Chicago Stars Book 9
Coming in hardcover, eBook and audiobook
June 29, 2021
Pre-order your copy today!
— #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr
Thaddeus Walker Bowman Owens, the backup quarterback for the Chicago Stars, is a team player, talented sideline coach, occasional male underwear model, and a man with a low tolerance for Divas.
Olivia Shore, international opera superstar, is a driven diva with a passion for perfection, a craving for justice, too many secrets—and a monumental grudge against the egotistical, lowbrow jock she’s been stuck with.
It’s Mozart meets Monday Night Football as the temperamental soprano and stubborn jock embark on a nationwide tour promoting a luxury watch brand. Along the way, the combatants will engage in soul-searching and trash talk, backstage drama and, for sure, a quarterback pass. But there’ll also face trouble as threatening letters, haunting photographs, and a series of dangerous encounters complicate their lives. Is it the work of an overzealous fan or something more sinister?
This is the emotional journey of a brilliant woman whose career is everything and a talented man who’ll never be happy with second place. Tender and funny, passionate and insightful, this irresistible romantic adventure proves that anything can happen…when two superstars collide.
THE DIVA AND THE QUARTERBACK….
It’s Mozart meets Monday Night Football when two superstars collide.
Olivia Shore gazed out through the darkened window of the limousine toward the private jet parked on the tarmac. This was what her life had come to. Flying around the country with a brainless, overpaid jock and too many bad memories, all to hawk a luxury watch.
It was going to be the longest four weeks of her life.
Thad Walker Bowman Owens wasn’t entirely surprised Marchand Timepieces had come after him to promote their Victory780 watch. They needed a Chicago Stars’ player, and Thad gave good interviews. Also, that old Heisman trophy had garnered him plenty of publicity over the years. Still, anybody with eyeballs knew it wasn’t Thad’s throwing arm or glib rejoinders that had sealed the deal with Marchand. It was his pretty face.
“You’re even better looking than The Boo.” Cooper Graham had tweaked him the first time they’d met, referring to the great Stars quarterback, Dean Robillard.
Thad’s looks were a curse.
One of his favorite ex-girlfriends had told him: “You’ve got Liam Hemsworth’s nose, Michael B. Jordan’s cheekbones, and Zac Efron’s hair. As for those green eyes . . . Taylor Swift for sure. It’s like all the good-looking celebs in the world threw up on your face.”
Over the years, he’d done everything he could to roughen up his appearance. He’d grown a beard a couple of times, but then people started telling him he looked like the dude in Fifty Shades. He’d tried a porn-star mustache only to have women say he looked distinguished. He’d even gone for irony and sported one of those asinine man buns for a while. Unfortunately, it looked good on him.
In high school, everybody got pimples but him. He’d never needed braces or gone through an awkward phase. He hadn’t broken his nose or gotten one of the chin scars every other player in the League had. His hair wasn’t thinning. He didn’t have a paunch.
He blamed his parents.
But the one positive thing about his looks, along with his lean, six-foot-three body, was the extra cash it earned him. And he did like making money. Over the years, he’d lent his face to a men’s cologne, his butt to designer underwear, and his hair to some over-priced grooming products he’d never bothered to use. And now this.
If only he were doing this promotion with a female rock star instead of a stuck-up opera singer. The next four weeks stretched in front of him like an endless road headed exactly nowhere.
Olivia set aside her trench coat, along with the scarf and sun- glasses, and advanced toward the reporters who’d gathered in the hotel suite, her stilettos clicking, studiously ignoring him. Her sweep of dark hair coiled in one of those loose bun things, which—along with her royal-blue stilettos—brought her height to someplace in the vicinity of six feet. Her figure was formidable: broad shoulders, long neck, straight spine, and trim waist, all of it accompanied by skyscraper legs. She was neither skinny nor plump. More . . . Thad searched for the right word, but all he could come up with was “daunting.”
Along with her stilettos and black slacks, the open throat of her white blouse showed off a gold rope necklace with a pigeon egg–sized stone that appeared to be a giant ruby. She wore multiple rings, a couple of bracelets, and the Cavatina3 Marchand watch.
He liked his women small and cuddly. This one looked like a tigress who’d raided an Hermès store.
