Holley Trent is a Carolina girl gone west. Raised in rural coastal North Carolina, Holley Trent has Southern sensibilities, but in 2011 her adventurous spirit drove her to Colorado for new experiences.
She writes sassy, quirky contemporary romances and fantasy/paranormal romances set in her home state.
Her protagonists regularly fall victim to her odd sense of humor and find themselves in improbable situations (with happily-every-after outcomes). Holley's cast of characters tends to swear, drink and do a fair amount of carousing, but they're generally well-intentioned and obey all laws and ordinances.
Her work is available from Calliope Romance/Musa Publishing, Crimson Romance, and Lyrical Press.
She's a CIMRWA Abalone winner for her novel MY NORA, and a finalist in CRW's Award of Excellence contest.
When she has a bit of free time, she self-publishes cross-genre stories ranging from romantic chick-lit to spicy paranormal/romantic suspense.
She’d been on sabbatical five weeks: searching Western Europe for her muse and trying to capture that one great photograph her portfolio desperately needed. Actually, she could have done with ten or twenty but with even one interesting picture, the trip wouldn’t have felt so much like a waste of her Paid Time Off.
She scratched her head and paced in front of the ruined stone wall, idly fondling her camera’s full memory card and murmuring, “When was the last time I saw it?”
A groan escaped her chest as she slumped onto the low wall, kicking the rocks with her heels and feeling no better for it. “Fucking LaGuardia.”
Her gut had told her not to borrow the professional 128 GB memory card from that coworker at the newspaper office. She’d rarely talked to the guy before he’d offered the thing. Now the card had probably found its way into some delighted stranger’s possession. There went two hundred bucks down the drain behind that PTO.
With a mumbled oath, she slipped the full card back into its slot, powered the camera on, and began a painful, systematic deletion of scenery shots. Her photos capturing the Irish countryside’s misty bogs sure were pretty, but those shots wouldn’t win her a new job.
A job was the point of the whole thing. Otherwise, she could have stayed at home doing the same shit as always like her boss Tate had so heartily endorsed.
After clearing a quarter of the images taken in Ireland, England, and France, she set her sights on the castle ruins again. She brought her camera to her eye and manually adjusted the focus, framing the fortification’s decimated tower to its best advantage. Scared to even breathe until it was over, slowly she depressed the button, listening to the camera’s processor beep its readiness.
Fifty pounds of unbridled, shrieking, toddler energy knocked her flat on her ass.
The squirming battering ram whined, “You not Sharon!” The child brought tiny clenched fists to bright green eyes and batted tears away.
“Uh…” Erica wiped dirt off her palms onto her jeans, pulled her legs underneath her body, and heaved herself up. “Ay, pobrecita.” She helped the little girl to her feet as well as the toddler boy accompanying the moppet, and looked up to see a blond man wearing black horn-rimmed glasses running down the path toward them.
“God, Emma. Adam!” He bent down, scooped up both children, and placed one on each of his hipbones before turning gray-blue eyes up to Erica. “I’m sorry, Miss. I bent down to tie my shoe and they were off like bolts.”
“No Sharon!” the girl shrieked again.
Erica raised a questioning brow at the man.
“Uh…” He set the kids, who’d stopped squawking and instead now stared at Erica with keen interest, down. “No, this woman isn’t Sharon, Emma,” he said to the girl, then looked up at Erica again. “Sharon is their aunt. I think they probably saw the dark hair and thought you were her. You’re about the right height.”
“Ah.” Erica nodded and examined her camera. There were no new dings or scratches in the case or on the lens glass, but when she toggled the power switch, she could only groan. She’d lost her shot.
Figures. Oh well. Innocent mistake.
Her late grandmother had taught her to save her anger for people who deserved it, and those kids–cute little cherubs–didn’t. Besides, the photo would have been another bland, uninspired shot, anyway. Hell, Emma and her little brother were probably doing Erica a favor and saving her from herself.
Erica fastened the lens cap and eyed the chaperone.
Hmm. Hello, rubio.
Blond wasn’t her type, generally, but it was Ireland and when in Ireland, she figured she should do as the Irish did. Assuming he wasn’t already being done.
With an exaggerated shrug and pout for the benefit of the kids, she said, “Sorry, not your auntie. I’m pretty awesome, though.”
Emma smiled and immediately hid it away, pressing her face against the man’s leg.
“Oh! You’re American,” he said, surprise tingeing his brogue.
“Since I was seven, anyway.” Erica stuffed her camera into its bag and slung the strap over her shoulder. “Looks like you’ve spent some time there yourself.” She reached out and delicately lifted one placket of his flannel shirt to indicate the familiar ram mascot on his t-shirt.
