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Read-a-Chapter: Before He Kills Again, by R. Barri Flowers

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the suspense thriller, Before He Kills Again, by R. Barri Flowers. Enjoy!

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Before He Kills Again_Cover

From R. Barri Flowers, award winning crime writer and international bestselling author of Dark Streets of Whitechapel and Killer in The Woods, comes a gripping new psychological thriller, Before He Kills Again: A Veronica Vasquez Thriller.

FBI psychologist and criminal profiler Veronica Vasquez returns to her hometown of Portland, Oregon to assist police in apprehending a ruthless serial killer dubbed “The Rose Killer,” who kills beautiful women in pairs, leaving a rose on top of each corpse.

Heading the investigation is homicide Detective Sergeant Bryan Waldicott. Veronica must win him over, along with the entire task force, and prove herself worthy of the job. Since losing her husband three years ago, Veronica had been focused on her work to escape the pain of loneliness and separation. A romance with Waldicott, who has issues of his own, complicates things for them both as they try to stop a serial murderer before he kills again.

When she begins to suspect that the new husband of her estranged sister Alexandra could be the killer, Veronica pursues that delicate angle and, in the process, becomes a target herself.

Before He Kills Again is tense thriller that will keep readers on edge till the very end.

Amazon Trade Paperback / Kindle /Kindle UK / Kindle CA / Barnes and Noble Nook eBook / Smashwords / Kobo

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PROLOGUE

He walked around inconspicuously, nodding in a friendly manner to other shoppers who nodded back and smiled as if they really meant it. There were flowers of every type imaginable—Dutch tulips, pretty campanula, fresh lilies, and magnificent daisies—giving him ample choices. But he already knew what he wanted long before he got to the store. In fact, he had known for months now…the notion was etched in his mind. After a suitable time spent wandering around like a lost puppy, he walked up to the counter and waited to be helped.

The florist flashed him an exaggerated smile and said: “Can I help you, sir?”

“Yes, I’d like a dozen of those white roses,” he said cheerfully, pointing at a large vase behind the counter.

“Sure thing,” she said.

He watched her ass jiggle as she walked over and pulled out twelve long stemmed roses.

“White roses seem to be pretty popular these days,” she commented.

That was exactly what he was counting on.

“With good reason,” he said, pouring on the charm. “I think they are the prettiest roses.”

“I agree,” she told him.

He knew she would have said that no matter what color roses he had chosen to buy. But that was fine with him. She was just doing her job.

The woman pulled out some red paper from beneath the counter, set the roses atop it, and began to wrap them. “Looks like some lucky lady will be grinning from ear to ear this evening,” she said.

He smiled. “You’ve got that right.”

As always, he paid for the flowers with cash, was careful not to touch anything else, and left the store humming. In the parking lot, he walked over to a black van. Once inside, he tossed the flowers on the passenger seat.

“Bought something for you lucky ladies,” he said, glancing in the back of the van at his guests. “But you can’t have it yet. I’m sure you understand. You’re not exactly in a position to show your gratitude right now.”

He laughed, pleased with his dry humor, started the engine, and took off. Within minutes, he was on Interstate 5 heading south from Portland. Dusk had settled in like sand in the desert and he turned on his lights to cut through the newly formed darkness.

In the back, he could hear one of his prisoners starting to moan and squirm, as if this would somehow lead to her rescue. Sorry, but that’s not gonna happen, he thought gleefully. Though her hands and feet were bound securely and her mouth taped shut, he could not get to his destination fast enough. Alerting the attention of a nosey passerby with a cell phone could ruin his plans in more ways than one.

“Save your breath,” he shouted at her, hiding the fact that he could never be totally at ease. Not until the job was done. The bitches had to pay…with their lives. All in good time. “Believe me,” he admonished the moaner, “you’ll need it later when you really have something to whine about. And don’t even think about getting away. Escape is damn near impossible! Hell, there is no way out—at least not in the way you think.”

