The cover’s pretty, right? In Too Deep is the second of The Triplehorn Brand stories, and it releases next Tuesday. This one features a very sexy couple. They can’t keep their hands off each other. Be sure to pre-order your copy!
Excerpt from In Too Deep
With the window of his Ford F-150 rolled down and a breeze whipping his face, Gabe Triplehorn didn’t mind the sultry, mid-summer heat. For the first time in years, he felt completely free.
Free of responsibility.
Free of Colt telling him what he ought to do with his life.
Free of Tommy giving him disgusted glances, because the last thing Gabe wanted to do lately was ride behind a herd of cattle kicking up dust in his face.
But he was especially free of the evidence of domestic bliss stinking up the air in the Triplehorn ranch house.
Gabe wasn’t usually this grumpy, but he’d lost sleep for weeks due to the lusty goings-on inside the Triplehorn ranch house. Unaccustomed to sleepless nights when he was home and lying in his own bed, and irritated at having to keep himself decently dressed every time he stepped foot outside his bedroom door, he’d become as nasty as a growling bear to be around.
And who could blame him? Sounds echoed down the bedroom hallway into the early morning hours. Sexy sounds—soft moans, warm chuckles. Sharp, urgent cries. Sounds that put erotic images into a horny man’s head. Stuffing a pillow over his face didn’t muffle them enough to cut through the pictures flooding his mind, especially after he’d gotten an up-close eyeful of one particularly hot-’n’-heavy petting session in the kitchen. Thankfully, neither one of the newly married couple had noticed as he’d hastily backed away from the door. But after that, he couldn’t look at melted chocolate or Zuri’s small breasts in quite the same light.
Not that he wasn’t happy for his brother, Colt. The eldest of the brothers deserved every bit of the happiness he’d found with his new wife. He just wished the two of them had kept their newfound wedded bliss a little more private. Having a beautiful woman under the same roof, one whose lusty spirit apparently matched his brother’s stroke for stroke, played hell with Gabe’s own desire. The fact he hadn’t had time to court a new playmate to handle his excess frustration only added to his ill humor.
At least, Gabe had at last gotten over the major case of indigestion that adding Zuri Prescott to the family had caused. She’d turned out to be all right. Far from the heartless heartbreaker he and Tommy had pegged her for.
Still, it was hard to shrug off over a decade of animosity and resentment in just a couple of months. Harder still to listen to the sounds of his brother’s hard-won satisfaction night after night.
When Colt had suggested that Gabe take a vacation, sew some wild oats—anything to get his head back on straight—Gabe had been a little angry at first, wondering if Colt was trying to push him out of the nest because he was cramping the couple’s style.
But Zuri had pulled him aside, surprising him after he’d been so rough on her when she’d first arrived. He hadn’t believed her story of being framed for a bank robbery or that the true robber had been a cop. Given who her father was, and what Gabe had thought she’d done to his brother, he’d suspected the worst.
Just that morning, after Colt had baldly told him he needed to get out of his system whatever was making him cranky, she’d stopped him on the front porch.
“Gabe,” she’d called after him.
He thought about ignoring her, had his hat in his hand as he stomped down the steps heading to the barn to saddle his horse.
He paused, sucked in a deep breath, and pasted on a smile before he faced her. “What do want, Zuri?”
“For you to be happy.”
“Who says I’m not?”
She arched a dark brow while she silently studied him.
Gabe had to admit he could see his brother’s attraction to the woman standing before him. Her curves were subtle, but the length of smooth leg exposed beneath the hem of her short skirt could make any man stop and take notice. Add the healthy shine to her straight, chin-length dark hair and the wide, puppy-dog eyes, and he knew why his brother had risked his life and his career as sheriff to protect her.
“Zuri, I have chores to do,” he said, his voice gruff.
“He’s not trying to ease you out of the house, Gabe. There’s plenty of room here still. And we have plans to build another house to make room for any kids we might be lucky enough to have.”
