[BookStrand Contemporary Romance]
Note: Tymber Dalton writes mainstream romance as Lesli Richardson.
Divorced mom Kelly Alexander wants her younger son, Denny, who is in a wheelchair due to spina bifida, to participate in sports. Kelly finds out about the Junior National Disability Games, but they're in Spokane, Washington, a continent away from her Florida home. She's clueless about what to do next.
Mart Rawlings is a single, handsome wheelchair athlete who volunteers to coach Denny and helps him qualify--and falls hard for Kelly. But past heartache over her cheating ex fuels Kelly's reluctance to get personally involved with him.
Kelly must survive a grueling cross country drive to Nationals with her sons and mother, but more importantly, can she make herself take a chance on love?
Cross Country Chaos is a funny, passionate, and at times cringingly honest story of healing broken hearts, rebuilding trust, finding love in unexpected places, and realizing sometimes the greatest disability is between a person's ears, not their body.
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
5 BLUE RIBBONS: "Leslie Richardson has written one heartfelt book in CROSS COUNTRY CHAOS. Just when you think the book can’t get any better it will, and totally takes you by surprise by the direction the story suddenly turns in a way you didn’t anticipate. It is a pure joy to read and review books like CROSS COUNTRY CHAOS. I find that I am able to gain a true appreciation for the talent of any author who is able to create such a moving disabled character. Mart is a true hero; he is one that is assured to stay with you long after you finish the last page." -- Suzie Housley, Romance Junkies Reviews
4 CUPS: "Worth reading. Cross Country Chaos is a well constructed story on the realities of life as a parent and divorcee. Mart is not your typical hero, which is what makes the story so interesting. Yes, he may be attractive but his true assets are his character, commitment, and ability to love. This story is a breath of fresh air from the inconsequential tales that we normally read. A hero and heroine with true character, valor, dedication, and even problems, are what set this book apart from the rest." -- Shannon, Coffee Time Romance & More
"Cross Country Chaos is more than a romance with a hero who's disabled. It's the story of a family strengthening their bond and a woman finding she can trust again. The story doesn't shy away from showing the difficulties faced by being a parent or a partner to someone with disabilities, but neither does it dwell on them. Instead, Lesli Richardson has shown both how disabilities become part of everyday life and how to triumph over them. Set against the background of a cross country trip for her son to participate in wheelchair athletics, the romance between Kelly and Mart is a sweet progression from the moment they meet. I particularly liked that the story didn't end with the promise of a happy life together but actually gave you a glimpse into that life. I learned a lot from this story and was still left with that happy sigh that you get when you close a really good book." -- Barbara Small, ParaNormal Romance
They text-messaged back and forth all week and talked several times on the phone. By the time Mart picked Kelly up Friday, she knew how she wanted to spend the night—in his arms.
He took her to an upscale restaurant in downtown Sarasota.
“Have you ever been married?” she asked.
He nodded, taking a sip of his tea. “Once. Just out of college. It didn’t work out. We divorced after a year.”
He shrugged. “I was traveling a lot with the team. I think she was more in love with the idea of being a caretaker than being my partner. Once we were married, she realized I didn’t need her as much as she thought I would. I think it was a blow to her ego. She couldn’t understand I wanted her to be my wife, not my nurse.”
“I didn’t know it then, but there are people who have to take care of someone to feel important about themselves. And there are people attracted to people in chairs because they’re in chairs, like some people prefer blondes or breasts or whatever.”
“Tell me about it. That’s one of the things I loved about you from the minute I met you. You don’t pity me or feel sorry for me for being in a chair.”
He met her gaze. “No. That’s my point.” He was quiet for a moment. “It shocked her on our wedding night when I wanted to have sex.”
Kelly choked and held her napkin to her mouth to keep from spraying iced tea all over the table.
Mart laughed. “You okay?”
She nodded. “You caught me off guard.”
“The whole comment. It wasn’t a conversation you had before the wedding?”
“I wasn’t a virgin. She made it clear she didn’t believe in premarital sex, and I respected that. I think her problem was she didn’t believe in sex at all, and that was one reason she wanted to be with me. She didn’t think I could have sex. I assumed we would.”
