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Chapter One ~ Precious Embrace ~ Dana Mason

Chapter One

Ali Hayes knew the phrase tall drink of water was cliché, and she never really understood it. But when she opened her front door and came face-to-face with Johnny Rhay Bennett, clad in tight jeans and an even tighter black t-shirt, there was no other way to describe him.

It had been two months since they’d spent the night together and she honestly never thought she’d see him again. It took her several seconds to find her voice and when she did, she had little control over what came out. “Wow. You were the last person I expected to find at my door. What are you doing here?”

“Well, it’s good to see you too.” He leaned in close. “I probably should have called first, but I didn’t get your phone number the last time . . .” His lips quirked into a little grin and Ali had to wet her lips because her mouth had gone dry.

She took a step back, hoping to regain her senses. Flashes of their previous brief encounter flashed in her head and she fought to keep from covering her face in embarrassment. The baby in her arms squirmed and started whining, unceremoniously bringing her back to the present. She shifted and rocked the baby. “Um . . . sorry, I’m just surprised to see you here. Are you in town to visit Sarah and Mark? They’re in Arizona on vacation. I hope you didn’t make the trip for nothing.”

“I guess they didn’t tell you the latest.” He looked from her to the open door.

“Sorry, come in.” She held the door open further and took a step back. Once she let him inside, she realized she shouldn’t have. Her house looked like a stampede of kindergartners had barged through. “Sorry about the mess. I haven’t had a moment of peace in three days.”

Johnny looked around and said, “You alone? Did Jamie go with Mark and Sarah?”

“Yeah, he went with his dad.” Micah kicked out and started crying. Ali wanted to cry too. She bounced him, which only made him more irritable. “So what’s the latest?” she asked Johnny.

“Oh, ah . . . well, I’ve moved out here permanently.”

She drew back. “I’m sorry, what?”

His smile faltered a little and he said, “You’re looking at Santa Rosa’s newest detective.”

“Why would you move . . . why California? I thought you loved Nashville.”

“No . . . well, it’s alright I guess, but I was never in love with the place.” He looked down at Micah when Micah kicked out again. “What’s the matter, little guy?” Johnny reached out and rubbed Micah’s little bald head. His eyebrows drew together. “Ali, he’s hot.”

“I know. I gave him some baby Tylenol . . . he’s so cranky.”

Johnny held out his hands. “Let me have him . . . don’t you have any help?” He looked down into her eyes, irritation clear on his face.

Ali hesitated, but Johnny motioned again.

She gave in and handed the baby over. Johnny cradled Micah to his chest and murmured to him in a quiet, steady voice.

“I don’t need any help. I’m perfectly capable of handling Micah on my own.”

Johnny cooed, “Hey, little man, what’s going on here, huh?” He smiled at Ali. “You’re lucky, babies love me.”

Micah stared at Johnny and the whining stopped. She crossed her arms over her chest. “I didn’t realize you were such an expert with babies.”

“My cousin Jerry has a house full. I’ve spent a lot of time with them.” Johnny glanced back at her, his eyes traveling from her feet to her face. “Why don’t you go take a nap? I’ll look after him for a little while.”

“Ah, no, I’m sure you didn’t come here to babysit.” She tilted her head. “So you really left Nashville?”

“Yeah, I needed a change and figured California was as good a place as any.” He looked down at Micah and a soft smile lit his face. “I can’t believe how different he looks. The last time I saw him he looked like a little blob of flesh.” Ali chuckled and said, “He was only a couple weeks old then. He’s four months now.”

“He’s a cute little thing, isn’t he?” Their eyes met and the soft expression on his face nearly stopped her heart. She wished like hell he didn’t have that effect on her, but damn he was hard to resist. “I missed seeing him at Mark and Sarah’s wedding, but I guess I can honestly say, I’m glad you didn’t bring him . . . we might not have had as much fun.”

