This hefty contemporary southern romance, opening the Original Heartbreakers series, is anything but sweet and innocent, with two troubled souls coming together in a clash that is as fiercely erotic as it is tempestuous. Brook Lynn Dillon meets ex-con Jase Hollister the night she comes storming into his home to roust her sister from his bed, but this potentially trite opening does not descend into cheap drama, and as Brook Lynn’s attraction to Jase heats up, his history with her sister is handled maturely by all parties. With lots of explicit sex and almost excessive alpha male possessiveness as well as a touch of the ridiculous, this book falls squarely into the “guilty pleasure” category. (Apr.)
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Read an Excerpt
Strawberry Valley, Oklahoma
Population 7,437,416 Drive Slow and See Our City, Drive Fast and See Our Jail
Brook Lynn Dillon was not a fan of mornings. Or afternoons. Or evenings. When a girl reached a certain level of exhaustion, every time of day sucked.
She'd bypassed that certain level, oh, about seven years ago when, at the tender age of eighteen, she'd begun working at Rhinestone Cowgirl. Despite what every tourist passing through town assumed, the RC wasn't a strip club, thank you very much, but an up-and-coming jewelry store.
Her five-hour shift always kicked off at the butt crack of dawn, or as her mom used to say, before the rooster crows. Afterward she had sixty short minutes for a little R and Rthe Reading and Reviewing of any new past-due noticesbefore working a ten-hour shift at Two Farms, the only "fine dining experience" within a fifty-mile radius. The description came directly from the owner, never mind that his idea of fine dining was using shiitake mushrooms in the beef Stroganoff instead of regular ones.
Today wouldn't have been so bad if her sister had completed her own shift at Two Farms, but halfway to the finish line, Jessie Kay had taken off without saying goodbye, and Brook Lynn was forced to take over her tables to save both their jobs. At least her sister left a note in her locker.
Don't stay in tonight. Go out and get drunk. Or, you know, at least pretend to be drunk. Your prudish ways are ruining our good name! XO JK
Brook Lynn had never hustled so hard for less reward. Her back and feet ached, and she wanted to go home and fall into some sort of coma even more than she wanted to win this week's lottery. Fifteen million and counting!
But here she was. Her best friend, Kenna, had called to tell her Jessie Kay had taken her own advice and gotten trashed, partying hard at the Glass house, acting as if the male attendees were going to die if she didn't give them a little mouth to mouth.
When Jessie Kay had a few too many "party favors," she became very popular. A good-time girl. Brook Lynn, Miss Responsible, had never been a good-time anything. Too many worries balanced on her shoulders.
Tonight's worry? Tomorrow's possible front-page headline of the Strawberry Daily: Former Beauty Queen Turned Slacker Fails to Control Her Whoremones Again.
Not on my watch!
Brook Lynn stepped out of her car, a one-wheel-in-the-grave beater she'd named Rusty. Like a vacuum, her pores opened up and sucked the stiflingly hot air straight into her body, and not even the sweet, addictive scent of wild strawberries and magnolias made it better. She wiped a sudden sheen of sweat from her brow and marched up the dilapidated porch steps, her gaze sweeping over one of the largest homes in the parish.
A hundred-year-old farmhouse in need of brand-new everything. White paint had chipped away, revealing rotten siding. Multiple wood slats had come loose, and the seal on several of the windows had broken, allowing moisture to pool between the panels.
Not altogether beautiful, but the fifty-two-acre spread had come with a greenhouse, a small dairy, two barns, a work shed, vegetable gardens and wild strawberry patches, all surrounded by hand-set stone walls.
Harlow Glass recently lost her family's sprawling estate, and Lincoln West, a newcomer in town, had snapped it up. He was obviously more tech savvy than manual laborish, considering he'd done no actual work that Brook Lynn could see. Which made sense, she supposed. He'd just moved from Oklahoma City to enjoy good ole country living in Strawberry Valley, and it was common knowledge that big, bad city boys spent the bulk of their time sleeping around, coiffing their hair and posting pictures of food on the internet.
Brook Lynn had interacted with the guy on more than one occasion, and shockingly enough, she'd come to admire his dry wit and puffed-up ego. He loved to brag about his own magnificence, but the hint of humor in his tone always saved him from falling over the edge into obnoxious.
Have you ever seen a body this perfect? No. And you never will, Brook Lynn. The good Lord has an A game, and I'm proof.
For a guy who spent all day behind a computer, he certainly was buff. And because she hadn't seen a body as perfect as his, she hadn't been able to rebuke him. But then, she had yet to meet his two roommates. Maybe they were hotter.
