I didn’t realize it’s been three months since I posted on this blog. The cobwebs, and the squatters I had to chase outta the joint might have been my first clue…
Anyway, I don’t have a ton to share, other than that work continues apace on multiple upcoming projects. I’ve learned to be (slightly) less foolish and rather than give even a rough timeline for when they’ll appear, I’ll simply say they’ll be here… when they’re ready:)
I do have an excerpt for a book or two that I wanted to share over the coming days. First up is a clip from a standalone of sorts set in White Valley. It’s not really a part of the main sequence of novels in the Valley of Surrender series. This is more of a little spin-off tale exploring the relationship between Lee and Cori Strickland, two people we first glimpsed during a discipline scene in the novel, Lacey’s Surrender.
At the time I’d written the scene, these two characters were more sketches than anything else, but as my mind is wont to do, it ended up going to down the rabbit hole of “whatever happened with them?” Thus their story took shape.
This is my first deliberate exploration of the May/December dynamic, only this time, rather than the traditional expression of that trope, we have Lee, a male in his late twenties with an instinct and inclination to strictness and dominance that’s highly unusual for a man so comparatively young. The story explores his collision with Cori, a mature, strong-willed woman who thinks she can run rings around a man of Lee’s relative youth. She’s a sexually submissive woman, but unfortunately she doesn’t know it yet.
Lee does though — and he sets out to open her eyes. Among other things:)
The story’s not done yet by any means (it doesn’t even have a title, at this point), but I thought I’d share a bit from it here and there, in case anyone might be interested in following along.
Now, on to the excerpt…
Lee and Cori
A White Valley Interludes Story
A Difficult Client
He’d been warned about taking Cori Hollister on as a client.
Ball buster. Pain in the ass. Man eater.
He’d heard them all, of course. The woman’s reputation preceded her, just about anywhere she went.
Especially in White Valley.
He let himself in through the side yard gate, reaching over the top of the hunter green-painted wood and latching it shut behind him, the sun-warmed black metal of the latch’s receiver burning against his fingers. The house — as expected for a client as loaded as Hollister — was massive, and it took him a full minute to negotiate the elaborate landscaping, the ground-hugging Japanese maples, and the emerald-hued sculpted cypress as he followed the meandering gravel path around to the sprawling back yard.
The pool there was impressive, an asymmetrical in-ground with a custom double liner, the rim of the pool inset with striking cobalt-colored tiles. The clear water was a sparkling turquoise evoking the allure of a Caribbean idyll.
It was a blazing hot day, with the kind of humidity — unusual for a mountain town — that made his uniform, a dark, fitted polo, feel like it was melting to his back. His sunglasses thankfully protected his eyes a little from the glare of the late August sun, but there was nothing for the stifling heat.
“You ever hear of knocking on the door? I could’ve shot you, you know.”
And there was apparently no protecting him from her.
Her voice was strangely attenuated. Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves and buoy his patience, he turned smoothly toward her, tucking his clipboard under one arm as he took his sunglasses off.
What he saw made him freeze for the briefest of moments.
The woman was laying out in the sun, a huge, bright white towel spread across the deep green of her lawn. She was facing away from him, on her belly. Her legs where neatly together, her position displaying the slender pallor of the soles of her feet. The soft pillows of very generous breasts bulged to either side beneath her.
Which meant she was topless.
Her hips were endless, pleasing curves of tanned, smooth flesh, her ass covered by only the briefest of dark blue hip-hugger bottoms, leaving the vast majority of her broad buttocks bare to the merciless sun — and his disbelieving gaze.
Her head turned, her cheek lain upon her folded arms as she looked back at him, the bleach blonde ponytail bobbing languidly as she moved. “You deaf and dumb then?”
“Afternoon, Ms. Hollister. My name’s Lee. I came by to give you an estimate on the repair.” He glanced over his shoulder. “This the problem pool?”
Her mouth twisted as her head raised. “Do you see any other pools back here?”
“Right,” he said, turning back toward the water, momentarily grateful not to have to look at her derisive expression. The fact she was acting like a smart ass little brat didn’t stop him from noting her eyes were a striking shade of palest green.
Just get through this, and get the fuck out of here.
“Would you like to show me where the leak is?”
“I might if you hadn’t snuck back here like a pervy little kid.”
That made him stop.
“Who’s doing the hiring at Strickland nowadays? I’m sure you’re a nice guy or whatever, but seriously, have you even finished school?”
