Oct 032017
 

Johnny Big-Ears, The Feel-Good Friend
by John Paul Padilla
October 3, 2017 Book Blast

October is National Bullying Prevention Month! Join the Campaign with this Amazing Book!

Johnny Big-Ears, the Feel-Good Friend by John Paul Padilla

Book Details

Genre: Children

Published by: Padilla Goldworks

Publication Date: March 20, 2012

Number of Pages: 40

ISBN: 0979889847 (ISBN13: 9780979889844)

Purchase Links: Johnny Big-Ears, The Feel-Good Friend on Amazon Johnny Big-Ears, The Feel-Good Friend on Barnes & Noble Johnny Big-Ears, The Feel-Good Friend on Goodreads

Synopsis:

Johnny BIG-EARS is just like every other five-year-old child, but when he starts his first day of kindergarten, children begin to tease him because of his enormously large ears. Follow Johnny as he faces the challenges that being different presents. How will Johnny react to being teased? Find out why Johnny turns out to be a winner in this endearing, thoughtful book that addresses typical childhood bullying and offers children advice on how to deal with teasing. Whether you’re a parent or an educator, now you will be able to encourage your kids or students through this special book and help motivate all young kids to start feeling good about themselves no matter who they are, or what they look like!

Excerpt:

Author Bio:

John Paul Padilla

John Paul Padilla was born in December 11, in Los Angeles, California. He is a multi-award winning author that includes Mom’s Choice Award. He is also a public speaker and advocate against bullying. He is currently residing in the Central Valley of California. John Paul is an ex model, and has danced for fifteen years with a dance academy. He has written lyrical, verses that were recorded by Nashville artists. He has previously published Wings to Cross an Ocean, an inspirational poetry book that encourages personal growth and happiness for adults. John Paul was inspired to write his first anti-bullying book, Johnny Big Ears, the Feel Good Friend, based on his own childhood experiences with teasing and bullying. He has also written Johnny Big-Ears, Meets His New Neighbor Suzy, for little girls, who get teased because of their weight. Both of his books are now out in Spanish. Most recently, Johnny Big-Ears won the Grand prize for best overall, Best Book Cover in the 2017 IndieBRAG First Annual Book Cover Contest.

Visit John Paul’s website: Website or catch up with Johnny Big-Ears on Twitter & Facebook!

Tour Host Participants:

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Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Providence Book Promotions for John Paul Padilla. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card AND 5 winners of one (1) print copy of Johnny Big-Ears, The Feel-Good Friend by John Paul Padilla, Continental US Mailing Addresses only. The giveaway begins on October 3 and runs through October 10, 2017.

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Nov 292016
 

Providence Book Promotions Presents

Unexpected: Short Stories from Around the World

by P. F Citizen One

Unexpected: Short Stories from Around the World by P. F Citizen One

Unexpected is a collection of true life short stories inspired by the author’s travels around the world and the people he has met. The book features seven thought-provoking, humorous and engaging stories that end with the most unlikely twist.

In one of the stories, The Wedding Contract, the author tells the story of a man who was forced to sign a pre-nuptial agreement simply because his wife was wealthy and he was considered poor. As time went on, fortunes changed and the man became far wealthier than his wife. His wife and friends dreaded the worst from him because of his new financial position but what he did next was shocking.

Book Details

Genre: Anthology, Short Stories
Published by: BookBaby
Publication Date: October 7th 2016
Number of Pages: 23
ISBN: 1483577856 (ISBN13: 9781483577852)
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 Barnes & Noble 🔗 Goodreads 🔗

Excerpt:

Julie’s parents were concerned. Julie was a single child from a pretty wealthy family with many properties and stores. So, her parents, her family, and her friends convinced her to protect herself by writing a prenup agreement. Should they get divorced, Julie would keep all her family’s belongings. All her entourage pressured her so much that Julie finally arrived at the idea that it was necessary to sign a prenup.

Jean-Pierre didn’t accept it at first, but in the end, he had no choice: Was it worth losing the woman he considered to be his soulmate?

Jean-Pierre and Julie finally got married and had two gorgeous daughters. But Jean-Pierre was still a little bit sad. After all, if they insisted on a contract, it was because her family didn’t completely trust him.

Jean-Pierre had been writing for a few years, and he had written many books. He was also working as a French teacher to get some additional revenue. However, he decided to stop writing to become a full-time teacher and contribute more to the family expenses.

He threw himself into his work as a teacher. One day, as Julie was watching television, she saw that the press was looking for the anonymous author of three books. From their description of the writing, she immediately recognized her husband’s style. After he was identified as the author of these books, he was given royalties for the book sales.

Jean-Pierre soon became very rich and famous, so much so that Julie (and, indeed, the press) was now waiting for the day when Jean-Pierre would cheat on her. She expected that he would eventually divorce her to marry another girl—probably an actress or a model or simply a younger woman. He was now famous and powerful, far richer than his wife and her entire family.

Rumors of cheating grew more and more persistent. The rumors said that Jean-Pierre would ask for a divorce and that he was getting ready for another wedding.

During a press conference, Jean-Pierre was asked about the rumors. He answered that he would act like a man and not hide anything anymore. In front of everyone, he told his wife:

“Honey, since the very first time I met you, I loved you more than I loved any other woman. Then, we got married and had two wonderful girls. I love them so much Over the years, I always thought about…that prenuptial agreement I had to sign because I was poor. Today, I am very rich… I am sorry, honey, but I am announcing…

Author Bio:

P.F  Citizen  OneP.F. Citizen One is a writer. He works as a petroleum engineer, which requires a lot of traveling to different countries, and he uses the situations and varied people he has come across as an inspiration for his great love of writing. His interest in travel has meant that he has picked up some useful languages along the way, and he is now fluent in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and German, allowing him to go just about anywhere and still be understood. Most of the time. He lists his great fear as ”being stranded alone on a desert island” and, as a result, he avoids traveling by boat whenever he can.

P.F. Citizen One’s new book, Unexpected, was published on October 7th and is a book of short stories, inspired by his travels throughout the world and the people he has met.

Catch Up With P.F. Citizen One on his Website & on Facebook!

Book Blast Participants:

Stop by these great hosts to learn more & enter to win!


Book Tour Coming Soon!

In February Unexpected: Short Stories from Around the World will be featured in a virtual book tour. Visit the sites below for great features, reviews, and giveaways!


Don’t Miss Out On Your Chance to WIN!

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for P. F Citizen One. There will be 2 US winners of one (1) eBook copy of Unexpected: Short Stories from Around the World by P. F Citizen One. This is subject to change without notification. The giveaway begins on November 20th and runs through December 3rd, 2016.

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Feb 252014
 

 

 

 
ANGEL SEDUCED by Jaime Rush (February 25, 2014; Forever Mass Market; $8.00)

Kye knows that her boyfriend Kasabian is in grave danger, investigating a series of kidnapped children. She knows he’s pushing her away for her own safety, but she won’t let him face it alone.

Kasabian will risk anything to rescue the children, and he has a bold plan to allow himself to be taken hostage by the kidnapper, Silva. While he tries to reason with Silva, Kye is racing again time to discover where the kidnapper is holding him .

If Kye is reunited with Kasabian, will their combined powers be enough? The fate of the Crescents-and Kye and Kasabian’s hearts-hang in the balance.

Read an excerpt:

It was damn annoying how Kye’s attention kept straying to Kasabian through the night, how her mind kept replaying their conversation. Women gawked and flirted, but he didn’t flirt back. She was glad to see him leave while she finished up with a client session after closing time.

Her relief evaporated when she stepped into the well-lit parking lot and spotted him leaning against a deep yellow sports car. As though he were waiting for her. The thought fluttered in her chest. Not helping, the Lotus’s license plate read NOANGEL, and black angel wings spread across the hood. She told herself it was enough to enjoy the view. Men who took care of their bodies, working out enough to build muscle without looking too jacked up, were eye candy. No calories in looking.

The thick black heels of her short boots clunked on the asphalt. She felt such an odd pull toward him that she forced herself to give him a brief smile and bypass him.

“Aren’t you hot in that?” he asked, gesturing as though he were wearing a jacket.

She slowed to a stop in front of him. “Only when I dance.” No matter how warm she got, she never took off the black leather jacket with her patches and studs.

“And you didn’t dance.” He tilted his head, giving her an oh-my-gods-stop-my-heart pout. “Pity.”

