Excerpt from Start Me Up - HQN Books


Talk Me Down

Lori pulled a few more curls back into sproinginess as she stared at the backhoe’s engine. She made very sure that she appeared irritated instead of slightly excited. Those hands she’d wondered about had stroked over her forehead, her cheeks. Elegant as they looked, Quinn’s fingers were slightly rough, raspy from the work he’d done here on the mountain.

But it had been a fraternal sort of touch. As it should have been. Quinn was her best friend’s brother. He thought of her as a little sister, if he thought of her at all.

“More likely the latter,” she muttered and forced herself to get to work.

“You say something?”

She jumped and banged an elbow on the angled hood. But Quinn didn’t notice. He was already back to staring down at his drafting table. “What are you working on?” Lori couldn’t help but ask.

He looked up, blinking as he always did when he surfaced for air.

She repeated the question.

“Oh, plans for the house.”

“But you’ve already started building.” She glanced toward the gray lines of concrete she could just make out at the edge of the meadow. “The foundation looks set.”

“Yeah, I’ve completed all the floor plans. Actually, I had everything done, but now I’m stumbling over the design details. I keep changing them.” He smiled in a self-deprecating way. “I do this every day for other people, but it’s much harder working on a house I plan to live in for decades. A brilliant new idea will come to me, then the next morning it’s clearly crap. I think I have a new sympathy for clients and their ever-evolving ideas.”

“That’s probably a good thing.” Lori looked around at the meadow and the trees and the blank expanse of sky suspended above the cliff. “You come here for inspiration then?”

His eyes lit up. “Exactly! The light, the color... shades and hues that change from minute to minute. I need to get the windows just right, the height and shape of them. The texture of the walls that catch the light. I need to know what the views will be in morning and afternoon and evening.” His hands gestured, and Lori greedily watched every arc, every twitch.

“That evening you were here,” he continued, “right after you left, the sun burst through the aspen, and I finally realized just the type of window I should place above the front door. The exact grade of stone to use on the fireplace where it rises up to the second floor. The light will... Shit, I’m sorry.”

Lori shook off the spell he’d cast with his bright eyes and deep voice. “What?”

“Sorry. I know I tend to go way past the boredom mark for most people. Not just computer engineers are nerds, I’m afraid.”

“No, I think it’s amazing! You look like you’re in love.”

“Oh.” He actually blushed. This tall, successful man standing in front of a log cabin in a flannel shirt. He blushed.

“It’s sweet!” Lori assured him.

“Yeah, great. Sweet. The ultimate nerd compliment.”

Lori couldn’t help but laugh. When he scowled, she laughed harder. “Give it up, Quinn. I’m not going to feel sorry for you. Even if you could convince me you’re a nerd, you’re still hot and rich and successful. Poor baby.”

Shaking her head, she set to work on removing the old starter. Maybe he was nerdy in the strictest sense of the word, but she knew plenty of girls in her junior high class who’d thought him tantalizingly mysterious before he’d gone off to college. Bookish and distracted took on a whole different meaning when the boy in question was also gorgeous and kind.

“Hot?” she heard him ask, and looked up to see him leaning against the porch rail watching her.


“Hot. You said I was hot.” He kept his mouth serious, but his hazel eyes danced with laughter.

This time Lori’s face heated. She waved her wrench in his general direction. “I was just stroking your ego.”

“Well, nice work. It felt good, your stroking.”


Watch for Start Me Up in July 2009!!!