I got lucky! The collarbone is NOT broken, just severely bruised. Anti-inflammatories, steroids, and extra physical therapy for a few weeks and I’ll be as good as new. I am back at work again, too. I am not a happy camper when I am forced to not write. I get really edgy.
I was able to have an almost normal week so far. 😀
I’m working on finishing Nikki and Hunter’s book. I have a few more things to do and then it’ll be on its way to the editor–with no actual delay, after all.
I don’t know the release date yet; I’ll need to talk to my editor about her schedule, but I should know soon. Right now, I’m focusing on getting everything ready for Shelby’s release on 12/21. (Available as a pre-order on 12/16!). I’m hoping to release Shelby as a paperback and large-print hardback at the same time as the ebook. That just depends on if the formatting is complete by release day.
It has definitely been crazy busy around here. I am looking forward to January, when things settle down (we tend to get snowed in for days where we live) and all I have to do is worry about writing books.
That’s what I love to do. This week alone, I’ve started Zoey’s book (a month early!), and started making notes for upcoming Finleys. And I had one scene pop into my head out of nowhere… For Miranda’s PAVAD title, which is several books away.
Meanwhile, I have included a bonus look at Nikki! Nikki and Hunter will (most likely) release in mid-February.
This couldn’t be it.
Hunter Clark stared at the Stop in Time bookshop and double checked the address one more time.
Someone somewhere had one hell of a sense of humor. Maybe he’d deserved this for pissing off karma or something. For some reason, he hadn’t put it together when he’d gotten the details of this project.
He should have. It should have jumped out at him like a damned neon sign. Here there be danger! Go back, hero! Go back! Now!
She was probably in there.
Snow poured down around him, almost blinding him.
He’d never been through a Wyoming winter—he wasn’t looking forward to this one, even though he was at the tail end of it now. He hoped.
But here he was.
Masterson County looked just the same as it had when he’d been there filming before. Except for the white coating everywhere he looked.
Before everything had gone to hell, he’d ended up with a damned broken leg, nine weeks of physical therapy, two corrective surgeries, another nine weeks of physical therapy, and a totally derailed plan.
Because of his injury he’d missed out on the movie of a lifetime. It would take him a while to recover from that.
Emotionally—not financially. Hunter was very, very good at managing his business assets. Financially, he could take the next decade off and it wouldn’t affect his quality of life or his lifestyle one bit. But the opportunity the lost movie had presented—that stung. A great deal. Still.
He was a businessman first—actor second. He wasn’t going to be an actor forever, either. It was the idea that he was going to go stir-crazy that had him here, working on the next phase of his career.
It was time. He had always wanted more than just repeating someone else’s words.
If he didn’t do this now, he probably never would. Hunter knew himself well enough to know that. He was very risk-adverse, especially when it came to his business plan for his future.
This was his biggest risk yet.
Hunter didn’t want to just star in the movies—he wanted to write them. Create them from scratch. Produce. All of it that he could. Fortunately, his former director Rowland Bowles was giving him the shot to do just that.
Bowles wanted the story of the Tylers and Mastersons of Masterson County. For a Rowland Bowles docudrama. They weren’t Rowland’s highest earning projects, but the docudramas brought in consistent returns.
Hunter wanted in on it. He wanted his name attached, as his first step. After the docudrama, he’d do two or three more true-story projects, then he was going to start writing movies from scratch.
Take the leap toward the goals he’d had for more than a decade now.
Put his voice out there. He wouldn’t be repeating someone else’s words forever.
He wanted the world to hear his own.
That was why Hunter was there. This was a serious project that he wanted his name attached to. Unfortunately, the Mastersons weren’t so open to the idea of a screenplay based on the hells they’d all been through before.
Rowland was persistent, though.
So here Hunter was—opportunity chasing.
Starting at the Stop in Time bookstore, downtown Masterson, Wyoming.
He got the feeling his life would change the very moment he stepped inside. Which was crazy.
