My life is a little crazy here! I’ve been ensconced for a week at my dd’s house. I’ll be here for another 10 days, while she’s off helping a relative with a sudden upswing in his business. So, I moved in. I have 2 kids, 6 dogs, 5 cats, and 2 guinea pigs to care for.
And I’ve been working really, really hard between getting kids ready for school, doing mountains of laundry and dishes, and general upkeep around the house. I’m writing a sequel to Reaper, which includes plenty of Dagger, too. And I’ve been working on finishing up 5 editing projects by the end of the month. I’m going from the wee hours of the morning until midnight.
How am I doing it? COFFEE! 🙂
What’s bad is I worry about the fact I’m still not unpacked from the conference I attended and my place across the street needs cleaning, but what can you do?
One of the editing projects I’ve been working on is one of my own—A Long, Hot Summer. And it’s coming out next week!
If you’ve been reading the first two stories of The Triplehorn Brand, I will tell you that this story is the sexiest and the sweetest. Enjoy the excerpt!
A Long, Hot Summer
When two lonely hearts collide, age becomes just a number…
Sarah Colby’s marriage was over long ago, but she’s never shed the scars her abusive husband left behind. One shameful indiscretion, an affair with a younger man one long-ago summer haunts her.
Tommy Triplehorn is happy his brothers have settled down and started families of their own, but he’s feeling a little smothered by all that domesticity. Carousing and drinking no longer provide him any thrills, and he thinks he knows the reason why. He’s waited long enough for Sarah Colby to get over being ashamed of their past. He’s old enough to know what he wants, and he wants her.
Tommy Triplehorn sat back in his chair, drinking while trying to ignore the noise from the scratchy jukebox and the jarring laughter from the blonde at the bar, who couldn’t seem to help glancing his way as she whispered with her girlfriend. After the annual Memorial Day picnic at the Triplehorn ranch, he was ready for a celebration of another sort. Looked like the blonde was going to be his date.
Candy Crowe. Tommy blew out a pent-up breath, relaxing as he gave himself permission to be disappointed. Looked like his partner this night was going to be a rarity for him—a repeat. But a quick glance around the room confirmed the only other women here were married or engaged or going out with friends of his, and he never crossed that line. So, Candy Crowe it would be.
He mustered up a smile and lifted his chin, inviting her to join him, and then cringed inwardly as she sauntered toward him, her wide hips swaying too deeply, a predatory gleam in her green eyes. Like a tiger on the prowl.
Or a cougar.
She topped him by ten years, but that didn’t bother him. He’d had older. Age wasn’t a deal breaker. Fact was, he liked women who knew their way around a man’s body. Liked their confidence. Still, his chest hurt a little as she drew nearer, because even though she was blonde not brunette, and even though her figure was as full as a centerfold’s rather than lean and trim, she reminded him of what he’d never have.
“Hey, cowboy,” she said, sliding into the seat beside him. “Long time no see.”
Tommy arched a brow. “Really wanna waste time with small talk?”
Her brows rose. “It’s less rude then crawling right on top of me.”
“Never complained before,” he drawled.
Her lips crimped, and then her gaze swept down his frame, staying on his lap a moment longer than was polite. “And I won’t start now. I’ll get us a room.”
And as quick as that, Tommy had his Friday-night hookup all lined up. He watched as she sashayed toward the door, knowing it would take her a few minutes more to cross the parking lot to the motel. He had time to finish his whiskey before she had a key in her hot, clever hand.
His glance went to the couples flirting, touching, speaking quietly together, and something inside him tightened. Yeah, life was happening all around him, and he felt like it might be passing him by. Lord knew it was at home. He’d moved out of the ranch house to the bunkhouse to give his brothers and their wives space—and to escape the sounds of lovers enjoying themselves and babies crying.
Both baby girls, Colt’s little Rose and Gabe’s Violet, were charmers—when they were happy. And they’d already wrapped their daddies around their little fingers. Tommy had adjusted quickly to being an uncle, lending a hand when the women flapped around the kitchen serving up a meal. He drew the line at changing diapers. He wasn’t that enamored.
As domestic as everything had become, he’d grown a little claustrophobic and made the move, despite his brothers’ objections. Yes, he knew Colt’s addition was only weeks from completion. And although Gabe was breaking ground on a cabin behind the big house, Tommy needed space to think. To shore up his resolve that being single and footloose was what he really wanted, because he’d damn sure never get the woman he wanted most. Like his brothers, he’d carried a torch a long time. Not that anyone but the woman in question had a clue.