Problem was, West's friends kept to themselves. Not once had she seen them in town. Of course, that hadn't stopped Jessie Kay, who had a habit of looking for love in all the wrong places. She had not only met the two other newcomers to Strawberry Valleyshe'd also already slept with one. Beck something. Gossip claimed he was a player of players and had totally worked his way through the over-twenty-and-under-forty female population in the city before moving here, looking for fresh lady meat.
The other guy Jase was his name, she thought. Less was known about him. To her knowledge, he hadn't hooked up with a Strawberry Valley resident, though there had been a sighting or two and plenty of interest. Older women whispered he was "hunkali-cious" while younger girls giggled nervously behind trembling hands.
A cacophony of voices seeped through the cracks around the front door. Brook Lynn wiped the dust from the upper panel of glass and peeked inside and oh crap. She hadn't expected so many guests. At least thirty people congregated in the living room, drinking beer, talking and laughing, and there were indications of others in the hallway and kitchen. Most were in their mid-to-late twenties, so Jessie Kay had gone to school with themand the rumor mill about her actions this evening had likely already started spinning. These people wouldn't turn a blind eye to the fight to come, either.
And there would be a sister-versus-sister fight. Jessie Kay always resisted her own rescue.
Brook Lynn reached up and switched her inner ear implants to silent. The devices were a couple of years old but still deemed experimental, used to treat cases of hyperacusis as severe as hershearing everyday noises at such a blaring volume, it sometimes felt as if acid had been poured inside her ears. They allowed her to experience a sublime state of deafness whenever she desired. Which she did. Often.
Without bothering to knock, she stepped inside the house. Through a thick haze of cigar smoke, she saw the home's interior hadn't had any work done, either, and was in even more desperate need of refurbishment. Wallpaper had yellowed with age and peeled at the corners. The white shag carpet was stained and threadbare in places. In complete contrast, the furniture scattered throughout looked brand-new, flawless.
Finding no sign of Jessie Kay, she moved deeper into the house, reading lips along the way. A skill she'd honed over the years.
"would never have guessed he was such a citidiot" the recently divorced Charlene Burns was saying. "But after tonight's antics?"
Citidiot. She had to be talking about West or one of his friends. They were the only city boys to move here in forever.
"I know!" Tawny Ferguson replied with a nod. "It's so, so sad."
"Can we really blame him, though? Smog probably putrefied already damaged brain cells. But Jessie Kay? That girl has no excuse. Trying to steal my Beck before throwing herself at Jase was such a slutty Oh, hey, Brook Lynn." Charlene flashed a faux-bright smile and even managed an enthusiastic wave.
Brook Lynn held up her index finger and said, "One."
Both girls darted away as fast as their feet would carry them.
Over the years, Brook Lynn's count of three had served her very well. The only warning anyone received before her "viper's tongue" was unleashed. It was known for drawing blood and leaving internal injuries few could survive, all because she'd flayed Jessie Kay's ex-boyfriend with a verbal tongue-lashing. Once! But that's all it had taken. A legend had been born, and that legend had only grownwithout any real help from her. Nowadays most folks would rather have their nose and mouth stapled shutafter being waterboardedthan clash with her.
A tap on her shoulder sent her wheeling around. "Kenna," she exclaimed, happy to see her friend.
The lovely redhead greeted her with a much-needed hug. "I lost track of Jessie Kay, but I guarantee West knows where she is. That boy has his head on a swivel. Come on."
Brook Lynn followed close behind and wished, not for the first time, that they could just pack up and run away together, leaving the rest of the world behind. But Kenna had a six-year-old daughter to think about. Not to mention a smoking-hot fiancé. And Brook Lynn, well, she had Jessie Kay, who would self-destruct without her.
Well, self-destruct faster.
Kenna led her through an overcrowded game room, where people hovered around a massive, elaborately carved pool table set in the frame of an old car, but no one actually played the game. Probably because a plastic sign hung from an aged chandelier, right over the center of the felt. Touch And Regret.
Another door led to a spacious kitchen. Though the walls were atrocious with an even uglier, darker yellow paper, the appliances were stainless steel and clearly fresh from the factory, the counters a lovely cream-and-rose marble. Someone had done some work in here, and her heart pinged with envy. My dream kitchen in progress.
Kenna stopped and waved her arm toward the sink where Brook Lynn spotted West. He was in the middle of a conversation with a man she'd never met.
"I've got this," she told her friend.
Kenna cupped her cheeks in an effort to gain her full attention. "You sure?"
"Very. Go back to Dane before he starts hunting for you." Dane Michaelson, once the most sought-after bachelor in town, was now the reason Kenna breathed.
"I happen to like when he hunts me," Kenna said, wiggling her brows. "Think Animal Planet goes wild."
"You make me sick. You know that, right?"
"Don't be jelly. Your time is coming." Kenna kissed her forehead before taking off.
