Calendar Men (Mr. January), Book 1
by JoAnne Kenrick
eBook ISBN: 9781613336410
Chris Ruter’s plan for Australia Day is to beat the heat by letting the beer flow. His New York ex, Janine, seems determined to drive her sharp stiletto through the wall he’s built to avoid memories of her–but does she want him in front of her camera or in her bed?
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“Wish you made coffee as well as Janine.” A mental image of her curvy figure tucked away in a sexy-as-hell trouser-suit flooded Chris Ruter, followed by another of her glasses sitting low and framing her alluring gaze. Yup, she was an amazing woman.
“Hey.” His mom tsked then reached on her toes and bussed his cheek. “You asked her to marry you and come out here to Australia, but she said no. It’s time you put the past where it belongs.”
She patted him on the back. “Son, I’m as confused as you. Why she’d say no to a catch like you is beyond me. You both seemed so in love.”
“She was hell-bent on proving her company a success, on filling her closet with half of Fifth Avenue, and with climbing her way to a penthouse suite and a fucking platinum card. I often wonder if she’d have said yes had I not declared I was leaving my civil engineering position and moving out here.”
“Yes, she did seem very passionate about New York. Such a shame because you two could have had a wonderful life together out here on the plantation. I can just imagine mini Chrises running about the place.” His mother sighed. “Your father would have loved to have seen that. I would have, too.”
“I know, Mom. I still can’t believe her quest to make money meant more to her than I did.”
He set his cup on the worktop and slumped.
“Christopher, it’s time you moved on or moved back to New York. Janine this, Janine that. Yet you refuse to phone her and try work things out. I love the girl, but, my God, you are dragging out your breakup misery.”
“How anyone could be miserable amid this beautiful Australian land is beyond me.”
He sighed. “Okay, Mom.”
“Your dad passed away a year ago, and I’m not spending my days pining away. Doesn’t mean I don’t miss him, though. I do. Every single day. But life goes on, son. You’ve got to decide one way or another what you want. It’s that simple.”
“I know, Mom. I know.” He wrapped an arm around her and squeezed before leaning to kiss her forehead, amazed yet again at her strength and courage. “You’re right.”
“Of course I am.” She grinned, satisfaction spreading to the lines around eyes curtained by graying-blonde, curly bangs. “Now, if you need me for anything, I’ll be out back dipping my toes in the pool.”
“You can hardly call that plastic blow-up thing you bought from the Pine Creek General Store a pool, Mom.”
“Holds water, doesn’t it?” She tucked her wild, wiry hair into a bun then grabbed her iced lemonade and trundled away. “It’ll do me just fine.”
“We’ll get a hot tub, the works. Next summer, I promise.” I’d buy you the world if my bank account allowed it.
“I don’t doubt. You take after me in that regard, because when you set your mind to something you get it done,” she hollered back.
“Except with Janine.” He pressed his hands against the white-tiled counter, the ceramic cool against his sweaty palms, and dipped his gaze to the aged and scratched wood floor. He’d fix the planks, along with the many other jobs on his to-do list. He would get Ruter Plantation back to its glory. Even if raising the cash to do so killed him.
Enough beating himself up. He had to get outside and prep for Ruter’s annual Australia Day Games.
Hard work, good grub, and fantastic company. Living the dream.
He straightened and downed half a cup of coffee. Thick, liquid tar, bitter to the core, coated his throat. Gross. He pursed his lips, damning himself for not having taught his mother how to use the French press properly. Used to the drip percolator, which had broken a few days before, she’d dumped enough grounds in there to brew for twenty.
With an unmatched flair, Janine always made a smooth drink. Perfect Janine.
“Stop thinking about her,” he reprimanded himself. “I’m in fine shape.” Working on Ruter Plantation for the past year had built up his muscles. “I bet Outback Dirty there’s a woman in the world, somewhere, who’d be quite happy to live out her days on this gorgeous land with me.”
Someone warn Australia, because Christopher Ruter was ready to move on.
He clenched his bum cheeks, flexed his pecs, and posed, admiring his reflection in the window. Yup, I’ve still got it…whatever it is.
“Stand down, Mr. January, or I’ll have to pinch your ass. I won’t be able to help myself.”
Janine. Fuck.Was he so far gone he had imagined her chastising voice?
“Hey, how you doing?”
Yup, New York accent and heels clinking against the floor in beats of three to mark impatience. Unmistakable.
Janine Red stood in his kitchen.
He hunched. The pain of their parting coursed through him as if they’d broken up yesterday and not last Christmas, as if his heart still lay in the gutter, beyond repair.
“Ah, hello. Hot chick needs a drink. Pronto! A bagel wouldn’t go amiss, either. I suppose a glazed donut is out of the question?”
Narrowing his eyes, he pivoted and growled, “Didn’t see you there.”
“Apparently not, judging by the Mr. January performance.” She removed a clip from her hair. Shiny, brunette curls cascaded over her shoulders. The sunlight streaming in through the open door shimmered over her copper highlighted strands and shadowed her high cheekbones. “Practicing for the photo shoot?”
