I don’t know about you, but I feel like a stroll down memory lane. This stroll happened to be inspired by a photo on Facebook. That happens, doesn’t?
Austen Zabrinski looks the part —
He’s got the ranch, the boots, the hat and even a few head of cattle, but everybody in Marietta, Montana, knows the former golden boy of Marietta High is a wealthy politician, not a cowboy. And even though that nasty scandal in Helena might have knocked him down a notch or two in the polls, what kind of a fool would trade access to the halls of power in Helena and a Harvard law degree for a ranch in western Montana? Possibly one whose new neighbor, Serena James–the woman the guys at Grey’s Saloon call “…the Red Hot Llama Mama”–makes him start to think about what he wants out of life, instead of what’s expected of him.
Serena James knows trouble when it hops her fence–
Moving to Montana and deleting her blog seemed like the perfect solution to her online stalker problem. Serena’s ready for a fresh start, but when her escrow on her ranch falls through, she has to scramble to find an immediate but temporary safe haven to rent for her herd of 50 alpacas, two llamas and one giant dog. Serena’s barely moved in when Austen Zabrinski–the man her landlord called “my absentee ranch owner brother who lives and works in Helena”–hops the fence in need of a lift. Even at first glance, Serena can tell he’s nobody cowboy, but who’s to say that isn’t a good thing? A little tryst with her gorgeous, sexy, here-today-gone-to-Helena-tomorrow neighbor might be the perfect welcome to Montana.
Since they’d practically had sex–in her mind–she decided to ask.
Once he was seated with his safety belt snug across his flat belly, she turned the key in the ignition and put the truck in gear.
“So, fill me in. You own a ranch your brother called a tax write-off. You’ve as much as admitted you’re nobody’s cowboy. You wear three-hundred-dollar jeans. I don’t see a wedding ring. Your nose is sunburned. So I take that to mean you don’t have a wife or live-in girlfriend to remind you to put on sunscreen.”
He let out a gruff cough. “Very observant. The jeans are two years old.”
“But look brand new.”
“I don’t–didn’t–come to the ranch very often in the past.”
“No wife. Never married. My last…friend-with-benefits wanted more than I’m in a position to give at the moment. I’m not sure we’re still friends. But I’m positive the benefits have been canceled.”
She’d always been a sucker for smart men with a sense of humor. The leftover dewy feeling in her crotch–and the fact she was a stranger in a strange land–made her bold. “So, if someone new to the area was interested in that sort of position–friends-with-benefits-no-strings-attached–how would one apply? Online? Or in person?”
He tossed back his head and gave a deep, masculine laugh that sent a stream of shivers down her spine, pooling conveniently in her already primed lady parts. Her hands tightened on the steering wheel.
Since they’d reached the end of her driveway and had no traffic behind her, she threw the shifter into park and turned to face him.
Before she could offer any slightly embarrassed disclaimer for such an obvious come on, he released the latch on his safety belt and moved closer.
“In person. I go with my gut. Usually one kiss will do. Either there’s chemistry or there’s not.”
“Chemistry. Crap. My least favorite subject in school. But I do like kissing.”
She leaned in, too.
Austen could have come up with a dozen–make that a trillion–reasons not to kiss this beautiful stranger. But, for all his reputed logic and claims he was a rule maker, not a rule breaker, he was lonely. And…as much as it killed him to admit the fact, he’d reached a point where he was unsure of what to do next. Him. Rudderless. Now, living in the moment seemed like the only rational choice he had.
Besides…she offered. It wouldn’t be neighborly to turn her down. Right?
He caught her lips, which were softer than he’d imagined. A perfect match to his. Her eyes remained opened…for their initial contact, then her lids lowered in a sultry, utterly into it way that made him give a low, unplanned growl. What was it about that moment of surrender that brought out the beast in him?
When her perfect lips parted to invite him in, he closed his eyes, too. She tasted good. Mint gum? Maybe just leftover toothpaste. But there was sweetness, as well. A hint of honey. And he wanted more.
While his mouth plundered, his hands moved down her back to pull her closer.
“Um, oh…no. Seatbelt,” she murmured.
He pulled back and looked down. “Oh. Duh.”
He stabbed the release button so she could slip free of it.