Brook Lynn's time wasn't even close to coming. She had zero prospects. And with that depressing thought, she focused on her quarry. As usual, the sight of West arrested her, even in profile. Not because she was attracted to himshe wasn'tbut because, on top of that ultrafine body he liked to boast about, he had a face worthy of decorating the most beloved romance-novel cover. With his shaggy dark hair and piercing, soulful eyes, every unattached female in town was ready to throw herself at himand many already had. But though he was nice, even charming and supersmart, he could have been standing in a full swatch of sunlight, and darkness still would have clung to him.
She did not need another fixer-upper in her life, and there was no question the guy would require work.
According to Kenna, whose fiancé had the inside tract, West allowed himself to date one woman per year, for two months. No more, no less. When the clock zeroed out, he dumped the poor, dear thing for some reason or other that sounded purely made up and never spoke to her again.
How crazy was that?
The guy with West was just as spectacular in appearance, maybe more so. Masculine and muscular, yet almost pretty. His eyes were a perfect honey gold, though his hair couldn't decide between blond and brown. Not that it mattered. The different colors blended together in beautiful harmony. Even his eyelashes started out black before curling into golden tips.
Brook Lynn read their lips to the best of her ability, considering they weren't looking directly at her and she didn't know their speech patterns, picking up snippets of their conversation and filling in the rest.
"It's only been six months," Honey-gold said.
"Yes, and I want him to survive the next six," West said. "This is going to cause problems."
"Not with me."
West glared at his friend.
"What? What'd I say that's so bad?"
"The fact that you don't know makes it worse."
West and Dane were working on some kind of project together, which meant Kenna, who was never far from Dane's side, and Brook Lynn, who spent what little free time she had with her best friend, had interacted with him more than anyone else in town. A few days ago, she'd asked him flat out why a guy who so obviously enjoyed the fast-paced city lifestyle had moved hereother than it being the greatest place on earth, of course. He'd merely turned on the charm, saying, "Why, to make all your dreams come true. You're welcome."
And now she had to try to get straight answers out of him. Peachy.
Determined, she walked over and tapped West on the shoulder.
He focused on her, a rebuke clearly poised at the edge of his tongue. When her identity clicked, he switched gears and grinned in welcome. "Well, well. If it isn't the girl I want by my side if ever zombies attack."
"When they attack," she corrected. It was only a matter of time. And yes, she was one of those people. A believer. "Where's Jessie Kay?"
The two men shared a look before Honey-gold took her hand and kissed her knuckles. "Hello, beautiful. I'm Beck, and if you'll give me thirty minutes of your time, I'll make you forget your friend and most assuredly your name."
Ah. The infamous Beck. Number two of the bachelors three. "Jessie Kay is my older sister, so I won't be forgetting her, I promise you. But if you seriously possess the skill to make me forget my name, I swear I'll find a way to marry you. Still interested in a hookup?"
Something akin to panic flashed over his features, though he managed to mask it quickly. "Forever with a beauty like you?" he said in the same easy tone. "You're only whetting my appetite, darling."
Women fall for that? Really? She focused on Westbefore she gave in to the temptation to teach Beck a lesson he'd never forget. "Where is she?"
West pushed out a breath. "You sure you want to know?"
She dropped her chin to her chest, her gaze staying on him and narrowing. "This conversation is fixing to start annoying me."
Beck chuckled. "Fixing to start?"
"Something they love to say here. Just go with it."
West frowned and said to Brook Lynn, "You do realize I'll be breaking all kinds of bro-code rules if I tell you."
"Better you break the rules than I break your face."
"Fair enough." Looking suddenly and inexplicably irate, he said, "She's in Jase's bedroom."
Jase, their other friend? Jessie Kay had turned her sights from Beck to him? Meaning Charlene Burns hadn't been blowing smoke. Great! "Where is Jase's bedroom?"
"Third door on the right," West said, even pointed. Beck slugged him in the arm. "Dude. What if they're still busy?"
Busy? As in exactly what she suspected?
A tightness came over West's features but he shrugged. "Her corneas will burn, but they'll heal."
"Dude," Beck said again. "There is such a thing as privacy."
Leaving the pair to their argument, she stalked out of the kitchen and down a hallway. The couples who'd migrated this way were pressed against the walls, making out, so no one noticed her. She came to the correct door and prepared to knock, announcing her presence only to hesitate. If Jessie Kay was totally tee-rashed, the guy was taking advantage of her, and if Brook Lynn gave him any warning, he would stop whatever crime he was committing and hide the evidence. He needed to be caught red-handed.
Then again, if she walked in and interrupted two consenting adults while they were getting "busy," her corneas would indeed be burned.
What was more important? Her sister or her eyes?
Okay, then. Decision made.
Brook Lynn turned the knob. Or would have, if it hadn't held steady. Dang it! Locked out.