Four brothers—the sheriff, the veterinarian, the physician, and the rancher—had met, fallen for, and saved four beautiful young women when those women had been targeted by nasty criminals. He was there to write their stories, period.
Nothing life-changing or epic would happen just because he stood on the snow-covered walkway in front of a struggling country bookstore.
That those four young women had been sisters was almost ridiculous to consider. That both Rowland and Hunter had been instrumental in their rescues made this story more real to both men. Important.
And would draw a crowd to wherever Rowland chose to release it.
Hunter didn’t just want to get it right, he wanted to get it perfect.
That meant he had to liaise with the cousin the sisters had chosen.
A little cousin who apparently lived above the Stop in Time bookstore on Main and was a writer. It was either her, or her brother—the famous, and reportedly cantankerous mystery writer Tyler Bennett—who was capricious and too damned hard to pin down to work with. Tyler Bennett had a reputation for being a total pain in the ass.
Rowland had wanted this woman, whom he had worked with before, instead.
Of course Rowland had—Rowland Bowles had a real thing for young, beautiful redheaded women. Everyone knew that.
Dangle a redhead in front of Rowland, and the other man was putty.
Young, beautiful redheaded women.
That described her perfectly.
Hunter owed Rowland in more ways than one.
That meant her.
He hadn’t forgotten Nikki for even a single moment. The woman had marched across his dreams at least once a night for six months now.
Sometimes erotic. Sometimes not.
But always there.
Most times had just been her beckoning him. Sometimes she wore the costume from the movie in his dreams. She’d had a good-sized supporting role. One that still made him smile when he thought about how she had looked, even though they’d only had two or three scenes together total, and she’d had a double in for two of them. A gauzy fairy costume, with light blue wings, and big steampunk goggles on her face. Goggles that hid her glasses. Strawberry red hair floating wildly around her shoulders. Pale creamy shoulders that made a man want to touch.
Sometimes in his dreams she wore nothing but dark blue ultra-feminine feminine silk and a siren’s smile. That hair would be spread out over his pillows, his fingers buried in it while he took from her what he wanted.
Other times it was just a vague impression of her taunting him.
Waving one small hand in his direction and asking what he was waiting for. Asking when he was coming back. Her hand beckoned over and over again. Calling him back.
To her. To a blue-eyed redhead he had never forgotten.
As if the woman in the dreams knew he would return to her. Some day.
Even though he hadn’t been back to Masterson in over two and a half years.
Before the first two weeks of dreaming about her were over, he’d been googling her on social media. He’d actually thought about friending her. Just so he could see what she was doing in this little hamlet that time had forgotten.
He’d looked at photos of her on her cousin Pandora’s page, instead.
But that was far too much like stalking for his peace of mind—Hunter had forced himself to stop doing that after the second time. It had been best to just force the woman who hadn’t seen him as just some famous movie star like every other woman did straight from his head.
He was still trying to get her out of his dreams. Somehow.
He’d thought he’d done a good enough job of that that he could come back to Masterson County and not see her. Bother with her. It had been more than two years since he had ever spoken to her, after all.
Hunter was not the kind of man to get obsessed. At least…not with a woman.
He should have known better. Karma and all that.
His cast was finally off. His life was getting back to normal. He was moving forward. The only thing left to do was somehow get his dream woman dealt with so he could get back on track with his career plan.
Career dreams took precedence over fantasies of a woman he’d never had.
Hunter didn’t want to be distracted right now.
He was waiting for her to open the damned door before he damned well froze to death.
Hunter stood there, looking in, not caring who drove past. The sign said Closed. But the lights were on. Beckoning him. To her. Damn it.
It honestly felt like he was returning home.
To a woman he’d interacted with less than a handful of times.
He didn’t understand that at all.
But there he was.
To a redheaded little waif seven years his junior. Who had never even known he would have given anything to have her for his own. If only for a little while.
He stood staring for the longest time.
Until that door opened.
And then there she was.
Nikki Tyler. The woman who was haunting him.
