Welcome back to Petal, Georgia in this spin-off of the Chase Brothers series by Lauren Dane.
Getting lost in the arms of a bad boy never felt so good
Time—and the military— have made Joe Harris a better man than he was when he left Petal, GA ten years ago. Now that he’s back, all is wants is to take care of his dad, get his garage up and running and spend time with his dog. He has no plans for a relationship, especially one with his best friend’s kid sister, no matter how much she tempts him. And boy does she ever.
About the Author
Visit Lauren on the web at www.laurendane.com
You can write to her at: PO BOX 45175, Seattle, WA 98145
Read an Excerpt
What he needed to do was take a ride. He'd been dealing with his father, the move, getting all the stuff in place for the shop, and none of it was fun. Joe was tired of everything. He took a glance over to where Buck had sacked out, his face near his bowl should anyone try to take it. The dog snuffled his annoyance when Joe bent to stroke over his head but groaned a little when he got his ears scratched.
"I'll be back in a while. Don't sleep too much."
Buck opened one eye and then closed it again on a sigh. The sound of Joe's keys would have sent his normally high-energy dog jumping. But he'd been playing with the dog next door while Joe had been painting earlier and had taken several runs with Joe to the shop and out to his parents' place and clearly had had enough.
Joe got that. He wished he could lie near his bowl with a bottle of beer and sack out for hours too.
Joe snorted as he stood, looking out his kitchen window over Main Street. He'd finally finished unpacking the last boxes earlier that morning, and while he wasn't totally moved in, he'd already come home.
Petal had been part of Joe Harris for his entire life. Even when he'd been halfway across the world, he'd never been too far from Petal's streets. So when he backed the motorcycle out of the garage and started it up, he knew exactly where he wanted to ride.
It was a warm day. Sunny and clear, and once he'd gotten a little out of the main part of town, the scent of grass and trees replaced everything else. The hum of the road beneath him soothed nearly as much as the full-throated growl of the bike. He might have turned his life around, but a guy still had to have some fun. The bike was part of that fun. He'd miss his every-Sunday group he had back in Dallas, but he had so much to do now that he'd moved back home, he wasn't sure when he'd be able to find a new group. But he would eventually.
He needed to remind himself of that. Right now things seemed overwhelming, but they'd mellow. He'd find a routine. Get his dad some help. Get his business up and running. Maybe even find some time to date around, or at the very least have sex.
For now, the road had to be enough.
For now, it was.
* * *
"You missed a spot."
Beth sent a look to her brother, William. "Volunteer labor is notoriously imperfect. It's a sad fact of life." She rinsed off the window she'd been washing on his truck.
"You want to borrow the truck, you gotta wash it. That's the deal."
"I did wash it." She turned the hose on him, and he jumped with a hoot, sending kids hurtling into the yard, giggling and soaked. "And now I washed the owner. You want I should break out the soap and get behind your ears?"
He grinned and shook his head. "I'll get even for that."
"One day maybe. But for today, I am queen." She tossed the cloth back into the bucket and bent to turn the hose off, pausing to squirt the kids again.
"Thanks for the truck wash. And for watching the kids last night." Her brother winked before he looked over the yard. His kids were out there running through the sprinkler along with several of her nieces and nephews belonging to their other siblings. She'd had them all at her apartment the night before for a sleepover so their parents could have a date night. She loved each and every one of those munchkins, and it was a lot of fun to have been able to spend so much time with them.
Still, when she left William's she planned to go back to her place and take a long nap.
"No big. We made cookies and had popcorn and watched Mary Poppins a few times over."
"We still pretending you watched that one for the kids?"
"Plenty of sprockets young enough that I can keep that up a while longer." She grinned. Mary Poppins was one of her favorite movies of all time. She hadn't ever seen it as a kid. Her parents weren't much for Disney movies for their kids. That and they never had a VCR or anything like that. She'd discovered it when William's oldest had come along. By that point, years later, she'd seen it so many times it'd become a running joke in the family and she didn't care.
There was something fine and lovely about Mary Poppins with her perfect voice and quest for happiness in whatever task set before her. Plus, dancing penguins.
A low-throated growl of a motor sounded before she caught sight of the motorcycle that pulled up at the curb out front.
William raised his hand to wave, smiling.
"Who is that?"
"Joe Harris," William called back over his shoulder.
Holy sweet baby Jesus.
Beth stood still, unable to move or tear her gaze away from Joe as he swung his leg over the bike to stand. And that was before he took his helmet off and all that golden hair spilled out. Her parts came to life as she swallowed hard, taking in the bulging biceps, straining against the soft-looking blue T-shirt. Tattoos made her wonder if he had any hidden out of sight. Powerful thighs filled out faded and worn jeans. His boots were more work boots than cowboy boots, but they worked too.
Worked, much like the sunglasses hiding eyes she remembered were green. He looked dangerous. And hot. More hot than scary. Definitely hot.
He was the exciting older bad boy her brother used to run around with. In other words, total teenage-girl fantasy fodder.
"Hey, Joe Harris, what brings you here today?" William approached his friend and Beth had to rush to catch up.
