NEVER SAY NEVER
West Coast Happily-Ever-After, Book 2
FIRST KISS © Loner Llama Press
“Why is it so important to be number one?”
He shrugged. “No doubt Dr. Freud would say it’s wrapped up in my dad dying. People have told me he might have won Best All-Around Cowboy the year he died. My folks were on their way home from a rodeo when their truck rolled and went into a ditch.”
In an effort to brush away the sadness in her eyes, he said, “Or, as your mother liked to say, it could be cussed orneriness. She said I inherited that from my grandfather. Bull riding is what I do.”
“Even if it kills you?”
Will startled. Did she know about his doctor’s report? He knew rumors had been circulating when he left, but surely Anne couldn’t have heard anything. “What’s that mean?”
“You’re getting older. Your body isn’t as malleable as a young kid’s. You could land wrong and break your neck.”
He released the breath he’d been holding. “Actually, I may not look it, but I’m in better shape today than I was fifteen years ago. I lift weights and run. And my timing is sharper.”
She took a deep breath. “I wasn’t casting any aspersions on your body.” The compliment seemed to loom between them and she quickly added, “So, you’re planning on going back to the circuit this fall.” It wasn’t a question.
She rose to her knees and started to gather up their mess. “And, I’m taking a new job, too–a promotion that’s long overdue. It sounds like we have our futures all lined up and ready to go. To get involved on an emotional level would be terribly foolish, don’t you agree?”
“When you put it like that…but–“
She didn’t let him finish. “We’re adults, Will, not kids. Proximity and unresolved lust just aren’t good enough reasons to risk involvement.”
Will agreed on an intellectual level, but the shimmer on her lips was speaking to him at a different level altogether. “So, we won’t get involved, but one kiss every fifteen years isn’t going to kill us.”
She started to disagree, but Will knew a proven way to distract a woman. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
Anne gave a token resistance–a mumbled uh-uh that almost immediately turned to uh-huh. There was a small clattering sound as the colored pens scattered on the floor. Her arms encircled his shoulders, her body flattened against his as her mouth opened.
She tasted salty and sweet. Popcorn and soda, plus an intangible quality that made him groan. And as their tongues met, Will knew he’d made a serious mistake. Fifteen years hadn’t been enough to make him forget, and now, he had nowhere to run.
Radio DJ Dylan Morgan enjoys small town life in Marietta. Unlike his longtime girlfriend and globetrotting photojournalist Casey Michaels, he’s never been tempted to spread his wings. Until an east coast job offer at a major radio station catches his eye. He considers taking the position, but then Casey calls… She’s coming home.
After years of wandering the globe, Casey Michaels is tired and needs a break and while she didn’t plan on coming home for good, the idea is starting to grow on her. All she wants to do is spend time with her forever boyfriend, Dylan. But all she meets is suspicion as everyone waits for her to pack up her suitcase once again. To convince Dylan she’s home for good, she plans a grand gesture–a photography show celebrating Marietta life. And then, the phone rings. She’s needed in London…
Everything should have been perfect.
And yet, it wasn’t.
He broke the silence between them. “Don’t you think it’s time to tell me what happened?”
Casey didn’t move, yet her body stiffened at his words. He refused to release his hold, not ready to have her pull away from him.
From the moment she’d walked through his door, she’d been a little off. Her smile too bright, her gestures too forced, her laughter too fake. He’d watched as she barely touched her steak, played with the food on her plate, pushing it around until it was a big ole’ mesh of potatoes and fixings.
He filled her in on things that had been going on around Marietta, sharing stories in order to hear her laughter, and then asked her about Nepal.
Dylan couldn’t wait to see the photos she’d taken, to hear her stories of the life she’d lived while there. He loved how excited she became, the way her eyes lit up, how her body came alive as she shared everything with him.
Except, she’d brought no photos this time. She’d lost her phone and hadn’t bothered to bring her computer, saying she wanted to focus on only him for the night.
Any other time, he’d be a happy man.
But…for some reason, this didn’t seem like any other time. This time was different.
She was different.
Maybe they were different.
Regardless, something was wrong. Something had happened. Something she’d been keeping from him, and that wasn’t okay with him.
Casey looked up and shook her head at his question.
“Not tonight. Is that okay? I’d rather just sit here and just…be…then bring all that up right now.” Her voice was quiet, full of sadness and heartache.
“How can I make it better?” He wanted to take her pain away, to replace that sad smile with one full of life and love.
Right now, in this moment, if she were to tell him she was home to stay, that she realized it was time to put them first, he’d be the happiest man in the world.
It was what he decided to focus on.
Tomorrow was another day.
She stared at him before reaching up and gently cupping his cheek with the palm of her hand.
“Just kiss me.” The words flowed off her lips and into his soul.
