Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A First Date Flirtation Excerpt From UP TO ME

I'm celebrating release week by teasing you with a special excerpt from Up To Me. This is a peek at the big first date...once it finally occurs, that is :

“You’re right. I don’t want to have a somber first date. How about you tell me something fun and silly? What was your first Halloween costume that you begged for, that you loved?”
Gray cracked his neck, rolled his eyes. “I don’t know. You might not want me anymore if I divulge that secret.”
Was he insane? “Trust me.” Ella pointed at the water, now mirroring the streaks of orange and pink in the sky. “I could jump in the forty-five-degree lake right now and still burn for you. No matter what you tell me, I’ll still be ready to knock this table over and jump on you. Just say the word.”
Gray dropped his head, then craned his neck sideways that gave her a flash of the adorable young boy he must’ve been. “Promise not to laugh?”
“No,” she said, already primed to giggle. And glad that he’d so easily rolled out of his pensive mood.
He reached back to retrieve the bottle and top off their glasses. “Come on, if this was a real first date, you wouldn’t laugh at me. You’d be too busy trying to figure out how soon you should slip that sweater off your shoulder. Now’s a good time, by the way. So cut me some slack.”
Happy to oblige, Ella twitched her shoulder and felt the slither of her sweater dip down her arm. “Okay. No laughing. I’ll even put my wine down so I’m not tempted to do a spit-take.”
“Thanks.” After a big sigh, Gray spread his hands. “When I was six or seven, I was Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid. I liked to re-enact that scene where he skewers Ursula with his ship. I wore my black rain boots, jeans, and tied a red sash around my waist.”
Oh. Oh my. It was Fate. Maybe. Maybe she was reading too much into it. But Ella had to tell him. Because this tiny coincidence shook her straight to her core. “I was Ariel. Once as a little kid, and again in high school. I adore that movie.”
“Maybe we’ll have to watch it together one night.” Standing in a half crouch, he leaned over the table to drop a line of kisses along the edge of the shoulder she’d exposed. Moving up to her ear, Gray growled, “Or better yet, pretend to watch it while we neck.”
“I’m good either way.” The tingles running through her weren’t just from his kisses. It was possibility shimmering across her body. They were great together. She and Gray meshed. They challenged each other. Even though she hadn’t admitted it to him yet, they were both crazy for each other. So why not pursue a relationship that lasted past the end of his vacation? Why not make him a permanent part of her world? It wasn’t desperate. It wasn’t irrational. When two people were so perfect for each other, it would be foolish not to find a way to stay together. Ella just had to figure out how to make it happen. And she had absolutely no idea where to start.

Ella Mayhew’s always appreciated the beautiful view of Seneca Lake from the spa window of her family’s hotel. But the view improves dramatically when a hot stranger runs across the grounds—shirtless. He’s the first man to kickstart her hormones in the three years since she lost her parents, and she doesn’t even know his name.
Graydon Locke’s on his umpteenth undercover assignment. The routine’s always the same: assess a business, recommend it for closure, then roll out before anyone discovers his decisions impact hundreds of lives. He’s always believed nothing good comes out of small towns. Why would this one be different? Then he makes two classic rookie mistakes—falling for the sweet, sexy girl who owns the very business he’s on the verge of axing. And letting the town’s residents get involved in both his life, and his relationship with Ella.
Ella’s the best thing to ever happen to Gray, but he’s lied to her from the start. If he pulls the plug on Mayhew Manor, the entire town may crumble. Ella couldn’t save her parents, but it’s up to her to save their hotel. Even if that means turning her back on true love.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A New Release & A New Contemporary Trilogy!

I'm super excited to share with you the release of Up To Me - the first book in my new Shore Secrets trilogy. It has a hot hero, funny BFFs, a heroine learning just how strong she really is, a beautiful setting, steamy sex, and some great twists to keep you guessing, gasping and laughing straight through to the end.