“Are you flirting with me?”

“You make it sound like a crime.”

“What you’re hearing is surprise. I know it’s painful for Caidos to feel desire, punishment you unfairly suffer because your angel forefathers fell to human temptation. Don’t worry. As a therapist, I’m sworn to secrecy,” she added. “Caido clients tell me it’s easier to shut down their desire. Yet you do … feel desire.”

“Ah, so you did sense it.”

“You threw me off back at the bar. First that you were flirting, then that you asked me outright to feel you. I mean, to sense your feelings. You’re different.”

“Very. I don’t usually flirt.” He let his gaze drift down over her black leather skirt and fishnet stockings. His eyes met hers again, jumpstarting her heart. “You have a strange effect on me.”

Ditto, buddy. Which made her all too aware that they were outside alone together.

His chuckle rolled across her skin. “Don’t worry, I’m not waiting out here to pounce on you.”

She’d forgotten how Caidos could pick up others’ emotions. “But you are waiting for me.”

“Yes, I am.”

“You’re not going to ask me out or anything, are you? Because I don’t date.” He didn’t say anything, which made for a really awkward few seconds. “It’s a general rule, nothing personal. If … that’s what you were going to ask.” She would have thwapped herself on the forehead if it wouldn’t look stupid.

And, of course, as a Caido, he picked up everything she was feeling, which put a damned incredibly sexy smile on his face. “As much as I’d love to hook up with you, it’s not feasible. Or wise.”

He’d love to hook up with her. She tried to staunch her reaction to those words.

He gave her a sympathetic smile. “The love guru doesn’t date? That seems sad.”

She debated being obtuse but decided it was better that he knew she wasn’t just playing hard to get. “Being involved with someone interferes with my abilities. The drama and distraction, even if things are going well, takes over my mind. All I get is noise when I read someone.”

“And that terrifies you. Why?”

She really hated that he could read her. “Helping people is important to me.”

“Which leads beautifully to the reason I’m waiting for you. The Caido/Deuce couple who came in and greeted you like you were their best friend, who danced together, and kissed … you helped them, didn’t you?”

Kye had watched them snuggling together on the dance floor with just a tiny bit of longing. “Sorry, client confidentiality.”

He rubbed his chin. “So you did help them. The only way they could be together is by doing the Essex. I assume you know about the exchange of essences that balances the Caido so he’s not as sensitive to her emotions. Because it only temporarily ease his pain, a long-term relationship would mean that her essence would eventually be depleted. No self-respecting Caido would do that to someone he cares about. So how is it that they’re together?”

She could only give him a general answer. “I’ve come up with a way to make the Essex permanent.”

He pushed away from the car, interest crackling off him as he came closer. “Tell me more.”

She fought the instinct to back up a step. “I’ve had a few mixed-Caido couples approach me about circumventing the pain. They hadn’t meant to fall in love, but now they wanted to be together. I tried several different spells and magick devices, but nothing worked.”

He crossed his arms in front of him and rocked back on his heels. “And you take it very hard when you can’t fix someone.”

“You get that from me too?”

“I suppose we both bear a similar burden in picking up feelings we have no business sensing. How does it work?”

She laid one of her hands on top of the other and let her fingers barely settle between each other. “With the Essex, you’re limited to how much essence you can exchange, kind of the way my fingers can’t slide together. That’s why it’s temporary. The Cobra, which I named for the tantric position, allows both essences to reach fully toward each other, like this.” She laced her hands together, fingers straight so that they formed an X. “This starts the bonding process. The last step is when both parties actually pull each other’s essence into their souls, permanently locking them together.” Her fingers wrapped over her hands as though in prayer. “At least, I think it’s permanent. The first couple did it four months ago and it’s still holding strong.”

“Why haven’t I heard about this magick of yours? The Caido community should be buzzing.”

“There are some side effects I’m still working out. The Caido is bombarded by every emotion he’s ever repressed. It can be intense. One Caido even experienced a resurgence of buried memories.”

Kasabian’s eyes shimmered. “Buried memories?”

“It apparently caused some big problems, but he couldn’t give me any details beyond that. He just wanted me to know that it happened.”

He went silent for a few moments, rubbing his fingers across his mouth. “Can you do it so a Caido can simply experience desire?”

“Only if you have a committed partner who wants to be permanently bonded to you. Because that’s what it does.”

“That would not be a good thing. For any woman.”

“Why?” The mystery of him pulled at her, the dark desire she’d sensed.

“Oh, love, there you go, needing to help even though you know you should run the other way.” He lowered his chin, the street light reflecting off his razor-sharp jawline. “And you should. I’m forty ways fucked up.”

She swallowed. No one had ever made her this off-balanced. “I do want to help. Too many messed up people are not only suffering but inflicting their misery on others.”

“I assure you that I’m not inflicting my anything on anyone.” He reached out with the back of his hand and brushed it down her cheek. “As much as I’d like to.”

She stumbled back, his touch curling throughout her body. “I should go.”

Hunger flashed in his eyes. “Yes, you should.”

Go, run, and never look back.

Jaime Rush
Things that go bump in the night have always fascinated Jaime Rush. Sometimes those things are human; other times, not so much. Now she has twisted them all together in the Hidden, a trilogy about humans with the essence of gods who walk the knife’s edge between the glamour of Miami and a place filled with dark magick and dangerous beauty.

Jaime is the author of the Offspring series and also writes under the name Tina Wainscott. She is the bestselling author of eighteen romance novels. She lives in Southwest Florida with her husband, daughter, and cat.
Connect with Jami at these sites:

WEBSITE        TWITTER   

 

 
SUN GOD SEEKS…SURROGATE? by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff (February 25, 2014; Forever Mass Market; $6.00)

Living in New York City, Penelope Trudeau has seen a lot of weird stuff-but nothing like the insane redhead who accosts her with a wild proposition. Penelope will get a million dollars if she has a baby with the strange woman’s brother. With her mother dying from a mysterious disease, Penelope can use the money. Yet the terrified waitress is adamant that her womb and eggs are not for sale . . . until she meets her intended mate. He’s impressively built, gorgeous, and red-hot, literally. He’s a freaking immortal Sun God.

For thousands of years, Kinich (Nick to his friends) didn’t believe in fraternizing with humans, so procreating with them is definitely a no-no. But after one sizzling encounter with the beautiful, passionate Penelope, Nick begins to think he was wrong . . . until he realizes meeting Penelope was just another one of his crazy sister’s schemes at manipulation. But now that he has Penelope in his life, he can’t let her go. Especially because doing so means throwing her into the hands of his dangerous enemies.

Read an excerpt:

The next morning, I slowly stretched my deliciously sore body while luxuriating in the softness of the silky sheets beneath me and the warm, oh-so-very-naked, well-built man snuggled to my side.

My heart fluttered when I opened my eyes and found Nick sleeping next to me, his bed-play-mussed, golden brown hair sweeping to one side across the pristine white pillow. His heavenly eyes were closed, allowing me to study the golden lashes fanning out against his bronzed face, looking like tiny threads of caramelized sugar. He was a picture of exquisite male perfection.

I sighed and resisted the urge to kiss his exposed, chiseled chest—yes, yes, perfectly tanned like the rest of him (nude sunbather?)and stroke the perfectly formed swells of his biceps, one of which was attached to the arm draped over my waist.

Last night had been the most…the most…

I sprang from the bed in horror. “Oh crap!”

Nick’s eyes instantly popped open. A warm smile swept across his face. “Oh, you’re up.” His large frame stretched across the length of the extra-long, king-size bed.

I stared at him, wondering what to say; somehow screaming, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” didn’t seem appropriate.

Okay. Breathe, Penelope. Breathe. Just ask him what happened!

But I didn’t want to insult the guy. Because from the look of his delectable body, it had to have been the best night of my life.

That is…that is…if we did.

Of course you did! Look! Even your eggs are smoking a cigarette.

No! Demon crackers, no!

He rolled onto his side and propped his head up with his arm. “Why are you standing there, naked? Come back to bed.”

I glanced down my body. Oh crappity! I was naked.

I scrambled to the bathroom—a large, modern affair of stainless steel and glass—and grabbed a fluffy, white towel.

Oh shit. Oh shit. What was going on? I needed to go out there and ask him, point blank, what happened. Not with your iguana breath. You might melt the man’s face off.

As long as I get to keep his rockin’ body.

Pen!

