How ’bout a little teaser, six days from HOLD ME HARDER’s official release. *wink* Okay, maybe a long-ish teaser, more of an excerpt.

But first, having a story ready to go out into the world is a lot like having kids. Most writers will admit their books are like babies. We form them, nurture them in the pre-natal stage, then get the house all ready for its arrival.

In publishing that means promotion. I’ve probably written a novella’s-worth of words in Facebook posts, tweets, and blog posts (both guest posts and my own), somehow trying to stay original and not-obnoxious. It’s a tightrope.

I’m so proud of HOLD ME HARDER, and thrilled with the professional and creative finishing given to it by Entangled Publishing. That cover! The teasers! I want nothing more than to push HMH out of the nest, let it fly, and for those who read it to come away having been transported for a few short hours.

I’m hard at work on the edits to Book 2, DON’T HOLD BACK, and digging in on a new series, as well, so stay tuned. If you’d like first looks at what’s next, be sure to sign up for my newsletter.

And with that, Happy Reading!

EXCERPT

Chapter One

The chain of emails stacked up on Natalie’s phone. As fast as her finger flicked across the screen, she couldn’t outscroll the incoming shit hitting the proverbial fan. It was not a good day to be out of the office, but her little sister, Chloe, had insisted on this wedding-party bonding weekend, as if they could all just drop their jobs and their lives and come to middle-of-effing-nowhere Idaho for three days. Worse, the best man—Natalie’s ex, Ryan—had managed to squeeze into her limo at the last moment. She caught him watching her more than once, his vivid blue gaze palpable and almost unbearably heavy. It had been weeks since she’d kicked him out of the condo they’d been sharing and she hadn’t spoken more than a few words to him since.

When the limo’s tires changed from humming across asphalt to crunching over gravel, Natalie muttered a profanity-enhanced sigh of relief.

Her twin brother leaned across her to gawk out the window as they passed the ranch’s largest corrals. When their family had vacationed here eight years ago, Rob, the one horse-mad family member, had missed it because of his job.

“Told you,” Natalie said, without looking outside. Having been here scores of times, she knew exactly how impressive it all was.

“There’s telling me, and then there’s seeing for myself.” Rob sat back after they passed the barn. “I’d rather have spent the summer here than tutoring athletes in a classroom that smelled like week-old gym socks.”

Natalie gave him a sidelong glance. “You say that, but you haven’t met Javier,” she muttered.

“I’m sure he’s no worse than any other horse wrangler,” he replied.

“Right.” The limo stopped and she looked out the window. The first sight of Javier’s lodge never failed to wow her. Gigantic timbers, round and raw, framed a two-story entrance over a sprawling log building. Along the front, a wide, inviting porch extended its full length. Natalie had always thought of it as a Wild West castle made of lodgepole pine. Smaller cabins nestled on the forested hillside behind the main lodge, although the word “cabin” was inadequate. Each was a luxurious little nest.

Here was the scene of her sexual awakening, and Javier, the man responsible, was out there somewhere among the horses. Her eyes darted between the corrals where the Paints and Appaloosas lazed in the afternoon heat, then to the largest of the stables. Odds were, that’s where he’d be. Inside, with his sleek Andalusians. She hoped she’d have time to settle in and get over her jitters before she had to face him again after more than a year apart.

Natalie blew out a long breath. A weekend in the presence of two ex-lovers. No wonder she was as nervous as a cat.

The others in her car spilled out like puppies, joining the crowd from the first limo. Most of the bridesmaids had coordinated their attire like the recent sorority refugees they were, dressing in western-style shirts tied at the waist, cowboy boots, tight jeans, and straw cowgirl hats. Natalie, on the other hand, had spent her morning at work. She arrived in a gray pin-striped skirt, silk shirt, and high-heeled pumps just barely on the businesslike end of the scale.

The third limo pulled up just as Natalie was stepping out, and the other girls raised a cloud of dust as they danced over to welcome the bride and groom to be.

