IN HER SIGHTS & giftpack giveaway with Katie Ruggle

Five bounty-hunting sisters 

Deep in the heart of the Rockies 
Fighting to save each other 
…and the men who steal their hearts 
Bounty hunter Molly Pax fought hard for everything she has, turning the bail recovery business she shares with her sisters into an unqualified success. So when their sticky-fingered mother jumps bail and puts the childhood home up as collateral, Molly’s horrified. To make matters worse, every two-bit criminal in the Rockies now sees her family’s misfortune as their next big break. 
She needs help, stat. 
Enter rival bounty hunter John Carmondy: six feet of pure trouble, with a cocky grin to match. John’s the most cheerfully, annoyingly gorgeous frenemy Molly’s ever had the pleasure of defeating…and he may be her only hope of making it out of this mess alive. 
What People Are Saying: 
“I love Ruggle’s characters. They’re sharply drawn, and vividly alive. I’m happy when they find each other. These are wonderful escapist books.”—CHARLAINE HARRIS, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series 
“Sexy and suspenseful, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.”—JULIE ANN WALKER, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author for Hold Your Breath 
“Chills and thrills and a sexy slow-burning romance from a terrific new voice.”—D.D. AYRES, author of the K-9 Rescue Series for Hold Your Breath 
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“Where’s the bathroom?”
“All the way down the hall,” she answered automatically, her brain caught up in the overwhelming proximity of him. “Last door on the left. Why do you smell like bubble gum?”
He blinked. “I do not.”
“You do.”
“I do not smell like bubble gum. I’m not a sticky six-year-old.”
Suddenly realizing the ridiculousness of their argument, she shifted back and mentally changed gears. “Fine. You don’t smell like bubble gum, even though you really do. Hurry up in the bathroom. As soon as you’re done, I want to take a shower. Dutch’s and that empty warehouse left a film of grossness on me.”
He scowled at her, looking like he was dying to continue their discussion, but he clamped his mouth closed with a tight nod and moved to the door instead. At the last second before he disappeared down the hall, he turned back toward her. “Leave those sheets on,” he said, a trace of his usual smirk back in place.
He waited, so she held her hands up in the universal I won’t do anything gesture. “Fine. If you want to sleep in my stink, I’m not going to stop you.”
“I do.” He gave her a wink—which should’ve looked stupid, but because it was John, turned out stupid hot instead—and headed to the bathroom.
As soon as he was out of sight, Molly let out a deep breath and started to sink down onto Felicity’s bed. The squishy mattress called to her, tempting her to lie down and close her eyes, just for a moment. With a groan, she forced herself to stand again. Once she was down, she’d be out like a light, and she’d been telling the truth about needing to wash off this terrible night.
She headed out into the hall, figuring that she might as well check on Norah while she was attempting to stay awake. Cracking her sister’s door, she saw that her room was lit by dim blue light from her sister’s computer screen. Molly knocked softly, pushing open the door the rest of the way when Norah made a quiet sound that she took as an invitation to enter. Norah was sitting on her narrow bed, her legs curled underneath her and her laptop open. The rest of her bed was taken up by a snoring Warrant. Norah’s face was bathed in the bluish light from the screen, making her look even paler than usual. Even though Molly knew it was just an illusion, she still couldn’t stand to see her sister look so sickly. It reminded her too vividly of the many emergency-room visits when they were younger and Norah’s asthma wasn’t controlled. Molly flicked on the floor lamp to its lowest setting, bathing the tiny room with warm yellow light, and Norah instantly looked healthier.
“I know we need to find Mom as soon as possible,” Molly said, leaning on the dresser. She was tempted to plop down on the bed next to her sister, but she knew it’d be just as easy to fall asleep here as it would be in Felicity’s bed. Besides, the thought of waking Warrant and getting him to move was too much effort at the moment. “That doesn’t mean you can’t take a few hours off to sleep.”
Norah finally glanced up to meet Molly’s gaze. “I know. I just keep falling down research rabbit holes.”
“I get it. Find out anything interesting?”
“Maybe.” Norah’s voice was hesitant, cautious as always, and Molly knew not to push. Her sister never liked to share information until after she’d confirmed and reconfirmed her facts.
“John’s staying over tonight.”
That caught Norah’s attention. “He is? With you?”
“Uh…no.” She hated that she’d hesitated on her answer, but the mental image that had sprung up in her head had been very distracting—and, despite knowing it was a bad idea, very tempting. “We had to slip away after Dutch’s exploded.”
Exploded?” Norah stared at her, eyes wide, her ignored laptop tilting to the side.
“No one was hurt.” After pausing, Molly corrected herself. “I’m pretty sure no one was hurt. We were out of the building at that point. You might want to add getting the police and fire department reports to your to-do list, though.”
“Okay. You’re not hurt? What about John?”
“I’m fine. John’s a little banged up, but I did a beautifully executed dive roll. You should’ve seen it.” Now that the sense of urgency and danger had faded, she wished that move had been recorded.
Norah’s small smile disappeared a moment after it touched her lips. “You need to be careful, especially when you’re dealing with Sonny Zarver.”
“I know, and I will.” Molly made the words a solemn promise.
From Norah’s nod, she understood and accepted it as such.
“Don’t forget to sleep.” Straightening from her leaning position, Molly turned off the light and slipped into the hall before sticking her head back in. “All the rabbit holes will still be there tomorrow, and everything will probably make more sense.”
Although Norah made a sound of agreement, it was absentminded, and her attention was completely focused on her screen again.
“Good night.” Molly pulled her sister’s door closed as she withdrew, knowing that all the well-intentioned nagging in the world wouldn’t get Norah in bed any sooner. She’d finish when she was done researching, and then she’d sleep until noon.
Turning away from Norah’s bedroom door, Molly found herself face to bare chest with John. She couldn’t stop herself from taking in the broad, muscular expanse before resolutely tipping her head back to meet his gaze. She wasn’t sure why she’d thought that looking up would be any less distracting. His beautiful face—with his mile-long dark lashes and full mouth and those tempting dimples—was just as drool-worthy as the hard planes of his chest. He, of course, noticed her looking, and his teasing grin was fully in place.
“See something you like?” he asked, flexing

