A romance drama about breaking free of the ties that hold you back, daring to risk the certain path for the unknown, embracing your dreams, and seizing extraordinary...Dancing Barefoot
Reviewers say it "breaks all the rules, crosses multiple genres, and leaves you breathless for more."
Read an excerpt below...
He gripped the railing tighter than necessary. There she stood, the living embodiment of a recurring dream, Jessica Moriarty. Oversized blue eyes looked up at him like a deer looking straight into a shotgun, short black hair emphasized her long neck and sharp chin, although familiar, she looked like a perfect stranger. Too put together, too thin, too hard.
He missed her all over again.
“You were going to run again, weren’t you? Even after all this time?” His heart did a back flip.
She took another step backward without taking her eyes from his face.
“We’re going to be late for dinner with Miranda Jenkins to go over arrangements for the gallery exhibit,” Kevin said. “We’re already behind schedule.” His assistant looked between the two of them, confusion obvious in his eyes. "Jacques, seriously. We need to go."
“Wait for me in the car.” He clenched his fists at his side, unsure whether he wanted to throttle her or hold her tight and ask all the questions he'd had for so long. He did neither, afraid to move or to express too much emotion.
“Go away, Kevin.” He stepped down without looking away from those eyes of hers.
“I’m surprised you recognized me,” she said.
“No, you’re not.” He would know her anywhere.
“I thought you had gone… the lady said…so you live in New York now?”
“You bought my book.”
“The cover caught my attention.” A quiver of uncertainty rippled beneath her voice.
“Rome.” The word—the place—carried more meaning than he wanted to admit.
History brewed between them with the intensity of a summer storm.
“I guess I can now say I knew you when.” Tension pulsated off her like a force field.
“Yes, I suppose you can.” Eloquence eluded him. Seeing her here hadn’t been a part of his plan. Not that he had made a plan exactly…but he had had an idea of how he'd wanted this inevitable meeting to play out.
“I wondered if I would see you,” he admitted.
“Being in Boston, I wondered.”
“I was walking by and—”
“Why come inside?”
“I wanted…” Her words tapered off as her gaze roamed over his face.
“What did you want?” Damn, she smelled good, a mixture of wild flowers and sunshine that reminded him of waking up next to her tangled in sheets. He clenched his fists against his hips and fought the impulse to scream out all the questions he'd had for all these years.
“Your book. I…you did this, you did what you set out to do, I wanted to…see it.”
“Is that all you wanted to see? A book of photographs?” Say you wanted to see me. He stared into her eyes and wished he could read her mind.
“Well, yes. I mean, no.”
Chemistry had a way of existing despite the conscious mind’s wishes. The air between them moved and shimmered like heat rising from pavement.
“Do you want me to sign it?” He moved from the last stair separating them and brushed past her to leave.
“No, that’s not it. I wanted to see you.”
He stopped in motion and looked down into her face again. His gaze skimmed over the straight hair that skimmed her chin in perfect symmetry. Always a beautiful woman, she now looked fragile. Skin too pale, probably from that stable job she had always wanted in her secure little world hidden away from sunlight and reckless men like him. “Why did you want to see me?”
“About how I turned out? How I survived our love affair? Is that what you’re curious about?” He clenched and unclenched his hands at his sides, determined to remain immune to those eyes of hers. He had rehearsed this scenario a million times since Italy.
Cool and aloof, he coached himself, must remain emotionless.
“You’re not making this easy.” Her back straightened while her chin lifted.
“Easy? What do you expect? A hug? A happy reunion?” He noticed the fighting stance and grinned. Feisty. Maybe she hadn’t changed that much after all.
She shifted her weight from foot-to-foot. “You’ve changed.”
“For the better, right? Do you smell the success on me now? Is that what lured you inside? Am I suddenly more acceptable to you?"
"Acceptable? What the hell are you talking about?"
"Don't be too hopeful. I'm still a gypsy. Boston is merely a detour, kind of like Italy was for you.”
