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Coming November 29, 2022

Book 2 of The Modern Love Series

Classic Romance

read an excerpt →

A woman expecting to spend the holidays alone finds warmth in the iciest man she knows in this steamy and charming later-in-life romance by New York Times bestselling author Jane Porter.

It’s been five years since Andi McDermott lost her husband, and she’s finally starting to feel like herself again, ready to live fully—she’s even started dating again. But when her holiday plans with her stepson and his fiancée fall through, she refuses to spend another Christmas alone while everyone is celebrating with their families. Impulsively, she decides to go up to her cabin in Lake Arrowhead, a place she used to love to visit but hadn’t gone to in years, not since the feud started between her husband and their nearest neighbor.

Andi starts to rethink her decision when being alone at the cabin proves to be more challenging than she expected—a heavy snowstorm hits the area, and Andi finds herself trapped there with no one to help except for her neighbor, Wolf Enders. A military vet who lives full-time on Lake Arrowhead, Wolf is as grumpy and intimidating as Andi remembers. But he’s also unexpectedly kind and uncomfortably sexy—his presence reminds Andi that she may be older, but her body still works perfectly fine, thank you very much. But can this good girl tame this sexy beast of a man, and will this snowy fling turn into a love of a lifetime?

Classic Romance

Coming November 29, 2022

Flirting with the Beast

read an excerpt →

A woman expecting to spend the holidays alone finds warmth in the iciest man she knows in this steamy and charming later-in-life romance by New York Times bestselling author Jane Porter.

It’s been five years since Andi McDermott lost her husband, and she’s finally starting to feel like herself again, ready to live fully—she’s even started dating again. But when her holiday plans with her stepson and his fiancée fall through, she refuses to spend another Christmas alone while everyone is celebrating with their families. Impulsively, she decides to go up to her cabin in Lake Arrowhead, a place she used to love to visit but hadn’t gone to in years, not since the feud started between her husband and their nearest neighbor.

Andi starts to rethink her decision when being alone at the cabin proves to be more challenging than she expected—a heavy snowstorm hits the area, and Andi finds herself trapped there with no one to help except for her neighbor, Wolf Enders. A military vet who lives full-time on Lake Arrowhead, Wolf is as grumpy and intimidating as Andi remembers. But he’s also unexpectedly kind and uncomfortably sexy—his presence reminds Andi that she may be older, but her body still works perfectly fine, thank you very much. But can this good girl tame this sexy beast of a man, and will this snowy fling turn into a love of a lifetime?

Flirting with the Beast

Book 2 of The Modern Love Series

Classic Romance

Berkley Mass Market

Start Reading

Flirting with the Beast

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Chapter 1

Rain splattered the kitchen window, while inside the house smelled of roast turkey and cinnamon and cloves from the simmering mulled wine. Andi McDermott peeked into the second oven where the stuffing, potatoes and various side dishes were keeping warm. It was December twenty-second and Andi was celebrating Christmas early, hosting her stepson Luke and his fiancée for dinner. She’d spent days cooking, decorating the house, even putting up a big tree—a first since her husband Kevin died five years ago.

It was the first Christmas since Kevin died that she felt festive. Maybe it was the cooking and baking that put her in a good mood. Or maybe she’d finally accepted that Christmas would be different, and she couldn’t compare the holiday now, to what it had been when Kevin was alive.

But it’d be lovely to see Luke, to have him here. Her stepson was a busy doctor living in Virginia and when he returned to Southern California, there were so many people for him to see that it was hard for him to squeeze her in, but this year he’d accepted her Christmas invitation, and he and Kelsey should arrive any moment.

Andi glanced from the rain-streaked window to the small TV. The local evening news was wrapping up with a feel-good story set at Lake Arrowhead’s Santa’s Village. It was snowing in the mountains and the pretty reporter kept batting away fluffy flakes as she laughingly asked Mr. and Mrs. Claus if the snow would hamper the delivery of gifts. Santa Claus gave a jolly chuckle, saying that the reindeer were experts, and Rudolph always led the way. The cameraman panned over the charming snow dusted village and the reporter concluded with the reminder that Santa’s Village would be open through five o’clock on Christmas Eve, inviting all to come enjoy the live entertainment, the scheduled light shows, and of course, meet Sant Nick himself.

