©2013 Sara F. (Walter) Ellwood, all rights reserved
Excerpt 1 (Highlight)
He didn’t look happy about their turn on the makeshift dance floor.
Tracy swallowed and waited for him to walk toward her. Zack’s younger brother announced the next dance, and Zack stepped before her. When she placed her hand in his, heat tingled up her arm. She looked at his face, but if he felt anything, he didn’t feel the same thing she did.
His eyes narrowed into slits. “Let’s get this over with.”
She swallowed hard and nodded.
All eyes were on them. In a community as close-knit as Forest County, Texas—where everyone seemed related in some convoluted way–not many people didn’t know Tracy and Zack’s sordid past. A past she had never lived down.
He didn’t smile. His expression didn’t change from the angry contemplation she’d seen more than once on his face.
At the middle of the dance floor, he dropped her hand and reached for her waist. Heat from his light grasp immediately flowed through her, and she sucked in a breath. She had to get a grip. He was making it clear he wanted nothing to do with her. Didn’t she want as far away from him as she could get, too?
Excerpt 2 (Official)
“I was hoping you could keep me company this afternoon.” He skimmed his fingers over her cheek.
Her insides, heating up like lava under the surface of the earth, pooled in her low belly. Her lips parted.
Against her lips, he whispered, “Tracy, I want you.”
She had thought of little else since he’d left her standing on her porch Friday night. He was asking her to enter into a sexual relationship without any hope of a future–without love.
But she was already in love with Zack.
Both of their kids would benefit from them being together. Hadn’t that been what she’d decided while she tossed and turned in her big, empty bed?
With her gaze locked on his, she murmured, “I want you, too, but I have a stipulation.”
He leaned back. “What is it?”
“I’m no one’s bed-buddy, Zack. I know what my reputation is in this town, but it’s all wrong.” She swallowed her rapidly thumping heart back into place. “I’ll only go through with this, if you promise to treat me as a serious girlfriend. That means we date, we visit with our families and we share our kids.” When his expression hardened, she quickly added, “Mandy likes me. And I adore her. I’d like to bring her here, to the shop, for a few hours and play. And take her shopping. I know your mom tries, but she’s busy with her foundations and charities she does for the Junior League.”
The breath she sucked in was full of Zack’s scent of sage and leather. “Meanwhile, you can teach Bobby how to ride and maybe take him to the sheriff’s department and show him around. Jake won’t like it, but I’ll deal with him.” Having laid her demands out on the proverbial table, she held her breath, waiting for him to tell her what she could do with herself. After all, a man of Zack’s caliber could have any damned woman he wanted. Tracy was just handy, and according to the gossip of her ex-husband and mother-in-law, she was easy.
He studied her for a few moments. “That’s more than one stipulation.”
“Take it or leave it.”
“Tracy, it won’t change what I told you Friday night. I’m never getting married again.”
His words stung as much now as they had the other night, but she didn’t show him how much. She kept her face determined, as if she were haggling over one of his horses, rather than her body and soul.
“Fine. But I’m not a floozy. Yes, I’ve made mistakes. But I have my son to consider. And I’d hope you’d feel the same about Mandy. They’re bound to see us together. What do you plan on telling your six-year-old daughter when she asks about me? That I’m your friend with benefits? I know that isn’t what I want to be teaching my son.” Moreover, she didn’t want to give credence to Jake’s claim that she had no sexual morals.
“Okay,” he said at last. “We’ll play the game your way.” He pressed her against him. “Luck would have it I’m off this afternoon, too. I’ve already put in sixteen hours.”
When his lips captured hers, she knew she’d made a pact with the devil, but she couldn’t stop the elation surging through her. There was something he wanted from her. Sex was a big portion of it, but something else kept Zack from walking away and hooking up with any one of the many available women in town.
Excerpt 3 (From Chapter 1–may contain spoilers for Book 1)
“Daddy?” Amanda tugged on his sleeve. “Daddy?”
Zack squeezed his eyes closed and sucked in a breath through burning sinuses. He shoved the memory of the woman he’d once loved into the cobwebs of his brain where it belonged.
