Marrying Melinda excerpt

An excerpt from Marrying Melinda, which was my first indie published book:
      Mel took a bite of her hamburger and used a paper napkin to wipe away a dribble of ketchup from her chin. Steak, tomato and lettuce, a warm bun, pickles, tons of sauce – what more could you want?
She took a sip of cola – diet cola – from the paper cup, set it back in the holder and glanced discreetly at Daniel. What she’d give to read his mind now, right this minute, as they sat on hard plastic seats in a stadium with sports crazed fans surrounding them. Most of them were vocal; a lot of them were just plain drunk. She took another bite of hamburger. This was the dinner he’d promised her?
Not that she was complaining when it was the most excitement she’d be getting for a while. Their thighs had touched before and brief as it was, she hadn’t wanted the feeling to end. But watching a game meant they weren’t getting to talk and in the days since he’d phoned, imagining their dinner had been a welcome distraction from everything else. In complete violation of the rest home rules which stated no visitors allowed she had spent last night at her mother’s apartment. It had been a trial run, being her mother’s new roomie, and it would be fine; in a fortnight she might not have a choice.
Daniel finished off his hamburger and began to tuck into the rest of his fries. She was drawn to his profile, to the way his hair sat around his neck, the way his jaw moved as he slowly chewed, the short lines around his eyes as he focused on the game. Her gaze dipped. The T-shirt emphasised his flat stomach, the fabric sitting nicely around muscular arms and wide, powerful shoulders. He leant forward and the T-shirt slipped up from his jeans. Beneath it she saw a nice tanned section of male skin. He sat back and finished off his fries. How did he manage to eat that stuff and not get fat?
The crowd roared and she jumped in shock. Around them people rose to their feet, Daniel went with them and Mel followed suit, not sure what she was meant to be looking at.
She stared at the field and at the players running around on the green turf. Suddenly a player was brought to the ground in a tackle, a collective groan rose in the crowd, and she sat back down with relief and consoled herself with the rest of the hamburger.
“I take it you’re enjoying that?” Daniel commented.
Mel froze, mid chew. Heat rose startlingly quick up her neck as she turned to face him.
He pointed to an area to the right of his mouth. “You’ve got something…”
She grabbed her paper napkin and dabbed and for good measure dabbed the other side and took a sip of cola to wash away the shame. Not that she was out to impress him but she didn’t have to embarrass herself.
“It’s delicious,” she said finally. “Yummy. I haven’t had a hamburger in ages.”
“It wasn’t bad at all,” he agreed. He screwed up his wrapper and took his cup from the holder.
And that was the thing. If you were going to bring a girl out on a date, wouldn’t you go to some swanky French restaurant with four courses, a waiter who draped a fine linen napkin across your lap, and served wine in crystal flutes? The Christies were loaded – she’d Googled them. When he’d said his name was Daniel Christie she hadn’t for a second assumed he was actually one of those Christies. But he was. They weren’t the flashy rich who paraded themselves at functions or indulged in scurrilous activities and married supermodels. They were far too conservative and old money for that. But they packed impressive financial punch, gave heavily to charity, and appeared to have inherited one heck of a mighty gene pool judging from the photos that had come up on line. Even the great grandfather in the grainy sepia shot was pretty easy on the eye.
“You’re not enjoying yourself, are you,” Daniel remarked. It was a voice that was neither accusing nor disappointed. For such emotive words in fact, it was said with amazing blandness.
“I’m enjoying myself.” She took another sip of cola.
He ran a considering gaze over her. “I thought you’d like football. You were wearing a football shirt at the campground and I noticed you had supporters’ stickers on your car bumper.”
Mel closed her eyes a second. Of course he would think that. It all made perfect sense now. Except that it was her mother who was the huge fan, relying on the cable TV Mel insisted she have to indulge her passion for the game.
“I’ve watched a lot of sport in my time,” she told him diplomatically. “My mother is one of those crazy supporters with all the scarves and the posters and the coffee cups and…” She stopped. She didn’t need to impart personal information to him. Didn’t need him to know that it was the one thing that kept her mother sane, and when she was learning how to get her life back on track it counted for a lot.
She took the final sip of her cola and he glanced at the scoreboard and said, “Looks like we lost.” He stood up, slid effortlessly into his leather jacket and held out his hand. “Let’s go.”
