Valerian and Natalie's story Argeneau book #35
Avon
September 27, 2022
ISBN 10: 0063111551
ISBN: 9780063111554





Audiobook Sample
Argeneau Tree
Notte Family Tree
Enforcer Tree

The Argeneaus are back! New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands returns with another sexy, passion-filled romance about everyone’s favorite vampires.

Immortal Enforcer Valerian just wants to relax. His last assignment had been more grueling than he’d care to admit, and golf has always helped him unwind. If golf course owner Natalie thinks it’s a little odd for him to tee off at sunset every evening, she’s keeping it to herself. The single mom is sexy as hell, and her little daughter Mia only adds to his delight. He knows Natalie is wary of a relationship of any kind…what will she think when she discovers he’s an Immortal? His best course of action is to woo her the old-fashioned way.

But the course of true love never did run smooth—especially for a vampire and a mortal. And when danger stalks Natalie, Valerian realizes he’s playing a game of life and death and if he loses this round, he risks losing her forever.

Valerian is one Argeneau character that's been around right from the start. We first heard of him in Lissianna and Greg's story, A Quick Bite, and he's appeared here and there ever since but we haven't got to know him... until now. And it takes place on a golf course of all things! Anyone up for a little night golf?

Even with this being book thirty-five (!!!!) in the Argeneau series, I still get hooked on Lynsay Sands’ characters and the world she’s built every time we meet a new couple. I don’t think I will ever tire of watching the life mates fall in love, seeing the sweetness of their connections–such as with Natalie and Valerian in this book–and the awe and utter joy of the immortals for having finally found their mate. But boy didn’t Valerian have his work cut out for him here. Because not only did he have the normal struggles of an immortal whose life mate is a mortal and all that entailed, but he also had to help Natalie overcome her traumatic past experience with romance. And they unfortunately had an unknown person targeting Natalie, potentially putting her life and that of her two-and-a-half year old daughter, Mia, in danger. But as with any Lynsay Sands book, there was a wonderful blend of outright funny moments, passion-fueled scenes, and touching, poignant interactions that left me smiling. Natalie herself was a hoot. She was a workaholic single mom who adored Mia to bits and would do absolutely anything to keep her daughter safe. I loved that she stood up for herself when the time called for it and she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. That added to some of the comical conversations Natalie had with Valerian and the other Enforcers–and Lucian! lol–particularly when she found out they were immortals. Valerian was so kind and wonderful with both Natalie and Mia that I couldn’t help falling for him right away. He of course made a few missteps in trying to woo his life mate, as is to be expected with the immortal males as we’ve seen in other books. It was funny and definitely chuckle-worthy. But Valerian made a wonderful hero who enhanced Natalie and Mia’s lives considerably. Review by Harlequin Junkie.

AFTER THE BITE is a character-driven spooky tale of suspense mixed with a charming love story. Valerian is my kind of hero – strong and protective, sweet, sexy, and everything in between. Natalie is a woman with a complicated past, but she’s also very resilient. I found several of the new supporting characters interesting and wouldn’t mind them popping up in future stories. I look forward to the next Argeneau romance. Review by Fresh Fiction.

 I will say there's a lot more going on that interweaves with past stories and many reoccurring characters, the humor is still one of the best parts of the story for me. They may be immortal but they certainly aren't afraid to recognize the humor in the various situations that develop as side issues or even those in the main plot. There are a few plot twists you won't see coming 'til they arrive. Some very close calls with death even for an immortal, let alone a human. And, of course, a developing romance. After the Bite by Lynsay Sands is another exciting and fun dip into the Argeneau series. Each novel can stand on its own so you can jump in with this one or look up A Quick Bite; book one. Review by SFRevu.  

An easy and super fun read that offers suspense, sexiness, and a super-hot vampire who is surprisingly good at golf—and with kids. Definitely one of my favorites from this long-running, much-loved series... This couple was really likable—Valerian being calm, capable, and respectful of his life mate, knowing her past made her wary, and Natalie finding her trust and letting go of perfection after loss. Honestly, I couldn’t wait for them to agree to forever together. Despite wishing for a little more to close out this book, I feel pretty comfortable saying that whether you’ve read any, all, or none of these books in the past, you will get a kick out of it. There are some cute moments—the hokey pokey, anyone?—some nail-biting ones and a whole host of immortal cameos to reward long-time readers. A giant dog, an adorable kid, and, of course, the famed shared pleasure that results in quick and dirty-hot sex scenes round out After the Bite to make a super enjoyable paranormal romance that might just convince you 34 books isn’t that many to catch up on . . . 5 star review by Beth C. From Verve Romance.