The prisoner increased her moaning and wriggling with the desperation of a terrified person who knew she had nothing to lose at this point. If she only knew. He turned up the volume and sang along to Louis Armstrong’s gravelly rendition of “Mack the Knife,” effectively drowning her out.

“And the shark bites,” he sang along, “with those pearly white teeth, dear…”

Looking into the rear view mirror, he observed the woman. She was in her late thirties with almond brown skin and thick curly black hair that reminded him of a baby lamb’s wool. Taller than most women and slender in all the right places, she was just the way he liked them. She had on well-worn jeans and a bright pink blouse that was so tight across her large braless breasts he was surprised it had not ripped apart during her valiant struggle to elude capture. Of course, he had been one step quicker, physically superior, and more determined to have what he wanted.

He glanced at the other prisoner. She was motionless, obviously still under from the isoflurane he’d used to sedate her. The woman, in her mid-thirties, was white with permed auburn hair and somewhat on the slim side. She was a few inches shorter than his other captive and wore a faded, oversized jersey and jean shorts. Her bony legs were less than appealing, but he knew she would have to do.

Both bitches would do tonight. They had to pay the ultimate price for what she had done to him.

And that whining bitch will be the first to get it, he thought, eyeing the squirming, moaning black woman.

The speedometer read sixty-five and he was tempted to kick it to eighty, maybe ninety. He loved going fast and feeling the pungent air hitting his face as if to snap him back to life. Instead, he let up on the pedal, bringing his speed down to the limit of fifty-five along this stretch. He couldn’t take any chances that the cops might pick his vehicle randomly amongst the many speeders to stop.

That would certainly interfere big time with his plans for these two.

Not to mention put him on a one-way trip to prison—or worse.

As if to validate his paranoia, or perhaps ensure that he would not go down without one hell of a fight, he leaned over, opened the glove compartment, and pulled out a .357 Magnum. The cool steel felt good in his hands. He rested it against his face for a moment or two before putting it back in its resting place…knowing it was ready to grab at a moment’s notice.

He took the exit for Hillcrest. Soon he was passing by the familiar gas station and a strip of stores and places to eat. He turned onto an unpaved road and headed down about three miles, made a right, and went past farmhouses, pastures, and pine trees. It was about as far away from Portland as you could get and still be within a short drive of the city.

Soon he reached his destination. He drove onto a winding gravel road that led to his property. The one story western red cedar log cabin sat on two acres of overgrown weeds and tall evergreens. The nearest neighbor was a mile away, which suited his purposes just fine.

He pulled up to a dirt path in front of the cabin that served as a sidewalk and shut off the engine.

“Welcome, ladies,” he told his captives, “to my own little private hideaway. Now it’s your home, too…at least temporarily.” He chuckled nastily.

He dragged the black woman into the cabin first, enjoying her resistance.

“Scream your pretty head off,” he spat. “It won’t do you one bit of good—except maybe give you some pointless satisfaction that you didn’t go down without making your whiny voice heard.” He laughed. “Too bad I can’t understand a thing you’re saying with that tape strapped across your lips.”

In the back room, he left her on the floor with her arms and ankles still secured while he went out to get the white bitch. She had begun to stir, as if coming out of a bad dream.

But he knew her nightmare had only just begun.

She joined the black bitch in the room. He left them to contemplate their fate while he got the roses out of the van. He put the flowers on a small wooden table in the front room. As usual, he needed only two, tossing the others in a wastebasket to rot.

He put one of the roses on some newspaper and grabbed a can of black spray paint. After shaking it, he sprayed it liberally on the rose till it was as black as charcoal.

Perfect, he thought, nodding with approval. Just perfect. It would be nice and dry by the time he finished with his captives. Then the black and white roses could be presented to them appropriately for their cooperation and participation in his game of life and death.

The mere thought of killing them infuriated and excited him like nothing else he could imagine.

Except the thought of his next kill…

And the terror in the eyes of those who would soon become his next victims.