Andi flashed back to the year she and Kevin had taken Luke to Santa’s Village. It hadn’t been a successful trip. California had been in the middle of a drought. There was no snow and the pine trees looked parched. The park hadn’t yet been refurbished and nine year old Luke wasn’t impressed, announcing to a line of children that Santa wasn’t real, even babies knew that.

Andi smiled, remembering the horrified looks of the other parents. Luke had never been like the other kids. He’d known from kindergarten he wanted to be a doctor, and he’d done just that.

After brushing a crumb from the counter, she turned off the double ovens and tried to remember the last time she’d been to the cabin in Blue Jay. It had been years, two or three, at least, and she’d only driven up because she’d been notified by her intimidating neighbor, Wolf Enders, that one of the big sugar pines on her lot had fallen. While it had missed her cabin, the tree had crushed the old shed, and was blocking her driveway.

She hadn’t been able to go to the cabin immediately due to work but drove up Saturday morning to meet the tree removal service, paying them a fortune to cut up the huge tree and carry away the massive logs. Any moment she’d expected Wolf Enders and his German Shepherd to appear, but thankfully, neither did. She’d escaped back to San Juan Capistrano without any uncomfortable scenes. To be fair, she’d never quarreled with Wolf, but Kevin had, and once Kevin sued Wolf for defamation of character, the animosity between Kevin and Wolf made trips to the cabin unbearable.

Andi had hated how Kevin obsessed about their ‘trashy neighbor’, hated how prickly and uncomfortable she felt whenever Wolf Enders looked at her. Wolf made her feel naked and she didn’t like it. She wouldn’t call him trashy—she wouldn’t call anyone trashy–but they definitely moved in different social circles.

The evening news ended. Andi glanced at her watch. Six thirty.

Luke said he and Kelsey should arrive sometime between five thirty and six, depending on traffic. They were coming from Newport Beach where Luke’s mom and grandparents lived, and traffic could be a bear, especially this time of year. The drizzle of rain just made it worse.

Andi drew a short breath, anxious, excited. The house looked wonderful. The brandied cranberries and green salad were already on the table. A bottle of red and white wine had both been opened just in case Luke and Kelsey didn’t want the mulled wine.

Muting the TV, Andi wandered into the formal living room to fluff a couch pillow. The tree glowed with lights, and shimmering ornaments. Candles glimmered on the stone mantle. A fire crackled brightly in the hearth. She’d forgotten how pretty the house looked decorated for the holidays.

Back in the kitchen she adjusted the cake stand on the marble island, then smoothed her dark green beaded sweater over her hips. She felt a little too solid–thick in the middle–but the beaded sweater had been one of her last gifts from Kevin and she’d never had a chance to wear it before he died, so she was wearing it tonight. Tonight was a celebration. Luke would be here, and they’d be a family, and being ten- or fifteen-pounds overweight wasn’t the end of the world. Being twenty pounds overweight wasn’t the end of the world. Her weight wasn’t important.

Family was.

Christmas.

Miracles.

Suddenly Andi’s phone rang. It was Luke. She quickly picked up. “Hi,” she said, breathlessly, leaning against the island. “Where are you? Have you hit some traffic?”

“We haven’t left Mom’s yet,” Luke’s deep voice was so very much like his dad’s that it gave her a pang. “We got to talking and the time slipped away from us.”

She pushed a loose tendril from her warm cheek. “That’s okay. I’ve got everything in the oven. Just give me a buzz when you’re a few minutes from the house and I’ll dish up. We’ll sit down straight away—”

“Something has come up,” he said in a rush. “We’re not going to be able to make it. I’m sorry. I know it’s last minute to cancel.”

Her heart fell. For a moment she couldn’t speak. “Kelsey’s not sick, is she?” Andi asked, grateful her voice didn’t quaver.

“No, she’s good. We’re all good. Mom surprised us with tickets to Segerstrom for the Holiday Organ Spectacular tonight. She forgot we were supposed to be going to your house for dinner, and Kelsey is an organist, she played all through school, music being her minor at John Hopkins, and…” He stopped talking, waited a split second before adding, “You don’t mind, do you?”