I quickly found a bottle of mouthwash in the cabinet and swished. Then I checked the mirror and noticed I was wearing an odd-looking necklace with a large, shiny black stone dangling in the middle. Had he put it on me last night?

Darn it! Why couldn’t I remember what had happened?

Don’t be a child, Penelope. Just ask him.

Yes. That’s what I would do.

Again I glanced in the mirror. “Oh no,” I hissed at my reflection. My dark hair resembled a beehive, but without the symmetry. I ran my fingers through the mess a few times, but it was useless. I’d have to make a polite exit, go home, and ensure I looked hot enough on our next date to erase any memories of my current discombobulation. Is that even a word, Penelope? And do you really think he wants to date you? You’re a one-nighter for a guy like that.

Christ. What had I gotten myself into?

I took three quick breaths and opened the door. My heart ignited from the sight of him still propped up on one elbow and lying in bed with a smug, male smile stretched across his face. He looked frigging perfect, practically glowing. Dammit. So unfair!

“Everything okay?” he asked.

I smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, I needed to wrangle the tornado.” I pointed to my matted hair.

“You look sexy as hell.” He patted the empty space next to him. “Come here.”

Mischief sparkled in his eyes, and though I didn’t know him well, I knew what that look meant: Encore.

I held up my hands. “Whoa. I think we need to talk.”

His lower lip stuck out in a slight pout and his shimmering eyes seemed to glow against the backdrop of his toasty-almond-colored skin. Damn if he wasn’t the most irresistible man on the planet.

And he wanted me. Wow.

I slowly padded over to the bed. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but what happened last night?”

He cocked one brow, “You don’t remember?”

I shook my head and gave him an apologetic smile. “I’m sure it was…great. The best toe curling sex ever—but…no, I don’t remember a thing.”

His smile melted away. “Bloody Christ! Neither do I.”

 Mimi Jean Pamfiloff:

Before taking up a permanent residence in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mimi spent time living near NYC (became a shopaholic), in Mexico City (developed a taste for very spicy food), and Arizona (now hates jumping chollas, but pines for sherbet sunsets). Her love of pre-Hispanic culture, big cities, and romance inspires her to write when she’s not busy with kids, hubby, work, and life…or getting sucked into a juicy novel.

She hopes that someday leather pants for men will make a big comeback and that her writing might make you laugh when you need it most.
Connect with MiMi at these sites:

WEBSITE        TWITTER   

THANKS TO MARISSA AT THE HACHETTE BOOK GROUP,
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a huge paranormal prize pack featuring entire series
by Jaime Rush, Mimi Jean Pamfiloff, Larissa Ione, and Cynthia Garner.
OPEN TO U.S. and CANADA RESIDENTS
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DISCLAIMER
I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review. No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
ADDENDUM
I do not have any affiliation with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. I am an IndieBound affiliate. I am providing link(s) solely for visitors that may be interested in purchasing this Book/EBook.

 

Apr 092013
 

Ladd Springs
by Dianne Venetta
on Tour April 15 – May 17th
Book Blast on April 9th

 

Book Details
Genre: Romantic Fiction
Published by: BloominThyme Press
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 285
ISBN: 978-0-9884871-2-3
Romantic Heat Index: Mild
***This is the first in a series ***
Purchase Links:    

Synopsis:

A deathbed promise and a mysterious find in the Tennessee forest bring Delaney Wilkins and Nick Harris together in a dramatic fight for the rights to Ladd Springs.

Delaney Wilkins finds herself at odds with hotel developer Nick Harris over a deathbed promise and a mysterious find in the forest. Both are after title to Ladd Springs, a mecca of natural springs, streams and trails in the eastern Tennessee mountains, a tract of land worth millions. But Ernie Ladd, current owner of the property and uncle to Delaney, is adamantly opposed to them both.

Felicity Wilkins, Delaney’s daughter, deserves to inherit her family’s legacy, but neighbor Clem Sweeney is working against her, ingratiating himself with Ernie Ladd. Clem is also harboring a secret that will make him a very wealthy man—unless the others stop him before he can bring it to fruition.

Complicating matters is Annie Owens. Ex-girlfriend to Jeremiah Ladd, Ernie’s estranged son living in Atlanta, she declares her daughter Casey is Jeremiah’s, making Casey every bit as entitled to the property as Felicity—only Annie hasn’t proven this claim. Yet.

All are fighting to get the property, but only one will walk away with the gold. Which will it be? Find out in the first installment of Ladd Springs…

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Crouched in the Tennessee mountain brush, Delaney Wilkins pushed up from her knees and moved farther into the thicket for a better view. Beneath the canopy of laurel and oaks, the scent of wet earth and decomposing leaves rose thick in the air around her. She craned her head to look between the trees. Some blackened, others gray, trunks stood in varying stages of decay, victims to the slew of storms that ripped through the area several years back. And among them, two strangers. By the outline of their build, the rough jerk to their movements, they appeared to be men. But gender didn’t matter. Trespassers were trespassers and they were on her land.

Delaney held her breath, suppressing all thought but one. No one was supposed to be in her part of the woods. Did they venture too far off the USFS trail and get lost?

Her instincts hummed. These two were up to no good, she was sure of it.

They seemed too intent on whatever it was they were doing to be lost hikers. She could hear their voices but was unable to make out the details of their conversation, or what—exactly—they were doing. Damn it, she had to get closer.

A quick survey of her surroundings told her the answer wasn’t here. Not unless she wanted to take up cliff diving down the slope before her, causing a ruckus that would obviously reveal her presence. Delaney scanned the upper ridge beyond the men. The trail behind her would take her to the top, but it was a twenty minute hike at a good clip. But they could be gone by then. She dropped her focus back to the strangers. There was one other way. She spied the narrow trail leading off to her left. It was a footpath she had forged years ago, one created as her secret weapon in games of “hide and seek” played with her cousin, Jeremiah Ladd. At one time, she had used the trail to kick his butt. At the moment, it would serve to get her thirty feet closer. Unfortunately, the pace she’d have to travel to remain undetected would have to be excruciatingly slow.

Delaney considered her options. Her Palomino, Sadie, was tied to a post at the base, the landmark her family had built to mark the opening for this trail. If she had to get anywhere fast, she knew Sadie would take her. Physical confrontation didn’t concern her—not with a pistol holstered snug in her boot.

Gravel and sticks crunched behind her. A thunderbolt of fear slammed into her. Shooting hand to boot, she whirled, ready to pounce.

“Hi,” came the hushed greeting.

With a sharp intake of breath, Delaney recovered from the initial shock and took in the unexpected sight of Nick Harris, the real estate developer determined to buy her family’s property—but what the hell was he doing here?

There, in the middle of the path, the six-foot-four man stood like a fool.

“Get down,” she hissed, her pulse continuing to hammer as she waved him toward the ground. Surprise swirled around a sudden suspicion teeming in his swarthy black eyes as he spied the hand sliding free from her boot. With a quick check on her quarry, she growled under her breath, “And be quiet!”

Squatting, he glanced in the direction she’d been looking and asked, “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” she said, her focus darting between him and the men. “Why are you following me?”

“I saw your horse tied to the post and became concerned.”

“Don’t be.”

Across the woods, the men rose to their full height and it was then Delaney got her first decent look at them. One was tall and bulky, the other was short and wiry. Wearing tattered cowboy hats and dirty T-shirts, they weren’t tourists. Were they squatters?

Laughter punctuated the quiet, drawing Nick’s quick attention. “Who are they?” he demanded.

“Don’t know,” she replied, wondering what the men would do next.

“Let’s get out of here.” He pulled at her arm. “Those men could be trouble.”

Delaney shot him a hard glance and jerked away from his grasp. “Those men are trespassing on my land. If anyone needs to get out of here, it’s them.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “If they’re trespassers, you need to call the police.”

She scoffed at the notion. Calling the police would not help her discover why they were here. It would only alert the men to the fact that she was onto them. The larger man suddenly slapped the shorter on the back and said something, but not loud enough for her to discern the first word. Within minutes, the strangers collected their belongings and took off in the opposite direction.

Delaney shot to her feet. Where were they going? That trail didn’t lead back to the government forest land. It led straight back to her cabin.

“I’m getting you out of here,” Nick said, his voice closing in on her back.

Delaney wasn’t going anywhere, especially with Nick Harris. “I’m going after them,” she said, right after she searched the area below where she’d first seen the men.