She put her hand in his. Heat pulsed through her as he pulled her up. Everyone around them was getting up from the hard seats, too. He said, “I’m only sorry I couldn’t deliver a win for your team.”
“Our team,” she corrected, in between praying he didn’t ask her to name which teams had played.
He dropped her hand. Her skin still tingled, still felt hot. He smiled the amused smile that could have been from a brother to a sister. Her heart dipped even further. “Of course. Our team. Let’s go.”
They walked out of the grounds, people rushing past, some a little worse for wear after indulging in the obscenely priced liquor. Daniel took her hand again. “So we don’t get lost,” he remarked as a particularly rambunctious group of young men, rejoicing in their team’s win, jostled past. “I hear it was a sell-out.”
Mel glanced at his hand and found herself mesmerised by the sight and by the feel. His hand was large and warm, with a grip that said possession without control. She suddenly noticed women watching them both and her spirits lifted. Maybe they thought she was his girlfriend. His lover even.
Or maybe, she thought as he said, “Whoa” when she came close to stepping over the curb, they figured she was his poor simple sister and he had to hold on to her so she didn’t wander off and get run over. Her spirits were taking a rapid dive when a voice called, “Daniel?”
An older man, gray hair on the cusp of turning white, walked towards them, a surprised grin on his face
A supporter’s scarf draped his neck even though the evening was almost warm.
“Hugh. Why am I not surprised?” They shook hands and Daniel introduced them. “Hugh Devereaux, this is my… that is, she’s…” His gaze fixed on Mel a long moment, as if trying to figure out what to call her. Similarly, her mind had reached a total blank.
“Friend,” he said finally. “And Mel, this is Hugh Devereaux. Hugh is a family friend and our company lawyer.”
“Charmed, Melissa.” Hugh took her hand, bent and kissed it. “Or is it Melanie?”
Daniel sighed wearily, and Mel grinned, instantly warming to the handsome, older man. “No, it’s Melinda. But call me Mel.”
“Mel it is. It’s good to meet any female friend of Daniel’s. A rare occurrence.”
Really? She stared at Daniel who looked as if he’d heard the comment a million times and was heartily sick of it. Surely he had women friends all over the place, just waiting for the nod.
Hugh turned his attention to Daniel, his bushy eyebrows raised impossibly high above light blue eyes. “What on earth brings you to the park, Dan? You detest football. What made you see the light?”
Daniel’s face tightened. “I owed Mel,” he said briskly. “Mel’s the supporter.”
Alarm settled like a fog across her. He’d brought her here only because he thought she was the footie fan? She didn’t mind it but that was only for her mother.
“Well, I wouldn’t call myself a…” She swallowed, and stared back at him. “You mean you don’t really like football?”
Daniel waggled his hand in a fifty-fifty gesture.
“He loathes it,” Hugh put in.
“Loathe is an exaggeration,” Daniel told her. “I prefer to channel my physical energies into other things. I rowed at varsity and I whack a squash ball around the court now and then. Suits me fine.”
She dropped her gaze to his broad shoulders. She could imagine him rowing. He looked like a rower, now she thought of it. All that power and muscle, not to mention the determination to row mile after mile, water glistening off his skin, sun hitting his body. The power in his thighs…
He turned to her and his eyes glimmered as if he’d read her mind. Impossible. Hugh slapped Daniel on the back. “At least his allegiance lies with the family firm, not with a team that darn well lost a match they should have won.”
Daniel gestured ahead. “Hugh, how about a lift home? I assume you caught a taxi.” They were out on the main road now and he said, “We’re parked up here, it’s not far to walk. And I’ll be dropping Mel off back at her place.”
Hugh glanced straight at her and his gaze held a curious fraction. It was loaded with enough questions that she felt like an ant under a magnifying glass. Daniel seemed ambivalent to the speculation as Hugh agreed, “I’ll take you up on it. It’ll save me a taxi fare.”
Mel noted his tailored jacket and trousers, and leather shoes that looked straight out of a GQ fashion shoot. He looked as if the last thing he’d ever need to worry about would be the cost of a taxi fare.
“So Mel,” he said as they joined in the stream moving away from the sports ground, “what did you think of the game?”

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