He looked down and emitted a bitter laugh. “Yeah. Past nine years, on and off.”
“Oh yeah? We’re practically neighbors. I live in Kannapolis. Work in Charlotte.”
“Small world. I’m supposed to fly back next week, meet with my advisor, teach some classes, so on and so forth.” He rolled his eyes.
“What’s wrong, can’t find a babysitter?” she teased. She’d never been good at beating around the bush, lacked the finesse for it. But, hell, being on sabbatical meant doing things out of the ordinary, and doing him would certainly count.
He smiled, a broad, toothy grin that reached the edges of his eyes and she forgot how to breathe for a moment.
Dios mío, what a face.
“Babysitting would be a problem, I suppose, if I were taking these tots back to the US with me. Their parents would miss them a bit much, I think.”
“So, you’re single?” It came out of her mouth before she could stop it. She pulled one corner of her lips up into the smirk her mother always threatened to slap off her face.
“Unequivocally. Probably not something you should aim to fix.”
Yeesh. He wasn’t making it easy, but she raised one brow and mirrored his grin. “I don’t have time to fix broken things.”
He scoffed and sat on the stone wall, crossing his arms over his chest. “Right, so why ask?”
She raised her shoulders in a quick shrug. “I’m not averse to the occasional meaningless fling.”
Now he laughed outright, doubling over at the waist. “I think we’ve swapped roles here. Pretty sure that was supposed to be my line.”
“One you’ve used much?”
He pushed his glasses up and rubbed tired-looking eyes. “Maybe. Listen, do you have a card? I can probably catch you when I’m back Stateside. If you’d like, I mean.”
“I would. You’re kinda cute.”
She winked and unzipped her camera bag’s outer pocket, retrieving one of the stored heavy, cream-colored business cards.
He took the card from between her fingers, pocketed it without reading, then extended one hand. “Curt Ryan.”
She put her hand in his and shook. “Erica Desoto.”
The small girl returned from her wandering and yanked one leg of Curt’s jeans, pointing toward a cordoned-off entrance. “Look!”
Curt squatted and craned his neck, seeking the item in her line of vision. “Ah. I see it.”
She pulled at the sleeve of his flannel shirt. “Let go!”
And again. “Go!”
“We shan’t. Your ma would probably wallop me good. We can’t go back there. It’s closed.”
Erica laughed and started backing away. Poor guy. If the girl was like most of the two-year-olds she’d encountered in her twenty-eight years, they’d be trapped in that loop of questioning and non-answering for an hour. When Curt looked up, she gave him a little finger wave good-bye.
She turned around and hid her burning cheeks. Why the hell was she blushing? Cubans didn’t blush.
When it receded, she looked over her shoulder once more to find Curt standing and settling the boy onto his shoulders for a ride.
He caught Erica looking, raised his brows just slightly, and let that troublemaking grin span his face again.
She faced front and quickened her pace. He was a player. He didn’t look like much of one, but she could tell. Actually, he looked a hot mess in his rumpled clothes and worn-out Chucks, but she had a sneaking suspicion he’d clean up pretty damn well…not that she had any desire to clean him up. Oh, no. The men who looked the most like they didn’t give a shit always seemed to hold the most surprises. She’d learned that from working in journalism for nearly ten years.
Her cheeks burned again as she pondered what Curt Ryan’s surprises were and whether they could top her own.
* * * *
While his godchildren patted wet sand into shapes resembling habitable structures, Curt sat on a nearby playground bench, squinting at his phone’s screen and baffling over his PhD advisor’s email. The tome’s length was only reason Curt could tell the emotionless bastard was being stern. The email had to be at least a thousand words, but easy enough to summarize: Shit, or get off the pot.
Curt looked up just as little Adam raised a handful of sand overhead and tracked a passerby with his gaze like a stalking cat. Curt called out, “Nope!”
Adam made a sheepish expression and dropped the sand.
“No throw!” Emma said to her little brother, emphasizing the admonition with a finger wag.
“That’s right. No throwing,” Curt reaffirmed before squinting at his touchscreen once more.
He tapped reply and composed a reasonably professional e-mail using only his thumbs.
Yes, Dr. Yeo, I am aware I could have completed my PhD requirements four terms ago. I understand you’re overloaded with responsibilities in the department. And yes, I am aware you don’t get paid extra for each student you advise.
Curt looked up when a young woman slipped onto the bench beside him with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. She pushed shiny blond locks behind one ear and smiled at him. “Hello.”
