Author Jackie Weger
About Jackie Weger
Author Jackie Weger is the bestselling author of
No Perfect Secret and Beyond Fate, two novels published by
Liquid Silver Books. Visit Jackie on the web
at http://jackieweger.com/ to learn more about this
Jackie’s Favorite Title
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Featured Title for Jackie Weger
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Fletcher Maitland, perennial bachelor, falls in lust and love with the beautiful new arrival in Big Mama’s fish camp. All he asks for is a cup of coffee. What he gets is more … much more.
Cleo Anderson lives her life in the shadow of her mother’s sin. As Cleo begins to fall in love with Fletcher Maitland, the demons in her past rise to taunt her, and she must choose between a life lived in guilt and shame or a future beyond fate.
Excerpt for Featured Title
The Old South! Heat and humidity, plantations and levees, rivers and swamps, bears, alligators, snakes, and wild hogs! If Cleo could get her hands on the travel writer who made Georgia sound so magical, she would’ve plucked his eyelashes out with tweezers. If only she had not made that left turn off of Interstate10! But there was the sign: SUWANEE RIVER. More imaginary magic had somehow drawn her to follow a hand-lettered sign that read: FISH CAMP. The sun was a blast furnace, and sweat dripped into her eyes as she struggled with the bracing strut that clamped the awning to her Play-Mor camper. If she didn’t get the awning up, she’d bake to death.
A commotion in the overgrowth that surrounded her campsite distracted her. A wild hog? A deer?
She was on the verge of dropping the strut and stepping inside the camper for safety’s sake when a man burst through head-high palm fronds. He was striding fast and looking over his shoulder. She realized she wasn’t even on his radar.
“Hey!” she called, but the warning was too late. He caromed into her. The strut flew out of her hands. The canvas awning collapsed and enveloped them both. The sun was shut out, and Cleo found herself being dragged to the sandy earth, her arms and legs entangled with those of the man. Her first thought was of sand fleas and fire ants. Every site she had camped in from Texas to Georgia had been infested with the vile things. Once bitten, forever shy. In her imagination they were crawling over every inch of her skin.
“Christ on a crutch,” he muttered.
“Move,” she said to the man, panic a microsecond away. She kicked at his arms and legs and tried lifting the heavy canvas from her face.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Be quiet for minute.”
“Be quiet? Are you nuts? I’m suffocating. Get us out of here.”
The sailcloth, stiff and unmalleable from its winter packing, defied her attempts to throw it off. She sucked in a lungful of hot, musty air. She heard herself breathing; heard him, too.
“Are you okay?”
“No, you broke my arm.”
“Jesus Christ.” He scrambled over her legs and burrowed toward fresh air. Cleo crawled behind and atop of him. She wanted out.
But he didn’t crawl into the sunlight and heat-drenched air; he maneuvered out from beneath the awning, up the two pull-down steps, and right into her small camper. The screened door snapped shut, and the latch clicked.
“What the heck—Hey! Come out of there!”
“Lady, please,” came his whispered, pleading reply, “tell them I kept going…”
“Who? Tell who?”
“Witches and warlocks. They’ll be here any second.”
Oh, God, a crazy. A moment later, unseen hands lifted the canvas. Cleo homed in on the light and scooted into sunshine and into two pairs of well-tanned legs. One pair was fat and solid, the other stick thin.
“Thanks.” She breathed as she got to her feet. Rivulets of sweat were running down her face and dripping off her chin. She took a swipe at them. She checked herself all over for ants.
“Is Fletcher under there?” asked the chubby blonde. She stomped about the canvas until it was flattened. Finding nothing, she gave Cleo a sidelong look of reproach—a look designed to make its recipient feel mildly guilty.
At the moment it would take far more than a look to make Cleo feel guilty about anything. She stretched out her arm. Not broken, but she bet she’d have some bruises. “Who?” she asked, and got busy dusting twigs and sand from her shorts.
“The tall good-looking guy. He ran into you, didn’t he? We heard you yell.”
