Friday, September 27, 2013

Special price - Pre-order Love & Deception (Agents in Love - Book 1)

Love & Deception (Agents in Love ~ Book 1)
Coming October 18, 2013
(Update - available now!)
Author: Chantel Rhondeau
Genre: Romantic Suspense

"Finally, in a few weeks the Love & Deception ebook will hit the stores and you can download Nick and Carlie's story! I'm so excited about this. Smashwords made it possible to offer it as a pre-order through their site, the Apple iStore, Barnes & Noble, and KOBO. As a special deal for my faithful readers, I'm giving $1 off the normal price (US - so will be calculated if you are in another country) for a short time. I wanted a way to give a special thanks to all my readers for your support and encouragement. If you only have a Kindle, I'm sorry Amazon doesn't offer this function so that I can give you the same deal over there. However, you can buy the Kindle edition through Smashwords and get the sale price that way. It's free and easy to sign up for an account.

Read below for the book blurb and a sample!

Happy reading, my friends! Love, Chantel"

What if everything you believed in was a lie?

In hiding for six years, Carlie Hollis is tired of running. All she wants is to stay in Sayle, Washington and make a success of her struggling delicatessen. Because of her past, she’s suspicious of anyone who takes an interest in her.

Nick Kendall works as a spy in a top-secret government operation, protecting innocent people from danger. Sent to Sayle on a mission to infiltrate a suspected terrorist organization, Nick finds himself attracted to Carlie, an alleged key player of the group.

Despite her misgivings, Carlie develops feelings for the handsome stranger, believing he is there to help her. But when Nick finds evidence of her guilt, he’s given orders to do the unthinkable—eliminate the target, one he's fallen hopelessly in love with. Will he follow orders...or become hunted himself?

CONTENT WARNING: Violence, language, sizzling love scenes.

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Love & Deception (Agents in Love - Book 1)
Copyright 2013 Chantel Rhondeau

Chapter One

Carlie Hollis gulped in a lungful of air, keeping a wary eye on her attacker. He made a feint at her left side, but she was ready for him, deftly blocking the right side when his fist punched near her face. He launched a roundhouse kick, tagging her ribs with stinging pain. Faster than she thought possible, his foot angled high toward her head. Carlie dodged, but not fast enough. The hard bone of his heel slammed into her cheek.

Stars exploded in her vision and she rocked back, holding up her hands in surrender. Carlie’s face throbbed in time with her heartbeat and tears filled her vision. “Take it easy. What are you trying to do? Take me down for real?”

Stephen swept dark blond hair from his forehead and frowned. “You think a real attacker would take it easy?”

“Probably not, but I would’ve kicked a real attacker between his legs and took off running.”

Her sparring partner laughed, flashing perfectly straight teeth. “A brown belt in karate, and you’d resort to dirty fighting?”

She nodded. “Darn straight. I’d do whatever I had to.”

Carlie looked around the dojo at the other sparring opponents. Most people in the class wanted exercise or a place to socialize three evenings a week. She wondered if any of them were here for the reason she was.

Because one day, my life might depend on it.

“Look,” Stephen said, “you’re the one who asked me to help you get ready to test for a black belt. Now you want me to take it easy?”

Carlie shook her head. “No. You’re right. I need your help.”

It irked her to admit that. Stephen wasn’t the kind of guy who gave something for nothing. She had to watch herself with him. He alternated between charming and sleazy, and she never knew which to expect. Sensei Hideaki told Carlie several weeks earlier she wouldn’t be ready to try for her black belt next month. He wanted her to wait until the following testing period, but Stephen promised to teach her everything she needed to know.

“That’s right.” He winked, turning up the sleaze factor, as expected. “Just remember how much you need me, love.”

Carlie knew what came next when he called her ‘love.’ It was always about sex with him. She spoke before he could make yet another innuendo about sleeping with her. “That new guy is a fifth-degree black belt.” She tried to affect indifference in her voice as she nodded toward the man who joined their class a month earlier. “Isn’t that two levels higher than you? If my training is too much for you, I could ask him to help.”