"We have a lot to clear up, I think. I don't understand—"
"You don't understand? Let me summarize for you—we had a great time, some of the best sex in my life, and the rest of it was a lie. Is that clear enough for you? Or am I losing something in translation?"
She winced. Her hands shook when she shoved them through her hair. "This isn't the place for this discussion. I shouldn't have come."
Deep inside his chest, his heart stirred with protectiveness. He didn’t want to hurt her. If he had had his way, she would be his wife. But he hadn’t had his way. She had deceived him, manipulated him into falling in love with her, treated him as a summer plaything, and disappeared one day without saying good-bye. But he had loved her, probably still did if he cared to admit it, and that’s why her leaving had hurt so badly, why it still hurt. Five years wasn’t that long ago, only a heartbeat in time.
“Jacques, we really need to leave. We have dinner with Jenkins then our flight back to New York. We can’t—” Kevin ended his statement with a broad gesture of frustration.
He nodded and shoved his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. If ever he needed an escape, it was now before he said more things he didn't mean. He glanced at his assistant and said, “Bring the car around. I’ll meet you outside.”
“Well, if you’ve got to go, I'll get out of your way," she said. "Congratulations on the book, the exhibit, everything."
“Thank you." He didn't know what to do with his hands. He shoved them into his back pockets to stop himself from touching her.
A tentative smile curved her lips. “I always knew you’d have your day to shine. It was inevitable.”
His gaze drifted over her again. “Corporate America treating you well? Let me guess…you always work late, are committed only to your career, have given up art, have a stable boyfriend who wears suits and talks about the stock market, are still trying to please a mother who never understood you, have compromised to the point of losing yourself completely…am I close to the truth?”
Her smile faded. “Five years is a long time to hold a grudge.”
“It isn’t long enough.” He wished this rendezvous could go differently, but bitterness tainted his words. He reminded himself of his immunity to her. Cool. Aloof. “I never said I had a grudge against you. Why would I? That would mean I think about you and I haven’t in years.”
“I can see that you haven’t given me a thought at all. You must have forgotten who this was, then?” She held his book up to his face, a challenge in her eyes. "Should I call a lawyer? What are you really doing in Boston? Are you trying to embarrass me?"
"Embarrass," he repeated the word while sorrow slid into his heart. "That's why you left, wasn't it? You were ashamed of us, of me."
"No, I didn't mean it like that." Sadness shadowed her eyes as she lowered the book.
"It no longer matters."
"I think it might," she whispered without looking away from his face.
Brains and beauty, a combination he now avoided.
“Perhaps I did forget it was you. Hundreds of women and even more photographs…” He shrugged. "My publisher chose the cover shot, not me."
The cover photo had been taken the morning after their night in Rome after he had proposed to her and foolishly believed her when she had said yes. Questions pummeled him aching for release—and, oh, he had fantasized about seeing her again and letting them fly without restraint—but he hadn't expected to be blindsided with heartache.
“Why are you lying? We both know damn well—”
“Of the two of us, you are the expert liar.” He thrust the book back into her hands. “What do you want? A lawyer, you said? Go ahead. I will deny it's you. Do you really want to fight over this?”
She slid the book into her messenger bag. Unshed tears glistened in her eyes. When she looked away, he could almost see the fight for control within her. When she looked back, eyes were dry. Scary control. When had she learned that disturbing skill? Not that he should care, he didn't. Her life. Her choices.
“You’re good at that, aren’t you?” he asked despite himself.
“Good at what?” Her gaze slid to his chest.
“Hiding what you’re really feeling. What an actress you are.”
Her blue eyes hardened like a frozen glacial lake. She stood tall. “I almost didn’t come inside, but now I’m glad I did. You’ve turned into a real ass. Fame must have warped your brain. It’ll be much easier to forget you now.”
“You’ve had years to forget me,” he said.
“I failed.” Her chin trembled. She shrugged in defeat. “I failed, okay? Is that what you need to hear? I haven’t forgotten Florence, Rome, our apartment, you...any of it. I think about it all daily.”
"Do you ever stop lying?"
"Stop it, Jacques."
Their gaze connected and held.