“Again, this wasn’t a subject you discussed before you got married?” Kelly had been curious. Well, more than curious. Especially after what she’d felt in his lap the other night.
And considering how she hoped they’d spend the night together.
“I was young. I don’t think she realized I was serious. Am I freaking you out?”
She shook her head and took a sip of water to clear her throat. “No. I’ll admit, I was wondering.”
“Think about Denny’s level of function.”
Just because some functions were impaired didn’t mean others were. Denny’s urologist already warned her she’d have normal motherly concerns when Denny hit his teen years. The common misconception was everything from the level of defect or injury down was completely dead. In reality, unless the spinal cord was severed, that was rarely the case.
“I’m nearly the same way,” Mart continued, “an incomplete paraplegic. Only when I was injured, it was almost forty years ago. I might have walked with the bracing and technology we have today. But they assumed since I couldn’t feel or move my legs, that was it. My spinal cord wasn’t severed in the accident. There was a lot of nerve damage, mostly on one side. The damage was limited to motor control and skin sensation from upper thigh down. Any higher, or a more complete injury, I wouldn’t have anything. I have no illusions how damned lucky I am. Fortunately, all my plumbing works.” He winked.
“Is there a polite way to ask, ‘By the way, what can I expect from you in bed tonight?’” she said.
He laughed. “You’re the first woman I’ve met in a long time I feel I can have an honest conversation with.”
“Honesty is something I didn’t get a lot of in my marriage.”
“Okay, so that’s the wrong word. I mean I don’t have to worry about shocking you. There’s always that first awkward dancing around the issue. I tried talking about it on the first date once.”
“How’d that work out?”
“It didn’t. I think she thought I was a sex fiend. But the women I dated before her, they steered clear of the topic like it was radioactive until I brought it up.”
“My ex stopped sleeping with me when he started sleeping with a bunch of other women. He claimed I didn’t pay him enough attention. His problem was I didn’t wait on him hand and foot after Denny was born.”
“He sounds like a stupid man.”
“I didn’t used to think so. My opinion has changed a lot over the years.”
“Did you ever want to have more kids?”
She shook her head. “Not with David.” She paused. “I wouldn’t have minded having another. Before I found out about him. You?”
He looked down. “I’ve always wanted to have kids. Up till now, I hadn’t found the right woman.” He looked at her.
She didn’t know how to respond, so she didn’t try to fill the silence.
“What are your feelings?” he finally asked.
“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it. After David, I was more worried about being a single mom than a mother-to-be.”
“Is that something you might want?”
The room closed in around her, stifling. Not in a bad way, but she was afraid to let her heart get too far ahead of reality. “I don’t know. We’d have to discuss it.” She talked to the elephant sitting in the corner instead of pretending it wasn’t there.
“Is it something you might consider?”
“I can’t promise you I’d agree to it.” She didn’t want to ask but had to know. “Is it a deal-breaker?”
“No. It’s just…” He searched for the right words. “I always wanted kids. But that means having a relationship. I’m tired of being alone.”
“You might not want to have a relationship with me when you get to know me better.”
“I can’t imagine that. You’re a wonderful woman.”
“You haven’t seen me first thing in the morning before I’ve had a cup of coffee.”
“See, something else we have in common.”
Mart signaled the waiter. “This has been a wonderful evening Kelly. I can’t tell you how much fun this was. I really hate to see it end.”
“Who says it has to end?”
He studied her for a moment before handing his credit card to the waiter without looking at the check. “I don’t want to rush you into anything.”
She held Mart’s gaze and leaned forward. “So,” she whispered, her eyes locked on his, “what can I expect from you tonight?”
He signed the check. They returned to his van in silence. Before he started the engine, he leaned in and kissed her. Something about his kiss was more intense than before, more passionate, barely contained. She returned it, the heat building inside her. It had been a long time since she’d been with anyone.
“Where do you want to go?” he gasped as he broke their kiss.
“Let’s go back to my place. The boys are at my mom’s until tomorrow morning.” She took the chance. “You can spend the night.”
He nodded. “Okay.”
They were halfway to her house when he groaned. “I just remembered something.”
“I need to stop.” He changed lanes and made a turn away from her house.
“What?” she asked again.
