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.
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.
First Kiss Snippet:
After all she’d borne at the hands of society, Charlotte had thought herself immune to insult, but for some reason this man’s failure to show her the most basic courtesy cut sharp. A lump lodged in her throat. Then his gaze went past her. She’d run out of time.
She turned to find the baroness. Everything about the woman glowed: her satiny dress, her golden hair, the breathtaking necklace of yellow diamonds at her throat, even her amber eyes. Charlotte and Lady Garret were of similar height, yet the woman’s aura left Charlotte feeling dwarfed. This was the witch who had destroyed her marriage, made her a pariah among her peers, fabricated a despicable persona that all of society now assumed was Charlotte herself. It had been almost two years, but it seemed like yesterday Lady Garret penned her novelette, published and distributed it amongst her acquaintances. Those pages had left Charlotte blackballed from society.
“Lady Haliday, what a pleasure.”
The malicious edge of humor in the baroness’s voice made her words a parody, and resentment speared Charlotte. “You’re a poor liar, Lady Garret, and you really needn’t expend the effort. I’m immune to your poison.”
The baroness noticed their silent companion, whose gaze was fixed upon her. “What, no introduction, my lady?”
The man did not react in any way. Well, Charlotte decided, at least he dealt out rudeness impartially.
The man shot her a look, brows lifting as if in question—as if he knew her and was silently communicating. Following blind instinct, Charlotte settled herself next to him on the empty half of the settee. She felt immediately and impossibly steadied.
Lady Garret’s mouth firmed, and her attention returned to Charlotte. “I’m surprised to see you here, my lady. Especially tucked away in a corner with a gentleman. It’s been a mere eighteen months since your husband passed. I’d go so far as to say this makes a mockery of his memory.”
Charlotte schooled her expression to one of polite interest. She would not show Lady Garret even an inkling of distress.
“I’d guess your actions will provide society with some entertainment,” the baroness continued. “A bit of a scandal is always appreciated. At least, it amuses me. It might even inspire me to pen another novel.”
A slow smile curled her enemy’s lips, and a quivering beset Charlotte deep inside. She kept her vision fixed on the baroness’s glittering eyes and wrapped her hand around the edge of the divan seat, anchoring herself. Over and over, for the past year she’d imagined this meeting. God willing, she would prevail.
She leaned back against the divan and forced her shoulders to relax. She had to appear confident, so she concentrated on keeping her voice composed. “I’m no longer that naive young woman you manipulated and tried to destroy. This time I won’t stand by while you spread lies about me. I’m not afraid of you, and I won’t crumble.”
The gentleman beside her turned his head, the chilly look gone from his eyes. Like heat from the sun, waves of quiet strength radiated from him and emboldened Charlotte. She marshaled her thoughts, leaned forward just enough to lend emphasis to her words, and continued with a harder voice. “You tell lies about me again, and I’ll make sure all of London is familiar with your machinations and your wicked soul. Until then, I’ll leave you be.”
Lady Garret’s eyes narrowed to mere slits. “How dare you threaten me?”
Charlotte did not look away. Didn’t this woman understand that she had already been consumed by the fire of scandal and risen from the ashes?
“You can say whatever you like about me,” she vowed. “You can tell all of London you saw me walk naked down the center of Regent Street. I don’t care. If it happens again, this time I won’t hide myself away—and I’ll make sure no one believes you.”
She felt the man sit straighter beside her, and a sudden desire to do something actually outrageous overcame Charlotte. To do something worthy of gossip, possibly even scandalous, and to do it without a care for the watchful eyes of Lady Garret. The thought left her giddy, and Charlotte closed her eyes to steady herself. Such an act would prove beyond all doubt that she had no fear of the baroness.
The gentleman beside her still radiated waves of quiet heat. His hand rested on the divan, and before she could consider the wisdom of her idea, Charlotte found herself caught up in it. She placed her hand atop his and laced their fingers. He tensed, and her heart began to race. What was she thinking? And yet, her daring thrilled her as nothing ever had, and when Charlotte looked at Lady Garret and saw the baroness struggling to hide her surprise, suddenly she was sure.
