One woman, three men.
When it comes to love, Crainesians believe in one perfect mate, but putting their centuries-old belief to the test could bring them everything they desire.
In a culture where it’s believed each person has only one true life-mate, what happens when yours is beyond your reach? Teriza feels the mating call to a man married to a Human. Unwilling to be the cause of infidelity, Teriza distances herself from her mate after an intense pheromone-charged encounter that leaves her in precarious health. She requires treatment and is sent to a clinic in Switzerland, where sexual surrogates are employed to heal such conditions.
After Paul Craddock’s life-mate died, he turned to surrogacy to ease the pain of loneliness. He’s surprised to feel attraction for Teriza and jealousy toward her surrogate, his good friend. He’s also intrigued to discover she feels the same attraction. They experiment with the Human way of courtship, but the ultimate bond that Crainesian life-mates experience eludes them.
Teriza fears Paul cannot be content with her since he’s experienced heartglow during his previous marriage. Paul worries that the existence of Teriza’s life-mate makes him the consolation prize, good enough, but not her first choice.
Though they are falling in love, they’re in uncharted territory without the engulfing pheromone storm of life-mates to guide them. Will they learn to trust their feelings and listen to their hearts before doubts drive them apart?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The changes that built within her body were subtle at first, so subtle Teriza initially dismissed them as everyday appreciation for an attractive man. First, a prickle of awareness slid over her when the tall landscape architect strode into the conference room of his firm. Nothing unusual in that except her heart suddenly leapt into marathon mode as he approached the large table.
His wife, Sallie smiled. “Deacon, this is our prospective client, Teriza Farrington.”
There was a slight emphasis on her surname that had Teriza thinking Sallie might as well have added of the Atlanta Farringtons. Her family’s sharing of the superior Crainesian technology which resulted in the dot com revolution had gained them fame, as well as fortune.
“Ms. Farrington.” He nodded at her over the expanse of table between them, and she was grateful she wouldn’t have to stand on weakened knees. “It’s a pleasure. I look forward to working with you.”
Health and confidence radiated from him. It was in his purposeful step, his tan and the directness of his silver-gray eyes. She liked self-assurance in a man, but it didn’t usually make her pulse race enough to bring on lightheadedness. How odd. “Teriza, please, and the feeling is mutual. I’ve heard good things about your company.”
“Only good?” Deacon grinned and Teriza stared, transfixed. His face was both strong and caring, not craggy-tough, but he was no metro-sexual male either. That was no fake-bake tan and those hands had seen manual labor. He obviously wasn’t content to stand on the sidelines and issue orders. She could easily imagine him working outdoors with soil and trees and that mulchy stuff. “We aim to exceed our customer’s expectations.”
“Deacon, really.” Sallie reproached him, her cheeks a pretty pink.
A pleasant, manly scent filled Teriza’s lungs. Her skin warmed. The heat spread outward to places it had no business going. Holy planets, she had to get a grip here. “I like what I’ve seen of your work so far, enough that I’m willing to have you bid on the project. The grounds are fairly large and in need of a complete update, I’m afraid. Did you have a chance to drive by the property and assess the possibility of a waterfall?”
He averted his gaze and jotted something on a yellow legal pad. She mourned the loss of the connection. A slight flush suffused her skin and her breathing deepened. But when the throbbing started between her legs and she couldn’t look anywhere but at him, Teriza knew she was experiencing a phenomenon unique to her race, the Crainesian life-mate call.
No, that couldn’t be right, could it?
Her ears buzzed in alarm. She had trouble concentrating. Separately, each change might have meant nothing significant, but for a Crainesian woman, the sum drew a very precise picture. Either she was having some sort of breakdown or Deacon Styles was her life-mate.
This man whom she’d intended to have completely redesign the grounds of the estate she’d inherited from her grandmom, the married man sitting across the table from her and next to his wife, was sending out potent, life-mate pheromones in waves. And it appeared her own untried receptors were on high alert. But this was all wrong.
What should she do? Stay, leave? Was it the same for him? Did he sense her return waves? Had his wife noticed anything? Teriza took a deep, bracing breath to calm her nerves and forced her gaze to the pretty redhead, hoping the reality of the situation would calm her racing pulse. Even the adoring look Sallie gave her husband had no effect on the building desire within Teriza. Just because the woman loved Deacon didn’t mean he felt the same way. Teriza’s gaze fastened on Deacon again, as if a powerful magnet pulled it there.