I have liked all the Argeneau novels I have read so far, some more than others, and I do tend to read more of the ones where the male is the immortal (which is just how I roll). I also like them best when the woman is just a normal woman from outside the immortal world. So this one hit all my buttons, to top it off, Lynsay Sands is starting to have some really good villains included in the stories, and the angel-maker is a good one. A rogue but also a serial killer, with a signature or calling card.I also liked how the serial killer storyline was a major plot in the book, in some of the other books in this series, there has been villains that are mentioned a few times, then most of the book is about the romance and immortals but the action doesn’t come up again till the very end. This one had romance throughout and the story was very good and funny at times.

Natalie scowled at him, but then admitted, “my manpicker must be broken.”

“Your what?” Tybo asked on a disbelieving laugh.

“My manpicker,” she repeated with a glare, and then said, “My guydar.”

I really liked both characters in this book. Especially Natalie since she had been through a terrible tragedy but wasn’t broken like in a lot of books. She had been through three years of therapy and is coming out the other side after dealing with her issues in a healthy way. Though she is a workaholic and definitely type ‘A’ personality when it comes to work, she is not an overbearing feminist or anything like that, she is tiny and soft on the inside yet has an inner strength that I really liked in a female character. Valerian was handsome, hot and a protective Hero. I think this might be the best Argeneau book yet.5 star review by ILikeBooksBest.com

 I loved this story. It really had me at the edge of my seat. I was totally shocked. A cute little girl, a big bear of a dog, and a woman who believes her “guydar” is way off, has been burnt by men and decides to just work to get the clubhouse up to what she wants. 5 star review by Whispers Like

Natalie has been through one heck of a shock that most people wouldn't have recovered from. It really showed how strong this woman is. Valerian is the perfect life mate for her and a reward she deserves after everything that has happened to her. I loved him for her. I also loved him for Mia, Natalie's daughter. It's not an easy road for Valerian to get her to trust him but I loved seeing him try. I also loved seeing some recurring characters. His sister was hilarious and I loved how she took right to Mia. Lucian was hilarious in his grumpiness as always, and even the dog was a great character. I just love how unique each couple and book are after 35 books in the series. I've not read them all but it is on my list to do because I've enjoyed every single one so far. Review by Mindy Lou’s Book Review

I absolutely adored this story in so many ways. I adored both of the main characters. Valerian and Natalie are such a strong match. I really adored their chemistry from the very beginning. They click right away and neither of them fight their relationship for very long. I also had a blast with some old favorites and we get Lucien PLUS Leigh. (we don't always see his lady and it added something more to the story to see her play such a role here). But Natalie really sees Lucien for who he is and it was entertaining. I also enjoyed seeing the heroine being a single mother. We don't see kids or family centered themes in this series and when I see it happen, it just adds more depth to the story. I was endeared in seeing how the mystery was developed and the villain of the story was someone I LEAST expected so it made for such a surprising climax in the end. I will say that this story was such a blast of fun from the romance, to the setting, to the mystery and the delightful side cast of characters. Overall I found After The Bite to be a snazzy, chillin' sexy romp of a romance that delivers in its spooky sensuality, characters to charm your heart and with just the right balance of emotion and intrigue. Review by Lover of Romance

Prologue

"Anything to report?"

Valerian glanced around with surprise at that question, and stared blankly at the man peering in at him through the open driver's side window of the SUV he'd just put into park. Garrett Mortimer, the head of the North American Enforcers and his boss, raised his eyebrows in question.

Giving his head a shake, Valerian didn't respond at once, but instead turned to share a "WTF?" glance with his partner, Tybo. He then shut off the engine, hit the button on the rearview mirror to close the garage door behind them, and then both men unsnapped their seat belts and started to get out.

"Nice to see you too, Mortimer," Valerian finally said as he closed the driver's door of the SUV. "Slow night, I take it?"

"That or his wife, Sam, is pissed at him and he came out here to avoid her," Tybo put in as he walked around the vehicle to join them.

"Sam and I are fine," Mortimer assured them with irritation. "She's actually at Jo's right now, helping with some surprise they're preparing for Alex and Cale's anniversary."

"So, you just came out here to greet us because you were bored?" Valerian suggested with amusement.

Mortimer grimaced but didn't deny the claim. Instead, he said, "Lucian's coming around this evening and he'll want an update on any goings-on in the area. So..." He raised his eyebrows. "Anything to report?"

"Nothing," Valerian assured him, heading toward the door between the garage and the rest of the building. The structure was quite large, holding the huge multicar garage, an office, prison cells, and an area where the security dogs were housed. But the office—and the refrigerator there—was where Valerian was eager to get to. "It was quiet as death out there. Again."