Andi blinked hard. Her throat thickened with emotion. She minded. Oh, how she minded.

But she’d never tell him. She was his stepmom, not his mom. She couldn’t afford to make a misstep.

Luke filled the silence. “I hate doing this last minute. It’s hard keeping everyone happy—”

She wasn’t going to cry. She wouldn’t be difficult. “I understand.”

“Kelsey does want to meet you.”

“Drop by tomorrow.” She glanced to her double ovens, filled with turkey and casseroles. “I’ll have plenty of food.”

“Maybe. That could work,” he said.

Her heart fell again. A maybe from Luke was never a positive thing.

He cleared his throat. “Next time we’re home, we’ll get together. I promise. You’ll meet Kelsey before the wedding. Maybe at the bridal shower in February?”

Andi heard the maybe again. Maybe meant nada. Nothing. She hated the ridiculous pain making her chest burn. She’d always been the stepmother, never mother, never mom, never needed or wanted, at least, not by him. “Maybe,” she echoed, brushing a tear from her lashes before it could fall. “Give your family my best.”

“I will. Merry Christmas, Andi.”

“Merry Christmas, Luke.”

Hanging up, Andi set the phone down on the island, and rested her hand on the cold marble, throat aching, chest tight. Don’t think, don’t feel, don’t get emotional. Things happened. Life happened. Roll with the punches. You’re good at that.

But her chest was on fire and she wished she was anywhere but here, in this big empty house, with a big tree that no one but her would see.

This wasn’t how Christmas was supposed to be.

This wasn’t how she wanted to spend the holidays anymore.

The house was too big for her. She’d been widowed too young. The memories were hard. She missed Kevin and knew he wasn’t coming back. She’d even begun dating but if she was brutally honest with herself, it wasn’t going well.

Friends had invited her to join them for Christmas but being a plus one at Thanksgiving was a different thing than being a plus one at Christmas. Christmas was about family, intimacy. It wasn’t a party like Halloween or New Year’s Eve. It was quiet, personal, sacred.

Heart aching, Andi turned and looked at the three layer Christmas White Cake on the pale pink cake stand—an heirloom in the McDermott family. The Christmas White Cake could have been plucked from Santa’s Village with its dusting of sparkling sugar and miniature forest of edible pine trees. It was an old Southern Living recipe, something Andi’s mother had made when Andi was growing up, and when Andi made it the first time as a newlywed, Kevin asked that she make it every Christmas, and she did. The three-layer cake was a labor of love, and she regretted the afternoon spent making all the delicate sugar decorations.

Why had she gone to so much trouble? Why didn’t she learn? Why hadn’t she just bought a cake? Why had she thought Luke would show?

Luke had tolerated her, but never loved her.

He was the only child she’d ever have, and she’d tried and tried, not because she had to, but because she wanted to. And now she was fifty-seven, almost fifty-eight, with no children of her own, no husband, and another Christmas alone.

She couldn’t do it. Not here. Not like this.

But the cake wouldn’t be wasted. Knocking away tears, Andi reached into a drawer for a knife, cut a huge slice from the cake, and fed herself a humongous bite. The cream cheese frosting clung to her lip. The cake was moist. She cried stupid tears as she chewed. She took another bite, and then another.

The cake was perfect.

The house looked perfect.

Dinner would have been perfect.

The tears fell harder. Cake eaten, she tore off a strip of paper towel, wiped her mouth, dried her eyes, blew her nose. She couldn’t do this. Couldn’t fall apart just because Luke had bailed on her.

She needed to rethink the holiday, come up with a new plan, one that didn’t require her rattling around this huge house on her own.

Maybe she should drive up to Lake Arrowhead and open the cabin, have Christmas there. With all the fresh snow, it’d be a white Christmas. She’d always loved the cabin. It’d be magical once she was there.

Of course there was Wolf Enders, but maybe he’d be gone. And if he was home, so what? She wouldn’t be intimidated. She was tired of being stepped on. Tired of accommodating everyone else.

She was going to create new memories. Start new traditions. She’d drive to Lake Arrowhead early in the morning and have a memorable Christmas all on her own.

*

The distant, rhythmic thudding sound wouldn’t stop, the dull thudding irritating, interrupting Wolf’s focus.