He spun around, careful to keep his temper in check, and trying not to notice the stirring of his cock in the confines of his jeans when he found her sitting up on her towel, knees bent below her, an arm hugging the heavy weight of her breasts tight to her chest.
“Why don’t we keep this to the problem at hand, Ms. Hollister? I’m sure you’re not interested in the hiring practices of your contractor. You just want to get your pool fixed and go on with your life, am I right?”
She was silent for a moment, then a wan — and forced — smile curved her lips. “I… well, yes, I suppose. I’m — I apologize for being bitchy. I just… you surprised me, coming back here the way you did. That’s all.”
He knew he shouldn’t, but something about this woman called to him to take up the challenge, to joust with her a little. If nothing else, maybe it would distract him enough to keep his cock from tenting the front of his jeans.
“You called me and asked me to come as soon as there was an opening in the schedule. Which is today.”
Her green eyes glinted, her smile draining away instantly.
“You barge back here like you own the place. What happened to customer service? Or simply using a goddamned doorbell?”
He dropped to a crouch, lacing his fingers together loosely between his knees. “That would have worked great — had you answered your doorbell. Which you didn’t.”
“This is ridiculous,” she said, her eyes flashing. “I’m going to call your boss and put in a complaint. You just got your ass fired, my smart-mouthed friend. Nobody talks to me like that.”
Lee lowered his voice ever so slightly. “You’re welcome to do that. But let me tell you what’s going to happen when you do. First, he’s going to tell you that there aren’t exactly very many contractors working in White Valley who are experienced and permitted to handle the sort of job you might be looking at here. He’ll further tell you that we’re in the middle of a building boom across the entire state right now, and every contractor and excavator from Okanogan to Wenatchee is booked tight as a tick for the next two or three months. And the last thing — and maybe most important thing — he’ll tell you is this.” He gave her a baleful grin, and pointed to the name embroidered on his shirt. “That the person you told off and tried to get fired? That person is Mr. Strickland. Lee Strickland, of Strickland Industries. Still think you want to make that call?”
Her face paled for a second, then she practically snarled it. “I can’t believe this. Fine. Let’s get this over with. I’ll show you where it’s leaking.”
Lee waited, rising to his feet again, flipping the page on his clipboard.
“Do you mind? Her eyebrows lifted. “I’d like to get my top, please.”
She snapped a nod toward the scrap of dark clothing near the corner of her towel at her feet.
“Not at all, Ms. Hollister.” He lowered his chin, glaring at her. “When you’re decent again, I’ll be over at the pool.”
He was already walking away, smiling to himself at the woman’s indignant gasp behind him.
* * *
I watched him walk away for a second, still not quite believing he’d brushed me off like that. Who the fuck did he think he was? He ran a hammer, a drill. He was just a contractor. There was no way I was going to let someone like him talk to me like that.
Despite that fact, I couldn’t help noticing the way his jeans hugged an ass that was compact and powerful. No, I didn’t want to notice that — but I did.
Before he turned back around, I snatched my top up, quickly tying it back on and rising to my feet. Needing to re-establish the correct power dynamic, I sauntered toward him, intending to make it clear he was going to be doing things on my terms, on my time.
He was the one being paid. I was the one paying.
Sometimes these tradesmen, these working-class men, forgot where their place was.
He’d just have to be reminded.
“So, are you able to tell where these leaks are coming from just by looking at the pool?”
He glanced at me, one dark brow lifted, like one might react quizzically to a ridiculous question posed by a child. “I’m a contractor, ma’am. Not Superman. Water will usually bubble up to the surface, but not always. Even if it does, there’s no sure way to tell where the actual leak is coming from.”
“Well, it’s right there,” I said, pointing toward the water-logged spot in the grass. “It’s been this way for at least a week. I didn’t think much of it at first because it was raining at the time when I first spotted it, but as soon as it dried out, it was still wet. It must be somewhere around there.”
He knelt down, pressed it with two fingers, the water beading up instantly from the grass. “Soaked, all right,” he muttered.
Wow, insightful. This guy is a fucking genius. How much am I paying him again?
“Yes, well, I need you to fix it as fast as possible. I have a big dinner party scheduled in less than a week.”
He looked up at me, his square jaw tightening, lips that were surprisingly full, thinning to a tight line. “You don’t seem to understand, Ms. Hollister. There’s no way this can be fixed in less than a week.”