CHAPTER ONE

Veronica Vasquez was admittedly a bit nervous as she waited in the office of Homicide Detective Bryan Waldicott of the Portland Police Bureau. At the Bureau’s request, she had been loaned to the department as a criminal psychologist and profiling member of the FBI’s Serial Killer Unit. She was proud to have earned her stripes as a certified FBI profiler and determined to stay one step ahead of those who would like to see her “put back in her place.”

Her current assignment was to help track down a vicious sexual serial killer terrorizing Portland, Oregon and its surrounding neighborhoods. Dubbed by the press as “The Rose Killer,” the unsub had murdered six women thus far. The murders occurred in pairs, involving a Caucasian woman and a woman of color. The women had all been severely beaten, disfigured, and strangled. Most had also been sexually assaulted.

As grisly and unusual as this was, Veronica’s frayed nerves were not due to the morbidity of the case or being uprooted from her home in Washington, D.C. at a moment’s notice. Nor was she shaky at the prospect of having to deal with a temporary new boss who had once been one of the FBI’s most brash and bright special agents, until he inexplicably walked away from Quantico three years ago.

It wasn’t even the fact that she had just turned thirty-five and was already a widow with seemingly the best years of her life behind her.

No, what disturbed Veronica more than she cared to admit was returning to her hometown of Portland for the first time in nearly eight years. Not too coincidentally, that was the last time she had seen her sister, Alexandra, who was two years her junior. In fact, the two had not seen eye to eye on much of anything ever since their parents died when the sisters were in their late teens.

If the truth were told, they were about as different as night and day in Veronica’s mind, leaving little ground for a stable, steady relationship, much less a bona fide sisterly bond. It had just seemed better all the way around if they went their own separate ways.

Or at least one of them.

And it ended up being her.

Now, against her better wishes, she had come back. She knew she would have to face Alexandra sooner or later to see if they could possibly salvage anything out of their kinship or if they would remain lost to each other forever.

Veronica forced these thoughts aside as she saw a tall, well-built man approaching the office. Even from a distance, she could see that he was handsome and looked to be in his late thirties. Thick hair that was as black as the night surrounded a chiseled face with a long, pronounced nose. When he got closer, she could see that his eyes—never parting from hers as if in a trance—were pools of deep blue with an intensity that probably matched her own green eyes with gold speckles. He wore a navy suit that was only slightly wrinkled, as if to indicate that he refused to go more than a few days without having it pressed. His striped tie was only loosely fastened over a crisp, white shirt.

Veronica immediately sat up in the chair, as if she had been slouching and did not want to make a bad first impression. She had chosen to wear a gray suit that flattered her five-foot-seven inch slender frame, along with a pink shirt, and black low-heeled pumps. Her straight black hair hung across her shoulders, bordering a heart-shaped face.

She rose to her feet as the man entered the office, self-consciously pulling down her jacket. Her mouth opened to a soft smile after she saw him do the same.

Don’t let him see you sweat, she told herself. You’ve done this enough times. No reason to be intimidated now.

“Mrs. Vasquez—?” he asked in a strong baritone voice.

Veronica hadn’t been called Mrs. Vasquez much in recent memory. Not since Daniel died three years ago. Did the detective think she was still married? Had he forgotten that she was an FBI agent and should be referred to as Special Agent Vasquez, if not simply Vasquez? Or, if the conversation was strictly informal, he could just call her Veronica.

Perhaps he was just being polite out of respect. Whatever his rationale was, Veronica realized that the formal title of Mrs. had the effect of dating her current status more than she wanted it to as a single woman. Though she was not looking for love, per se, she was no longer close-minded to it.

She gave a slight nod. “Special Agent Veronica Vasquez at your service,” she said, realizing too late that she had sounded as if it was a military pronouncement. She quickly tried to correct her tone. “And you must be—?”