Ella Mayhew’s always appreciated the beautiful view of Seneca Lake from the spa window of her family’s hotel. But the view improves dramatically when a hot stranger runs across the grounds—shirtless. He’s the first man to kickstart her hormones in the three years since she lost her parents, and she doesn’t even know his name.
Graydon Locke’s on his umpteenth undercover assignment. The routine’s always the same: assess a business, recommend it for closure, then roll out before anyone discovers his decisions impact hundreds of lives. He’s always believed nothing good comes out of small towns. Why would this one be different? Then he makes two classic rookie mistakes—falling for the sweet, sexy girl who owns the very business he’s on the verge of axing. And letting the town’s residents get involved in both his life, and his relationship with Ella.
Ella’s the best thing to ever happen to Gray, but he’s lied to her from the start. If he pulls the plug on Mayhew Manor, the entire town may crumble. Ella couldn’t save her parents, but it’s up to her to save their hotel. Even if that means turning her back on true love.
Here's a little peek at it:
“Come do yoga with me tomorrow.”
“I’m a guy. We’re all about being hard and stiff, not soft and bendy.”
Ella blinked rapidly to clear the images of a naked, hard-muscled Gray that popped into her mind. And hardness…other places. “Don’t be so close-minded. Didn’t you end up enjoying the massage I gave you?”
“Yes.” He sounded adorably sulky at being forced to acknowledge it. Why was it that men found it so hard to admit when they were wrong? Definitely a topic of discussion for her next margarita night with the girls.
“See? You can’t dismiss something out of hand without at least trying it.”
Gray wrinkled his nose. “Do I have a choice?”
“No.” Ella brought up her other hand to cup his face. “You deserve to be looked after. It’s not much, I know, but let me help you in the only way I can.”
“I’ll do it—”
Ella bounced a little. “Terrific.”
“—on one condition. I’ve just come up with a good plan for stress release. Let’s try my way first.” Gray wove his fingers through the loose knit of her turquoise sweater. In one swift move, he pulled it off over her head and tossed it into the corner. “Come swimming with me. Right now.”
Was he serious? To stall for time while she processed the preposterous suggestion, Ella stammered, “We…we don’t have suits.”
“You said the pool’s still officially closed. No one will interrupt us.” He toyed with the strap of her matching tank. “You’ve got this thing. I’m wearing boxer briefs. We’ll be more covered up than in suits. Unless you don’t think you can control yourself around me?”
That was it in a nutshell. Not that she’d admit it to Gray. Not when he had that sharp eyebrow arched and a smug quirk to his lips. If he was trying to shock her…well, he had, no denying that. But what better way was there to embrace life fully than to embrace a dripping wet, mostly naked Gray? While she’d never work up the courage to tell him, this was the kind of activity Dr. T. would probably applaud. Or at least give her a gold star. He had asked her to email him with progress reports if anything big happened. Unable to resist, she glanced down at Gray’s crotch. Ella expected something very big, indeed, was about to happen.
“Water’s extremely therapeutic,” she said in her most serious, I’m massaging you but not judging your naked body in any way professional voice. “Swimming is a good counterpart to yoga. They use the same long muscles.”
