A San Diego Romance, p.1
Heaven in his arms
Christopher Marland, president of Millionaire Moguls of San Diego, is too busy for a personal life. The moment Eliza Ellicott arrives back in his world, he knows no woman has ever compared to his first love. A broken heart gave Eliza the drive to succeed and she’s opened a new boutique. She’ll gladly help Chris’s teenage daughter, but her heart is closed to him. Can she learn to trust again?
They swayed back and forth together, as the night breezes caressed her bare skin in the way she wished he would. Once upon a time, he had touched her that way; always chaste, yet always as sweet and sensual as a touch could ever be. She kept her eyes straight ahead, which meant looking at his collarbone. That was far better than looking into his eyes again, because she knew that if she did, she would come undone.
As the vocalist hit a particularly high note, Chris placed his bent index finger beneath her chin. Wordlessly, he tilted her face upward, effectively forcing her to look at him. He said nothing, letting the intensity of his gaze speak for him.
Eliza gasped, but couldn’t look away. She remembered a time when he’d had full possession of her heart, and when she looked into his coal dark eyes, it was as if that time had never ended.
In that moment, it became clear why all her relationships had failed. Her feelings for Chris lingered on, despite their long separation. She wondered if she could ever really be free of the power he held over her, the power of first love.
I hope you’ll enjoy A San Diego Romance, my contribution to the Millionaire Moguls series. I was uncertain how this would all turn out since I’ve never done a group project quite like this before, but I think it turned out well. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with Yahrah St. John and Reese Ryan. Check out Chris and Eliza’s love story, and let me know your thoughts on Facebook (Facebook.com/kiannawrites), Twitter (@kiannawrites) or Instagram (@kiannaalexanderwrites).
All the best,
A SAN DIEGO ROMANCE
Kianna Alexander, like any good Southern belle, wears many hats: loving wife, doting mama, advice-dispensing sister and gabbing girlfriend. She’s a voracious reader, an amateur seamstress and occasional painter in oils. Chocolate, American history, sweet tea and Idris Elba are a few of her favorite things. A native of the Tar Heel state, Kianna still lives there with her husband, two kids and a collection of well-loved vintage ’80s Barbie dolls. You can keep up with Kianna’s releases and appearances by signing up for her mailing list at: www.authorkiannaalexander.com/sign-up.
Books by Kianna Alexander
Harlequin Kimani Romance
This Tender Melody
Every Beat of My Heart
A Sultry Love Song
Tempo of Love
A Love Like This
A San Diego Romance
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For all those who love a sailor, soldier, airman, marine or other servicemember. Thank you for lending your loved ones to our nation.
Excerpt from Return to Me by Jacquelin Thomas
Coffee mug in hand, Christopher Marland took a seat on one end of the black leather sofa inside the San Diego office of Prescott George. It was quiet for a Wednesday morning, or maybe it just seemed that way to him. As an architect who’d created designs for buildings all over the world, and a divorced parent of teenage twins, he had a million things on his mind. One of his most important roles, though, was here, as the president of the San Diego chapter of Prescott George, a club of sorts for African American millionaires. And at the moment, the problems plaguing the organization were foremost in his mind.
Vaughn Ellicott, an old friend who served as treasurer of Prescott George, sat on the opposite end of the sofa, drinking from his own mug. “Listen, Chris. We need to talk about what happened at Jordan’s studio.”
Chris felt his face crease into a frown at the mention of the incident. Jordan Jace, a gifted sculptor and fellow member of Prescott George, had recently had one of his sculptures vandalized during a Prescott George party he’d hosted at his gallery. That would be upsetting enough in itself, but there was more to it. “I’m still pissed that he would accuse Jojo.” Chris wasn’t the type of parent to believe his children could do no wrong, but he knew his daughter. “Jojo isn’t a troublemaker.”
“You don’t have to tell me. I know Jojo’s a good kid.”
“I mean, I drop thousands every year for her and Jack to go to one of the best private schools in the city.” Chris ran his free hand over his head. “She makes the honor roll every nine weeks, she does her chores and she never gives me a bit of trouble.”
“Jordan was bugging, Chris. It was probably just the stress of the whole incident that had him talking crazy like that.” Vaughn took another long draw from the mug. “Try to cut him some slack.”
While he understood that Jordan had been upset, Chris still didn’t like the way things had gone down. He felt insulted on his daughter’s behalf. “I know, I know. But I’m just not sure what to do here. I can’t go for him talking about my daughter that way. And at this point, he’s just piling on. There’s already so much bad press out there about us right now.”
Vaughn nodded. “Right. With the break-in here, and now this vandalism thing, we’re looking way more scandalous than I would prefer.”