“Detective Sergeant Bryan Waldicott, Homicide Division, Portland Police Bureau,” he said with obvious amusement. He stuck out his hand, which Veronica shook in an obligatory show of greeting that seemed to last longer than either of them had probably intended. Waldicott was the first to pull away, while giving her a hard look. “Right off the bat, Special Agent Vasquez, I think I should be perfectly honest with you and say that I was initially opposed to calling in someone from the FBI to help with this case. I figured the last thing we needed was to have the Feds looking over our shoulders while we try to get a handle on a murder case that’s strictly local as far as I can tell.”

Veronica thought about the word initially. Why should he, of all people, be opposed to assistance from his former employer? Was there a story there? Did she need to know it? She hadn’t heard specifically that there had been bad blood when he left the Bureau. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t any.

“So what changed your mind?” she asked, assuming that he had made an about face.

Waldicott ran his hand the length of a square jaw and sculpted chin with a deep cleft its centerpiece and sighed thoughtfully. “Well, I guess I came to realize that at this point we could really use all the help we can get. Even from the FBI. We’ve got a ruthless serial killer on the prowl and he’s not only elusive, but he’s frightening the hell out of the women in Portland. And a few of us men, too. So who was I to tell my boss, much less the families of the victims, that I wasn’t willing to do anything and everything in my power to bring this monster to justice?”

“I’ll be happy to do all I can,” Veronica promised, feeling somewhat relieved that she hadn’t apparently made an enemy of the man she had been assigned to work with. “And, just for the record, I’m not here to step on anyone’s toes, Detective. I just want to fit in as part of the team working on this case. Fair?”

He looked at her for a moment as if weighing his options, before cracking a slight smile. “More than fair, Agent Vasquez.”

Veronica flashed a tiny smile of mutual cooperation. So far, so good, she thought. Realistically, she knew there was only so much a profiler could do—no matter her skills and intuition. Yes, she could draw a composite of the killer and the likely victims. She could even tell them all they ever wanted to know about the psyche of a serial killer. But the real blood and guts work was performed by the people who had to follow up on leads, which often went nowhere, and sort through mounds and mounds of evidence and would-be evidence until they ultimately captured or killed the serial killer. Or stood by helplessly as the trail went cold while he continued to evade and taunt them.

“Please, sit down,” offered Waldicott with a sweep of his long arm.

Veronica sat again in the black leather chair. She watched as Bryan Waldicott sat at a desk that somehow seemed too small for a man his size. A file folder lay open on it. Waldicott looked up at her, down at the folder, and up again.

“So this is a homecoming of sorts for you,” he commented with a brow cocked whimsically. “It says here that you grew up in Portland.”

Veronica shivered. “Yes, on both counts.”

Waldicott looked at her curiously. “So why did you leave? In many respects, this seems like the ideal place to live and raise a family.”

Veronica wondered if this was a chauvinistic statement against women being in the work force, much less law enforcement, which was still mostly a male dominated profession. On the other hand, she could also imagine that Bryan Waldicott had a knock against FBI agents, in specific, as a former member of the ranks himself.

As if he sensed the implications of the question, Waldicott answered it himself with a shrug. “Why does anyone ever move away? Usually because they found something—or someone—better elsewhere. So which is it?”

Veronica considered the question and decided to reverse the tables. “Is that why you left the FBI?” she asked bluntly, seizing the moment. Or maybe it was the mystery behind the man himself that made her curious. “Because you found something…or someone better?”

Veronica could see that she had definitely struck a nerve, as Waldicott’s brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed to little more than razor slits. Immediately, she wished she had kept her mouth shut, if only because he was technically her superior. She had placed a courtesy call to the FBI field office in Portland and they had made it very clear that her current orders and assignment came from the man before her. A sinking feeling told Veronica that she had no more right to pry into his personal life than he had to pry into hers.

Waldicott’s mouth had become an irregular line, but then softened. “Looks like you’ve done some of your own homework, Agent Vasquez. I suppose that’s only fair, all things considered.” He took a breath. “If you must know, I left the Bureau because it seemed the best thing to do at the time. I have no regrets.”

