At thirty-three, Suzanne Hamilton has it all. A successful party-planning business with an elite client list. A swank condo in a hot Atlanta neighborhood and a close group of friends – especially her longtime best friend Marci. A list of men a mile long who have tried to win her heart and failed. Plus, she’s just landed the event that will take her career and social status to the next level. What could she possibly have to regret?
Then a freak accident changes everything, and Suzanne discovers that her near-perfect life is just a few steps away from total disaster. She is humiliated and at risk of losing it all… except the surprising support of her newest celebrity client. With nothing else to go on, Suzanne follows him into an unexpected job and unfamiliar territory. Soon she will question everything – her career, her past, her friendships, and even her own dating rules.
But when her catalog of past relationships turns into a list of criminal suspects, she is faced with the horrifying possibility that she may not live to regret any of it…
Excerpt from Regrets Only by M.J. Pullen © 2012, All Rights Reserved
And he was off again. Suzanne watched his face as he talked. A little doughy, perhaps, but with kind eyes. She imagined that being on the road all the time meant he didn’t eat as well as he should. His dark brown hair was still full and thick, in need of a trim—it curled up just a bit over his ears. Overall, she decided, he was attractive but approachable.
“That sounds really nice,” she said at an appropriate pause in his monologue about the fishing trip. He does seem to have a thing about boats, doesn’t he?
Soon Rick was boasting happily about a swordfish he and his dad had caught several years before. Suzanne wondered whether she could ever successfully decorate a room that included a six-foot mounted fish. It would have to be a nautical theme…
Stop it, she chided herself. You are not marrying this guy or his fish. We are having a grownup conversation and being open to the possibility of something more. This is what people in their thirties do on dates.
She smiled broadly at him, remembering to show her teeth the way she’d been instructed before beauty pageants as a child. She could almost taste the Vaseline her mother made her rub on her top teeth to ensure they didn’t get smudged with lipstick. Smile. Be open.
Rick returned the smile with warmth. He also seemed to notice he’d been talking about himself for too long. “So tell me how you got started in the party planning business.”
Suzanne recounted briefly how she had been an art history major at the University of Georgia, desperately wanted to work as a museum curator, and how she’d taken the job on the event staff at the High Museum right after college. “Originally, I hoped the foot in the door at the museum would land me a job in procurement or something, but it never happened.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Rick said sympathetically.
Suzanne shrugged. It turned out she had a knack for event planning. Something about the combination of creativity and crisis response. After a couple of years at the High, she had been hired away by a large event planning agency. She stayed there for a few years before creating her own boutique agency. Now she had one of the most successful, prestigious agencies in the city. People were often shocked to discover she and Chad were the only permanent staff. “We actually won an award last year,” she told Rick.
“Sounds like you are quite the little rock star in the event planning world,” he said. “Or do you just plan events for rock stars?”
Normally very discreet about her clients, Suzanne couldn’t resist the opportunity to brag a little. “Actually, I am doing a benefit in a couple of weeks for Dylan Burke. Of course, he’s more a country star…”
“Seriously? I was kidding about the whole rock star thing.”
A Southern lady is always modest, her mother’s voice chided her. “Well, it’s not that big of a deal,” Suzanne hedged. “It’s at my old stomping grounds at the High, which is probably why I got the job.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Rick countered enthusiastically. “That’s awesome. He’s totally famous.”
She waved away the words with a manicured hand, but Rick was undeterred. “Seriously, you should be really proud of yourself. That’s a huge deal. Obviously you’ve earned quite a reputation for someone like Dylan Burke to choose you.”
His eyes held hers sincerely. Okay, Rick, ease up. We’ve already slept together. You can dial it down a tad.
“Really, his manager chose me. I haven’t actually met him yet. We’ll see how it turns out,” she said, and pretended to be engrossed in the highlights of spring training on the TV over the bar. “How do you think the Braves will do this year?”
# # #
A few hours later, Suzanne awoke suddenly, unable to breathe. She gasped for air in the darkness, desperately trying to move, to figure out where she was. There was no light anywhere. Her chest tightened painfully, heart pounding, lips dry. As she struggled to move, she heard Rick groan softly nearby and roll over, releasing her from his grasp. She was in his hotel room, she remembered, and relaxed a little. When his breathing was soft and steady she moved again to slide out from between the crisp sheets.
I can’t do it.
She found the clock face down on the floor. Almost four a.m. She crept into the bathroom and shut the door before finding the unpleasantly bright light. She splashed water on her face and breathed deeply. After a few moments with her hands steadying her against the sink, she looked in the mirror. Jesus, I look like crap. Mascara was smeared beneath her eyes, her formerly perfect hair was a rat’s nest behind her head, and the evening of cocktails had weathered her face like a sailor’s. Suzanne looked and felt much older than thirty-three. She made a mental note to have Chad schedule a facial before the benefit.