The male reporters rose as she approached. Henri Marchand performed the introductions. The Diva extended her hand and gazed down her long nose at them, her lips curved in a regal smile. “Gentlemen.” She acknowledged the lifestyle editor with a handshake and gracious smile before she folded herself into a chair across from Thad, her ankles crossed off to the side, a broomstick up her ass.
Thad deliberately slouched into his chair and stretched out his own legs, making himself comfortable.
The classical music critic led off, but instead of addressing The Diva, he turned to Thad. “Are you an opera fan?”
“Haven’t had much exposure,” he said.
The sports writer picked up on that. “What about you, Ms. Shore? Do you ever go to football games?”
“Last year I saw New Madrid play Manchester United.”
Thad could barely disguise a snort.?The sports writer exchanged an amused look with him before turning back to her. “Those are European soccer teams, Ms. Shore, not American football.”
She adopted a girls will be girls look that Thad didn’t buy for a second. “Of course. How silly of me.”
There wasn’t anything silly about this woman, from the throaty resonance of her voice to her figure, and something told him she knew damn well they were soccer teams. Or maybe not. For the first time, she’d spiked his curiosity.
“So you’ve never seen Thad Owens play?”
“No.” She gazed directly at Thad for the first time, eyes as cold as a January night. “Have you ever heard me sing?”
“I haven’t had the pleasure,” he said with his best drawl. “But my thirty-seventh is coming up and I’d sure welcome a round of ‘Happy Birthday’ to mark the occasion.”
The lifestyle editor laughed, but The Diva didn’t crack a smile. “Duly noted.”
When the reporters had finally disappeared, Henri Marchand announced that Olivia’s and Thad’s luggage had been delivered to the bedrooms that adjoined opposite sides of the spacious suite. Henri gestured around the living area and dining areas, along with the small kitchen. “As you can see, this is quite convenient for interviews and tomorrow’s photo shoot. The chef will be making tonight’s clients’ dinner in the private kitchen.”
The Diva’s head shot up, and her dramatic eyebrows drew together. “Henri, may I speak with you.
“But, of course.” The two of them moved toward the door into the hallway.
Thad was pissed. The Diva obviously didn’t like the idea of them sharing the suite. Fine. She could move to another room. He wasn’t going anywhere.
Now Available in hardcover, mass market paperback,
eBook and audio! Order your copy today!
At long last, the legendary New York Times bestselling author returns with a heartfelt novel of womanhood, a wild heart, and the healing power of love.
Run, run, as fast as you can!
When life throws her one setback too many, midwife and young widow Tess Hartsong takes off for Runaway Mountain. In this small town high in the Tennessee mountains, surrounded by nature, she hopes to outrun her heartbreak and find the solace she needs to heal. But instead of peace and quiet, she encounters an enigmatic artist with a craving for solitude, a fairy-tale sprite with too many secrets, a helpless infant, a passel of curious teens, and a town suspicious of outsiders, especially one as headstrong as Tess. Just as headstrong, is Ian North, a difficult, gifted man with a tortured soul—a man who makes Tess question everything. In running away to this new life, Tess wonders— Has she lost herself . . . or has she found her future?
Ian Hamilton North, IV, was having a bad day. A particularly bad day in what had been a series of bad days. Bad weeks. Who the hell was he kidding? Nothing had been right for months.
He’d bought a place in Tempest, Tennessee, because of its isolation.
The town was too small to disturb the region’s natural beauty: the hills and mountains that looked as though they’d been drizzled in watercolors, the wispy morning mists, extravagant sunsets, and clean air. Unfortunately, there were also people. Some came from families that had lived here for generations, but retirees, artisans, homesteaders, and survivalists had also settled in the mountains. He intended to have minimal contact with all of them, and he’d only come into town on the slim chance that the Dollar General might have the English muffins Bianca craved. The muffins had been missing from the order he paid a fortune to have delivered every week from the closest decent grocery store twenty miles away. But English muffins were too exotic for the Dollar General, and he was in no mood to make the drive to get them.
As he reached his car, he stopped.
The Dancing Dervish.
She was gazing into the window of the Broken Chimney, the town’s so-called coffee shop, a place that also sold ice cream, books, cigarettes, and who knew what else? It was odd. Despite how furious he’d been, he’d noticed the complete absence of joy in Tess Hartsong’s dancing. Her fierce, percussive movements had been tribal, more combat than art. But now she stood still, suspended in a dapple of sunlight, and that quickly, he wanted to paint her.