When his lips touched hers, it was as if time stood still just for them. A personal birthday gift from the universe.
He welcomed her home with his kiss. Told her how much he missed her, loved her, worried about her as he breathed her in.
This was where she belonged, with him, and he told her that and more as his lips moved over hers with tenderness and need.
Until she pulled away.
Dylan searched her face, noticing the tears that trailed down her cheeks. He tried to find the words that would make it all better.
Instead, all he could do was be there for her until she was ready to open up. As much as it killed him.
A storybook kiss on New Year’s Eve at the Big Sky Mavericks Masked Ball in Marietta, Montana should have been the beginning of a grand romance for Gretchen Zabrinski and Daniel Andrews. But when Gretchen overhears a phone call from Daniel to his brother about what he really wants from a woman, she takes off…without leaving so much as a glass slipper behind.
Daniel wants a family. Gretchen will never be able to give him that. So why does fate keep throwing them together so cruelly? First, at a Copper Mountain Chocolate Shop Speed Dating event, then when he’s hired to open a new division at her PR firm. But competing, shoulder-to-shoulder, to sell the most exotic chocolate kisses for charity really is the last straw.
Is love a cosmic connection or a karmic joke? Sometimes, the answer reveals itself in a kiss—a sweet kiss shared beneath a warm Montana summer sky.
“How did you become such a wonderful dancer?”
“Lessons. My parents are both teachers. They don’t believe in leaving anything to chance—and given my father’s terrible lack of rhythm, Mom refused to inflict that on any woman in case two left feet was a dominant gene.”
“Please tell her I owe her a debt of gratitude.”
“You can tell her yourself. Dad called this morning. They’re starting home in the morning. My sister is ready to deal with her new reality alone. She might move back to Montana at some point, but for now, she doesn’t want to uproot the kids on top of adjusting to losing their dad.”
He’d alluded to a sad mystery surrounding his late brother-in-law’s death, but there were too many getting-to-know-each-other topics to get into any one conversation too deeply. Including her reason for dropping out of college and moving to Montana.
That would come out later. After the music ended. After the countdown began. After their kiss. After a night of unimaginable bliss in each other’s arms.
She crossed her fingers and stopped thinking. Tonight was about feeling. About taking risks and experiencing life to the fullest.
Moments later, the DJ played an Ed Sheeran song Makayla had shared with her earlier that week. Perfect. A shiver ran down the length of her spine.
She’d immediately downloaded the song and added the video to her playlist. She imagined the love story he sang about was her love story—the one that never happened. She squeezed her eyes tight, wishing she still wore a mask.
Daniel’s hold tightened a tiny bit, then he kissed a bare spot where her neck and shoulder met. “Nice song. I’ve never heard it before, but you truly do look perfect tonight.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Thank you. I love my Cinderella dress. Krista’s sister has great taste.” He pulled back, a questioning look in his eyes. Did he think she was pretending to show false modesty or fishing for compliments? She blurted out a question she’d meant to ask earlier. “So, do you always take a tux with you when you travel to a dog-sitting gig?”
“My best friend has a key to my condo. He took it to a shipper I use all the time.” He looked down. “Luckily, he remembered my Ferragamos. Dancing wouldn’t be quite the same in snow boots.”
She recognized the designer’s name even if she hadn’t recognized the brand on his feet. My first time is going to be with a guy who can afford designer shoes.
In what felt like a blink, Austen returned to the stage, carrying a large digital clock and a microphone. “We are fast approaching the bewitching hour, my friends. A new year is about to begin. On behalf of the Big Sky Mavericks Charitable Group, thank you all for coming. We promise to put your generosity to beneficial use locally, and we’ll see you next year.”
On cue, people started shouting, “Ten…nine…eight…”
Gretchen turned in Daniel’s arms so their fronts were pressed together. Reaching up, she slipped her fingers under the rim of his mask and pulled it free. They looked into each other’s eyes as what she hoped was an unspoken understanding passed between them.
She looped her arms across his shoulders and brought her face closer to his. “Two…one…Happy New Year!”
His lips were warmer than she’d expected. And softer. And when she gave a little “Oh,” his tongue slipped inside her mouth. Curious, friendly, interested. His taste was hers. His smell? Completely his own and something she’d forever identify as Daniel Andrews.
She melted against him, needing to touch as much of her body to his as possible. Gretchen wanted him to be the one. Her first. From what she’d learned about him on social media, he was a fun-loving go-getter who didn’t seem the least bit interested in settling down.
When it came to women, he was…um…experienced. Perhaps a bit of a player.
Works for me.
She wanted to be with someone who would treat her with gentle finesse…or maybe not-so-gentle finesse. How would she know what she liked until she tried it?
An unnatural buzzing sensation near her breast made her startle.
