Heartstrings–Excerpts

Heartstrings, Singing to the Heart, Sara Walter Ellwood, Contemporary Western Romance, Cowboys, Texas Romance, Native American Romance, Lyrical Press, Kensington Publishing

Excerpts

©2013 Sara F. (Walter) Ellwood, all rights reserved

Excerpt 1 (Hightlight)

She sighed and leaned back in her chair. She bit her bottom lip. God, she wanted to spend time with him. “What do you have planned?”

“Something special.” When she started to shake her head, he added, “All you need to do is say yes. And pack enough for a two-day trip. Although, I doubt you’ll need any of it.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you. I have the ranch–”

“You can go willingly or I’ll kidnap you. The choice is yours. I talked to Judd, and he’ll take care of the ranch in your absence,” he countered, referring to her foreman.

“You thought of everything.” Excitement curled in her lower belly at the way he grinned at her. A whole weekend with the one thing she couldn’t have, but wanted beyond all reason. Maybe she could convince herself he only wanted sex and couldn’t possibly feel anything for her.

~*~*~*~

Excerpt 2 (Official)

Seth leaned in. His lips were close enough to kiss, and his scent of sandalwood and something exotic enveloped her, taking her back to that night on the beach. His eyes flashed with the dangerous fire of his temper. It was similar to the flame of the passion she’d once seen in the green depths. Abby didn’t expect or want the heat curling in her belly, and shivered with a sudden and fierce desire.

“I’m her father, Abigail. I wanted to be her father after she was born. It was you and Mike who insisted I had no business messing things up.”

“I never said any such thing. You never tried. You just left.”

He pounded a fist on the counter top so hard she jumped. “Yes, I left! I wasn’t welcome at home. Dad ran me off with a shotgun. Mike wouldn’t even let me see my daughter. He made it quite clear you and he were happily married, and I had no place in your life. I was under contract to be in Nashville to start recording my first album.”

What did he mean, Mike wouldn’t let him see Emily?

Before she had a chance to voice her question, his eyes darkened as the pupils dilated, obscuring the stormy green. “But I’m no longer nineteen and scared shitless. I could make things very rough for you and this fantasy you’ve got working.”

A cold lump quickly replaced the tangle of heat in her belly. “What-what do you mean?”

He backed off and tapped the countertop. “I’m talking a custody battle. I could have a judge order a paternity test. I think we both know the media hoopla the results would cause.”

Her heart slammed into her chest wall. “You wouldn’t do that.”

“Try me. Now that I’ve met Emily, I want to get to know her.” He walked over to look out the kitchen window. The hard line of his jaw melted, and he swallowed so hard his throat moved up and down. “I was a fool when I let Mike talk me out of being in her life after she was born.”

“What do you mean?”

He glanced at her. “Don’t pretend you don’t know.”

The strings of guitar music provided a soft counterpoint to the hard tension in the kitchen. Emily was outside on the patio playing around with her guitar, waiting for them to finish with the dishes she and Seth had insisted on doing.

“All I want is to have some time with my daughter. That’s all I’m asking for.” When he looked over his shoulder at her, sadness replaced the anger in his eyes. “I’ll keep your little secret. I’ll just be her favorite singer. The family friend who made it big in Nashville. I don’t want to hurt her. As much as it galls the hell out of me, I see what Mike means to her.”

He moved toward her and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Besides, I don’t want to hurt Carolann or Frank any more than you do.” He glanced outside again, his voice husky as he spoke. “But I’ll sue you if I have to.”

A part of her wanted to give in to him, but a larger part wanted to punish him. Let him take her to court; she’d make sure the world knew what kind of jerk Seth Kendall really was.

She gritted her teeth and fisted her hands by her sides. “I’ll let you have tonight, Seth. But don’t ask for more.”

She turned away and strode through the French doors.

~*~*~*~

Excerpt 3 (Beginning of Chapter 1)

Seth Kendall parked his Escalade and stared out at the people who had known him all his life. What the hell was he doing here?

With a sigh, he opened the door, and all eyes turned in his direction as he got out. Why hadn’t he stayed in Nashville as everyone assumed he would? Why did coming back here seem so important now, after being away for fourteen years?

The answers to those questions had plagued him the entire drive to his hometown of McAllister in the Texas Panhandle. The motivation wasn’t his father’s death at all. He’d come home because it was time for him to make things right, even if that meant causing a whole mess of hell to get it done.