Veronica could tell that he was clearly troubled by this, whatever the issue was, but managed to put on a brave face. His smile returned and he seemed to be waiting for her to respond to his original question of why she’d left home and the idyllic setting of the Pacific Northwest for a life elsewhere.

I’m not ready to share the intimate details of my personal life with him or anyone else at this time, she told herself.

After Veronica thought about it, she realized she could be just as succinct and mysterious with her response as he was, while keeping her own little secrets to herself. “I had an offer to join the FBI in D.C.,” she said simply. “And I took it.”

“All right,” Waldicott said. He seemed content to settle for that.

Veronica breathed a sigh of relief. As far as she was concerned, you could ask her anything about her profession or skills and she would be happy to respond, but her private life was to remain a closed book. It was too painful to open. Especially for someone she just met. Even though Bryan Waldicott seemed like he was used to getting what he went after sooner or later. She was determined to be the exception to the rule.

Waldicott closed the folder and stood up in one motion. “I’ll introduce you to everyone you haven’t already met. Then we’ll put your psychology and profiling skills to work—”

Veronica was sure she detected no sarcasm in his tone, which would make it much easier to work with him. She indicated her readiness by standing up. As they locked eyes, she had an uneasy feeling that they had not finished what they started. Strangely, she was not really even sure what that was.

Waldicott proffered his arm toward the door like a perfect gentleman and Veronica walked out ahead of him, lightly brushing against his jacket sleeve. She instantly felt electricity pass between them, causing the hair on the back of her neck to rise. She wondered if he felt it, too.

 

 

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Interview with Daisy Jordan – Author of Love Means Zero

Daisy Jordan is an obsessive tennis fan and wrote this book so she could live out her dream-job fantasy through Hilton. Before deciding to write a book about the tennis tour, she wrote six other books, including Everything Happens for a Reason…, the Spin the Bottle series, and All That Sparkles Isn’t Real Sapphire. Even before that, she grew up in Indiana watching tennis all summer every summer on TV, and even attended a few pro tournaments. She now lives in Denver and religiously fills out brackets for every Grand Slam with her brother Josh.

You can visit her website at DaisyJordan.com

Q: Thank you for this interview, Daisy. Can you tell us what your latest book, Love Means Zero, is all about?

A: Love Means Zero is about Hilton, a recent college grad with a dead-end job at a portrait studio, unexpectedly landing a freelance role with Game Set Match magazine, which she refers to as “the Us Weekly of tennis.” Hilton has always dreamed of traveling the world and taking gorgeous photographs, and suddenly, she is doing just that. It’s about the best life she can imagine—partying with the players and their famous girlfriends, seeing fantastic tennis every day, and jetting off to a new place every week. But for her boyfriend Luke, it’s about the worst life he can imagine. He’s stuck at home in Indiana finishing law school, and the more Hilton’s gone, the less she seems to miss him. As he closes off from her and harbors a relationship-changing secret, Hilton, a happy-go-lucky believer in love and fate, laughs off her feelings for one of the world’s top-ranked tennis players as nothing more than a celebrity crush. But then, in one intense, heart-wrenching, thrilling, and thought-provoking moment, Hilton’s world turns upside down as she starts to see that love may not be as powerful or fate-determining as she thought.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

A: Hilton is easygoing, free-spirited, and in love with life. She believes everything happens for a reason, but she also believes in going out and making things happen for herself. She is head-over-heels in love with her boyfriend Luke, whom she’s been with for almost six years. She is intuitive, thoughtful, confident, and spontaneous, and her friends mean everything to her. However, she also knows she sometimes has to put herself first, even if it could mean hurting someone else.

Luke is tall, good-looking, and laid-back. The most important people in his life are Hilton and his other two roommates, Jill and Todd. He is 100% happy with his current life—living with them while he finishes law school. After that, he imagines marrying Hilton and basically continuing with their life as it is—fun-filled times with great friends.