Irritated by her presence, his lack of control and life in general, he strode toward the door. Time to leave.
He stopped in the doorway and turned, unable to simply walk away even though he knew he should. “You were going to run away from me again when you realized I was still here, weren’t you?”
Guilt for his behavior settled in his heart and sickened him. She'd mattered to him, had been the center of his world...once upon a time not too far in the past.
“I’m sorry for treating you badly. You took me by surprise, not that that's an excuse," he said.
She walked toward him, a hesitant grin on her trembling lips. She looked foreign to him in her crisp white blouse, red skirt and high heels.
“I wish we had more time, we could talk, get a drink, catch up. That wouldn't be so terrible, would it? I have so much I want to say, to explain, to ask—"
“I need to go before Kevin has a nervous breakdown.” Irritation snapped through his nervous system. He wanted to take her to dinner and force her to eat pasta, mess her hair up, make her laugh and see...well, see what had happened to the woman he had loved, find out the real reason she had given up on their future together. But getting involved in her life again—even in a small way—would be detrimental to his heart health and hers once she discovered the dark secrets he held. So why did he want it so badly? “Kevin’s like you, always worried about being late.”
“How do you stand him?” Her tentative grin became a smile.
“I fire him daily but he refuses to go away.” He would not meet her eyes again as they walked together onto the street.
"The phantom assistant...I sent him emails trying to find you, you know."
He stopped walking.
"He sent me back a canned response, probably thought I was a groupie of the great Jacques Sinclair. You're an impossible man to find when you don't want to be found. Gatekeepers everywhere." She shook her head and fidgeted with the bag in her hand. "Doesn't matter anymore."
Awkwardness stretched between them in the warm June evening.
He resumed walking toward the curb, his gaze on the traffic watching for the rental car while his mind absorbed what she'd admitted. She'd tried to find him. He hated that he wanted to know why, hated the idea that maybe he'd been wrong all this time, hated that it didn't matter anymore because none of it would change the past.
“You don’t have a few minutes? Just to talk? We could have a drink after your dinner?” She kept his pace, stood too close, looked at him with those big blue eyes. Damn her.
He wanted more than a drink. He wanted hours. He wanted an explanation.
When she rubbed the back of her neck, he noticed the ring on her finger. His ring. Hurt and anger took their rightful place in his heart. Resolve restored, he looked down the block for any sign of Kevin and the get away car.
“We have said all there is to say,” he said.
“Could what? Talk about old times over a cold drink in a crowded bar?” He closed the space between them. “Do you know how many women want to have a drink with me, Jess?”
Now he wanted to hurt her like she'd hurt him. Didn't she have a clue what her leaving had done to him? Yeah, he'd gone off the grid, that was true. He hadn't wanted to be found and he'd done some unforgiveable things while in that dark place. No matter what she said here today, there was no going back. He resented her for that.
He wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her until she understood the magnitude of what that one choice had done to his life. He wanted to shake the calm right out of her until some semblance of the Jessica he'd loved resurfaced to fight back.
“I made a mistake by coming here, I see that now.” She stood her ground, straightened her spine and tilted her chin as if willing to go toe-to-toe with him. Maybe she hadn't changed so much after all. "Will there be more pictures of me hanging at the exhibit? Am I recognizable? I have a right to know these things."
“Because you're ashamed?” His gaze pierced hers looking for a glimpse of truth beneath the facade.
“I need to know, Jacques.”
“Why? So you can get a lawyer?” The temptation to yank the ring from her hand boiled beneath his skin. She had no right to wear it. "What did you expect by showing up here?"
“I don’t know what I expected.”
“No? I don't believe you. Tell me what you want.”
“I knew this would be hard. I—”
“And you couldn’t come during scheduled hours, you waited to catch me off-guard, to…” he struggled for the right word. A native French speaker, sometimes English escaped him when he needed it most.
“I worked late. I thought I'd missed you, hoped I had.” She stepped within inches of him. “I was scared, is that what you want to hear?”
