Author: Penelope Ward
Genre: Standalone Contemporary Romance
Release Date: August 22, 2022
From New York Times bestselling author Penelope Ward, comes a new standalone novel.
The day I showed up to Dax Moodyâs sprawling home, I had no idea what was coming.
As a traveling massage therapist, I was used to entering the houses of strangers.
But this assignment was different from any before it.
From the outside, Iâd correctly assumed the owner was rich. What I didnât realize was that he would be younger than Iâd imagined, single, stunningly gorgeous, and mysterious.
Despite the fact that Dax had booked a massage, it never actually happened, since our first appointment was unexpectedly cut short by a comedy of errors.
Certain Iâd never see him again after that day, Iâd done nothing but think about the captivating man.
To my surprise, he called a second time. That appointment, we talked a lot, developing a stronger connection. But once again, there was no actual massage.
The man I now affectionately called âMoodyâ kept calling me to come back.
It took three times before I finally gave him the massage heâd ordered. Letâs just say it was challenging to keep things professional. I was extremely attracted to Dax, and by that time, I was falling hard.
Eventually, Iâd find out why heâd been so aloof, the reason why he and I could never be together.
Our story was supposed to end there, but it didnât.
Instead, I was left perpetually longing for a forbidden man.
**No Amazon e-book preorder.
Will go live on/around release day
Copyright Â© 2022 Penelope Ward
âWhat do you do exactly?â
âIâ¦stand beside you and rub my hands into your skin and work to get some of the knots out of your muscles.â
He shook his head. âNo. I meant, what do you do? Is this your full-time gig?â
Is that an insult? âYes. I went to school for massage after college, and I make a good living. Being a massage therapist is not something you do on the side. Itâs a great, fulfilling career in and of itself,â I said defensively.
âI didnât mean to imply it wasnât.â He fidgeted with his watch, which looked like it cost more than my car.
I blew out a breath. âI do have other aspirations, but this pays the bills and allows me to put some money away, too. Iâm currently saving for a trip to Europe.â
âI see.â He stared out the window, almost looking as though he wanted to escape.
Whatâs with this guy? âLook...I can leave if youâre not comfortable.â
âNo.â He walked over to a cabinet and took out a bottle of some kind of liquor. âI just need something to take the edge off.â He poured himself a glass of amber-colored liquid.
I stared at his big, masculine hands. âWell, this is a first.â
âA first what?â he asked.
âThe first time a client has ever had to relax before a relaxing massage.â When I laughed, I accidentally snorted.
His eyes narrowed. âWhat the hell was that?â
âSorry. I didnât mean to snort. That happens sometimes when Iâm nervous. It just comes out.â
âWhy are you nervous?â
âMaybe your attitude is rubbing off on me.â
He chugged the alcohol and slammed the glass down. âIâm sorry. I donât know how to relax. Itâs my nature. Even when Iâm supposed to be freaking relaxing...the thought of relaxing stresses me out.â
I nodded. âThatâs actually a real thing. Itâs called relaxation-induced anxiety.â
He chuckled. âThanks for the diagnosis.â
âI used to be like you. Iâd get panic attacks from the quiet when I tried to meditate.â
He licked the side of his mouth. âI suppose that defeats the purpose.â
âExactly. And sitting still, like in the hair salon or dentistâs chair, used to make me panicky when I was younger.â
âYounger? Youâre pretty young. How long have you been doing this massage thing?â he asked.
âA couple of years.â
âWhat made you get into it?â
âI wanted to make people feel good. And it doesnât bore me. I never have to be in one place.â
âDoes it pay well? How much of the fee do you get to keep?â
My eyes narrowed. âYou ask a lot of questions.â
âWell, maybe I need to get comfortable with you before I let you put your hands all over me.â
For some reason that comment rubbed me the wrong way. Let me put my hands on him? As if it was a privilege? (As if he could read my mind and sense my attraction? Ugh.)
I raised my voice. âI thought you told the company someone recommended me. Why are you so apprehensive?â
âOkay.â He sighed, scrubbing his hand over his face. âLetâs get this over with. What do I do?â
Jesus. Heâs wound tight. âTake off your shirt and lie down on the table. You can leave your pants on or take them off.â
He let out a guttural laugh. âTake my pants off?â
âYes. Thatâs actually customary. But itâs always the clientâs choice. I can leave the room, if you wish, while you undress. Thereâs a towel to cover yourself. But you can totally leave your pants on, too.â
âI will be leaving my pants on, thanks.â
âOkay. Just make sure you take the stick out of your ass one way or the other.â
He glared at me but finally cracked a slight smile. Iâd take it.
I laughed. âIn all seriousness, just breathe. Thatâs all you need to worry about.â I took a deep breath in, willing myself to take my own advice.
Dax slowly pulled his shirt over his head, once again granting me a view of his rippled muscles. There wasnât an inch of anything soft on his body. I turned away suddenly when I caught my eyes lingering a little too long.
He then lay down stomach-first on the table and within seconds, I heard the pitter-patter of paws and the clanking of a metal collar coming from down the hall.
A large English sheepdog pushed through the door and entered the room, barking profusely at the sight of me. Then he jumped up on the table and landed on Daxâs back.
âDamn it, Winston!â Dax yelled.
I didnât even know a dog that big could jump so high. The dog shot me the evil eye. This house is just full of welcoming people.
âHello,â I said awkwardly.
He growled. It seemed Doggy was just as extra as his owner.
âGet off me, you fluffernutter!â Dax groaned.
The dog kept growling at me while I covered my mouth to keep from laughing. âWhy is he so angry?â I asked, trying to stifle my amusement.
âHeâs protective to a fault. He was napping upstairs when you arrived. I hoped heâd stay sleeping. I hadnât planned on him coming down, although I shouldâve.â
Dax sat up and somehow got the beast of a dog off him. He hopped down off the table. âIâll be right back,â he said, guiding Winston out of the room and down the hall. The sound of the collar disappeared into the distance.
Left alone for a moment, I exhaled and wandered over to a shelf that displayed various things, including a large, white seashell that seemed completely out of place, given the roomâs otherwise masculine vibe. It was beautiful. Remembering what my mother had told me when I was little, I lifted the shell and placed it against my ear in an attempt to hear âthe ocean.â Met with the ambient noise that resonated from within, I closed my eyes and smiled.
âPlease donât touch that,â Dax called from behind me.
Shaken by his abrupt tone, I jerked, and the shell slipped from my fingers and crashed to the ground.
He let out a jarring shriek.
My hands shook. âIâm so sorry... I...â I bent to clean up the pieces, but he bolted to stop me.
âDonât touch anything!â His tone was grating.
âWhy? Itâs my fault,â I insisted.
âPlease just get up,â he commanded in an even harsher tone.
Burning with embarrassment, I stared down at the mess. Thatâs when I realized something had fallen out of the shell.
Penelope Ward is a New York Times, USA Today and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of contemporary romance.
She grew up in Boston with five older brothers and spent most of her twenties as a television news anchor. Penelope resides in Rhode Island with her husband, son, and beautiful daughter with autism.
With over two million books sold, she is a 21-time New York Times bestseller and the author of over thirty books. Her novels have been translated into over a dozen languages and can be found in bookstores around the world.