Yup. Her matter-of-fact delivery dropped his eyebrow back to its usual straight line and wiped the smug from his lips. Ella kept the surprises rolling. She stood, unbuttoned her skirt and let it slide the floor into a big blue puddle. Then she reached out, grabbed his wrist, and yanked him sideways into the pool with her.
The simultaneous body flops slapped noise and water all around the room. Ella recovered first, treading water while waiting for Gray to get his bearings and surface. Keeping her head above water was easy. Breathing, however, was not, as she was laughing her head off at catching him off guard. Finally, with much thrashing and churning of the water, Gray popped up near the middle of the pool.
“What the hell?” he yelled, his voice bouncing off the rocks with a hollow echo. “I’m wearing clothes!”
“So take them off,” she yelled back. Geez, it was his idea. Ella had just implemented it without talking it to death first. She’d thought he’d appreciate her spontaneity.
Gray stared at her for a minute, totally unreadable. Then his head disappeared beneath the water again. In fact, he sank straight to the bottom. It worried her. But just until a heavy, sodden pair of jeans landed like a giant blue spitwad in front of her. Laughing, she tossed them over her shoulder in the general direction of their shoes. Then Gray’s shirt appeared, floating near the filter. Something she’d have to remember to retrieve before morning when maintenance would make their final sweep before reopening the pool.
She felt Gray first. His head brushed against her stomach. Using her body like a swim ladder, he climbed it with his hands until just those brilliant blue eyes broke the surface. Blinked at her once. Then he tilted his head back and arced a stream of water from his lips to the dead center of her forehead. Laughing even harder, Ella reached under his shoulders to pull him the rest of the way up.
That’s when the laughter stopped. When buoyancy slammed his oh my God so hard cock right against her. When it was the most natural thing in the world to wrap her legs tight around him to keep him nestled against all her heat and what felt like every freaking nerve ending in her body. And when she twined her arms around his neck just for the thrill of rubbing her breasts across his chest.
With two powerful kicks, Gray propelled them to the wall. He sandwiched Ella against it and hung on to the rocks to keep them both afloat. “I’m on board with your idea. As you can tell.” He ground against her in a way that absolutely proved not only that he was enthusiastic about stripping, but that there was definitely nothing between them other than two thin, skintight layers of cotton. Gray’s impressive length was no longer just an impression or wishful thinking. It was hard and long and she couldn’t wait to impale herself on him. For now, she locked her ankles together and let the water do most of the work of bobbing her up and down in a rhythmic, full-body caress.
Water glistened at the tips of his lashes. Ella kissed it away, then just kept heading south. Over his early-evening stubble. Down past the Adam’s apple that jerked reflexively. She’d always thought them sexy. So uniquely masculine.
A nibble in the hollow of his collarbone. Down till her lips were just underwater, closed around his nipple. Ella flicked it against her teeth. Gray…growled? Whatever the noise was, it came from deep inside him and turned her core body temperature up by about twenty percent.