Wolf set his drafting pencil down and listened. There was a pause and then the thudding resumed. Someone was chopping something, and very close by.

But there were no neighbors close to him. He lived high on the mountain in a gated community. He was one of the few people who lived here year-round. Wolf had a small house in San Juan Capistrano in the historic Los Rios district, but rented it on VRBO, and due to the proximity to the mission, the ocean, and Disneyland, it was booked most of the time, providing steady income.

When Wolf had bought the cabin ten years ago, it was a wreck, having been on the market for over a year, the asking price–as well as the condition–discouraging other offers. But Wolf wasn’t discouraged, and he’d made a low offer, aware of all the work he’d need to do, and ready to do, as he’d just retired from contracting work, after a career in the Marine Corp, and had time on his hands and a burning need to stay busy.

The owner rejected Wolf’s offer, but when five months passed, and no other offers came in, he reached out to Wolf’s real estate agent, and indicated he was open to a decent offer. Wolf followed up with an offer even lower than his initial offer. The owner countered. Wolf countered again, and this time his offer was reluctantly accepted. The bank wouldn’t approve the loan after the home inspection report came in. Between termites and wood rot, the inspector said the 1927 cabin should just be scrapped. Tear it down, clear the lot, build again. But Wolf liked the big old logs, the vaulted, ceiling, the scarred hardwood floor, and he was able to get a VA loan, allowing him to purchase the place and do the work himself. Over the next three years he fixed the foundation, replaced logs, reroofed, scraped peeling paint from original windows, put in a new furnace and water heater, and replaced the chinking. His cabin might be rustic on the outside, but it was comfortable inside. It was Wolf’s haven, and with Jax for company, he was rarely lonely.

The chopping sound stopped but Wolf was now curious. He rose from his drafting table and stepped outside. His dog Jax followed, always close to his side. Wolf had only two real neighbors—the McDermotts and the Olsens—and neither had been up to Blue Jay for years. The Olsens were in their eighties and lived in a retirement community in Palos Verdes, and after self-righteous Kevin McDermott died five years ago from a heart attack, his widow didn’t visit anymore. Who would be cutting what? And where?

Jax whined and Wolf touched the top of Jax’s head. “Should we go check it out?” he asked.

The dog nudged his hand.

Wolf went inside, put his heavy boots on, grabbed his winter coat from the hook by the door, before heading back out. The chopping sound echoed through the trees. Wolf crossed the shoveled walkway to stand at the top of his property. He could see a light glowing from one of the McDermott cabin’s upstairs rooms. Smeone was there.

The slope between his place and the McDermott’s was fairly steep and thickly wooded. Wolf had been adding cedars and dogwoods each autumn for the past several years, wanting more privacy, enjoying his seclusion.

Jax took off, bounding in front of him. Wolf followed, boots crunching snow. It was a cold, clear morning. The sun was shining brightly in the blue sky, casting long gold rays through the tall trees. There would be no more snow for days, maybe weeks, but this high on the mountain, beneath the shade of the big trees, the white stuff would linger.

Wolf heard a shriek and quickening his pace reached a clearing where Jax was staring down Andi McDermott. He snapped his fingers and Jax sat, his German Shepherd’s intent gold gaze locked on the neighbor’s face.

He didn’t blame his dog. Andi McDermott had a very pretty face.

Her head jerked up, long dark curls falling over her shoulders, wide brown eyes meeting his. “So, Axel is still terrorizing the neighborhood,” she said tautly, heat blazing in her eyes.

Wolf’s dog Axel had been the source of complaints which led to the lawsuit. “Axel died,” Wolf said bluntly. “This is Jax. He’s just eighteen months. Still a pup.”

She glanced down at the black and gold dog and then up at him, expression incredulous. “A pup?”

“He is a big shepherd,” Wolf agreed. He snapped his fingers again and Jax retreated, coming to stand at Wolf’s side.

“He shouldn’t be off leash,” she said, shifting the hatchet from one hand to the other. Her gloves lay at her feet. Her hands were dark pink with cold.

“He’s on my property,” Wolf answered. “And so are you,” he added, looking past her to the tree she’d savaged. “What are you doing?”