She was glad she did because Joe smiled at William, showing perfect white teeth.
"Needed to get out for a ride. Thought I'd stop by when I came back through town to say hey."
He looked to Beth and she licked her lips nervously. And that was before he slid his sunglasses down, exposing those intense eyes as he took her in.
"Welcome back to Petal, Joe." She managed to talk to him like she'd talk to anyone else. Mainly because she was trying to pretend she wasn't imagining him naked and bringing her cake.
Ha. She was totally imagining him naked bringing her cake.
"Beth?" She didn't miss the way his gaze lingered on her breasts where her shirt clung. It wasn't white so she missed giving off the wet T-shirt thing. And good, 'cause kids and all, and because she didn't do wet T-shirt contests. But she was glad he found them nice enough to look at a while.
He got that look. The one guys got when they liked what they saw. Then his gaze darted to William, and the look changed to oh yeah, that's my friend's little sister. Damn. She was clearly going to have to knock him out of that box.
"Nice to see you. Last time I did, you were still in high school, I think."
She was sure he never even noticed her as a person back then. "Probably."
He really looked good. Like, really, really.
But before she could get warmed up enough to flirt, he turned his attention back to her brother and she hid her frown.
"Come on in. I'm planning on some time on the porch. Gotta keep an eye on all these sprouts." William had pretty much forgotten about her now that his friend had arrived. Boys.
"I'm gonna run. I have an appointment in a while with my bed and a nap." She tiptoed up and hugged her brother, who kissed her forehead when she stepped back.
"Thanks again for watching the kids."
"Anytime." She looked to Joe again. "See you around town, Joe." And she totally would. Because now it would be her mission.
The kids all came running, laughing and squealing to give her hugs and kisses, and she told them she'd see them the next day at her sister Tate's house.
She didn't even try to pretend she didn't throw some sway into her walk when she headed to her car.CHAPTER 2
Beth looked through her closet, trying to decide what exactly to wear that day. Since Joe had been in town two weeks — and because she'd failed to bump into him all those times she'd tried to — it was time to just go right over and say hello.
It was neighborly after all. Really, as a Southern woman it was her duty.
"Wear something red. Red is a great color on you. It's a confident color." Her best friend, Lily, riffled through her clothes and pulled out a dress she hadn't worn in ages. "This."
It was simple enough. Hit her right above the knee. A boat neck collar, which always suited her face. Sleeveless, which was good because it was August in Georgia and she didn't want to look any more sweaty than she had to when she stopped by Joe's garage to deliver her welcome basket of goodies.
And check him out a little closer.
"I can't believe I missed it when he came over to William's place." Lily shook her head.
"You did miss an eyeful. When he rode up on that motorcycle, I nearly choked on my tongue." Beth bent, looking for the right shoes. Heels were sexy, but she was on her feet a lot at work so she needed low ones. "I suppose someone could say that was a welcome back." She frowned a moment.
Lily snorted. "That wasn't a welcome back. You were at your brother's house when he came over. Not the same. He's a friend of the family and back in town. You'd still take him something because that's what you do. If he's gay, married or otherwise unobtainable, then you say hey welcome back and go to work. No harm, no foul."
"Thank you for enabling me." She winked.
"It's my sacred duty as your best friend to enable you." Lily smoothed over Beth's hair. "You have such gorgeous hair. Have Tate do something to it. A bun, some braided thingy, whatever. Then he can see your neck. You have a great neck."
Beth ran a hand down the front of the dress, looking at herself critically. "He'd probably rather look at my boobs. Boys like those."
"I wouldn't know anything about that. God, you're such a floozy."
They both dissolved into laughter.
"I've got to run in a minute. I brought the invitation to the wedding so don't forget to take it. Nathan is totally on to us both. He gave me that look of his when I was getting ready to come over here earlier."
"He's good at that look. Learned it from Tate, who is the master. But none of those boys is the boss of me so he'll have to suck it up. Still, he'll be a good daddy someday." Beth looked herself over in the mirror. She'd come a long way from that girl who had to make do with hand-me-downs and whatever Tate could find for them at garage sales and thrift stores. She'd made something out of herself. She was a business owner. She had a nice apartment. Her fridge and pantry had food, and the last time she hid from a drunken argument was years before, the last time she'd gone to her parents' place.
Beth Murphy had grown up and left all that crap firmly in her past.
"You look so cute in that dress."
Lily winked. "Always eager to help you snag a man. Since you're so homely and all."
"It's a cross I have to bear. Can't complain. I could be as ugly as you."
Lily rolled her eyes. "Ha. Okay, gotta go. I'm meeting with the principal in a while to talk about what's going on at home for Chris this school year."
Lily was raising her teenage brother, Chris, who'd had a pretty difficult time after his parents had split and their mother had descended into substance abuse. But Lily had made a huge difference in the boy's life and that surly kid who was likely to drop out of school was now back on track.
"Okay. Talk to you later?"
"I'll call you this afternoon or maybe I'll come by so I can hear about what happens with Joe."