A tiny frown formed and cleared between his brows as he spoke of several shrubs that would work for the perimeter of her property. He ran a finger beneath his collar and tiny beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. ‘This is crazy. I can’t want this woman so much, even if she is gorgeous. I’m married.’
Teriza heard his telepathic transmission without any filter whatsoever, as a child might transmit. Gods of the universe, it was true. He was her one and only life-mate.
She forced a nod and smoothed one brow, as if she contemplated what he’d said previously, when in reality the very sound of his voice resonated in her soul. Who could concentrate on such mundane conversation at such a momentous event, one that had been repeated for centuries?
Relocating from a dying Crainesia to Earth decades ago hadn’t affected that elemental, physical phenomenon which ensured the future of their race, nor the heart-glow that properly mated Crainys achieved during lovemaking. Other than minor characteristics such as honeyed skin and pointed earlobes, they fitted into the Human population and were as accepted as any other immigrant now. Interracial marriages, such as Deacon and Sallie’s weren’t unheard of. Sure it had taken some initial adjustments on the part of both races, but they coexisted well these days.
Maybe the Styles didn’t have a happy union. Maybe there was a chance. ‘Smart Crainesians don’t marry before their life-mate finds them.’ She closed her eyes for the briefest of seconds, her thoughts projecting before she could rein them in. ‘Damn it, why didn’t you wait for me?’
He looked as shocked as he might have if she’d reached across the table and smacked him. ‘Y-you heard me. I can’t believe this. I was never trained in mindcom.’
‘Well, you’re doing fine now,’ she volleyed back, frustrated because he hadn’t answered the question.
His frown reappeared. ‘Get out of my head.’
Teriza flinched at the venom in his tone.
Sallie touched his wrist, drawing his startled gaze. “Deacon? Honey, are you all right? You’re staring and you never answered Ms. Farrington’s question.”
“You heard it too?”
“Of course. I’m sitting right beside you.” Exasperation colored Sallie’s tone. She turned to Teriza. “I’m sorry, Ms.—”
“No, it’s fine. Must be the heat in here. I’m not myself either.” She had to do something quick. Deacon’s confusion was worse than her own if he thought his Human wife had intercepted their telepathic communication. ‘Not my private question, Deacon. The one before that, about putting in a waterfall’
‘I told you to stay out,’ he shot back, clearly shaken. “It’s…ah, early in the year yet. Adding a waterfall shouldn’t be a problem once the weather evens out in the spring, depending on the size you want and the available space.”
‘I don’t cheat on my wife.’
The words flashed in red neon and her dreams came to a screaming, frustrated halt. Teriza couldn’t go there. The man was in a committed relationship. She’d seen the devastating aftershock of infidelity in her mother’s attempt at a second marriage. The shame and pain of a cheating spouse had driven her mother to suicide. Married, Deacon was off limits to her. Period.
“Ms. Farrington, you look upset. Is everything…” Sallie broke off, looking from her husband to Teriza and back again.
She wanted to screech at his wife to shut up, to stay out of this. Deep inside, a tightly leashed rage built inside Teriza, at the unfairness of it all. How many years had she waited for this, anticipated the euphoric moment of finding her mate, thought about the romance of it and how she would claim him? Now thisman, and—if Crainy folklore were to be believed—only this man was her intended life-mate. But he wasn’t hers, would never be hers. Never.
The words drummed in her head and her heart twisted. Staying here only prolonged the inevitable and put them both in grave danger. She’d heard the stories of those crazy enough to resist the intense pheromone pull of their life-mate, how some who’d had prolonged contact developed serious mental and health deterioration, and on some occasions, even died.
She had to go.
“I apologize.” She swiped at a tear threatening to spill and stood, prepared to lie. “Contemplating changes to the old place has brought back memories of my Gran. I guess I’m more sentimental about the place than I thought. I’ll let you know if I decide to proceed with the project.”
Gathering her purse and a small portfolio off the table, she made a swift exit from the offices of Deacon’s up-and-coming firm. Along the way, she responded to the extra body heat by shoving the yellow cashmere sleeves of her sweater up to her elbows.
He caught up with her in the hallway next to the elevator. Snagging her bare wrist, he blocked her escape and leaned in close to whisper. “What are you trying to pull? Does it not matter to you that I’m married?”
“I’m leaving, aren’t I? Let go of me.”
His gaze took in her face, her long, dark hair, flicked down to where he still held onto her arm, then back again. She could see the realization spread across his face, surprise at the surge of pheromones swamping them in waves. There wasn’t enough oxygen in the hallway.
Using his free hand, he loosened his tie. “How could you do this?”