When he looked at his daughter, he realized despite the pain Tracy had caused him, he hadn’t been ready for marriage then. Hell, he hadn’t been ready when he’d asked Lisa Foster to marry him four years later.
Forcing a smile at the concerned pucker of Amanda’s brow, he laid a reassuring arm across her small shoulders. “What is it, Mandy?”
“Why aren’t you eating? Don’t you like the food?”
He patted her shoulder, then picked up his fork with his left hand. “I was just thinking.”
“Oh.” Mandy picked at her potato salad and looked at him again. “What about?”
He glanced at Tracy. She met his gaze over the plates of the obliviously happy groom and bride. How many times had he lain awake under his Humvee in Afghanistan or Iraq and wished things had been different with Tracy?
As he met Mandy’s big blue eyes, he sighed. If he had the power to change the past, it would be Lisa’s fate he’d want to change. “I was thinking about your momma.”
Mandy tilted her head to the side. “Was your wedding like this one?”
“No, not exactly. Your momma and I got married by the minister of your grandma’s church in the living room of her house. The only guests were close family.”
“Then you went to the war as a Marine?”
He forked up a bite of barbecued beef. “Yep.”
Two days after marrying Lisa on her parents’ Wyoming ranch, he’d shipped off for boot camp in San Diego. He’d joined the Marines after Nine-Eleven, giving up the rodeo forever.
“Do you still miss Momma?”
He looked into his daughter’s face and his gut twisted. “Yes.”
“Is that why you don’t have a girlfriend?”
Mandy was too young to come up with that on her own. “Who says I need a girlfriend?”
She turned back to her meal and shrugged. “I heard Grandma and Aunt Winnie talking. They said you should get a girlfriend.”
Locating his parents, uncle and aunt among the guest tables, he narrowed his eyes. “Well, maybe I don’t think I need a girlfriend.”
Mandy grew quiet, and he thought the topic had run its course. Despite the solid rock of pain and guilt filling his stomach, he finished his food and sipped his lemonade. There were champagne and beer for those who wanted it. Zack didn’t drink much alcohol these days, and he never drank it when he had to drive. Besides being the county sheriff, he knew firsthand how driving drunk affected a family–even a shattered one.
He set his glass down and turned to Mandy. “Yeah, baby girl?”
Her violet eyes met his with guileless innocence. “Momma isn’t ever comin’ home, is she?”
He looked away and swallowed. For the past two years, Mandy had believed her mother would come home from heaven when she missed them enough. He’d sit by every night while Mandy said her prayers and asked God to send her momma home. After all, He didn’t need any more angels. He already had lots. And every evening Zack would go to his room with his heart shredded all over again.
“No, baby girl, she isn’t,” he said gently and wrapped his arm around her shoulders again.
“Heaven isn’t a place you can leave once you go there. But your momma is always watching out for you, don’t you ever believe she isn’t.”
She nodded and sniffed. “Would she mind if we got another momma? You know, someone who could be here for us since she can’t?” Mandy must have seen the surprise register on his face. “Like my friend Kayla’s grandma found her a new grandpa when her real grandpa died. A new momma could fix my hair for school and teach me girl stuff. She could play dolls with me.” She looked down at the roll she was picking apart. “I know you hate it when I ask you to play with me and my Barbies.” She glanced across her shoulder at him. “And a new momma could keep you company, too. Maybe she could give me a baby sister.”
God, he hadn’t known she was that lonely, but he couldn’t give her what she wanted.
She reached for her lemonade with both hands. “Things like that. Kinda like a substitute teacher.”
To her, it was probably that easy. Mandy didn’t understand the complications and disastrous outcomes of adult love, but his heart swelled with love and pride for his little girl. She was making a step in the right direction of accepting her mother was gone. But he wasn’t ready to find a substitute wife.
He swallowed the lump sticking in his throat. “Who says I don’t like playing with you and your dolls?” She gave him a yeah-right-dad look, and he squeezed her shoulders. “Okay, I’ll admit playing with your Barbie dolls isn’t my favorite thing, but we’re doing okay, aren’t we? Just you and me.”