She thought of Hawaii and his smile. Mark and Sarah’s cliff top wedding had been on Valentine’s Day, two months before, but she hadn’t forgotten one second of the night she’d spent with Johnny. What had she been thinking? It was the beaches, the sun—the incredibly romantic wedding. She rubbed a hand over her face. Watching her ex-husband marry the girl of his dreams that night had been difficult for her. Not because she was jealous, but because her own love life had become such a disaster. She had a brand new baby and was in the middle of her second divorce. God . . . where had things gone wrong?

When Johnny approached her at their reception, he’d caught her in a moment of self-pity and pathetic-ness. Seeing him at the wedding, coming face to face with such a beautiful person in such a beautiful place felt like a hit of adrenaline to her heart. And the way he was with her . . . so attentive, considerate and . . . sweet. After spending the night with him, she’d convinced herself she’d fallen for him because of her crappy self-esteem and neediness. But seeing him now, two months later, she realized it wasn’t about her, but about him. He was exactly the same each time she’d seen him. This is what made him so irresistible. There were no pretenses. He was exactly what he portrayed, and he always seemed to speak with sincerity, so unlike many men who were full of awful pick-up lines and charm. Johnny was just a straight talking good guy . . . and he wanted her. She could see that in his eyes now.

“I wasn’t expecting . . . ,” Her eyes drifted to the floor. Her night with Johnny had been her first one-night-stand and she didn’t know what the rules were for encounters like theirs. She still thought about him—about their night together every day. “I wasn’t expecting to ever see you again.”

“I imagine you weren’t.” He sounded amused.

“What are you trying to say?” She dropped her hands on her hips. “It’s not like I’d planned that. I’ve never—“

“Relax, Ali, I know you’re not some little harlot.” He held a hand out before lifting one finger to his lips in a hushing motion and whispered, “But I was under the impression you enjoyed yourself. I know I did.”

Oh, yes, she had certainly enjoyed herself. She looked down at her now sleeping baby.

“I can hardly help myself. You’re not that easy to forget.” His soft sweet drawl dripped like honey from his lips, and she fought the eye roll, but at the same time, she was glad Micah slept between them so she couldn’t rip his clothes off. “That doesn’t make me a bad guy you know. Besides, me and Micah are old buddies. I can’t exactly hang out with him without charming his lovely mother.”

Ali turned from him and walked into the living room, needing a little space. She pulled the cord on her drapes to let in some light—and to keep her hands busy. “That’s funny, especially since you’ve only seen Micah a couple of times, and that was in December when he was a newborn.”

Johnny glanced at her with a playful grin. “Now, that doesn’t mean we didn’t bond over that bottle I fed him. Please”—he held a hand to his chest, feigning heartache—“please don’t belittle our friendship.”

She grinned at the memory of how gentle and cool he had been with Micah then. Babies usually made people nervous, but even now, Johnny looked like a pro holding her baby. It was heartwarming to see someone else show affection for her son. She brushed a hand at him and said, “Oh very cute . . . I apologize.” She gestured to the baby in his arms. “Clearly you’re already thick as thieves. I’m sure Micah is thrilled you came all this way to see him again.”

He rolled his head to the side, biting the inside of his mouth, looking her up and down with a sideways grin. “In all seriousness . . . I went to the wedding hoping to see you again.”

The expression was so cowboyish and so freaking cute. It was definitely time for a subject change. Holy hell, and he’d moved to California. What was she going to do now? “And now you live here . . . how did that happen?”

“I needed a change.” He shrugged and looked down at Micah again. “Brian Hammel suggested it, said the department had an opening.”

Ali lowered her eyes, fighting the curse words she wanted to fling at Brian. “I didn’t realize you were friends with Brian.”

“I worked with him on the Lewis case. That’s why I flew out here in December.”

She nodded. “Right, sorry, I knew that.”

“Brian recommended me to his sergeant. After a couple of phone interviews, he made me an offer. When I told Sarah, she offered her little house up for rent.”

“That’s a big step . . . you sure that’s what you want?”

“Well . . .” His voice grew pensive. “It’s already done.”