And then he saw a familiar figure stride into the bar. Well, hell. His heart thudded hard and dull against his chest.
Even though she wasn’t the prettiest woman he’d ever seen, she held herself like a queen. No ignoring her straight back, squared shoulders, or tall, lean frame that held a hint of swagger when she moved. She wore her trademark men’s Wranglers over scuffed boots. Her tee hugged meager curves but emphasized the fact not an ounce of laxity hugged her waist. When she reached up to take off her brown cowboy hat, he held his breath. Russet brown and straight, her hair fell from the coil at the top of her head to trail down between her shoulders in a neat ponytail.
Her glance swept the room, landing on him for a moment before blinking and moving on. Barely a second’s worth of recognition in that quick glance.
Tommy’s stomach knotted. His chest tightened. She was the reason he pursued the Candy Crowes—women he’d never give more than a good tumble between the sheets.
He set his glass down with a thump and straightened in his chair. From the corner of his eye and through the plate-glass windows overlooking the parking lot, he saw Candy waving her arms from beneath the motel’s awning to get his attention.
His cheeks burned. But he didn’t dare look the brunette’s way. He couldn’t and not acknowledge that any betrayal of emotion in her expression, especially disgust, could still affect him.
He picked up his glass, downed the last sip of his drink, and slid off his chair. Without a glance toward the bar, he walked out the double doors and across the lot to the waiting blonde, his strides long and unhurried.
The kiss Tommy Triplehorn planted on Candy’s mouth made Sarah Colby’s mouth dry right up. She knew all too well how his kisses felt and couldn’t help the jealousy stirring up inside her as the couple walked down the sidewalk to a motel room door in plain view of every person inside the saloon.
The man had no shame. The red in his cheeks as he’d exited the bar had likely just been from the liquor he’d consumed.
Sarah tamped down the disappointment that soured her stomach and summoned a smile for the man she was meeting this night.
Blake Morrow was thick-shouldered and tall. A burly man with a booming voice. His wealth and standing in the community made him a very suitable suitor. The fact he already had children from a previous wife was a relief to Sarah, who had resigned herself long ago to her barren state—something a reproductive specialist had confirmed years ago, and she’d come to accept as God’s will. Blake didn’t need any children from her. Blake liked her and desired her property even more. He was honest about that, gently respectful of her intelligence by not trying to romance the Rocking C from under her as so many men had.
His gaze noted her blue jeans, and he arched a brow. “I take it we’re eating steaks here?”
She shrugged. “I ran into some problems before I could break away. No time to get dressed up.” She made no apology. Blake knew her responsibilities as a ranch owner came first.
“You still look beautiful,” he said, his tone gruff.
She appreciated the compliment and smiled, not wanting to read too deeply into anything he said. Surface congeniality, quiet respect. That was more than she was accustomed to. It would do.
Any stray thoughts of handsome cowboys like Tommy Triplehorn were consigned to her fantasy life, not her real life. The young rancher had been a mistake. One she’d regretted the instant she’d let him slip beneath her reserve. She’d felt alone, afraid for her future. She’d mistaken his rock-hard shoulder for maturity, his hot kisses for love. Eventually, she’d fallen from the clouds that had obscured her good sense and faced the cold hard truth. She was a plain woman, a natural woman. Twelve years older than Tommy Triplehorn and a barren, wealthy woman. The only things a man would ever want from her were what she owned and perhaps a bed partner. As sparsely populated as this section of Texas was, she had no illusions that sheer convenience was on her side.
No, she’d learned a hard lesson all those years ago about what men wanted from wives. One she’d never forget. Her destiny wasn’t some fool’s gold of a lover’s promises.
Blake’s strong hand settled at the small of her back to guide her toward a table, something she couldn’t help flinching from. She didn’t need to be led. Didn’t need some big strong man showing her the way. But she kept silent. He was only doing what he’d been taught. He couldn’t know that the last time she’d been led, she’d been forced to submit. The action that had left her cold, made her more reserved with men than other women might be.
Not that Blake seemed to notice as he smiled warmly across the table. “I’m surprised you accepted my invitation as many times as you’ve refused.”