Luck isn’t gonna have a thing to do with it, honey. He kicked at the dirt beneath his boots. “Colt’s the oldest. The house is his.”
Zuri shook her head. “Fact is, I think he wants Tommy to have this place. He loves it the most. Works the hardest. Colt’s got his sheriff’s job, but Tommy eats, breaths, and sleeps with the cattle. You’re the one he worries about.”
“Sounds like you’ve both been doin’ a lot of talking behind my back.”
“He just wants me to understand you.”
A flush of guilt heated his cheeks. “I said I was sorry for how I treated you,” he muttered, dropping his head to watch himself scuff his boots together.
“And I’ve forgiven you,” she said, her musical voice filled with earnest intent. “You had your reasons for distrusting me. And I can’t blame you for holding a grudge.”
Although he knew she was only acting out of concern, Gabe didn’t like the feeling that crept over him, like Zuri and Colt considered him a problem they had to fix. He was a grown man. He could take care of his own damn problems.
“What’s your point?” he asked, then cringed inside at his terse tone.
Zuri sighed. “Why don’t you do as he suggested. Get away for a bit. Find whatever’s missing in your life or figure out how to go about finding it. We’ll be fine. Our honeymoon’s over. Colt’s ready to dig back in and take up any slack your absence might leave. No one will look sideways if you want to get away for a while on your own.”
Gabe released a deep breath, and then raised his head. “Where the hell would I go?”
Zuri pursed her lips. “Isn’t there some place or person you’re missing?” she asked softly. “Go there.”
The moment she mentioned it, a place did enter his mind.
Tall elms flanking a riverbank, clear water burbling over rocky shelves, and a slow current that invited a man to plant a fishing pole in the mud while he lay on his back, chewing on a blade of grass.
Then another picture seeped into his thoughts. A woman with laughing blue eyes and silky blonde hair that always looked in need of a comb. Curves that would overspill a large palm.
He’d drifted a moment on that slow-moving creek.
“You thought of a place?”
He shook his head. Last thing he wanted was to share even a shred of that treasured memory.
She arched a brow. “Then why’d you smile?”
Gabe flashed her a quick grin. “Because you’re every bit as stubborn as your husband.”
“I sure like that word,” she said, a smile stretching her pretty mouth.
Boot steps echoed from inside the house. Colt swept open the door, wearing a pale-blue shirt and dark trousers. His silver badge was clipped to his shirt pocket. “You think about what I said?”
Ten minutes ago, Gabe would have bitten his head off and told him to mind his own business, but Zuri’s expression, so earnest and hopeful, made him stop. “I have,” he said nodding. “I think I’m goin’ campin’.”
Colt’s eyes narrowed. “To the Red Hawk?”
“Yeah, haven’t been there in years.” Gabe stared back, daring him to say anything more.
“Think she’s still there?”
Gabe shook his head. “If she’s there, she’s long married and has a passel of kids. I’m just gonna do some fishin’.”
Colt grinned then leaned down and kissed Zuri’s cheek. “Don’t know what you said to him, but thanks.”
Zuri laughed. “I swear it didn’t take much persuasion on my part.”
Later that morning, he’d stuffed a few changes of clothes into a backpack and left rubber as he’d peeled out of the drive, he was so eager to let loose. Suddenly hopeful that something extraordinary might lie at the end of his journey.
A deer darted into the road. Gabe swerved slightly and tapped the brakes. A doe stood in the center of the road, her flanks quivering, but Gabe understood why she didn’t move when a fawn on spindly legs trotted past her.
When they both leaped into the bushes on the opposite side, he pressed on the gas. He’d better pay attention to the road and stop daydreaming or he’d wind up in a ditch. And he was impatient to see Red Hawk Landing—the small campground with a pier that stretched to the center of the river, the ramshackle collection of wooden cabins that sat in a horseshoe to the side of the small lodge. Not anyone’s idea of a luxury vacation spot, but it was a place a man could hear his own thoughts.
