Authors: Alaina Stanford
Rule Series: Book 1
By Alaina Stanford
Published by Alaina Stanford
Copyright 2013 Alaina Stanford
Dedicated to my loving husband, whose support means more to me than life itself.
Thanks to Jack Martin of Gossamer Publishing for the great cover!
Special thanks to Jem’s Editing for all her hard work and great attitude.
“If love were a garden, dating would be the weed killer. Unfortunately, many times the worst weeds survive the initial application, often requiring additional energy not only to identify the unwelcome plants, but to remove them.” Elizabeth glanced around the room, cringing at the multitude of blank expressions that stared back at her. She wondered if these women thought she sounded like a man hater or a potential serial killer.
She made a mental note to check the local news for any poisonings committed by jilted girlfriends before using this speech again. “Take my life for instance.” She continued, sliding a hand into the front pocket her pale green suit jacket in an effort to look casual. “From the time I was a little girl I imagined my life would be a fairytale romance. A prince of my dreams would show up one day on my doorstep and whisk me away to a huge flowery wedding with a pearl-encrusted wedding gown, a Brady Bunch home, and happily ever after marriage. Instead, I barely dated in high school. In fact, my first love was a tattooed ex-marine Harley rider who smoked pot. This was extraordinary, considering I was a straight naive kid who hadn't even tasted alcohol yet. Overall, through my teens I managed to make many bad choices in boyfriends.”
“Finally, in my twenties, I decided to ‘wise up’ and marry an older man who happened to be a preacher. How could you be any safer? Admittedly, he was boring and straight-laced. He was what I considered moderately attractive, no bulging muscles or chiseled features. He was an average looking man, which I considered optimal since all of the strikingly handsome men of my past managed to cheat on me. Therefore, at age 22, I gave up on the dream of a man that made my heart race as our eyes met. I gave up on finding someone who made my body ache when he wasn't around. I married Mr. Safe. Mr. Safe was supposed to be a perfect husband, great father and a good provider. Three years later, I realized he was actually an obsessive compulsive, narcissistic womanizer.”
Elizabeth paused for emphasis and noticed a handsome man with an amused smirk on his chiseled face standing at the back of the room. He was tall, with golden hair and broad shoulders. His blue flannel shirt did nothing to mask his huge biceps. A pair of faded jeans perfected his persona. What was a man like that doing at a women’s conference? Elizabeth hesitated with her speech, almost forgetting the words.
He was probably the self-defense instructor, she told herself. Yet something about this man’s expression irritated Elizabeth. If he had dark sexy blue eyes, she would be extremely annoyed. She felt the color rise in her cheeks and fought for control of her senses. She forced her eyes to move further around the small conference room and took a deep cleansing breath. Concentrating on the pale gold and bronze colors of the room, she continued.
“Now this is where I’m supposed to tell you what I learned from that experience.” She glanced back toward her only male audience member to find him gone. She sighed with relief, which she found odd, but kept going. “So here it is: you can’t possibly determine if someone is the best man for you from the first date, fourth date, survey, website questionnaire or even a year of marriage. The truth is when you first meet someone they aren’t showing you their true self. They are showing you either the person they want you to think they are, or the person they think
want them to be. I call this trait a
. This pseudo personality can be very deceptive not only to you, but to them as well. In fact, it is entirely possible for someone to maintain a pseudo personality for several years. More importantly,
could actually be the pseudo personality in your relationship. You could be fooling yourself, trying to become the person you think your significant other wants you to be. This is very caustic. I believe every single person in this room has used a pseudo personality at some point in their lives. Many of you are using one right now. It’s not exclusive to dating; it’s simply more devastating when used in a relationship.”