She blinked, surprised he was getting straight to the point without any polite preliminaries. “You’ve been asking me for a while. I thought we should get to know each other.”
He nodded, his rugged face tightening just a little. “You know I want to court you.”
“I appreciate your candor,” she said softly. “I understand you have some expectations. I’m willing for us to explore a relationship.”
Good Lord, they sounded like the oil men who’d come to her ranch a few years back asking to sink a test well on her property.
Blake reached across the table and cupped her hand. Just a brief squeeze before he withdrew and flipped open the menu.
The waitress arrived. Relieved by the distraction, Sarah ordered a steak and salad. Blake ordered the same, adding shrimp and potatoes. She supposed such a large man would need the calories. Hopefully, he didn’t expect for her to let him finish her steak. She wasn’t some deskbound rancher. She rode the fences, supervised the movement of the cattle to fresher pastures, and participated in the branding every spring. Every calorie she ate fueled her body, just like a man’s.
She forced herself to uncurl her fingers. What was she doing? Looking for problems? For judgment? Was she simply hoping to find a compelling reason to send Blake on his way, like she’d done the past eight years with every other man who’d approached her since her husband’s untimely death?
Sarah forced herself to uncurl her hands in her lap. In any other situation, she’d have been comfortable, in charge. But here, knowing Blake wanted to marry her, that he’d expect intimacies at some point, left her cold inside.
A damaged heroine in a romance novel, she certainly was not, but she had been tainted by a violent man. Left untrusting and wary. Glad for a long while for her self-imposed celibacy.
Pretending ease with the man sitting across from her seemed an insurmountable task. Who was she fooling? Sooner or later, he’d make a move, and she wasn’t entirely sure how she’d react. Would she flinch or lean away? Or simply freeze in place?
The more she considered the idea of intimacy with this man, the more the knot in her stomach hurt. The last thing Blake wanted was problems. He had his life mapped out. He hadn’t looked any further than skin deep to determine she was his next move.
So, although he’d be disappointed in the short term, she knew she couldn’t string him along with hopes she’d learn to deal with a husband in her life and bed. Before the salads arrived, Sarah made her apologies and quietly excused herself, leaving a befuddled Blake without a clue what he’d done wrong.
She headed straight to her car, hat in her hand, not looking around the dark parking lot. A scuff of gravel sounded, and she instantly regretted waving Blake back into his chair when he’d offered to walk her out. She cupped her keys, spreading her fingers around three to use as a weapon.
“You didn’t stay for dinner,” came a quiet voice behind her. Smooth as whiskey. Achingly sweet. Tommy Triplehorn.
She tossed back her hair and glanced over her shoulder. “You didn’t stay for whatever…”
The corners of his mouth twitched. “My taste buds must be off. She was too sweet. What’s your excuse?”
Sarah blew out a breath and turned, facing the young man who had plagued her thoughts since their long-ago affair—no intention whatsoever of answering his question. “You’re looking good, Tommy.” Lord, not the smart thing to say, but the plain unvarnished truth. Dark-brown hair worn short, thick shoulders and arms, thighs, heavily muscled… She darted her gaze back up before she exposed her fascination, only to linger on his handsome face. Age had carved maturity into his features, honed them to sharp-edged masculine lines. He presented an arresting picture, although she did miss the old softness in his now-piercing gaze.
A muscle along the edge of his jaw tightened. “When are you gonna face the truth, Sarah?”
She shook her head, swallowing down the hot lump that burned the back of her throat. “I have to go home,” she said hoarsely, turning and jamming her key into the lock, but scraping the paint on her car instead.
He stepped closer, pressing his body against her back and reached around to gently cup her hand until she released the keys. Then, pushing long enough she felt the tension in his tall frame, he unlocked her door and dangled her key ring until she grabbed for it.
Tommy planted his hands on either side of her and nuzzled her hair. “Ever ask yourself why it is I can do this, move into your space, touch you, without you goin’ cold as a block of ice?”
“No.” She wasn’t lying. The last thing she wanted was to remember. She kept the memory of how they’d been together closely guarded, even from herself.
“Didn’t think so. Or you wouldn’t have let all this time pass, even though we both know you belong to me.”
She shook her head. “I don’t belong to you. There is no you and me. We’re all wrong, Tommy.”
