She knew he was trouble, but she's no coward.
Darcy MacLeod's Army brat childhood drives her to sink roots as deep as the plants with which she works. As part owner of a nursery/gift shop in Monarch Bay, she's well on her way to her dream. Though she's haunted by the lingering fear that her one chance for true love has come and gone.
When Griffin Moore asks her to landscape his sumptuous new estate, she's entranced by the internationally renowned pianist's air of mystery. Yet as she is inexorably drawn into his bed, her instincts tell her that secrets lurk behind his sophisticated mask.
With her carelessly styled hair, grubby overalls, and hands that see more dirt than an earthworm, Griffin finds Darcy a refreshing ray of light in his shadowy world. His globe-trotting concert schedule makes him the perfect Interpol informant--and makes a permanent relationship too dangerous to risk.
Their passion rivals the music of the great classical masters, but even as Darcy dips a toe into Griffin's extravagant world, darkness reaches out to strike a dangerous chord. And Darcy must fight to keep her second chance at love--and her lover--alive.
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November 30, 2010
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Excerpt from Defy the World Tomatoes by Phoebe Conn
It was early spring, and during the week business was often slow, but even if the paths had been teeming with the usual swarm of weekend tourists, Darcy still would have noticed the tall, dark-haired man standing at the entrance of the pottery shed.
Like most of their customers, he had paused to admire the large iron goldfish suspended from the overhead beam. The separate sections of the striking sculpture formed a dramatic blend of sharp angles and flaring curves and drew a constant stream of compliments.
Darcy assumed the morning's lone customer garnered effusive praise of his own. He was over six feet in height and broad shouldered. His thick black hair was without the slightest curl and, while superbly cut, brushed the collar of his chambray shirt. He wore scuffed loafers with faded Levi's slung low on his narrow hips, so clearly he hadn't sailed into Monarch Bay on his own yacht. Or if he had, he'd changed clothes before leaving the docks for a stroll down Embarcadero.
Despite his casual attire, as he examined the iron fish his gestures held a wealthy man's confident elegance. Darcy felt assured that, while it was an expensive piece, the cost would be well within his reach. Inspired to promote the charming work rather than simply gawk at the handsome stranger, she quickly retraced her steps, turned off the water and coiled the hose around the frog-topped spigot.
A sunflower applique adorned the bib pocket of her forest green overalls, and she adjusted the angle of her matching baseball cap as she approached him.
"Good morning," she called out. "That sculpture is by Toby McClure, a talented Los Angeles artist. All his work has that same irresistible whimsy."
The man's expression held only mild interest as he stepped back and continued to assess the piece. After an uncomfortably long silence, he finally nodded. "I'll grant you that it's whimsical, but I just might be able to resist it."
His deep voice held a delicious hint of an accent Darcy couldn't place and, up close, he was even better looking than he had been at first glance. A golden tan graced his finely chiseled features. Darcy wished the color of his eyes wasn't hidden by wire-rimmed sunglasses.
With hair that dark, she feared his eyes were as deep a brown as her own. Unfortunately, she'd never had a bit of luck with brown-eyed men. It wasn't that she didn't find them attractive, for she most certainly did, but somehow they never asked her out more than once or twice.
She tried to recall the last time she'd actually been out on a date; then, ashamed of the romantic drift of her thoughts, she licked her lips and made an effort to come up with a witty defense of Toby's work, but to her dismay, none came to her. She just wanted the man to remove his dark glasses so she would know whether or not he was a hopeless cause. Inspired, she hoped to lure him inside.
"If you find Toby's work appealing, perhaps you'd care to look at some other samples. I have photographs of his most recent pieces in my office."
The man glanced at the slim gold watch on his right wrist. "Sorry. I like the fish well enough, but I don't have anywhere to display it. Your sign lists custom landscape design. Do I need an appointment to speak with your landscaper, or is he available now?"
There'd been a time when such a presumptuous question would have prompted a bitterly sarcastic response from Darcy, but as one of the Tomatoes intent upon defying the world, she could ill-afford to lose a customer, even a blatantly chauvinistic one. She forced a smile and doffed her cap with an exaggerated flourish.
"You're looking at her, but you needn't apologize. Most people assume all landscape architects are male, but I've earned the appropriate college degree and first-hand experience to handle whatever you require."
As Darcy continued to regard him closely, the man failed to react with either surprise or, God forbid, annoyed disappointment, but she was sorry he hadn't responded with an encouraging smile. It was unusual to find such an attractive man without a statuesque blonde by his side, but Darcy doubted he would be good company if his mood were always this preoccupied or, perhaps, downright melancholy. A quick glance at his left hand revealed no wedding band, but he hadn't come seeking a dating service, and she again hauled her wandering thoughts back to business.
"If you have any doubts about my ability," she stressed, "you're welcome to view my portfolio." She gestured toward the building that housed the gift shop. The two-story structure resembled a random collection of upended boxes with long narrow windows cut in the sides, but Darcy's elegant landscaping softened the sharp angles while the salty sea breeze had aged the wooden siding to the lush, smoky patina of driftwood.