“Oh, no you’re not.” Nick encircled a large, firm palm around her bare bicep.

Hot and unwelcome against her skin, his hand tightened. The hair on the nape of her neck prickled in rebellion. She looked up into his face, noting his thick brow gathered in a storm of its own. “Excuse me?”

“I’m not about to let you run off and chase after strangers. Those men could be up to no good.”

“You’re damn right they are—and on my property!” Delaney yanked her arm, only to find it immovable. “Let me go,” she spat.

“No.”

At the force of his objection, she stopped. Glaring at him, Delaney performed a rapid assessment of the situation. While trained in physical defense, taking on the over two-hundred-some pound muscular Mr. Harris was not what she wanted to be doing at the moment. She wanted to get over there and find out what those two men had been doing. She wanted to follow them to see where they were going. She stared up at Nick, her displeasure intensifying as she noted the hint of amusement in his eyes. “Why are you here again?”

“I told you. I saw your horse back there without you on it.” He relaxed into a smile. “I became concerned.”

Dimples carved into his cheeks on either side of his mouth, compliments to the slight cleft in his chin centered within his angular jaw. Black-brown eyes appeared seamless beneath his heavy brow and deeply tanned skin. His appearance was one of rugged masculinity that seemed right at home in these woods, his short, dark hair rich and full, combed away from his face. But this was Ladd land. Her land. He had no business interfering.

“My whereabouts and well-being are none of your concern,” she said, making no effort to conceal her annoyance at his gallant show of male dominance, “and I hereby officially relieve you of duty. I can take care of myself, thank you.”

“I’m not leaving without you.”

She grumbled under her breath. She could stay and protest, wasting precious time, or she could feign conciliation and take Sadie after the men. No doubt they were taking the back way out. Nick didn’t mention anything about a horse of his own. Delaney savored a private smile, a plan forming in her mind. There was no way he could stop her once on horseback. “Fine,” she retorted and headed back toward the trail, taking the incline in three long strides.

Once on the path, she walked as fast as she could, eager to lose him.

Nick caught up with her easily, matching her stride. “Do you have much trouble around here with trespassing?”

“Some.” Boots jarred her legs as she navigated the hard-packed, uneven clay, littered with rocks and roots. As they walked side-by-side, Delaney couldn’t help but notice her five-foot-five inches and a buck twenty in weight were dwarfed by comparison to Nick.

“How do you handle it?”

Anger rose hot and fast in her breast and she turned on him. “Why? So you can map out a response to silence the trouble, once you swindle the property from my uncle?”

“I’m not trying to swindle the property,” he said, his tone measured and even, as though it required effort for him to remain calm.

“Aren’t you? Ernie already said no. Why are you still here?” she asked, taking him in from the side as she marched down the trail, passing an opening that revealed a river. Water crashed over rocks and gullies and fallen logs as it made its way down. It was Zack’s Falls, one of Ladd Springs’ many assets.

Nick raised his voice over the roar of waterfall. “I’m a patient man, Ms. Wilkins. I understand he needs time to think it over. I’m willing to give it to him.”

“You don’t know my uncle.”

“Why don’t you tell me about him?” he asked, his voice drenched in friendship and camaraderie. “I’m not a bad guy. I’ll make it a win-win proposition for everyone.”

Delaney didn’t like the abrupt switch from rawhide to velvet. Nick was trying to con her and she was not a woman easily conned. Well, not anymore anyway. “No sale,” she told him.

Nick raised a brow. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me.” She flipped her face up to meet him directly. “No sale—in every sense of the words.”

Delaney didn’t speak for the remaining ten minute trek to her horse. She had nothing more to say to the man. He was here to get her uncle to sell the property, land that bordered the Tennessee/Carolina state line on one side, the public forest managed by the United States Forest Service on the other, and was chockfull of rivers and creeks, waterfalls and springs. She’d grown up on this land, buried her mother on this land. In her family for over six generations, this property was not only priceless, but of sentimental value. None of which Mr. Harris cared about. He wanted to develop it, build some fancy hotel and spa and exploit the natural resources of the property. He didn’t care what it meant to her family. But that was neither here nor there. Uncle Ernie would not sell to an outsider. At least they had that much in common, Delaney mused sourly, as she pushed a branch out of her way.

The trail opened to a small patch of grassy field, tall strands of willowy green littered with tiny purple and yellow blossoms, butterflies hanging low and plentiful. Between here and the property, a river flowed, the same one that wound down along the trails from Zack’s Falls. Sadie neighed at the sight of her owner and shook her blonde mane in excitement. Warmed by the sight of her mare, Delaney begged off. “Thanks again for your concern, but I’ll be okay from here on out.”

He eyed her warily. “Where you headed?”

“Back to the cabin.” As if it was any of his business. She grabbed the worn leather bridle and unwrapped it from the post. Holding it in her left hand, she seized Sadie’s mane, reached over her back, and hoisted herself up and on, slinging her right leg over the rear end of her horse. Sliding into a seated position front and center behind the horse’s neck, Delaney gently pulled the reins secure and looked down at Nick. It occurred to her that this was a much better view of the man. A handsome man, but a meddling one nonetheless. “See you around.”

“Doesn’t it hurt to ride without a saddle?”

“Not a bit,” she replied. In her book, there was no other way to ride a horse. After a quick rap to her rump, Sadie took off at a gallop, tail waving high and proud.

Nick crossed arms over chest and watched her go. Delaney Wilkins was like poetry in motion. A natural on bareback, she rode with the fluidity gained by a lifetime of experience. Not only did she move as one with her horse, but her skin glowed with the same silky suede coloring of her Palomino, her white blonde hair—a similar glossy mane in both length and style—crashing in waves down her back as she rode. Her light brown tank revealed fit upper arms, small round breasts and a narrow waist. Then there were her jeans. Nick felt a surge in his loins. He’d never met a woman who wore a pair of Levi’s like Delaney did—rough, ragged, the ripped edges of white thread shredding around heavy brown boots, boots that looked to be the one and only pair she owned. Yet somehow he found the shabby attire sexy as hell.

She was sexy as hell. Which would be a bonus if he could convince her to stay on and manage the stables of the hotel he planned to build. And he would build it. Ernie Ladd was a tough old goat, he’d give him that. But when it came to negotiating land deals there was no one better to get the job done than he. Patience was a virtue. Setting fire to greed was part of the process. Nick understood that once the kin folk got wind of the money he was offering, they’d press the old man to sell. Legacy was a powerful driver. But dollars were more powerful.

Nick began the haul back to the main house for another go-round with the old man. He hadn’t added a single new property in over five years, but after the gem he’d opened in the rain forests of Brazil, it was understandable. Visions of a particular brunette slipped into the forefront of his mind, stirring the pot of need. Feisty and fantastic, she had been a great distraction, but so had his attorney. Nick beat the big guys to the punch in securing a property in South Americas’ largest growth market. Fueled by the rising domestic traveler in search of eco-luxury, property value had exploded, but so had his headaches as he fought lawsuit after lawsuit. Most were bogus claims stating he didn’t receive proper authorization from the Brazilian government, while others were straight-up accusations of corruption. None of which were true. Nick played by the rules, even agreed to the extortion tactics for financial contributions to the Amazon rain forest preservation fund. As the leader in boutique eco-hotels, he was more than happy to make these financial contributions. It was his business to conserve resources, work his hotels into the environment with minimal impact. He simply didn’t like to be forced to contribute or be accused of skirting the law. Mandatory anything rubbed him the wrong way. But then again, he had learned a long time ago, greed usurps all. A concept to which his investors were not immune. The pressure to produce was on. Between expensive litigation and a weak economy, Nick needed to inject new excitement into his hotel chain, and Ladd Springs would do the trick.

Chapter Two

Nick returned to the farmhouse, the main estate on the property—if one could call it that—and found the man in question sitting in one of two threadbare rockers. The woven backs were torn from years of use and neglect, much like the wood-framed home where eaves hung precariously from rusty nails and posts were scarred by chips and nicks. The floor itself was warped and split, as though someone built the house a hundred years ago and hadn’t touched it since. It was lived in, but not cared for, much like the owner himself. Nick considered the old man, rocking back and forth in his chair, pipe dangling from the corner of his clenched mouth, and could only imagine what the house looked like on the inside, but he didn’t expect an invitation to be forthcoming.

Nick strolled up to the porch. He cleared his throat and donned a friendly tone. “Hello, Mr. Ladd.”