Bio: Christi Barth earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage.  A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning.  Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes award-winning contemporary romance.  Christi is President of the Maryland Romance Writers and lives in Maryland with her husband.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Hot New Baseball Romance in the Diamond Brides Series!

We are deep into baseball season now. Which means it is time for another release in the Diamond Brides series!

Photographer Jamie Martin gave up her fast-paced New York career and moved to slower Raleigh, NC to raise an unexpected blessing: her daughter Olivia.  Desperate for clients, Jamie is thrilled to land a job with the Rockets baseball team…until she discovers she must work with her ex-fiancĂ©, who doesn’t know he’s fathered her child.

Career-driven second baseman Nick Durban broke up with Jamie at college graduation so they both could follow their dreams. Seven years later, he gets a reality check when he learns about Olivia.

Jamie is so determined to keep Nick out of her life that she tries online dating, never dreaming he is her perfect electronic match.  Can this out-of-sync couple get past their second thoughts and learn to trust each other again?

You can purchase it by clicking on the cover above. And here's a sneak peek that will suck you right into the story!
Jamie Martin tightened her thighs, shifting her legs to get a better angle. “That’s it,” she crooned. “Almost there…A little more…More…Curl your fingers…Perfect! Hold it! Yes! Oh, yes! That’s it! Perfect!”
She lowered her camera and stepped away from her subject, smiling in victory. Some photo shoots took forever—soothing a nervous client, cajoling them to relax, spending hours making them forget the lens was right in front of them. But Anna Benson had made this shoot easy.
And that was a damn good thing, because Jamie didn’t have time to waste. Her rent was due in a week, and Baby literally needed new shoes, and a new winter coat as well. Olivia was growing like a weed after spending four months in her new North Carolina home.
It was all worth it, Jamie reminded herself as she reflexively thumbed through the shots on her camera’s viewfinder. The hassle of moving, the struggle to find an assistant in a new city, the tight finances as she settled in. The boring work.
Jamie had loved the first seven years of her career, photographing bands in obscure New York City venues. After Olivia came along, Jamie had juggled her shooting schedule with overnight babysitters,  pre-school, and sniffle-driven sick days. She’d thrived on catnaps and caffeine, reveling in a life she’d built on her own terms.
Until she realized she was missing Olivia’s childhood.
Sure, her daughter had been safe and warm and fed in their Brooklyn walk-up. But Jamie had missed countless firsts—first steps, first words, first day of school. When Olivia’s first baby tooth fell out and the babysitter played Tooth Fairy, Jamie had known something had to change.
She sold her move to Raleigh as a positive decision—to her family, to her friends, and to herself. She’d gone to school nearby. Her college roommate still lived in town—Ashley had even volunteered crash space for the few weeks it had taken Jamie to rent a house. Raleigh had plenty of wealthy families and lots of booming businesses—prime customers for a photographer with Jamie’s skills. Booming businesses like the Raleigh Rockets, a major league baseball team.
Anna Benson had recently taken over the owner’s responsibilities from her grandfather, and she’d decided she needed fresh corporate headshots to highlight her new role. Jamie was grateful for the opportunity—she’d been referred by a former client who happened to be Anna’s best friend. Yes, Jamie was grateful, even if her first vow upon crossing the North Carolina state line had been that she would stay as far away from the baseball park as humanly possible.
Present business before past peccadilloes. Besides, some vows were just meant to be broken. Jamie had spent the entire day at the ballpark, and nothing terrible had happened. Yet.
“These look great,” Jamie said, looking up from her camera. She gestured toward her computer, which had automatically loaded the hundreds of shots she’d taken. “I’ll go through and get rid of the ones we’re obviously not interested in so you can review the rest.”
Jamie loved that part of the job. Sure, there were some shots clearly meant to be tossed—blinking eyes, smeared lipstick, bodies blurred with movement. But most of them forced her to focus on minute details, reading the slightest changes from image to image. Jamie viewed each shot with a Zen eye, measuring the emotions that radiated from her subjects, the tiny changes from hot to cold, from confident to wary. Sifting through the raw shoot, Jamie always felt she was discovering truths about herself, more about her emotions than her subjects’. She loved the process, even if a lot of people found the detail work stultifying.
Case in point: Anna Benson said, “Better you than me.”
Jamie grinned. “I’ll get the ‘maybes’ to you tonight. Then you can tell me which ones I should retouch.”
“I appreciate your making this so easy.” Anna’s voice was sincere. “I’ve been dreading this entire process!”