Daniel groaned and pulled his phone from his inside jacket pocket. “My brother. Do you mind? He and Krista are in California. Different time zone.”
“Not at all. We wouldn’t be here if not for them. Please.”
“They’re on FaceTime. With all the noise, we won’t be able to hear a thing. Oh, well.”
He touched a button. A second later, two faces appeared on the screen. Krista let out a squeal of glee. “Oh, Gretchen, you look fabulous. Show me the dress, Daniel. Show me the dress.”
Daniel rolled his eyes, but he took one step back. He lowered and raised the phone as Gretchen did a spin. Then, he pulled her in close again.
Krista blinked as if to keep away tears. “I absolutely love it. You look like a fairy-tale princess. Are you having fun?”
“It’s been magical. Daniel hired a limo, and he dances like a dream. He’s been a perfect gentleman.” Until later, I hope. She bumped her nose against his cheek. “Thank you so, so much for making this happen.”
“No thanks necessary. Jonah and I are having a wonderful time, too. We only called to wish you Happy New Year.”
Jonah squeezed in. “We’re an hour behind you, so we get to make out in public twice. But hey, Daniel, quickly, did you leave the TV on for the dogs? In case someone starts shooting off guns? You are in Marietta, Montana, after all.”
Gretchen missed Daniel’s reply when Sarah Zabrinski walked up to them. “Aunt” Sarah was Gretchen’s father’s first cousin by marriage, but because of their age difference, people forgot they were part of the same generation.
She gave Gretchen a quick hug. “You two are just the cutest couple. We really enjoyed meeting Daniel. I hope you bring him tomorrow.”
Tomorrow. Since she’d never spent the night with a man, she didn’t know what to expect from the morning after.
Gretchen made what she hoped was a noncommittal reply and waved goodbye as the crowd swept Sarah away.
She turned back to Daniel. She reached out to touch his shoulder but stopped when she heard him say in a low, confidential tone, “I never thought I’d say this, brother, but I think I just kissed the mother of my future children.”
She sucked in an involuntary gasp when a pain as sharp and gut wrenching as the one she’d felt in her doctor’s office the day he’d explained the ramifications of her diagnosis made her knees wobble. Panic hit a second later.
No. No. It’s not supposed to be like this. Tonight is mutual fun, no commitment. No future. Period. Anything else wouldn’t be fair.
Especially to Daniel.
But she couldn’t speak those words aloud because then he’d ask why…and she hadn’t said those words to anyone. Not yet.
Intent on disappearing, she turned and melted into the crowd exiting the party. She grabbed her jacket from the coatroom, grateful her tiny purse held her cell phone. Her Uber app showed one driver in her area. Three minutes later, she was on the road back to Paradise. Her sister and niece might not be expecting her, but Sam would understand. And that was all Gretchen wanted. Someone who wouldn’t ask for something she couldn’t give.
When Marietta newcomer Elena Puente is coerced into attending a speed-dating event at the popular Copper Mountain Chocolate shop, she’s blindsided by a serious attraction to local cowboy, Wesley Banks.
Still recovering from a broken engagement, the first-grade teacher from Las Vegas isn’t looking for romance. She’s in Montana to get to know the great-grandfather she never knew existed until she found some hidden family letters. Judge Kingsley is a grouchy recluse and he’s far from welcoming, but Elena is determined to stay in town long enough to give his neglected estate on Bramble Lane a facelift.
Elena’s resolve to avoid romance is tested when she discovers Wesley is the caretaker of her grandfather’s rural property. Soon, she and the cowboy are attending more speed-dating events at the chocolate shop and she’s seeking his advice on how to deal with his ornery boss. Local gossips wager the old Judge will run Elena out of town before anything serious develops between her and Wesley. But Wesley’s a determined man, too, and he’s betting Elena belongs in Marietta forever…with him.
Wes pointed to the river where Elena’s bobber went under the water. “You caught a fish.” He set his pole aside. Wrapping his arms around her, he placed his hands over hers before turning the reel slowly—very slowly, savoring the feel of Elena against him.
“Where’s the fish?” she asked. “I can’t see it.”
“Shh… It’s there.” He could stay right here in this moment with Elena all day and never tire of touching her. When he turned the reel twice more, a small trout rose out of the water.
“I caught one!” She jerked the pole too hard, and the fish plopped into the water. “What happened?”
“Your excitement scared him off the hook.” Wes loved staring into her eyes—blue as a clear Montana sky. Her gaze lured him closer but right when her mouth was within reach, the judge’s voice rang out. They jumped apart and Elena dropped the pole, which fell into the water and was swept away by the current.
Elena climbed to her feet. “Hello, Gramps.”
The judge’s mouth twitched as if he found the endearment amusing.
“I thought you were spending all day in court?” She left Wes at the end of the dock and walked over to her grandfather.