"Good, good. Quiet is good," Mortimer muttered as he and Tybo followed him into the office.

"Hmm. It's been quiet since Dr. D. went after Thorne and Stephanie down in farm country four months ago," Valerian pointed out, walking straight to the refrigerator to retrieve a couple of bags of blood. He tossed one to Tybo, another to Mortimer, and then grabbed a third and popped it onto his fangs as they slid down from his upper jaw.

Valerian almost sighed as the blood was drawn up into his body and his tension began to ease. It had been a long shift and he'd needed this. He, like the other two men now also feeding, was what most mortals would call a vampire vampires. But they preferred the term immortal. Unlike vampires, they weren't dead or soulless, and didn't run around preying on their mortal neighbors and friends. Well, not anymore anyway... usually. There were members of their population who did, but they were considered rogue, and were hunted and brought in for judgment by rogue hunters, or Enforcers, like himself and Tybo, who were basically vampire cops.

"It's too quiet," Mortimer growled irritably as he tossed his now empty bag in the garbage, and when Valerian turned raised eyebrows his way, the man explained, "It feels like the quiet before the storm." Grimacing, he added, "I'm not looking forward to the storm."

Valerian considered that as he tossed his own empty bag in the garbage and then asked, "Is there anything in particular you're worried about?"

"Summer is over. Fall is short and soon winter will be here," Mortimer pointed out, his gaze dropping to the file in his hand.

Valerian hadn't noticed what he was carrying, but now glanced at the file with curiosity and read "Angel-Maker" on the tab. He felt his body tense. "You think the Angel-Maker will start up again once winter is on us."

It wasn't a question, but Mortimer responded as if it had been. "Yes. I think the bastard will continue his games until we catch him. He won't stop on his own."

"The Angel-Maker?" Tybo glanced between them with curiosity as he tossed his own empty bag in the garbage.

"That's what the newspaper named the rogue who was killing prostitutes last winter," Mortimer explained, setting the file on the desk and opening it to fan out the photos inside.

There were six pictures in all, each of a different female victim. They crossed a wide range when it came to looks. One was a small, thin blonde, another a chunky brunette, another a tall, voluptuous redhead, and so on. The Angel-Maker apparently didn't have a type. The only thing that connected the murders was that the women were prostitutes, all left completely bloodless, and found lying on the snowy ground, naked, flat on their backs with their hands clasped to their chests and the outline of wings impressed into the snow around them. From what they could tell, the killer made a snow angel and then posed the dead women in the impression in the snow.

Valerian supposed that was why the newspapers in Toronto were calling him the Angel-Maker. Although the long, rambling letters he'd sent to a reporter at one of the newspapers had probably encouraged it too. In them, the killer had gone on about turning whores into angels to save their souls. Like he was doing the women some kind of favor by killing them, he thought with disgust.

Sighing, Valerian let his gaze sweep over the pictures of the victims one more time.

"I didn't know the newspapers had a name for him," Tybo commented, his gaze still fixed on the photos. "When I left to visit my family last winter, you said you were going to send someone to wipe the memories of those deaths from both the police and reporters in the know."

"I did. Eshe and Mirabeau went to take care of that," Mortimer told him. "But the reporter had already come up with the Angel-Maker moniker and the article had gone to print before they got to her. There was no sense erasing memories then. Though they did haze the memories a bit with the police and reporters so they wouldn't pursue it further and search for the killer. We don't need mortals stomping around getting in our way," he told them grimly. Closing the file, he added, "Not that it mattered in the end. The Angel-Maker hasn't killed since the last snowfall we had. That was just before you got back in April, Tybo. It's the end of September now, so there's been no new murders in nearly six months. At least, not that we know of," he added with a frown.

"You think he moved somewhere else?" Tybo asked. "Somewhere farther north, maybe? Where there might be snow for him to play with?"

"No," Valerian answered. "Mortimer has had me checking that once a month starting back in April when you were still on vacation. There have been no reports of similar deaths anywhere in the world." He paused briefly and then mentioned his own concern on the matter. "Although he could still be killing women and keeping them in a freezer or something until the snow returns and he can pose them the way he likes."

When Mortimer glanced at him sharply at that comment, Valerian shrugged and pointed out, "Serial killers don't usually just stop killing. They pretty much have to be caught to be stopped."

"Yeah." Mortimer peered down at the closed file unhappily. "Maybe we should look into whether any prostitutes have gone missing since the last victim."

"He could have changed his modus operandi for the summer," Tybo suggested. "Killing them, but not doing the whole wings-in-the-snow thing." He frowned slightly, and then added, "Or do serial killers not change their MOs?"