They stalled…for half a second before she grinned and plastered herself against him. “Um. You’re a good kisser. Very good. But I want you to be sure. No doubts.”
She wasn’t aggressive, just methodical. As if she were hitting all the bullet points in a textbook called Rules of Kissing. Austen could have stopped her at any point and said, “You’re hired.” But a part of him couldn’t wait to be taken to school.
She nibbled and teased. Her tongue engaged his in a clever, nonverbal debate. A first for him. Kissing had always been a mere step on the road to the big show. With Serena, a stranger, the playful exploration was fun.
What would sex be like with her?
Would? Hell, no. Will. What will sex with Serena be like?
He wrapped his arms around her possessively. He had to find out. Now. Right now.
Did that make you smile? It always does me. 😉 If you happened to miss this book, here are the links.
Happy Book Birthday, BLACK HILLS BILLIONAIRE–Black Hills Rendezvous, Book 2!
I can’t believe it’s been three years since the second book in my Black Hills Rendezvous series came out. Shane and Jenna were two of the most complicated protagonists I’d ever written at that point. Their histories were difficult and entwined in a way that made predicting a happy ending nearly impossible to envision. They came soooo close to meeting, falling in love and living a fabulous life until something unthinkable happened, until a dark force ruined everything.
But when Shane’s best friend sets the game in motion in BLACK HILLS BABY (Book 1), they’re given a second chance–if Shane can get past the guilt he carries from a deathbed promise he made.
Here’s one of my favorite snippets to feature: their First Kiss.
Q: So, when is a first kiss not a kiss? A: When you’re in the Mystery Spot.
“As you can see, this was the bedroom. We’ve removed the furniture to avoid injury, but just imagine what a nightmare it must have been to sleep in a room that seems to be constantly shifting from side to side. We call this the dizzy room for a reason, so don’t be surprised if a stranger is suddenly holding on to you for balance.”
She took a deep breath and walked straight to the middle of the room. Almost instantly, her equilibrium went haywire. She stepped on what looked like a level surface and felt her foot drop a quarter of an inch. Just enough to throw her balance off. She staggered, which prompted Shane to dash into the room.
“Watch out,” she warned.
He weaved to the left like a drunk after a long night at a bar. “Holy crap,” he muttered. “What the he–?”
She grabbed his arm and pulled him closer to the wall. He looked slightly dazed. “Wow. What is it?”
“You’d have to ask my dad. Unfortunately, I think the secret went to the grave with him. All I know is it’s very effective. I’ve seen people bob and weave all the way back to their car. I’ve done this tour so often I barely feel it unless I’m in the middle of the room.”
He put a hand to his forehead. “I’ve got the spinners. Like those nights in college when you drank too much then lay down in bed and the ceiling was going around in circles.”
He looked at her so intently she realized she must have said the word aloud.
“Sorry. Wrong thing to say.”
She shook her head. “It was a long time ago. Shall we finish the tour? There’s an exit through the back, but since I have to lock up, I think we should go out the way we came in.”
His usual serious look was back on his face. He nodded and pushed off from the wall to lead the way. He only made it a few steps before listing sideways, like the Titanic after meeting the iceberg. She tried to keep him upright, but his momentum was too great. They both staggered a few steps then crashed into the wall. The wall with the drawing of a four-poster with a patchwork quilt on it, and they landed smack dab in the middle of the one-dimensional mattress.
“This was your plan all along, right?” Shane asked, wrapping his arms around her to keep steady. “To get me in bed?”
She laughed to keep her panic at bay, but to her surprise she didn’t feel the usual fear that came when someone got too close, too fast. In fact, she liked the feeling of being in his arms. Warm. Secure. Protected.
“I’ve seen the same thing happen to other people. Perfect strangers. Dad used to say it was all about a person’s polarity-–positive and negative.”
His eyes were such a deep, yummy brown. Like chocolate syrup. “Does that mean one of us is a magnet and the other iron filings?”
She knew which she’d be. “Maybe we’re both iron filings being drawn to the giant magnet in the wall.”
He arched his neck to look over his shoulder, his skepticism clearly back in place. Laughing, she put her hands flat against his chest and pushed back. She waited for her balance to return, the way it usually did, but if anything, she was even loopier. Her hands wouldn’t leave his shirt. Her breath was shallow and shaky. Because she knew he was going to kiss her.