Her chin lifted. She arched an imperious brow. “Cutting down a Christmas tree.”

He matched her arched eyebrow with one of his. “You don’t have any trees of your own? You had to take one of mine?”

“One of yours? What do you mean?”

He pointed to a yard stake with pink tape over in the distant corner, and then to another stake on the opposite side. “That is your property, south of the stake. Everything north, including where we are standing, is mine.”

“I don’t know where those sticks came from, but you have it wrong. This is the McDermott property. It’s always been our backyard. It’s where we used to have a treehouse for Luke. This is where he always played.”

“Yes, on my property. I never pushed it with your husband, as it seemed pointless with all the other garbage going on, but after your husband died, I had a surveyor come, boundaries. Just in case you chose to sell your place.”

“Sell? Why would we sell? This property has belonged to the McDermotts for generations. Generations,” she repeated. “You bought your cabin just a few years ago—”

“Ten,” he corrected. “I’ve been here for ten years now, and I wanted to make sure we were both clear on our property lines.” Wolf gestured to the stakes again. “This is all mine. That,” he said, pointing to a narrow strip of land below the stakes. “Is yours, plus whatever land is in front of your cabin.”

“Why am I only learning about this now?”

“You haven’t been here in years.” Wolf caressed Jax’s head. “But now that you’re here, you can see the stakes, and let the rest of your family know. My land versus your land.”

“And this tree?” she said, two splotches of color in her cheek, a fiery contract to the paleness of her skin.

“Mine,” he answered.

“Yes, but what do we do now? Do I leave it? Can I have it?”

“You can buy it from me.”

She swallowed. “How much?”

“Two hundred dollars.”

What?

“These are not seedlings that sprang up in this corner. I planted each of these trees over the past few years. They came in 25-gallon containers, the five in this corner alone were over twelve hundred dollars.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“You want to see a receipt?”

“Yes. No.” Andi McDermott reached up and touched a line of red on her jawbone. She’d either scratched or cut herself. She turned away from him, staring at the little thicket of trees, and then the snow-covered slope. “There are so many trees here already. Why plant more?”

“For privacy. I don’t want to see your cabin from my place.”

She gave him a quick look before glancing away. “I would have never taken one of your trees if I’d known.”

He said nothing.

“Nor would I have trespassed,” she added fiercely. “You should have sent a letter, or called me, told me about the survey. You were able to let me know about the tree on the shed. Not sure why you couldn’t let me know about the property lines.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“But it is. I’ve just killed one of your trees and spent money I didn’t intend to spend—” She broke off, pressed her lips together. “Will you accept a check? I don’t have that much cash on me right now.”

“You can pay me before you head back down the mountain.”

“Thank you,” she said stiffly.

He held his hand out for the hatchet. She frowned, not understanding. “I’ll finish the job for you,” he said. “Might as well take advantage of me since I’m here.”

Wordlessly she handed him the hatchet. It took him just two whacks to fell the tree. He then made a few more cuts, cleaning up the base, making it more level, and removing a few of the lower branches so she’d be able to get it in the stand.

He returned the hatchet to her and lifted the tree, swinging it easily onto his shoulder. “Lead the way.”

“You make it look so easy.” She picked up her gloves and started walking. “I’ve been out here forever.”

“It would have been easier to just buy a tree already in a stand,” he answered, following her. “The tree lots are full of them.”

“I thought this would be more fun. Kind of like Little House in the Woods.”

She sounded a little forlorn and looked like a marshmallow in her big white puffy coat, the tail of her red flannel shirt sticking out beneath. “Next time use an ax,” he said, “it’s bigger. Even a handsaw would have been better.”

“Isn’t this an ax?” she asked, lifting the tool.

“It’s a hatchet. Axes are bigger. They usually need two hands.”

“There aren’t many tools anymore, not after the shed came down.”

“You never replaced it,” he said.

“I didn’t see the point. It was mostly storage for summer months, and no one was coming here anymore.”

But she was here now, he thought, climbing the stairs to her porch and placing the tree upright against the cabin.

“Thank you for the help,” Andi said, facing him, her breath clouding on the air. She looked at the tree, and then reached out to touch one green springy branch.