Stephen’s mouth opened, but closed again before he said anything. He took a step nearer and placed his lips against her ear. “Nick Kendall is a poser, love,” he said softly. “Who knows if he even has real skill? He might be lying about where he earned those stripes for his belt. I mean, look how easy he’s going on Shelley. He’s not even actually hitting her.”

She watched as the handsome newcomer sparred with Shelley. Although Carlie had yet to work up enough courage to talk to Nick, her friend had no such problem approaching members of the opposite sex. While Carlie watched, Shelley laughed at something Nick said when she missed a block against his attack. Easy for Shelley to laugh, since Nick pulled the power from his kick, gently tapping her leg instead of hitting her full force.

Why the heck doesn’t Stephen do that when I miss a block? Maybe he’s punishing me for the way our date ended Saturday.

“See?” Stephen scoffed and ran his hand along Carlie’s shoulder and midway down her back. “They aren’t even sparring, they’re flirting. You don’t need a man like that around.”

Carlie stepped away, taking herself out of reach of Stephen’s hands before they roved any farther. Deciding not to point out that he constantly flirted with her, she returned to a fighting stance. “Shall we continue then? I’m not going to learn anything by gossiping about Nick and Shelley.”

“Why don’t you come at me?” A small smirk played around his lips. “If you take your opponent to the ground and keep your feet, you’ll have a better chance of smashing his balls and running away.”

With a powerful enough kick, she’d take a man to his knees without having to get close enough to flip him. Still, Stephen had a good point. An opponent on the ground was always at a disadvantage.

She feigned a punch to the left, but knew Stephen would read that easily so made a second feint to the other side. She then punched his left kidney, finding the mark when he put all his effort into blocking the right side. She pulled her power so it only hit him about fifty percent, but Stephen sucked in a loud breath, letting her know she scored a good hit.

Grappling his arm in her hands, Carlie spun her hip to his side, preparing to toss him over her head. Stephen turned it on her, managing to twist from her grasp and get his arms around her, gripping her head and forcing her to the ground when he pushed against her neck with enough power to cause pain.

He stepped back once her knee hit the mat, shaking his head. “Not good, love. Someone without any training could have defended against that.”

Bouncing back to her feet, Carlie gritted her teeth. “If you can’t remember my name,” she glared at him, “don’t call me anything at all.”

The incessant, condescending way he used love had been the last straw ending their date the weekend before. He’d casually said, ‘Let’s go to your place and get cozy, love,’ and Carlie nearly decked him. She held onto her fraying patience today only because she needed his help, but if he didn’t stop calling her love, she might make good on her threat to attack his crotch—and not the way he hoped.

Stephen flashed a bright smile, obviously not taking her seriously. The problem with Stephen’s attractive, all-American looks was most girls swooned when he looked at them, tripping over themselves to do whatever he wanted. Carlie had seen it with other women in the karate class. Stephen was extremely handsome, but he knew it, and that was a problem.

“Don’t pretend to be angry with me.” He winked. “I can tell you want me, love.”

An involuntary growl erupted in Carlie’s throat. She launched herself at him, spinning in a round kick and striking his thigh full force.

Her second kick angled for his chin, but Stephen ducked out of the way, catching her foot and twisting it. Using his greater weight, Stephen pushed her off balance and slammed her back into the mat. He drove his foot into her abdomen, forcing the air from her lungs.

“Tut, tut. Sloppy, love.”

“Stop calling me that,” she wheezed, ramming her fist in the back of his knee and causing his leg to buckle. Unfortunately, that only resulted in him falling on top of her.

His blue eyes met hers and he jiggled his eyebrows. “If you wanted me on top, all you had to do was ask.”

Still gasping for air, Carlie didn’t waste time talking. She struggled to free herself, trying to wiggle from beneath him. It had been a mistake to take him down. With them both on the ground, Stephen had an even greater advantage.

