Jenny Carpenter is the unrivaled pie-baking champion of Last Chance, South Carolina’s annual Watermelon Festival and the town’s unofficial spinster. With her dream of marriage and children on hold, she focuses on another dream, turning the local haunted house into a charming bed-and-breakfast. But her plans go off course when the home’s former owner shows up on her doorstep on a dark and stormy night . . . Mega-bestselling horror writer Gabriel Raintree is as mysterious and tortured as his heroes. His family’s long-deserted mansion is just the inspiration he needs to finish his latest twisted tale, or so he thinks until he learns it’s been sold. The new innkeeper proves to be as determined as she is kind, and soon Gabriel finds himself a paying guest in his own home. As Jenny and Gabe bring new passion to the old house, can she convince him to leave the ghosts of his past behind-and make Last Chance their first choice for a future together?
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“We have plenty of time for you to tell me your secrets. And I can tell you mine. You don’t have to bear every burden all by yourself, you know.”
He wanted to believe that most of all, so he didn’t move. He didn’t try to leave her. He didn’t open the door and walk away. He sat there and let her seal the deal with a kiss. She leaned over the console and touched her soft lips to his. The kiss started out tentatively, as if she was testing him to see what he might do.
He should have pushed her away like the other times.
But her kiss was like a healing balm. It seemed to work its way into all the endlessly aching places in his soul. It filled him up with something golden and pure, like some miraculous elixir. And so he fell into the kiss as hard as he’d ever fallen into a kiss. He opened his mouth and she moved in and blew all his good intentions and deep fears to smithereens.
Jenny unlocked the two locks on The Jonquil House’s front door. Her heart was pounding so hard she couldn’t breathe. This was it. She was taking charge, but holy God she didn’t have the first idea how to actually do that.
It was still kind of amazing that Gabe was here, coming back to the inn knowing that they were not going to say good night and go to their separate bedrooms. And really, she was starting to have a tiny bit of performance anxiety. It had been one hell of a long time since she’d gotten intimate with a man.
More important, if she was crazy enough to buy into what Savannah Randall had suggested earlier in the evening, then there was a boatload riding on this moment. Like her heart and her future. Which explained why her hands were shaking so badly that she was fumbling with the keys.
It seemed to take an eternity to get the door open. She was running out of time to think of something hot and sultry to say that would get him up to her bedroom.
Then, as the door swung inward, Bear came flying down the hall and knocked her back into Gabe’s waiting arms. The dog was probably ruining her green dress with his paws up on her chest, but he was giving her lots and lots of sloppy dog kisses, and somehow that seemed exactly right for the moment.
Because it made Gabe laugh. He was right behind her, holding her up. And he’d used the moment to sneak his big manly hands around her waist while he propped her up against his sturdy chest and hips, where she discovered that Gabe was turned on.
Evidently, he didn’t need any sultry lines. The kisses they’d shared in the car had done the trick. They were some first-class kisses.
His heat penetrated her being and wormed its way into every cell of her body, melting her so that she kind of settled back into him with a vocal sigh.
“Bear. Down. Now.” Gabe could be commanding when he chose to be.
The dog obeyed. And she found herself back on her own two feet while Gabe shut and locked the door.
“He needs to be walked,” she said, suddenly realizing that a dog complicated things. And then something else occurred to her. “You were going to leave Bear behind? With me?”
He turned away from the door and aimed his gaze on her. His eyes seemed even darker, and his look lit a fire in her. “He’s your dog,” he said.
She shook her head. “No, I think he’s our dog.”
The corner of his mouth twitched. She wanted to kiss it and wondered why the heck she was holding back. She needed to break free of these restraints that she’d imposed on herself for all these years.
But before she could act on the impulse, he was striding down the hall toward the kitchen.
“Wait.” She followed after him.
He pulled the dog’s leash down from the hook by the back door. “I’ll walk the dog.”
She didn’t want him to leave her. If he did, she’d lose her nerve. Or maybe he’d talk himself out of it.
She shook her head. “No, we’ll walk the dog after.” And she took a couple of steps toward him, snaked her arms around his neck, and pulled him down for the kiss she’d wanted to give him a moment before.
His mouth met hers, his lips firm and moist and gentle. When he opened the seam of her lips, his tongue proved to be exceptionally talented.
She ran her fingers up into his hair, and he made a noise that made her feel powerful in a way she had never felt before.
His mouth left hers and trailed a string of kisses and half bites along her jaw and down into the hollow of her neck.
Her insides melted, as if some warm being had breathed spring into the desolate, cold places that she’d been guarding. The walls came down. She stopped worrying. She stopped thinking.
She simply was. Alive.