With this statement, Elizabeth casually flipped her long dark hair over her shoulder, straightened her stance, squared her shoulders, and smiled softly at her now captivated audience. “Just think about it. When you’re on a first date, you’re at your best. You get dressed up, do your hair, get your nails done, and check your posture in the mirror to make sure the outfit does you justice. Then you put on those killer high heels and make sure your hips sway just the right amount when you walk in front of him. You use your best manners at dinner. You eat a salad or light entrée even though you are starving. Unless, of course, you grabbed a snack before he picked you up so you could eat a light meal without starving. You judge his sense of humor and respond accordingly. You respond to his manners with an appropriate response. If he’s a total gentleman or a klutz, you adapt your thought processes for a successful night. If it’s going well, you use your best comebacks and give him that special come-hither look you’ve perfected for just the right moment. You have put on your
for the night. First dates are notorious for it. Let me assure you, he has a persona as well. If he’s smart, he’ll open the door for you. He won’t eat with his fingers. He won’t burp or pass gas. He won’t use foul language or tell you a dirty joke, and he’ll try his best
to look at other women or your chest when you are talking to him.”
The room was silent. All eyes and ears were on Elizabeth. She had them. They were all hers. She could scoop them up and put them in her pocket. She had locked onto the eyes of many prominent women in the audience before she continued. “How can you tell if your partner is ‘faking it’? How can you tell if
are faking it? You can’t. The only cure for this is time: plain, simple time. It can take between two to three years before most people are able to drop their guard and start allowing their true character to show through to their lover. A regular person can maintain a ‘pseudo personality’ for up to three years. Where would you like to be when your relationship reaches the point where the pseudo personality fades away? How committed do you want your relationship to be when your partner reveals who they really are? Wouldn’t you rather be dating at that moment, instead of married? I’m not saying a sociopath will suddenly appear next to you in bed one morning three years after your first date. What I am saying is a few minor character changes are all it takes to ruin a relationship. Those personality changes can be as minor as toilet habits or food preferences, or as significant as views on child rearing, womanizing or physical abuse. Protect yourselves ladies, move slowly and get to know your partner before you commit to sharing a lifetime with them.”
Elizabeth signed autographs and answered questions for the next few hours. Afterward, she went to the hotel’s dining room for her next meeting. Franklin, her publicist, was waiting at a table near the back of the conference center’s dining room. The room had a breathtaking view of the mountains through the floor to ceiling windows that lined the far wall. The white linen clad tables held pink and yellow flowers draped with pearls in honor of the women's conference.
Franklin was dressed in a gray silk suit and was tapping away at his iPad as she approached. His short black hair was as perfect as his manicured fingernails. Elizabeth amused herself envisioning his shoes under the table had a high shine.
What Elizabeth didn’t realize until she reached the table was that the muscle man in a flannel shirt was sitting across the table from Franklin. Both men rose as she arrived. Elizabeth concentrated on Franklin as he gave her a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. Franklin turned to the man across from him and said, “Elizabeth darling, I’d like to present Joshua Miller. He’s the residential building contractor I told you about.”
Elizabeth turned to face Joshua. Her stomach jumped as their eyes met. He did have blue eyes. The deepest blue eyes she had ever seen gazed keenly back at her. She offered him her hand and said, “Thank you so much for meeting me tonight, Mr. Miller. I assume Franklin’s told you of my plan to build a cabin on the property my Uncle left me. It's not far from here.”
Joshua’s face reached perfection when he smiled. The moment he touched her hand, Elizabeth’s heart raced. His touch was electric, sending waves of heat through her body. He said, “Ms. Stewart, call me Joshua. I’m happy to make time for you, and it sounds like an incredible design. I drove by the property today. You’re going to need a small bridge over the creek to access the building site.” He couldn’t pull his eyes away from the luscious vision before him. Joshua expected the female author to be a short, mousy creature with very little character. This woman was slender, with curves in all the right places. Her skin was perfect, her lips full and pouty.
Joshua’s voice rang deep and sensual in Elizabeth's ears. He released Elizabeth’s hand and moved to pull out the seat next to him, pushing it in behind her as she sat down. Franklin sat back down, reached out for Elizabeth’s hand, and squeezed it as he waved for the waiter.