Kiss. His mouth touching her mouth. No. She didn’t kiss. Or touch. Or… But no words of protest made it out before his lips touched hers.
And so starts February…I have to say after the crazy weather we’ve been having on the West Coast, I’m looking forward to XOXOs from Mother Nature this month. At least the inclement weather afforded a good excuse to snuggle up with a good book.
I’m a sucker for second chance/secret baby books. But as a writer I’ve always struggled with the secret keeper needing a rock solid reason for keeping a child a secret. I think Lisa’s got one. I hope you agree if you read the book. In the meantime, please enjoy Lisa and Joe’s first–in a very long time–kiss!
He stopped her. “One confession at a time. I owe you an apology.”
She looked up. “For what?”
“For being an ass the day of Patrick’s funeral. I was mad at the world, and I needed somebody to blame for what happened. I didn’t care who I hurt in the process. You. My dad. Hell, I probably said something nasty to my mother, too, but I don’t remember.” He glanced toward the door. “Don’t ask her, okay? I’m a Kelly. Humbling myself once a day is all I can take.”
Her lips curved upward but only for a moment. “Why are you bringing this up tonight, Joe?”
“Because ever since you picked me up at the airport I’ve felt like there was some ponderous weight between us. Patrick. The past. Our past. And, of course, my asinine behavior at the funeral. I was hoping if I apologized we might find a way to get past it.”
“Why? Because we’re going to be working together—well, in close proximity—for the next few weeks?”
Her tone sounded contentious. “Yes, partly.”
“Because you’re already bored and need a little romance to spice up your stay?”
Momentarily stunned speechless, he watched her tap the corner of the envelope to her lips. “Well, I hate to disappoint you, but it isn’t going to happen. I may be a small town girl who is too afraid of life to risk leaving Worthington, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have plans. I do. And you aren’t part of them.”
Too afraid of life to risk leaving Worthington? His words came back to haunt him. The night by the lake, after they’d made love, Joe had asked Lisa to go with him. She’d refused, and he’d accused her of being too afraid to take a chance on a bigger life outside of Worthington.
“I was eighteen and full of myself. I thought I had all the answers when, in fact, I didn’t even know what the questions were.”
He shook his head and made a gesture toward the bar where the sound of laughter filtered under the door. “You proved me wrong, didn’t you? You’ve met your goal of graduating from college. You have a lot of friends who think you’re fabulous, and your son has turned out great—despite a few little age-related glitches. You have a lot more to show for your life than I do.”
She set down the card and took a step closer. “How can you say that? You’re a successful filmmaker. You’re living your dream.”
“I left here convinced I was going to be the next Steven Spielberg. That didn’t happen.”
She smiled the way she would have if Brandon had said something self-effacing. “So neither of us has set the world on fire,” she said with a shrug. “I’ve decided there comes a time when you either embrace your life—flaws and all—or give up.”
She shook her head and a lock of golden-red hair escaped from her fancy updo and danced across her shoulders. He took her by the wrist and pulled her a step closer. Their bodies weren’t quite touching, but he could reach her by leaning forward.
He moved slowly, giving her a chance to back away, but she didn’t. He put his mouth on hers. She didn’t respond right away, but after a heartbeat her mouth opened. At first, all he could taste was the tangy flavor of the wine she’d been drinking, then her tongue touched his and memories poured into his mind. Even after all these years, she still tasted like Lisa.
This, he realized, was what he’d wanted all night. All week. Ever since he’d walked out the doors of the airport and seen her standing beside her perky little car. He needed this. He needed her.
But Lisa apparently didn’t need him.
Stepping back, she held on to the table with one hand and used the other to touch her lips, as if making sure they were still there.
“I stole a kiss, not your lips,” Joe said, trying to lighten the moment.
She didn’t smile. “I can’t do this, Joe. Not now. Not until… There’s something you…” She didn’t finish the thought. “I’m sorry. I have to get back to my guests.”
With that, she walked out of the room.
As a special February treat, you can download NEVER SAY NEVER at my DebSalonen Bookstore: CLICK TO BUY for 50% off if you use this (limited time only) coupon: QMZ9I9XDM7