“You and me both. As chapter president, all this drama reflects badly on me.” Chris sighed, drinking down about half his coffee in one long swig. The way this day was going, he would need the caffeine. “And the timing of all this couldn’t be worse. We finally got the Chapter of the Year nod, we’ve got a gala coming up in less than six weeks and everything seems to be going to the left.”
With a rueful shake of his head, Vaughn asked, “So, what are we going to do about all this?”
“We’ve got to think strategically, then find the underlying cause of this mess before the chapter goes down in flames.”
“Right. Can you think of anybody who might be holding a grudge against us? Either as a chapter, or as an organization as a whole?”
Chris shrugged. “Not off the top of my head.”
Vaughn set his mug aside. “I know it’s a sensitive subject, man, but I have to ask. Do you think Sheila might have been involved in any of this?”
Feeling his frown deepen at the mention of her name, Chris admitted, “It’s possible. I certainly wouldn’t put it past her.” His ex-wife was about as vindictive and petty as a person could be. Even though they saw as little of each other as possible these days, Chris couldn’t cut her out of his life because of their twins, Jack and Jojo. “I know for a fact she enjoys seeing me miserable.”
“She’s a real piece of work, your ex.” Vaughn’s phone vibrated, and he looked at the screen briefly before pocketing it.
“You’re telling me. I never should have married her.” When Chris had m
Vaughn smiled. “They’re amazing kids, Chris.”
“Thanks.” Inwardly, he agreed. Jack and Jojo were the best part of his life. He simply wished he could say the same about the circumstances that brought them into this world. He sighed then, wondering if his dealings with women would ever come without the drama. “I don’t know, man. Maybe I’m just not meant to be coupled up. Seems to me my life goes a lot smoother when I’m on my own.”
“That’s what you think now. But if the right one ever comes along, you’ll change your mind.” Vaughn’s grin broadened.
“You and Miranda are different.” Chris knew Vaughn was talking about his new wife, and he was happy for his friend. What Vaughn didn’t know was that the “right one” had already come and gone. Chris had probably already blown his shot at true happiness.
“If you say so. Hey, what’s going on with that latest design project you were after?”
Chris felt his mood lighten as Vaughn changed the subject. “Oh, you mean the new Museum of Sustainable Art? I won the bid.”
Vaughn moved closer, gave Chris a slap on the back. “You snagged it? Hey, congratulations, man.”
“So, what’s this museum going to be all about?”
Chris scratched his chin as he recalled the description given to him by the developer. “They plan to showcase modern art and sculpture that was created using only green supplies, tools and methods. Should be a pretty interesting place once it’s open.”
“Sounds like it.” Vaughn stood then and grabbed his mug. “You done? I’m taking mine to the sink.”
Chris handed off his mug and watched as Vaughn strode off, disappearing into the small kitchen to deposit the two cups.
When Vaughn returned, he asked, “When are the final blueprints due for this one?”
“I’ve got a couple of months. They want to break ground in September.”
“I see. Well, I’m sure you’ll live up to your world renown and blow them away with your design.” The loud buzzing of Vaughn’s phone sounded then. He checked the screen, then said, “Excuse me, man. I’ve gotta take this.”
Chris nodded, settling back into his seat while Vaughn stepped around the corner to answer the call. He let his mind wander then, away from the stress of his daily life and back to the beautiful face of the only woman who’d ever really had his heart. He could still picture her clearly, despite the years that had passed since he’d last seen her. He felt the smile tilt his lips at the memory of her soft bronze skin, full lips and expressive brown eyes. She’d brought so much joy into his life, yet somehow, he’d been fool enough to let his fears come between them. He’d walked away from her, driven away by the threats of what would happen to his career if he stayed. To this day, he still regretted that decision.
Vaughn returned then, his face creased with worry. “Something’s going down at Elite, Chris. I gotta go.” Vaughn owned an exclusive surf wear company, and he was as passionate about his business as he was about surfing.
Chris balked. “Is it serious? Does it involve PG?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“What about lunch?”
Vaughn shrugged as he headed for the door. “I’m not sure, but I hope I’ll be back by then. I’ll let you know.” On the heels of his words, he left.
Alone in the office, Chris wondered what was going on at Elite.
He also wondered what Vaughn would think had he known Chris was fantasizing about Vaughn’s baby sister.
* * *
As Eliza Ellicott walked through the glass door, entering the Prescott George office, she glanced around the familiar surroundings. The interior was quiet, and she wondered again what exactly the guys did here. Where’s Vaughn? Knowing her older brother, he’d probably gotten caught up in something and forgotten their plans for the day.
She went down the hall, encountering no one. She knew that since the door was open, somebody had to be there. When she stepped into the main lobby area, her gaze landed on the black leather sofa.
She jumped when she saw Christopher Marland reclining there, reading a newspaper. He wore a dark suit, crisp white shirt and emerald green tie.