Franklin explained, “Elizabeth is determined to make this her permanent residence, so you’ll have to have an open attitude. I’m sure she has lots of ideas for the house and property.”
Joshua sat down and concentrated on Elizabeth, ignoring Franklin. He said, “You should be aware of the building restrictions in this area. We’ll need an environmental study to ensure the building on your location won’t have a negative impact on the surrounding flora and fauna. I have every reason to expect positive results, but we can’t remove the ground until that’s finished. Franklin said you are ecologically conscious, which fits in well with this area. We have quite a few material restrictions. We try to take advantage of renewable resources such as passive solar, active solar, and photovoltaic equipment. I brought some examples of green roofs and rain gardens you should find helpful to reduce rainwater run-off. I recommend packed gravel or permeable concrete instead of asphalt for the driveway. It's easier on the ground water.” Joshua stopped himself; he was babbling. Her intense gaze was driving him crazy. Her long, dark brown hair and deep green eyes caused him to swell in a very inconvenient spot. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He had to get himself under control or he’d lose the sale and any chance of getting this doll into bed.
Elizabeth was enchanted with this ruffian. She noted his eyes dilating slightly as his face grew flushed. He was attracted to her. Therefore, Mr. Muscle had a soft side after all and he was much smarter than she expected. “That all sounds perfect, but why don’t we order some dinner and relax for a bit before we dive into the business. I’ve been running full tilt all day and frankly, I could use some small talk and a stiff drink.”
This produced a frantic wave by Franklin at the nearest waitress, who came over immediately. He said, “Ms. Stewart will have a glass of Moscato and another round for Mr. Miller and me, please.”
Joshua stared at Franklin; the guy was a tall pile of New York City stress bent on controlling Elizabeth's every move. She didn’t seem to mind, so Joshua dismissed it. It was none of his business, but it irritated him nonetheless.
Franklin turned to Joshua and said, “Sounds like rushing into this is not such a good idea. Maybe tonight is not the right time to go over all this. Why don’t you leave the information with me? I’ll review it, and then Elizabeth can look through it. We will give you a call in a few days with a list of questions.”
Joshua smiled at Franklin; this guy was just too intense. He needed to get laid. Joshua turned to Elizabeth, “If you are looking for some relaxation, why don’t you try the local cuisine? I know a rustic little bar and grill just up the road. It has the best steak and ribs in the country.”
Elizabeth stared at him in fascination. He was hitting on her. This had to be a record. The man went from business to solicitation in thirty seconds. She couldn’t pass this up. She glanced at Franklin, then turned back to Joshua and said, “Let’s do it.”
Joshua rose, “That’s great, I’ll go get my truck. Why don’t you change into something more comfortable?” He picked up the binder and handed it to her. “We can go over the floor plans and options later.”
Franklin rose and stammered, “Elizabeth, I thought we were running over the outline for your next book tonight.”
Elizabeth accepted the binder and spun to follow Joshua out of the dining room, calling over her shoulder, “I’ll catch up with you later. This won’t take long.”
Joshua disappeared through the entrance as Elizabeth rushed up the double flight of stairs to her room. She quickly changed into her best pair of skinny jeans and intentionally chose a tight fitting low cut white blouse over a black lace bra. This was going to be a hoot. She couldn’t wait to see what pseudo persona Mr. Eco Construction pulled out of his hat. She threw on a pair of sexy black pumps and headed downstairs.
Franklin met her at the bottom of the stairs. His face was beet red. His tone rose to a high pitch. “This is a bad idea. You don’t know his guy from Adam,
you have no idea where he’s taking you.”
Elizabeth touched Franklin’s cheek and said, “I’ll be fine. It’s just dinner. I’ll be back in an hour or two. Relax.”
When she walked out into the cool night air Joshua was there leaning casually against a large dark blue pickup truck. Elizabeth smiled in appreciation of his tall stature and rugged good looks. He smiled back and opened the door for her, offering his hand. They drove to the bar and grill with the windows down, letting the night air fill the cab.