I can’t help but write this post influenced by Lillie’s review, which she posted a few days ago. She described Betting with Lucifer as a book where you get to know the characters bit by bit, as they sorted out their relationship for themselves. Which struck me as one of those odd little moments of coincidence, for I had just got through explaining in another interview almost word for word that it was exactly for that reason that I had pushed on with the writing of the book, even though I knew I’d probably have an uphill battle getting it published. Romances just aren’t written that way anymore. New York wants fast, sexy, edgy. Lucifer has sex in it, but it has tension and grit, and conflict. Heartache. Romantic conflict. Angst.
And I did have trouble getting it published. New York bounced Lucifer hard, and I ended up first selling it to a tiny little outfit in Florida who released it in hardcover, at the breath-robbing price of $30 a copy. Of course I sold maybe six copies, most of them to loyal friends.
Finally this year, I was able to retrieve the rights and Cerridwen Press agreed to release the book as an ebook, and later, if the book does well, it might go to paperback. This is a great opportunity, I think. Ten years ago, ebooks were unheard of. Now, it’s totally different and Betting with Lucifer may actually have a chance to find readers who love it as much as Lillie did.
Lyndsay is determined to outshine the memory of her mother’s illustrious career. As head of the marketing department of the exclusive Freeman Hotel, high up in the rarified mountain air of northern Washington, she grapples with her rival — the charming newcomer, Lucifer Furey Pierse.
No one knows much about Luke except that he could turn a murder into a side-splitting comedy routine, and that he has an eye for women, including an inexplicable attraction for the prickly, definitely not-interested Lyndsay.
It starts with a bet that goes horribly wrong. If Lyndsay wins the bet, then Luke leaves town—forever. If Luke wins the bet, he gets a date with Lyndsay. But when Luke wins the bet and Lyndsay is forced to pay the price, she learns more about Lucifer Furey Pierse than she thought existed…and the process of discovery for both of them becomes a bitter-sweet journey through their personal histories as they learn why they are the people they have become.
Then life hands them an unexpected twist that they must deal with…one that tests both of them to the limit.
Lyndsay knew she was the only marketing manager in history who fought off nausea every time she called a department meeting to order. She wasn’t naturally people-oriented the way her staff was, so leading a room full of extroverts kept her adrenaline pumping like Old Faithful.
And then there was Luke Pierse, on top of that.
She always came out of these meetings with spaghetti knees and an antacid habit that made Woody Allen look cool and collected.
As she tried to settle into this month’s meeting, she told herself the worst was over. She was here, the meeting was rolling. Just tough it out for a little longer, then she could flee back to her office and wish for the millionth time she had not been so genetically cursed when it came to dealing with people, or that she had spent at least some time during her school years learning how to get along with others, instead of burying her nose in textbooks.
She surreptitiously wiped her hand on her skirt to dry the moist palm. Tim, her assistant, held out a clean handkerchief to her, underneath the tabletop so no one else could see it.
She took it and squeezed his wrist as a silent thank you. His gaze flickered in her direction, before returning to the other end of the table, where one of the salespeople was giving his report. Tim had gone through school with her, had been her next door neighbor since preschool and was still a steadfast, understanding friend. He knew how these events made her guts roil and her brow sweat. He also understood that the rest of the world was never to know the truth.
The salesman sat down. Her turn. Everyone was looking at her.
Her heart thudding, she tucked Tim’s handkerchief back into his waiting hand and put her palms flat on the folder in front of her. She straightened her spine, to look as in-control as possible.
“It was a bad month,” she told them, keeping her voice low so it wouldn’t tremble. “You’re all aware of this and you’ve all just heard each others’ summaries about the troubles we’re having.”
Everyone nodded slightly. Agreeing. Except for Luke Pierse. He sat at the far corner of the long table, leaning well back. He was watching her, the black eyes almost drilling through her.
As always, she wondered if he could see past her bluff and knew of the wholesale sickness that wrenched at her. Of course, he would feel no such qualms about leading these people. He never felt qualms about anything. Or did he?
She just didn’t know Pierse well enough, despite the fact that he’d been working for her for two years.
She pulled her gaze to the middle of the table, avoiding meeting anyone’s eyes. “Worse, this month is the third consecutive month our figures have been down,” she added.
“Figures are down everywhere, boss.” Luke’s tone was reasonable and his expression unreadable.