From this angle, the tree was big. Eight feet, at least. “Do you need help getting it into the stand?”

“I’m fine. I can manage.”

“If something goes wrong…” He didn’t finish the thought.

She did. “I know where to find you, but I won’t.”

Because they weren’t friends, and her husband had hated him. Wolf nearly smiled. It was time he left, but there was something he needed to say. He hesitated. “If I hadn’t said so before, I’m sorry about your husband.”

“You sent a card after he died.”

“Did I?”

She nodded. “It was kind of you, considering…the friction.”

He admired the way she glossed over a five-year feud. “I’m sure it hasn’t been easy, though.”

“No,” she agreed. “But I’m learning to stand on my own two feet, and it’s been good for me. I never had to be independent before.” And then as if she’d said too much, she reached for the tree. “I promise to get you the money before I leave.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“No, I will. I don’t want to owe you anything. It’s better this way.”

“Fine then. Merry Christmas, Mrs. McDermott.”

Color flooded her cheeks. Her head jerked up and her eyes, brown with those flecks of gold, locked with his, her jaw jutting, before she looked away. “Merry Christmas.”

Wolf headed down the steps, crossed her driveway and walked to the street to his driveway.

He’d never seen Andi McDermott in jeans before. Or hiking boots. Or in a puffy coat with a flannel shirt hanging out.

He’d never seen her with her dark curls down, or without her pearls, because Andi McDermott always wore pearls—pearls with cardigan sweaters, pearls with tailored blouses, pearls with a perfectly done face, even in the mountains. She dressed like the women who had been his mother’s friends in New Orleans. Polished. Sophisticated. Sinless.

He liked women who sinned. Women who loved sex, and he doubted proper Mrs. McDermott loved sex, much less hot, dirty sex. He imagined everything was tame in the McDermott bedroom, and if Kevin wanted something non vanilla, he went elsewhere.

Although beautiful, the married Andi McDermott hadn’t been his type, but the widowed Andi struggling to chop down one of his trees intrigued him.

It wasn’t just the jeans and flannel shirt beneath the jacket. It wasn’t just her dark hair falling down her back in long ringlets. It was the emotion in her eyes, the red flush of exertion, the cut across her jawbone, the press of her full lips. She had the most extraordinary mouth. A mouth made for kissing. And other things.

As she’d talked, he’d let her words slide past and he focused on her lips, and the gold speckles in her eyes.

He imagined his hands on her waist and sliding them down to cup her butt. She’d be warm, soft. He hadn’t been with anyone in months, too busy with project deadlines, but suddenly he felt the ache of desire.

Of need.

But they weren’t friends. They weren’t even neighborly. When Kevin died, they’d been in the middle of a lawsuit. Wolf had laughed when he’d read that Kevin McDermott was suing him for defamation of character, but the cost of hiring an attorney to handle the lawsuit hadn’t been funny.

Andi withdrew the lawsuit three months after her husband’s funeral.

Wolf had received a letter in the mail from his lawyer, letting him know it was over, done. Mrs. McDermott had paid the legal fees for his attorney, too, and after two years of bitterness, everyone was free to move on. Let bygones be bygones.

He should have thanked her today for dismissing the suit. He should have said something about it, but she’d caught him by surprise, chopping down one of his trees with a ridiculously small hatchet.

At his door, he knocked the snow off the soles of his boots and then eased them off once inside. Closing the door behind Jax, Wolf hung up his coat, straightened the boots so they were neatly lined up, and poured a fresh cup of coffee. Returning to his drafting table he reached for his pencil and stared down at the drawings. He was behind on his deadlines, having accepted too many projects. But when you worked for yourself, you didn’t like turning work away.

Yet as the minutes passed, and his coffee cooled, Wolf made little progress. He liked the addition he’d been commissioned to do. He was invested in the remodel, historic cottages being his specialty, but he kept thinking of Andi McDermott dragging that tree into her cabin and getting it into a stand. It wasn’t going to be easy for her.

But she hadn’t asked for his help.

She’d made it clear she could handle it.

And to be honest, he didn’t want to put up her tree. He wanted to handle her.

end of excerpt

Flirting with the Beast is available for pre-order in the following formats:

Berkley Mass Market

November 29, 2022

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