He shrugged into his jacket. If it had been made of solid iron, it wouldn’t have felt any heavier. The mid-August day was hot, but the sweat gathering under his Hugo Boss suit didn’t come from the afternoon sun. People watched him all the time. That came with the fame he’d garnered as a country music superstar, but today, he didn’t want to be gawked at. He adjusted the knot of his necktie and closed the door of the SUV.

He tipped his hat and nodded toward his father’s friends and business associates as he headed toward the old church. None of the mourners spoke to him, but he could imagine what they were thinking. Everyone knew he and his father had despised each other.

Decorum required he remove his Ray-Bans and black Stetson as he entered the church, but he forced his expression to remain impassive. He combed his fingers through his hair and looked around. People chose seats, gradually filling the oak pews, and the low murmur of conversation mingled with the bagpipes playing a mournful rendition of his father’s favorite hymn, Amazing Grace. He recognized almost everyone as he made his way to the front.

“Aunt Johanna.” He stopped where his father’s twin sister and the minister were speaking in hushed tones next to the open casket.

Johanna Kendall looked up at him with blue eyes reminding him of his father’s. Dressed in a severe black dress and with her graying red hair pulled into a bun, she stepped forward and wrapped him in a hug. “Seth, I’m glad you finally made it home.”

He held on for a moment before letting go. He’d come home for her. “How are you holding up?”

She shrugged and her eyes filled with misty sadness. “I’ll be okay.” Johanna used a white lace handkerchief to dab at her red-rimmed eyes. “I’ll miss him. I never realized his heart was so bad. He always seemed as strong as a bull.”

“We may not have seen eye to eye, but he was still my father.” Hugging his aunt again, he held her and looked anywhere but at the man lying on the white satin inside the casket. He glanced at the pew behind him. As he sucked in a deep breath, he stepped away from Johanna and dropped his hat onto the seat.

Johanna moved away to speak with Glenda Marshall, the mayor’s wife.

Seth held out his hand to the minister. “Reverend Keller.”

“It’s a shame you were unable to get away from your engagements to come home sooner. How’re you doin’, Seth?”

“I’m as good as can be expected, I guess.” He shook the preacher’s hand, then shoved both of his hands into his pants pockets. “I’m glad he didn’t suffer.” He didn’t know what else to say.

He’d been in the recording studio when Johanna had frantically called him three days ago after she’d found John dead on the floor of his study. Unsure if he’d come home for the funeral or not, he finished the last songs for his next album, set for release in the spring. Now he wished he hadn’t rushed to get the damned record done. At least then, he’d have had an excuse to escape as soon as this day was over.

Which was complete bullshit. He wasn’t leaving here until he settled a score.

A heavy hand touched his shoulder. He turned to look into the rich brown eyes of one of his father’s closest friends, and a man for whom he held a great deal of respect. He stuck out his hand and greeted the older man with a warm smile. “Judge Ritter, it’s great to see you again.”

Retired county judge Franklin Michael Ritter II smiled and shook his hand. He’d always reminded Seth a little of Mark Twain–tall and lanky with white wavy hair and a handlebar mustache. “It’s nice to see you, too. Though, I’d have preferred different circumstances. It’s been a long time, son.”

He didn’t miss the quiet censure in the judge’s tone. Or the way the man seemed to shake all over. His Parkinson’s must have gotten worse.

“Oh, Seth, I’m so glad you made it home,” an extremely petite woman said in a soft Georgia accent, and Seth found himself being hugged tightly around the waist. He returned Carolann Ritter’s embrace, holding on for a moment. In so many ways, she’d replaced the mother he’d lost to a drug overdose. “We sorely did miss you over the years.”

He forced a smile as she stepped away. Guilt needled him when tears shimmered in her brown eyes. Carolann and Frank had never made it a secret they loved him when he was a kid.

Lord knew he never heard those words from his old man.

“Aw, Miz Ritter, I’ve missed y’all, too.”

When a woman slowly moved in next to Carolann and Frank Ritter, his heart constricted. He forced the name through his tightening jaw. “Abigail.”

“Hello, Seth.” Dressed in a simple navy blue dress, Abigail Crawford Ritter stopped before him. She stared up at him with widened almond-shaped eyes the color of brandy. The naturally tan complexion she’d inherited from her Native American mother went pale and taut over her high cheekbones. She fiddled with the purse strap over her shoulder and pulled her long dark brown hair over her other shoulder. “We didn’t think you’d be here.”