Valerian shrugged. "I'm no expert on the matter, but I did read an article once that said serial killers were both amoral and opportunistic. They may prefer brunettes, but if a blonde stumbles into their path and is an easy target..." He shrugged. "Good enough."

"So, they might change other things too if circumstances call for it," Tybo said thoughtfully.

"They might," Valerian allowed. "But there have been no other murders in North America where the victims were fully drained of blood since the last prostitute was found."

"What about accidents, or deaths thought to be accidents where the victims lost a lot of blood?" Tybo suggested. "He could still be killing, just not taking credit for it because he can't do his snow angel thing."

Valerian didn't respond, but his mouth was turned down at the corners as he considered the suggestion.

"What are you thinking?" Tybo asked when Valerian remained silent.

"I'm thinking that while he can't make snow angels without snow, he could have made chalk drawings of wings on pavement, or spray-painted wings on grass, or something like that," he pointed out. Valerian then shook his head. "But there's been nothing like that either."

"No, but he could also have done something less likely to be noticed, like leaving little angel necklaces or earrings or bracelets on them, or even placing little angel statues somewhere near the bodies," Tybo pointed out. "Investigators might not recognize the significance of them. Especially if Eshe and Mirabeau made the memories of the Angel-Maker's previous victims hazy in the minds of the police and reporters."

Cursing, Mortimer gestured for them to follow as he turned to lead the way out of the office.

"We're going to have to look into that," their boss said as they started across the yard toward the Enforcer house. "I thought serial killers stuck to a certain pattern and didn't deviate, so I assumed spring had put a temporary halt on his activities and we'd just have to pick up his trail again in the winter if he returned. It never occurred to me that he could just be following a different path now. I'm going to have someone look into the police files for any deaths since April where there was a lot of blood lost, and have them check to see if there's a mention of any kind of angel anything at the scene: necklace, statue, etc." Heaving out a sigh, he growled, "Lucian will be super pissed if the bastard's been killing all summer and we just haven't been taking notice."

Valerian cast the man a sympathetic glance. While officially Mortimer was the head of the North American Enforcers, he answered to Lucian Argeneau, who was head of the North American Immortal Council and made all their laws. Lucian was a hard-ass. Which is why Valerian hesitated before saying, "The Angel-Maker sent letters to a reporter for the last couple of snow angel killings. Have you had anyone check to see if there have been any more of those?"

"The reporter who got those letters accepted a job in the States. I guess the Angel-Maker story garnered some attention and got her the new position. The Angel-Maker would have to write to someone else. I have a person situated in the office keeping their ears open, but there's been nothing so far."

"Are they just keeping their ears open or reading minds too?" Valerian asked with concern, and pointed out, "Whoever gets the letters next might keep it to themselves until they release their own story. They wouldn't want another reporter jumping on it and stealing their story if it might get them an offer from a bigger paper in the States too."

Valerian could actually hear Mortimer's teeth grind together at the suggestion. His voice was resigned when he said, "I'll have my hunter read everyone to be sure that isn't happening."

"I could—"

"Your shift is done," Mortimer interrupted before Valerian could finish the offer to look into it for him. "In fact, your week is done. It's the weekend, Valerian. Go home and enjoy that new farmhouse of yours."

"He enjoys his farmhouse every day," Tybo announced with amusement. "He still has his apartment in the city, but pretty much lives in the country full-time now."

They'd reached the back door of the Enforcer house. Stopping with his hand on the doorknob, Mortimer turned back with surprise. "That's a hell of a commute, Valerian. The drive from your house to Toronto is three and a half or four hours one way depending on traffic. And your shifts are usually a good ten hours long. When the hell do you sleep?"

"I don't drive back and forth," Valerian assured him.

"He helicopters in," Tybo said with a grin. "He has his own helicopter and put in a helipad in his backyard at the farm. He flies out from there and lands on the roof of his apartment building in the city and then drives here."

"Your apartment building has a helipad?" Mortimer asked with amazement.

"It has two helipads," Valerian told him, and explained, "It's Harper's building. He put them in when he had the building erected. He lets me use one."

Mortimer stared at him blankly for a minute and then gave his head a shake and asked, "Why don't you just land on the airfield here?"

"I didn't want to interfere with flights landing or leaving," Valerian explained.

Mortimer opened the door with a laugh and led them into the house. "We aren't an airport with flights constantly coming and going, Valerian. You're more than welcome to park your helicopter here during your shifts. It would save you a good half hour each way from the apartment building every day."

"Thank you," Valerian said solemnly.

Mortimer nodded as they approached his office. "So, I'll let the boys know to expect your helicopter on Sunday night."

"Okay," Valerian said.

Mortimer stopped outside his office door, and was about to speak, but paused when the sound of a ringing phone drifted out to them. After glancing inside he grimaced and said, "I need to take that. It's Lucian."