“What are you talking about? Just”—I waved my hand at the water—“just get in there and find it and patch it, right? This isn’t rocket science here, is it? Mr. Strickland, I’ll pay you extra if that’s what it takes, but this needs to be done in less than a week.”
“Lee,” he said, studying the grass.
“I said, call me Lee.” Then he looked up and met my gaze and I felt like I was pinned in place for a second. How could this kid – that’s what he was, basically – who looked like he wasn’t much older than my own son have that effect?
What’s wrong with you? You shouldn’t be reacting like this.
Knowing I’d completely lost control of the situation, I took a step back, trying to buy myself some time to get my footing. Lee was made of slightly sterner stuff than I’d first assumed. Maybe he wasn’t just some kid I could push around, but he was still a kid.
“What exactly do you have to do, Lee?”
He stood up, his gaze cooling to more of a glare as he leveled it at me. My belly did a tiny flip-flop as I noted the blue of his eyes, so unusual for a man with dark hair. “Let me explain something to you, Mrs. Hollister—”
“Ms,” I snapped, knowing I was being over-the-top bitchy, but unable to help myself. “It’s Ms. Hollister. I’m not married.”
“Oh.” Lee’s nostrils flared, but he continued. “This may not be rocket science, but this isn’t just some job you can throw together in a couple of days.”
“Well, why not? It’s water in a hole. Fix the hole. That’s all you have to do.”
“Oh, so you’re a contractor now, Ms. Hollister? Let me tell you something.” He tilted his head, a twist to his lips. “No, actually, I’m not going to tell you something. I don’t think this is a good idea. I’m going to go ahead and let myself out.”
And just like that, he turned on his heel, his tight, much-too-fine ass rolling as he walked, and made as if to stroll right back around the house where he’d come from. I couldn’t believe it.
“Wait! What are you doing? Where are you going?”
But he didn’t even look over his shoulder as he said it. “I’m done here, Ms. Hollister. I’m sure you can find someone else who will take care of your pool for you… in a week.”
I was completely stunned. I’d never had anyone treat me like this. I’d never had a man stand up to me like this. Of course, I knew I was right, which by definition, meant he was wrong, but this was… novel. I didn’t know what to do. So, I just went on instinct.
And chased after him.
“Wait, wait! Lee! Mr. Strickland, wait!” I quickly ran in front of him, facing him, blocking his way from walking along the trail at the side of the house. I held my hands up to him, and a smile actually played at his lips. “Look, I-I’m sorry. Just tell me what needs to be done and maybe I can help you. Maybe I can find somebody else to help assist you, or… or I can pay you extra and buy the equipment you need. Whatever it takes. Money isn’t the issue. Time is the issue.”
I hated saying the words, but they were true. “I need your help.”
Inside, I knew I was going to make him pay for this. I could be nice to him now, I could play the game now. But when I got the opportunity… I was going to fucking bust his balls for this.
He said nothing for what felt like an eternity, and I was sure he was going to walk right past me.
And then he sighed.
Shaking his head, he looked down. “Okay. Against my better judgment, I’m going to help you.”
A bloom of triumph welled within me as I heard the words.
I’ve got him. I knew it.
Not for the first time, I realized the power was back in my hands.
Men were easy. Men were predictable. You made them think that they had the upper hand. You made them think that they were stronger than you.
You make them think that they’re superior. And you draw them in, get them to do what you want, and then you show them what the reality is — that they are not superior. That actually, they’ve been manipulated, directed the entire time. They just didn’t know it.
Of course, men will never know this. Men will never understand this. Because they’re men.
But I knew it. I’d gotten very far in life knowing how to work men, understanding how to influence them, how to cajole them. I’d mastered the art of convincing them to help me, learning to encourage them to do what I wanted to do, and make them feel like it benefited them and not just me. It wasn’t even difficult anymore.
But this one. This one wasn’t going to be easy. That made the challenge that much more exciting though. I knew I was up to it.
Yes, he might have had me on my heels at first, taken me by surprise, but I would regroup. I had regrouped. I already had him. He just didn’t know it yet.
“So, what do you do first? Do you just… jump in and try and find the leak?”
He looked at me like I’d just spoken to him in a language he’d never heard before. “Ms. Hollister, I’m going to have to drain your pool.”
“Drain the pool? Why? There must be thousands of gallons in there.”
He looked over his shoulder back at the water. “Judging by the size of the pool, I’d say comfortably north of fifteen thousand.”
“But… but why? Can’t you just go under the surface and find the leak or air bubbles or something?”