“Oh, yeah, love. I like the way you move.” Stephen planted his knees on either side of Carlie’s waist and ground his groin against her stomach.

She immediately stopped moving, worrying she might vomit as bile rose. “Get off, now.”

“I’m trying.” He laughed, infuriating her more.

No longer concerned with technique or training, all she wanted was away from the creep. She’d had it. Carlie beat her fists against his chest, not doing any real damage because she couldn’t get any leverage against him. “Move, you filthy jerk. I don’t need this kind of help!”

Suddenly, Stephen’s weight lifted off her, and Carlie watched in amazement as he hit the mat a short distance away.

“I believe the lady asked you to get away from her,” a rich baritone voice boomed.

Carlie looked up. Nick Kendall stood next to her. He crossed his arms over his chest, flexing his biceps in a way that strained the fabric of his karate uniform while he stared Stephen down.

Stephen might be a creep, but he was a smart creep. No one wanted to mess with a fifth-degree black belt. He jumped to his feet and spread his hands wide. “There’s no trouble between us, man. I was just helping Carlie with her training.”

Before Carlie could protest, Nick let out a snort. “I saw the kind of help you give,” he said in a low, dangerous-sounding voice. “I also saw she didn’t want it. Now, get away from her before I talk to Sensei Hideaki about the quality of people he allows in his dojo.”

Stephen puffed out his chest. “Are you threatening me?”


Carlie tried not to laugh at the shock on Stephen’s face or the way he shrank back. He was used to being the golden child of the karate class, having been the highest-ranked trainee before Nick showed up. Threats didn’t come his way often.

When he recovered from his surprise, he glared at Carlie with contempt before looking at Nick. “If you want the ice queen so bad, you’re welcome to her.” He rolled his eyes. “Lots of women want me. You’re wasting your time with Carlie though, friend. Frigid little prick tease, that’s what she—”

Nick’s foot rammed into Stephen’s stomach, and he doubled over and fell to the ground. Carlie gasped and looked back at Nick. He appeared completely calm. She hadn’t even been aware he was about to move.

“I’m sure a certain class of girls like you, friend,” Nick said while Stephen twisted on the ground, writhing in pain, “but some women have taste.” He turned to Carlie and held his hand out to her. “Sorry about that unpleasantness. Let me help you up.”

Carlie looked into Nick’s deep brown eyes and heat filled her stomach. She never expected to talk to the hunky man, and here he was, helping her. Placing her hand in his large, firm one, she hoped he couldn’t sense how flustered she felt. “Thank you,” she said softly, finding her tongue as he pulled her to her feet.

He let go of her hand and flashed a smile. “It’s always nice to help a damsel in distress.”

“Is this where you expect me to say ‘my hero?’” Carlie took a shallow breath, wondering what came over her. She didn’t flirt, and she didn’t tease with strange men she’d just met.

“I’ve been called worse,” he replied.

A light dusting of stubble covered his chin and the strong muscles of his neck suggested that beneath the white Gi, he was solid throughout. He was handsome, in a rugged sort of way with black hair and olive skin, but that didn’t really matter. After all, Stephen had been right to call her the ice queen. Carlie didn’t have time to check out a handsome man like Nick Kendall or date any more creeps like Stephen Chance. She needed to get her mind back on training and running her shop. Those were the important things in her life.

She met Nick’s eyes again, hoping he hadn’t noticed her studying him. “I really do appreciate it. I thought Stephen could help me, but he’s after something for payment I don’t intend to give.”

He glanced at Stephen, who hadn’t yet regained his feet, likely afraid of drawing attention to himself. “Don’t judge all men by the bad apples.”

“It’s hard not to when I keep finding worms.”

“We’ll work on that later,” he said, and Carlie tried to cover her surprise. Why would a man like him even look twice at her?

“For now,” he continued, “why don’t you spar with me? Sensei Hideaki told me you’re serious about improving your techniques. The men around here don’t want to train with me, and the women are all more interested in what I’m doing Saturday night.” He grinned, inviting her to share in his humor.