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Jane Ashford’s A LORD APART & nerd worthy giveaway

Family secrets, an unlikely alliance—and a love neither expected… 
After his parents’ sudden death, Daniel Frith, Viscount Whitfield, is struggling to unravel a web of chaotic family records. He is astonished to learn his father’s will contains a mysterious legacy: a house left to a complete stranger. He knows nothing about the beautiful Penelope Pendleton and he’s not sure he wants to…until she turns out to be a whiz at all those nasty tasks involved in estate administration… 
Penelope has no idea why Rose Cottage was left to her. But it’s a godsend after her brother’s reckless actions disgraced her family. She had planned to stay out of Viscount Whitfield’s way, not grow ever closer to him. But when they discover how entwined their families really are, Daniel and Penelope must collaborate to avoid a scandal that reaches much higher than they could have guessed… 
The Way to a Lord’s Heart: 
Brave New Earl (Book 1) 
A Lord Apart (Book 2) 
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This super cute gift set includes a pack of Bloom floral file folders, three pretty gold pens, a Lemome Original notebook (it has pockets!), and two lovely floral teacups. What better prize to honor the two loveable nerds in this Regency Romance?! 


Praise for Jane Ashford: 
“An endearing, optimistic story of second chances.”—Publishers Weekly for Brave New Earl 
“A refreshingly different, sweetly romantic love story [readers] will long remember.”—Booklist for Brave New Earl 
“[P]lenty of wit, matchmaking, sweetness and sensuality to keep readers highly entertained.”—RT Book Reviews for The Duke Knows Best 
“Expertly crafted…another triumph of nuanced characterization and sparkling wit.”—Booklist for Nothing Like a Duke 

Rachel VanDyken ~ Why sports heroes make the best book boyfriends! RISKY PLAY & giveaway

Hey everyone! I’m Rachel Van Dyken, author of over eighty (holy crap) books in multiple genres, one of my favorites being, sports romance! My latest book, Risky Play, is about two broken main characters who find themselves on a last minute holiday to Puerto Vallarta.