He’d found the campground by accident when he was a teenager and driving, blowing off steam after yet another argument with his father over his grades and late-night partying. He’d been seventeen, and Colt had joined the Army and wasn’t there any longer to help deflect attention from his bad habits. Not that Dad hadn’t had a point. Something Gabe had thought about long and hard after he left a note on the table for his mother to find, telling her he’d be back in a week.
But one week had turned into two when he’d found the campground. Old man Twohig had hired him, needing someone handy to help with repairs and blowing up inner tubes for guests to float the river. What Gabe hadn’t known at the time was that Mr. Twohig had called his dad the first day he’d arrived, and the two men had made an arrangement to help Gabe blow off some steam and have time away from all the expectations of being a Triplehorn.
Gabe had spent the two weeks in cutoff jeans and barefoot. And he’d taken a shine to the old man’s granddaughter, Lena.
She’d come to spend the summer away from the city. She made breakfast every morning for the guests, and then leant a hand with the chores, working side by side with Gabe.
Even though she was a couple of years older than he was, she’d been shy at first. Maybe she’d felt those two years placed him in the do-not-flirt-with zone, but he’d been persistent. Then one late afternoon, a couple of days before his dad and Colt had shown up to take him home, he and Lena Twohig had shed their clothes for a dip in the stream. For one sparkling afternoon, he hadn’t just been romanticizing about being in love. He’d sunk his toes in the mud and pebbles and fallen hard for a woman who’d taught him what real passion meant.
So, what the hell was he doing now, heading back there? It was doubtful the old man was still alive. Even more so that the woman would still be there. She’d had plans for college, another life to begin in Dallas. But still, when he’d spoken to Zuri, his first instinct had been to go back there.
Now, the light, expectant glow that had sustained him for most of the trip began to fade.
At a bend in the road, he saw the sign nearly hidden by bushes because it tilted at an angle. Red Hawk Landing. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The crackled, worn paint on the leaning sign didn’t bode well, but he took the turn anyway, his truck bumping along an uneven gravel trail that worked its way down a steep decline, heading toward the river’s edge.
When he made the clearing, he heaved a sigh of relief. The place was still in operation. Kids in cutoffs and swimming suits took running dives from the pier. Cars and pickups were parked in front of roughhewn wooden cabins.
He hoped like hell there was still one vacancy left for him and pulled up in front of the small lodge house. The place was clean but showing its age. Looked like the owner needed another handy man to help with a broken spoke or two in the wraparound porch rails and a window frame that appeared to be rotting away.
He put his truck in park and pushed down on the handle to open the door, but halted the moment she stepped onto the porch.
Lena Twohig. Sweet Jesus.
His breath caught, nostalgia blurring her appearance in a golden light that masked the years etched lightly into her features.
Sure, her figure was a tad fuller, her roots darker, but the feeling he got just looking at her as she lifted a hand to guard her eyes against the brilliant sunshine was exactly the same one he’d had all those years ago.
A slow throbbing built in his groin. His body stiffened, going on alert. His gaze swept her womanly frame again, snagging on the generous swell of her bosom, the long, well-toned legs displayed beneath the hem of her shorts. Ten years had been kind indeed.
Then something glinted on the fingers cupping her eyes. A flash of white metal.
He remembered a slender band he’d given her. His last gift. A promise he’d never fulfilled. However much he might wish it wasn’t so, the ring she wore now killed his pleasant dream of rekindling their romance. The desire he’d allowed to build while he’d ogled her began to slowly unwind. Lead settled in his stomach.
Lena was strictly on the look-but-don’t-touch list. What a cryin’ damn shame.
And how awkward. He considered backing out of the lot and heading to the coast to Corpus Christi or Galveston, but he couldn’t work up the interest.
Would she even remember him? He wasn’t the same tall, lanky kid with shaggy hair, all elbows and knees and horny burning need.