“You talked to Sensei about me?” she asked instead of laughing, focusing on the important part. “Why?”

“I told him I wanted a serious training partner, and he recommended you.” He nodded to the front of the room where Sensei Hideaki worked with another pair of students. “I need you, if you’ll have me.”

It was hard not to feel embarrassed. For just a tiny second, Carlie dared hope Nick looked at her as an available woman. Of course, he just needed a sparring partner. If he wanted a date, he could chose from any number of gorgeous ladies, including her friend, Shelley.

“Are you interested?” he prompted when she didn’t respond.

She thought about how kind and patient Nick had been training Shelley. Add in the fact she wouldn’t go near Stephen again, she needed someone to prepare her for the black belt test. “Sounds great.”


Nick waited outside the hallway to the women’s dressing room. He’d changed clothing as quickly as possible, beating Stephen out to the main part of the training facility. Beating him...hell, he’d like to beat him—to a bloody pulp. The man was slime. Nick didn’t understand how someone so disrespectful of others had been allowed to move so high in the ranks of karate.

Sensei Hideaki said Stephen was already a third-degree black belt when he started coming here. Apparently his prior master lacked brains.

Glancing at his watch, Nick realized it had been nearly twenty minutes since class ended. Though many women passed by him, Carlie had yet to appear. The next person to step out was Shelley who, as far as Nick could tell, was Carlie’s best friend.

“Hey.” He jerked his chin to the doorway behind her. “Do you know if Carlie’s almost ready back there?”

Shelley shook her head. “She left a long time ago. Seemed to be in a hurry, since she barely said two words to me.”

“She’s already gone? Damn.”

She laughed. “I didn’t think it possible, but you actually have a thing for Carlie, don’t you?”

Nick looked at the floor, wondering if that knowledge upset Shelley. She’d persistently thrown herself at him ever since his first class. When he told Carlie the women here just wanted to know what he had planned for Saturday night, Shelley was who he meant.

“She’s different.” He met Shelley’s eyes again. “I do need a training partner, and I don’t want Stephen around her anymore. You said they were dating, but she doesn’t seem to like him much.”

“Saying they were dating might have been a bit misleading.” She batted long eyelashes and sighed. “I can see you aren’t going to ask me out, so I’ll tell you the truth.”

“I’d prefer the truth.” Nick clenched his jaw tightly. Women like Shelley got under his skin. Even though he never expressed interest in her, she assumed her good looks would charm him into a date. So much so, that she’d lied to him when he expressed an interest in Carlie.

Shelley laughed, not seeming to notice his irritation. “Well, Carlie wasn’t interested in dating Stephen, but needed a sparring partner and that's the only way he'd agree to train her. She’s desperate to get her black belt as soon as possible.”

That got his attention. “Desperate? Why?”

She shrugged and flipped curly, black hair over her shoulder. “How should I know? She’s not one to share much of her past. We are friends, and I love working for her at the sandwich shop, but Carlie is one mysterious lady.”

Chapter Two

Carlie eyed the display of cupcakes the next afternoon, wondering if she had enough to last. A glance at the clock verified the day had flown by. It was already less than an hour until closing time. Next weekend, she’d make an extra batch. Although it was still slow during the week, Saturday business was picking up for Carlie’s Creations.

Shelley approached the counter with a notepad in hand. “Do we have any more bread bowls in the kitchen? I just got an order for three turkey noodle soups.” She nodded to the corner table where a group of men sat. “I warned them they might have to have it in a normal bowl. Busy today.”

“Yes, it has been.” Carlie was unable to stop the smile that spread across her face.

“Which means,” Shelley said, flashing a return grin, “I get paid on time this week, right?”

She nodded. “We’re in the black as of today. I don’t even have much food left to donate to the soup kitchen.”

“Which is a plus, if you ask me,” Shelley replied. “You’re never going to make any money if you keep giving your profits away.”