Lee scrubbed his chin with his hand. “This isn’t like finding a leak in a tire. This is a liner in your pool, and it’s broken. It’s been perforated. It’s going to have to be replaced. But first, we have to find out where the leak is and how bad it is. If it’s minor, we might be able to avoid replacing the whole liner, but if it’s major, the entire thing has to be relined — which means excavating around your pool. Which also means my estimate for your job just tripled. But the first step—”
I gasped as he said that, but it wasn’t because of the money. It was because I knew then that he was right. There was no way this could happen in a week. I was screwed, and I was pissed.
“Jesus Christ,” I said, snapping the words, whipping away a lock of hair that had fallen across my eyes. “I can’t believe this. Why can’t you just… why can’t you just put on a wetsuit and jump in and do it without taking all the water out?”
“Ms. Hollister, you need me to fix your pool, not show off my scuba diving skills. That’s not how we do this. You can’t find the leak that way. Just…” He looked at his clipboard and I could tell he was doing it simply to gather himself. He was growing impatient, which was good.
I wanted him impatient. I wanted him angry. I wanted him off balance.
That was the best way to manipulate a man.
“So, I’m paying you money. If I want you to jump in my pool with a fucking scuba diving suit on, you should. I’m paying you to do it.”
Then he fixed me with a basilisk glare that had my heart seizing in my chest. I’d never seen a man of his youth give me a look like that. I didn’t know a young kid like him even knew how to give a woman a look like that. But he did.
“If we’re going to do this, Ms. Hollister, let’s get one thing straight. I don’t want you to talk to me like that again. Do you understand me?”
My mouth fell open.
Did he just say what I think he said? Is he giving me an order like I was some little girl?
I was about to ream him a new ass when he held up his hand, stopping me in my tracks. “I want to hear you say it. What you just said was disrespectful, and I won’t tolerate it. And if I’m going to be your contractor, you will not be talking to me like that. Ever. Do you understand that?”
I took a deep breath, knowing this was going to be harder than I thought. Yeah, he was tough. He was difficult. He was an asshole.
Why do the assholes always have to be gorgeous? Why?
“Fine, Mr. Strickland.”
“Lee,” he ground out through gritted teeth.
“Sorry, sorry. Lee.”
“I’m sorry I said that to you. Just… please fix my pool.”
He pulled a pen out of one of several pockets along the thigh of his work pants and scribbled something on the page affixed to his clipboard. Then he ripped off a stub and handed it to me. “I can start tomorrow, but here’s the down payment I require. I have to have this before I do any work.”
I took the stub of paper from his hand. It was an invoice for… five thousand dollars.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, right?” The words leapt out of my mouth before I realized it probably wasn’t the best thing I could have said at that moment.
Lee sighed again, his hands on his hips, gazing at the ground. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her.”
“Um, I’m right here,” I said to him.
But he didn’t respond to me. He turned away then, and I thought maybe he’d decide to leave after all. I was ready to throw my hands up and just let him go. He was too much work. He was too much of a pain in the ass… though his certainly was fine.
Stop it, Cori. He could be your son. The last thing you need to be doing right now is gawking at his ass.
Then Lee finally spoke. “Something else you need to know. I don’t put up with that kind of language from a woman. I won’t tolerate it.” He turned to me, his eyebrows lifted. “Still sure you want to hire me? Because any time I’m here working on your pool, I don’t want to hear that kind of language out of you.”
For a second, I thought maybe he was joking, that this was some sort of sick prank. Then I realized he was actually serious. And I knew what I had to do. I stepped closer to him, jabbed my finger at his chest, and gave him the coldest look I knew how to give.
“I am paying you to do a job. I am not paying you to police my vocabulary. Now, either fix my pool, or I’ll find somebody who will.”
But he seemed to know it was a bluff, of course. Bluffs worked when it came to men. Well, with weak men. But when I saw that sly smile play about the corners of his mouth, I knew he hadn’t bought it.
I knew I was sunk.
He gave me the tiniest of winks as he turned away and walked back down the path. He said the words over his shoulder, casual, confident, arrogant.
“See you tomorrow, Ms. Hollister.”
* * *
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt. I should have more for you shortly.
As always, if you’d like to be notified when this or any new Trent Evans story is released, the single best way to do so is to sign up for my New Release Alerts mailing list. The people on this list are the very first to be notified of new releases, or special deals on existing titles. You won’t regret signing up:)
Until next time.