There is no greater burden than a secret, and Kari Stanley has been carrying one alone for a long time. But fate intervenes in the form of a broken down car and the kind offer of assistance from a handsome stranger with a sweet, southern drawl. In exchange, all she has to do is go to dinner with him. Temptation was never so sweet.
Max Quinn has secrets of his own. His good deeds aren’t just a product of his southern upbringing; they’re his atonement. As one dinner turns into two, he realizes that Kari just might be his salvation.
As they struggle to find their path together, their secrets weigh heavier on them. Will they be able to trust one another with the truth, or will their secrets keep them apart forever?
Adriana Locke lives and breathes books. After years of slightly obsessive relationships with the flawed bad boys created by other authors, she has created her own.
The Exception was Adriana’s debut novel and released late last year. The Perception is a stand-alone that follows two secondary characters from The Exception. Her third novel, Sacrifice, will be released Summer 2015.
Adriana lives in the Midwest with her family. She spends copious amounts of time playing with her kids, drinking coffee, and cooking. Her favorite things include sunshine, candy, and random quotes.
She loves to hear from readers. You can find her:
Well, well, well. What do we have here?
I spotted a woman standing in front of her car a few spots from mine in the parking lot. Her head in her hands, she stared at the front of her vehicle. I just finished my meeting and really wanted to go back home, but I couldn’t leave a woman stranded in the heat.
Not with a clear conscience.
And not with an ass like that.
“Somethin’ wrong?” I asked, shutting my truck door behind me and walking slowly towards the brunette.
She turned her head and a smile slowly spread across her pretty face. She stood, wiping her hands down the sides of her green workout shorts. Her body was lean and tight and I wanted to run my hands all over it.
She was little as hell, probably a good foot shorter than my 6’2” frame. Her tight white tank top showcased her breasts in the best way possible. Her hair was piled on top of her head, strands sticking to the back of her neck.
Her smile grew wider as I made my way across the parking lot. Sweat dotted her smooth, tanned skin and she wiped her brow with the back of one hand.
The beauty raised her eyebrows, her green eyes lighting up. “My car won’t start.” She ran her gaze down my body, making little effort to conceal the fact that she liked what she saw.
That makes two of us.
I flashed her a smile and cleared my throat. I needed to focus, but that was easier said than done. The last thing I wanted to do was come across like Cane, my friend with no couth.
“What seems to be the problem?” I unlatched the hood and raised it open.
“I turned the key and got nothing but a buzzing sound,” she huffed, crossing her arms in front of her.
I looked up, the movement catching my attention, and my gaze landed right on her chest.
“What are you looking at?” she asked cheekily.
“Nothin’ you shouldn’t be proud of.” I blew out a breath and laughed.
She giggled and I immediately wanted to hear it again. I wanted to make her giggle, to see that smile, over and over.
Trying to put some distance between us, I made my way to the side of the car. I felt her eyes on me, the smell of her coconut perfume messing with my mind. I needed to focus on the task at hand and not on the thing I wanted to be handling.
Damn, I’d love to handle that little body.
I checked the battery and saw the problem right away. I tightened the loose cable and checked the other before standing back up. I leaned against the car and folded my hands in front of me. I had to figure out how to play this to my advantage. My mind raced through possibilities and I shot her a serious look.
“This is just my luck,” she said, reading way too much into my expression. “And I thought this week couldn’t get any worse.”
“Wanna talk about it?” I grinned, watching her cute-as-hell act. I didn’t know what her week had been like, but I knew I was more than willing to take her mind off of it for a couple of hours.
“So you’re a mechanic and a counselor?”
“I can be whatever you want me to be.”
Her mouth twisted in amusement, her eyes lighting up. “Is that so? You’re a jack-of-all trades then, Mr.—”
“I’m Max Quinn, the man that can service any and all of your needs.”
She laughed, her cheeks blushing. “Okay, Max. The first need I have is getting this car running.”
“The first need, huh? Does that imply that there may be more needs that require my services?”
She pressed her lips together, obviously enjoying the innuendos. “It’s a possibility. You know how things go—you take care of one thing and then suddenly something else, you know, pops up.”
“Pops up? Interesting choice of words…”
She laughed again, tossing her head back. Drops of sweat rolled down her neck and it took everything I had to not leap across the car, throw her over my shoulder, and into the back of my truck. I could imagine that little body wrapped around mine, that giggle piercing the air as I had my way with her.
“If I can get this car running, and that’s a big ‘if’, what do you think is a fair price for my time and effort?”
I figured I’d give her a chance to either play along or opt out. As much as I’d like to get to know this little beauty, I wasn’t going to press myself. It wasn’t my style.
“I’m not sure,” she smiled. “What are you thinking?”
“Well, I don’t really have anything else to do today. But it could take hours.”
“Really?” She looked alarmed. “I don’t want you—”
“It might take minutes,” I cut her off, shrugging.
She tossed me a flirty smile, one hand on her narrow hip. “Are you sure you’re up for the challenge?”
“Ah, sweetheart. You have no idea.”
Biting her bottom lip, her eyes sparkling, she ran a hand down the side of her neck. She knew exactly what she was doing to me. “Fair enough. What’s it going to cost me?”
“It’s going to cost you two things.” I tapped my fingers against the hood of the car and waited for her response.
“Two things?” She sighed dramatically, rolling her eyes for effect. “Well, my options seem pretty limited, so let’s hear it.”
“The first thing is your name. Only seems fair that I know whose car I’m fixin’.”
The gorgeous girl in front of me cocked her head to the side. She was smarter than I gave her credit for. I knew she was attracted to me and I knew she’d give me her name, but she was smart enough to consider it first.
“Kari Stanley,” she said finally.
“Alright, Kari Stanley. The second thing you need to do before I fix your car is say yes.”
“Say yes to having dinner with me tonight. I think that’s totally fair. If I get this fixed, the least you can do is share a meal with me.”
She pretended to consider my proposal, her tongue darting out to lick her bottom lip.
“How do I know you’re not a serial killer?” she asked playfully.
I grinned mischievously. “I never said I didn’t bite.”
Her jaw dropped. She started to speak but nothing came out but another laugh.
“But I promise you’d like it if I did.” I narrowed my eyes, fighting the grin on my face, too.
She looked shocked for a split second and then regained her composure, trying to play it cool. “Okay. If you can get this started, I’ll go to dinner with you. But I have to say—I’m a little disappointed in your creativity. For some reason, I expected you to want more than a meal.”
I tossed her the keys and a wink. “Don’t be. You don’t know what all dinner entails.”
She caught her key ring with a grin. “Fair enough.”
“It’ll be better than fair, I promise. Now quit wastin’ time and use those,” I said, nodding to the keys in the palm of her hand.
“What do you want me to do with them?”
“I want you to start the car.”
She stared at me blankly. “What part of ‘this car doesn’t start’ don’t you understand?”
“What part of ‘start the damn car’ don’t you understand?”
She eyed me curiously before climbing into the driver’s seat. A look of disbelief crossed her face as the engine roared to life. “What the…”
I shut the hood of her car.
“Meet me at Maisano’s on Scottsdale Road at six, sweetheart.”
“Wait. How did you…”
I laughed, starting towards my truck. “Maisano’s at six—be there.”