He silently cursed Kevin for taking so long with the car. “That was your problem in Italy, too. Scared little Jessica. Haven’t you grown up yet?”
Her head jerked back as if he'd slapped her.
“I shouldn’t have come.” She stepped backward.
“No, you shouldn’t have. I’m better for not knowing you.” He had had enough. Of all the scenarios he had played out in his mind, this conversation was all wrong. He hated himself for the words he said.
“So am I.” She faced him on the sidewalk, black hair tossing away from her face in the breeze and eyes snapping blue fire. “I don’t need to know an arrogant jerk who is so wrapped up in his bitterness that he can’t see when he’s wrong. I mean look at you.” She gestured widely at his chest. “You can’t even tuck in your shirt. You’re an overgrown boy.”
He glanced down at the shirt that had come loose from his jeans. With a laugh, he met her gaze. “I usually have a woman inspecting me before I go into public.”
Jaw clenched, she watched the passing traffic. Profile to him, she nodded. “I know you hate me. Fine. I accept that. But because I’m here, because it’s obvious this is the last time I'll see you, I need to say something.”
He patted his jeans for a cigarette. He had picked the wrong time to quit. “Say it then.”
Her hand seized his wrist. The contact stopped his frantic search and ceased his breathing. He dragged his gaze to her face.
“I’m sorry.” She squeezed. "You were the last person on earth that I ever wanted to hurt. I truly am sorry. It wasn’t a lie. I know you think that the entire summer together was a lie, but it wasn’t. I wish you'd give me a chance to explain. I can't stand the idea of you hating me.”
He yanked his hand free from her touch. “I don’t hate you.”
Eyebrows arched over eyes filled with doubt. “Now who’s lying?”
A honking horn snapped his attention from her. Kevin waved from a double-parked sedan. "Jacques, really, we can’t keep Ms. Jenkins waiting."
"I heard you were showing at the Bliss Institute. I know Miranda. Do you remember Marc, the friend who visited me in Italy? She's his sister. We're all friends."
"How is that possible?" he asked more to Fate than to her. He must have been a monster of a man in his past life, because Karma really liked fucking with him this time around.
“Your exhibit is next week?” She followed him to the car.
“That is the plan," he said through gritted teeth.
“Are there more photographs of me on display? Shouldn't I have had to sign a release or something? Miranda's my friend, people I know will be there. I have a right to know.”
“And we both know how important your reputation is, don't we, Jess? What will people say? They might all see that you were uninhibited once, that you loved life, that you—at one time—didn't give a damn what people would say. How shocking.” He opened the door to the rented car and looked her in the eye. “Sue me.”
“What the hell is going on? Get inside. We need to go.” Kevin leaned across the seat and looked at him.
“I want a do-over in the worst way.” She didn’t make a move to leave; instead she stared at him as if willing him to read her mind.
"Do-over? What are you talking about?" Why wouldn't she go away? The idea that she wanted something from him needled at his mind. She still wore his ring. Why? She'd tried to find him. Why? All of this new information undermined every single thought he'd had since leaving Italy five years ago.
It hadn't been a lie, the thought whispered through his mind. I'd been right to wait, to believe. But I gave up and screwed up so badly that I can't ever have her again. Why did I come here? All of this is a mistake.
"I can't believe I said that out loud." She covered her mouth with her fingertips, a look of horror widening her eyes.
"Jacques, seriously, get in the car." Kevin laid on the horn again.
"I guess I'll let you go." She stepped back, collided with the parked car, which sent off the alarm. Cursing, she shoved her hands through her hair.
“You let me go in Florence.” He sat inside the car and slammed the passenger door closed.
“I have no idea what you're thinking, but you're so far off base you don't have a clue about the truth and it's obvious you don't care to know. Fine. Go. Have a great exhibit and an even better life with all your fans.” Her grin didn’t reach her eyes.
“Buena sera, bellezza mia."
“Ciao, caro,” she answered, Italian slipping off her tongue as if they had been speaking it every day together like they had once done.
