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.
On Wednesday, I got up early to write because I knew I was only going to have a partial day at my desk. My niece, Amy, had contacted me and asked if I’d be able to help move some of her mother’s things from the home her parents built in the mid-1970s to an apartment in an independent living center. Sharleen, my sister-in-law, had been living there alone since my brother passed away three years ago.
Naturally, I said, “Yes.”
I remember all too well when my sister and I moved our mother out of the home my husband had built for Mom to the very same independent living center. The move was fraught with emotion. You try to stay positive for your loved one but inside you’re dying a bit because change is hard and this change means your loved one is not the same person you want them to always be.
In my sister-in-law’s case, her health has declined since my brother died. Actually, even before that, the stress of caring for my brother at the end of his life took a heavy toll. Shar loved my brother almost as long as I’ve been alive. (I was five when they got married.) After he passed away, she tried to carry on with her business (Buchanan Hollow Nut Company), her art (watercolors) and her life, but her health just hasn’t been up to it. Depression is so not in her nature, but some days were too hard to get out of bed.
Christmas was a turning point. Shar made the decision. She needed people and routine in a safe, warm environment–not alone in a huge house twenty-five miles from town.
We all have good memories of this place. Shar’s room is directly above where my mother stayed. It’s only been a few days, and Shar told me yesterday she’s not sure she’s ready for this, but the people are friendly and so far she’s won several robust games of Scrabble. Fingers crossed the transition goes smoothly.
I’m sleeping better knowing she’s safe, but I’ll feel even better when I know she’s happy, too.
Have you had to deal with this sort of thing with a loved one? I’d be happy to pass along any tips for a smooth transition to Amy and Shar. Below is one of Shar’s watercolor paintings hanging in my house.
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