Looking as perfectly wholesome and sweet as ever. “Mr. Clark, I thought that was you. But I wasn’t sure with the snow. And well…you were too far away for me to be sure. Come in. It’s freezing outside.” She waved her hand at him, urging him forward. “Nobody stays outside for long in this.”
She’d barely looked at him. Just like before. Tilting her head to one side, her gaze sliding just past him, her eyes looking big and slightly unfocused behind her thick glasses, darting just a little to the left and back to the right.
Had she ever fully seen him?
Hunter honestly didn’t know.
“Hello, Nikki. I didn’t realize I’d be staying with you.” Oh, he wanted to. The stupid part of him did, anyway. He took a moment to study her once he’d made it inside the bookstore that she’d told him had been her mother’s. He studied the changes in her that two years had brought.
He liked what he saw.
She’d matured a bit. She didn’t look as young and innocent as she had before. She’d barely been legal back then. Twenty-one or so. She’d been twenty-one and so damned naive…
Far too young for him. Too unworldly. That was exactly what she had been. He’d reminded himself of that. Because he’d wanted her so damned much then, too.
She wore well-worn jeans that outlined her hips tauntingly. The navy sweater cupped feminine flesh in the most perfect of ways and was almost the same color as her eyes. Her hair curled in long wild ringlets that were more gold than red. It was shorter than before, though, but only by a few inches. He thought. He hadn’t exactly measured the wildness that was her hair.
Her eyes were still the bluest of dark blues. They were hidden behind thick glasses. Purple glasses, now. They had been blue, before.
As far as he knew, she could barely see twenty feet in front of her. Literally. She often tripped and fell. Bumped into things.
She had bumped into him the first time they’d met.
He smiled as he remembered the one time he’d caught her. He’d held her in his arms for one half second all those months ago. Nikki had looked up at him and asked who he was.
Nikki hadn’t recognized him—not even as the star of the very movie she was a part of making. He’d spent weeks in Masterson being followed and fawned over by almost every woman he met—yet there was one woman who apparently could care less that he was one of the hottest stars from Hollywood.
She’d crushed his ego and intrigued him immediately.
That had been so far outside of his experience, he hadn’t been able to forget her.
She’d practically been imprinted on him ever since.
He knew it was crazy. He could have almost any woman he wanted with just a wave of his hand. It was a perk of being who he was.
But all he’d been able to think about for the last six months was this woman who hadn’t even known who he was until he’d told her he was the star of the movie.
The movie had been made over two-and-a-half years ago. It would release in four months, once the special effects were complete. It had been a long three years for the project, with delays left and right. But now…it was almost ready. Rowland had given it the green light just this past week.
Rowland was the biggest perfectionist Hunter had ever known. He’d delayed and delayed, until Gretta was perfect.
Hunter had forgotten Nikki in those almost three years. Mostly.
Until everything had changed. The night of the wreck.
Hunter had nearly died.
Hunter had never forgotten her. Apparently, the night he’d almost died had reminded him of that. Of what she represented.
He’d been pinned beneath his damned car for more than an hour and a half—and he had thought about her. Wished he’d had a woman like her in his life, a family. A real one of his own. Someone to care whether he lived or died, someone he could hold at night and not feel alone.
Someone who truly saw him for him, flaws and all. And not as the Hunter Louis Clark.
Hers had been the face in his mind as he’d slipped into unconsciousness that night. Her name had been on his lips. The last thought he’d had before he’d passed out from pain was that he wished he had kissed her at least once.
He swore she’d haunted him in the day and a half he’d been under sedation. He could almost imagine her eyes were what he had dreamed about then.
Now he couldn’t get her out of his head. She tormented him.
“Pan asked me to let you have the apartment across from mine while you’re here.”
Hunter’s stomach fell. “Across from yours?”
He’d hoped Pandora had meant Nikki owned apartments somewhere and not that she lived in one. Right next door. Right there, tempting him.
“I hope you don’t mind. It’s upstairs and to the left. My place, the larger apartment, is to the right. The only thing I ask is that you never leave anything in the hallway or on the stairs. For obvious safety reasons.” She pushed her glasses up her lightly freckled nose and stared at him.