For an endless moment, Lyndsay stared at him, wondering how she was supposed to answer that.
The problem with Luke was that he wasn’t good looking enough, she decided. The dark, dark hair, that wasn’t quite the perfect hero’s pitch-black, for instance. It was a deep shade of brown, which cast subtle highlights in sunlight and contrasted with the thick dark mass beneath to create an interesting affect.
The face wasn’t precisely perfect. His jaw was solid instead of refined and there was a dimple on the chin that wasn’t quite symmetrical. And too, there was a barely visible scar—a tiny one—on the corner of his jaw, that always made her wonder how he’d got it.
His teeth were wonderfully white—she knew that from watching him throw his head back and laugh. But the teeth weren’t totally straight. No braces had ever smoothed them out to bland perfection. His hands were large and useful, the wrists strong with muscle but the fingers were unexpectedly long, like a sensitive artist’s hands. And the eyes… She’d learned his black eyes gave away nothing. They danced all too often with amusement, humor, or mischief but rarely anything else. Except that on the odd occasion when she’d come upon him quietly, she had caught an expression that was almost contemplative and far away. On those few times she had assumed he’d been thinking about his beloved New York.
And his clothes weren’t quite right either. Oh, he wore the latest suits and the trendiest ties and shirts but it was the way he wore them. Nearly always the tie was loosened and the collar button undone. Often, he pushed the jacket sleeves up, or he would strip off the jacket and roll his shirt sleeves up. And he would lounge against the edge of people’s desks, his hands in his pockets. It was as if he was donning the high-powered account executive’s uniform but refusing to take it seriously.
All in all, the little imperfections gave him an intangible sense of character. It hinted of a past. And that was just the problem. If he had been model-perfect, if he had the immaculate grooming and plastic perfection of the oily, endlessly charming salesman, she might have been able to dismiss his presence from her mind and from her office.
But the fact was, he was a brilliant marketing man.
And now he was challenging her again. And she, as usual, couldn’t think of a response that would put him back in his place, or at least ruffle his composure just a little bit.
She glanced away from Luke, letting her gaze fall to the manila folder beneath her palms that held the summary of monthly figures. That gave her the answer she needed.
She looked Luke in the eye. “Figures are down everywhere,” she agreed and paused minutely. “Including yours.”
She reached quickly for the folder that Tim was patiently holding, trying to stall the response she knew Luke would shoot back. But it wasn’t quite fast enough for her to miss seeing Luke’s jaw begin to descend, the eyes to widen.
She lifted the bright red folder so everyone could see it. “Now, Vince Gormley has agreed that figures have been lousy for a while because of the unseasonable weather but we’re coming up on Christmas and the snow has come in just fine. Recalcitrant weather won’t do as an excuse any more.”
Alexander, the third best salesman in the marketing team, shook his head. “It’s not just the weather. Ever since the Sherbourne Hotel added that convention center, they’ve been killing us.”
“They’ve been marketing pretty heavily,” Timothy added. “They’re all over the internet.”
Lyndsay shook her head. “That’s no excuse. Competition is the name of the game. That’s why we have jobs in the first place. That’s why marketing was invented.”
“I heard Edison invented it to keep himself occupied on long journeys.” It was Luke’s voice. Of course it would be Luke, she thought grimly.
There were grins and muffled laughs around the table but they quickly died. Luke looked in Lyndsay’s direction and shrugged. “Well, who’d want to do it anywhere else except on a slow boat to China?”
She ignored him because she couldn’t think of a decent answer. Even if she’d had ten minutes to find one, she wouldn’t. Luke had rattled her. Again. Mentally, she sighed. How did he leave her speechless so damn easily? What was it about him that aggravated her, every time he opened his mouth?
She pushed the red file out into the middle of the table. “I heard on the grapevine the other day that the Washington State Medical Association is shopping around for a new AGM location. They love holding the AGM here in Deerfoot Falls but they’re unhappy with the Sherbourne Hotel. They feel it’s too commercial.”
She watched the realization move around the table like a wave of warm air.
“We could steal one of Sherbourne’s richest accounts from them,” Alexander murmured, with an eager expression.
“Yes, we could,” Lyndsay agreed, lifting her voice a little over the murmurs and comments around the table. “We’re supposed to bring in business for the hotel but we seem to have lost sight of that basic fact. This should serve as an overdue reminder.”
“Who gets to go after the account?” Luke asked loudly.
