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"Sweet Nothing" by Mia Henry: Excerpt & GIVEAWAY!

Sweet Nothing Synopsis:
Elliot Halloran is running away. Away from her privileged Manhattan upbringing and a promising future at business school. Away from her family, which plummeted from A-list to disgraced after her criminal father’s atrocities were exposed. Despite the guilt Elliot feels for abandoning her family, she has no choice. She is too recognizable to live life as the person she has always been. So when an old family friend offers her a position as an economics instructor at Miami’s elite Alford Academy, Elliot jumps at the chance to distance herself from her past. She cuts her hair, changes her name, and vows never to speak of her old life again.
Keeping her identity hidden is harder than Elliot expected, especially with a roommate who seems to be on the verge of uncovering her true identity. As she fumbles through the opening chapters of her new life, Elliot encounters an entirely unforeseen obstacle: photography instructor Luke Poulos. Luke is sensitive and spontaneous. An art lover. Smart. Everything Elliot has ever wanted. Luke and Elliot’s connection deepens when she learns that he lost his parents in a car accident when he was a teenager. Like Elliot, Luke understands that life can shatter in an instant.

Elliot knows that a relationship with Luke is impossible; that he would never love her if he knew the details of her past. But as she struggles with whether to open herself to love or keep her true self locked away, Elliot learns that she’s not the only one with secrets.

As the reception continues, I sip my second cocktail dutifully. This one goes down even easier. As clusters of people I don’t know chat and laugh and drink, I stay parked near the fireplace, pretending to be absorbed in the details of the room. A gleaming acoustic guitar leans against the wall. Over the mantle is a painting that looks suspiciously like a Klimt I studied in my Intro to Art History course at Columbia. I take a step closer.
            “Beautiful.” Warm breath grazes the back of my neck.
            “What?” I whirl around, goose bumps pricking at my skin. Standing just a few inches away is a guy in flax-colored linen pants and a crisp white button-down with the sleeves rolled up. Warmth surges through my body. I take a giant step back to get a better look, whacking my head against the mantle in the process. Half of my cosmo sloshes onto the glossy hardwood floor. Smooth, Elliot.
             “Woah. You okay?” He reaches out and takes my elbow, drawing me away from the fireplace. When I tense, he pulls his hand away, running it unnecessarily through a wavy mop of jet-black hair. His skin is olive, but his eyes are a piercing light blue.
            “Ow. Yeah. Fine,” I mutter, rubbing the throbbing spot at the back of my skull.
“You gotta watch the mantles around here. They’re vicious.”
            “I’m fine.” I try to laugh it off. Yeah, fine. If you don’t count the dented pride and skull.
            “Good. So I was just saying, it’s beautiful, right? The painting. I’m pretty sure it’s an original Klimt.”
            “Okay.” He’s like the hot guy equivalent of a train wreck: I can’t look away. Not that I’m going to do anything about it. I’ve always been shy around guys. I haven’t been on a date in over a year. And besides, he’s too sexy to be a decent human being. The guy looks like he belongs in one of those black and white cologne commercials, where he’s riding a horse in a field or tackling a half-naked woman on the beach. Whispering words like forever and dry-humping the camera with his stare. Guys like him are never nice guys. They don’t have to be.
            “Gustav Klimt? He was an Austrian—”
            “Symbolist painter,” I finish. “Painted the female form. His works are noted for their… erotic nature. I know.” Shut up, Elliot. This guy doesn’t actually want to talk about Klimt.
            “An art history buff? I’m impressed.” He cocks his head to one side. “You like his work?”
            “His Golden Phase.”
            “I like his University of Vienna paintings, myself.”
            “The stuff that was called pornographic?” I snort.
             “The art that made people think; that pushed them out of their comfort zone. Good art does that, you know.”
            “Just because it’s radical doesn’t make it good.”
            “True. And nothing earth-shattering happens when you play it safe.”
            Nothing devastating, either.
            He extends a hand. There’s a long slash of bright green paint on his index finger.            “I’m Luke.”
             “Elle.” I grip his hand, and hope he doesn’t notice that mine is sweaty.
“Elle. Pretty.” He says my name slowly, as if he’s rolling it around on his tongue. Savoring it. “Well, Elle the Art Historian, it was really nice to meet you. Seems like my break’s over. If you could just—” Luke glances down at our hands, which are still intertwined. Energy pulses between our palms.
            “Oh. God. Sorry.” I jerk my hand away and wipe it on my dress. It leaves a sweat stain.
            “Don’t be.” He smiles again, then turns to pick up his guitar.
I watch as he leans against the wall near the mantle and starts to play. He’s not a guest here; he’s the musician. The entertainment. The eye candy, carefully selected to fit in with the rest of the d├ęcor.
            From my place just a few feet away, I watch him play. I have nothing better to do, and this way if anyone tries to strike up a conversation, I can pretend to be absorbed in the music.
            He starts with an easy, bluesy tune. He’s actually… talented. When he begins to sing, I recognize the song immediately. It’s a Ray LaMontagne number. I love Ray LaMontagne, and Luke covers the song well. His voice is low and raspy like Ray’s, but it’s his own, and he’s not trying too hard.
            As he plays, his chin drops to his broad chest. Dark waves fall over his eyes, and I have the ridiculous urge to brush them away. I squeeze the stem of my martini glass instead. No more signature cosmos for me.

            His fingers move easily, expertly, along the fret board. He massages the strings, coaxing rich notes into the room. His music is soothing, drowning out the mindless chatter behind me. Working its way deep inside me, massaging the tension from the back of my neck, my shoulders, and my throbbing skull. I fix my gaze on his hands. They’re tan; strong. And he clearly knows how to use them to get what he wants.

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Author Bio:
Mia Henry adores all things romance, from steamy stories to ugly cry-inducing movies. She lives in Florida, where she dreams up story-lines during beach walks with her muse, a ferocious 8-pound pup named Lulu.

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