He wished he’d never volunteered for that calendar a year ago; he wouldn’t have met her. But he had. Now here she stood, taunting his heart.
Janine? In Australia? Mouth agape, his words caught at his throat.
Switching her attention to the mug, she reached for it. “Don’t mind, do you? I’m so thirsty. I didn’t realize it’d be mad hot. Snowing in New York when we left. This isn’t natural.”
The sight of her both eased his pain and poked at it. Hot. So damned hot. He let his gaze fall to her heaving chest squeezed into a silk blouse, and to the beads of sweat trickling toward her pert breasts.
“And the air is dry out here. How do you cope?”
Had she come to Pine Creek to reconsider his offer? Instead of asking, his anger toward her spewed out. He couldn’t help himself. “What’d you expect? We’re in the fucking outback.”
She gulped back a huge mouthful of the drink then slammed the cup on the worktop and spat out brown liquid. Coffee splattered over his fresh white shirt.
“Effing hell, Chris, what is this crap?”
“Feeble attempt at getting me to undress?”
She pouted, her lips full, moist, and alluring, and she cast him a soft, pleading gaze from behind her long lashes.
Chris balled his hands and paced the room to drag himself from wanting to slam her atop the dining table and bury himself inside her warmth. From wondering if she wore her crimson panties. His favorite panties on her—well, off her—but so pretty when they decorated her sweet pussy. Argh! A throb pounded in his groin, and a primal need to reclaim his woman grabbed at him, pulled him under so fast he struggled to breathe. He kicked a leg of the table, the blow barely a tap through his steel-toe boots.
“If you’re going to give your guests shit to drink, be prepared for the insults to follow.”
Frustration bubbled. One more biting remark from her, and….
“Honestly, Chris. At least try to sound happy that I’m here.”
His heart banged. Heat simmered in his gut for a second before he blew out a blast of rushed insults. “Aww, look at you, Miss Fancy Pants herself is already struggling here. How are you going to rough it with no Starbucks or shoe stores?”
Hands to hips, she snapped right back at him. “Give me a break. I have ‘roughed it’ before, you know.” She pointed to the pot of coffee beside the half-filled press and squished her nose. “Can you make a trip to town? Good coffee isn’t too much to ask of my host, is it? I did bring a small bag of beans with me, but customs confiscated it because the package had been opened.”
“Well, all our little town has is a general store and a farming goods store. Oh, and a bottle shop.”
Her eyes twinkled. “A couple of red, hand-blown glass bottles would look Outback Dirty lovely in my office.”
“A bottle shop is a liquor store here. Sorry, I forgot I was talking to a New Yorker.”
She pursed her lips. “So no gift shops and no coffee beans?” Drooping, she exhaled.
Mentally counting to five, he gathered himself before releasing a long breath. He gritted his teeth and muttered, “You’re in the outback, not Bloomingdales.” He sauntered to her, retrieved his drink, and took a swig. Swallowing, he battled not to flinch just to spite her. “Mmm, good. So, why are you here, Janine? To win me back? Or to fuck with my head?”
“Come on, you must have realized I’d come when you confirmed the booking with the Red Ad Agency?”
“There you go, so why the full-on attitude?”
“Hoping and wanting are two very different things. Please tell me Leo hasn’t put me in charge of babysitting you.”
“Ahem. I’m the CEO of Red.”
“You keep telling yourself that, lovie, but we both know Red is somewhat profitable because of Leo.”
Her nostrils flared. “He said you were up for another modeling gig, but I dunno.”
“Fuck that, Janine. You can use the location for filming but beyond that I want nothing to do with you or Red, understand?”
“I’d have let Leo come out here and lead without me if I’d known how you felt about me.”
“The only reason I agreed to rent out my land to Red is for Leo. I didn’t realize you’d be a part of the deal. He promised me you wouldn’t be. God, woman, you were the last person I wanted on Ruter Plantation.”
“I am Red. Of course you expected me. For Pete’s sake, I had a grueling twenty-four-hour flight with awful food and terrible service. Then I got bundled into something called a ‘ute.’”
“A ute is just the Aussie word for truck.”
She carried on ranting. “And I’m sure the driver took the long way out here to nowhere-land.”
“Pine Creek,” he offered.
“And the aboriginal driver kept calling me a ‘pom.’ A pom!” Her face reddened. “What the hell is a pom when it’s at home?”
“Looks to me like you need chamomile tea, not caffeine. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do.” He had to get out of there, fast. Needed to gather his own calm in the oncoming storm that was Janine.
“Hey, I didn’t go through all that to be pushed aside, Chris.”
“Fine. Pom is the Aussie word for a Brit, but it often gets used for Americans, too. I believe it means Prisoner of Mother England. Now, can I get back to chopping wood?”
She cocked her head and raised a brow. “Aren’t you going to at least try and make an effort, Chris? I’m staying whether you want me to or not.”
“Let me make myself clear. I don’t need this deal. I’m managing fine without your money, thank you. I’m doing this for Leo.” That wasn’t exactly true, but he had his pride.