Carlie shrugged. “I like helping others. Besides, it’s tax deductible.” She stepped from behind the counter and walked to the short hallway leading to the kitchen. “I have five bowls left, so I’ll grab that food for your table.”

Without waiting for her friend to reply, Carlie crossed the black and white checkered tiles and made her way to the back. The little shop might not be much, but it was what she’d always wanted. Constantly moving around the country to lose her pursuers had put Carlie’s dreams on hold. It had been six years since her husband’s murder, and it was time to put down some roots.

Even if Ryan’s enemies still searched for her, they’d never expect her to be back in Washington, only a short drive from Seattle. After suspecting someone found her in Florida seven months ago, Carlie changed identities once again and decided her best bet was to hide in plain sight.

After re-warming three bread bowls in the microwave, Carlie set them on plates and filled them with hot soup.

Shelley’s head poked around the corner of the doorway. “Everything okay? They said they’re hungry.”

“Everything’s fine.” Carlie grabbed a serving tray from the stack beneath the counter and shifted the plates to it. “It’s ready.”

“Great. Those guys smell like money, and I see a big tip coming my way. Well, maybe.” She laughed and her eyes sparkled with mischief. “If I flirt enough, that is. They’re from out of town and looking for a little fun.”

“In Sayle?” Carlie wrinkled her nose. “Not much excitement here.”

“They’re on their way to Canada, but decided to stop for dinner. Luckily, they found us.”

Because Shelley was the type of woman guys took notice of, Carlie always let her wait on tables with only men. Blue-eyed, black-haired, buxom Shelley kept them happier than blond-haired, hazel-eyed, altogether boring Carlie.

On second thought, being overlooked wasn’t a bad thing. Boring kept her hidden. She needed that.

She smiled at Shelley. “That is lucky for them to find our great restaurant.” She grabbed a clean rag to wipe up soup that dripped onto the counter. “And I’m lucky I found you. Thanks for sticking with me through this start up. I know it’s been a rough couple of months.”

Shelley grinned and picked up the tray. “I’m glad I answered your ad for a waitress. Not only did I get a great boss, but a good friend, too.”

The warmth of those words struck Carlie as Shelley sashayed from the kitchen, and she blinked back happy tears. Avoiding her husband’s enemies since his death had made it hard to find friends. It was nice to have one again. Carlie was tired of running, tired of not having a life. If they found her in Sayle, she wouldn’t run any more. She’d fight.

After stirring the soup one last time and turning off the unit to allow it to cool, Carlie returned to the dining area. She glanced around the small space, pride filling her as it always did when she thought about how she’d finally accomplished her dreams.

Six booths with red benches and black tabletops surrounded the outer perimeter of the shop and three more tables sat in the center of the floor. Not a huge place, but big enough to satisfy her lifelong dream of running a restaurant.

Several times today, all the tables were full. People actually waited for a seat or ordered something to go. Word about her shop and the quality of food was getting around. She even received an order for thirty cupcakes for a birthday party next week.

Although her busiest time was during lunch when customers wanted sandwiches made on fresh bread or homemade soup in a warm bread bowl, Carlie knew cupcakes were the latest rage. She hoped they would tip the balance in her favor of having a successful business versus just an ordinary sandwich shop, indistinguishable from the others.

Since Shelley spent extra time with the men headed to Canada, Carlie made the rounds to the remaining customers, refilling drinks and making sure everyone was happy. When the buzzer on the door heralded a new arrival, Carlie didn’t turn around right away, busy refilling an elderly couple’s water glasses.

Shelley crossed the room and stood next to her. “Did you invite him?”

“Who?” Carlie set the second water back on the table.

“Nick.” Shelley let out a low whistle. “That is one fine-looking man.”

The ice rattled around the water pitcher in her hand, but Carlie directed her attention to the diners at the table. “Do you need anything else?”

“Edith says I shouldn’t, but I’d love a cupcake.” The gentleman’s wide smile deepened the wrinkles around his eyes and he patted his round belly.