Tybo gave a disbelieving laugh. "You have a special ringtone for Lucian?"

"No. I have caller ID on the landline and it pops up on my TV screen any time there's a call," Mortimer explained.

When the man then headed into his office, Valerian stepped up to the door to peer inside with curiosity, aware that Tybo was on his heels. They both eyed the television screen on the wall. There was no sound, but the television was on the news streaming channel, and a box opened across the bottom of the screen showing Lucian Argeneau's name and number as the phone rang again.

"That's nifty," Tybo murmured beside him.

"Close the door for me, will you?" Mortimer asked as he walked around his desk.

"Do you want us to wait in case he needs something done?" Valerian asked.

"No. Your shift is over. You two go on. Have a good weekend."

"You too," Valerian said, backing out of the doorway as Tybo began to pull the door closed.

"So," Tybo said as they headed back down the hall. "Any plans for the weekend? No, wait, let me guess," he added before Valerian could respond. "Golfing.""

"You got it," Valerian said with a smile. He'd finished the last of the mild renos to his new house last weekend. All he intended to do this weekend was golf and chill. He wasn't going to even think about work or the serial killer called the Angel-Maker for the next forty-eight hours.

Chapter One

“The kitchen’s done, boss. So unless you need my help with something else, I’m headed out.” 

Natalie glanced up from the architectural drawings spread out on the table in front of her and scowled at the pretty strawberry blonde weaving her way through the half dozen other tables in the golf club’s large lower dining room to reach her. 

“Jeez, Jan. I hate it when you call me boss.” 

“I know,” Jan said. A mischievous grin pulling at her lips, she added, “That’s why I do it.” 

The words startled a laugh out of Natalie and she shook her head at the woman who was both her assistant chef and friend. 

“So . . . ?” Jan stopped at the corner table where Natalie had set up and raised her eyebrows. “Is there anything you need help with before I go?” 

“No. I’m good,” Natalie assured her, and didn’t miss the relief in her friend’s face at her answer. She wasn’t surprised. It was Friday night, after all, and she knew Jan and her husband, Rick, had a date night planned. A 10 p.m. showing at one of the movie theaters in the city and a late dinner were apparently on the agenda. 

“Are you going to close up now?” Jan asked, her gaze sliding over the drawings Natalie had been making changes to. 

“Soon,” Natalie assured her as she began to roll up the large sheets of paper. “Just waiting for Mr. MacKenzie to finish his round before Tim and I mow.” 

“The mysterious Mr. MacKenzie,” Jan said, waggling her eyebrows. 

“Mysterious?” Natalie asked with amusement. 

“He books and pays for his eighteen holes online, and never steps foot in the club. None of us have even seen the man except from a distance.” 

“Roy sees him,” Natalie corrected her. “He gives him the keys to his golf cart when he shows up.” 

“Yeah. Roy.” She wrinkled her nose. “But the old coot won’t tell us anything about the guy. What he looks like. If he’s nice or not. Nothing. You should really let me swap jobs with Roy one of these nights so I can give Mr. MacKenzie the keys. Then I could give you the scoop.” 

“Roy in the kitchen?” Natalie asked with horror. “No. Never gonna happen.” 

Jan gave a fake scowl that quickly gave way to a grin. “That would be pretty bad.” 

Natalie didn’t bother to comment, her mind was taken up with imagining that scenario. Roy was old, ornery, and not someone she’d want holding a cleaver in the pressure cooker that was the kitchen at busy hour. 

“It’s a shame, though,” Jan said now. “I’m really curious about our Mr. MacKenzie. I mean, what kind of man picks a sunset tee time?” 

“It’s probably when he gets off work,” Natalie said with a shrug. 

“Then why not golf in the morning, before he goes into work?” Jan said. “It has to be better than starting the course at twilight and then finishing it in full darkness, for heaven’s sake. That’s crazy! How does he even see his balls?” 

Natalie opened her mouth, but before she could speak, Jan narrowed her eyes and snapped, “And don’t say he drops his drawers and bends his head to look down. You know I’m talking golf balls.” 

“You spoil all my fun,” Natalie complained on a laugh, and then said more seriously, “But what I was going to say is that I think he uses glow in the dark golf balls.” 

“Oh.” Jan blinked. “Do they have those?” 

“Apparently.” Natalie stood and began to slide the drawings into the cardboard tube that protected them when she wasn’t making adjustments to them. 

“Why?” Jan asked with amazement. “I mean . . . glow in the dark balls? Surely there aren’t a lot of people golfing in the dark who might need them?” 