His hair was darker, cut short. His face was tanned and toughened by the sun, the blades of his cheeks more pronounced, the corners of his jaw sharper. His body was filled out by years of physical labor.
His hand let go of the keys, and he felt a smile tug at his lips. So, maybe he couldn’t hope for a lusty trip down memory lane, but how much fun would it be to pretend he’d never met her, never been here before? While never touching, he could tease and flirt using his intimate knowledge of her, and she’d never realize he knew exactly what he was doing.
And the mister? Well, he’d keep the games well away from him. He didn’t want to stir up trouble. Just wanted to have a little fun—a challenge that didn’t have a thing to do with cattle or balancing the ranch’s books.
He reached for the cowboy hat on the seat beside him, pushed open the door to his truck and stepped down to the ground. Once there, he put on his hat and strode toward the porch steps.
Her gaze swung his way and swept him briefly head to toe. She pasted on a smile of welcome, although he noted caution dug a line between her brows.
“Howdy, ma’am,” he said, touching the brim of his hat.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
Her voice was huskier than he remembered but still had a lilting quality that caressed his nerve endings. Damn shame she was taken. He’d like nothing better than to hear that voice greeting him in the morning from the pillow next to his.
The throbbing that had begun at his first glimpse of her tall, statuesque figure intensified. Inconveniently, because he couldn’t think past the urgency in his loins. He cleared his throat. “I was hoping you had a vacancy. One of the cabins.”
“I’m sorry. We’re booked up.” She gave him a polite smile. “All I have are a couple of rooms in the lodge.”
She’s hoping I’ll pass. He returned her smile with a grin that stretched slowly across his face. “That’ll be fine then.”
“We aren’t fancy,” she said, eyeing his Lucchese boots. “I do provide meals in the dining room, but we don’t have a lot of amenities. Most folks come on weekends to float the river. The cabins have added features, their own barbeque pits and small fridges, but you’d have to take your meals in the dining room, and you’d have to share a bathroom.”
Gabe gave her an easy smile. “I just came to fish. Do you have poles to rent?”
She raised her brows a little bit. “Of course. And we can provide bait—worms and crickets. The gift shop has some fancy lures.”
“I’m hopin’ I don’t actually catch much.” He gave her a brief smile. “Fishin’s man-code for bein’ lazy.”
“Oh.” Her cheeks flushed.
Had it been his smile?
“Well, you can register inside,” she said, pointing toward the door behind her. “Kayla’s at the desk. She’ll get you settled.” She cleared her throat. “How long do you plan to stay?”
“A couple of weeks, ma’am.” He looked around the clearing and then swept her body with a quick glance. “That ought to be long enough.”
He could see the questions in her eyes. And a hint of anxiety.
He hadn’t meant to make her worry and wondered at its cause—unless she was feeling the same lazy heat that was burning through him.
Damn inconvenient she was married, because he’d have loved to entice her into his bed. Gabe wasn’t the least shy about going after what he wanted, and he wanted her. At least to see whether she was still as hot-blooded and adventurous as she’d been all those years ago when he’d been a boy not yet sure of himself, and she’d been a girl ready to take on the role of sexual tutor.
Again, he touched the brim of his hat and walked toward the door. He fought the urge to glance back and see if she was still watching him.
Best not take this little game too far. The last thing he wanted was to walk into the end of a shotgun held by a jealous husband. That had already happened to him once, and he’d been damn sure ever since that any woman he pursued was completely free.
He stepped through the lodge’s door and pulled the scents of Pine-Sol and lemon oil into his nose. Neither could quite mask the lingering floral scent of her perfume. He shook his head, wondering why he’d insisted on staying. There was nothing for him here. He’d have been better off heading straight back to the ranch, but then he suspected he’d just be surlier than ever since his expectations hadn’t been met.
Still, for a moment when he’d first seen her, he’d felt something inside him relax. At the very least, if he stayed he could satisfy his curiosity about her life. And maybe he could finally let go.