Across the table, Edith scowled, but Carlie smiled back at him. “I only have chocolate left. Is that okay?”

At his nod, Shelley patted her arm. “I’ll get the cupcake. You see what super hunk wants.”

Carlie turned to the doorway and the air suddenly became too thin as Nick’s eyes locked onto hers. He wore a dark blue dress shirt and black slacks. Dark hair feathered back from his forehead. Forcing herself to breathe again, Carlie started across the room. She prayed the smile on her face didn’t look as strained as it felt.

After he rescued her from Stephen last night, there hadn’t been a lot of time left to spar. Once class ended, Carlie had changed her clothes and hurried from the dojo, a little embarrassed by the whole situation. She must look foolish to him, letting Stephen treat her that way...she certainly felt foolish.

“Nick. It’s nice to see you.” She stopped in front of him, still displaying a smile that felt too wide for her face. “Did you come for dinner?”


One word was all it took to provoke a tremor of nerves in her stomach. His eyes were so brown, they almost seemed black, and it was hard to look away.

“I came for you, Carlie.”

She rather felt like a mouse staring into the face of a hungry hawk with the way his piercing gaze never wavered. Forcing a laugh, she broke eye contact and looked at her hands, only then realizing she wrung them together. “For me? Why?”

“I waited for you last night after class, but you must have finished dressing faster than me. A few people told me where to find you.”

Her heart fluttered excitedly, but Carlie reminded herself what Nick had said. Lots of girls offered him dates for Saturday night. He wanted a training partner. He wasn’t interested in her, not as a woman. Even though the way he stared at her—as though she was the only person in the room—seemed to say otherwise, she couldn’t let herself think that.

She cleared her throat and shoved her hands into the pockets of her apron, staring at Nick’s chest so his eyes couldn’t trap hers again. “I’m sorry I left without saying goodbye. I had an early start to my day here and needed to get home.”

“It’s fine.” He shrugged. “I’m just glad to see that ass... Excuse me, I meant jerk. Glad to see that jerk didn’t bother you again. I planned on walking you to your car.”

Despite herself, she glanced back up. “That’s very thoughtful of you, but don’t worry about Stephen. He’s a pain, but harmless.”

Nick’s lip curled on one side. “Don’t be so sure of that. I’ve seen his type.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll have you doing the best defenses in no time. He won’t touch you again.”

Old instincts died hard. Carlie had learned to be suspicious of anyone who expressed an interest in her. “Why do you care so much?”

“Because...” Now it was his turn to look away, and Carlie thought he wouldn’t answer. He pressed his lips together before speaking again, “Because I’ve wanted to talk to you since I first saw you.”

“Right. Because you need a dedicated training partner.”

He shook his head. “Because I’ve been hoping you’d let me take you to dinner.”

“Me?” She sucked in a shocked breath. “But what about Shelley or—”

“Excuse us. You’re blocking the door,” a cranky voice said from behind her shoulder.

Carlie turned to see the elderly couple standing behind her. The man had a scowl on his face. “Is everything okay? Was something wrong with your cupcake?”

“Yes,” he huffed. “Edith ate most of it and the waitress said they were all gone and couldn’t get me another one.”

Edith grinned and took his hand in hers. “Don’t worry, Henry. I told you we’d come back next week.”

Struggling not to laugh and frustrate Henry further, Carlie stepped out of their way so they could leave the shop. “I’m so happy you’ll be back. We’re closed tomorrow, but I’ll have more cupcakes Monday.”

“We’ll be early so I get one,” Henry promised. “This woman thinks if she eats off my plate, the calories don’t count against her diet.”

“Well then,” Carlie said, unable to contain her laugh, “Monday you’ll have to order two.”

Nick opened the door for the pair and they ambled out of the shop hand in hand, seeming happy to be together. Carlie had imagined her life that way with Ryan; they’d grow old together, irritating each other while being deliriously happy. Instead, he’d died after only three years of marriage.