“Fine. Okay. I get it. No modeling for you. But I still need to unpack. Are the bedrooms that way, Mr. January?” She pointed down the hall off the kitchen that led to an open living area and several other rooms—sitting empty—and the stairs leading to the upper floor.
“You’re not staying in the house.” He crossed his arms, standing adamant. “No way are you sleeping here. And quit calling me that.”
“But you’ll always be Mr. January to me.” She inched forward, reaching toward him as if coming in for a hug. She passed him a studious glare, looking his body up and down, then settled her focus on his lips.
Can’t kiss her, not even for a second. Or I’ll be at her mercy all over again. He threw his arms up and hollered, “Whoa there.”
“Old habits and all that. I just wanted to fix your hair.”
“Really? My hair?”
He reached up, raked a hand through his mop, smoothing the locks into his
low-sitting ponytail. “Better?” Fuck, why’d I do that? “I kitted out a guest house for Red with fold-out beds and towels and whatnot. You can sleep there. Sorry it’s a bit basic, but no one mentioned a city chick.”
“What, no silk sheets or cabana boys to attend to my every whim? How disappointing.”
He’d have served her anything she wanted, served her naked, dressed in a monkey suit, swinging from a tree—whatever she desired. But she’d blown it back in New York. Pfft. He snorted.
“It’s been a year. You’re not still angry at me, are you? Besides, I thought the way we left things you’d be pleased I came all this way. We can talk about how things wrapped up between us. Tie up loose ends. You know, have a healthy and happy breakup.”
“Healthy? Happy? Are you kidding? Janine, I proposed to you and you turned me down. How did you expect I’d react to you showing up here unannounced? Of course I’m still angry. God, woman.” He downed his drink while straining not to twist his face as the bitter fluid raced to his gut. “I’ve got things to do.” Arranging his hat to protect himself from the heat, he stormed out the back door and toward the nearest barn. Tools. He needed tools, so he could take out his frustrations by hacking up logs.
Dry heat stifled him, made him gasp for air. He slipped his hat off and wiped his brow, kicking at the dirt. “Fucking women.”
“I didn’t know me being here would be so upsetting for you, Chris.”
Fuck. “Quit sneaking up on me.”
“Leo said you okayed the Digger shoot and my being here for the job. I wouldn’t have agreed otherwise. Really, I’m not a total bitch.”
“That’s debatable,” he growled, slamming the door of the barn shut behind him and hoping she’d get the message.
She didn’t. Instead, she followed him into the outbuilding.
“Can’t we be grown-ups about this?” She patted his shoulder and he jerked away from her.
“Sure, let’s be adult about the fact you rejected my proposal and snapped my heart in two, shall we?” He reached for the ax leaning against the barn next to a
heap of logs.
“I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt you.”
“Well, you did, and you being here…well, you shouldn’t have come.”
“I’ll try stay out of your way if that’s how you want it, Chris. But I’d prefer we were adults about this.” She brushed the pads of her fingers down his arm. Letting out a sigh, she paused at his thick bicep. She squeezed the muscle. And again. “Impressive.”
“Really?” She’d been thinking about him. Naked, perhaps? And now she admired his physique? His dick stirred and his heart somersaulted. No. Get a grip. Don’t let her get inside your head. She’ll be gone in a few days.
“Sure, Leo raves on about how happy you sound out here. I wanted to experience this land of yours for myself. Believe me or not, Chris, but I felt empty when you left. We didn’t have a chance to put full closure on ‘us.’”
“You gave us full closure, Janine, when you said no. Look, this isn’t going to be easy for me so I’d appreciate it if you kept your distance, unless, of course, you’ve changed your mind about being Mrs. Ruter. If that was so, I’d beg you to come here so I could kiss you. But you never were one for changing your mind, so I can’t see you going down on one knee for me. ”
“You always did like me on my knees.”
He readjusted his hat so it sat lower and blocked out her glare. “That’s not fair.”
“Am I making you nervous?”
“No, you’re making me hot for the one thing I can’t have.”
“Now, now, Calm down. You know I’m just trying to lighten things.” She winked, but her furrowed brow showed her to be anything but in a flirty mood.
“Hey!” She punched him in the arm, her blow but a tap against his hard muscle. “Screw you.”
“You should go say hi to Mom. She’ll probably want to smother you with hugs and feed you lots of cake.” He turned. “Go on, now. Leave me be.” Then he took a swing at the logs. And another, and another. He sensed her glaring at him, her stare boring into his back and urging him to glance over his shoulder.
She winked at him.
Miss New Yorker. Here. In the flesh and teasing his dick and pulling at his heart. The next few days were going to drag along, and his restraint would be tested to the limits. But if he stayed out of her way, avoided her seductive gaze and persuasive, curvy body—at all costs—he might make it out the other end with his heart still in one piece.
He turned, curious about her commotion.
Her stare was glued to a nearby log where a little blue skink slithered and scurried.
“Relax, woman. It’s a baby lizard. He means you no harm.”
“Easy for you to say.” She shivered and raced out of the barn.
Woman-be-gone magic. Seemed like it’d be a good idea to carry one of the little critters around with him if this was the effect they achieved.
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