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Billionaire Mike Woodley has always carved his own path, steering clear of his wealthy family’s influence. But when his parents swoop back into town, they treat him like he’s still a kid. His father belittles his business, and his mother drops not-so-subtle hints about settling down. Determined to prove himself, Mike impulsively invites the whole family to Christmas dinner at his new place in Sullivan’s Creek. There’s just one hitch: his home is as empty as his heart, and he’s struggling to find an interior decorator who can handle his hands-on approach.

The last thing local artist Darren Williams wants is a decorating job, but she has to take it to pay off her sister’s gambling debts—even if Mike keeps getting in the way. As Darren juggles her newfound career and her sister’s problems, she’s surprised to find a spark flare between her and the meddlesome billionaire.

As they confront their respective families’ issues, these two independent people realize their partnership could be more than just a solution to their problems—it’s a force to be reckoned with, a bond forged in the heat of passion. Could it also be love?

Not Your Mama’s Mambo

Sullivan’s Creek Book 3

By Barbara Barrett

“Am I interrupting?” an unfamiliar but surprisingly seductive female voice asked. “The woman who answered the door said to come right in.”

Ned recognized her first, though Mike was just a split second behind. “Darren? You’re Darren Williams, the artist, right?”

She turned toward Ned, offered a killer smile. “That’s me. I’m surprised you recognized me, Mr. Bonneville. It’s been a few months since my showing at your mother’s gallery.”

Mike took in their visitor while Ned made chit-chat. A tad below shoulder length, her black hair was slightly longer than the last time he’d seen her, but she still looked damned good, especially in her white leather jacket and tight navy jeans, which revealed a slim but curvy figure. Something about her had registered that night at the showing, enough for him to hassle her to gain her attention, but business and later his partnership with Ned had prevented him from following up. “Come in, Ms. Williams. Ned and I were just finishing our discussion.”

She made her way into the room. Only then did he notice she was carrying a package, which she rested against the side of the empty den chair. She removed red knit gloves and then undid the red plaid scarf protecting her neck from the day’s chill. “I’ve finished the seascape you commissioned last summer.”

Right. He vaguely remembered calling her afterward and placing the order. God, had this project taken over his brain so much he’d forgotten about a looker like her?

Ned’s phone pinged. He shot it a brief glance. “Gotta go. Wish I could stay for the reveal, but Shae—Shae Harriman, our general contractor and my lady, who you met that night, too—needs me back at my house. The special synthesizer I ordered for my music room just arrived, and I have to approve it before it’s installed. Nice to see you again, Ms. Williams.”

She nodded. Unlike most people who met Ned, she didn’t appear intimidated by the superstar. “Please call me Darren. Both of you.”

“Then I’m Ned, not my alter ego, Jake Bonneville, and he’s Mike,” Ned called as he grabbed his jacket and slipped from the room. “Catch you later, man.”

“You arrived just in time,” Mike told her. “My bud there wanted to discuss a subject I’d rather put off.”

She lifted a brow. “Oh? What would that be?”

“How to promote our housing development so we can sell the remaining lots. He wants to do a concert to raise interest.”

“There’s no denying his name could be a draw. It certainly helped at his mother’s showing.”

“True. But we want to attract bona fide buyers, not just his fans. I was trying to figure out a diplomatic way to tell him when you appeared.”

“Maybe his mother could share with you how she was able to draw actual patrons to her showing rather than just those who wanted to meet her son.”

He studied her with new appreciation. Gorgeous, talented and smart. “Good idea. Thanks.”

“Glad to help.” She hefted the package and held it toward him. “Would you like to do the honors?”

His parents and the rest of his siblings lived in various parts of the country, so he had the old homestead, one of the town’s major mansions south of Grand Avenue, to himself. Except for Ned. At his invitation, Ned was staying with him while his new home in Sullivan’s Creek was going up. It was almost finished.

Mike also had a place under construction in Sullivan’s Creek, but he was less anxious to move in than his pal. He’d purchased the home Ned had been building for his mother, Janice, when she decided to remain in town. Mike had purchased it more as a favor than as an intent to settle in the country. The shell was done, but he never seemed to have time to deal with the interior. He’d get to it. Sometime. Right now, his focus was on selling more lots.

He came out of his reverie to find Darren staring at him, still holding the package. “Don’t you want to unwrap it?” A tinge of hurt underlay her tone.

“Uh, sure. Sorry. My head’s still back in my meeting with Ned.” He made a big deal of taking the parcel from her and ripping off the brown paper. He propped it against the end table and stepped back to examine it. Something didn’t equate. This was supposed to be a picture of the Pacific Ocean as seen from his beach house in Malibu. He’d emailed her several shots he’d taken at sunrise. He’d expected shades of gray, blue, mauve. Maybe even some morning mist. Instead, reds and yellows dominated this seascape.

“You did receive the photos I sent you, didn’t you?” he asked.

Her eyes narrowed. Apparently she hadn’t expected his question. “Uh, yes. They helped me get a feel for what you see daily when you’re there.”

“A feel?” His voice rose. “I intended to see one of these scenes replicated in your work. Not this, what should I call it, impression of my view.”

“I, uh, I’m an artist, Mike. I interpret what I see. I don’t replicate views.” She bit out the last sentence.

Neither spoke for a few seconds. Was nothing going his way today? As pleasing as she was on the eyes, he couldn’t deal with her artist’s temperament at the moment. “Look, uh, no offense. You’re a good artist. This picture just isn’t what I anticipated.” Hell, five minutes ago, he hadn’t even remembered the painting, but now that it was here, it wasn’t what he wanted. Go figure.

Her chin jutted out, and she seemed to grow two inches taller. “But I spent considerable time on this, even though I wasn’t able to get started on it right away. Perhaps I could make a few alterations that would be more to your liking?”

“Yeah. Do that.” What was with him? Why was he sending this beautiful woman away, her tail feathers in a bunch? Because he was that discouraged. Not with her. But with the latest loss of a sale. He needed to strike out at something. She was closest to his force field.

“I don’t want a storm at sea. I want something peaceful, calm, tranquil,” he said, attempting to soften the blow. “Come back when you can make it look like that.”

Coffee-brown eyes now wide, Darren grabbed the painting, her gloves and neck scarf and headed out, leaving the paper behind. Within seconds, the front door slammed.

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