“Actually, I gather night golfing is a thing in some places. I was reading an article about it and there are night golf courses in a lot of areas.” 

“Where?” Jan asked with open disbelief. 

“Texas, Florida, Utah, Massachusetts,” Natalie listed off. “There were other states mentioned[SR1] , but I can’t remember them all.” 

“None in Canada, though?” Jan asked. “Besides us, I mean.” 

“I’m not sure if there are any in Canada or not. The article I read was on American night golfing and the different places that offer it there,” Natalie explained. “Anyway, we aren’t really a night golf course ourselves. Those are all lit up with floodlights once the sun sets, and we don’t do that. We just happen to have a client who likes to golf in the dark.” 

“And holds you up every night he does since you insist on waiting for him to finish before you mow the course,” Jan pointed out with a scowl. “I don’t know why you let him book so late.” 

“Because he spends a mint here,” Natalie said patiently. “Valerian MacKenzie has booked for eighteen holes five or six times a week, every week since the end of June, and he rents a golf cart every single time.” 

“Yeah,” Jan breathed, sounding resigned. But then she shook her head. “I wonder why he doesn’t just buy a membership. That would have been a lot cheaper than paying every time.” 

“I know.” Natalie frowned as she put the lid on the tube. “I did email and tell him that if he intended to continue to golf that often through the summer, a membership would be cheaper, but he continued to book online so I guess he doesn’t care about the cost of— Why are you smiling at me like that?” she interrupted herself to ask. 

“Because I’m pretty sure you’re the only golf course owner in the world who would try to save a customer money at your own expense. His getting a membership would have cut into your profits and still you suggested it to him to save him money.” Her smile widened. “It makes me proud to call you friend.” 

The words surprised another laugh from Natalie, but she didn’t comment other than to say, “You should get going. Rick’s probably foaming at the mouth waiting on you.” 

“Yeah.” Jan glanced at her wristwatch before nodding and turning to thread her way back through the tables, but this time toward the smaller, upper dining room where the reception desk and exit were. “All righty, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

“Tomorrow,” Natalie agreed. “Have fun tonight.” 

“You betcha,” Jan responded easily, but then paused as she reached the screen door and swung back. “I almost forgot.” Eyebrows rising in question, she asked, “A grocery list for the market in the morning?” 

“Already emailed it to you,” Natalie assured her, and then set down the tube and started around the table, saying, “But that reminds me . . . Wait here a sec.” Not wanting to hold up the woman any longer than necessary, she didn’t take the time to explain, but simply hurried into her office. After a quick dig through her purse, she returned to the dining area, holding out an envelope. “For you.” 

“What is it?” Jan asked with curiosity. 

“A company credit card,” Natalie announced. “I ordered it a while ago and it finally came in the mail today. I thought it would make shopping easier for you.” 

“Oh wow! Yeah, it will,” Jan agreed, taking the envelope and opening it to retrieve the credit card inside. She peered at it for a minute, a smile tugging at her lips, and then raised her head and arched an eyebrow. “So, my plan worked. I’ve fooled you into trusting me.” 

Natalie just laughed and shook her head at the teasing. 

“Jan got a company credit card?” 

Natalie glanced around with surprise at that question to see Timothy, another employee, now standing behind the counter by the exit, waiting by the cash register. He must have returned in the few minutes that she was gone, but she hadn’t heard the bell ring indicating that the door had opened. It wasn’t the first time that had happened and she looked toward the door with a frown, thinking she needed to test it and see if it was the bell not working or just her being distracted enough not to notice it. If it was the bell, she’d have to fix it, she thought, and then turned raised eyebrows to Timothy. 

“The nightcrawler is on the sixteenth hole, so I headed back to sign the guy out on the computer. Then I’ll go out and wait to take the keys and put the golf cart away,” the young man explained, answering her silent question. His word choice brought an immediate scowl to her face. 

“Tim, I’ve told you. No nicknames for our clients. If he heard you and was offended, we could lose him as a customer.” 

Timothy grimaced and shrugged with unconcern. “Not a biggie. Then we wouldn’t be stuck waiting on him to finish every night, and my Friday nights would stop being ruined. Besides, losing one customer wouldn’t hurt.” 

“Oh no?” She arched an eyebrow. “So, if he stops coming, I can just take the money we would have made from him out of your paycheck, then?” 

“What? No way! He comes nearly every damned night, and rents a cart every single time. I wouldn’t have any money left in my paycheck if you—” His words died as she nodded solemnly. Looking irritated now, he muttered, “Fine. I won’t call him nightcrawler again.” 

“Thank you,” she said quietly. 

Timothy nodded resentfully, and then glanced to Jan as she slid the shiny new credit card into her wallet. “So, do I get a credit card too?” 