Ernie Ladd regarded him with a guarded stare. “What do you want now?” he spat between the hard line of his lips.

The Ladd clan weren’t an affable bunch, that was for sure. Even the good-looking ones. “I’ve come to talk.”

“We ain’t got nothin’ to talk about, I already told you.”

Nick pasted a smile on his face, a move handy when met with hostility. “I understand. It’s a lot to think about. Have you discussed it with your family?”

“No and I ain’t going to. There’s nothin’ to discuss.”

“Who you talkin’ to, Ernie?” A younger man walked out of the house, allowing the screen door to slam closed behind him with a loud whack. He was slim, early-thirties, with a scruffy jaw that matched the old man’s. The lines in his face were softer, but just as uninviting. Was this Ladd’s son?

“This here land poacher,” Ernie griped back.

“Huh?” The younger man’s expression zipped closed. “What are you talking about?”

Ernie pulled out his pipe and pointed at Nick. “This here fella is trying to rob me of my land, that’s what I’m talkin’ about.”

“Whoa…” Nick held up his hands. “I’m not trying to rob anyone of anything. I’m offering to buy the land, for a pretty penny I might add.” The last part he directed toward the stranger.

“You call that pretty?” Ernie leaped to his feet with more agility than Nick would have believed him capable. Standing on two legs that looked like sticks with knots for knees stuck into work boots that looked three sizes too big, and with his black belt sash pulled high and tight over a bump of a belly, he glared. Beneath his ball cap, Ernie Ladd’s ears poked out and his eyes popped with fury behind large horn-rimmed glasses sitting on the edge of his nose. The man was so bony, so pale, Nick swore his cheeks were about to push clear through his skin. “It’s called stealin’, is what it is!”

“Calm down, Mr. Ladd, calm down.” Last thing Nick needed was for the old man to die of a heart attack. “We can talk price if you want. I’m willing to discuss what you need.”

“He don’t need nothin’ from you,” the younger man piped in.

“And you are?”

“The name is Clem. Clem Sweeney and I’m here caretaker of this property and close personal friend of the family.”

Caretaker? But he thought Delaney took care of the grounds. The horses, for certain, though he recalled mention of another female tied to the property, a friend or neighbor. Was this Clem related somehow?

“It don’t matter,” Ernie grumbled. “I’m not sellin’ to the likes of him.”

“It’s not yours to sell.” Delaney strolled around the edge of the house and trucked up the side steps. All the men turned to her. In no hurry, she appeared more tired than agitated, her long hair pulled back into a ponytail, accentuating the round of her cheeks, her button of a nose. Other than mascara, she wore no makeup, made no fuss with her appearance. But then again, a woman as beautiful as Delaney Wilkins didn’t need the help.

Ernie scowled at her. “Hell it isn’t.”

“It belongs to Felicity,” she said, fatigue escaping in a soft sigh. The rise and fall of her breast became a magnet for his eyes. “Ashley is my witness.”

“That woman is crazy. She don’t know a thing.”

Ashley? Nick turned and caught Clem staring at Delaney, with a flicker of fury. Was there bad blood between them?

“She was my mother’s best friend. I’d say she knows a thing or two about the situation.” Delaney looked to Nick then, brown eyes flashing like a cat’s. “Either way, you’re not part of the equation, Mr. Harris. I’d kindly suggest you begin searching for another property.”

Sounded like a dismissal to him. Too bad he didn’t take hints well. Nick stood firm. “I offered a fair price for the land, Ms. Wilkins. You should talk to your uncle. There would be enough to go around.”

“This isn’t about money, Mr. Harris. But I imagine that’s something you wouldn’t understand.”

If she was trying to insult him, she was going to have to try harder. “I understand perfectly. But sometimes money supersedes sentimentality.” Nick knew for a fact the taxes were due and for the third straight year would go unpaid. “I’d hate to see you lose this property to a stranger.”

“You’re a stranger.”

Touché, he mused. “But I’m offering you a way to stay connected. Or didn’t he tell you?”

She tapped her uncle with a healthy dose of suspicion. “Tell me what?”

“He’s a liar!” Ernie cried and returned to his seat.

Clem was close at his heel, as though soaking it in like a sponge. Was he concerned about losing his job? Was there a piece in it for him? If so, Nick could use his employment to sweeten the deal. Responding to Delaney, he said, “I offered to split off a hundred acres for the family, land you would keep in the deal.”

“Interesting.” She arched a brow toward her uncle. “But no deal. This property belongs to my daughter. Period.”

“Your daughter?” This was the first he’d heard of a daughter—of Delaney’s, or anyone’s. When she didn’t expound, he turned to the old man for answers. “I thought you and your son owned the property.”

“My son doesn’t own nothin’. That’s my father’s name and me.” He jabbed a crooked finger to his chest. “He’s dead which makes me sole owner. Nobody else.”

“I see…”

“This property is my daughter’s rightful inheritance,” Delaney corrected.

“It ain’t.”

“It is.”

Intrigued by the new twist, Nick asked, “How old is she?”

“Eighteen.”

“Should I be having this conversation with her?”

“Not on your life.”

He forced himself not to laugh. Mother Bear just swaggered onto the porch, claws drawn. But it was just as well. Nick didn’t care who he dealt with when it came to the sale. “Does she plan on keeping the property?”

“None of your business.”

Nick took in the lot of them. Opposition to his proposal was the common denominator that bound them together. But staring down the edge of his life, he doubted the old man was looking to get rich. Not at this point in the game. He’d bet his resistance had to do with maintaining control. Ms. Wilkins, on the other hand, was looking out for her daughter’s interests, though he suspected neither had the means to manage or pay for the horses, let alone the taxes and upkeep. One of the little nuggets he discovered from the local town clerk was that Delaney had a good head on her shoulders and a thriving bookkeeping business, but not much in the way of cash in her pocket. Then there was the Sweeney fellow. A man who claimed to be the caretaker, but who Nick’s gut told him was anything but. Well, it shouldn’t be too hard to uncover his stake in the game. Usually it began and ended with green.

“The offer stands, Mr. Ladd. It’s good through the end of the week,” Nick added, tweaking the wrench of pressure. Maybe a time table would be the influence they needed. As it stood, they were pretty hard-nosed against it with nothing to do, but wait until the tax man cometh! Which could take months, years—precious time Nick didn’t have. Not only was he under pressure from his marketing department, but he’d promised investors this project would be started months ago. Nick handed a business card to the younger man, yet settled his gaze upon Delaney, now comfortably leaning against the railing. “If you have any questions, I can be reached at this number. I’m prepared to double my offer.”

“Not interested,” she said.

Clem Sweeney’s small eyes flared as he grabbed the card from Nick.

“I’ll be in touch,” he said, and walked off the porch and back to his shiny black sports sedan.

Clem removed the laser beam from Nick’s back and turned on Ernie. “That man really trying to buy the property?”

“Yep.”

“Well, you told him no, didn’t you?”

Ernie whipped around like a mad dog and said, “You heard me, didn’t you?”

“Well…” Clem fiddled with the buckle on his grimy overalls and muttered, “Yes.” He took a step back from the old man. “But did you mean it?”

“Course I did.” Ernie shooed him away and shoved the pipe into his mouth. “I always mean what I say.”

Delaney caught the stony flick in her direction and couldn’t care less. Unlike the rest of the crew, Ernie didn’t intimidate her. He infuriated her. “It’s not yours to sell, Ernie.”

“It’s mine, I tell you—it’s mine and you can’t tell me what to do!”

Ignoring his heated outburst, she shook her head. “This property goes to Felicity.” She pushed off from the railing and strode over to him. Delaney bent down so he wouldn’t miss a single word. The stench of tobacco rising from him would have made her gag—if she weren’t so damn mad. “You made a deathbed promise to my mother that you would give this property to Felicity.” Not her. Of course, not her.

“When did you get so greedy?” he asked her, the skin of his balding forehead coloring to a mix of crimson and ash. “Your mother wasn’t like this.”

“My mother kept her word. She expects you to keep yours.”

Delaney knew she’d just made a direct hit, deep into his heart. Outside of his own mother, his sister was the only one who ever loved him. She cherished him and had she still been alive, would be caring for him now. From cleaning his house to laundering his clothes and cooking his meals, Susannah Ladd would have done it all with a light spirit and loving heart. That was her way.

