Published August 25, 2013
Length: 51,000 words (category length)
Setting: Northeastern North Carolina
Heat level: Extra-sensual
Warnings: Sex and adult language
Series: Natural Beauty
Buy at: All Romance eBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords
Back Cover Copy:
Daisy Mooring is queen of the boondocks dorks. Just ask her ex-husband. Married at eighteen and divorced by twenty-two, the Carolina girl is all washed up at quarter-life. She’s the resident wallflower at Natural by Nicolette, and spends her days at the cosmetics company going mostly unnoticed, quietly observing and leaving the talking to her loud-mouthed mother. But when she accidentally blurts out during the staff retreat that she’d marry a sexy foreigner so he could stay in the country, all that attention she’d been shunning for so long catches up to her at once.
Ben Thys actually doesn’t need any help staying in the US, but now that the pretty redheaded soap maker is on his radar, he can’t stop thinking of the possibilities. The Belgian national could have the life his American big brother has: the home, the friends, the job. A sweet little wife would just be icing on the cake.
But Daisy’s been burned before by a man who claimed to love her. It doesn’t matter if Ben could be the beginning of her fresh start if she can’t clean her slate of the past.
“If you think it would help, we could get married.”
The entire congregation of Natural by Nicolette staff members clustered in the middle rows of the chartered bus laughed and laughed. At least, that’s what it seemed like to soap maker Daisy Mooring. She couldn’t tell precisely which of her coworkers were howling at her expense.
She couldn’t tell shit.
Her pulse pounded in her ears, and her vision had gone all spotty from mortification. At that moment, her body was an immovable shell—not much more than a house for a brain that seemed to have lost its reins to her usually leaden tongue.
There was a reason she was known as the quiet one. If she didn’t talk, she couldn’t make an ass of herself.
She slipped over to the window, pulled her knees up to her chest, and pressed her face against her legs with a groan. Her heart rate slowed, and the blood flow to her head diminished just enough for her to focus on the sounds around her. The laughter had died down, but the niggling hyperawareness remained. The fine hairs on the back of her neck and arms stood on end. She knew for certain she was being stared at.
They were right to stare.
The sound of cloth abrading bus upholstery beside her prompted her to open her right eye.
Her coworker—well, boss, in a way—Trinity, had slipped into the adjacent seat. The little blonde rested a hand on top of Daisy’s right knee.
Daisy straightened up.
Trinity cringed. “Daisy, we’re sorry. We didn’t mean to laugh.”
Daisy exhaled a shuddering breath and braced herself for further insult.
“You rarely say more than two or three words at a time, so we never really know what you’re thinking. For you to be thinking that… Well, that wasn’t something any of us could have predicted would come out of your mouth.”
“Yeah.” Daisy rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms. She put her head against the questionably clean headrest just in time to see the bus zip past a green mileage sign on the right-hand side of the road. Twenty minutes to Williamsburg. Twenty minutes until she could scamper away like the cowering invertebrate she was and disappear into the theme park’s brewery. She wanted to drown her sorrows with dozens of little sample cups of beer and maybe, if she were lucky, fall into one of the brewing tanks to meet her boozy death. Death by beer inhalation seemed a far more pleasant way to go than dying of self-inflicted humiliation.
She didn’t even like beer.
Trinity gripped Daisy’s shoulder and gave it what was probably meant to be a reassuring press. Trinity leaned in a little closer and dropped her voice to a whisper. “He didn’t laugh. I think he was too stunned that you said something. You never say anything. He probably didn’t know you could talk.”
Daisy cringed. Dumb and mute. Exactly the reputation she wanted.
Trinity gave her one more squeeze and retreated to her row. She sat in front of Daisy and beside her boyfriend Jerry, whom happened to be the elder brother of the Belgian man Daisy had inadvertently propositioned.
Ben had been in the US for about sixty-five days. This trip, anyway. She’d been counting. This was his third trip, and the longest so far. He’d taken a leave of absence from his job as a swim coach and was supposed to remain in The States until after Trinity and Jerry’s wedding. Ben had become sort of an unofficial staff member at the Natural by Nicolette headquarters, so it seemed appropriate the team drag him along on their yearly retreat.
The entire staff and their sweeties were on the bus, with the exception of Daisy’s mother—Francine. Momma had some business to tend to, or at least that’s what she’d claimed. Daisy knew the truth. Amongst other things, Momma had an irrational fear of heights, things that went fast, and things that went both high and fast. A theme park wasn’t her idea of a good time.
Daisy had tried to bow out, too, thinking such a trip would be a wonderful way to show off the magnificent bounty that was her social ineptitude, but the lady in charge, Nicolette, called “Bullshit” at her headache excuse and manhandled her onto the bus.
Nikki was strong to be such a scrawny thing.
“Thanks, Nikki,” Daisy muttered to her knees as she flattened her face against them once more.