Did she even see him at all? With Nikki, it was hard to tell. He knew she had bad eyesight, but just how significant it was, he didn’t really know.
“How long did you plan to stay? Pan said you’d agreed to pay asking price on the apartment. More if I furnished it for you. I had my brothers bring over some pieces from our ranch just in case I rented it out furnished next time, but if they’re not to your liking I can find some others. There are towels and some quilts already in there. I know it’s not Hollywood or L.A. but it’s warm and dry and since we’ll be working together, it’ll be convenient. About the screenplay…I have everything for the book I’m writing. You’re welcome to look over it. Pan and her sisters get final approval. And their husbands, of course.”
“Nikki, take a breath. We have the next four weeks to…talk.”
Four weeks. Working closely with the one woman he actually ached for. Who looked far better than he’d remembered. He’d hoped seeing her would make this hunger go away. He had thought seeing the reality of her would erase the fantasy from his head.
Hunter feared it would be the exact opposite.
Damn it, he’d never make it. He’d have her naked under those quilts of hers within two weeks. Hunter knew himself. Knew he wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation of the one woman he’d wanted more than anything in a very long time.
Only the knowledge that the last thing he would ever want to do was hurt her would keep his hands off of her, where they belonged. Maybe.
Not even her three older brothers were enough to scare him away.
The knowledge that he’d leave, and would never want to leave her hurting, would keep his hands off. Hopefully.
“I know. But it’s best to just get everything out there between us. I don’t really want to do this with you, Mr. Clark.”
“It’s Hunter.” He stepped closer. Her head tilted up and she blinked at him, but she didn’t back away. “And why not?”
“It’s personal. What happened to my family, I mean. I wasn’t a part of all of it, but I did almost die because of it. And so did my cousins. I have had nightmares because of it. Not something I’m sure I want up on the screen for the whole world to see. I don’t want you to sensationalize it. Romanticize it.”
“Yet you’re writing a book about it?”
“I’m writing an account of it, yes. With interviews with those involved. Non-fiction.”
“You haven’t interviewed me. I was there, too, remember?” He’d gotten a concussion for his troubles. He’d never forget waking on the Mastersons’ damned couch, with her leaning over him. With those perfect lips right there.
He’d almost forgotten about her. Went about his life, putting Masterson behind him. Until one early morning crash on the freeway had changed him. Made him remember her. Made him confront his life, his regrets, and his secret wishes he hadn’t allowed himself to think about since he was twenty years old.
Made him wish his life had been different. That he had experienced it all.
He didn’t even know why he had focused so much on Nikki when he lay dying. He’d dated a few other women since Masterson. Several times, though none were serious.
He just couldn’t stop thinking about Nikki since the wreck.
Stupid, he knew. But it was how he felt.
He had laid there, bleeding to death and trapped and wishing he had taken the time to know the woman in front of him. The one woman who didn’t seem to care that he was The Hunter Louis Clark, leading man, who just treated him like Hunter Clark, person. Good or bad.
He wasn’t even certain she’d liked him back then.
Hell, he was in Masterson to exorcise his demons. Starting with her. He wasn’t blind to that.
“I know. But…I remember what happened to you. I was there right next to you. You really weren’t needed.”
Hunter snorted. He supposed he wasn’t.
“You have a point. But I’m here now. And sweetie—you’re not going to push me away. Bowles wants this screenplay written. And I’m going to do it. Before the premiere of Grettahappens.” Hunter leaned down, until he was right in her face. Those blue eyes, beautiful but slightly unfocused when they looked into his, widened. He was close enough to count those freckles of hers. It took everything he had not to kiss her. To just grab hold of her and show her… “Have I made myself clear?”
Oh, this was hilarious.
Nikki laughed. Right in his far too handsome face. He thought he could intimidate her into doing what he wanted. Because he was bigger? Stronger? Older? Far more dominant?
She was used to gorgeous men trying to intimidate her.
She was a Tyler.