Jill has been Hilton’s best friend since ninth grade and is the only person to whom Hilton can truly tell everything. She is wildly in love with her boyfriend Todd, who has long been the guy of her dreams. Jill has experienced a lot of tumultuous rollercoasters in her life, and in the past, Hilton was usually the one with the awesome relationship, while Jill was usually single and struggling with guy issues. In this book, their roles begin to reverse.

Tanner grew up in Aspen, Colorado, moved to Vero Beach, Florida to play tennis when he was fourteen, and now is ranked No. 3 in the world. He quickly became a fan favorite on the tennis tour because of his funny and gracious personality…and his killer looks. He is part boy next door, part New York City partier. He is genuinely interested in people, he supports animal charities, and he loves to go out and do crazy things in the spotlight—both on and off the court. Tanner always has fun with whatever he does, and his magnetic energy draws in everyone around him.

Haidin is tennis’ most notorious bad boy. Ranked No. 5 in the world, his press conferences have to air on tape delays because of his penchant for profanity and outrageously offensive comments. He dates model/actress Aubrey Gage, and their scandal-filled relationship garners him as much, if not more, media attention—and backlash—as does his complete lack of sportsmanship in tennis. There’s a reason he acts like he does, but it’s one nobody would ever guess.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

A: My characters are almost completely from my imagination. I do occasionally give them traits of real people I know, which I usually do to make my friends and family laugh. For example, in Everything Happens for a Reason…, which is about Hilton, Luke, Jill, and Todd in college, I made one of their guy friends a really terrible dancer. I knew this would make all my college friends laugh, because it would remind them of one of our guy friends who was a really bad dancer. Hilton being a somewhat obsessive tennis fan is based on me, to an extent, although Hilton, being an actual tennis player, has a way better excuse to be an obsessive fan than I do. My friends and family think I’m slightly crazy, so they all kind of shook their heads and laughed when I told them Hilton was getting a job traveling with the tennis tour in my new book. For the most part though, my characters are unique, and one of the most fun parts of writing is developing them and getting to know them.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

A: I am usually consciously aware of one or two big things that will happen over the course of the book, but I never make an outline or plan things in detail ahead of time. I just start writing and let the ideas flow. They always do, and sometimes those big things I had in mind before I started writing don’t even happen, or they happen differently from how I originally pictured. I would call my style of writing “go with the flow.” I let things happen naturally, I let the characters react to what happens, and the plot then takes a more realistic path.

Q: Your book is set all over the world.  Can you tell us why you chose this format for the setting?

A: I find travel invigorating, and I also know it can change the way people think and feel, especially when they travel for long periods of time. Hilton has always wanted to travel, and once she gets a taste of that life, nothing else is enough for her. She is dissatisfied and uninspired back at home in Indiana. When she travels, she takes something from each place she goes, whether it be a feeling, a memory, or a new way of looking at some aspect of life. Eventually, this does change the way she feels about her relationship with Luke, and about love in general, which never would have happened had she stayed in Indiana her whole life. I also use the different settings to invoke a thrill in readers. I absolutely love to travel, and reading about faraway places always makes me want to jump on a plane. I think a lot of people feel this way, and Hilton’s lifestyle, along with each section of the book taking place in a different location, adds excitement to the story.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

A: It absolutely does, in a couple of different ways. As Hilton travels and Luke sits at home growing more and more miserable, they begin to drift apart, and both of their views on the relationship—which at the beginning of the book was rock-solid—change. This probably never would have happened had they both stayed home and continued life as they had always known it. There is also one particular setting in the book, New York City, that plays a major part in the development of the story. Hilton spends much of her time there between tournaments, and she comes to see it as her “home away from home.” She names it as her favorite city in the world, and there comes a point when she is more comfortable there than she is in Indiana. There are also a couple times when something major happens, or doesn’t happen, because of Hilton being in New York.