“Two of my cases were rescheduled.” The judge eyed Wes as he approached. “Are you going to finish mowing the yard or sit out here and fish all day?”
Wes opened his mouth to respond, but his boss turned on his heel and disappeared through the gate in the hedge.
Elena retrieved the tackle box and surviving pole, then stopped at his side. “I’ll take a rain check on that kiss.”
He grasped her wrist. “I don’t give out rain checks.”
“Then maybe you should pay up now.” The pupils in her eyes dilated, leaving only a sliver of blue visible.
“Gladys Simons is still on her porch.”
“Then we’ll give her something to watch,” she whispered.
Wes brushed his mouth against Elena’s not once but twice before he pulled away.
“Is that all you’ve got?” she teased.
He cupped her face, tilted her head to the side then he swooped in and kissed her again—not a flirty peck, but a long, soft exploration of her mouth that left them breathing hard. “How was that?”
Wes watched her fanny twitch back and forth as he followed her through the gate.
“Are you an actor?”
He made a scoffing sound. “Good grief, no. I stay as far away from the Sentinel Passtime people as possible. I’m sure they’re nice enough, but their energy is enervating.”
Books. Art. Silk. Vocabulary words. She searched his face but nothing came to her. His beard was starting to fluff out again as it dried. His hair had filled in around his face covering his ears. He was starting to look more like the Rufus she knew.
“Listen, Rachel, I’m sorry about the peep show. I didn’t expect you for a couple of hours. I needed to think, and I do my best thinking in a bath. The house design didn’t lend itself to an indoor tub and I don’t like the cold well enough to sit in one outside in the winter, so I had the copper tub made. I call it my Saturday night special,” he said, a sort of self-deprecating humor in his tone.
She knew he bathed more often than once a week. “Today’s Tuesday.”
“I know. Like I said, I needed to think.”
Now, the humor was gone and something faintly foreboding seemed to linger in the air. “You’re pulling the plug on your Web site, aren’t you?”
“Not the sales part, but everything else,” he admitted.
She’d sensed his growing disenchantment with the whole online-community concept, but she’d ignored his concerns in favor of what she thought best for him. Shades of Mom, Jack would have said.
“Then, I guess we’re done here,” she said, trying to salvage a scrap of pride. She started toward where he was standing, intending to leave. He didn’t need her. No one did. Not really.
“Rachel,” he said, his voice low and conflicted. He stepped to the left to block her way. His large, warm hand closed around her forearm when she tried to push him aside. “You’re wrong about that.”
Then he pulled her to him, his arms enclosing her in a cocoon of warmth that made her think she might be in the middle of one of his Dreamhouses. Safe and secure.
His kiss was not at all what she was expecting. Soft, gentle and far too proper—at first. When she tilted her head and leaned into him, his reaction matched hers. Their tongues got involved. Their breathing changed. Her hands were touching—or were they gripping?—his massive shoulders.
She’d wanted to do that since day one. As wrong as it was, she’d never experienced anything that felt so right—even the odd, cushiony texture of his beard. She wanted more. Everything. Every inch of that gorgeous body she’d seen in the water.
At what price, Rachel? Her mother’s voice. You mixed business and pleasure once before and look how well that turned out.
Black Hills Outcast available here:
He let out a sigh of relief when saw Justin catch up to Amanda. He could see them arguing but couldn’t hear a word over the rumble of a second cement truck idling in line. The concrete guys all huddled in readiness to shovel the wet cement into the hole and spread it around the four-foot square base as soon as the wet concoction started down the chute.
At the last possible second, Justin snatched the box from Amanda’s hands and dove for the hole. Luckily, the plan called for six inches of cement to go into the hole as a base for the pole that would then be raised in place using winches and pulleys.
Tucker held his breath as he saw Justin check the box then reach into the hole as far as he could. A second later, with the help of two concrete guys, he popped back to his feet.
Justin spun around to give Tucker a thumbs-up gesture at the same moment Amanda kicked him in the shins and stormed off.
Tucker was still laughing when Amanda reached him. “Your friend’s a glory hog. That was my job.”
“He didn’t want you to get dirty.”
“You didn’t trust me to do it right.”
It struck him that he and Justin accidentally had hurt her feelings. Did society girls suffer from wounded pride the way normal people did? “I was afraid you were going to break your neck or get run over by the cement truck.”
She crossed her arms and glared at him. “I’m tougher than I look. You have to be to survive in a family like mine. Next time you ask for my help, forget it.”
He moved closer and did something he knew he’d regret later. He grabbed her firmly by the shoulders, letting his crutches fall. Balancing all his weight on his good leg, he pulled her to him and kissed her. Hard, but not fast. The opposite of fast. He took his time to experience every damn nuance, like how she resisted him for three and a half seconds. And how, when she gave in, her mouth softened and her lips parted to invite him in.