“At least this time,” she announced, “what you write will be based on truth instead of falsehood.”
In the grip of something foreign and reckless, Charlotte turned to the gentleman, gazed into his eyes and curled her hand around the back of his head. He resisted a bit as she drew him near, but she couldn’t afford to hesitate now. She didn’t relent.
A little shock ran through her as their lips touched. She felt his hesitancy and tightened her hold, some part of her still aware. Then his lips moved, and what had started out as the softest touch became firm.
A tremor took up residence in her marrow as she returned the pressure of his mouth. She’d kissed no man but Haliday, and she’d thought one kiss must be much the same as another, but this man’s kiss was…different. Even the smell of him—the starch of his shirt, the enticing aroma of citrus and cloves and maleness—was unique. For a long moment Charlotte was lost in his solid heat, in the slide of his gloved hand along her jaw. Then, in the periphery of her awareness, she heard the rustle of skirts. Lady Garret was leaving.
Too dazed to feel triumphant, Charlotte placed her hand on the strange man’s chest and gently pushed until their lips separated. She stared into bottomless blue eyes that brimmed with warmth, felt the tension in him, knew his breathing came as hard and fast as hers. Then his hand gripped her waist and pulled her back. His lips dragged over hers, nudged hers apart, and he captured her again in a warm, luscious kiss that burst upon her senses with a completeness that obliterated everything else.
She was lost. She’d been married four years, but never had desire swept over her like this. It confused her, frightened her even, but soon all thought fell away and Charlotte was left to revel in sensation. The man’s hands slid up her back and brought her breasts and hip hard against him. His chest was broader and firmer than her husband’s had been, and she nestled into his arms as if she’d been made to fit there. His tongue stroked hers, and her breath caught and heat ripped through her.
A confused, distressed little noise escaped her. The man abruptly pulled away.
Trembling, gasping, Charlotte looked into a shuttered face and humiliation crashed down. What had she done? What had she been thinking? She didn’t even know this man’s name. Fiery heat enveloped her, and her face burned. She thought she might expire of embarrassment. How could she have done such a thing?
“Oh!” She pressed her fingers to her lips, staring.
If Charlotte thought the man looked unhappy before, he now looked absolutely thunderous. Lips narrowed to a grim line, he held his shoulders rigid like a soldier standing at attention.
“Oh!” She jumped to her feet and saw his eyes flare. She had to leave, find someplace quiet and try to figure out what had happened tonight. She opened her mouth to ask the man’s name, to tell him hers and apologize, but the ridiculousness of the situation stopped her. The man had spoken no more than one sentence in her presence. Perhaps if they remained strangers she could pretend this event hadn’t occurred. She didn’t even know if he was married!
She backed toward the doorway.
The grim command in his voice made her pause. His hand reached out, but she whirled and broke from the alcove. She headed straight for the veranda door, wanting only to escape into the dark night until she could compose herself.
She attracted some attention from the way she hurried, weaving her way around the revelers, but finally she gained the solitude and deep shadows of the veranda. Her chest heaved as if she’d run a footrace. The cool night air soothed her heated cheeks, but inside emptiness twisted, left her aching.
He could have come after her, but he’d not.
After a satisfying career as an Emergency Room nurse, Sheri Humphreys closed the book on her diverse nursing experiences and followed a lifelong love for writing and historical romance to a new vocation as a writer. She lives with a Jack Russell mix rescue, Lucy, in a small town on the central California coast.
You can connect with Sheri here:
Good Tuesday, my lovelies!
Can you believe it’s December? Where has the year gone? I hope yours was filled with wonderful books and hot, steamy kisses!
I want to apologize in advance. FIRST KISS: TUESDAY has run into the time crunch we’re all so familiar with–too much to do and not enough time to extra stuff…like blogs. I can only share what others have shared with me and, alas, the well is looking a bit dry at the moment. But don’t despair, I’ve put out the call and hope to have more wonderful FIRST KISS excerpts to share with you soon.