Silence greeted him, as they all looked at each other with suddenly guarded expressions. Even with her stunted abilities to analyze people, Lyndsay knew that the desire to win the account for themselves had suddenly bloomed in every heart around the table.
“Are you suggesting you should get the account?” Lyndsay asked Luke, carefully choosing her words so there was not even an accidental implication that she was offering it to him.
“I bring in more business than anyone here,” Luke countered.
“Everyone, including you. Timothy ran figures for me, spread over the last six months. I’ve brought in two thousand dollars more than you.”
“Two thousand is chicken feed,” Lyndsay protested.
“It’s still two thousand more than you bought in,” Luke said flatly.
Impossible. Lyndsay sat silently, trying to counter this unprecedented change. Luke was doing better than her? That wasn’t part of the plan. No one could do better than her. How had she allowed this to happen?
“Face it, Lyndsay,” Luke said quietly. “I’m the best salesman you’ve got. I should get the chance to land the account.”
It was almost impossible to tear her gaze away from his black eyes. They were challenging. Intimidating, if she was being completely honest.
“And I’m the manager of the department,” Lyndsay countered, knowing it was a pathetic response. She wanted this account for herself, now. She needed to shore up her record and giving the account to Luke was a certain way to lose even more ground. The manager of the hotel, Vince Gormley, already thought Luke walked on water. What would he think if Luke pulled in the state’s Medical Association and the lucrative five year contract they were dangling?
“What about both of you, then?” Tim said. It was the first time he had spoken all meeting and she knew he was jumping in because he’d seen she couldn’t find a response. No one in the room had noticed her struggle except Tim.
“Both of us?” Luke shrugged. “Why not.”
“Not in a million years!” Lyndsay shot back.
Luke studied her and for a brief moment it felt eerily like they were the only two in the room. Lyndsay’s heart boomed with a sickly mix of adrenaline and, yes, fear too. What was he thinking when he looked at her that way? Did he do it just to confound her? Maybe he did. It worked so well, after all.
She clenched her hand to hide the trembling in it, still unable to look away from his black gaze.
“What’s wrong, boss? Can’t you stand the competition?” His voice was low, almost like he was speaking only to her.
“I didn’t mean as a competition…” Timothy began.
“Yeah, a competition!” Alexander crowed. “All right.” He rubbed his hands together.
“No. No contest!” Lyndsay had to lift her voice.
“It’s just a friendly competition,” someone called.
“I’ve seen these ‘friendly’ competitions before,” Lyndsay said. “People get obsessed by them. Next thing you know, the staff of the entire hotel will be taking side bets.”
“I can arrange that,” Alexander volunteered.
“I said no.” It was already getting out of hand. She needed to stop this right now.
“What if the stakes were high enough?” Luke asked with an innocent expression Lyndsay knew was a facade. Luke had bypassed innocence when he moved from childhood to devil in one giant leap. Lucifer Furey Pierse. Even the name suited him.
A tiny touch of fear fluttered through her. She just didn’t know him well enough. “No.” She shook her head. “I don’t care what the stakes are. I’m not doing it.”
“What do you most want in the world?” Luke asked.
Lyndsay saw the yawning trap beneath his words. “I’m not even going to begin to talk about it,” she told him. If she did, he’d deal with every objection she raised, every roadblock and abruptly she’d be locked into this stupid competition.
“You can have anything you want,” he said. His tone was flat, lacking any sort of enticement or coaxing.
The total sincerity in his tone and expression made her jaw drop before she could snap it closed again. “Anything?”
Timothy gave a wheezy laugh, like it had been pulled out of him reluctantly. “You can’t do it,” he told Luke. “No one is going to be able to make her the hotel manager before her birthday unless Gormley spontaneously falls down dead.”
Lyndsay caught her breath and glared at Tim, hurt clamping her heart. Tim, of all people, should know better than to speak about her ambitions aloud like that. How could he?
Tim glanced at her, then his gaze snapped back to her face. His eyes widened as he realized what he had said and he looked away, at the conference table, to the ceiling, back to the folders in front of him, anywhere but at her.
“Spontaneous mortality?” Luke repeated. He swiveled around in his chair, sitting up, as if he was getting down to business. “I’ve got an uncle, Uncle Ben, used to drink a bottle of Bourbon a day and he swore he had the power to give people thrombosis. Usually while they were eating chicken at the best restaurants in town—”
“And he claimed this before or after the daily bottle?” Alex asked.