He easily discerned the real meaning: We don’t want you here.

The past slammed into him with blazing force, transporting him back to the manmade beach of the McAllister Reservoir. Returning him to the night he and Abby let their attraction turn into uncontrolled lust, and under the stars on a deserted stretch of weedy sand, she’d given him her virginity.

“Uh…I wasn’t sure…I would be,” he stammered and tried to shake off the memory of a passion he hadn’t been able to forget. He forced himself to look beyond her.

“Sorry about your father.” Mike Ritter stepped forward. His brown eyes were as hard as the bricks making up the walls of the church. Not quite reaching six feet, Mike was four inches shorter, and lanky like Frank. Mike was dressed in a suit as expensive as Seth’s, if not more so.

Since when was the county paying its sheriff enough for him to afford an Armani suit and snakeskin boots? Not to mention the Resistol hat in his hand.

Then Seth noticed the obviously pregnant brunette holding Mike’s hand. An heiress to a fortune made from the railroad, oil and banking. “Tammy Jo McAllister?”

She smiled and slipped her arm around Mike’s waist, while she rested her other hand on her baby bump. The gray dress she wore had designer written all over it. She must still have more money than King Midas and spent it like there was no tomorrow. “Hello, Seth. I’m now Tammy Jo Ritter.”

An icy weight settled in his gut as he looked at Abby. She averted her eyes to the floor.

“Mike and I were divorced two years ago.”

The weight grew larger and radiated into his arms and legs. He couldn’t keep coldness from leaking into his words. “Well, isn’t that interesting? How’s Emily?”

Abby’s face lost all color as she looked at Frank and Carolann. Damn, they’d never learned the truth.

Mike’s voice held an unmistakable warning not to push the issue. “Thanks for asking. She’s fine.”

He met Mike’s glare with one of his own.

“I think we should sit down,” she said in shaky voice before he could respond.

He snapped his gaze to Abby. Her eyes blazed with anger. She clenched her hands so tightly her knuckles bleached white against the dark blue of her skirt.

“I didn’t realize you knew our granddaughter,” Frank said without the least bit of curiosity. He obviously didn’t catch any of the byplay.

I should know her. He’d keep up Abby’s charade. For now.

“He met her at a concert in Amarillo.” Mike’s tone left no room for discussion on the blatant lie. “I think we should catch up on old times. After the service.”

Seth glanced away from the cold eyes of the man who’d been his best friend growing up. Abby’s dark eyes held no welcome either, which was a sucker punch in the gut. He wanted to see fire in Abby’s brown eyes, but not from hatred.

“Yeah.” He mentally shook himself. What was he thinking? She’d betrayed him. He looked back at Mike. “I think it’s time to talk about those old times.”

~*~*~*~

Excerpt 4 (HOT)

Abby closed the pearl snaps of his shirt and wobbled through the kitchen. She lifted the collar and breathed in Seth’s scent. She loved the way he smelled and tasted.

The shirt barely covered her, but there was no way she’d walk around the house completely nude. She could only imagine what he’d think of her pudgy belly and full hips if he’d taken the time to actually look at her. She turned on the light over the sink and filled a glass with water.

She swallowed the cold sip and closed her eyes. What had she done?

“Hey, I came back from the bathroom to find you gone.” Seth entered from the hall, running his fingers through his tousled hair, and as nude as the day as he was born. Her gaze traveled over his amazing body, and he watched her as if unable to get enough of her either.

He sauntered toward her and wrapped his arms around her. “Damn. Too bad Urban’s already done that one.”

“What’s that?”

“You look good in my shirt,” he said, referring to a Keith Urban hit song. “But you look even better without it.”

Heat warmed her cheeks, and she leaned up to place a kiss on his lips. “You just plain look good…period.”

He removed the glass from her hand and took a sip before setting it on the counter. When he responded to her, she moaned and lifted her leg, bringing herself intimately against him. How could she be so achy for him so soon?

He raised a brow. “You haven’t been anywhere near loved enough, if you can still look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like you want to eat me right up.”

“Maybe I do.”

“Good. Because I’m feeling a little famished myself.” He lifted her, and she wrapped her legs around his waist. She wiggled against his erection. Chuckling low and sensually in her ear, he carried her back to bed. “Trust me, this will definitely be better than chocolate cake.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

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