She’d been dealing with domineering, alpha males since she was in diapers. Hunter Louis Clark had nothing on a batch of over-testosteroned Tyler men when they got on a roll.
Best to make him aware of that right now. Before he said or did something stupid and bruised that most fragile of things—his male ego. She suspected he had a rather well developed…ego. It was written all over him.
“You won’t get what you want by threatening or intimidating me, Mr. Hunter Louis Clark. You even try and I’ll evict you so quickly, you’ll slide down the mountain back to where you belong.” Nikki raised her chin in challenge. “Probably with my brothers and cousins helping you on your way.”
She’d grown up with three Tyler brothers, and a million male cousins. Nothing would be allowed to intimidate her. Especially not this guy.
She’d googled him after she’d met him. She’d read every article she could find on him. At large font. Nikki doubted she’d missed anything about him. The general consensus out there was that he was shrewd, relentless, cold and calculating. Business-obsessed. Especially where his career was concerned.
He didn’t have a great reputation for staying power, though he was described as charming. Gentlemanly. There hadn’t been any “Hunter Acts Like Jackass” articles that she’d found online, anyway.
He wasn’t so charming now.
She forced herself to hold her ground, even though she wanted to back away. She was going to be living across from this man for four weeks. She wasn’t about to let him intimidate her.
Even if he was ten inches taller, a hundred twenty-five pounds heavier and pure solid man muscle. She knew what those muscles looked like—she’d watched his last movie, where he’d spent half of it without a shirt on. Right there in front of her on the big screen.
It had been her first Hunter Louis Clark movie. But not her last. She’d binged on all of him she could find. For research purposes, of course.
He could easily pick her up and do whatever he wanted to with her.
That thought had her breath catching.
It had been a very long time since a man had done what he wanted to with her. A long time. Three and a half years, to be exact. When she’d been young, dumb, and only twenty-one, months before the movie had ever started to be filmed in Masterson.
She liked to think she’d learned a bit more discretion since then.
“I’m not going anywhere, Nikki. You can count on that. So tell me…what’s the going rate for this little place of yours?”
She didn’t know what made her say it, but Nikki tripled the rate she’d originally been going for.
Just because he did frighten her when he looked at her like that.
She wasn’t used to being afraid of men. Not by a long shot.
She had a collection of big brothers that kept most men in town in line, where she was concerned. If they were even brave enough to get close to her at all.
Of course, most didn’t try. She was just ordinary little Nikki Tyler, after all. She had the total bookworm thing going for her. The only guys who looked her way were the ones happiest with their noses buried in books.
They liked Nikki for one reason only—she wasn’t very intimidating. She made a guy feel safe or something.
Safe, boring little Nikki Tyler. If she didn’t live in Masterson were there were far more guys than available girls, she probably wouldn’t have dated even as much as she had.
She knew the odds.
Of course, Nikki was just fine with that fact. It was guys like Hunter who made her unsettled.
He hadn’t before. Before he had just been another one of Rowland Bowles’s people cluttering up her town. Until the day she’d met him by nearly tripping over him. Not one of her finest moments, that was for certain. When they’d had to help save her cousin Pandora later, he’d been just another person to help.
Now he was in her space, invading her world.
She most definitely did not like that.
“Sounds reasonable.” He brushed past her. Nikki squeaked and got out of his way—forgetting she was standing on the small step that ran from the back of the bookstore to the stairs leading up to her private quarters. She teetered, and barely caught herself in time. She did not want to take another header down those stairs. Been there, done that.
Had broken her arm once, too.
His hand wrapped around her arm. He pulled her closer. So close his scent surrounded her. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“No. Just me being clumsy again. You might as well get used to it. It happens.” Unfortunately, her eye condition made her misjudge when she was moving sometimes. It also caused dizziness and vertigo. Nikki was used to it—but most of her family made too big of a deal about it. “I’m a real danger to myself and others when I decide to move too quickly.”
His finger brushed against the skin of her inner elbow exposed by the sweater she’d pushed up earlier, just touching her there. Stroking.