Jamie laughed. “You wouldn’t believe how often I hear that.” Most people preferred having their teeth cleaned to sitting for headshots. Of course, the average dentist visit lasted forty-five minutes. Anna’s photo session was going on four hours.
As if on cue, Jamie’s assistant poked his head through the office door. “Ready for me to help you strike?” Robert asked.
Jamie waved him in with a grateful smile. The man was a godsend—as comfortable with camera equipment as he was with makeup and a blow-dryer. She still couldn’t believe he’d responded to her online job posting. “Thanks!”
But Anna interrupted before Robert could take down the first reflector. “I wonder…”
Jamie turned to her expectantly. “Did you want to try something else? We could take some extras with the blue blazer, if you want a few more traditional poses.”
“No…” Anna crossed behind her desk. “Do you have anywhere else you have to be this afternoon?”
Jamie shook her head. “Just back at the office, going through your shoot.” Office. That would be the living room in Jamie’s compact clapboard house.
“Great,” the other woman said, picking up her phone and punching in a four-digit extension. “Zach, could you come in here a moment?”
Robert sprang to attention like a foxhound scenting prey. The guy was a committed Rockets fan. The look of excitement on his face now could only mean Jamie was about to be dragged deeper into Raleigh baseball.
Which was fine, she reminded herself firmly. Because red might be a wonderful color for a baseball logo, but it was pretty much a disaster when it came to her bank account. She could handle any baseball-related social crisis, if it meant financial independence.
A quick double knock on the door announced the newcomer. Anna called out, “Come in!”
Robert was practically vibrating with excitement as someone—Zach, presumably—entered. “Mr. Ormond,” he exclaimed, gliding forward to shake the guy’s hand. “I’m Robert Zeller, and I’m one of your biggest fans. My father took me to see your first game with the Rockets. We went to batting practice, and I caught one of your home runs, and you signed the ball for me before the game!”
“Down, boy,” Jamie said, forcing a laugh she meant to be charming before she introduced herself. “Jamie Martin.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Zach’s smile was easy. He’d be a joy to shoot; he had the sort of easy confidence that made the camera melt. Anna Benson obviously thought the guy was great; her entire face lit up as Zach looked at her expectantly.
Anna got down to business immediately. “You were in that meeting yesterday, Zach. We still haven’t come up with the right premium for our season ticket holders. What do you think of a calendar?”
“Like a refrigerator magnet?” Zach looked skeptical.
“No. Something to hang on the wall, a holiday gift from the team. One player featured every month, with the games written in for the season. Maybe some coupons for food and T-shirts at the park, that kind of thing.”
Zach nodded slowly. “We did them years ago, before your grandfather cut the team photographer. With social media, a calendar could be cross-purposed. We could use some of the photos for the guys’ individual accounts, maybe work them into a montage video for Opening Day.”
Anna beamed as she turned to Jamie. “Are you game?”
Baseball. Hot dogs. Apple pie and Mom. A new coat for Olivia and invaluable additions to Jamie’s portfolio. Even as she realized accepting the job would mean spending more time at the ballpark—a lot more time—she said, “Absolutely!” She almost believed herself.
Anna asked Zach, “Is anyone around the clubhouse? As long as Jamie and Robert have all their equipment set up it would be a shame not to put them to work.”
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I saw Nick’s car in the lot when I came back from lunch. Let me give him a call.”
Jamie’s heart tried to squeeze past her lungs as Zach took out his phone. Quit it, she told herself in her best School Principal voice. You knew there was a chance you’d see him the second you landed the headshot job.
Utterly unaware of School Principal’s tongue-lashing, Robert asked, “Nick Durban?” He sounded like a man being offered the keys to a Lamborghini.
“None other,” Zach said, with an amused smile, and then he exclaimed into his phone, “Nick!”
As Zach launched into a friendly conversation, Jamie’s palms became so slick she had to set her camera on a nearby credenza. You have no one to blame but yourself, School Principal said sternly. You could have chosen to live anywhere in the country. Anywhere in the world. But you had to come back to Raleigh.
Antarctica was looking like heaven right about now. Even if Olivia would need a hell of a lot more gear than a new winter coat.
Zach hung up his phone and announced, “He’s on his way.”
Jamie’s belly turned over, and she realized she hadn’t drawn a full breath the entire time Zach had been on the phone. Before her conscience could find a new way to undermine her, she asked Anna Benson the first of several vital questions. “What type of setting did you have in mind for the calendar? Do you want to do them here in the office? Or maybe around the stadium, taking advantage of some of those gorgeous views?”