“Something ambushed me. I didn’t notice what it looked like.” She took in the women. Two against one. Since she was somewhat in control now, charity reared its head. Cleo avoided glancing at the camper. “This guy you’re chasing, what’s he done?”
“Did you see which way he went?” asked Thin.
Cleo shook her head. Well, she hadn’t, had she? Now, if the woman asked, “Do you know where he is?” Cleo would have been obliged to tell. She had been raised to tell the truth, but sometimes it clotted in her throat and she could swallow it before it got out and did damage.
“Ah, Cleo, you’re fudging,” said a small inner voice.
“I can’t talk to you now. I’m in a situation.”
“Sure you are, and the situation is there’s a strange man in your Play-Mor along with your traveler’s checks, your cash, your cameras and laptop, not to mention Gram’s last four pieces of Limoges.”
“I’m just doing him a favor.”
“A man you don’t even know?”
“He might be a rapist, a thief, schizophrenic, or worse—married.”
Cleo flushed and forced a smile. “Look, ladies, I don’t want to get involved in a marital spat.”
Blondie laughed. “This is no marital spat. Fletcher’s the perennial bachelor.”
Thin didn’t look happy. “C’mon, Bev, if you pursue this, Fletcher will get mad and refuse to make a fourth at bridge next time we’re here.” Thin looked at Cleo, explaining, “Women have been hassling Fletcher ever since his book came out. Some want to convert him, and some want to kill him. Besides that, it’s gotten terrible reviews. Not that any of us care.”
“Book?” Cleo was trying to change the direction of her mind in mid-thought.
The man was a writer. An unmarried writer. His book had gotten rotten reviews. The poor guy. A writer herself, Cleo had an instant affinity.
The woman called Bev was thrusting a thin volume in Cleo’s direction. She glanced at the title. For Men Only. 101 Ways to Stay Married. In very small print was, and Still Do What You Want by Fletcher Fremont Maitland.
Cleo blinked and read the title again. What utter gall. Her ire rose. Empathy for a fellow writer evaporated.
“No wonder he’s the perennial bachelor. No woman in her right mind would tolerate him.”
“Yes they would—and do. Fletcher oozes sex so thick you could eat it with a spoon,” said Thin.
“For God’s sakes, Clara, shut up,” Blondie said. “We just wanted his autograph. He promised, and now he’s trying to renege.”
“You’re looking for the guy who wrote this?” She was ready to tell them.
Clara scanned the clearing. “I guess we’ll catch up to him next time we’re here.” She turned to go, stopping in midstride. “Say, you’re new, aren’t you? I mean this is your first time camping at Big Mama’s.”
“Yes.” Cleo wanted to be rid of the women now. She also wanted to be rid of the clod hiding in her camper.
Clara thrust out her hand. “Well, I’m Clara, and this is Beverly. We’re a couple of the regulars. We’ve been coming here—” she looked to her companion “—six years, now?”
“About,” said Beverly. “And if we don’t round up the kids before they cause any more mayhem, Big Mama won’t let us back.” She smiled at Cleo. “We’ll see you in a couple of weeks if you’re still here. Say, do you play bridge? We usually get up a table or two…”
“Sorry, no,” replied Cleo, and the women disappeared around a bend in the footpath. Then she faced the camper and sang, “You can come out now, Fletcher Fremont Maitland.”
“I owe you a world of gratitude,” he said, emerging from the Play-Mor. “Those two make me miserable every time they show up in camp.”
“Trying to play footsies under the table,” he said, smiling, as if she should have guessed.
Cleo assessed him. His face was formed of converging planes—wide brow, straight nose—a little on the large side—square jaw, and deeply set brown eyes.
His teeth were of a peculiar whiteness and symmetry. The slight smile he gave her was irresistible. Clad in a black polo shirt, white walking shorts, and leather espadrilles, he exuded male magnetism, as if he was ready to take a swat at the world just to see where it’d land. It wasn’t lost on Cleo he’d taken an inadvertent swat at her.