He leaned his elbow on the open window and watched her step onto the sidewalk. He frowned at how naturally she'd replied in Italian. Nothing about her showing up here made any sense. He leaned back in the seat and motioned for Kevin to drive. The car maneuvered from the curb and into traffic. He adjusted the side mirror to watch her. Head bent, she walked down the block.
His heartbeat lodged in his throat. It had taken every ounce of self-control not to drop to his knees, wrap his arms around her, and beg her for answers. But pride had stopped him from making a bigger fool of himself than he had already. Choosing Boston over Manhattan for his gallery debut had created all sorts of problems with his 'people', but he'd insisted so here they were.
“What do we know about this Jenkins woman? She knows Jessica. Serendipity, my ass. Tell me the truth, is Ava involved in this?” he asked. "She chose the gallery...how much does she know?"
Kevin whistled and shook his head, never taking his eyes from the road. “I’ve heard of eccentric artists but this is extreme. Are you into conspiracy theories now?”
“I don’t even know who that woman was. Despite what you may think, the world does not revolve around you.”
“You expect me to believe that her knowing Miranda Jenkins is a trick of Fate?” He squinted.
“Not even Simone rattles you like this. I mean, yeah, you two fight but I’ve never seen you so...unbalanced. Interesting. Tell me who the gorgeous brunette is,” Kevin asked.
“She’s no one.” He leaned his elbow against the car door and chewed his knuckles.
“There is no reason to 'ah' me.”
“Ah…she must be someone rather spectacular to rattle your cool. Even when you argue with Simone you—”
“Don’t mention Simone.”
“Stop talking and drive. Who does she think she is showing up like that? Coming after hours was deliberate, I know it. What a bitch. Cold. Calculated.” He fumbled in the pocket of a leather jacket draped over the seat for a pack of cigarettes and cursed his hands for shaking.
“I thought you were quitting,” Kevin said.
“Damn Americans want to blot out every pleasure, call it a vice. Soon sex will be outlawed.” Yes! His fingers closed over a stray cigarette stuffed in the inside pocket of his jacket. Finally. Release.
“Damn Europeans want to kill us all with their second-hand smoke and wine.”
He surveyed his friend through a veil of smoke. “Sorry. Seeing her again…”
“Who is she?”
Loaded question. How could he explain Jessica Moriarty? They hadn’t really dated. Too stubborn to take his help when she'd first arrived in Florence, she had nearly killed him when her luggage slid down two flights of narrow steps and took his legs out from beneath him. From that moment on, they had been inseparable. One adventure after another, lots of laughter and sex that bordered on illegal. He had fallen fast and hard for the American with the wild black hair and topaz-colored eyes. He studied the ring on his finger—remembered his joy when she'd said yes. Then one day she'd simply vanished. No goodbye, no argument, no note, no resolution. She'd left as if he'd meant nothing to her at all. How dare she wear the identical ring today? It insulted the intention behind it.
“Now you’re giving me the silent treatment? Is this how you’re going to play it?” Kevin snorted and muttered something about needing another job.
“We lived together in Italy a few years ago,” he admitted with a sigh.
“Back when you were doing fashion photography? Was she a model?”
“She was an artist, not a model. A painter. Very gifted, she could have shown in the finest galleries in Europe. I still have some of her paintings that she left behind, abandoned like they'd meant nothing, which apparently they were. Nothing. I don’t know what she is now. An architect, I think. I don’t care what she does.” He took a long drag from his cigarette.
“Why don’t I believe you?”
“What she does with her life isn’t my concern.” Yet he wondered if she was happy, wondered if she loved someone, wondered if she regretted leaving him, wondered why he cared.
“But you lived with her? Just you two together? She must have the patience of a saint. Ah, wait. If you knew her in Italy, then Simone must know her, too.” Kevin tapped his fingers against the steering wheel.
“Italy—what happened there—is no longer relevant.”
“But you lived with her? You keep telling Simone that you like your privacy, your space, that you will never live with anyone yet—”
“Simone is not Jessica, never will be.” When Kevin looked at him with raised eyebrows and a smirk, he knew he had said too much.