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

A: Hilton is in Paris on her first assignment for Game Set Match. One of her jobs is to sit in the hotel lobby at night, follow tennis players when they go out, and try to get scandalous pictures of them. She has seen all the big-name players cross through the lobby at least once during her first week there…except for Tanner Bruin. She is almost positive he isn’t staying in the hotel, and she wonders if he has a secret girlfriend. She sees him as a mystery and is intrigued by him, because he’s also her favorite player. Later that night, she talks to Luke on the phone and describes being in Paris with Game Set Match as “going from zero to sixty in like, two seconds.”

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

A: I’ll give you one of the best ones that doesn’t give away anything big, but hints at several key aspects of the story that you’ll see when you read the book! This excerpt happens on Middle Sunday of Wimbledon, and it takes on greater significance later in the story, in more than one way.

The four of them went to a dark, crowded, noisy pub right across the street from their hotel. When they walked in, they had to walk down a set of steep, creaky stairs into the main room, and Hilton liked it, because down here below ground it was warm and cozy and they were secluded from the rainy gloom outside. It was horribly smoky, but Hilton figured she could deal with it for one day. The atmosphere was festive; all over people were talking and laughing loudly while they downed pint after pint.

“Oh my gosh!” a girl behind the bar shrieked when they approached. “Oh my gosh. You’re Tanner Bruin. And you’re Bryony Adams. Oh my gosh! I read about you guys in Game Set Match. Hold on, I’ll clear a table for you right away.”

Tanner smiled his easy, sexy smile. “It’s okay, we’ll wait.”

The girl couldn’t take her eyes off him. “Oh my gosh.”

“What do you guys want?” Tanner asked, turning to Bryony, Hilton, and Luke. “First round’s on me. For Luke’s birthday.”

“Thanks, man,” Luke said. “What’s a good English beer? I feel like trying something new.”

“What would you recommend?” Tanner asked the girl.

“Ummm…” She was star-struck and could hardly seem to think. “How about Bass? It’s one of our best pale ales. It’s probably our most popular. I think you’ll like it.” The last comment was directed toward Luke, but Hilton laughed to herself as the girl’s eyes immediately darted back to Tanner. She only wanted to impress Luke because he was part of Tanner’s party.

“Oh no, we don’t want pale ale,” Tanner said. “Give us something dark. Something with some bite. You pick something. I’ll trust you. Whatever you think is best.” He grinned at the girl again. Bryony looked at Hilton, and they laughed.

“Okay! You want that in pints?”

“Sure.” Something about the way he said it was so sure, so confident yet warm. Hilton felt little tingles all over. Everything he did was such a turn-on. And he always looked so good too; he was wearing dark jeans with a blazer again, like in Paris, but this time he wore the blazer over a fairly tight-fitting Aerosmith T-shirt, and he wore black Adidas shoes with white stripes. Hilton loved the mix of casual and classy. Bryony was wearing dark skinny jeans and a long slinky purple shirt with a low V-neck that clung to her body and showed off how thin she was. Hilton was wearing jeans and a dark green lingerie-like top with thin spaghetti straps under a tight long-sleeved black shirt with a V-neck that went down almost to her stomach and showed off a lot of the shirt underneath. Luke had on jeans and a lightweight black long-sleeved shirt from The Buckle. It was tight and showed off his toned-but-not-too-huge upper body. Hilton thought he looked delicious too.

“Okay!” The girl scurried off a few feet and was back merely seconds later with their drinks.

Tanner pulled out a wad of cash.

“Oh, no, it’s on the house.” The girl beamed at him.

“Oh, well thank you.” Tanner slid a fifty-pound note across the counter, then picked up a pint and handed it to Bryony.

“That was like a hundred dollars!” Hilton hissed in amazement. “Wow. It’s her lucky day.” She laughed.

“Was it?” Tanner shrugged. “I don’t really know the conversions. I go so many places I can never remember the ones like here, that have their own currency. I’ve got the euro pretty down, but I can never remember pounds.”