“Did I hurt you badly, slamming into you like that?” he said in an easygoing way.
“There must be a Neanderthal somewhere in your ancestry,” she said, a little testily, almost before he finished asking the question, the tartness evidence of her rallying defenses. “But don’t give it a thought; I’ll survive.”
“I should hope so. It’d be a shame if you didn’t.” His voice was vibrant, accented heavily on interior syllables, Southern fashion. He probably could make it do anything. Right this second he was making it sweep and enfold her like a caress. Was that going to be good or bad? Nice or not?
His eyes flickered, inspection over. He thrust out his hand; she hesitated. “Shake?” he asked. “I’m Fletcher.”
“Cleo Anderson.” His hand was warm, slightly sweaty yet firm, and his touch sent a rush of pleasure through her. Right then and there she determined never to bite her nails again.
“Hold on, Cleo. You’ve only just met the man. You don’t want to appear needy. Get a hold of yourself.”
“I am not needy. Not anymore,” she told the voice.
“Cleo, you’re such a liar. You forget I’m right here, that I know everything.”
“Since I knocked it down,” said Fletcher, “let me help you get this awning back up.”
“No, thanks, there’s nothing to it,” she said, extricating her hand from his and anchoring it on her rounded hip to disguise its sudden trembling. Oh, my God. He did ooze sex. Pheromones or male musk probably. Maybe it was a Southern thing. The heat brought it out.
One could only allow a situation to go so far. She had to dilute the feckless reaction of her body to his looks and touch. “I insist not.”
“Okay,” he said. ‘Have it your way. Just don’t forget, I did offer.”
Flabbergasted, she formed a captivating moue with her lips, softening her strong jaw. She’d had every intention of allowing him to help put the awning in place. He was supposed to act on his words despite her protests. It was the least he could do, sort of a friendly atonement for knocking her down, causing havoc along her nerve endings, and invading her life. Well, not her life, but her personal space.
“A chauvinist would help you against your wishes,” he offered. In the sunlight his brown eyes were a deep umber. “I’m a firm believer when a woman says no she means it.”
“Really?” she said, utterly vexed now all her options were closed. “Where do you come by that attitude? Researching 101 Ways How to Stay Married and Still Do What You Want?”
His features hardened. “It was a privately published book and not meant for public consumption. One of my buddies had it distributed as a joke. It’s tongue-in-cheek—or it was.”
“Maybe that’s why it got panned by the critics.” Cleo discovered she was repelled, yet attracted.
“I’ll fade into the woodwork now. I’m detecting a slight trace of sarcasm.”
“Sure—nice to meet you.”
“You’re positive I didn’t hurt you and I can’t help you with the awning…”
“I’m tip-top, and the awning is a piece of cake.”
“There you are, Uncle Fletch,” piped a sprite of a child as she appeared from behind Cleo’s camper. “Dad sent me to see if you were still in one piece.”
“Just barely,” said Fletcher, leaving it in the air for Cleo to decide whether he meant she had discommoded him or if it had been his autograph seekers. He clasped the child’s frail hand. “See you later?”
The child tugged at Fletcher. “Hurry. Dad’s got the boat in the river. We’re waiting on you.”
“Don’t let me keep you,” said Cleo, lifting her hand in an abbreviated gesture of dismissal.
She turned her back and wrestled with the awning. She felt Fletcher’s gaze on her for a lingering moment. Instinct told her when he turned away. She chanced a look over her shoulder and caught the youngster doing the same, staring at her with … not curiosity, but something else, something more elemental. Cleo was struck by the whimsy of the face and the large gray eyes.
She gave the child a half smile. She meant to return to the task at hand, but she noticed the man looked as good from the back as he did from the front. No, she wasn’t likely to forget his name, or anything else about him. But there was no need, really, to remember him since she had no intention of ever expecting anything from a man again. A little flirting when she had the nerve once in a while was fun, but that was about as far as her expectations went.
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