“I can’t help but wonder what she did to you to make you so angry, even now.”
“Never mention her again, not to me, not to anyone.”
“Sometimes you can be so…European.”
“I’m Belgian.” He smiled and crushed the cigarette into an empty soda can. “We are known for our calm control.”
“You take after your mother’s French side of the family, I think, very dramatic. Make yourself presentable, you look too…Belgian at the moment.” Kevin parked the car along a narrow street. “Was that Italian you were speaking to her back there?”
“Strange that two people who hadn’t seen each other in years should fall so easily into a language not their own.”
“Your point?” He tucked his shirt into the waistband of his pants.
“Making an observation.”
"You're not paid to make observations."
"We're photographers, doesn't that—"
"I cannot deal with you right now." He stepped from the car and stuffed his arms into the battered leather jacket. His fingers folded over the worn piece of paper he'd carefully folded into the inside pocket before leaving New York. “Kevin, I’ve changed my mind.”
“About the dinner? You can’t. We’re already here, there’s no way we can talk ourselves out of this one, you’re too—”
“I’m staying in Boston tonight. Book me a hotel, I don't care where, just do it.” He needed to follow-through, bad idea or not. He needed to find out what she'd meant about a do-over, why she wore that ring, and how she'd managed to walk away from what they'd had without a word. Now was the time for answers. She ran away, he didn't.
“That’s just great.” Kevin slammed the car door. “We have a meeting tomorrow morning about the documentary. I…”
He tuned out the rest of what Kevin said. His hand closed over the creased paper in his pocket. The impromptu rendezvous may have been a coincidence, but his being in Boston was nothing short of deliberate.
Keep reading at
from the back cover...
Naked photographs plastered on a book cover remind Jessica Moriarty that the past isn't as dead as she'd assumed. Her carefully constructed life as an architect on the fast track to partnership is threatened by a love she'd abandoned five years ago when responsibilities had trumped dreams.
World-renowned photographer, Jacques Sinclair, could have chosen anywhere in the world for his book signing and photography exhibit, but he'd come to Boston to shake things up. He wanted answers, but they aren't what he expected.
Reunions aren't always happy—sometimes they stir up unwanted pain and forgotten passion. As Jacques and Jessica stumble their way back to one another for a second chance at love, they're ensnared in a web of conspiracy, manipulation, and sabotage designed to keep them apart. Will they be able to break free of the ties that bind them to seize the love of a lifetime? Or will the pressure to conform rip them apart forever?
**This is the conclusion of the two part Dancing Barefoot series and can be read as a stand-alone novel. However, to get the full impact of the love story, the author recommends reading book one, In Between. (permanently .99 as intro to the series). **
A taste of a few reviews...
4 stars via Avid Reader
"I loved this story. It was refreshingly honest, brutally tragic, and at times lyrical in it's flow. Their connection was so intense that as I read it, I was like this absolutely cannot survive. Love this intense and in your face has a slow burn to it, and will torch everything in i's path until it is stamped out...There was nothing contrived about it. I felt like I was literally a fly on the wall and this was happening in reality and not fiction land. I liked them both, probably one of the best couples I have ever read
5 stars via ChristophFischerBooks
"Conflicting emotions and insurmountable chemistry cause both of them to reassess the past, their current lives and priorities. Easton shows the magnetic and hypnotic effect of physical and emotional attraction very well and the gradual crumbling of outer facades and deep inner resolve. This is a romantic fantasy written in a convincing and heart warming manner and with enough complications thrown in to make for a very entertaining and gripping read."
5 stars via Sglas, Amazon reader review:
"Excitement, intrigue, twists and turns! Dancing Barefoot has it all. Very hard to put down."
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of romantic thrillers, contemporary romance, women's fiction, and nonfiction. She also writes five different blogs, volunteers for children's literacy, and advocates for suicide awareness. In addition, she is a professional editor and mother of two extraordinary human beings. She currently lives in a small cabin high in the Rocky Mountains where she is completely aware of how lucky she is. To find out more about her books, please visit http://www.amberleaeaston.com.