Pro Soccer player Slade Rodriguez is trying to lay low after finding out his girlfriend and his ex teammate hooked up behind his back, for over a year. Licking his wounds he changes teams and moves to Seattle, but isn’t ready to settle down yet. Needing time to himself, he gets on the first jet out. He sits next to Mackenzie Dupont on a plane and is immediately intrigued, especially since a few hours into the plane ride, they have single engine failure. She asks him what one thing he would do different. And they kiss. Once the plane safely lands, to protect his own identity, he gives her a fake name, Hugo. What he doesn’t realize is she’s famous in her own right, so she does the same thing. After all, she’s running away from a broken engagement. What follows is a whole lot of steaminess and taking chances with a complete stranger assuming that it’s just that, a one night stand, a two night stand. Whatever it is, Mackenzie’s obsessed with “Hugo’s” intense golden gaze, the eight pack helps, and the fact that he seems genuinely interested in everything she says. He promises the universe he’s going to keep her, but sometimes the universe is against us. Tragedy strikes and they go their separate ways only to meet again in Seattle, this time, sparks fly and not the good kind The “I want to kiss you, then strangle you, then kiss you again” kind.

I love writing sports romances because I think it adds this extra layer of pressure from the press to act a certain way. Not only does Slade have to deal with paparazzi but he has pressure to perform, to lead his team to the championships after training with another team. I think it brings in so many details from behind the scenes that we never think about when watching sports on TV. I’m fully dedicated to interviewing real athletes (and my last sports romance I interviewed NFL players). This time I wanted to focus on a sport that isn’t as huge here as it is internationally and really do it justice. These athletes eat, sleep, and breathe their sport, there isn’t a lot of time for a personal life and if you do have one, the balance is always going to be a struggle (not to mention the fact that Slade is still mourning). In this book, I wanted to introduce a really strong female character that wouldn’t let Slade project all those feelings and basically Mackenzie is the type of girl that doesn’t put up with his crap. I think it’s important to have strong female characters that women can look up to. I love that during the entire journey my heroine doesn’t give up. She knows her worth and demands that Slade recognize it too.

All in all it was such a fun book to write, I can’t wait for everyone to read it!

***

 

I was kissing her again.

Maybe it was because it had been months since I’d had a decent kiss, since I’d jumped into the arms of anyone who didn’t know me by name.

I could be Hugo for a few days.

Hugo seemed spontaneous.

Hugo seemed relaxed.

Hugo seemed fun.

I sure as hell needed some fun.

I broke away from her kiss and trailed my fingertips down her chin. “So, now that we’ve established the plane didn’t crash and we’re here side by side, what did you have in mind?”

Ashley grinned up at me, her eyes a bit hesitant as she looked from me to the ocean. “Well, I’ve never gone cliff diving, I heard there’s a great place close by.”

My eyebrows shot up. “No offense, but you don’t seem like a thrill seeker.”

She laughed. I decided I liked the way her laugh relaxed me, made me respond with a smile and a need to kiss her again. “I’m not, trust me.” She sobered a bit. Her lips turned down.

I wanted nothing more than to press a soft kiss to the corner of her mouth just to see if it would it make it decide to smile in my direction again.

“But it would be fun, I need fun.”

I sighed heavily and looked at my feet. When the hell had I ever looked away like that? “That makes both of us.”

“Great!” She walked ahead of me into her penthouse suite, which matched mine even in color. I suddenly wondered what she did for a living. I mean I could afford it because I had been the highest paid soccer star in Europe for the last ten years.

The place was around three grand a day.

I eyed the large master suite as she ran around and then held up her hand. “One sec, I’m going to change into a suit, alright?”

“Great.” I smiled reassuringly. It would give me time to look around, not that I was stalking her, but I could never be too careful. I was still surprised she didn’t recognize me. And I knew when she did, this little facade, this freedom I felt in my chest, the easy way she let me breathe around her? It would go to hell, and I’d need another escape.

I thumbed through a few of the magazines on the table, and dropped the last one down just in time to hear the sliding bathroom door open and see a goddess emerge.

A one-piece swimsuit covered her body. It had a plunging neckline that showed off two generously sized breasts, and I immediately regretted not telling her who I was.

Because clothing tended to get pulled off, not put on, when I was in the room.