“It’s normal for life-mates to have a strong connection, Deacon. I’ve done nothing but offer you work.”
‘Like hell. The undercurrents… Fuck this. Sallie is here…’ He squeezed his eyes closed briefly and tore his hand off hers, but didn’t move away.
They were close enough that if either of them leaned in… He stared at her mouth before wrenching his gaze upward. Teriza felt herself drowning.
‘Her eyes are dark. Mysterious. And so goddamn sexy.’ He groaned. “Why did you come here and start this?”
“Start this?” Hope rose and fell in a sudden swoop that left her trembling. “I didn’t know we were life-mates. How could I? We’d never met. Don’t you know anything about Crainesian ways?”
He winced at the incredulity in her tone. “My parents believed we should embrace our new planet and its customs.”
“But so completely? That’s just stu…” She clamped her lips shut and shook her head. ‘It’s not supposed to be like this.’
He frowned at the anguish in her tone.
Sharing transmissions with him was akin to an intimate caress and only served to heighten their desire to a painful pitch. Even so, she yearned to feel it again and again.
‘Is it always this intense?’
She shouldn’t respond in kind, but couldn’t stop herself. ‘Yes, and worsens unless I claim you and we…mate. Being together like this is dangerous. You profess to be an honorable man. If you’re prepared to divorce your wife, I’ll wait for you. Until you’re free, I need to leave and we need to stay apart.’
Teriza watched him struggle with indecision and sympathized. Stay? Go? Wait? She swallowed back the words tangling around her tongue because she didn’t know which one she wanted to hear from him. She couldn’t expect him to make a split-second decision this momentous. He’d felt the pull. Nature would do the rest. She’d give him time to decide.
He shook his head again and the banked hope in Teriza froze.
“Goodbye, Deacon. Be well.” She brushed past him, practically running for the stairwell and—oh, shit—met Sallie standing a few feet away.
Behind Teriza, Deacon dragged in a slow breath and let it ease out again.
Venom shot from Sallie’s gaze until she turned it on her husband, her clear, green gaze boring into his. “Deacon?”
There were myriad questions in that one quiet word, and no ready answers to any of them. They all contained confusion and fear and uncertainty. Teriza turned in time to see him shudder and look away.
No one said anything for several heartbeats, then Teriza slipped through the exit door and stumbled back to let her knees stop shaking. She could see Sally and Deacon through a small rectangular window in the door. She swallowed back the bitterness that rose in her throat, but couldn’t look away.
“She’s crazy,” he said to his wife, and it was like he’d stabbed Teriza in the heart.
“Is she?” Sallie traced an index finger over the faint pattern in the commercial wall covering. A bereft expression cloaked her features. “I’d hoped this would never happen.”
“It’s not real. It’s something Crainys made up to romanticize their pairings, like the silly Cupid stories Humans have.”
With great effort, Teriza slammed her shields into place so Deacon wouldn’t hear the retort rising in her head.
He leaned in, planting a firm kiss against Sallie’s forehead. “I think I’ll pass on Ms. Farrington’s job.”
Gripping his arms, Sallie leaned against him for a moment, then straightened and pushed away. “No. You should… You should take it.”
Teriza’s heart jerked in response.
His wife’s gaze roamed Deacon’s face for long moments, her lips tight. “I believe in what we have together, Deacon. Do you?”
As Sallie retreated, the words ‘God help us all.’ whispered through Teriza’s mind. She couldn’t decide if she’d picked up something from Sallie without meaning to, or if it was Deacon’s disloyal thoughts. Either way, Teriza didn’t like being part of this terrifying trio.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Buzz about Bittersweet Obsessions:
“I liked Bittersweet Obsessions a lot. It is fresh and different, and a charming love story. The sexual tension is non-stop, with only brief respites for all the characters. It’s hard to predict who will end up with whom, and how that might happen, so it keeps you turning pages till the very end.” –Alberta, Manic Readers, 4.5 Stars!
“The sex in Bittersweet Obsessions is explicit and it’s hot; the plot is complicated; the heartache is lingering; the commitments are tender and intimate and romantic. … Paul and Teriza’s verbal volleys and eventual passion will remain with you for a long while– in that keeper shelf in your heart and mind, where you call up the journeys of your favorite couples.” — Pamela V. Mason, reader and aspiring novelist.
“If you enjoy reading about intelligent, hunky men and smart, beautiful women who are searching for “the one” with a twist of a unknown culture thrown in for good measure, Bittersweet Obsessions is the summer read for you. Pull out the Kindle and load this one up. It’s not to be missed.”–Susan May