He looked up, a smile crossing his handsome face when he saw her. “Eliza. It’s been ages. How are you?”
Seeing him had her so out of sorts, all she could manage was to squeak out a hello.
His smile broadened. “Come on in. What brings you to Prescott George?”
She couldn’t help staring at his dark gorgeousness. The smile highlighted his full lips and chiseled jawline and put a sparkle in his coffee-hued eyes. Realizing she couldn’t continue to stand there like a deer in the high beams, she shook herself free of his spell as best she could. “I...uh... Where’s Vaughn? I was supposed to meet him for lunch.”
His expression changed. “Oh, sorry. You just missed him.”
She sighed. “Crap.”
“He got a call from Elite and rushed over there.” He folded the newspaper and set it aside. “I’m guessing there was some emergency that needed his attention.”
Her stomach rumbled. She’d been at the counter at her boutique, Ellicott’s, for four solid hours, and now her body demanded sustenance. “I guess that means I’m on my own for lunch, then.” She turned, intent on leaving the same way she’d come.
“Wait.” Chris’s deep voice gave her pause.
She turned back his way. “What is it?”
“Listen, why don’t you stay and have lunch with me? I mean, you already drove all the way over here.” He stood then, his height towering over her.
She pulled her fallen purse strap back up on her shoulder and swallowed. Christopher Marland, the man who’d broken her heart fourteen years ago, was inviting her to have lunch with him. Alone. She doubted he even knew how crushed she’d been by his leaving. Logic told her to get the hell out of there as fast as her black pumps would carry her. “I don’t know, Chris.”
He moved closer then, entering her personal bubble. “I ordered from the Lotus Flower, that new Asian fusion sushi place. At the time, I thought Vaughn would be here, so I ordered enough for two.”
“I, well...” She looked away from his penetrating gaze, feeling herself taken in by his charm. He had a way about him, something that seemed to melt her resistance. His scent, clean and masculine, threatened to overwhelm her. Her inner voice reminded her of good sense, while her stomach reminded her of how much she loved sushi.
“I know you’re probably really busy, so you don’t have to stay long. But I’d hate for the food to go to waste.”
Her stomach growled again, louder this time. She looked his way, hoping he hadn’t heard it.
His grin told her he had.
Hunger won out over logic, in more ways than one. She drew a deep breath. “I’ll stay.”
“Great. Food should be here soon.” He gestured to the circular table and four chairs occupying a corner of the room. “Care to sit down?”
She watched him slide out a chair and stand behind it. When she sat down, he pushed her chair up to the table before taking the seat across from her.
“Still a gentleman, I see.” The remark slipped out before she could stop it.
“Always.” He fixed her with a knowing gaze.
The sound of the glass door opening stopped any further chatter. He stood. “Must be the delivery guy. I’ll get it.”
She sat alone, trying to get her mind right. A few moments later, he returned with the plastic bag. The scent of the food made her stomach grumble again, but she was grateful to have something to distract her from Chris’s distinctive aro
As he set the large paper bag of food on the table, she pulled out her travel-sized hand sanitizer. After doing her hands, she offered it to him.
“Thanks.” He used it, then passed the bottle back to her and started setting the food out.
At first, they ate in silence, and she devoured three California rolls. Swallowing a bite, she looked up and saw his gaze resting on her face. “Um, sorry. I was pretty hungry.”
He shrugged. “No biggie. Tell me, how are things at Ellicott’s?”
That brought a smile to her face. “Great. I’ve recently started to carry some clothes and accessories by a new designer. Her name is Bea Phillips, and her items are selling as soon as I can get them in.”
Taking a swig from his bottled water, he asked, “So, what kinds of things does she design?”
“Mainly dresses, but she also makes jewelry and handbags.” She forked up some of her jasmine rice.
“I’m glad to hear business is booming. Back in the day, you would always talk about owning your own boutique.” He tucked his empty plastic tray back into the paper bag. “I knew you’d do it one day.”
“I’m surprised you remember the things we talked about back then,” she said absently. “In a lot of ways, that all seems like ancient history.” Or at least that’s what she told herself. She’d been heartbroken when they parted ways, but he didn’t know that, and she intended to keep it that way. Besides, she’d done well for herself, both personally and professionally. She’d managed to get the store established and off the ground. And rather than close herself off to romantic relationships, she’d had a string of steady boyfriends, all from prominent social circles. No one could say she’d gone into hiding after Chris left.
“You’d be surprised by all the things I remember.” He smiled as he tipped the water bottle and drained the remaining contents.
Hearing what he’d said, and thinking of the implications of that, made her quickly change the subject. “I don’t know if Vaughn talks about our sisters much, but they’re both married with kids now.”