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Authors: Waterford, Libby

Love unlocked

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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Love Unlocked

Copyright © 2013 by Libby Waterford

ISBN: 978-1-61333-620-5

Cover art by Tibbs Designs

 

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work, in whole or in part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Decadent Publishing Company, LLC

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~Dedication~

 

 

For Dylan

 

 

 

Love Unlocked

 

By

 

Libby Waterford

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Eve Caplin was used to being on the wrong side of a locked door. Until recently, her livelihood had depended on her ability to get past any lock to reach whatever treasure lay on the other side. She always succeeded. Thus, her irritation at being locked out of her brand new house—unable to let herself in by means traditional or otherwise—threatened to swamp her sunny mood. Not exactly an auspicious beginning to home ownership.

Her lock picks were in a safe deposit box in San Francisco. She could probably break a window, but she couldn’t bear to do damage to the beautiful house she’d only taken possession of half an hour before. Even though her nearest neighbor was a quarter mile down the road, out of sight, she didn’t want to announce her presence to the area by being seen shinnying up a drainpipe in her snakeskin Ferragamo flats. Besides, all of that illicit behavior was part of a life she was trying to leave behind.

The irony of having to call a locksmith tempered her almost tearful happiness at the second chance this Victorian-style house perched on top of Oak Grove Hill represented. Waiting on the flagstone front step gave her time to daydream about paint colors and furniture configurations, and she was so occupied with tapping to-do lists into her sleek little phone that she started at the crunch of tires on the gravel driveway.Herdriveway. The thought made her smile, despite her idiotic lapse with the house keys.

Then the locksmith swung out of his sparkling clean truck, headed straight for her, and all thoughts of paint, sofas, and misplaced keys melted out of her brain.

Her first impression was raw strength. His shoulders were powerful, and his arms filled out the sleeves of his plain white tee. She’d never met him, but the contradictory features of his fascinatingly masculine face were familiar somehow. Strong nose, full lips, dark slanted eyes—all shockingly appealing. He could have been the model for a Michelangelo sculpture, a Renaissance hunk carved out of caramel-colored marble. If she’d met him last week when she’d still called Paris home, she would have assumed he was Italian, but since they were smack in the middle of California’s coastline, his Mediterranean looks probably meant he had Latino heritage.

“Locked out?” he said in a smooth bass.

“Yes.” She rose to let him by, but didn’t move quickly enough to avoid his elbow brushing against her as he set his toolbox on the step. The brief touch made her shiver.Get it together, Eve. There was no cause to become so unsettled by one beautiful man.

“This will only take a minute,” he said, all professional seriousness.

“Super.”

He knelt and applied his tool to the lock. He knew what he was doing, but he was slow. It would have taken her about fifteen seconds to do what was taking him two minutes. She curbed her impatience and took the opportunity to study him.

Glossy brown hair curled around his ears, and the hands working the lock were strong and agile. They could have been a pianist’s hands. She liked the combination of his wide mouth with its lush bottom lip made for sin, and his eyes, dark and hooded with concentration.

What could he do if he applied that concentration and those hands to some of her less accessible places?

Hold it. That was the last thing she needed at the moment. Not to mention how a man that attractive, with no wedding ring, was the definition of dangerous to a woman whose number one priority was keeping a low profile. Unless he was gay. A girl could hope.

“What’s your name?” she asked as the door swung open.

He looked her in the eye and the realization struck her why he seemed familiar. She knew who he was.

“Hudson,” he said. “That’ll be thirty-nine bucks.”

 

 

“Hudson,” she repeated. “I’m Eve.”

He already knew that from the message given to him by the answering service. What the lady who routed Triple A Locksmith’s calls hadn’t said was that Eve Caplin would be a knockout brunette, as petite as a gymnast, but with twice the curves. Something told him they were dangerous curves. Hudson found an invoice and got busy writing, the faster to get out of her way.

His concentration had been shot since he’d arrived and felt her watching him. He’d tried to keep his eyes on the job, but he wanted to look over and drink in more of her cool, creamy skin and the thick black hair drawn away from her face in a loose knot. How far would it fall down her back if he pulled it free? He found himself needing to know. Acknowledging the desire made him wary.

“We haven’t met, but I think I know your work,” she said, in a soft but commanding voice that had his body snapping to attention.

Hudson stopped filling out the invoice and regarded his customer carefully. Her eyes were green, like the jade that covered some of the beaches farther north. He had the sudden urge to sketch her. He’d need to use a delicate touch as her features, though striking, were also somehow effervescent, changing as she adjusted the tilt of her head, or lowered sooty lashes over those alluring eyes. The idea stuck in his brain like a burr. It had been a long time since he’d wanted to sketch anything, let alone a woman.