The thought crossed his mind that this was one of those I’ll-remember-this-moment-forever sort of thing. Was it? Would he never forget the first time he kissed Amanda Heller?
Of course not. She was just a pretty girl who kissed like a damn siren luring him to the wicked rocks where he’d crash and burn. There was nothing special about her. Other than her taste, maybe. Honey sweet but with some intangible something all her own.
But even if Amanda was different from all the other girls he’d kissed–and enjoyed–over the years, she most definitely wasn’t a long-term prospect. God, no. Not that he was looking for a forever love–something he knew existed because Ona and Twig had been inseparable right up till the day he died.
But even if Tucker bought into that happily-ever-after fantasy, he had way too much on his plate to get involved with Amanda Heller–even for the short term.
Too bad he had a feeling that decision was completely out of his hands. Her kiss told him she might be up for a little tryst he decided to call: “Roommates with benefits.”
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Happy reading, my friends!
His journey of discovery brings more than he ever hoped—a son, and the woman he was meant to love.
Eli Robideaux’s vision quest takes him down a road he never wanted to walk—to the past. His mistakes—even the ones he made for the right reasons—have come back to haunt him. He doesn’t understand why, but stumbling across Char Jones feels like grabbing on to a lifeline that might keep him from falling into the bone-deep despair that had been his father’s ruin.
No one is more surprised than Char when the unrequited love of her life walks into her Black Hills store, looking for the missing pieces of himself. She holds the key to one of those pieces—the son Eli never knew they had, the baby she put up for adoption. But is she brave enough to let go of her guilt and lead them on a journey that could hold love and hope…or almost certain heartbreak?
“Where’d we do it?”
She shook her head, as if she’d been expecting the question. “Pam saw patients in a small room off the kitchen. It was a screened porch when my grandparents lived there. She bought a used examination table from an old clinic. The back was raised about like this.” She held her hand horizontally between them then made the fingers tilt upward to a sixty-degree angle. “I thought it would better to keep your head elevated.”
He could have said something coarse but he managed to bite his tongue. “You were on top?”
“Yeah. It seemed safer—concussion wise.”
He turned to look at her, but it took too much effort to keep his gaze off her chest so he slumped down again and closed his eyes. “Do you really expect me to believe that a virgin would climb on top of an injured guy in her aunt’s make-shift E.R. where anybody could walk in?”
He heard her take in a deep breath, but he willed his eyes to remain closed. No leering.
“It didn’t take all that long, Eli. I put my hand down there and you were instantly hard. The smart thing would have been to give you a blow job, but I didn’t know how.”
His eyes popped open. “What do you mean you didn’t know how? That’s a no-brainer.”
The car made another unscheduled jog back and forth across the middle divider as she tossed up her hands on the steering wheel. “I’m sure I could have figured it out, but at the time, I didn’t want to look like a novice. Everyone said Bobbi was the best in school when it came to giving bj’s, and since you were marrying her the next day…”
He groaned, wishing he’d never asked. His soon-to-be ex-wife was a topic he had no intention of discussing. “So you got naked and hopped on top of me?”
“You wish,” she sputtered tapping the brakes to round a curve in the road. “Like you said, anybody could have walked in. As it happened, when Robert brought you in, it was past midnight. I’d already changed into my nightgown.”
Nightgown? A tingle of something he didn’t want to acknowledge shot down his spine. He gulped loudly. “Pink flannel?”
Her shoulders lifted and fell. “I don’t know. Maybe. Yeah, actually, I think it was. We had a warm spring, then, suddenly in early June, the weather turned cold. I remember someone saying if it snowed on her wedding, Bobbi was going to make the weatherman pay.”
He muttered a string of words he’d have busted his son’s chops for using. He’d had a dream for years that he secretly called his guilty pedophile dream. Only now he knew it wasn’t a dream, it was a memory.
Neither said anything for several miles. They were approaching the intersection of the main highway—he knew because he could see the cross-members of her white teepee—when he worked up the nerve to ask, “So, you had an abortion, huh?”
Her shriek made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. She stomped on the brakes so hard he had to brace his hands on the dash, despite the safety belt that cut into his chest. The rebound slammed him against the seat.
The car slid sideways to a stop in the gravel driveway they’d left an hour or so earlier. “Get out. You’re not the man I thought you were. Back then or now. Go. Take the money I gave you and leave. Now.”
She reached across him to open the passenger door. Her body touched him—that is, her wool jacket pressed against his grubby thermal sweatshirt, which covered a couple of other layers. There was nothing sexual in the touch. Nothing sexual between them. Only anger and hurt on her part, and confusion and desperation on his. No reason in the freaking world for him to kiss her.