I eyed the scrap of material she called a swimsuit, my eyes raking over her muscular legs, her curvy body.

“Unless you’re jumping naked, you should change too,” she pointed out, then cleared her throat and looked away like she was insecure. Damn, the woman could make a man cut his own heart out for a taste of her special brand of sin.

I peeled my shirt off over my body and shrugged. “Ready.”

Her eyes went so wide I had to fight not to laugh.

I knew what she saw.

I had Instagram pages dedicated to my eyes alone, don’t even get me started on my abs.

Eight.

Tight, packed abs, all tanned and golden like I was the sun god himself.

“Uh, right.” Her cheeks brightened as she clasped her hands together. “Let’s go!”

I checked her out the entire time she walked ahead of me, and when she caught me staring I just shrugged and said, “Next time wear more clothes if you don’t want me to look.”

“You should talk,” she fired back.

“Misunderstanding.” I grinned. “I wanted you to look.”

She slapped a hand against my bare chest.

I laughed, and then grabbed her hand and kissed her fingertips. “You ready to jump off a cliff with a stranger you’ve kissed twice?”

“Once,” she corrected with a whisper. “I kissed you, you kissed me, we’re even.”

The doors to the elevator opened as I whispered under my breath. “Not for long.”

***

What else can a virgin do when she’s ditched at the altar? Seattle heiress Mackenzie Dupont is treating herself to a single-girl honeymoon in Mexico and a desire to relinquish her innocence to a gorgeous one-night stand. Fake names. True pleasure. But when she wakes up alone, Mackenzie realizes just how much anger is left in her broken heart.

Suffering a tragic personal loss, pro soccer player Slade Rodriguez has his reasons for vanishing without a goodbye. Right or wrong, he’s blaming the beautiful and infuriating stranger he never wants to see again. They’re both in for a shock when Mackenzie shows up as his new personal assistant. And they both have a lot to learn about each other. Because they share more than they could possibly know, including a common enemy who’s playing his own games. And he’s not afraid to get dirty.

Now there’s only one way Mackenzie and Slade can win: to trust in each other and to stop hiding from the lies they’ve told, the secrets they’ve kept, the mistakes they’ve made, and the attraction that still burns between them.

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Rachel Van Dyken is a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and #1 New York Times bestselling author known for regency romances, contemporary romances, and her love of coffee and Swedish fish. Rachel’s also recently inked a deal for her Wingmen Inc. series—The Matchmaker’s Playbook and The Matchmaker’s Replacement—to be made into movies.

A fan of The Bachelor and the Seattle Seahawks (not necessarily in that order), Rachel lives in Idaho with her husband, a super cute toddler son who keeps her on her toes, and two boxers. Make sure you check out her site, www.RachelVanDykenauthor.com, and follow her on Twitter (@RachVD).

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RachelVanDyken

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RachVD

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4882127.Rachel_Van_Dyken

YOU HAD ME AT JAGUAR excerpt & giveaway with Terry Spear

 

 

Drinking a beer at the San Antonio Clawed and Dangerous Kitty Cat Club, Howard Armstrong looked more relaxed than Val had ever seen him. Although she’d only seen him working vigorously in training exercises. Why was he here? She should have known she’d run into him again—they were working for the same jaguar police force, after all. He made her think of long, hot nights and impossibly sexy dreams.

She had been astonished to learn he had left the Enforcer branch to work with the JAG’s new United Shifter Force unit. And a little disappointed. She’d thought she might see him again during training. She had wondered if he’d gotten as much ribbing about her taking him down as she had.

He let you so he could get close and personal.” A couple of the women she worked with had made that comment or something similar. “Good move to take him down as if we were in the field and not in training,” one of the guys had told her, impressed with her wiliness. “He must be getting soft,” another male Enforcer had joked.

Howard was all hard muscle, nothing soft about him.

The Enforcer branch was a specialized jaguar policing force that eliminated jaguar shifters who were guilty of committing violent, deadly crimes against humans and shifters alike. The agents of the USF worked as a combined force of wolves and jaguars. Howard had made a great Enforcer because he did things on his own, a loner. Many of the Enforcers were like that, which was why Val couldn’t understand why he changed jobs to be a team player with a mix of shifter types.