“Must be nice not to have it matter,” Luke laughed.

“Hey, I see a table!” Bryony pointed, and they all rushed over.

They ordered food and talked for a few hours. Tanner and Luke asked each other lots of questions about where they’d grown up and what they liked to do, and Hilton loved how well they got along. She learned a lot about Tanner too; she’d known for a long time just from watching his matches on TV and listening to the commentators that he’d been born in Aspen, Colorado and had moved to Vero Beach, Florida with his family when he was fourteen to train, but now she was learning all the details. He said he missed Aspen like crazy; he hadn’t been skiing in three years because he never had time. He’d grown up skiing every winter, all winter long, and had looked forward to being on the alpine ski team in high school. Even though he was modest, Hilton got the idea he’d been pretty awesome at it. But he had been doing really well in some regional tennis tournaments, and when he’d realized he had the chance to make it big in that, he’d decided to go for it. He said someday he wouldn’t mind moving back to Aspen though; his family had moved back when he’d joined the pro tour. He told all kinds of stories about growing up there; his dad had worked at a ski resort so his family had always had free unlimited ski passes, and Tanner had started skiing when he was three. He’d snowboarded too, but he said that was more just for fun; he hadn’t ever planned to be competitive with it. He’d started playing tennis when he was three too, at the courts at the resort, and that was what he’d done all summer when he wasn’t skiing. He told about how when he was sixteen and back in Aspen for Christmas, he’d asked out a girl he’d liked back in middle school and taken her skiing, and she’d broken her leg on the first time down the slope. She’d lived in Aspen her whole life but hadn’t ever been skiing; her dad had forbidden her from it because his brother had died in a skiing accident. So Tanner had thought it would be romantic and bad-boy-like and adventurous to take her, and then after she’d broken her leg, her dad had told her she could never talk to Tanner again, but Tanner had only been in Aspen for another week after that anyway.

The four of them were practically rolling with laughter by the time he finished, and Hilton could tell Bryony was hearing all this for the first time too. After all, she’d only known Tanner since April. Hilton had tears streaming down her face. She loved the image of Tanner as a teenager, really liking this girl and trying to be reckless to impress her…it was totally hot and just reinforced her image of his personality.

He told them other stories about Aspen too, like how it wasn’t out of the ordinary at all to walk into the grocery store and see a celebrity—tons of them owned homes in Aspen and the neighboring Snowmass Village—and how a lot of people who worked in Aspen and Snowmass couldn’t even afford to live there and had to live in neighboring, less ritzy towns. As he talked…about the Aspen Music Festival every summer, the Winter X Games, how he and his friends would ski anytime they possibly had the chance…she could hear the love for Aspen in his voice. She felt a bond with him; she, Luke, and Bryony were hearing him talk about stuff not a lot of people ever got to learn.

“Do you ever wish you wouldn’t have left?” Hilton asked.

Tanner looked thoughtful. “I don’t think so. But I think about how it would’ve been different, where I’d be in life right now.” He smiled. “Maybe I would’ve made it big in skiing and gone to the Olympics and Bry would’ve seen me on TV anyway.” He flashed his gorgeous smile in Bryony’s direction, and she laughed and shoved into him with her shoulder.

“Probably, but I might not’ve been able to tell he was hot, if he was all bundled up in ski stuff,” she said, and they smiled easily at each other.

Hilton laughed, but she felt a little twinge of jealousy. She shook it off, knowing she was being ridiculous.

“No,” Tanner said, turning back to Hilton, “I really do think about it sometimes…what it would’ve been like. I think I would’ve had a blast going to high school there and stuff, and then who knows, maybe I would’ve played tennis in college and ended up going pro anyway. But I think part of me would’ve felt like I missed a chance, like I was too scared to take it.”

Hilton nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, I can see that.”

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Daisy.  We wish you much success!

A: Thank you! I loved doing this interview, and I appreciate you giving me the opportunity!

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