“Me and my big mouth,” Julia muttered as she dragged in the third load of wood to stack beside the fireplace. The snow hadn’t stopped falling since she’d arrived and, while the cabin was certainly toasty, she didn’t relish the thought of being buried alive by snowdrifts for the entire winter. Sure, she was used to being alone, but at least at home in New York City, she had the option of personal contact if she desired it. When the walls of her tiny apartment started to close in on her, she could always hit the market or Starbucks to see other human beings.
Coming to Ross Phillips’s rustic escape, this extraordinarily luxurious cabin nestled high in the mountains of West Virginia, to start a new novel—especially at the beginning of January—had not been one of her more brilliant plans. Actually, it was Ross’s fault—this reckless venture to the wilderness. He’d goaded her into it like he did most things.
“You’re in a rut,” Ross had told her. “What you need is a change. A major change.”
Unwilling to confess to her totally hot, though thoroughly arrogant, editor that he was right, she let him convince her to escape the city in the dead of winter with relatively little fuss. The fact was she had been battling boredom with her chosen path in life. Although truth be told, when he made the suggestion for change, she thought he’d merely meant she should take a vacation.
Historical romance novelist by trade, she’d spent the last ten years of her life buried in her small apartment with her beloved cat, Duke, writing about damsels in distress, hunky lords and knights, and glorious adventures. In other words, she’d been living inside her head, creating worlds and men who could never exist in this lifetime.
Two months ago, Duke had gone on to that kitty castle in the sky and Julia’s world had fallen apart. Depression set in as she realized her best, and now only, friend was her editor—simply because a cat had died.
She hadn’t had a date in nearly three years—which was the last time Ross attempted to set her up. Ten minutes into the evening, Julia knew the blind date would end like all the others. The guy would never meet the standards she’d set in her mind for the ideal man. Feigning a migraine, she escaped the disastrous dinner before dessert only to be raked over the coals by Ross the next morning for not giving his friend a fair chance.
Even now, she could recall his frustration and anger. She could hear his voice like it was yesterday…
* * *
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he yelled into the phone. “Alex Saunders is a great guy. According to him, you didn’t give him the time of day.”
“I’m sure he is a perfectly nice man,” Julia answered, feeling guilty for not putting forth more effort. Ross was worried about her spending so much time alone; however she couldn’t help but be surprised he thought she would be attracted to Alex. “He’s just not my type.”
“Oh hell, not that again. Jules, we’ve talked about this. It’s 2015, not 1815,” Ross said, exasperation thick in his voice.
“I know what year it is, Ross.”
“Do you?” Ross asked. “Do you really?”
“We’ve had this conversation before.”
“That’s right, we have. And could it be because you insist on turning yourself into an old maid? Christ, Jules, you’re nearly thirty years old. It’s time to get out there. Live a little.”
“I am perfectly happy with my life the way it is and I am not nearly thirty. I’m only twenty-seven. I like my freedom and I don’t need a man. Why can’t you trust me when I say that?”
“Because it’s not normal, Jules. Living in self-imposed seclusion is not normal. When’s the last time you got laid?” Ross asked.
“I don’t think that’s any of your business. You’re my editor, Ross, not my pimp!”
“Jesus, Jules,” Ross began.
“And my name is Julia. You know I hate that nickname.”
“Jules,” Ross said calmly, ignoring her request as usual, “honey, you can’t stay locked up in that apartment writing romance novels twenty-four seven. It’s not healthy.”
“I would think you’d be delighted I’m working so hard. My last four books topped the best-seller list and I’ve won the True Heart award twice.”
“Don’t insult me, kiddo. I hope after all the years we’ve known each other, you know I consider you a friend, not a client. And as your friend, I’d prefer it if you wrote less and lived more.”
* * *
Julia’s heart softened as she recalled his words to her that day. Ross was a good friend. For the past decade, he’d been her main connection to the outside world, which was why she had foolishly agreed to his idea of a change. Rather than suggesting a relaxing cruise, however, his idea of a major change was actually a new genre.
According to Ross, the market for hot books was booming. He’d given her a box full of titles, encouraging her to read them and see what she thought.
For the past month, she’d been immersed in capture, bondage, BDSM and ménage-a-trois stories. She learned about domination, submission and the toys—my God, she didn’t know such things existed. Butt plugs, whips, paddles, vibrators, nipple clamps. She didn’t have a clue about any of these things and now Ross wanted her to write about them.
While she had to admit she was intrigued, she also knew no amount of imagination was going to get her out of this mess. Ross had insisted she write erotica and, while still in a sensual haze from her readings and depressed over Duke’s death, she’d foolishly agreed to try.
Granted, she was technically not a virgin, but she couldn’t help but wonder if there was a statute of limitations on virginity.
How long could you consider yourself experienced without actually having sex?
She’d had sex with two, almost three men in her life—her high school beau, her college sweetheart and a nearly disastrous one-night stand. While her high school and college boyfriends had both been very sweet men, the bed play had certainly been nothing to write home about—mainly innocent exploration and vanilla sex.
Her lack of experience was in direct contrast to Ross’s wealth of practice and skill. For all the dates she lacked, Ross Phillips more than made up the difference for both of them. Like Baskin-Robbins, he had a flavor of the month and it was always unique, different and exotic. A steady parade of gorgeous women made their way through his bedroom—so many in fact, Julia teasingly nicknamed him “Hef”, likening him to Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Bunnies.
The sad truth was she hadn’t had sex in nearly a decade, except for that near miss almost five years ago, which had been an unmitigated disaster and the main reason she’d sworn off men and sex forever. She still couldn’t think of that night without blushing regret.
She’d gone to a Christmas party at the home of one of her publishers and gotten a little inebriated. Actually, she’d gotten a lot inebriated. She hated social events and was terrible at small talk. She was supposed to hang out with Ross, but…
* * *
Ross had shown up with Bridget, his buxom blonde on-again, off-again girlfriend, or—as Julia liked to refer to her—slutfriend. The woman looked as if she’d come from the catwalks of Paris, in a shimmering silver dress cut so low in the back Julia was sure one quick turn and her entire rear end would be exposed. She was dripping with brilliant blue sapphires hanging from her ears, neck and both wrists, no doubt an early Christmas gift from Ross.