose her job. Her stomach began a sickening, anxious churn. That one kiss could cost her entire livelihood and dash any hopes she had of expanding her career beyond North Carolina.
Then Kepler pushed her against the side of her car, pinning her body with his own as his hands rose to cup her cheeks.
“I don’t think I’ll be making an offer,” he murmured as he brought his face down to hers.
* * *
The Striker’s Chance is due out 2 September 2013 from Carina Press.
Rebecca Crowley writes contemporary romance with smart heroines and swoon-worthy heroes, and never tires of the happily-ever-after. Having pulled up her Kansas roots to live in New York City and London, Rebecca recently relocated to Johannesburg, South Africa. Find her on the web at rebeccacrowley.net or @rachelmaybe on Twitter.