First in a new series from the New York Times bestselling author of the hugely popular Sweetheart Sisters novels!
- I’m a triathlete—or rather, I’m becoming one. I competed in my first triathlon earlier this year and am competing in my second this coming weekend. Of the three sports, the run is still my favorite, but I really love open water swimming and am starting to love cycling too.
- I’m picky about my first cup of coffee in the morning. That one has to be just perfect—one Splenda, lots of cream. If that first cup is wrong, it feels like the whole day is off-kilter.
- I once burned my ear pretty badly by stupidly tangling myself in the cord when I used a curling iron for the first time. I panicked and had to yell for my mother to get me to unwind the cord and get out of it.
- Speaking of stupid beauty things, when I was in seventh grade, I decided to trim my own bangs. They came out too short, so I had the bright idea to SHAVE THEM OFF. Yeah. I still wonder what was going through my head that day.
- I competed in one beauty pageant when I was younger (Miss Massachusetts) just to say I did it. It was fun, but not something I wanted to do again. Mostly because I love to eat and hate to diet. Which is why I run, bike and swim. Because…pancakes, ice cream, cookies.
- My favorite author in the world is Dennis Lehane. I have lots of other must-buy authors, but his books are always the first ones I read when they arrive on my doorstep.
- I can’t sing, dance or even clap along to a song. That doesn’t mean I don’t try, much to the embarrassment of my kids 😉
- I’m a list maker. When I don’t keep a list, I forget pretty much everything. The only problem? I usually forget where I put the list 😉
- I collect mother/baby pairs of glass animals. My mom and grandma used to collect glass animals and after my mom died, I started collecting them, too, but only in mother/baby pairs, to kind of honor my mom.
- I don’t have a favorite color per se, though I do love teal and wear it often, and if you put a box of crayons in front of me, I’m going to choose Crayola Red every time.
That was a hard one because I really, really loved writing WHEN SOMEBODY LOVES YOU. It’s definitely my favorite book of mine, until I write another favorite 🙂
But here are a couple excerpts:
He chuckled and shook his head. “You’re like a dog with a bone, you know that?”
She raised her chin, shot him a grin. “I’m from Jersey, Mr. McCoy. No isn’t in my vocabulary.”
He gave her an assessing look, his gaze sweeping over her dress pants, low heels, and a new shirt just like the one from yesterday. “Looks to me like you’re dressed to take me to dinner, not ask me a bunch of questions I don’t want to answer.”
She glanced down at her clothes. “I didn’t realize there was a dress code for an interview.”
“There is if you’re gonna be around horses. And men who work around horses.”
She could see him relenting. It was in the teasing light in his eyes, the way he had yet to leave. “I’m sure I’ll be perfectly fine in this. I wasn’t planning on talking to the horses. Just you. Surely we can sit here and—”
“Darlin’, I don’t sit for anything other than meals, and half the time, I don’t even do that. This is a working ranch, which means if you wanna to talk to me, you gotta trot along behind me all day. And if you want to be more than just a gnat on my ass all day, you’ll lend a helping hand.”
Darlin’. Oh my God. If she’d thought the way he said ma’am was sexy, that was nothing compared to the way darlin’ rolled off his tongue. She had to take in a breath before she could get her brain back into the realm of common sense. Like the part where he said he wanted her to help him, and that he would do the interview. “Wait. Did you just say that you want me to . . . help?”
“Everybody ’round here pulls their own weight. Part of the deal. You get a roof over your head and three squares, and in exchange, you pitch in.”
Pitch in? Surely he didn’t mean she’d do anything with the horses, or the barn. Maybe she could sweep the kitchen or something, uh, not ranch-y. Or domestic-y. Maybe this was a good time to tell him that her best and only homemaking skill was ordering moo shu pork. Martha Stewart would surely be horrified, but Martha Stewart wasn’t standing in Elizabeth’s Anne Klein pumps, trying to land a career-starting interview. She sensed that Hunter was the kind of man who respected hard work, and if she wanted to get him to open up, she was going to have to, as he said, pull her own weight. Or fake it.
“I’d be glad to help,” she said. “Do whatever you need.” Besides, she hadn’t planned on being here for more than a day at most. She could feign skill at whatever task he gave her for twenty-four hours. Couldn’t she?