Hope Ramsay grew up on the North Shore of Long Island, but every summer Momma would pack her off under the care of Aunt Annie to go visiting with relatives in the midlands of South Carolina. Her extended family includes its share of colorful aunts and uncles, as well as cousins by the dozens, who provide the fodder for the characters you’ll find in Last Chance, South Carolina. She’s a two-time finalist in the Golden Heart and is married to a good ol’ Georgia boy who resembles every single one of her heroes. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia, where you can often find her on the back deck, picking on her thirty-five-year-old Martin guitar.
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Flying is Theo Jacobson’s passion. Soaring above the clouds, he’s on to the next adventure . . . and the next woman. So when he comes home to Everson, Texas, for his big brother’s wedding, it’s nothing but a pit stop. He’ll act as best man, cover the family business while the happy couple honeymoons, and be on his way before the champagne goes flat. But all that changes when he comes face-to-face with the wedding planner-the very same woman who broke his heart without a backward glance years ago. Irene Cornwell started I Do I Do with a wing and a prayer. Now, with two weddings under her belt, it’s a piece of cake . . . until Theo lands back in town. Just seeing his twinkling blue eyes and infuriatingly sexy smile turns her world upside down. For the sake of her business, she proposes an uneasy truce. But when the wedding is over-all bets are off!
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If he was smart he’d follow her suggestion. Get the hell out of here, go home, and take a cold shower. But he’d never been smart about Ree, and it was hot. Summer in Texas hot. And her swimming pool was just sitting there waiting to be of some use. He put his tools away and headed for the bath house. An odd assortment of suits hung from hooks on the wall, and he picked a pair that looked like long plaid walking shorts. They fit just fine, so he grabbed a towel and walked out to the pool.
Ree must have still been in the house, but he didn’t wait for her. He dove into the deep end of the pool, letting the cool water shock his system. He stayed under water, swimming with his eyes open until he reached the shallow end of the pool, and then he turned around without surfacing and swam the other direction. His lungs were burning from a lack of oxygen, so he was finally forced to come up for air. Good God. The sight before him nearly knocked the breath out of him all over again.
Wearing a purple bikini and nothing more, Ree walked out of the back door gliding toward him like a model on one of his fantasy runways.
Irene walked out the door just as Theo was rising from the water like a sleek water god. Neptune’s warrior. Or some mythical creature. His black hair was slicked back from his face. Water cascaded down his bulging arms, across his broad chest, and ran over his flat stomach. He’d gained more muscle since she’d first known him and the result was extraordinary. Unfortunately for her peace of mind, he was gorgeous. Absolutely. Undeniably the epitome of male perfection. A beautiful boy grown into the manliest of men. Damn it all and a box of rocks.
She put her eyeballs back in their sockets and tried to act casual. If she didn’t want to make a fool of herself she’d have to keep things light –act unaffected. Working with him this afternoon had already put her into a state of unbridled ditziness. She kept sneaking peeks at the way the muscles in his arms bunched as he swung the hammer, or the way he used his long legs, lifting the thick boards over his head before putting them in place. The hot Texas sun must have baked her brain because he suddenly seemed even more attractive than usual. She was supposed to be immune. But the way his dark hair artfully curled around the top of his ears seemed designed to make her blood thicken with need. Those eyes. Cool blue and watching her, calculating her responses, but she’d lost track of what he wanted from her years ago, and the time she’d spent with him the last few days had done nothing to clarify anything at all. Especially what and how she felt about this man.
It had taken her way too long to decide what bathing suit to wear. Like it mattered. It wasn’t like she was going on a date, for goodness sakes, but his remark about her not wearing a suit made her self-conscious, and resentful, and turned on all at the same time. She was letting the man screw with her head, and that was the one thing she’d promised she wouldn’t do. First she started to put on a black one piece racing suit that covered as much skin as possible, but it felt like she was being manipulated into wearing it. Like she was ashamed that he’d seen her naked on his arrival into town. Then she grabbed a two piece that had a little skirt. Modest, but showing a little more flesh. She held it up in the mirror and frowned at the polka dot design. It looked like something a clown might wear. To hell with it. She picked up her favorite purple bikini, slipped it on, and marched outside with her head held high.
The impact of seeing him all wet and bare-chested was like taking a shot of tequila on an empty stomach. Hot quivers ran through her veins. Intoxicating. She’d been without a man for much too long if he could make her feel so out of control just by taking his shirt off. It took all of her mighty concentration not to stop and gawk. But she was proud of herself. She made it to the side of the pool, but then stopped having no idea what to do next. Conversation was way beyond her power. As a kid she’d always liked to make a splashy entrance, so she let out a yell and executed the perfect cannon ball, rocking the pool, and hoping he might be gone when she surfaced for air.
Molly Cannon lives a charmed life in Texas with hernearly perfect husband and extremely large cat Nelson. When she’s not writing, she spends her days reading, taking dance classes with the hubby and watching all kinds of sports.
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