“Unwelcome Visitor” – Excerpt from HOPE OF HEAVEN (Project Prometheus)

Peter Talladay first appeared in IN HER NAME, as Matt Raleigh’s Second-in-Command and the voice of reason against Matt’s initial blind prejudice.  I always liked his character. With Manara, he was respectful, honest, and yet compassionate and protective. He was the quintessential White Knight, with a twist. He respects the inherent strength of women, and he sees his own protective instincts clearly. He knows they’re not often necessary, yet his personality is so tightly woven with those instincts that he can’t help but protect the women in his life, no matter how peripherally they might be there.

So, I couldn’t help but wonder… What kind of woman would it take to not only kick those instincts into overdrive, but also put him in the position of those instincts being the very thing that brings the woman he most wants to protect into harm’s way?  And, taking it a step further, what would happen if there was one woman in his life he had no desire at all to protect – in fact, quite the opposite?  And what would happen if those two women came face-to-face, in his presence?

And so I found Hope MacKenzie – bold, determined to hate him, and harboring a past she’s both loathe to reveal and which is capable of bringing every protective instinct Peter has to the forefront – and brought her up against Joy O’Bannon, Peter’s estranged aunt and a woman he would gladly kill, if he could.

“Unwelcome Visitor” – Excerpted from HOPE OF HEAVEN (Project Prometheus, Book #2)

Hope sighed, and wiggled her warming toes in bliss before cracking one eyelid to study the man seated at the other end of the sofa, her feet in his lap as his strong, sure fingers massaged away the ache and cold. He insisted on the foot rub earlier, when she sank onto the sofa wearily after a long morning mucking out the stable. They had their first snowfall last night. Just enough to make her daily chore wet as well as cold this morning.

“You know, it’s my job to take care of you.”

He tossed her a rakish grin that did strange things to her pulse. “I seem to remember someone claiming she wasn’t here as a job.”

She rolled her eyes. “Twist my words why don’t you. I’m here to take care of you because Manara asked me to. This wasn’t part of the deal.”

He cocked her a heated look. “Why don’t you just think of this as therapy for me, Dr. MacKenzie?”

She couldn’t help herself. She laughed. “How do you figure? You’re massaging me.”

His smile was warm, and the heat in his gray eyes held a softness that caught her throat. “I happen to like touching you.”

Those words, as much as his husky brogue, sent a shimmy of heat through her as she recalled that night two weeks ago, and the feel of his hands on her bare skin. A moan caught in her throat as she drowned in his gaze. She was drawn to him as if he was the air that sustained her.

The sound of tires on the gravel lot outside saved her, and Hope removed her feet from his seductive touch, slipping them back into the simple flats she wore around the house as she rose from the sofa.

“We have company.”

He blinked absently, as if emerging from a stupor before a half-teasing scowl covered his face, telling her he saw her escape for what it was, and was yanking her chain about it. They both knew that, regardless of what she did in the dark of night, she wasn’t prepared for this intensity between them. She wasn’t about to hop into bed with a mercenary just because she got the itch.

Aware that Peter’s heated gaze followed her out of the room, Hope headed for the front door. She didn’t breathe again until she was out of sight. She was too afraid Peter Talladay was more than just an itch. For reasons she couldn’t quite figure out, he got under her skin.

Hope reached the front door just as the bell chimed. She opened it to a slim woman in her late thirties or early forties, bundled up in a trendy leather trench coat and fur-lined gloves. She had the classic, dark-haired beauty of Elizabeth Taylor, and the glamorous style of Jackie Kennedy. Beside her glamorous, expensive appearance, Hope felt positively dumpy. Yet, the chill that slid down her spine as the woman smiled had little to do with the gust of winter wind.

“Uh…can I help you?”

The scarlet-painted smile curved up even more while the icy coldness grew heavier.

“Oh, you must be Hope!” The charming lilt of her accent was at odds with the growing discomfort crawling along Hope’s skin. The woman was so fake she reeked of it. “Sheila told me all about you!”

Hope blinked, nonplussed. “That makes one of us. And you are…?”

“Ah, me, where are my manners?” The woman lamented, removing one glove to stick out a hand tipped in well-manicured nails, lacquered to match her lips. “Joy O’Bannon. I’ve come to visit with my poor, ailing nephew.”

“Set one foot in that door, and you’ll lose it at the knee,” Joy’s `poor, ailing nephew’ growled from behind Hope. The loathing in his voice surprised her. She turned slightly to find Peter leaning against the banister, his expression dark with hatred.

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