He smirked. “Whatever I need?”
“Well . . . I mean . . . not whatever, but . . .” Damn. The man kept turning her into a stammering fool. She was a Jersey girl, for God’s sake. She could handle New York City traffic, rowdy construction workers and uppity doormen. She could surely handle one cowboy with a Southern drawl. “I meant work. Nothing untoward, of course.”
“Of course. Nothing untoward.” The smirk lingered on his face. “If you’re going to pitch in, then I suggest you change or those pretty little shoes are gonna be ruined.”
“This . . . this is all I brought. Maybe I could run to the mall or—”
Hunter rolled his eyes. “You told me yourself, you’re a Jersey girl. Surely I’m not supposed to tell you how to dress yourself? Come find me when you have some boots and some common sense.”
# # #
Hunter ducked inside the stable door and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light. The rest of the horses were out in the pasture, mares with their foals, with the yearlings and three-year-olds in a paddock of their own. But at the far end of the stable, he heard a nicker, then Lizzie’s voice.
“I’m sorry about that cell phone ringer before. I just haven’t been around horses much, and I didn’t know it would scare you.” Her tone was almost a sing-song, just a hair above a whisper. “The only horses I’ve seen were ponies at the zoo. And they were pretty grumpy. I was always afraid one would bite me.”
The only horse in the stable right now was Dakota. She’d refused to go out this morning when he’d let the others out, just as she had refused every day since she arrived. He increased his pace and headed down the wooden aisle.
“You’re a pretty horse. Real pretty,” Lizzie said.
It took Hunter a second to realize why he didn’t see anyone standing in the aisle outside Dakota’s stall. Because Lizzie was inside the stall, with Dakota. He bit back the urge to yell at Lizzie—because doing that would only scare the horse more, and end badly, he was sure. Instead, he approached the stall, and leaned over the gate. “I wouldn’t recommend—”
His words cut off when he saw Dakota nuzzling at Lizzie’s hand. Lizzie giggled, then turned to look at Hunter over her shoulder. “She’s eating that apple slice right out of my hand.”
The look on Lizzie’s face was sheer, unadulterated wonder. He knew that feeling, knew how the first time a horse became a friend, it sent a sweet tickle through your gut. If that giant, powerful animal could trust, even love, a human, it made anything seem possible.
And right now, with Dakota chomping on apple slices, as easy as a summer breeze, Hunter was starting to believe anything was possible, too.
Foster dropped down beside Hunter and stared up at his master, as if he was just as surprised as Hunter. “Stay here,” he whispered to the dog, then, very, very slowly, he opened the gate and slipped inside.
Dakota’s ears flickered, but she kept on eating the pieces of apple in Lizzie’s palm. Dakota’s tail swung back and forth in a lazy, content arc. “Well, I’ll be damned,” Hunter said. “She let you get that close?”
“It took some time. I talked to her and talked to her, and kept on handing her apple slices. Every one brought me a little closer.” Lizzie pulled her hand back. “That’s it, Dakota. All gone.”
The horse nudged at Lizzie’s shoulder. Lizzie reached up and ran a hand down Dakota’s muzzle. “Sorry, honey. I’ll bring more later. I promise.”
The horse seemed to lean into the touch, content, secure. Hunter could swear he heard Dakota sigh.
He took another couple steps closer. Dakota tensed, so Hunter stopped moving. When he froze, Dakota went back to nuzzling Lizzie for more attention.
“Well, I’ll be damned. Seems my horse only likes you.”
“Maybe because we’re both girls.” She tossed him a triumphant smile. “Maybe she doesn’t like men.”
“I thought she didn’t like anyone.”
“Well, you thought wrong.” Lizzie gave Dakota one final pat, then turned back to Hunter. The two of them slipped out of the stall, and leaned over the gate, watching Dakota. The horse still hung close to the back of the stall, but she seemed more at ease, less stressed. The scars on her legs had healed, though there was still a big divot on her right foreleg and another on her back that would never go away. “She’s a beautiful horse. What happened to her?”
“She was in an accident a couple years ago. Cut the hell out of her legs and scared her. She’s been skittish and nippy ever since.”
“Not the same accident that killed . . .” Lizzie lowered her gaze. “Sorry. It came up in my research.”
