FEATURE: Amber Laura

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Amber Laura lives in the beautiful, wild country of northern Minnesota—tall pines and birch bark, hiking trails, lakes, and fresh air. But that’s only a technicality; in her imagination, Amber Laura has lived all over the world. She considers it one of the best perks to being a writer: easy, cheap travel. Well, that and the oddball characters she meets along the way….

Excerpt from Topaz and Lace 

Moving gingerly into her living room, Cassie sat down on her lumpy couch. Kicking her feet onto the scratched coffee table, she let her head drop back against the cushions. Closing her eyes, she tried to look at the situation objectively.

Instead, all she could see were Brannt’s wide, thin lips catching against her own; feel his warm breath as it melted inside her mouth; remember his rough hand as it massaged the back of her neck, bringing her head closer…closer.

A key turned in her lock outside.

Eye’s springing open, Cassie had just enough time to gain her feet before her front door was unceremoniously thrust open, with a thunderous Brannt standing over its threshold.

“What are you…? How did you…?” Cassie sputtered, her terrified eyes unable to look away from his dark, angry stare.

Brannt dangled a pair of keys in one angry hand. “I grabbed the spare copy from downstairs.”

“But those—” Cassie shook her head confusedly. “How did you get them?”

“I asked BJ for them,” Brannt answered her easily enough. “She was only too happy to oblige.”

“Those aren’t for public use,” Cassie moaned, but she wasn’t talking to Brannt. She was going to kill BJ. While she made one hell of a receptionist, she was clearly a terrible apartment manager.

Brannt smiled. It was cold, filled with mockery. “Which is why I told her you’d accidentally locked yourself out.” His smile widened. “Then she was only too willing to hand ‘em over.”

“Ah, and you were what, the Good Samaritan in this ruse?” Cassie batted her eyelashes sarcastically.

“Something like that.”

“You’re a real jackass, you know that.”

“Yeah? And you’re a little coward,” Brannt returned just as quickly.

Curling her fingers together down at her sides, Cassie sneered across the two feet of space separating them.  “That’s cause for breaking into my house?”

“I didn’t break in. BJ gave me a key,” he reminded her unnecessarily. “And don’t be mad at her either,” he cautioned, reading her thoughts.  “You could have just opened the door yourself and saved us all the trouble. I told you I’d get in.” He grinned cockily. 

“But that’s just it. I didn’t want your company.”

“Yeah, I got that when you ran off,” Brannt said through finely clenched teeth.

“And yet, here you are,” Cassie murmured, waving her arms to encompass his seething form.

Brannt’s eyes glittered. That smug smile was eclipsed by cold, hard contempt within seconds. “Well, what the hell did you expect after that stunt you pulled, disappearing like that? No one knew where the hell you’d gone—”

Cassie pulled a face. “And it never occurred to you that I might have simply left?”

Brannt took one menacing step nearer her. “No, what occurred to me is that the bull pasture is just beyond a buffer field next to the barn. If you’d slipped through the wrong fence…” his face tightened. “You ever been stuck in a pen with a bull before? They’re mean, ruthless killers Cassie. When we couldn’t find you—” he let the sentence hang unfinished.  

“Why does everyone think I’m a complete buffoon when it comes to animals?” Cassie muttered darkly. “Oh, we can’t find Cassie. She’s probably trying to braid the dangerous animals’ hair,” she mocked.

It was the wrong thing to say. Brannt all but exploded. “Dammit, Cassie! I had men out there looking for you, putting their necks on the line and for no good reason. If Andrea hadn’t texted me… Do you have any idea—?”

In all honesty, she hadn’t. Not of all the problems her quiet defection would cause, at any rate. It was a sobering, unfavorable realization, that her childish behavior had created such unnecessary uproar. It was humiliating. “Look, I’m sorry,” she responded. “I-I didn’t think…”

“You’re damn right you didn’t think.” Brannt scoffed. “And all because of a nothing kiss?” His disdain was almost palpable.

Cassie sucked in her breath. That was exactly the kind of remark she’d been trying to escape. A nothing kiss? It hadn’t been nothing to her. “I’m trying to apologize.”

“You want people to stop treating you like a damn twit, then stop acting like one,” Brannt threw at her, his eyes mirroring his sentiments. “You really are a coward,” he said again.

Cassie had had enough. “I am not,” she insisted.

“Oh no?” Brannt cut in, his voice unusually soft and low. “Are you sure about that?” And before Cassie knew it, he was across the floor and she was brought up in his hard arms. Before she had time to do more than gasp in surprise, his mouth was already crushing down forcibly against hers.

Groaning, Cassie’s eyes stared wildly up at his dark face. Her hands, clenched in fists, were against his shoulders. But his mouth was unrelenting and, though she’d intended to push him away, to pound on his chest, Cassie found her mouth opening, answering the demand of his tongue as it whispered across her lips. She felt her eyes slide shut. His tongue brushed against the top of her mouth, his teeth grazing against her bottom lip.

Fingernails digging against his biceps, Cassie sank into the sensations swirling around her. Her blood was pumping loudly in her ears, nerves jumping against hot, sensitive skin. Brushing up closer, her breasts just grazed against his heavy chest. Her stomach tingled at the contact, dropping, tautening….

Then, without warning, Brannt broke the kiss. Lifting his head, an arrogant, almost challenging gleam entered his eyes. Cassie, yielding and soft in his embrace, carefully extracted herself. She didn’t trust that look.  

“Wha—?”

Brannt smiled wolfishly. “I have an appointment set with you and Sam for next Thursday.” Walking toward the door, his words sounded hollow in Cassie’s buzzing ears. Grabbing for the doorknob, he stopped, his eyes staring level with hers. “Or should I just expect your excuses now?”

Cassie was still working up a comeback when he quietly let himself out.

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