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.
First, we agree to let an overgrown squirrel predict the weather, then we blithely allow the flower industry, candy makers and greeting card people to run rampant over our hearts.
Speaking of hearts. Did you hear that the candy makers who supply the bulk of the world’s supply of that Valentine’s Day staple “Conversation Hearts” blew it? Whoever decided to sell the company to another company too inept to look at a calendar–V-Day is FEBRUARY 14th, people…well, not my problem. https://www.delish.com/food-news/a22577659/necco-candy-hearts-shut-down/
I bought early because some traditions–even the silly ones–must be adhered to. 😉
One GOOD thing to come out of this Valentine mayhem is celebrating Romance Novels. I mean, why wouldn’t we? Boy meets girl. They have issues. True love prevails. They live happily-ever-after. People who don’t read romance novels call that a formula. I call it magic. Reading can be magical. A good book can transport you out of a life that might be missing conversation–let alone conversation hearts–into a world of rich emotion, forgiveness, and joy. There may even be chocolate.
And here’s my Valentine to you: 50% off BOOKS II AND III of the Love, Montana series in the Tule Publishing BookStore, using the code: LOVE50 (copy this code then click the links below)
(The code is good for both titles: please share the love! Since Book I – HER HERO TO LOVE – is still FREE for one…more…day, that means you can read the entire series for less than a bag of Conversation Hearts. ;-))
As you know, Her Hero To Love – Book I of the Love, Montana series is FREE through Valentine’s Day, so I figured it was the perfect time to give new blog readers a chance to sample the other two stories in the series. (And give my regular blog readers — like Shelagh–a chance to wander down Memory Lane.) I had a lot of fun with this book and researching the climbing locale in Santa Barbara was pure bliss. If you ever have a chance to hang out along that stretch of southern California coastline, I highly recommend driving inland for some spectacular views and a surprising piece of history.
A masked ball. Two star-crossed lovers. A New Year’s Eve kiss at midnight.
“It’s that time, my friends. Grab a glass of champagne and that special person. Here we go. Ten…nine…”
Bailey’s voice got drowned out by the crowd.
He closed his arms around Nicole to keep her safe as more people flooded onto the dance floor.
“Six,” she said, looking directly into his eyes. The lights had come up so he could study the subtle hues mixed in the blue of her irises.
Beautiful eyes. Familiar, somehow.
“Five,” a voice boomed to his left.
Tucker, who was holding Amanda the same way Justin held Nicole, gave Justin a guy-nod that seemed to say, “Way to go, bro!”
Justin liked to think he didn’t need his friends’ validation to feel good about his choices, but this time he was navigating new waters. Dangerous waters. This woman was about to become his boss. That couldn’t be good.
But Nicole didn’t feel dangerous or threatening.
She felt as though she’d been made to dance with him. They fit together perfectly. He liked every thing about her, except her job.
“Three…” If he and Nicole were going to do this, he had to make sure they had an end game in place.
New Year’s Eve. Maybe the weekend. They’d play that part by ear, but after Monday nothing could happen between them.
“Two,” he said softly.
“One,” she whispered, looking into his eyes with a question he was ready to answer.
“Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year,” he said before lowering his head to press his lips to hers.
He expected the usual few minutes of testing the waters, feeling each other out, but that didn’t happen. From the moment their lips met, he felt as if he’d crossed the Rubicon. This wasn’t a one-time deal. They’d done this a million times. Together. Theirs was a reunion of souls kissing across eons, remembering.
Her lips parted, her tongue seeking his without hesitation. He hadn’t expected such frankness, but her greedy pleasure made him need more, too.
He closed his eyes and immersed himself in her sweetness, a combination of honey and spice. He would have gone on exploring this newfound fascination forever if not for the sensation of something touching his head. He pulled back and look around.
“The balloons,” Nicole cried, letting go of him to tap at the large white, gold and silver balloons cascading around them.
Confetti shot from somewhere nearby added to the glitter and excitement. Nicole was pulled from his arms to exchange air kisses and hugs with perfect strangers. Justin found himself in a bear hug, too.
“Helluva thing, huh? Beats the crap out of last year,” Tucker said.
Justin clapped Tucker on the back. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I mean starting the year off with someone you care about. There’s a first time for everything, Ona always says.”
Ona, Tucker’s Cajun grandmother, was a font of truisms. Justin had met her twice and loved the dear woman as the grandmother he’d never had. I wonder what Ona would say about me kissing my future boss? Probably something arcane about not defecating where you eat, damn it.
He caught up with Nicole before anyone else could dance her away. He grabbed her hand and spun her slightly off-balance back into his arms. “Unfinished business,” he mumbled against her lips.
She may have started to protest but her reaction changed the minute she realized this kiss meant business. His tongue wasn’t polite or inquisitive. Justin knew what he wanted, and it started now. They were both breathless when he broke off the kiss before embarrassing himself too badly. His body reacted to her in a way he didn’t remember happening with any of his previous lovers.