Lily hugged her and was gone. Beth took one last look, dabbed her lipstick and grabbed the giant basket of treats her older sister Tate had baked, tucked the invitation inside and headed off as well.
* * *
Tate looked up as Beth stopped by the shop.
"I just wanted to drop off my junk and have you do my hair before I take the basket over. You have time?"
Her oldest sister smiled and motioned for Beth to sit. "You know how much I love it when you let me do your hair."
This was true. Tate had brushed her hair so much when they were growing up that Beth often considered it like a hug or a snuggle with her sister.
She met Tate's gaze in the mirror. "Up you think?"
Tate brushed it out and thought. "Hm. How about braided away from your face here, but loose in the back? You have gorgeous hair so you should use it."
"Whatever you say. You're the artist."
"If only you were this easygoing about everything."
"If I was I'd be boring."
Tate made a little hmpf sound that always made Beth want to laugh, but she fell under the spell of having someone brush, pin and curl to get her all prettified.
Tate worked quickly and efficiently, braiding, twisting and securing. "So you know, William is going to break something internal when he finds out you've set your cap for Joe. Joe's reputation is less than stellar."
"Thank God no one judges what you were like at eighteen when it's over ten years later and your life has changed." She arched a brow at her sister, who just snorted and kept working.
Growing up in a household like theirs had conditioned them in some negative ways. But they were ways Beth was more than aware of. While she appreciated Tate's concern, Beth wasn't their mother.
"Look, if he's like Dad, I'll walk away. You know that. I like 'em bad, with a soft, gooey filling. I don't want a lazy drunken lout who'll knock me around when he gets bored. And he came back to help out his family. Jerks don't do that. You know his parents don't have any money or anything he'd be after. William says Joe's changed a lot since he left Petal. I'm going to see for myself."
Tate nodded, but said nothing further for a while until she stepped back, giving Beth's hair a quick spray.
"Damn you're pretty. Pulling your hair back only highlights that."
Beth smoothed a hand over her hair with a smile. Another fucked-up thing from their childhood. Tate was clearly not their father's child, a product of one of their mother's multiple affairs. And their father had never let Tate forget it. He'd spent decades trying to crush Tate into nothing. He'd used the fact that she was short to her siblings' tall, curvy to their lean, blonde to their brunette to try to hurt her. Not that their mother did a thing to stop it. But Tate had never let it break her, and she'd never made her siblings feel bad about it either.
Probably helped that Tate had herself a man so gorgeous he could walk into any magazine ad selling cologne in a heartbeat. And that the man practically worshipped her and their babies.
"Hopefully it'll work."
"If he can resist you in that red dress looking the way you do and carrying a big basket of cookies and brownies, he's not worthy. He might even be kind of slow. Which, you know, given the way he lived all those years ago, he might be."
Beth laughed then. He'd been quite the partier in those days.
"He sure looked like he was living better. Damn. He's ..." Beth fanned her face. "He's ridiculous, that's what he is. Tall. At least six and a half feet tall. And muscles too."
Tate waggled her brows. "Hurry on up then and get over there. I want a complete recap when you're finished."
Beth took a deep breath, grabbed the basket and headed out. His auto repair shop was only a few blocks down, and there was no time like the present.
* * *
Joe Harris had just about finished with the carburetor he'd been working on most of the morning when he heard the click of footsteps and came out to see who it was.
The jingle of Buck's collar alerted Joe he wasn't the only one attracted by the sound. He grinned down at his dog before glancing back toward the doorway.
He froze at the sight. Beth Murphy looking better than a body had a right to. He'd thought she'd been pretty amazing the first time he'd seen her a few weekends back. She'd worn cutoff shorts and a T-shirt then, but this Beth was gussied up in a pretty red dress, her hair shiny and reaching nearly to her waist.
He wondered what it would feel like against his bare skin and then mentally slapped himself.
"Hi, Joe!" She thrust a giant basket at him. "I just wanted to stop in and welcome you back to Petal. Officially I mean." She shrugged and smiled prettily.
He took the basket and put it on the counter. "Beth Murphy, look at you, girl."
She looked down at herself and back to him, a sparkle in her eye that he liked immensely.
"I'd give you a hug but —" She indicated his overalls, covered with grease and dust from crawling around under the truck he'd been working on.
"Sorry. Been a busy morning."
Buck barked a few times, not a man to take being ignored lightly and she knelt. "Why hello there. Aren't you handsome? I'm Beth. Who are you?"
Buck barked again, dancing around her, his tongue lolling as he checked her out. She laughed, scratching behind his ears.
"That's Buck. Don't get on her dress."
Buck gave Joe a look that told him the dog had no intention of being on the outs with the woman.
"Did you come to work with him to keep him out of trouble?"
Buck barked again a few times, and laughing, Beth gave him one last scratch and stood. "Sounds like that's exactly what he's doing."
"He likes to keep me company. I found him at a garage so he's at home in one."
"Someone abandoned him?"
Joe liked the outrage on her face.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Lost in You"
Copyright © 2019 Lauren Dane.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Lost in You,
A Visit to Petal: Part Two,
About the Author,
Coming Soon from Lauren Dane,