She didn’t look convinced. Before she could spew out the words reflecting what he saw through her eyes, he said, “I think we should get ready for wedding cake, don’t you?”
When he looked up, Tracy watched him, and not for the first time, his body reminded him how the tall, slender brunette had always affected him. She was downright sexy in the short cornflower blue dress that made her gray eyes take on the hue of a bright summer sky. Her long, brown hair curled softly and fell around her bare shoulders.
He may not be ready for a substitute momma for his baby, or the complications of falling in love again, but he’d really like to find a woman who could keep him company. He already knew who he’d like that woman to be. She was the last person on Earth he should want. And the last woman on Earth he could have.
Excerpt 4 (HOT)
“Sorry about the mess.” He reached for the buckle of his service belt. “I never entertain company in here.”
She bit her lip as he removed the belt holding various gear, including a holstered Glock, and gently laid it on the couch in front of a red brick fireplace. He didn’t date and probably hadn’t had sex since his wife’s death. The prospect of being the first since Lisa both thrilled and scared her to her core.
When he stood before her again, she met his gaze. “Shouldn’t you lock that up? Because of the gun?”
The grin tugging on his lips had invisible tentacles attached to the pit in her lower belly where she felt its pull. With his hands on the buttons of his shirt, he said, “Are you afraid of my gun?” He opened more buttons, revealing his chest was bare underneath.
As with the night they’d played in the pool, she found it hard not to stare at the muscles moving under the tanned skin and the scar marking the wound that had nearly killed him.
He shrugged out of the shirt. “I wasn’t planning on shooting off that particular gun.”
He sat down on the edge of the bed and unlaced his boots, pulled them off, then his socks. Such a simple act, but the exhaled breath caught behind her heart somewhere in her throat.
He stood, held out his hand to her. “Come here.”
And despite every warning bell in her going off, she took his hand and let him pull her to him. He wrapped her up in his arms.
“This is crazy. It’s the middle of the afternoon. You should be at work trying to figure out who stole your horses. Or sleeping. You said you worked all night.”
A grin lifted the corner of his lips. He hadn’t shaved, and the day’s growth of beard darkened the angle of his jaw and planes of his cheeks. A troublesome lock of hair fell over his forehead. He looked just like the picture of the bad-assed rodeo cowboy she’d ripped from a friend’s calendar and kept folded up in her underwear drawer.
“Yeah, we probably are crazy, but I don’t care.” A hairsbreadth above her lips, he murmured, “Tell me now if you don’t want to do this, Tracy.”
He gave her an out. She should walk away now, before she completely lost her heart, but her body had other ideas. She pressed her lips to his and licked the full upper lip. When he pressed her pelvis into his, she felt the hard, long steel of his erection. Parting his lips, he let her tentatively explore his hot mouth. He tasted so good, sweet and spicy. His tongue stroked against hers, and her hands, caught between their bodies, splayed over his hard six-pack and inched their way upward. Only a sparse dusting of hair tickled her fingers in their blind exploration. As she stroked over the points of his masculine nipples, he sucked in a heavy breath and caressed his tongue against hers and turned up the passion of the kiss to toe-curling.
He slipped his hands under her top, and she shuddered as he caressed up her spine, pushing the thin material up, breaking the kiss to remove her t-shirt. After tossing it on top of his uniform shirt, he reached for the belt of her pants. Before any semblance of sanity returned, she was stepping out of her sandals and kicking off the slacks pooled around her ankles.
She couldn’t meet his gaze. Tracy knew he was peering at her, dressed in her plain white bra and panties. She didn’t want to see what she’d find in his eyes.
“Tracy.” His voice was low and gentle. Using his finger and thumb, he lifted her chin to bring her eyes to his. He smiled and ran the backs of his fingers over her cheek, down her neck to the small rise above her padded push-up bra.
She wasn’t sure what she’d expected to see in the midnight pools, but an inferno wasn’t it. He curled his other hand around her hipbone, and he turned her to lay her on the bed. He stretched out beside her, and his lips followed the blazing trail his fingers had made only moments before.
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