He could see it. An explosion of color in every brush stroke, every press of the nozzle. Cobalt blue in that fierce gypsy hair, with a touch of viridian green near the temples. Cadmium red brushing her olive skin at the cheekbones, a dab of chrome yellow at their highest point. A streak of ochre shadowing that long nose. Everything in a full palette of colors. And her eyes. The color of ripe August plums. How could he capture the darkness there?
How could he capture anything these days? He was trapped. Imprisoned in his youthful reputation as surely as if he’d been fossilized in amber. He had to get rid of her. And quickly. Before she caught Bianca’s attention more than she already had.
He set off toward the coffee house.
Tess knew he was close even before she saw him. It was a stir in the air. A scent. A vibration. And then the surly growl she remembered. “Bianca told me I was incredibly rude this morning.”
“She had to tell you this?”
Tess had been studying the sign in the window of the Broken Chimney when he approached. Close up, he was even more formidable—the opposite of the whippet-thin, garret-living, stereotype of an artist sporting a scraggly goatee, nicotine-stained fingers, and deep-socketed eyes. His shoulders were broad, his jaw rock solid. A long scar ran down the side of his neck, and the small holes in his ear lobes suggested they’d once held earrings. Probably a skull and crossbones. He was an outlaw, the grownup version of the teenage punk who’d holstered a spray paint can instead of a handgun—the young thug who’d spent years in and out of jail for trespassing and felony vandalism. Despite worn jeans and a flannel shirt, this was a man at the top of his game and accustomed to everyone kowtowing to him. Yes, she was intimidated, both by the man himself and by his fame. No, she wouldn’t let him see that.
“I tend to be self-absorbed…” he said, stating the obvious. “…except as it affects Bianca.” His words had slowed so that each one carried extra weight.
“Really?” This was so none of her business, but from the moment he’d stormed into her yard, he’d raised her hackles. Or maybe she was simply enjoying the freedom of someone glaring at her instead of regarding her with pity. “Dragging a pregnant woman away from her home to a town that doesn’t even have a doctor?”
His ego was too big to be put on the defensive, and he brushed that aside. “She’s not due for another two months, and she’ll have the best care. What she needs most right now is rest and quiet.” His eyes, the unfriendly gray of a winter sky just before a snowstorm, met hers. “I know she invited you to the house, but I’m withdrawing the invitation.”
Instead of backing away as any normal person would, she pressed. “Why is that?”
“I told you. She needs rest.”
“These days healthy pregnant women are advised to stay active. Isn’t that what her doctor recommended?”
His slight hesitation might have been imperceptible to someone who hadn’t been trained to observe, but not to her. “Bianca’s doctor wants the best for her, and I’m making sure she gets it.” With a curt nod, he walked away, his strong musculature and purposeful stride giving him the look of a man who’d been designed by God to weld girders or pump petroleum instead of creating some of the twenty-first century’s most memorable street art.
Bianca had said he was “overprotective,” but this seemed more like smothering. Something felt wrong between these two.
A muddy pickup sped past blowing exhaust. Tess had come to town for doughnuts, not to become enmeshed in other peoples’ lives, and she returned her attention to the sign in the window.
She was a midwife. Any day now, her anger, her despair, would fade into resignation. It had to. And as soon as that happened, she’d be ready to look for work in her field. She’d find a job that would let her recapture the satisfaction of helping vulnerable mothers give birth.
She didn’t need to go back to work yet, so why was she staring at the sign as if her whole messy world had been reduced to this backwater coffee shop?
Because she was scared. The solitude on Runaway Mountain that she’d thought would give her new life wasn’t working out. It had become too tempting to stay in bed. To eat doughnuts and dance in the rain. Last week, she’d gone four days before she’d remembered to take a shower.
The bitter swell of self-disgust ballooning inside her forced her through the door. She could either ask about the job, or—a better idea—she could buy a doughnut and leave.
But Tess Hartsong doesn’t leave. Instead, she takes her first step into a challenging new life. A life that will force her to deal with a fairy-tale sprite who has too many secrets, a helpless infant, a passel of curious teens, a family of survivalists, and a town suspicious of outsiders, especially one as headstrong as Tess. Then there’s the biggest challenge of all, Ian Hamilton North, IV. Like Tess, he’s come to Runaway Mountain to escape.
Good luck with that.