Howard still worked out of the Houston office, as far as she knew. She’d wondered if he was working on a case in San Antonio. When she’d spied his vehicle here for days with no sign of him, she’d asked her boss—and Howard’s—if he was on a mission. They’d both denied it. She didn’t think the USF agents went solo on missions. Was he really just on vacation?

Sipping a margarita at a table across the club from him, Val watched Howard snack on chips. Then he was joined by a brunette—pretty, petite, and wearing a short red dress and low red heels. Was the woman a jaguar or a wolf? Maybe a date?

When Val had seen Howard’s black pickup truck with the distinct jaguar in a jungle painted on both sides and smelled his scent around the vehicle, she’d figured he still owned it. Even so, she had run his license plate to make sure someone else hadn’t bought it. She had learned it was still his truck. She suspected Howard was after someone. But this was the first time she’d actually seen him or the woman, which meant he had to be undercover.

The jungle music made Val involuntarily tap her boot on the tile floor, and she had the greatest urge to get up and dance. The smell of sweet mixed drinks, beer, humans, jaguars, and a few wolves drifted to her. Palm trees in pots, vines stretching to the ceiling, and a skylight way above simulated a jungle scene like most jaguars loved. The summer sun was still high enough to spread sunlight through the windows filtering down through the living foliage.

Since she couldn’t get away to the jungle very often, she enjoyed going to these places to immerse herself in the jungle feel from time to time, more so when she wasn’t on a mission. Here it was air-conditioned, with a light mist spraying the plants and water droplets collecting on the leaves. Jaguar shifters wearing leopard-print fabric danced on elevated stages, and bright lights flashed across the stages and dance floor, making the scene appear otherworldly.

She glanced again at the tables that were cast more in the dark, in case Benny Canton had already arrived and she’d missed seeing him when she had walked through the place earlier searching for him. This was the kind of job she loved. Eliminating rogue jaguars, the murdering kind. She hadn’t heard of a case like this in a good long while—a jaguar who’d murdered his wife, just because she threatened to leave him. That was one of the differences between the wolf shifters and jaguars. The wolves mated for life; jaguars could divorce.

She watched the door open when someone new arrived—two single males, neither of them her perp. Benny was known to frequent this club, having left his job as a construction worker after murdering his wife. He had no family, and she hadn’t found any other place he could have holed up. So she’d staked out the club for the past three days, watching for him or some of his friends, who’d proven to be just as elusive as he was. She’d had no luck running into him or the others. But this club was the only lead she had.

She’d considered that he might have gone across the border, because the shifters often did so to play in the jungle as wild jaguars. And for a rogue, he would have extra incentive to leave the country.

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They’re not the only ones on the prowl…but they’re the most dangerous…

The United Shifter Force gives jaguar agent Howard Armstrong an impossible task—to protect fierce she-jaguar Valerie Chambers, when the last thing she wants is protecting. They’re going international to take down a killer and he can guard Valerie all day long. But guard his heart? He doesn’t stand a chance.

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Catherine Bybee’s FAKING FOREVER & giveaway

Victor noticed Shannon sitting in the open dining area of the hotel the next morning, drinking coffee and reading on her e-reader. He’d spent most of the previous day licking his metaphorical wounds and nursing a headache.

Dressed in cotton pants that went midcalf and a light shirt, she looked like she was dressed for a long plane ride home. As much a pain in the ass as the woman had been, he felt compelled to say goodbye. After all, he was the reason she was there.

He walked up quietly behind her. “If it isn’t woman who fed me mezcal.”

The sound of his voice made her jump.

Too bad she wasn’t holding her coffee.

“You have got to stop doing that.”

Without an invitation, he sat and smiled. She took a deep breath and looked away, came painfully close to rolling her eyes. For some reason, he appreciated the fact she held back and wondered just how much it would take for her to disregard him with such a gesture.

“Please, sit down,” she said.

He glanced at his chair. “Thank you.”

She set her e-reader aside and regarded him. “I thought for sure you’d be back at the office by now.”

So did he. “I couldn’t fly yesterday even if I’d found a flight.”

“Oh?”

He didn’t miss the tiny shine in the corner of her eye.