She’d still be taking care of him, too, had he seen fit to take care of her. If he had paid for her treatment, her mother would have seen a specialist who could have helped her. But he didn’t. Instead, he’d raged at the doctors for diagnosing her in the first place and refused to give them a dime more. Ribbons of melancholy wound around Delaney’s soul. Her mother died as a result and it was because of him.

“You gonna let her talk like that to you?” Clem demanded.

“Stay out of this, Clem.” Delaney raised a hard finger and pointed it directly into his face. “This is none of your affair.”

“Listen here, missy, you don’t treat my friends that way,” Ernie interjected. “Why, I have a notion to give this property to Clem,” he waved a hand to his side. “The way he’s been lookin’ after me all these years, he deserves it, unlike the rest of you lazy-good-for-nothings.”

Delaney frowned. Though one wouldn’t know it to look at him, Ernie Ladd was a wealthy man. Not by his own hand, but his father’s. Grandpa Ladd inherited almost two thousand acres of land—beautiful land—land that became a hot commodity in the world of real estate. One of the most incredible tracts of unspoiled land in eastern Tennessee, it had been in the Ladd family for as long as anyone could remember, giving home to generation after generation. Lush with trees and valleys, creeks and falls and springs, the property became the envy of the state. Everyone had heard of Ladd Springs. Some claimed the springs were akin to the fountain of youth. But with envy came greed. Thirty years back, Grandpa Ladd sold off half of it to a developer. In one day, with the swipe of a pen, mountains and streams that had belonged to her family for over three hundred years were gone. And why?

Because he didn’t want to work anymore. Grandpa Ladd wanted to stay home and make moonshine. What a waste. Not only did he sell a section, but he forbade the extended family from setting the first toe on the remainder. It was his, he said, and his alone. When he died, it went to his oldest son, Ernest Lowry Ladd. Grandpa Ladd made sure of it by putting Uncle Ernie’s name on the title before he passed. Ernie’s brother Albert was a good-for-nothing-loafer and not entitled to a dime, he’d said. And women? Well, according to him, women shouldn’t own property. He viewed them as simply another expense in life, a mouth to feed.

So Ernie Ladd became sole owner of Ladd Springs, inheriting the remainder of his father’s money as well. Delaney knew for a fact there was almost a quarter of a million dollars left in his account, yet he wasn’t paying the taxes. Stubborn fool. Eventually the two issues would cross paths and Ladd Springs would be caught in the middle. “Mom wanted this property to stay in the family and I intend to see that it does.”

Ernie stuck out his chest. “I decide what happens from here.”

No surprise, Ernie was back in full fighting mode. But the saddest part was that he was dying of cancer. Cancer. The doctors told him he had a few years at best, but instead of enjoying his last days on God’s green earth, he chose to fight.

Fight—to his dying day. Ernie would rather jeopardize the Ladd Springs legacy than leave it to her. And now he was threatening to give it to Clem?

Delaney shook her head and walked toward the steps. No way in hell would Clem Sweeney take ownership of her home, but at this point, it was a matter for the courts. If Ernie remained firm in his commitment to deny his son Jeremiah any right of inheritance, then Delaney and Felicity were it as the only other blood relatives,. In Delaney’s mind, there was no reason for him to go back on his promise to his sister. Susannah made him swear that the property would stay within the family, and that he would take care of Delaney and Felicity—to which Ernie agreed. Wrote it down so Susannah could see it with her own eyes. Albert would be looked after, of course, maintaining his right to live on the property until his dying day. His two sons were another story. One was in jail, the other on the run.

Jeremiah could certainly contest the transfer, but it was unlikely he would. Gone for twenty years now, he wasn’t in the picture and no one around here would draw him in. Even his ex-girlfriend Annie Owens wouldn’t call him, and she claimed to be the mother of his child—the same child she was squawking about getting rights to the property for. As if Ernie would ever agree to giving Jeremiah’s offspring rights.

As it stood, if Ernie continued to refuse, it would leave Delaney to deal with the probate process. It was a headache she didn’t need, one her mother would have never wanted her to endure.

“I’m going home,” Delaney announced. She’d get nowhere arguing another second with the man. “I’ll have Felicity come by around eight.”

Like a pacifier to a babe, it settled the issue as she knew it would. For all her uncle’s bluster and blow, he had a soft spot for Felicity. Delaney rounded the railing and caught the intensity in the gaze Clem fastened on her uncle. It struck her as odd, coming from the dullest tool in the shed. She hesitated. Was she missing something?

When Clem realized she was staring at him, he cleared his expression, replacing it with sugar and sunshine. “Have a good evening, Dell.”

Chapter Three

Unsettled by Clem’s sudden shift, Delaney returned to her hillside cabin. Located behind the main house, her small home was situated on the ridge about twenty yards up, tucked away within a cluster of trees and rocks. It was accessible only by a narrow, winding trail—a steep path which she climbed with ease. Ease, because she’d been hiking it for years. Upon reaching the top, she was only mildly winded and closed the distance to the tidy hideaway that once belonged to her mother.

Built from roughhewn logs secured together by thick swaths of cement, it was square in shape, single story with a tiny loft. It was precariously perched on the mountain’s edge, built for her by Uncle Ernie and Albert during high school. They dubbed it her private little corner of heaven. Tears pricked at the memory. It was her mother’s special place, the safe haven she sought when she needed to get away from the stress of life, the demands of family, the gruff presence of her father. Grandpa Ladd was no different from Ernie in that both were thorny by nature, the elder compounding trouble when he drank, swelling his heart with anger and his mouth with obscenity. Delaney remembered bits and pieces of his rage from her own childhood, but it was the tales Uncle Albert told that set her heart on fire. Not only was Grandpa Ladd’s heart hard as rock, but his hand was swift with a belt, whipping the boys on a regular basis. Knowing them as she did now, Delaney could understand they might have deserved some of it, at least on occasion. But her mother?

The bastard even took the leather strap to her. Delaney grabbed a sanded smooth railing, kicking her boots hard against the top porch step to remove as much dirt as she could.

Thinking back, Delaney couldn’t imagine her mom enduring anything so brutal, yet she never once mentioned it, never once spoke a cross word against her father. Granted her mom didn’t speak many kind words either, but from what Delaney had learned, the man deserved a tongue lashing and then some. Checking her boots, she grunted. The stuff stuck like glue, more a mix of wet dirt and heavy clay. Nothing short of scrubbing the boots clean or soaking them in the creek would do the trick, but she kicked off as much as she could.

Whatever. She jogged up the steps. None of it would see the inside of the cabin. Delaney had a rule against shoes in the house, same as her mother before her. Stopping at the engraved glass front door—the glass panel an antique she picked up at a local junkyard—Delaney tugged her boots free and set them alongside the welcome mat. Felicity could sweep the rest of it off the porch this evening, once she returned from her visit with Ernie.

Inside, the smooth wood floors felt comforting to her socked feet. Turning on the chandelier, a petite wrought iron piece she’d picked up at an antique store in town, she breathed easy. Coming home was like stepping into another world, a world free of trouble and stress, where she could unplug and get back to the basics of living. Like food. The bag of fresh okra in her refrigerator promised a delicious addition to her fried chicken tonight. Her energy pitched and heaved in a sudden wave of exhaustion, but she had to hurry. Felicity would be home shortly and she needed to get dinner started.

An hour later, Delaney reached into the oven and pulled the tray of cornbread from the oven, the sweet scent of corn billowing in a hot cloud around her face. At the sound of scuffling on the porch deck, she turned to see her daughter’s slender figure through the glass.

Within seconds, Felicity let herself in, her pink socks stark against the wood floors as she breezed indoors. “Smells good in here.”

“Best air freshener known to man,” Delaney replied, bumping the oven door closed with her knee, placing the pan of golden bread loaves on the waiting quilted pad. The fried chicken was cooling on a platter lined with paper towels and covered with foil while the okra continued to sizzle stovetop in a cast iron pan.

“You won’t hear any complaints from me.” Easing the backpack from her shoulder, Felicity set it down beside the leather sofa and joined her mother in the kitchen. “I’m hungry.”

“Good. I made extra. Thought you could take a few with you for Ernie.”

She nodded. “He loves your cornbread.”