Silently, she began gathering her things. The hotel room was pitch black, so she scrounged in her purse for the tiny keychain light, shaped like a pig, which Marci had given her years ago. The expensive pumps had been kicked off near the door. Skirt and blouse were in a heap nearby. After a few moments of searching, she located her bra hanging off the desk lampshade across from the bed. Her panties, however, had gone completely missing.
She covered the room with the tiny pig several times, freezing periodically when she heard Rick shift or grunt in his sleep. Opening the blackout curtains a fraction gave her enough light to shimmy into the rest of her clothes and make one more sweep of the room. She kicked herself for wearing her favorite pair of La Perla underwear, as they were about to become a casualty to an early-morning getaway.
She decided to add “Leave favorite underwear at home,” to her list of dating rules. The rules were sort of Suzanne’s cross between Emily Post and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, mostly resulting from her own bad experiences: Never bring a man back your place. No emotional talk during sex. Never get naked with the lights on. Always undress yourself. No dating guys with kids or dogs. No sex in cars. And so on. She thought one day she could publish these rules and make a fortune.
She closed the curtain and crept toward the door. She was nearly out of the room when she lost her balance and bumped against the closet door. It rattled loudly. Rick stirred behind her. “Suzanne? You okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” Her voice was sheepish despite her best efforts. “I just need to get an early start today.”
“But,” his voice in the darkness was slow and softened by sleep, “it’s Saturday.”
“Yeah, I just have so much going on with this benefit; I really need to get home. Thank you for dinner and…everything.”
She waited as she heard him fumble for the lamp and got it turned on. “Um, sure. You’re welcome?” he said, looking around, befuddled. In the sudden light, his bare chest looked a little pudgier, and furrier, than she remembered. He ran his hand through the thick brown hair standing up all over his head.
“Okay, well…bye, Rick,” she said, as sweetly as she could. She turned back toward the door.
“Wait,” he said softly.
Please don’t make an ass of yourself, she willed him. Please just hate me and let’s be done with it.
She didn’t have to worry. As much as he liked her, Rick the Salesman knew a simple, cardinal rule of all relationships: never beg. He simply asked the exact question to which he wanted the answer. “This is ending right now, isn’t it?”
Suzanne noticed that there was neither hope nor despair in his tone. Obviously, he genuinely liked her, and yet the question only sought to confirm, rather than to convince or retaliate. She hesitated only for a split second. “Yes.”
She hovered there momentarily, waiting for the usual barrage of questions or arguments to commence, but Rick just nodded slowly and said, “I’m sorry to hear that. It really was very nice to meet you, Suzanne.”
Her face flushed. The stark contrast between this courteous ending and last night’s very primitive activities embarrassed her, as did standing in her professional clothes and heels with no underwear. “You, too, Rick. Take care, okay?”
She hurried out, made her way down the stairs, and exited the side door. She had the phone number to the cab company on speed dial.
I absolutely loved reading this book. Throughout the first book in the series, The Marriage Pact, Suzanne always seemed as though she was running from something. And in this book we get to find out what that is. We also get to see what a fantastic person she is and how much strength she has. She's beautiful. I don't want to give away the story, but I will say that after everything she goes through, she absolutley deserves someone who loves her with so much passion and understanding. Not that she made it easy, but then neither did he. Two of a kind, I'd say. I liked the fact that we not only got to know more people in this book, but that we got to catch up with the cast of characters from The Marriage Pact too. Books like these are the reason I love reading series; so you can catch up with old friends.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
About the Author:
When she’s not chasing two little boys or trying to wipe something sticky off the floor, M.J. (Manda) Pullen is the bestselling author of two contemporary women’s fiction novels: The Marriage Pact (2011) and Regrets Only (2012). She is working on several new projects as well, including more women’s fiction and a YA paranormal adventure series.
M.J. grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. Writing has always been a big part of her life, both professionally and personally. She studied English Literature and Business at the University of Georgia in Athens, and later Professional Counseling at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She practiced psychotherapy for five years before taking a sabbatical to spend more time writing and raising her brood. Since high school, she has also been an executive assistant, cashier, telemarketer, professional fundraiser, marketing guru, magazine writer, grant-writer, waitress, box-packer, HR person, and casual drifter.
M.J. loves creating true-to-life characters who are flawed, relatable, and most importantly redeemable. She tries to explore all aspects of relationships, from romantic entanglements to battles between mortal enemies, and everything in between. She reads and writes across many genres, and learns something from everything she does. No matter what she’s writing, M.J. believes that love is the greatest adventure there is, and that hopeless romantics are never really hopeless.
After years traveling and living in places like Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, M.J. has now returned to her home city of Atlanta (actually Roswell, for hard-core Roosevelt fans and connoisseurs of suburban culture), where she lives with her husband and two young sons. She loves to hear from readers and other writers – so drop her a line!