“No. I had one too many the other night. Inflicting that on whoever had the misfortune of sitting next to me on the flight home was more than I could take after my flight here.”

She smiled, briefly, and lifted her chin. “I’m glad to hear you’ve evolved since Friday.”

Unable to help himself, he laughed.

Her smile returned.

Victor felt a twist in his gut, a pull to something he didn’t want to name. “I guess you’re leaving today,” he said.

She shrugged. “I am.”

He nodded. “Justin informed me you made sure I didn’t decide to go for a late night swim.”

“It was tempting. But then I realized you wouldn’t be able to pay me if you swallowed too much water.”

“Self-preserving. Very smart of you.”

“It’s a gift.”

When the woman wasn’t tossing barbs at him, she was beautiful. Perfect lines in her face, high cheekbones … he couldn’t tell if her olive skin was from an ancestor or the byproduct of living in Southern California. Not anything like anyone he’d been attracted to before.

What was he thinking? He wasn’t attracted.

Victor shook his head and stood. “Well, I saw you sitting here and thought I’d at least say goodbye.”

She stood with him and extended her hand. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry things didn’t go as planned this weekend.”

Her fingers were long, elegant. Just like the woman. Disappointment saying goodbye was an emotion he had no business feeling. Yet there it was, like a lump in his chest.

“Are you?”

Her smile cracked. “No. But it seemed the right thing to say. I am sorry for the heartache. That’s never easy, even if it’s for the right reason.”

Victor realized he was still shaking her hand and let go.

“Goodbye, Victor. Good luck to you.”

“Goodbye, Shannon.” And because it was the appropriate thing to do once you said goodbye, Victor walked away. When he turned to take a last look, Shannon sharply moved her gaze to her coffee.

***

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Release Date: March 12, 2019

Shannon Wentworth’s biological clock is ticking, and she isn’t going to let her single status keep her from having a baby. When her wedding-photography business takes her to Mexico, she has every intention of finding a willing baby daddy to help her out. Until the bride goes AWOL, leaving Shannon to coddle the arrogant fiancé who has accused her of sabotaging his wedding.

Victor Brooks never could have imagined that he’d be on a honeymoon for one. Only here he is, taking a hard look at his life after the younger women he thought he loved walked out. The woman who volunteers to help him reflect is the last person he expects to be attracted to. Between the tequila, the sun, and one earth-shattering kiss, Victor finds Shannon a distraction too sexy to ignore.

They strike a deal: wait three months, cool off, and see if their tropical beach attraction is worth taking up when they go back home. Unfortunately, that’s just enough time for the past to come calling. All their best-laid plans are at risk. So is the last thing Shannon expected to matter the most: her heart.

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New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author Catherine Bybee has written twenty-eight books that have collectively sold more than five million copies and have been translated into more than eighteen languages. Raised in Washington State, Bybee moved to Southern California in the hope of becoming a movie star. After growing bored with waiting tables, she returned to school and became a registered nurse, spending most of her career in urban emergency rooms. She now writes full-time and has penned the Not Quite Series, the Weekday Brides Series, the Most Likely To Series, and the First Wives Series.

Amy Sandas’ THE COWBOY’S HONOR excerpt & giveaway

Three runaway brides

Determined to escape their fates

Flee West to find freedom that can only be had in a cowboy’s arms…

Courtney Adams never questioned the future her parents laid out for her…until the day she was to marry one of Boston’s elite. Desperate, she flees the church in a flurry of bridal finery and trades her pearls for a train ticket to Montana—only to be mistaken for a surly cowboy’s mail order bride!

Dean Lawton doesn’t want a wife—especially not some fancy Eastern lady he believes his brother “ordered” behind his back. Yet one mistake leads to another, and before the dust can settle, he finds himself married to a woman who challenges him at every step…and sets his wounded heart ablaze. But the clock is ticking on this marriage of inconvenience, and soon Dean must decide: convince Courtney to remain in his arms, or lose her light forever…

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“Is there a hotel in town where I might procure a room for a few days?”

“Miss Mabel has a boardinghouse down the road, though I don’t know for sure if she’s got any open rooms.”