But he did. Hard, fast, deep, hot. And what flared to life like a fire carefully banked in a stark, barren hearth made less sense than anything that had happened so far. But, Lord God, it felt good. It felt real. Like a lifeline that would keep him from falling into the bone deep despair that had been his father’s ruin.
The last thing in the world Char had expected was for Eli to kiss her. Not a mushy Thank-God-I-finally-found-you kiss. Things like that only happened in romance novels. No. His lips were icy-cold, despite the heat blasting from the defroster, which she’d forgotten to turn off. His breath was surprisingly pleasant—as if he’d just sucked on a candy cane, but his several-days-old stubble felt like tiny wires piercing her skin.
It should have been the kiss from hell.
Should have been.
Instead of freaking out—was the car completely off the road? She couldn’t say for certain—she actually leaned in and made a little sighing sound that she couldn’t believe came from her lips. She was embarrassed, but not enough to push him away.
Even the fury she’d initially felt when he suggested that she might have had an abortion disappeared like air escaping from a punctured balloon the moment he pulled her again him. She wasn’t herself. She was… Oh, God, I’ve turned into my mother.
The last thing Cade Garrity expected when he went to Sentinel Pass to meet Jessie Bouchard—a prospective, short-term tenant willing to trade a little childcare in return for a discounted rent—was to save her life. But the video her twin sister, Remy, shot doesn’t lie. And the fact that the nutcase who booby-trapped Jessie’s stunt is still on the loose makes it impossible for Cade to turn his back on her. But Cade married a woman who put satisfying her need for excitement ahead of her family–ahead of him–and it killed her. He’s not going down that road again no matter how much he desires Jessie Bouchard.
Despite what people think, Jessie does not have a death wish. She learned at a young age the only way to handle pain and fear was to face it head on. That’s what she does. And she’s convinced herself that living for the moment is enough–until she meets Cade and his daughter, Shiloh. There may be more to life than that next death-defying stunt, but does she deserve the kind of life Cade has to offer? She isn’t sure, and unless she finds the person who is trying to kill her, she won’t get a chance to answer that question.
Black Hills Rancher is available here:
Darcy Peel, haunted by the past and strange erotic dreams of a young woman and a Indian warrior, has left her academic career in California to come back home to Arizona to find out what happened to her sister who has disappeared in a canyon believed by many to be haunted. Her first day back, she meets Alan Brandt, a lethally attractive deputy. She knows she should avoid him and their obvious sexual energy and concentrate on her mission.
In this scene, and against her better judgment, she has gone with him to her girlhood home on the Little Springs River. She has followed her intuition that her sister left something in a hidden cave behind the huge “jump-off” rock, she and her siblings always used to jump into the river. This rock outcrop juts out from the cliff that defines the course of the river. She has found something in the cave and memories start to assail her as she is driven out of the cave by a supernatural energy. That energy, she realizes, is all tied up with the overly helpful deputy—who is so similar to the ghost warrior in her dream/visions.
Tumbling out of the cave, barely holding on to the pieces of paper, Darcy scrambled to her feet and stared at the desert broom whipping torturously back and forth. The gust of wind causing it pushed her back several steps, her feet again in the water. She turned toward the jump off, took a step and halted. Someone stood at the top of the rock. A girl?
Darcy walked toward the massive stone. Oh my god, this happened before. Just like this, when they all dashed out of the cave. The gusting wind swept them out as if they were dust, and then they had seen her—the girl, like a ghost standing on the rock in her long skirt and floppy hat. She thought of the other day on the river, and the voice saying “Emmaline.” Was this Emmaline?
The memory was so vivid, so real—was she there now? Darcy closed her eyes and rubbed her hands over her face. When she opened her eyes, the girl was gone. A blur of movement to the side then a large, male shape appeared.
Alan’s voice broke into her thoughts, scattering them to the four winds. “Darcy! Are you all right?”
He stood at the top of the rock. Darcy shaded her eyes against the glare of the sunlight beyond the overhang of the cliff. The play of light behind him cast a halo around his body. She blinked. Standing there like that, he looked naked. An image of bare glistening skin over toned, bulging muscles played tag with the real scene.
She made the connection once again between Alan and the dream warrior, or captor, or lover, whatever he was, in her dreams. Her body responded with a flush of heat from cheeks to toes.
“Are you okay?”
She couldn’t respond, staring at him as she was with her mouth open.
He moved to the edge of the rock. “I’m coming down.”
“No! I mean, no need to come down, I’m okay.”
Please just stay there. She wasn’t prepared to share the cave with him or have his energy, his beautiful sexy body, confuse or throw off what she was experiencing. She rubbed her arms, that tingling feeling of excitement like claws raking over her skin, a confusing sensual mixture of fear and arousal. This was maddening. Why did this keep happening with him—okay, which him? The ghost or the deputy?
