Ella Varner left Houston to get some physical and emotional
distance between herself and her family, but maybe Austin
wasn't far enough. A phone call from her Mom about her
sister Tara having had a baby boy and then disappearing is
more than a little shocking, it's alarming. Candy's ready
to give the baby to Social Services unless Ella comes to
get him and Ella knows she means it. Ella's boyfriend Dane
thinks Ella should stop trying to fix her family's problems
and let it go. But this is her sister's baby, how can she
ignore that? Going back to Houston, looking for Tara and
for the baby's father is the only thing Ella can think to
do. Arriving to claim the baby, Ella is struck by his
helplessness and falls a little bit in love.
The name at the top of the list of potential fathers is
serial dater Jack Travis. Growing up in Houston, Ella knows
of the wealthy and powerful Travis family, but if Jack is
Luke's father it won't stop her from making him take
responsibility. Showing up at Jack's business, Ella talks
her way into Jack's office to ask for a paternity test.
Jack 's agrees, not because he thinks he's Luke's dad, but
because there's something about Ella that's intrigued him
in a way he's never been intrigued before. The next morning
Tara resurfaces long enough to tell Ella she's gone to a
clinic to "rest" for the next three months and Jack
couldn't be the father because they never slept together.
But Jack's still interested and helps them find a place to
stay in Houston plus an interview with the Megachurch
preacher who might Luke's dad. And all this time, Ella
doesn't seem to realize Jack might be interested in her.
She's been so reluctant to really fall in love, this man is
shaping up to be dangerous territory for Ella. Accepting
help, allowing people to get close, and being in love, are
things she couldn't and wouldn't do before. When she
finally realizes how important Luke and Jack have become to
her is the moment she loses them both. Tara is taking Luke
back and Jack's been in accident that may have been fatal.
What can she do?
The banter between Ella and Jack is charming and will cause
readers to laugh out loud, but it's the way Ella interacts
with Luke that adds a real tenderness to the story. It's
easy to root for all involved so the happy ending is
especially appreciated. Smart, funny, touching, sweet, and
satisfying are just a few of the words to describe this
special entry into the Travis family series, starting with
Sugar Daddy, continuing with Blue-Eyed Devil
and surely to
be completed by the youngest son's story in a forthcoming
novel. You don't have to read both previous books, but
you'll want to and then you'll want to reread SMOOTH TALKING
STRANGER just because it's that good.
Ella Varner has it all--a successful career as an advice
columnist, a handsome boyfriend, and a circle of friends
in Austin. When anyone has a problem, Ella knows the
But one night she receives a call that changes everything.
And as Ella's world is turned upside-down, she meets a man
who is the opposite of everything she ever wanted . . . a
man who will offer her the most irresistible challenge she
has ever known . . .
Aware of a figure approaching from one of the hallways
that branched out from the office reception area, I turned
gratefully. I assumed it was the receptionist. Instead I
saw three men were walking out, all dressed in dark,
expensive-looking suits. One of them was fair and slim,
the other short and a bit portly, and the third was the
most striking man I had ever seen.
He was tall and lean, all hard muscle and easy
masculinity, with dark eyes and heavy, well-cut black
hair. The way he carried himselfâ€”the confidence in his
walk, the relaxed set of his shouldersâ€”proclaimed that he
was accustomed to being in charge. Pausing in mid-
conversation, he gave me an alert look, and my breath
caught. A blush crept over my face, and a hectic pulse
began at the front of my throat.
One glance and I knew exactly who and what he was. The
classic alpha male, the kind who had spurred evolution
forward about five million years ago by nailing every
female in sight. They charmed, seduced, and behaved like
bastards, and yet women were biologically incapable of
resisting their magic DNA.
Still staring at me, he spoke in a deep voice that raised
gooseflesh on my arms. "I thought I heard a baby out here."
"Mr. Travis?" I asked crisply, jostling my whimpering
He gave a short nod.
"I hoped I might catch you between meetings. I'm Ella.
From Austin. Ella Varner. I need to talk to you briefly."