In the meantime, I may re-visit some oldies but goodies, starting with my dear friend Judy Banger. She’s a naughty one, Miss Judy, but she’s got a big heart and she truly earns her happily-ever-after in JUDY UNCENSORED…but then comes the holidays! Eek!
FIRST KISS excerpt:
As much as she wanted to blame the mid-day wine for her fatigue–aggravated by the hard cider she’d had with her pizza–in truth, she hadn’t been her usual perky self for weeks. Some mornings, she had to drag herself to the gym. Normally, she could count on an endorphin high after a workout, but not tonight. Even the promise of delicious sex with the man she loved more than life wasn’t enough to keep her eyes open.
“Damn holiday stress,” she muttered, hoping to grab a quick catnap…fully dressed…on their bed until Wiley got home.
She must have dozed off because the next thing she heard was Wiley’s voice calling out her name as he walked down the hallway.
“Judy? Honey? Are you okay? Don’t you want to get undressed?”
The effort it took to open her eyes made the process feel like slow motion. “Are my eyelids glued shut?”
Two soft lips kissed her cheekbones. “Nope. You’re just tired. I know how much you hate to shop for clothes. And it is the holidays.”
She held out a hand for his help sitting up. Her feet hit the thick carpet like bags of cement. Thunk. Thunk. “Remind me to make an appointment to see your doctor. I’d hoped to wait till our new marriage warranty expired before somebody confirmed my long list of flaws, but if I don’t perk up, you’ll trade me in for a new model anyway.”
He sat and looped one strong, reassuring arm around her shoulders. “You goof. Life doesn’t come with any guarantees.”
“You already had one sick wife…”
He nuzzled her neck. “Different circumstances completely. Apples and oranges.” His lips felt warm against her cool skin. “Your life has changed in a hundred different ways over the past few months. By all means, get a check-up. Maybe a B-12 shot. But the holidays wear everybody down.”
She took a deep breath, ignoring the voice in her head that sounded a lot like Alvin and the Chipmunks singing, “Hurry, Christmas, don’t be late.” The damn season couldn’t get over fast enough to satisfy her.
She turned into him and hugged him fiercely. “Have I told you today that I love you?”
“Once or twice. But I never get tired of hearing it.” He kissed her lips. “By the way, I got a text from Carla as I was leaving the gym. She asked if you liked everything.”
Judy tensed. She couldn’t help herself. “What did you say?”
“I told her you thought the place looked great, and because we’re both tied up with other interests, we trusted her to handle the details for the party.”
She rubbed her forehead against the hollow of his cheek. “Tied up, huh? Are you suggesting something kinky?”
“Maybe. Shall we discuss our options in the shower?”
Judy took a deep breath and got to her feet. A dozen or more tiny silver dots danced across her vision for a moment, but they quickly disappeared. She grabbed his hand. “Great idea. Turn the steam generator on, too. I’m thinking hot and heavy. And, no, that’s not a reference to my weight.”
He backed her up until she was pinned to the wall. “Your weight is perfect. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
A million and two. Just enough to make up for hearing people call me fat most of my life. “I’ll let the doctor be the judge of that, Judge. Come on. Let’s get naked, steamy and slippery.”
(You can read the entire first chapter for free at my website: http://littl.ink/+bebd)
There really is something about first kisses, isn’t there? That rush of excitement, that never-to-be-repeated beginning of something? Then again, second kisses are nice, too. Or the ones shared after long-term togetherness.
Then there are reunion kisses, make-up kisses and (gasp!) stolen kisses. The one I’m here to talk about falls into that category and it happens between my hero and heroine, a once meant-to-be forever couple who lost their way years ago. Now, fate has thrown Marietta kindergarten teacher, Kate Canaday, and Pro-bull rider, Finn Scott, into each other’s sphere again and things quickly get…well, complicated. It seems Finn might need her help making his crazy life look stable in a custody battle with his ne’er-do-well ex for his five-year-old twins. The same ex, by the way, who was responsible for breaking them up years ago. What’s a self-respecting, serial-dating, never-got-over-him kind of girl to do?