When he still appeared to be hesitant to respond, Darcy drew herself up to her full five feet two inches. He was a good foot taller, but she'd never been intimidated by height. She fought to hang on to her temper, but a peppery edge crept into her voice.
"Are you objecting to me personally, or is it women in general who bother you?"
A faint smile lent a slight curl to the man's lips. "Women have always bothered me," he confided in a softly suggestive whisper, "but that's as it should be. I didn't mean to offend you. I was simply searching for the best way to describe the job. I just bought the old Hadley place up on Ridgecrest. Do you know it?"
Darcy recognized the name of the exclusive street, if not the particular house. Ridgecrest curved through the mountain slopes encircling Monarch Bay and provided access to a great many beautiful homes. Somehow she doubted "the old Hadley place" was anything less than a tastefully appointed mansion. That meant she definitely wanted any landscaping job he might offer.
She relaxed her stance and softened her voice to its former cordial level. "I'm sorry, but I moved here less than a year ago to open Defy the World with a college friend. I haven't had much time for sightseeing."
"That's all right. You can't see anything but the gate from the road anyway."
"You must have a marvelous view of the sea," she replied. Now certain his home had to be a palatial estate, Darcy sent a mental command for him to yank off his dark glasses, but he stubbornly resisted doing so.
"Yes, the terrace faces the bay. It's why I bought the place. What I have in mind is a Zen garden overlooking the sea. Have you any experience landscaping those?"
"A Zen garden?" Darcy repeated numbly. Her specialty was the exuberant use of colorful flowering plants and, unfortunately, that was not what was required.
"Of course," she replied confidently, which was a bald-faced lie. "You'll want an expanse of white sand carefully raked to suggest ocean waves, a few boulders to conjure up a mountain range, perhaps a wind-tortured cypress or two and a comfortable wooden bench from which to contemplate it all."
Clearly delighted by her evocative description, the man flashed a wide grin. His teeth were very white and, against his dark skin, the expression had an immediate high-voltage impact. "That's exactly what I had in mind. How soon can you begin?"
Stunned by his unexpected show of warmth, Darcy had to glance away. She quickly reassessed her opinion of his melancholy bent and wondered how many women had been the object of a similar rakish grin and fainted dead away.
Damn! she cursed silently. It had definitely been too long since she'd been out on a date, and now it was nearly impossible to confine her thoughts to the relevant aspects of their conversation.
Still, she made the attempt. It was Tuesday morning, and she wondered if he had a formal party planned for Saturday night. On more than one occasion, she'd been asked to rip out every sprig of greenery from a yard and, as if by magic, produce the most splendid of gardens by the weekend. At least he'd come by early in the week so the task, while formidable, could be accomplished.
She gathered her resolve and looked him in the eye, or at least the sunglasses. "I'll need to come up to your house and survey the site, then draw up plans for your approval. If you'll be home this afternoon, I can come by around two o'clock."
"I'll make it a point to be there. You'll need my address." He pulled a business card from his shirt pocket, but it held only his name and telephone number. "Do you have a pen?"
Darcy plucked a green ballpoint from her bib pocket. "Here you are." Defy the World was printed on the side and a small red silk rose sprouted from the top. She'd never considered the pens ridiculously feminine, but as he reached for it with his left hand, it looked impossibly fragile.
He made a quick note of his address and, after handing the card and pen to Darcy, extended his right hand. "I'm Griffin Moore."
As her tiny hand disappeared into his, Darcy's breath left her throat in a hoarse gasp. Griffin's fingers were long and slim, his grasp firm, but the heat of his touch matched the fiery intensity of his smile and sent a sizzling thrill clear to her rubber-soled boots. At almost the same instant, the outdoor garden was filled with the lively rhythms of native flutes and drums. The lilting tune swirled around them with the grace of animated butterflies and, for a terrible moment, Darcy was so lost in Griffin's smile that she completely forgot her own name.
"Darcy MacLeod," she finally blurted, but she couldn't bear to withdraw her hand and felt a painful tear of separation as Griffin released his hold.
He immediately glanced toward the outdoor speakers mounted on the gift shop. "What charming music. Do you know what it is?"
Darcy's business partner, Christy Joy, selected the CDs and tapes they played and sold. Darcy told herself she wasn't afraid to introduce Griffin to her and ask for the title, but she was enormously relieved it wasn't necessary.
"That's Otavalomanta. They're Indians from Ecuador who claim to be descendants of the Inca. We've sold quite a few of their CDs. I believe the plants enjoy their high-spirited music as much as people do."
Another hint of a smile crossed Griffin's lips. "Yes, I'm sure they do. Bring one of their CDs with you this afternoon."
He turned away and walked out of the nursery before Darcy found her voice to say good-bye. He hadn't made a polite request for a CD. He'd spoken a command with the ease of a man accustomed to being obeyed, and she hadn't even blinked. She drew in a deep breath and released it in an anguished sigh.
He probably had half a dozen leggy blondes at home, along with a gorgeous redhead or two, but she'd never been so deeply affected by any man. That she'd obviously had no such dramatic effect on him was humiliating.
"Brown-eyed for sure," she swore softly and reluctantly got to work tending the plants.