And just like that, the victory with Dakota, the hope he’d felt in his heart, evaporated. He didn’t know why it bothered him that Lizzie knew about Jenna. Maybe it was better that she knew, realized who she was dealing with here. Not some superstar rancher, but a man who made mistakes. “No, not the same accident. That horse died. And so did Jenna.”
Saying it didn’t make it hurt less. Saying it didn’t ease his guilt. Saying it didn’t undo the mistakes of that night.
“I’m sorry,” Lizzie said softly.
“Yeah. Me, too.” He turned away, busying himself with straightening tackle that didn’t need straightening. Avoiding. Seemed that was his specialty. Foster laid on the floor, put his head on his paws and let out a doggie sigh.
Outside, a tractor chugged, and the horses whinnied. The breeze carried the scents of fall, crisp leaves and cut hay. Like a utopia that lay just out of Hunter’s reach. Time passed, while dust motes floated in the sunny rays peeking through the slats of the stable walls.
# # #
He reached into the fridge, pulled out a beer, and flicked the top toward the trash. It bounced off the rim and landed on the kitchen floor with a soft ping. Hunter bent down to retrieve the runaway cap when his gaze lit on some very familiar red toenails and a pair of long, creamy of legs. “Lizzie.”
“Sorry. I couldn’t sleep.” She pushed her hair out of her eyes, which only made the tumble of curls resettle around her shoulders in one of those sexy Brigitte Bardot–poster kind of ways.
She had on a short white robe, knotted loosely at the waist. It peeked open at the top, revealing the pink satin scalloped edge of a short, silky nightgown. Way better than a concert T-shirt. His pulse quickened and he took a long pull of the beer, before the rest of his body reacted to that too-brief glimpse of satin. “Uh, want a beer?”
She smiled. “I’d love one.”
He grabbed a second beer, flipped off the cap and dropped it in the trash. He handed the bottle to Lizzie, then tapped their bottles together. “Cheers.”
“Cheers.” She leaned against the counter, then took a long sip.
The moonlight streamed through the kitchen window, glinting off her hair, her skin, giving her an almost ethereal quality. Last night, she’d been soaking wet and yelling at him, and he’d found her just as sexy as he did right now, a little sleepy and at total ease in the kitchen.
He leaned against the island across from her, his bare feet pairing alongside hers. It was such an easy, intimate moment. Lizzie’s face bare of makeup, her hair a riot of waves, the two of them doing nothing more involved than sipping some beers. He liked this, more than he wanted to admit. A part of him almost felt guilty, as if he was dishonoring Jenna’s memory by enjoying the time with another woman in the house where Jenna once lived.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “I’ll be all yours.”
She arched a brow. “All mine? In some kind of sacrificial rite or something?”
He laughed. “No, no. I’ll be all yours, if you need me to finish this interview so you can write your story.”
Relief flooded her features. “Oh, thank you, but I already wrote the article this afternoon. I got pretty much everything I needed.”
She was done? That meant she’d definitely be moving on. Leaving. It was what he wanted, but still the thought left him with a stone in his gut. “Are you sure? I mean, I know I delayed a lot of this whole process and I’m sorry for that. I just . . .”
“Didn’t trust me.” She shrugged, like the sentence didn’t hurt. “I get it. I’m new and—”
“I didn’t want you to leave.” Well, that just kind of blurted out. And once he said the words, he realized they were true. For all his arguments against Lizzie staying, he truly didn’t want her to leave.
She scoffed. “All you have done since I got here is try to get me to leave.”
“Okay, so maybe I didn’t go about this the best possible way. Putting off the interview, making your life miserable.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say you made it miserable. . . .” Another of those amazing smiles filled her face, and brightened the dim space. How could one woman do that so easily with something as simple as a smile?
Hunter put the beer on the counter beside him and closed the distance between them. He looked into her eyes, into those deep green forests, that seemed so much deeper and more mysterious in the dark. A man could get lost in those eyes. “Good. Because I don’t want to make you miserable.”
“You don’t, Hunter. You make me feel”—she let out a breath—“reckless. And that scares me and excites me all at the same time.”