“Wait a minute,” Finn said.
Her hand on the door knob, she turned on him. “No, you wait, you…you…” She gave a frustrated growl for lack of a more descriptive word. “That is just low. Telling me your sad story. Playing on my sympathies like that, so I’d feel sorry for you. I could just…just—”
“Just what? Punch me?” he asked, moving between her and the doorway. “Kiss me?”
“Kiss you? As if!” But her eyes had dilated to black splotches and a tremor ran down her as she backed up against the opened door. Her nostrils flared with anger, and her scent washed over him afresh.
“Punch me then. Or kiss me. Whatever makes you feel better.”
Hands splayed against the door behind her, she narrowed a look at him. “As I am not a violent person, I choose C. None of the above.” But with the door wide open beside her, she wasn’t choosing to exit either.
He braced a hand on the doorjamb beside her and loomed over her. “When was the last time someone kissed you ’til your knees stopped workin’? Huh? I used to be able to do that to you, remember?”
Oh, she was remembering. He could see the memory in her eyes.
“I—no, I don’t recall that…and—” she flicked that red hair out of her eyes with a jerk of her head—“I’m leaving now.” But her effort to go was merely a twitch in the direction of the car.
“Wow. That long, huh?”
She opened her mouth in silent outrage, but no words came to mind. No denial anyway.
In fact, right now, she looked as if a windstorm had just blown through all of her carefully nurtured self-righteousness. Finally, she stammered, “I’ve had plenty of kisses from plenty of men and I—”
“—men like Cree Malone, for instance? Is he a good kisser?”
She probably thought he didn’t catch the wince, but he did.
“Plenty of men,” she repeated. “Not that it’s any of your business. At all. And the last thing I need is a kiss from you.”
“Really?” He took a step closer until their mouths were only inches apart. Until he could feel the pebbled nubs of her nipples brush against his shirt. “The last thing?”
She swallowed hard and moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. “The very last thing,” she reiterated, as he bracketed his hands beside her head there on the doorway and lowered his nose to her hair to inhale her scent. “Stop doing that.”
“You smell really good,” he murmured against her hair. “What is that?”
Clutching the wooden door behind her, she tipped her face away from him. “I’m warning you.”
“Is that the same perfume you used to wear? Right here, wasn’t it?” He dropped his mouth down to a spot below her ear, that place he remembered used to make her lose it. He nipped at that spot gently with his teeth and a quake rolled through her.
“Chanel,” she breathed so quietly he almost missed it, and she tipped her head back against the door giving him access to more.
And not being a fool, he took the opportunity to slide his mouth along the ridge of her throat and up her jaw.
“I like it,” he murmured, but in truth, he’d been hard all night for her and the close-up scent of her skin was like a drug. “You remember this, Kate? I do.” He exhaled against her throat. “God, I do.”
He took her face in his hands and pulled her to him, kissing her as if this would be the last time. His mouth slid against hers, taking, tasting what he’d wanted to taste all these years. She made a small sound of protest as she pushed against his chest, but a moment later, her fingers clutched his shirt and she relented, kissing him back. Her soft lips—oh, yeah, he’d never forgotten them—opened to his with unexpected hunger, and the door banged against the wall behind it. He tasted wine on her tongue and anger in the way hers did battle with his. But she flattened herself against him, wanting more.
He forgot the risks of touching her this way again, the years it had taken him to pull himself back from the loss of her last time. Because all he could think about now was how right they felt together after all these years. How perfectly right.
In celebration of the release of CHOOSE ME, COWBOY, I’m giving away a $10 Amazon Gift card. Just leave a comment here and tell me if you’ve ever had a kiss that changed your mind! Please feel free to share Deb’s blog link with your friends.
Barbara Ankrum has a thing for the West and has written both historical and contemporary romances, all set in that magical place. Twice nominated for RWA’s RITA Award, her bestselling books are emotional, sexy rides with a touch of humor. Barbara’s married and raised two children in Southern California, which, in her mind, makes her a native Westerner.
website link: www.Barbaraankrum.com
Happy reading…and XOXO,