It seemed something always triggered memories of her old life, and Carlie wondered if a day would ever go by where she didn’t think about Ryan. Things might not have been perfect, but they’d been working on it. She rubbed her eyes, suddenly feeling tired.

“Something wrong?”

Looking at Nick, she sighed. It would have been nice, but dates with handsome strangers weren’t for her. “I appreciate the offer for dinner, but I really think you’d have a better time with someone else. Shelley told me earlier she didn’t have a date tonight. You should ask her.”

His brow furrowed. “You don’t want to go? Shelley said you weren’t seeing anyone, and I hoped you’d give me a chance.” He gave her his piercing stare again. “You seem different than the normal run of women I date. I want to know you better.”

Handsome strangers are dangerous to your health, woman. Don’t be swayed by those eyes.

“I don’t know what makes you think I’m different than anyone else. I’m just a regular person.”

“Who’s fighting hard to get her black belt in karate and runs her own business.” He took a step closer to her and the subtle scent of his musky cologne wafted through the air. “You’re intriguing, Carlie Hollis. Have dinner with me. If we don’t have anything to talk about or don’t get along, we can just be sparring partners with no harm done. I promise. There is no pressure for anything more. You have to eat anyway, right?”

Before she could answer, the buzzer sounded at the door again as it opened and a man entered. He saw Carlie and flashed teeth that seemed extra white in contrast with his dusky skin. Brushing his black hair from his eyes, he nodded her direction. “Anything for me to pick up today?”

Not sure whether she welcomed his interruption, Carlie nodded and waved him over. “First, come meet my new friend from karate class. Nick Kendall, meet Muhammad Khan.” The men shook hands. “Muhammad runs a soup kitchen down on thirty-second street, Compassion For All.”

“That’s admirable,” Nick said. “I’m always looking for a good charity to get involved with. I’ll have to come down and check it out some time.”

“We can always use extra hands,” Muhammad told him. “And any amount of money is welcome, if you have it to spare.”

Carlie was always surprised the way Muhammad had no problems asking for what he needed. Then again, he’d built Compassion For All mostly on charitable contributions. He was used to asking.

Nick nodded, seeming unfazed by Muhammad’s forwardness. “I’m more of a contributor than a hand’s on guy, but if Carlie thinks what you’re doing is worthwhile, I’ll think strongly about writing a check.”

“Every little bit helps.” Muhammad put his arm around Carlie’s shoulder and squeezed her to his side. “Things have been a lot easier since this wonderful lady moved to town. She donates a lot of food, and even bakes for us sometimes on Sundays.”

Nick’s mouth firmed into a thin line and some of the warmth melted from him. “So you guys are close, huh?” Although he directed the words at Muhammad, he appeared to be looking at the space between Muhammad and her bodies—or rather, lack of space.

Suddenly uncomfortable with Nick’s scrutiny, Carlie ducked from under Muhammad’s arm. “Why don’t we grab the food? I don’t have much bread left, but there’s a pot of soup that needs to be eaten by Monday.”

Without waiting for a reply, Carlie started toward the kitchen. She didn’t know what to make of Nick’s reaction. He seemed almost jealous of Muhammad touching her, but that was crazy. She had to be reading him wrong. Why would Nick care? They’d barely met each other, and she hadn’t even agreed to go out with him.

Though if Muhammad hadn’t walked in, she was sure she would have. It was a nice dream, for a few seconds. By the time she finished packing the food, she was sure Nick would have come to his senses and asked Shelley out. He must even now be wondering what possessed him to ask her.

Muhammad followed her into the kitchen. “I don’t think your new boyfriend likes me.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.” She grabbed a plastic tub from the cupboard above the sink and set it on the countertop. “I think the soup is cool enough to pour in, but I’ll let you do it. It’s pretty heavy.”

While Muhammad busied himself with the soup pot, Carlie bagged the small amount of leftover bread. Even though Shelley didn’t understand the need Carlie had to help Muhammad, it made her happy to know she was making a difference in other’s lives.