She peered at him as if she expected him to say something. When he didn’t, she added, “Do you want to come in?”

Hudson shrugged and followed her into the front hallway. He only wanted to get out of the late afternoon sun, not prolong his contact with this seductive creature. Just one glance told him the entire space was as empty as Chelsea Creek in August. Eve took a left through what was probably destined to be the living room into a big, open kitchen. A set of shiny keys sat on a gray marble countertop, beside a bottle of California sparkling wine adorned with a gift tag that proclaimed “Welcome Home! From Chelsea Realty”.

Eve scooped up the keys and dropped them in the pocket of her oversized red cardigan. “I was so excited to move in my one box of stuff that I left my keys inside.” She gestured to the bottle of wine. “No ice, no fridge, no glasses. I guess the bubbly will have to wait.”

“Too bad.”

“Yes, it is. I can’t think of a time when I’ve wanted to celebrate more.”

“Oh, I open doors all the time,” he said dryly. Then he shook his head. Why was he bantering with her?

She smiled a little. “I meant buying my first house. Though, champagne is always a good idea, so I guess it will keep.”

Her enthusiasm was kind of sweet.

“I do have a bottle of water, if you’re thirsty.”

“No, thanks.” It had been a while since he’d worked a shift for Triple A Locksmith, but he remembered the drill. You let them in, you got your thirty-nine bucks, you left. No champagne or water. No banter. But this small, jade-eyed woman intrigued him. Her empty house intrigued him. The fact that she said she knew his work aroused his curiosity even more.

“You’re Hudson Cleary, aren’t you?” she said, following up on that very topic.

He hesitated. “Guilty.”

“I thought so. A friend of mine has one of your Provence series in his home. It’s stunning.”

His astonishment at being recognized was dwarfed by his consternation at her compliment. He managed, “Thanks,” but she started talking again before he’d finished spitting out the word.

“But what....”

“What am I doing moonlighting as a locksmith?” he supplied. He didn’t blame her for wondering. He was pondering what a gorgeous woman with a friend who owned one of his earliest and most expensive paintings, who recognized a semi-obscure painter by sight, was doing on the middle-of-nowhere Central California coast.

“Well, yes.”

His recent self-imposed exile had left him short on social niceties. “I’m filling in for a friend,” he said brusquely.

Her raised eyebrows invited him to continue, so he forced himself to elaborate. “This was my father’s business. Now it’s my brother’s. He and his wife are out of town, so I told them I’d mind the store. I used to work summers with my dad.”

“Before you became an internationally famous painter,” she said, seemingly amused at the unlikely origin story.

“Before that,” he agreed, the gruffness slowly leaving his voice. She had managed to loosen him up a bit, but the pause that followed reminded him they were here to finish their business.

He handed her the invoice. She counted out exactly thirty-nine dollars from her designer shoulder bag.

“Do you think your brother could do some additional work for me when he has some time? I’d like to change the locks and a few other things. Does he do security systems?”

He had to remind himself not to be disappointed by her return to business. “Sure. I’ll have him call you to set up an appointment.”

“Thanks.”

He picked up his tools. “I assume you just moved in.”

“Well, I can’t claim to have moved in, but I did take ownership this morning. I was so excited I locked myself out.”

“New to the area?”

She paused a slight second. “Yes. I don’t suppose you could recommend a hotel nearby? I’m not going to be able to stay here until I get a bed.”

The last word conjured a flash of heat in his belly. He imagined her lying naked in his heavy four-poster, and he cleared his throat. “Well, the Chelsea Inn is basic but clean. Left, off the 1.”

“Lovely. I’ll give that a go.”

Her speech had a European flavor and her American accent was overlaid with a veneer of British poshness, adding another dimension to her appeal and another puzzle to the stack.

“Thanks again,” she said.

Though she was clearly dismissing him, Hudson lingered. He wanted to know why this woman’s face made him itch for a pencil and paper when he hadn’t touched either in nearly two years.

He hovered by the door. “Who are you?” he asked before he could stop himself.

She laughed, a smooth, sophisticated chortle that seemed a little forced. “I’m an out-of-towner looking for a fresh start. Good enough?”

“Fresh,” he repeated, as if that was the only word she’d said. He deliberately ran his gaze up and down her body. She was as refreshing as a breeze kicking off the Pacific to cool a sweltering summer day. He hadn’t known he’d been craving a change in the weather but now that a mysterious, sexy stranger had raised his internal thermostat a few degrees, he could stand to cool down a little.

Eve didn’t seem offended by his appraisal. She was so beautiful she was probably used to being looked at, complimented, commented upon.

“Nice to meet you,” she said.

He allowed himself to be pushed out the door, enjoying the feel of her hand steering him past the threshold. She followed him out, and, to his surprise, shut the door behind them.