His head nodded, rubbing her cheek. “Because I was too young. But sweetheart, age stopped bein’ a good enough reason when I stopped bein’ a teenager.”
“We should never have—”
“Not then. I know it was a mistake. For you, anyway. I have no regrets. But there’s no good reason now.”
He nuzzled the corner of her neck, and her knees quivered. She had to be strong. Good Lord, what if someone saw them like this? “Look at me, Tommy,” she said staring at their reflections in the window. “Look at us. That’s why we don’t belong together.”
Tommy’s brows lowered as he stared into his reflection. “I don’t understand what it is you see that I don’t. If it’s age, that’s not good enough, Sarah. Not anymore. I’m sick and tired of pretendin’ I don’t care.”
She turned inside his arms and met his gaze with a steady one of her own. “You should respect my wishes. I told you no eight years ago. I haven’t changed my mind.”
Tommy leaned away, dropped his head, and stared at his clenched hands for a long moment. When he raised his head again, his gaze bored into hers.
The weight of that steady stare settled in her core, and she shivered beneath the raw intensity of his expression.
“Hear me now, Sarah Colby. I’m not givin’ up on us. Everywhere you go, I’ll be there. Waitin’ for you to come to your senses.”
She scoffed, while inside a traitorous part of her body rejoiced. “You sound like you intend to be my stalker.”
“If that’s what it takes to make you understand I’m serious…”
Sarah shivered, hearing the conviction in his deep voice, reading the icy resolve in his gray eyes. The tender cowboy she’d known years ago had been replaced by a man with dangerous edges.
She gripped the door handle behind her and tugged it open.
He caught the corner of the door, and swung it wider, gently handing her into the car. “You head straight home, Ms. Colby,” he said, amusement in his voice. “I’ll be right behind you.”
She got in, slammed the door, and hit the locks. Fear hadn’t triggered her reaction. Oh, no. It was the flutter of arousal awakening inside her, so strong her body clenched. She needed to get away. Drive to the sanctuary of her home to reinforce her resolve.
As she pulled out of the parking lot and onto the highway, she couldn’t help darting glances at the rearview mirror. The lights of his truck were there. But he was hanging back at a safe distance. Christ, he’d been serious.
She’d known one day she’d have to reckon with her past. Her one shameful indiscretion had cost her more than a little self-respect. Tommy wasn’t to blame. She shouldered that burden all on her own. She’d been old enough to know better but hadn’t wanted to resist because he’d been so earnest and heartbreakingly beautiful.
Stalled at the lowest ebb of her marriage, she’d been vulnerable, ready for a little tenderness, which he’d been so eager to provide. One touch, and she hadn’t been able to resist another and another—until she’d cuckolded a dangerous man.
While that man was gone from her life for good, one fact hadn’t changed. Tommy Triplehorn was all wrong for her.
He was too young. Too handsome. And from a family that was rapidly expanding. So many children were joining the ranks. Any woman who took him on would be expected to contribute to that expansion.
Her chest tightened, and she drew a deep breath to ease the tension making her fingers clench the steering wheel. She thought ahead, to the moment she pulled into her driveway and parked her car beside her house, knowing he wouldn’t leave without trying to convince her to see him.
The last thing she wanted was a confrontation outside where her foreman and any hands might hear. She’d have to invite him inside her home. The thought both frightened and excited her.
But she could do this. Ask him in for coffee. Putter around the kitchen to keep him from trying to continue what he’d started back in Shooter’s parking lot. There she’d been so intensely aware of him. So needful of his touch.
Damn, eight years and nothing had changed. She dashed a tear from her face with the back of her hand and cursed her own lustful nature. Not something her husband had ever been able to tap into, because he hadn’t given a damn about what pleased her.
The tall gate post at the entrance to her private road loomed to the right. She slowed, signaled to turn, then drove onto the gravel drive, bumping over the cattle guard before heading straight to the house.
A glimpse in her mirror confirmed Tommy had been serious. His headlights bounced and then steadied, following her all the way up the hill.
Sarah breathed deep, calming breaths, and then let herself out of the car. She gave Tommy a wave and walked toward the porch, wanting to appear collected and needing a little distance and a few spare seconds to achieve that feat.
To her dismay, the quick clip of his boot heels matched the beat of her wayward heart. Seconds later, a hand cupped the small of her back, and he reached around her to hustle her inside the house and close the door.