But never said a word to her about it. Not once, not ever, not so much as a thank you. He reserved compliments for one person only. Felicity. Delaney considered her child. From her delicate features and soft-spoken manner to the tender shade of strawberry blonde hair currently pulled back into a ponytail, Felicity reminded Ernie of his sister Susannah. Not only was she the spitting image, she treated him with the same gentle affection, despite his carrying on. Delaney lightly pinched Felicity’s chin. “He’s lucky to have you.”

She waved off the praise. “He’s not so bad. And he gives me an opportunity to practice. Let’s me play anything I want.”

“Because everything you play is beautiful.”

“She rolled her eyes. “Mom.”

It was a ritual Felicity had begun less than a year ago, but one the man now lived for. Each and every night, she sat and played her flute for him. Soft and serene, like a beast lulled to submission, he sat and listened to her play. Song after song, she practiced her craft. Fluting was Felicity’s passion. One day, she hoped to play professionally as part of an orchestra, but that was only a dream. Her grades were good, earning her a partial scholarship, but it only covered the first year. Delaney’s fear was that she wouldn’t be able to afford the next three.

“Don’t ‘mom’ me. It’s true. You need to further your training, and why he doesn’t see that is beyond me. We need title to the property so we can sign on for the logging before they go elsewhere.”

Felicity’s hazel gaze clouded. “Are you sure that won’t ruin the land?”

Delaney wiped her palms against the white cotton apron tied at her waist. “You won’t even notice. They want to work the north side of the property. A patch of about a hundred acres. We’ll never see them.”

Felicity sank to a barstool. “A hundred seems so much…”

“Clearing the forest is good for the land,” Delaney told her. “The trees will grow back and we’ll have plenty enough money to pay the property taxes and your tuition.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t go to UT. It’s causing so much trouble—”

Delaney held up a stiff hand. “I don’t ever want to hear those words come out of your mouth again. You’re going. That’s final.”

Felicity’s small mouth closed as instructed, but the hint of frown upset Delaney. Her daughter should not feel guilty about getting an education. She shouldn’t be dragged into the mess of Ernie’s foul disposition, nor should she have to endure threats from a complete stranger. Nick Harris’s image formed in her mind. While the man seemed nice enough, looked nice enough—nicer than anyone would ever hear her admit to—he did not have her daughter’s best interests at heart. He wanted this land for himself, for his hotel. Delaney needed it for her family, her daughter’s future. The two were incompatible goals.

Delaney brushed the stressful thoughts from her head, hushed the clamor of her pulse. She didn’t want to think about it right now. She wanted to enjoy Felicity. Loosening a mini loaf of cornbread from the black iron bake pan, Delaney slathered it with butter, set it on a plate and slid it toward her daughter. “So how was school?”

“Good.” Felicity picked up the yellow bread and held it before her mouth. “The Parker boys asked me to be their date for their graduation party.”

Delaney gaped at her. “Both of them?”

Felicity smiled and said, “It’s the current running joke between them.” She bit off the end of the bread.

Identical twins, they forever teased Felicity. They claimed to have lost their combined heart to her—it was she who had to choose. “And you said?”

“Told them I’d have to think about it.” She cast a dramatic gaze toward the ceiling and said, “Because they’re so different, I’d have to decide what kind of night I want grad night to be—fun or funner.” She giggled. “It’s such a dilemma!”

“Funner is not a word.” Delaney dipped her chin and peered at her daughter. “Please tell me I’m not wasting my money on flute lessons when you should be tutored in grammar.”

“JK.”

Just joking. Delaney shook her head at the incessant “text turned speech.” JK. IDK. LOL. It was like some kind of new language with these kids.

Felicity peeked beneath the foil of fried okra. “Are these from Ashley’s garden?”

“They are. Picked them myself.”

“Travis and Troy want to go riding this weekend. Is that okay?”

The mention of riding led Delaney’s thoughts back to this afternoon. “Yes. But I don’t want you in the woods by yourself.”

She furrowed her brow. “Since when?”

Since we have strangers lurking between the trees. “Since today.”

“Mom.”

It was Felicity’s one word rebuttal spoken with emphasis to insist, I’m an adult now. You can be honest with me. On one level, that was true. But her daughter was not strong on self-defense. It wasn’t in her nature. “There’s been some trouble with trespassing,” Delaney informed her. “And until we can get a handle on it, I don’t want you out there by yourself.”

Delaney knew Felicity understood. Ladd Springs adjoined the USFS—public land—and it happened that on occasion people ventured onto private property. That property was Ladd property. But to do so, they had to ignore posted signs against trespassing, which meant anyone on their land were people willing to ignore the rules. Not exactly the nicest slice of population.

“Okay,” Felicity agreed. “I’ll make the boys stay with me.”

“Tough life you have,” Delaney teased, breathing a sigh of relief as she tested the temperature of her bread. Her daughter was mature. She knew there was danger out in the world and she was willing to be smart about it. While she refused her mother’s offer to teach her how to shoot, Felicity wouldn’t purposefully test fate.

After dinner, tray of cornbread warmed by the oven in one hand, her long, slim, velvet flute case in the other, Felicity traversed the path with ease, careful not to slide on the rocks as she took her shortcut down to Uncle Ernie’s house. Leaping over a rock, she hit level ground with a thud, raising both plate and case in sync to keep them level. Crossing the narrow bridge, she took in the thick scent of trees in the air, the moist smell of earth, the constant movement in the creek below. She loved being outdoors. Felicity could almost feel the crisp chill to the water, the slimy texture to the rounded rocks that shifted in color from tans and browns to grays and blacks. The wall of trees surrounding the small clearing was drenched in gold, the sky a gorgeous blend of violet, blue and orange. Early May, days were longer now, leaving plenty enough sunlight to light her way. But later, when the night turned black, her mom would insist on making the return trip with her. It was her prerogative, she’d claimed.

Not that she didn’t appreciate her mother’s watchful eye, she did. She understood where her mother’s over-protectiveness came from and understood it would not change. Ever. Actually, she considered herself fortunate to have a mother who cared so much. So many kids at school didn’t. Half their parents were gone, the other half present but checked out. Unlike the Parker boys. Their mom and dad were checked in and totally charged. Actually, their house ran like a zoo, the back door swinging open and closed as kids came and went. Travis and Troy were the youngest of eight, or as Mrs. Parker called them, “momma’s little surprise bundle at the end of the litter.”

Felicity smiled as she recalled their dual request for her company to the prom. Felicity, we’ve wrestled four times and are two for two. Either you choose, or one of us gets hurt.

I’ll go with both of you. She giggled, pleased with herself. She adored the attention, but truth be known, there was only one Parker boy for her. Boots clapping up the steps, Felicity tucked visions of him away and rapped on the wood door. “Uncle Ernie, I’m here!”

Letting herself in, she saw her uncle teetering down the stairs. “Well, you don’t have to yell about it.”

Felicity’s instincts were to rush over and steady him as he made his way down, but the one time she did he got mad at her. “I don’t need no help gettin’ around my house,” he’d hollered. So rather than assist, she patiently waited until he landed on the bottom step, his white knuckle grip locked solid around the wooden post. She held out the tinfoil-covered paper plate. “Mom made cornbread.”

He eyed it warily. “It any good?”

Felicity suppressed a smile. Uncle Ernie was so suspicious. He acted like it was tainted with poison! “You know it’s the best.”

“I don’t know any such thing,” he grumbled under his breath. “But I’ll trust your word.”

As expected. Felicity put the bread on the bulky coffee table, the top made from old planks salvaged from the barn that used to sit on the property, the legs knotty sticks made from pine branches. “I learned a new piece this week.”

“Alrighty.” Ernie ambled over and settled himself in his Lazy-Boy, the seams of which were split open on a top corner. Shifting his weight from side to side, he wedged himself into the seat, his body fitting into the ratty piece of furniture as if he were part of it. “Okay, honey. Play away.”

Albert Ladd trudged in from the kitchen. On the heavy side, he moved at the speed of molasses. Dressed in denim coveralls and white T-shirt, Felicity never saw him in anything else, nor did it seem like he ever combed the thin hair that fell from his bald head. Long and stringy, it hung clear down to his shoulders and looked downright un-kept. But that was her great uncle, bless his heart.

“Did I hear the princess?” he asked.

She grinned. “Hi, Uncle Albert.”

“You gonna play us a song?” he asked, and walked slowly to his chair.

“Yes, and it’s a new one.” Retrieving the shiny flute from its black velvet case, she pulled a sheet of music from her portfolio, set it on its stand and prepared to play. Shaking the hair from her face, Felicity brought the mouthpiece to her puckered lips and warmed up by blowing a steady stream of air into the instrument.