“I know all about being scared and excited at the same time.” He let out a long breath, and thought it was about damned time he moved forward, and got honest with himself, with someone else. “Jenna died two years ago, and I have spent two years in a hell of my own making. I never thought I’d care about someone else as much as I did her. Or that I’d ever want someone else like that. I kept thinking if I worked hard enough and long enough, that it would fill those holes in my life. And then you showed up on my doorstep, soaking wet and dressed like a lawyer, and I wanted you gone.”
“I sensed that when the Welcome Wagon didn’t show up.”
He laughed. “Like that—you make me laugh, Lizzie, and I didn’t think I could do that again. I’ve been an ass, and I’m sorry.”
“Apology accepted.” She tipped her beer in his direction. “Should we start over again?”
“I can think of a better way to start over than by toasting.” He planted his hands on either side of her hips, watching her breath quicken, her eyes light with anticipation. Her lips parted, still curved in a half smile, and his heart skipped a beat. “I want to kiss you. But I don’t want it to influence your story.”
“Well, I was seriously considered going with the Hunter-McCoy-is-a-hottie angle, but figured my editor might not like that.” She grinned. “And since I already wrote the story, as long as I don’t add an addendum saying Hunter McCoy is the most amazing kisser in Chatham Ridge, I think we’re good.”
“You think I’m an amazing kisser?” He leaned in, pressed a light kiss to the corner of her mouth, a flutter of a touch, nothing more. And still fire erupted in his veins.
She closed her eyes, as if savoring that small morsel, then opened them again. “You know you are an amazing kisser.”
“Hmm . . . I don’t know. Maybe I need” —he kissed the other corner, to be fair— “more practice.”
“And maybe I . . .,” she murmured against his lips, the words becoming mingled between their mouths, their breaths,” . . . need more kisses to make an accurate determination.”
“How many kisses would you need for that?” Being this close, this intimate, was the sexiest damned thing he’d done in a long time. And he hadn’t done anything more than kiss the edges of her mouth.
“Hmmm . . . I don’t know.” A tease lit her face. “The bigger the sample pool, the more accurate the results.”
“True. Very true. Let’s see if I can help you with that . . . research.” Hunter trailed light kisses down her jaw, into the valley of her neck. Another kiss, then a third, meandering into the tempting hollow of her throat, inches above that slip of pink satin. Already every one of his senses was in overdrive. And this was just kissing. “If you publish these research results it, uh, might, uh, sell more issues.”
“That’s . . . um . . . true.” She gasped when he pushed the shoulder of her robe to the side and kissed the cool skin there. One cotton sleeve slid down to her elbow, and he followed the path with his mouth, the back of his fingers. “But I would much . . . much . . . much rather keep that information to myself.”
“I think that’s a . . .” He slipped a finger under the spaghetti strap of the satin nightgown and drew it down the side of her arm. The swell of her breast peeked above the scalloped edge, drawing his mouth down another lazy, tantalizing road that began at her shoulder and ended above that sweet curve. “A very good idea.”
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At heart, Elizabeth Palmer is a practical Jersey girl. And her life reflects that—until everything suddenly falls apart. In a bid to change her luck, the intrepid reporter accepts a job to write a story on a reclusive quarter horse breeder in Chatham Ridge, Georgia. To her surprise, she finds herself settling into the warm, inviting town—even joining the Southern Belle Book Club—and craving the company of the rancher she’s there to interview….
Hunter McCoy has good reason to keep his distance from the determined reporter. Tragedy has taught him to stick to things that don’t require his heart. But he can’t seem to resist the vulnerability he detects beneath Elizabeth’s tough demeanor.
But when Hunter is faced with the possibility of a terrible loss and shuts Elizabeth out, she will have to prove to Hunter that having somebody love you can heal all wounds…
Meet the Author:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump spends her days writing romance and women’s fiction to feed her shoe addiction and avoid cleaning the toilets. She cleverly finds writing time by feeding her kids junk food, allowing them to dress in the clothes they find on the floor and encouraging the dogs to double as vacuum cleaners.
Look for her Sweet and Savory Romance series, including the USA Today bestselling book, THE BRIDE WORE CHOCOLATE, on Amazon and Nook, and the debut of her Sweetheart Club series for Berkley, starting with THE SWEETHEART BARGAIN in September 2013.
Visit her website at www.shirleyjump.com or read recipes and life adventures at www.eating-my-words.com.