Natalie shook her head. “You don’t need a credit card, Jan does. She shops for the kitchen daily on her way in.” 

“I shop for you,” he countered at once. “Just last week you sent me to Home Hardware for that piece for the pump when the water feature broke down.” 

Natalie managed not to snap at him for his description of the issue. The water feature hadn’t “broken down,” at least not on its own; he’d helped, but she didn’t bring that up and simply said, “That was the only time you’ve had to go buy something since I hired you two months ago, Tim. And that was only because it was an emergency. One trip to Home Hardware does not mean you need a company credit card.” 

“Or maybe you just don’t trust me,” he countered sulkily. 

Natalie sighed inwardly at the accusation and the guilt it stirred in her. However, it was only a small bit of guilt, not enough to make her give him a company credit card to prove she did trust him, so she ignored his words and said, “If MacKenzie’s on the sixteenth hole it should be fine to start mowing. Do holes five through ten. Those are farthest away from the last three holes where he is, so the noise shouldn’t bother him. I’ll wait for him to bring the golf cart back, then do the rest.” 

Tim was heading out before she’d finished speaking, but hesitated at the door. “I’ll be done before you. Do you want me to help with your holes after I finish mine?” 

Natalie shook her head. “I’ll manage on my own. Just clock out when you’re done. It’s Friday night. I’m sure you have better things to do than mow the course.” 

“Oh yeah!” he said with a grin. “The Hoffman brothers are having a party, and now I might actually get there in time to have some fun.” 

“Good. Go,” she said, and then moved around to stand behind the counter, her gaze sliding over the glass-fronted refrigerators that held the alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks they sold to golfers. She’d have to restock it, as well as the snack stand, which held small bags of chips and such. Then she’d have to close out the cash register before she started to mow. 

“You’re too soft.” 

Natalie turned to find Jan now leaning against the opposite side of the counter, eyeing her with disapproval. 

“Why?” she asked with mild amusement. “Because I’m letting him start mowing before MacKenzie’s completely done the course?” 

“That and because you’re only making Tim mow six holes,” Jan said solemnly. “That means you’ll have to mow twelve yourself. It’ll be after midnight before you’re done.” 

Natalie managed not to grimace at those words, but knew they were true. 

“It’s fine,” she said mildly. “It’s Friday night, let him have fun. Besides, it’s nearly nine thirty. Mia’s gone to bed, Emily’s here to keep an eye on things, so I’m free to mow.” 

“Yeah, but after mowing you have to put the equipment away and lock up. It’ll be at least one before you get to bed and I know you get up at six in the morning. You need your sleep, Natalie.” 

“I can sleep when I’m dead,” she said lightly, pulling a notepad out from under the counter and starting to write down what was missing from the drink refrigerators and the snack shelves so she’d know what to drag up from the basement where the items were stored. 

“Dead might not be that far off if you don’t start taking care of yourself,” Jan snapped with clear frustration. “I know you’re trying to save money for the addition you want to build, but your health is important. I wish you’d hire a couple more guys to handle the mowing.” 

Natalie sighed at the oft-repeated argument Jan gave her, and then rubbed the back of her neck to ease the tension tightening her muscles. “It’s the last week of September, Jan. There’s only another month or so left of the season. It’s hardly worth hiring extra help for that short a time.” Turning away from her, she started counting stock and making notes on her pad as she added, “After that, I won’t have to mow anymore and will get loads of sleep.” 

Jan snorted. “Bull. Jimmy leaves for basic training at the end of October and I know darn well you plan to make the restaurant’s take-out deliveries yourself rather than hire a replacement for him. You’ll still be up late, just driving a car rather than the light reel mower.” 

“Don’t you have a movie to go to?” Natalie asked, hoping to end the lecture. 

Jan clucked her tongue with irritation, but did turn toward the door. “Fine. I’ll go, but only because I’m late meeting Rick. I’ll be discussing this with you again tomorrow, though, so don’t think—” 

Natalie looked around when Jan’s words died on a sharp gasp. Seeing her staring out the screen door with wide eyes, she frowned slightly. “Jan? What is it?” 

“Adonis,” Jan breathed, moving closer to the door, but making no move to open it. Instead, she stared fixedly out at something. 

Curious, Natalie turned to peer out the window next to her, but the umbrellas on the patio blocked her view. Reminding herself to shut them before closing shop, she walked around the counter to join Jan at the door. 

“What—?” she began, and then fell silent as her gaze landed on the blond man talking on his phone under the floodlight at the end of the path leading to the clubhouse. 

“Is that MacKenzie?” Jan asked, her voice a little breathy. 