He looked at her. “I’m not prepared. Unless you are?”
Something about the look on his face started her giggling. This wasn’t a problem she was used to having. “No. I haven’t been on the Pill in years.”
He found an open drugstore and pulled in.
“Want me to go in?” she asked.
She loved the playful glint in his eyes. “No, I can do it.”
“Insert double entendre here.”
He paused, then laughed and kissed her again. “Insert something.”
Mart was on the lift and out of the van before she could reply. Kelly tried not to let her mind wander too much. So far, he was everything she’d ever wanted in a partner.
Then again, she’d thought that about David.
He was back a few minutes later. She noticed the plastic bag tucked under his chair. He smiled. “You know, I never get tired of that.”
“The clerk was obviously curious and trying not to be obvious about it. You should have seen the look on her face. I was tempted to buy a half-dozen boxes just to see her reaction.”
“You’re the kind who puts on dark glasses and drives up to a fast food window and asks for a Braille menu, aren’t you?”
His smile broadened. “Guilty. It was even funnier when I used to have a German Shepherd, and he’d sit in the passenger seat.”
* * * *
She poured them wine while he picked a Thelonius Monk CD from her collection.
“I love this album,” he said, taking a glass from her.
She sat on the sofa. “It’s one of my favorites.”
He turned to her, gently clinked his glass against hers. “Should I quote Bogart?”
“The beginning of a beautiful friendship?”
“I’m hoping it’s the beginning of more than that,” she admitted.
He took a sip and set the glass on the coffee table before deftly swinging onto the sofa next to her. “Me, too.” He took her glass from her and gathered her into his arms. She let him set the pace.
If it was up to her, they’d already be in bed. Take it slow? Hell with that, she wanted him. She could hate herself in the morning.
He held back, and she sensed it. Halfway through the CD, she said, “Let’s go somewhere more comfortable.”
“Are you sure?”
“You ask me that now?”
“I don’t want to screw this up—don’t say it,” he playfully warned before she could utter a comment.
She led the way, glad she’d made her bed that morning.
Not that it would stay made for long.
He easily transferred to her bed and patted the mattress. “Come here, beautiful.” She sat next to him. He gently stroked her cheek. “You okay?”
“I’m out of practice.”
He kissed her. “You could have fooled me.”
He took his time, tenderly caressing her, making her feel cherished and secure—something David never did.
She cut off that line of thinking. She wanted to focus on Mart and be there with him, not make comparisons to her ex.
Their passion took over. She worked on his shirt buttons while he covered the side of her neck with kisses, melting her. She moaned softly, allowing him to gently push her to the bed while he shrugged his shirt off.
A tattoo encircled his left bicep. “What’s that?” Her fingers traced the entwined vines.
“When our sled hockey team made it to the world finals two years ago, we all got them.”
Something about it made him seem a little naughty, a hidden bad-boy side. She shivered with anticipation. She closed her eyes, ran her hands over him, felt the firm muscles in his arms as his hands worked under her shirt. Eventually she pulled it off, his bare skin warm against hers.
She held him tightly, not wanting to let go for fear he wouldn’t be there when she opened her eyes. He propped himself on one elbow while his other hand worked on her waistband. When his fingers found their way inside, she moaned, loudly, muffled by his mouth on hers.
He sat up and, with her help, removed her pants and underwear. She heard his sharp intake of breath, and he leaned over and trailed kisses down her belly. “You’re beautiful.”
She twined her fingers in his hair. As he worked his way lower, she closed her eyes and moaned.
Mart took his time, sweet torture, using his lips and tongue on her until she shuddered and cried out at her release. He looked up and smiled.
“No fair going to sleep on me.”
She shook her head. “Not on your life.”
He shimmied out of his pants. When he tried to reach across her to the bedside table, she intercepted him. “No so fast, buster. I want to have some fun.”
It was his turn to enjoy it while she teased him. He hadn’t lied—his reaction was normal. She eventually let him push her away.
He kissed her. “You’re absolutely amazing, you know that?”
“You’re not so bad yourself.”
He reached across her for a condom. She nuzzled his neck while he rolled it on.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked.
He kissed her and rolled her on top of him. “Whatever you want.”