At the thrill of his touch, Sarah had the fleeting thought that Tommy Triplehorn might be all wrong for her, but her body was awfully happy he was here.
Tommy swallowed as he looked down at Sarah’s averted face. Tension crimped her lips. A rapid pulse beat at her temple. She was like a cornered rabbit, and he’d done that. Made her afraid—perhaps not of violence but of intimacy.
Shame washed over him, and he sighed, taking a step back to give her space but unwilling to turn on his heel and leave. He was here. She needed to get used to his presence, because he was going to be part of her life from here on out. Whether she accepted his vision of the future right now or not.
Something that produced such a strong upwelling of emotion inside him had to be rooted in love. Anything else would make this whole attraction something ugly and desperate.
She stood so still he wondered if she’d ever make the first move to break the tension surrounding them. One of them had to speak first. But what to say?
“You look good, Sarah.”
Her brows drew together.
So, she’d said pretty much the same thing to him when he’d cornered her in the parking lot.
“We need to talk.”
She gave a sharp shake of her head. “I don’t see the need. Not at all.”
“I want to court you. Good and proper. I want to make you my wife.”
Her breath left in a quick gust. “That’s ridiculous. Sayin’ it out loud is ridiculous. Who does that? We haven’t even dated.”
He ignored the snippiness of her voice. He had her rattled. “You won’t let me start with a date. So, I thought I’d let you know up front what my intentions are.”
She raised her chin. “I don’t want to marry you.”
“That may be true. And I can understand your fear. But I’m not Paul.” Tommy pointed a finger and touched her with the tip, right above her heart. “You were with Blake Morrow tonight. That means you’re ready to consider the possibility of marriage. I’ve waited a long time for you to reconsider. I just never thought it would take you so many years to figure out you don’t have to be alone.”
Her chest rose around a deep breath. “Tonight was a mistake. I realized it the moment I sat across the table from the man.”
Tommy narrowed his eyes. “You realized you made a mistake the moment you saw me with Candy Crowe. That’s when it started to fall apart, didn’t it?”
She shook her head, but her whiskey-colored eyes had widened for just a second, and he knew he’d guessed right. “Thing is, I know that’s true, because I couldn’t work up a hard-on thinkin’ about what Candy was ready to give me, not until I saw you walk through the door. Once I had her in the room, I couldn’t touch her, Sarah, not when the woman I wanted was you.”
Sarah’s cheeks darkened with a blush. “You should go.”
“Not until you agree to give me a chance.”
Bright splotches of pink rode her cheeks. “I can’t date you. When this doesn’t work out—which it won’t—everyone will think I’m a fool. I won’t be left with my reputation in shreds.”
“In shreds because you’re steppin’ out with me?” His lips twisted. “I guess I deserve that. I’ve been pretty fast and loose. Sarah, I’m willing to change for you.” He lifted a hand, but she shied away. “Are you afraid of me?” he asked, his voice rasping.
Her eyes filled. “No,” she whispered. “But I don’t want this. I don’t want you. Tommy, let go. Please, just let go.”
He stood still for a long moment, staring into her eyes, trying to figure out if she really meant it or was trying to be noble for his sake. In the end, he drank in the sight of her dark eyes shining and her nostrils flaring slightly like she was ready to cry but wasn’t willing to release her tears.
Tommy’s shoulders slumped, and he glanced away, feeling his own eyes fill. He’d been so sure she felt the same as him. But he’d read her all wrong. Shaking his head at his own poor judgment, he met her solemn gaze. “You ever need anything, Sarah…”
She nodded quickly, perhaps sensing he was ready to release her. “Of course. We’re neighbors.”
“It could have been good between us,” he said, his voice gruff. “Sorry I bothered you.” He opened the door and let himself out, pausing on the edge of the porch until he heard the door shut firmly behind him.
Then, glancing up at the moon, he cursed the impulse that had led him follow her here. How desperate had he looked? She didn’t want him in her life. She’d made that clear so many times over the years. He hadn’t paid her any mind, hadn’t believed her because he hadn’t been willing to accept that this longing was all one-sided.
Feeling like a lead weight had settled in his gut, Tommy headed to his truck. He was done pining for Sarah Colby. But he was also done chasing tail. It was time to get serious about the rest of his life.