Of course he moved out here. Because that’s just the complication she needed in her life right now. “Johnny, I’m not exactly in the position to start . . . something.” She moved her hands around, fighting the nerves now plaguing her.

He watched her with a stare that, brick by brick, knocked down her wall, even as she fought to keep it in place. “Why? You’re not dead, just divorcing.”

“You mean divorcing again?” She laughed but it lacked humor. Her shoulders slumped. “Starting another relationship before my last one has ended isn’t a mistake I’m willing to make twice.”

“Oh come on, you can have dinner with me, sunshine, and you look like you need a break.” He frowned down at her. As if she wasn’t pathetic enough, he had to remind her. “Is there a law that says we can’t be friends?”

Ali had made a point to become an ice-sculpture after she threw her husband out. She wanted to concentrate on her sons, and her career, and stay away from men. In a couple of months she’d start her new job in the District Attorney’s office and she didn’t need another distraction. Mark and Sarah’s wedding had been beautiful, the open bar . . . meeting Johnny again . . . his warmth had melted her icy façade.

Being friends with him while memories of their night together swam in her head was impossible. If she weren’t totally and completely attracted to him, things could be different, but she needed to stick with her cold-hearted divorcé plan to get through the next few months and get on with her life.

He thumbed her chin, forcing her to glance up at him. “Don’t over think this. It’s just dinner.”

Ali’s eyes dropped to Micah. She gently rested the back of her hand on his forehead. “Thank you . . . it’s hard when they can’t tell you how they feel.”

“Yeah, I know. We just needed to give the Tylenol a chance to kick in,” Johnny said. “He seems fine now.”

“He didn’t sleep well last night, poor baby. He’s exhausted.”

“You look exhausted too. Go ahead and lay down for a while. I’ll hang out with Micah.”

“Actually, I would love a shower. Just ten minutes. Would you mind?”

“No, I wouldn’t mind joining you at all, but one of us has to stay here with Micah.” He grinned again. “Just kiddin,’ go ahead.”

Ms. Mason is back with the second in her "Embrace" series, Precious Embrace. On the heels of a very successful debut of Dangerous Embrace she throws the reader right back into the lives of Sara and Mark. When Precious Embrace opens Ali Hayes, Mark's ex-wife, is going through a second divorce and is plenty bitter about it. Raising her new baby Micah alone, she swears off men to focus on her career. When she opens the door to an unexpected guest she comes face-to-face with her one night stand, Johnny Rhey Bennett. When she finds out he has moved to California for good she quickly informs him she is not interested in a relationship... but is she? Johnny forms a bond with Micah and becomes the father figure he needs, but that just adds to the turmoil Ali feels about him. When the unthinkable happens and Micah is kidnapped Ali and Johnny must work together to bring him home.

Once again you find yourself turning page after page asking questions like: Will they find Micah? Can Ali forgive herself? Will Ali let go of her bitterness and accept she's loved Johnny since Hawaii? And just when you think you have it all figured out Ms. Mason throws in a twist you will NOT see coming.

Ms. Mason so artfully puts you in the lives of Ali and Johnny you can almost feel sweet Micah in your arms and then the emptiness when he is gone. By the time the last page is turned you will have the answers you seek, a deeper understanding of the pain of losing a child and the euphoric feeling of new love.

You don't want to miss the second in the Embrace series and I am looking forward to the next!

Dana Mason started writing about ten years ago after being overwhelmed by a story that wouldn’t let her sleep until she wrote it down. The story, Dangerous Embrace, was published in 2012 and won Best Mystery/Suspense from eFestival of Words Best of Independent eBook Awards in 2014.
Dangerous Embrace is the first book in her Embrace Series. The second book in the series, Precious Embrace, was Runner-Up for Best Hero from eFestival of Words Best of Independent eBook Awards that same year. Her third book, Broken Embrace, was awarded Best Indie Book in 2015 in the Romance Category. Dana loves turning your worst nightmares into happy endings. She lives in Northern California with her husband, children, and her writing companion and mighty protector, Mia the Chihuahua.

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