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Next Year’s Promise

Anne Kingsley pursues a high-profile advertising project that takes her to Australia, where she meets sheep station owner Slade McGregor.

His distrust of this too-curious city woman rivals hers of the country rogue, who dares mixing business with pleasure. Although their backgrounds are worlds apart, Anne and Slade have both suffered betrayals of the heart. Beneath the Southern Cross, they face their inner fears and fall in love, to become perfect mates.

(Trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-59088-985-5

(eBook)
ISBN: 978-1-59088-011-1

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REVIEWS:

"While romance novels are not my usual genre of reading material, I found Next Year's Promise to bewell written andengaging in its plot. It was also well-researched by Hudgins, which lends to the book's credibility. I'm looking forward to reading another one of her books in the near-future."
Carol Boker, former magazine editor, Pennsylvania

4 1/2 STARS ~ Affaire de Coeur
"Plots and subplots enhance this romance, while visual characters deal with true problems. The beauty of the Aussie Outback draws a pictorial of the dusty, hot summer. The symbolism of the dry, fiery bush and the suductive dialect tempt the reader to travel deep into this well-researched romance." --Nancy B. Leake

"NEXT YEAR'S PROMISE fulfills its promise of action, suspense... and love. This year's must read." --
Betty Jo Schuler, author of Winning Chance, Wordbeams.com

"I enjoyed reading about my country through such a spirited heroine's eyes." --
Lisa Annis, writer. Sydney, Australia

"Slade McGregor surpise and enchants as he tussles with ambitious Ann Kingsley in the most captivating way. Don't miss NEXT YEAR'S PROMISE." --
Gail Fuller, writer, Ontario, Canada.

"Karen--NYP was so fantastic that I stayed up half the night to finish it and spent the next day as a zombie and it's all your fault!"
Diane Blake, Diane Blake, writer

"I loved it. Slade and Anne are characters that steal your heart and warm your soul. Long after you finish this book you will remember the love Anne and Slade shared. You will laugh, cry and be thrilled over this happily ever after ending."
Judy Peters, Author of A Father's Hope

"It was wonderful! ...happy to see that the heroine got to keep her job and her man--very postmodern of you!"
Susan Kinnevy, Ph.D., Phila., PA

"Smart and funny." Reader, Washington, D.C.

"Simply fabulous!" Kari Marshall, Librarian, Cincinnati, OH

   EXCERPT:

Removing his hat, Slade took in the spectacular whole of Anne. He already felt better. Being with her brought him stimulation and peace. If she only understood her effect on him.
Their time apart served a good purpose, he’d decided as he drove into Sydney. It gave him time to be sure. He liked her determination and natural beauty. But more so, she held the power to seduce his heart, soul and mind. He’d missed the surrender.
Tonight, though, was her night. In every sense. Each move she made in the midnight-blue cocktail dress fueled his need to hold her. Her eyes drew him in. Unwavering, she sent him the most powerful of feminine signals--a simple, sweet smile.
Slade twitched his mouth. Why play games and pretend he didn’t need her? Hell, he loved her--for who she was, and for who she wasn’t. Weeks without Annie had nearly done him in. Night and day blended into one long void. He’d resumed work on the wool scouring plant, but that didn’t fulfill him.
Seeing her now eased everything back into place. He wanted to make the Red Gum a success for reasons other than watching numbers grow in a tally log. He wanted it for her and some little McGregors. That is, if she’d have him and wanted it that way. She loved her work, but he’d be willing to settle for one little part of what was left over. What she gave him was that rich.
“Annie?” He stepped forward and breathed deeply. Boronia fragrance wreathed her. She speared him with hope and fire.
Couldn’t she feel it?
“Yes, Slade?” Anne never wanted to forget the way he was looking at her right now, enamored and accepting.
“You’ve cut your hair,” he said, still waiting for a signal. He wasn’t going to embarrass her in the middle of important business. If she wanted more from him, she’d have to show it was okay for him to give it.
Anne lifted her fingers to the wavy, sunlit tips.
“You like it?”
He nodded and the wholesome maleness of him rendered Anne weak-kneed. His next step brought him close enough to encircle her with his arms. She longed for his kiss.
Slade ran his hand down his jaw. No, he wasn’t going to cover her mouth with the tornadic kiss he’d stored up. She needed to pay attention to what she’d come here to finish. But hadn’t her invitation for him to attend this counted for something? If only he’d caught her call instead of his grandfather. Hearing her voice would have helped a heap.
Anne’s resolve dwindled by the second. The chemistry they once shared still cooked. Slade was the finest specimen of a “personal mess” she’d ever seen, or would want to. It pleased her beyond belief as he reached over and touched her cheek.
Slade gave out a faint whistle. This was as far as he was going to go. He swore he wasn’t going to push her to the fancy-papered wall and rekindle what he was sure he’d lost. His heart rattled his breastbone, but logic towed him back in line.
Which worked fine until she slid her fingers along his cheek. Then his unselfish intentions skidded into the billabong.
“I’m going to kiss you,” he stated. Lowering his head, he centered his lips on hers. Tasting them again rumbled from his head through his groin and down to his toes.
He absorbed her tremble as she opened her eyes.
“Slade, I--”
“Hush.” The softness and yearning in them brought out his best intentions. Yet, he was unsure she’d have him. It was true that they’d hailed from different lives and places, but something else was also true. She’d confounded him and loved him with such sweet intensity it neutralized any doubt that loving her would be a mistake. He let loose what was locked up in his heart.
“I’ve missed you,” he said, stroking her face with his thumbs. “Annie... I love you.”
Her eyes widened and she leaned into him.
There, he’d done it. He finally said what he’d realized long ago, but was never able to say until now. He repeated his words. “I love you.”
Anne returned his kiss with joy. After she finished, she rushed to say, “I never should’ve left you. I was angry, hurt, and confused. I needed to understand.”
He released her. “We both did.”
“The boronia you put in the mailbox was the icing on the cake,” she murmured. “You wouldn’t have sent the flowers if you weren’t over the tragedy. I had to know it’d just be us. Only you and me.” He tried to pull her to him again. “Wait, let me finish. I’ve never been in love like this, or ever could be again. Nothing else matters. And your note made all the difference. It was beautiful.”
Slade raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth, then closed it again as Jack burst out into the corridor. Slade stepped back a few respectable paces. “Damn, I wanted--”
“Wanted to what?”
“Hey, Anne,” Jack called as guests began to follow him across the hall. “Hi, Slade. See you made it.”
Slade smiled and waved back.
Jack gestured for her to join him. “It’s time.”
She flashed him a one-minute signal.
Slade resolved not to waste it. Quickly, he pulled Anne past the powder room and made a hard right near the elevator. In another swift move he yanked open a door marked CLEANING. He led her into the small closet and shut the door.
Dark covered them. In it Slade pulled her to him and asked, “When?”
Anne’s heart beat wildly. “When what?”
The excitement in her voice turned him on so much he wanted to marry and seduce her right here. He’d been too long without her. Nights at Casey’s Pub amounted to hell.
It was there that he got the idea to have Rudy send her the mailbox after he’d knocked the bloody thing off its post. He’d wanted to say to her, “See, what I was doing the morning you left? Something for us.” She didn’t want to listen, so he was going to show her.
But damned if he could stay angry at her, especially with their bodies pressed together exchanging heartbeats.
“When can I kidnap you?”
The heat of his lips guided her. His scent triggered memories and signaled the promise of a next time, and a next, for years to come.
“Midnight,” she said. “Then I’m yours for a whole week.”
His breath raced along her neck as he slid his hands down onto her bottom and pulled her tighter against him.
“Don’t count on it for just a week.” His voice turned husky. “I want it to be forever. We’ll go back to Westport if that’s what you need. All I want out of the deal is you. Marry me, Annie.”