“Get a hold of yourself, Darcy Peel,” she said half-aloud then stuffed the pages into a deep pocket on her cargo shorts and grabbed a glance at the little lagoon/swimming hole. Focus! Her gaze took in the main flow of water she could see from her vantage point. She listened for the sound of fast-moving water. All seemed okay—water as languid as before. She took a deep breath then looked up. “Where’s the sun?”
A pause before he repeated. “Where’s the sun?”
“Yes, can you see it? Is it in the right position?”
Another pause. “Yes, I see it. It’s right where it’s supposed to be.”
Darcy scowled at his placating-the-child tone of voice.
“Okay, I’m coming down,” Alan decided, forestalling any further objections. He used toeholds on the jump-off rock and the cliff face to ease down and then was beside her. “Are you sure you weren’t—watch out!”
He threw himself against her, crushing her into the brush and the cliff behind. In the next seconds, he moved so fast she saw only a blur in the shadowed light of their position. He grabbed and threw something colorful away, its sinuous movement like a pennant carried off by the wind.
Startled and confused, Darcy looked up at Alan’s flushed face. “What happened? Was that a coral snake?” She grabbed his hands and looked for punctures. “I need better light!”
“Oh, it wasn’t a coral snake.”
“How do you know? Did you see the bands of color around its body? ‘Red touches yellow, kills a fellow’ you know.
“It’s a rhyme to help identify the colors on venomous snakes. You must not be from around here.”
Alan chuckled. “Well, I didn’t stop to analyze the stripes.” He stilled her hands by folding them in his. “I’m okay. But you’re shaking.”
She pulled away. “Alan, are you crazy? You picked it up. You caught a rattlesnake in midair and threw it over the cliff!”
“Wait a minute. Rattlesnake? The cliff?”
Darcy glanced around. A memory had clicked in her mind—like a camera capturing a vivid image—where she saw a steep trail, a rattlesnake striking, then it being hurled over a rocky ledge.
Alan’s warm hand settled on her shoulder. “Darcy?” He turned her toward him and said something. A strange confusion made it hard to concentrate, but it sounded like he said, “zoning out again.” He slid his hands down her arms. “Rattlesnakes don’t have red next to yellow or whatever the rhyme says and we aren’t on a cliff. Though I feel like I’m falling off of one whenever you’re around. Now, what is going on with you?”
After a few seconds with no response, he placed a hand on the side of her face and stepped closer. “What is going on with us?”
The strange energy was back—a low-level charge of electricity that coursed through her flesh, heightening every touch. Her body hummed with the contact. And she could tell, by the way he was looking at her, that he vibrated on the same wavelength.
I shouldn’t have brought him here!
She took a step back. “Nothing, Alan. Nothing is going on with us. Like I’ve said before it’s just me. I’m going through…something.”
He closed the space she had just made. “Well, gorgeous, looks like I’m going through it with you. And I want to know what the heck ‘it’ is.” He ran the backs of his fingers up and down her arms. “Don’t you?”
Darcy started to say something in response but each stroke down her arm seemed to excite far more intimate flesh. “I—”
A stiff breeze swept through the tight area and abused that poor desert broom again, saving Darcy from trying to say something coherent. Alan turned and stared at the spot of the hidden ingress. “Whoa, did you see that? I think there’s an opening there. See? Air is coming from behind the brush.”
Darcy put her hand on his arm. “No. No, it just seems that way.”
“I think I see an opening. Is there a cave?”
“No! It’s just a small crevice in the cliff, as I recall,” She tightened her grip. The few fingernails she had left dug into his flesh.
He ignored the sharp pressure on his arm and took another step toward the swaying brush. “What is this place?” he asked. Then his voice lowered and tip-toed into the next question. “Have I been here before?”
“I’m sure you would have remembered. Now look, I’ve hurt my foot—” Huh? She looked down, wiggled it in the sand and flexed it. She’d been walking on it with no pain. Okay. Don’t think about that now. “Can we just go?”
He turned to her. “I knew it. You’re hurt.” He made a quick survey of the jump-off and the swimming hole—and her bare feet. “Seems I’ll have to carry you out of here.”
Darcy was glad she’d distracted him from her secret, but wasn’t so sure she’d helped that other predicament when he picked her up. She made an embarrassing squeaky noise and wrapped her arms around his neck. In three long strides, they were at the jump-off rock.
“Alan, I can walk. What are you doing?”
He took a deep breath, shifted her weight and looked at her, his mouth inches from hers. “Hell, I really don’t know. I don’t think I’ve known since I met you.” He slipped his arm from under her knees letting her feet touch the ground but he didn’t let her step away. “But I knew, right from the moment I met you, what I wanted to do.”