Courtney smiled her thanks to the postal clerk, already envisioning a quaint but comfortable room with clean sheets on the bed. Maybe even a hot, tasty meal. She had given up on finding food that was near the same quality she was accustomed to, but she would settle for edible and filling right now. She couldn’t very well expect a rugged town in the Western Territories to provide the same levels of comfort as a big city back East. She had left Boston in search of a new life. It was time to embrace all of what that meant.

As she stepped onto the boardwalk, blinking against the bright summer sunlight, Courtney didn’t realize she had stepped right into someone’s path until it was too late.

And of course, it had to be Mr. Martin.

What should have been just a very brief bumping of elbows and shoulders became much more when he took swift advantage of the encounter by wrapping his arms around her in an exaggerated and unnecessary attempt at steadying her.

Courtney immediately put her hands up to try to shove him away, but her efforts were ineffectual. He was intent on holding her close.

“It’s my lovely traveling companion,” he exclaimed. His face was so close that she could feel the heat of his breath on her cheek. “What a pleasure to run into you again so soon.”

“I would thank you to release me, sir.”

“Not yet, sweetheart. I never did get your name.”

“And you never will. Now let me go,” Courtney stated more forcefully. Her stomach turned in distress as she glanced around to see if there was anyone who might come to her aid.

“Let the lady go.”

Despite their low timbre, the words were spoken from behind her in such a hard and forceful tone that Mr. Martin’s grip around her waist loosened as though on command. She did not waste time in giving a solid push against his chest and wrenching free. She quickly backed away from Mr. Martin’s grabby reach, which brought her closer to her unknown rescuer.

Turning to acknowledge the man who had come to her aid, all she saw was the expanse of a broad male chest covered by a faded blue cotton shirt. The scents of horse and leather and sunbaked earth filled her nostrils. Distracted and still a little distressed, she felt her foot catch in the twisted length of her skirts on her next step, and she started to stumble. Warm, rough, capable hands grasped her arms as the stranger held her secure until she regained her balance. A low sound escaped the man’s throat as his hands dropped away.

“My apologies,” he muttered as he stepped back from her. The velvety texture of his voice soothed and flustered at the same time.

Courtney took a deep breath, trying to regain her composure after the discomfiting experience of being handled so familiarly first by Mr. Martin and then by the tall stranger. She wasn’t used to such treatment…but while Mr. Martin’s assistance had caused only irritation, this stranger certainly deserved her thanks. She corrected her posture and made sure her expression was perfectly neutral before she lifted her chin, prepared to utter a swift expression of gratitude.

The words never made it past her lips.

In fact, everything—her train of thought, her breath, time itself—just stopped.

The man stood a few inches taller than her and wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat that blocked the sun, giving her an unimpeded look at one of the most handsome faces she had ever seen.

His skin was bronzed from exposure to the sun, and a hint of sandy-brown beard shadowed a hard jawline and square chin. Though his mouth was pressed into a firm line, it didn’t disguise the masculine beauty of his arched lips beneath a well-shaped nose and strong cheekbones. His features were put together in a way that was rugged yet undeniably attractive.

But his eyes—pale blue like a summer sky brushed with wispy clouds—were what had given her the intense little shock of awareness. It was like being woken up from a hazy dream. Everything just suddenly became more vivid, more…awake. His gaze held a hint of impatience as he looked down at her from beneath a furrowed brow.

While she stood dumbfounded, he swept his stunning gaze over her person.

His hard expression tensed even more as he took in the sight of her elaborate wedding gown before finally returning to her face. Only now, instead of impatience, she saw the glimmer of something more in his eyes.

She had to consciously tell herself not to react to the way he eyed her so openly. Keeping her expression calm and unruffled under this man’s intense regard was not an easy task, especially now that she was dealing with strange little sparks that had ignited beneath her skin everywhere his gaze had fallen.

She was accustomed to inciting admiration in the gentlemen of her circles—she had been told she was beautiful often enough throughout her life to believe it was so. But she could not say she had ever inspired the flash of irritation she noted in his eyes when he finished his perusal.

He sent a focused glare toward the post office behind her before looking down at her once again. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” he muttered, his smooth-textured voice a strange contradiction to his harsh visage.

He was scowling. At her.

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