As they began to discuss the various pros and cons, Jamie’s professional mind took careful notes. A deeper part of her, though, braced itself to see her former fiancĂ© for the first time in seven years.
* * *
Nick Durban frowned as he approached Anna Benson’s office. It was his own damn fault, getting roped into this publicity thing. People called it the off season for a reason. He was supposed to stay away from the goddamn ballpark.
But he’d come back for his copy of The Sun Also Rises, the one he was re-reading. The one with margin notes he’d made freshman year in college. The one he’d somehow left on the top shelf of his locker when he cleared out after the last regular season game.
It was just bad luck Ormond had seen his car in the lot.
He should quit bitching. It wasn’t like he had anything better to do. Hemingway could wait for a few hours. And helping out the team’s acting owner had to earn Nick some points along the way.
The office door was open. Ormond looked up as soon as Nick reached the threshold. “Great,” he said. “I thought they’d have unis ready downstairs.”
Nick shrugged, comfortable in his familiar white uniform. It had actually felt good to pull on the high socks, to tug the jersey into place. The off season lasted too long, by about three months. He tucked his book under his arm as Ormond waved him into the office. “Ms. Benson,” he said to the woman who held absolute control over his contract.
“Thanks for coming by, Nick.” Her smile was warm. There was a lot of locker room speculation about the things Ormond was doing to keep her happy. Nick agreed with the rest of the guys that whatever it was, Ormond should definitely keep doing it.
He glanced at the white cloth umbrellas that surrounded Ms. Benson’s desk. Nick hadn’t seen photographic reflectors like that since college. A guy stood in the middle of them, carefully adjusting one of the nearby lights. He must be the photographer—he had that artistic look. His jeans were a size too small, and his faded plaid shirt was too ugly to be an accident.
Ormond made the introductions. “Nick Durban. This is Robert Zeller.”
“Mr. Durban,” the photographer gushed. “Such a pleasure to meet you—I’m a big Rockets fan. LA didn’t have a clue what they were losing when they gave up the Professor!”
When Nick had started his professional career, he hadn’t known what to do with fans like this. He’d felt embarrassed, cornered, like he had to say something perfect or he’d ruin their dreams forever. In the past seven years, though, he’d learned that a handshake and a nod went a long way. And an autograph, if there happened to be a stack of publicity stills around. Not that a photographer would want a general issue publicity still. Now, he laughed and said, “Call me Nick, please.”
“Nick.” The guy looked pleased.
“So, what are we working on today?” Nick asked, including Ormond in the question. “You said some type of calendar?”
The former catcher nodded. “It was Anna’s idea.”
Okay, then. Even if Nick had considered lodging a complaint, he’d hold his tongue now. The owner’s granddaughter got to do whatever she wanted to do.
Nick turned back to the photographer. “So, where do you want me?”
“Actually,” Zeller said, “Jamie will tell you that. I’m here for hair and makeup.”
Nick followed the direction of the guy’s gaze, into the shadows behind that forest of white umbrellas. Even as he realized the magnitude of his mistake, Ormond said, “Nick, this is Jamie Martin. She’s the photographer who’s handling the whole project.”
Of course she was.
Eleven years ago, Jamie Martin had knocked him silent just by walking into Econ 101. And she didn’t have to move a muscle to throw him now—all she had to do was stand there, looking at him with a camera in her hands. He turned to stone.
A few things had changed in the past seven years. Her hair was cut short now. She wore makeup, at least something to make those anime eyes spark all the way across the room. Her lips stood out like a silent invitation. She wore tailored trousers and a white blouse—a far cry from the faded sweatpants and ragged T-shirt she’d worn the last time he’d seen her. A quick glance at her hands confirmed she wasn’t engaged or married. At least, she wasn’t wearing any rings.
“Hey, Twelve,” he said, his mouth as dry as if he’d just chewed through an entire bag of sunflower seeds.
Used to be, he could read her mood from a single syllable. He’d known when she was really studying, or when she actually wanted to be distracted from her stacks of books. He’d known from a single glance if she was worried about her killer course schedule, or thrilled to be discovering new things in her latest classes. He’d known if she wanted to risk eating from their university meal plan, or if she preferred grabbing a slice of pizza off-campus, or if she didn’t really want any food at all, if her hunger was for something else entirely.
All of that was gone, though. Jamie Martin was as opaque as a baseball.
Of course he didn’t know what she was thinking. He’d lost that ability forever the night before college graduation. The night he’d broken up with her. The night she’d handed back her engagement ring, despite his feeble protests. The night he’d walked out of her life without a backwards glance, without a phone call, without any contact at all for seven long years.