He wrapped one arm around her waist, bringing her body flush with his. She heard his sharp intake of breath, felt the sweet abrasion of his chest against her breasts. He exhaled in a rush and cradled her even closer. “Now, I’m shaking,” he whispered. “That static electricity is at it again.” His hand moved up her back pushed into her hair, forcing it out of the loosened hold of the hair band. His breath brushed the side of her face and his lips found the tender part of her neck just below the ear. “God, I want you.”
A change seemed to come over him, intent, urgent. The simmering heat in his words and the sweet pull of his mouth as he sucked the sensitive skin on her neck undid her. Her legs weakened as did her resolve. Her head fell to the side to give him more access but out of the corner of her eye, she caught a faint red glow at the cave’s entrance. She stiffened. “Alan, I—we need to go.”
He moved back but put his hands the on rock face behind her bracketing her between his arms. “Is that a full ‘Stop,’ or can I ‘Proceed with Caution’? Because I’ve been on this wild ride since I met you, and I really think this just has to happen.” Before she could protest, he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers.
Startled by the sudden movement and the heading-straight-to-coitus tone in his voice, she gripped his forearms, intending to push him back and stop this before it got out of control. But his soft, warm mouth pressing and molding with hers so sweet and undemanding surprised her. He truly was shaking, trying, she realized, to hold himself at bay. He shifted his weight and drew back. His gaze locked on hers as he took a deep, ragged breath. “Tell me to stop and I will.” He kissed her again, as if stopping was nowhere on the agenda, then broke away and again braced his arms on the rock wall behind her. He put his forehead against hers. “But tell me now.”
A tiny moan vibrated in her throat and she opened her mouth under his, forgetting where they were or the palpable energy emanating from the cave. He took the offering and stroked her tongue with his, giving her the feel and taste of him that she’d been craving all along.
She entwined her arms around his neck and he shifted in response. He pressed his knee between her legs and filled the space with his hard body, his erection positioned against her moistening mons. He deepened his kiss and swayed back and forth in a firm, erotic caress.
A whisper. “You’re here. You’re finally here.”
Darcy pulled back. She looked at Alan but he hadn’t said it and didn’t seem to hear it. Instead, he took the opportunity to put both hands behind her and press her closer.
“God, why do I feel like I’ve been with you before?” he asked. “My hands remember the feel of you—how you fit against me.” He kissed her again, bit, and suckled her fevered lips. “I know before I even take you how sweet it is to be inside you. How can I know this?”
She was aware of the heightening sexual excitement in him. It rippled through her, as well, when a whispered entreaty pressed against her ear. “Please stay with me.”
Darcy swayed in Alan’s arms. What? She looked at his face. She was sure he hadn’t spoken. Whose voice is that?
“I’m not going anywhere,” Alan said against her mouth before trailing kisses across her jaw. “There’s no way—” He kissed her mouth. “—I’d stop this, now.”
Darcy felt his teeth against the skin of her neck, and all she wanted was for him to take her. Now. Hard. She craved his powerful body moving, thrusting, working deep into her flesh. She pressed against him, reveling in the feel of him, letting the energy that sparked between their bodies dance along her skin wherever they touched.
In the back of her sluggish mind, she realized this response was so out of control for her. What was going on?
The voice again, a hoarse whisper, “I am but a ghost without you.”
Alan brought his hand up to her breast, closed over her, kneaded, and pressed. Darcy’s head fell back and she sighed in response to the exquisite pleasure.
“After waiting so long—without you—” he said.
Then she stiffened in his arms as the context of his words broke through, ‘not going anywhere,’ ‘after waiting so long,’ ‘without you.’ Had he heard the voice, too?
“Alan?” she said placing her hands between them to push against his chest.
Nuzzling her neck, then nipping at her ear lobe and moving, if anything, even closer, he murmured something she couldn’t make out.
Then the sound of splashing, the rattle of metal, and the whinny of a horse broke through the sexual energy of the moment with the sharp, cold edge of reality.
It’s no mystery why Krista Lynn writes about the high desert of Arizona. She grew up on a gold mine about 60 miles north of Phoenix. The closest neighbor was 6 miles or so down the Agua Fria River, or another 20 miles by dirt road. The magic and spirit of a rugged, isolated landscape where mysteries are carried on the wind, and whispered in your sleep are the multi-colored threads woven into her series of romantic supernatural suspense set in the high desert of Arizona.
Before embarking on the writer’s path, Krista taught physical geography and GIS courses at CSUF and Fresno City College before taking an Academic Coordinator position at UC Davis Cooperative Extension where she built a GIS program to assist agricultural research. She lives in California with her husband and a menagerie of dogs, goats and one spoiled horse while continuing to write the Canyon Trilogy and an anthology of cozy mysteries.