“Hey.” Pleasantries aside, he returned his gaze to the sandbox. There was a new addition. “Play nice, Emma.”
“Okay!” the tot called back.
He resumed his composition.
While it is certainly your prerogative to decide not to work with me after this term, I hope you would not act so rashly. You said yourself after we got word part of my analysis would be published in AJM–you wanted your association to me to be evident. We both know the school isn’t well-known for high-level mathematics, but I chose to matriculate because you and the department chair convinced me your tutelage would help me segue from academia into a profitable career. Remember? I said I didn’t want to be a professor?
A sandy clump fell onto his screen and he looked up at Adam extending a hand full of the slushy stuff. “Is it show and tell time, bud?”
Adam coughed, sputtering sand onto Curt’s face and glasses. Curt exhaled through his mouth and removed his spectacles before wiping his face clean with his shirtsleeve. “Guess you got your roughage for the day.”
“Aww, little kids do the craziest stuff,” the woman at his left proffered. “Aren’t you a cutie?”
Glasses now clean, Curt stared at the woman giving his godson a thousand-watt smile.
Adam shook his head.
“Here, do you want a wipie? For your handsies?” She rummaged in her oversized bag and extracted a slick little white case, which when opened revealed neatly-stacked wet wipes. She peeled one off and handed it to Curt.
“No problem.” She snapped the case shut and stuffed it into her bag before lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “My charge there, Steffie, she can’t go anywhere without making a mess of herself.”
Curt wiped what he could of the sand off Adam’s tongue and lips, then sent him on his way. “And yet you’re letting her play in the dirt?”
She shrugged. “Her mother insists I bring her. Of course, she’s not the one who has to bathe the child.”
“Ah.” Curt tossed the soiled cloth into the nearby trashcan and finally turned his full attention to the nanny. He emitted an appreciative grunt. Just a little one. Nice blue eyes, fair-to-middling lips, okay tits. Looking downward, he catalogued her long legs and dainty sandal-shod feet. By the time his gaze completed its circuit back to her face, a solicitous grin spanned her cheeks.
Guessing she’d be a four out of ten in the sack.
He mirrored her grin–out of politeness, really–and let it droop before he’d even looked away. Normally he would have carried on the flirting, perhaps even transmitting some not-so-subtle clues that he was both virile and eligible, but for once his more evolved head took the lead. He continued his email.
Considering I have a time-sensitive job offer, I am as invested in graduating this semester as you are in seeing me do so. I only need to present at one conference, isn’t that correct? It’ll get done and I’ll teach my classes as assigned. While the family issue does take precedence at the moment, please don’t assume my lack of visibility on campus equates to a lack of ambition.
On that note, he looked up to find Emma rubbing watery eyes and opening her mouth in a wide yawn.
I’ll be back in the US Monday evening. I know you find this entire situation with my mother distasteful, but you recruited me in spite of it. Please don’t express annoyance when after all these years I’ve decided to investigate it personally.
Again, my goal is to finish this semester, and I’m fairly certain I will, but I would hope an additional semester wouldn’t cause you inconvenience.
He reviewed his response and shrugged before committing it to his send box. Poetry it was not, but the message was a far cry better than the fuck off he’d initially typed upon reading the good doctor’s manifesto.
“Adam, come. Emma, come.” He sidled to the sandbox edge and the children stood without fuss. Definitely tired.
“Oh! Are you leaving?” the nanny asked.
God, they’re always pretty until they open their mouths. Is common sense really that rare a thing?
Internal dialogue aside, he nodded and smiled brightly as he dusted off the kids’ clothes. “Yes. Nap time, I think.”
“Aww.” Stooping down to meet the kids at eye level, she raised her voice to sing-song pitch. “I understand. Time for sweepies!”
Curt rolled his eyes, but by the time she straightened up, he wore a smile. His friends had put him on a five-year de-assholing plan. He was in year six. Some lessons were obviously harder than others, but the good news was he hadn’t seen the inside of a police car in three years. “Bye, then.”
She extended one limp-wristed hand to shake or kiss or–hell, he didn’t know. “Nice meeting you.”
He released Emma’s hand and shook the nanny’s.
She transferred a slip of paper into his palm and quickly pulled her hand back.
With a little finger wave and a giggle, she whispered, “Bye, now.”
“Right.” He tucked the number into his pocket, skimming the edges of a heavy stock business card in the process, and put Emma on his hip.
Don’t hold your breath, lady.
She looked like the kind of woman who wanted a boyfriend, and he didn’t want to be that, not for any woman. He refused commitment or anything resembling it, and for good reason.