“Yee-HAW!” Chloe shouted, waving her hat overhead as she emerged from her limo, with Dave, her impending husband, right behind. He grabbed her hips and they gyrated together, a grinding Texas two-step.

Natalie rolled her eyes and leaned against the side of the limo while the driver unloaded the suitcases, her finger scrolling the message queue, the phone vibrating nonstop in her hand. Her boss thrived on getting the masses riled, and not one of her idiot coworkers could resist the reply all button. She had the sudden urge to shove the phone into her panties and let it do some actual good. The idea brought a smile to her lips. Sorry, boss, I couldn’t respond. The phone was otherwise engaged.

“What’s so funny?”

Ryan stood too close for comfort. She frowned at him.

“Nothing.”

He tugged on her tote bag. “Lime green? Taking a walk on the wild side, Nat?” He tilted his head at an oblique angle, his crooked, disarming smile inviting her to smile back. Before, she would have. Not today.

“Yes, that’s what me carrying a lime green bag means,” she said, dropping her phone inside it.

His smile faded and he shook his head. “C’mon, Nat. We’re going to be in each other’s company a lot this weekend. Can’t we—?”

“Not if I can help it,” she said, cutting him off and pretending to look for something else in her bag.

“It’s been a month.” He pushed back an errant lock of hair that had fallen across his face, his long, elegant fingers forking through the sable strands. “Don’t you think we should eventually talk?”

Natalie pressed her lips together. She didn’t want him trying to penetrate her thoughts, probing for weak spots. There’d been nothing actually wrong between them when she’d run; in fact, their relationship had been adventurous and full of laughs until his taste for sexual adventure trod too close to the lifestyle she’d lived with Javier, the one she’d left here at the ranch. He’d crossed a line she hadn’t told him existed, and she’d panicked.

The limo driver dropped her overstuffed Louis Vuitton suitcase on the ground, and Ryan reached for its handle at the same time she did, his fingers brushing hers. “Let me help you.”

“I got it,” she said, her molars clenched. She didn’t want to walk beside him, didn’t want him to push her to talk, didn’t want him to make her regret. The phone buzzed inside her bag. She grabbed the handle of her suitcase and jerked it away. “I have to go deal with the office.”

She turned away from the disappointment in Ryan’s gaze, and cursed her heart for breaking just a little more.

The suitcase weighed a ridiculous amount for a weekend getaway, and its inadequate wheels threatened to fly off as she bumped and jostled it over the uneven ground. Between it and her need to tiptoe across the gravel path in stiletto heels, Natalie made slow progress. She was grateful when several of the ranch’s young, cowboy-attired employees burst through the front doors of the lodge and fanned out among the arriving guests, greeting them and helping with the luggage. A calloused thumb brushed across the underside of her wrist as someone reached for her bag.

“Natalie,” Javier said, his quiet greeting catching her off guard. “I’ve missed you, amorcita.”

Damn. His heavy Andalusian accent, warm as the land from which he hailed, twined with the lingering brush of his thumb, and together they welcomed her back. Javier didn’t smile when she looked up at him—he’d always been circumspect in the presence of her family—but affection was there in his eyes. He’d changed little since she’d last seen him. His hair remained defiantly dark, as if not even one strand of silver dared appear, his olive-colored eyes, framed by curling black lashes and severe brows, still pierced, and his skin would forever be burnished bronze by hours outdoors.

“I would have said you’d be the next to last person I’d see here again,” he teased.

“Yes, well, my mother wasn’t invited this weekend.” It was an old joke between them. A dude ranch—even a luxury one—had not been her mother’s idea of a real vacation.

She’d hated it. Vocally.

It hadn’t really been Natalie’s ideal trip, either, but she had distracted herself by flitting between the young cowhands, until Javier—ten years older than her and miles further on in worldliness—had ejected her from his barns for the duration of their stay. Outside in the corrals, he’d looked down his crooked patrician nose and waved her off with undisguised superiority…and drew her to him like a bee to lavender. She’d fallen at his feet, and he’d introduced her to the world of sensual dominance.

 

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