“Before. After the bottle he would confide that the gift was given to him by a passing gypsy when he born, in exchange for the caul that was over his face. Personally I don’t believe it, because his second wife—my aunt Rose—used to show me the caul. His mother kept it in a dill pickle jar on the mantle shelf and would pray to it every night.”
A wave of giggles went around the room but Lyndsay didn’t feel at all amused. Luke’s stories about his extended and eccentric family were already the stuff of legend. He always produced them at the most auspicious moment. “And the point of this badly composed story?” she asked calmly.
“Story? It’s all true, every word of it.” He managed to look offended, with a wide-eyed innocent expression that absolutely no one took for real.
“And you’re offering to let your uncle loose on Gormley?”
“That would be difficult as Uncle Bill is dead.”
“I thought he was called Ben?” Alexander asked.
“Lemme guess, he died of cirrhosis of the liver,” Timothy said.
“Thrombosis,” Luke corrected gravely. He glanced at Lyndsay. “But I don’t have to worry about supplying what you want.” His voice once again that low, melodious tone that seemed to speak to her alone. “You won’t win,” he said. “You can’t.”
She had been listening to the muted velvet of his voice, so the bald statement shocked her and took her breath.
“She won’t play, anyway,” Timothy said with the flat certainty that came from having known Lyndsay for twenty years.
Lyndsay blinked away a fresh spurt of astonishment. Was she really that predictable? She found herself studying Luke again. He was watching her with calm assurance, completely untouched by any sort of concern that he wouldn’t win the bet, if she picked up the challenge. Did he think he knew her that well too?
“I’ll play,” she said and was rewarded by the momentary shift in Luke’s expression. She had managed to surprise him, although he was covering it with experienced ease. But the satisfaction she derived from throwing Luke off balance for even a fractional moment was a richly rewarding feeling. One that she wanted to repeat. Recklessly, she reached for something, anything, that would shock him again. “When I win,” she told the entire room, “Luke leaves town. Forever. He goes back to his blessed New York and stays there.” She watched Luke, waiting for the surprise to spear him again.
“Done,” Luke said said flatly, instantly. No surprise.
Lyndsay blinked away her own unease. The threat of being run out of town hadn’t even made him pause. Was he so sure of his abilities? Then she remembered that Luke was the department’s best salesperson, outselling even herself. And she had agreed to try to beat him.
Damn, what had she done?
Thoroughly ruffled, Lyndsay began packing up her papers and pens. “Thanks, everyone. That’s it for this month. Everyone knows what I want to see—more business.”
They all stood, gathering up their papers.
“Doesn’t anyone want to know what I want out of the bet?” Luke asked in a voice loud enough to bring the room to a standstill.
“Well, yeah. Shoot,” Timothy offered.
“No, wait, let me guess,” Alexander interrupted. He rubbed his temples like a mind-reader and grinned. “Fifty-two return tickets to New York, one for every weekend.”
There was a burst of laughter around the room, for everyone knew of Luke’s passion for the far-off city and his habit of slipping aboard the Friday night flight. He’d arrive back in Deerfoot Falls on Monday morning with bloodshot eyes and a two-day growth but full of energy and enthusiasm.
When Luke didn’t instantly confirm Alex’s guess, the laughter died away. Luke continued to gaze at Lyndsay. His black eyes were boring into her. Holding her attention.
“So, is it the plane tickets?” Timothy asked.
“No.” His gaze wouldn’t let her go. “It’s a date with Lyndsay.”
“What? No!” Lyndsay dropped her files back onto the table. A date? With him? The very idea was unthinkable.
“You agreed to the bet!” Alexander protested.
Lyndsay barely heard Alexander’s words, for Luke was pinning her down with his gaze, drawing her attention. “Are you afraid you’ll lose?” he asked and he spoke in a voice pitched just loud enough so that only she could hear it. Despite the outbreak of excited talk and comment, she heard him perfectly.
“I won’t lose,” she assured him.
“Then you have nothing to worry about.”
She was forced to agree. She had nothing to lose. But despite the assurance, she was deeply disturbed as she slipped out of the big meeting room and headed for her office and the little pink bottle at the bottom of her drawer.
The only really cheering aspect of the bet was the idea of watching Lucifer Furey Pierse climb aboard his last plane out of here.
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