The receptionist came from another hallway, plastic baby
bottle in hand. "Oh God," she muttered, hurrying
forward. "Mr. Travis, I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Travis said, gesturing for her to give me the
bottle, which she had warmed in the office microwave.
I took it, shook a few drops on my wrist, and shoved the
nipple into the baby's mouth. Luke grunted in
satisfaction and fell into a busy, sucking silence.
Looking back up into Travis's eyes, which were as dark and
rich as blackstrap molasses, I asked, "May I speak with
you for a few minutes?"
Travis studied me thoughtfully. I was struck by the
contradictions about him, the expensive clothes and bold
good looks, the sense of unpolished edges. He was
unapologetically masculine in a way that suggested you
should either scramble to get on his good side or get the
hell out of his way.
I couldn't help contrasting him with my boyfriend Dane,
whose golden handsomeness and jaw-softening stubble had
always been so soothing and approachable. There was
nothing soothing about Jack Travis. Except maybe his deep
"That depends," Travis said easily. "You gonna try to sell
me something?" He had a heavy Texas accent, the kind in
which dropped g's hit the floor like summer hailstones.
"No. It's a personal matter."
A touch of offhand amusement lurked in the corners of his
mouth. "I usually save personal matters for after five,"
he told me.
"I can't wait that long." I took a deep breath before
adding boldly, "And I should warn you that if you get rid
of me now, you'll have to deal with me later. I'm very
The trace of a smile lingered on his lips as he turned to
the other men. "Would y'all mind waiting for me at the bar
on the seventh floor?"
"No hardship," one of them said in a brisk British
accent. "We never mind loitering in the bar. Shall I
order for you, Travis?"
"Yeah, I don't expect this'll take long. Dos Equis, lime
wedge, no glass."
As the men left, Jack Travis turned his full attention to
me. Although I was medium height, hardly a short woman, he
towered over me. "My office." He motioned for me to
precede him. "Last door on the right."
Carrying Luke, I went to the corner office. A large fanned
wedge of windows revealed the skyline, where relentless
sunlight ricocheted off a stand of glass-skinned
buildings. In contrast to the sterile reception area, the
office was comfortably cluttered, with deep leather chairs
and piles of books and folders, and family pictures in
After positioning a chair for me, Travis half-sat on his
desk, facing me. His features were emphatically defined,
the nose straight and substantial, the jaw nearly
lacerating in its precision.
"Let's make this fast, Ella-from-Austin," he said. "I got
a deal on the stringer, and I'd rather not keep those guys
"You're going to manage property for them?"
"Hotel chain." His gaze flickered to Luke. "You might want
to tilt that bottle; she's getting air."
I frowned and adjusted the bottle upward. "It's a boy. Why
does everyone assume he's a girl?"
"He's wearing Hello Kitty socks." There was a distinct
note of disapproval in his voice.
"They were the only ones available in his size," I
"You can't put a boy in pink socks."
"He's only a week old. Do I have to worry about
gender bias already?"
"You really are from Austin, aren't you?" he asked
wryly. "How can I help you, Ella?"
The task of explaining was so considerable, I hardly
knew where to start. "Just so you're prepared," I said in
a businesslike tone, "the story I'm going to tell you ends
with a stinger."
"I'm used to that. Go on."
"My sister is Tara Varner. You went out with her last
year." Seeing that the name didn't ring a bell, I
added, "You know Liza Purcell? . . . she's my cousin. She
fixed you up with Tara."
Travis thought for a moment. "I remember Tara," he finally
said. "Tall, blonde, leggy."
"That's right." Seeing that Luke had finished the bottle,
I put the empty container in the diaper bag and draped the
baby over my shoulder to burp him. "This is Tara's son.
Luke. She gave birth to him, left him with my mother, and
took off somewhere. We're trying to locate her. Meanwhile
I'm trying to secure some kind of situation for the baby."
Travis was very still. The atmosphere in the office took
on a hostile chill. I saw that I had been identified as a
threat, or perhaps just a nuisance. Either way, his faint
smile was now edged with contempt.
"I think I get the stinger you're working around to," he
said. "He's not mine, Ella."