Today on First Kiss Friday, we welcome romance author, Carrie Padgett, and an excerpt from her Sweet Contemporary Romance Novella, “Brooke Runs Away – a Harts Leap Novella.”
Austin and Brooke are contestants on the reality dating show, Date My Son! Brooke thought they really connected, so she felt blindsided when Austin eliminated her. She’s come back to the mansion to get some answers. Austin told her his mom made the decision to eliminate her and since the show is called “Date My Son!” there was nothing he could do to keep her longer. They’re sitting on the edge of the pool.
First Kiss Excerpt
“Thanks for the chat, Austin.” I started to stand, but he took my hand and I froze, one foot in the water, the other on the warm concrete edge.
“Do you think …” He paused and gave me an appraising look. I was suddenly conscious of the camera angled over his shoulder and my knee bent up at a weird angle. I lowered my other foot back to the water. “May I call you when this is over?”
I swallowed a bark of laughter. “What about finding true love on reality television? Isn’t your future fiancée still here somewhere?”
He shrugged. “I want someone who’s the same on camera and off. You and Cassie are the only two who resemble that.”
“And Cassie’s taken.”
His gaze never wavered. “It’s you, Brooke. It’s been you since you ordered extra whip on your coffee that first day. In your normal clothes, as yourself.”
I glanced around. This place and this show sold an idea, an image of what a good life should be. A fully-stocked bar. A pool. Granite countertops. Fabulous dates and hip places. Helicopter rides to bowling alleys.
But it was a faux life. The real good life is hot chocolate in front of the Christmas fire. Cribbage on rainy days. Sparring about whether to order pizza or Chinese for dinner.
Who did I want to debate with about pepperoni versus fried rice?
A tiny shiver of anticipation darted to my core.
“Tell me about Harts Leap.” Austin’s quiet voice drew me out of my thoughts.
I retrieved my hand from his and leaned back. “It’s the best town in the world. I grew up there. I love it there. I belong there.”
He pulled a leg out of the water and tucked it under his opposite knee, then turned and faced me. “Instead of calling you, may I come for a visit? I want to see the soda fountain, and the farmer’s market, and the café and the dance studio and the quilt”—
“Have you been Googling Harts Leap?” I interrupted.
He chuckled and shook his head. “You told me so much about the place, I think I could walk from the Brookside Inn to Daisy’s Café without asking directions.”
“I didn’t talk about home that much! Did I?” Perhaps I’d been more homesick than I realized.
“Between you and Nathan, expect tourism to increase approximately 300 percent when the show airs.”
A flush of pleasure that he’d listened so well warred with embarrassment that I’d bored him and a nation of viewers who wanted to see romance, not a travelogue. I didn’t run away from Harts Leap to find love. I left to find myself.
I cleared my throat. “You can visit me. I … I’d like that.”
“Really?” He reached for my hand, then pulled me to stand next to him.
My stomach fluttered as his gaze drifted to my lips.
We’d laughed. We’d bowled. We’d shared meals and dates.
We’d never kissed.
He bent his head and I lifted my mouth to meet his.
Our kiss was soft at first, tentative. Then he deepened the contact, pulled me closer, as if after one taste, he had to have more.
I threaded my arms around his neck and met his want with my own.
After a long moment, we pulled back. He rested his forehead on mine. “Wow.”
I had no breath left, so I smiled.
His gaze darkened and he let go. “Wait here.” He strode back to the house.
I watched Austin’s back disappear through the kitchen door. Was it something I said?
For the first time since we stepped outside, I noticed the camera and its steady red light.
Our conversation, our questions, our kiss … they were private.
My breath caught in my throat and my pulse pounded.
I’d broken the first rule of reality television. Never forget that everything is recorded and anything might show up on air.
It took every ounce of self-control to walk at a steady pace around the house and back to my car. The tears didn’t come until after I exited the freeway near my apartment. I dashed out of the Subaru, and up the steps to my door. Inside, I stumbled to the couch and buried my face in a pillow.
Then I cried.
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