Hands folded across his small protrusion of a belly, Uncle Ernie laid his head back against the chair and closed his eyes.

Felicity straightened. She pulled her abdomen in, focused on her diaphragm, aligned her fingers on the keys and blew a steady stream of air into the flute as she held it high to her side to her side. Breathing in and out, she played a tune composed by Charles Griffes. The piece reminded her of the ebb and flow of the property’s numerous streams and creeks, sweeping rhythm moving high and low, spanning a broad range of timbre. Along the waterways were her favorite spots, the ones she sat by for hours. When she was younger, she used to sit by the water and read. Now, she played the flute. Slow, fast, her fingers danced along its length, hitting keys in rapid succession as she released herself to the power of the music. Swinging and bowing, her head and arms moved in rhythm as she played, dipping and pausing, escalating the pace toward the grand finale.

The door slammed . Felicity cried out, her breath expelled in a rush of fright.

Ernie shot forward in his chair.

Clem Sweeney stood just inside the threshold.

“Damn it, Clem! You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

Tall and lanky, his blue plaid shirt looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks. “Sounds like an angel is playin’ in here,” he said, his smile dripping with creep.

Felicity’s heart thudded hard against her ribs. She swallowed hard. Clem was not one of her favorite people. He was rude, crude, and took every opportunity to leer at her whenever she was within eyesight. Her mother didn’t care for him either. She grew up with the man, so she should know. And if she knew he was here, she’d have a fit.

Drawn to the plate on the table, Clem stepped forward. “Is that cornbread I smell?”

“It’s mine,” Ernie warned him, “so keep your grubby hands off it.”

Albert watched the exchange wordlessly.

“Felicity here make it?” he asked greedily, though the hunger she discerned in his eyes had nothing do with the food.

Felicity stood. “I should go.” She glanced between the two men, her mood for music dunked in ice water. She didn’t want to be anywhere near this man.

“Sit down—you’re not going anywhere,” Ernie commanded. “Clem’s the one who has to go.”

“But we have a meeting,” Clem said, his attention jarred free from her, latching on to Ernie. “You scheduled it yourself.”

“It can wait.”

A meeting? Felicity’s mind whirred as she glanced between the two. What could these two possibly have to meet about?

“I ain’t waitin’ no more. You put me off last night, and now I’m here.”

Ernie’s eyes practically popped out of his bony skull. “You keep this up, and I’m not givin’ you a thing.”

The image of her Uncle Ernie frightened her, more skeleton with eyes than old man with a beating heart. But the comment served to silence Clem. Hurriedly, Felicity collected her instrument and music, closed up her case. Tucking the portfolio under an arm, she turned for the door. Through the front windows, she could see the sun had almost set. If she hurried, she could make it before complete dark. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”

Moving past Clem, she held her breath against the stench of cigarette smoke that clung to him—it was in his clothes, his hair and from experience she knew that if she looked, she’d see nicotine stains on his fingers, too.

Fleeing the cabin, Felicity dashed down the steps and over the creek bridge, her heart pounding. But more than the initial surprise from Clem’s arrival, it was nerves that battered at her now. Her mother’s warning about trespassers slithered up her spine. The sound of rushing creek and whisper of wind usually appealed to her, but at the moment only served to scare her.

Forcing her legs to keep pace, she trekked up the path to her home. Her mother would not be happy knowing Clem showed up. Nor would she like the fact that her daughter had decided to make the trip back on her own. But taking the time to call for her mother’s escort seemed silly and would keep her near the wretched man all the longer.

A branch snapped in the woods below her. Felicity froze at the sound—but only for a second. Was someone there? Her heart kicked into overdrive, adrenaline pummeling her muscles into action. It could be a deer or a rabbit. It could be a bear.

Making it to the porch, she ran up the steps, not pausing until she was at her front door and her mother’s figure was in sight through the glass. Felicity breathed in and out, calming her pulse. As she gathered her wits, the door opened in a rush.

“What are you doing here?”

Partly relieved by her mom’s aggressive stance, the lamplight washing over her, Felicity lifted her pant legs to remove her boots. “I left early,” she said, purposefully vague. Although grateful for the safety of her mother’s strength, she didn’t want to worry her.

“Why didn’t you call me? It’s dark outside.”

“It wasn’t when I left,” Felicity said.

Her mother walked inside and closed the door behind her. “You know how I feel about it, Felicity.”

The hard edge in her mother’s voice demanded explanation. She turned. Met by the expected displeasure circling like wolves, she said, “Clem Sweeney showed up so I left. But, honest, it was still kinda light out. I figured if I hurried, I could make it.”

Her mother stilled. “What was Clem doing there?”

Working to smooth out the final bumps in her pulse, Felicity replied, “I don’t know. He said something about a meeting.”

“A meeting?” She paused. “What does he have to meet with Ernie about?”

Felicity relayed the conversation and her mother frowned. “You stay away from him, you hear me?”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Felicity nodded. There would be no argument on that point.

 

Author Bio:

Ladd Springs_AuthorDianne Venetta lives in Central Florida with her husband and two children–and her part-time Yellow Lab (Cody!). An avid gardener, she spends her spare time growing organic vegetables. Surprised by the amazing discoveries she finds there every day, she wondered, “Who knew there were so many similarities between men and plants?”

In addition to writing women’s fiction and romance, she pens the blog for BloominThyme.com. What began as a brief hiatus from writing has blossomed into a garden blog, children’s fiction series and more volunteer hours at school than she imagined!

At the end of the day, if she can inspire someone to stop and smell the roses (or rosemary!), kiss their child and spouse good-night, be kind to a neighbor and Mother Earth, then she’s done all right.

Find Dianne: DianneVenetta facebook_512 twitter_512

GUEST POST

Spring is one of my favorite seasons. As an avid gardener, spring is when the temps warm up and the soil is ready to be worked again. Or in my case, continually worked! I’m one of the lucky few who live in an area conducive to year-round gardening. Rarely is it too cold for me, or my plants, which means the harvest never stops. It’s eternal!

Okay, that’s a lie. Harvest isn’t a guarantee. Take my corn crop, for instance. I’ve all but given up on growing healthy, robust cobs, what with all the bugs and diseases that flourish in this tropical paradise. Ants and worms, slugs and snails—it’s a nightmare. Worse than a nightmare. At least after a bad dream I can go back to sleep (sort of). In the wake of a shoddy corn harvest, I still have to pull the buggers out of the ground and lug them to the compost pile!

Sheesh. I think you can see why I’ve taken a break from corn growing. However, I have not taken a break from corn eating. It’s too delicious! And in celebration of my latest release, Ladd Springs, I’ve devised the most luscious, sweetest recipe for cornbread, cornbread so moist and delicious you’ll want to savor it clear through dessert. It’s that good. You can find the full recipe at BloominThyme.com ~ my garden blog!

I will make one important note regarding the recipe. While it’s oven-baked and worthy of the blue ribbon at any county fair, it’s not your grandmother’s recipe—not any grandmother in my family, anyway. They’re strictly cast iron, buttermilk, cornmeal, salt and pepper. That’s it. My mother will bake this concoction in a cast iron skillet, but her mother pan fried it like a pancake. Yum.

Me? I like it both ways—sweet and scrumptious, or rich and golden brown. On account of my new series being set in Tennessee, I felt I had to set the record straight. 

Now that we have that settled, I sure hope you’ll enjoy my latest release as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. It’s been fun, especially as it brings me “home” to one of my family’s favorite summer destinations, the eastern Tennesssee mountains. It’s gorgeous country and if you haven’t been, maybe a read through Ladd Springs will take you there.

As I launch Ladd Springs, I’m hosting an “Authors in Bloom” Blog Hop. Beginning tomorrow, we’ll have 10 days of some of your favorite authors sharing their garden tips, recipes and of course, tons of giveaways.  Our grand prize is an ereader of your choice (Kindle or Nook) and a $25 gift card to go with it.  And if that wasn’t enough, I’m having a Facebook Party!
Again, beginning tomorrow, the festivities last through the weekend.

Hope to see you there and thanks for stopping by today! And as we kick off the book blast with Providence Book Promotions, I’m giving away a complete set of my debut series, Jennifer’s Garden, Lust on the Rocks and Whisper Privileges – paperback or ebook! All you have to do is leave a comment for your chance to win!

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