“One of my favorite trips ever was when I traveled with my parents to Africa.” She twisted the bag closed and secured it with a plastic clip. “It was their mission to distribute mosquito nets to fight malaria.”

“And where are they now?”

Carlie jumped, startled. She couldn’t believe she’d just told some of her past to Muhammad. It wouldn’t do for anyone around here to learn enough information to lead to her real identity. Not that she expected Muhammad to betray her to anyone, but he might talk to someone without realizing it could hurt her.

“Forget I said anything.” She shook her head. “I sometimes feel the need to justify why I enjoy helping your charity. Certain people don’t understand.”

Muhammad rummaged in the bottom drawer to the right of the sink, long familiar with where Carlie kept things after so many months working together. He pulled out the lid for the tub of soup and snapped it into place. “You do realize Shelley’s an employee, right? She has no say in what you do with the leftovers.”

“She’s my friend.” Carlie shrugged. “But you’re right, she doesn’t understand.”

“I’m glad you don’t let that stop you. A lot of people are benefiting from your kindness.” Muhammad picked up the soup and headed for the doorway, and Carlie followed behind with the bread.

They stepped into the dining room. Although she expected Nick to be gone, he sat in the booth nearest the exit, watching her. Shelley stood in the corner, flirting with her adventure guys, and the rest of the customers had cleared out. Nick jumped up to open the door for them, but didn’t follow them out.

After they put the food in Muhammad’s truck, he gave her a quick hug. “You’re a good person, Carlie. I appreciate everything you do to help me.” He chuckled and stepped away from her, nodding toward the door of Carlie’s Creations. “But your boyfriend just saw that hug, and he’s really going to hate me now.”

“He’s not my—”

“Then he wants to be.” He hopped into the driver’s seat and started the engine, winking before he drove away.

Carlie turned to the shop. Nick stared at her through the glass doorway. She hurried back to the building, shivering as the wind cut through her cotton t-shirt, and Nick held the door again.

“Shelley said you need about an hour to close up shop,” he said without preamble. “I’ll be back to pick you up then. Do you like Chinese food? There’s a new place over on Mill Plain I want to try.”

But I didn’t say yes.

That was a weak excuse. She wanted to say yes, even though she knew better.

Shelley picked that moment to approach them. “I couldn’t help but overhear you, Nick. Better give her an hour and a half.” Her friend bumped Carlie’s hip with her own and leaned to whisper in her ear, “I’ll help you get ready. You’re going to wow him!”

“Okay, fine.” Carlie was obviously outnumbered here. “I'd love to have dinner. See you at seven-thirty.”


Nick didn’t bother to hide his victorious grin while leaving Carlie’s Creations. He’d been in Sayle, Washington a month, and from almost the second he stepped foot in town, his objective was to get Carlie on a date. As much as Shelley irritated him yesterday, she’d certainly changed her tune and become helpful tonight.

What he’d observed about Carlie still rang true. She didn’t trust very easily. For a minute there, he was sure she wanted to refuse dinner. With Shelley backing him up, though, Carlie hadn’t stood a chance. Shelley’s support definitely gave him an advantage.

He hopped into his red Porsche, started it up, and pulled onto the road. Although disappointing, he wouldn’t be able to impress Carlie by driving around with the top down. He pictured how she’d look with her hair blowing back, a smile on her face, as they cruised around. However, it was November and cold. No way he could take her out for a spin like that. Carlie didn’t strike him as the kind of woman impressed with fancy cars, anyway.

He wished he knew what did impress her. Hopefully dinner was a good start.

Turning left at the light, Nick headed for his hotel. If he ended up staying here very long, he’d have to think about renting an apartment. Unless, of course, he found himself staying at a certain blonde’s house.

But those were thoughts for the future. Tonight, he wanted to get to know her better, and get her to agree to a second date.

NOTE: Love & Deception is available now! Check above or on my "Books by Chantel" tab for links to all my e-tailers! Happy reading! 

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