“I don’t know,” Natalie said slowly, her gaze shifting over the man’s figure in the dark clothes he wore. He was built like a Greek god. Muscular chest and shoulders in the black T-shirt he wore, and sculpted legs in the tight black jeans that rode low on narrow hips. She noted the golf bag slung over his shoulder, but quickly skipped up to the blond hair that was a little longer on the top than on the sides, long enough that several locks fell across his forehead as he lowered his head to listen to whoever was on the phone. 

“Lift your head,” Jan breathed. “You’re too pretty to be looking down. Let me see your handsome face again. I— Oh there,” she sighed as he lifted his head and began to speak into the phone. “Dear me. God was having a seriously good day when he made you.”

Natalie couldn’t argue that. God had outdone himself with this man. He was gorgeous, she acknowledged to herself as her gaze slid over his icy blond hair and sharp features. Then her gaze returned to the golf bag over his shoulder and she frowned. “That can’t be MacKenzie. He booked a golf cart. He always does.” 

“So, he’s another customer who likes to golf at night?” Jan asked, not taking her eyes off the man. “Is there anyone else booked right now?” 

“No,” Natalie admitted, her gaze sliding over the unknown man’s face. “Valerian MacKenzie is the only one golfing right now.” 

“Then it must be him,” Jan reasoned. 

“Maybe,” Natalie allowed. “But then where’s his golf ca—?” Her question ended on a gasp when Adonis finished his call, and turned to glance toward the clubhouse as he slid his phone into his back pocket. It was Jan’s alarmed squeal as much as the fact that the man’s eyes landed directly on them staring out at him that had her leaping to the side and out of view. 

Back plastered to the wall on the left of the door, she turned wide eyes to look at Jan, who was doing the same on the right-hand side. They were both breathing quickly and staring at each other with panic, and then Natalie gave her head a shake and pointed out, “We’re acting like a couple of twelve-year-old girls.” 

“I know,” Jan said, a grin suddenly busting out on her face. “Fun, huh?” 

“Ridiculous,” Natalie countered on a laugh, and stepped away from the wall. 

“What are you doing?” Jan squealed. “He’ll see you.” 

“You think he won’t see us when he comes in here?” Natalie asked dryly, crossing in front of the door to walk around behind the counter again. 

“Oh damn, you’re right,” Jan said with dismay, and quickly followed her. 

The sound of the door opening caught her attention and Natalie shifted her gaze to it just in time to watch the Adonis enter. He was even more gorgeous up close. Taller and more muscular looking too, she thought as her gaze moved over his wide chest and thick arms. Not beefy, brawny arms, but nicely muscled. Beautiful, really, she thought. The man was a walking work of art. 

“Good evening.” 

Natalie’s eyes flickered back up to his face, but didn’t quite make it to his eyes. His mouth was just so . . . and his cheekbones were . . . Realizing he had been speaking for a couple of moments and she hadn’t heard a word he’d said, she forced herself to focus on what he was saying. 

“—so, I thought I’d best let you know where I left it.” 

Natalie pressed her lips together, unsure what he was talking about. She took a moment, trying to find a way to avoid admitting she hadn’t been listening, but then sighed and said, “I’m sorry. You thought it best to let me know where you left what?” 

His eyebrows rose slightly, but he explained, “Your golf cart.” When she didn’t respond right away, he added, “As I said, it died on the seventeenth hole. Out of gas, I think.” 

“Oh.” She blinked as her brain slowly processed what he was telling her, and then blinked again and said, “Oh no. I’m so sorry, Mr. . . . MacKenzie?” Natalie queried, just to be sure she’d grasped the situation and knew who she was talking to. 

“Yes. Valerian MacKenzie,” he confirmed. 

“Right. Again, I’m so sorry. Roy usually makes sure every cart is fully fueled before releasing them to clients. I can’t imagine why he—” 

“Roy wasn’t the one to set me up with the cart today. It was a young kid. Late teens, early twenties, dark hair.” 

“Roy left early,” Jan reminded her, suddenly at her side in the crowded space behind the counter. “He had that appointment with the heart specialist.” 

“Right. Timothy set him up with the golf cart,” Natalie muttered with a scowl, and then forced it away and managed a smile for MacKenzie. “I do apologize. Timothy doesn’t usually take care of the carts. He must have forgotten to top up the fuel. I’ll refund you for today’s round and give you a credit for the next one to make up for the inconven—” 

“That’s not necessary,” MacKenzie cut in to say. “I just wanted to let you know where your cart is.” 

“And I appreciate that, but you’re a good customer and this was an inconvenience. I want to make it up to you,” she said. “It’ll be no trouble to you. You don’t even have to be here for it. I have your credit card on record. I’ll just refund your payment and—”

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