She fought a shiver. Nikki stared up at him. He was a little blurred around the edges in the low light. She’d dimmed the lights after he’d entered, so that she wouldn’t have to come back downstairs—but he was most definitely Hunter Louis Clark, the guy all the tabloids claimed was the contender for the country’s hottest actor of all time. He was running neck and neck with the Davis brothers, last she’d read.
She’d met Slater Davis and his brother Quade during the Rowland Bowles movie project. They were some seriously hot looking men. And…
Slater definitely knew how to kiss a woman, Nikki could say that from personal experience.
But…Slater Davis wasn’t Hunter. He still had something extra.
Well…pretty was as pretty did. He’d seemed like a nice guy before, but he’d already tried to intimidate her once today. Nikki wasn’t stupid.
She wasn’t about to let him push her around. She was top dog around here.
She knew how to handle big strong guys who thought the world revolved around them—she’d become an expert at that by the time she was two. Hunter Louis Clark wasn’t anyone special. No matter what he thought.
She pulled her arm free. “I’ll show you to your apartment. This way.”
Hunter followed her up the stairs, eyes trained exactly where they didn’t need to be. Nikki had a fit little body with curves exactly where they were supposed to be. And those jeans…worn in just the right places…cupped her perfectly.
Made a man’s fingers itch to touch.
Hell, he would love to have the right to touch.
Sheer feminine perfection was just two steps above him. He was such a damned pervert.
She’d kick him to the curb if she knew what he was thinking right now.
Set her brothers on him, too. He thought she had at least two. He’d met so many Tylers before he didn’t remember who was which.
Except for her oldest brother Gil. He was memorable. That guy was as big as Hunter and strong as a bull.
Hunter hadn’t missed that before.
Her apartment door was open. Hunter wanted to go in, see what made Nikki tick. All he got was a quick impression of clean minimal lines and bright happy colors. Before she was opening the door directly across the hall.
She would be twenty feet away from him for four weeks. At least.
He was never going to survive. Someone somewhere up above must truly have it out for Hunter right now.
“Are you ok?” She paused on the step. He almost ran right into her. “You made a weird sound.”
He probably had. Seeing her perfectly curved little rear right there in front of him. He was such an asshole sometimes. Hunter thought quickly. “The knee…not fully healed yet. Sometimes stairs get the best of me. Especially after a long drive.”
“I’m sorry. I remember reading about that accident. How many cars were involved. Your name was mentioned so I followed the story, just to make sure you were ok.”
He nodded. That had been one of the two darkest moments in his life. He had been pinned under his own car—and could hear people crying for help in the cars surrounding him. He hadn’t been able to do a damned thing to help them. Some of them, including children, hadn’t made it long enough for help to get to them.
He’d have traded both his damned legs to have been able to help them. To at least been able to help one of them. Or to get to those kids, somehow.
Hunter would never forget the sounds of their pain.
He had been the first to call 911. He hadn’t been soon enough.
He would never forget feeling that helpless.
“It’s been slow going. But the leg is almost back to normal. The doctors initially thought it never would be. So I am thankful for that.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re ok. I know Pan was worried.”
“She emailed me at least every other day after it happened. She’s become a good friend.” And Hunter would always value that. He didn’t have many genuine friends he could count on.
He valued every one that he did—Nikki’s cousin and Rowland Bowles topped his list. Brad, his personal assistant and manager, too. That was it.
“She’s nervous about this entire project. They all are. We Tylers, we’re a little bit on the reclusive side at times. Well, most of us. Fletcher, Davan, Jacan, Kaece and Phoenix and apparently Parker are a bit different—Parker especially loved the attention. They enjoyed the movie filming. Making movies are all he talks about. He has a poster of Rowland in his bedroom. And your sword from the movie. Rowland gave it to him. The idea Rowland might come back with Phoenix sometime thrills him.”
“I’m nervous about the project, too. I have a lot riding on it.”
She just stared at him, as she paused just outside the apartment door. “I think we all do. Here it is. Home sweet home. It’s not much, but it’s clean and dry and I think it’s better than staying at the inn right now. Pan said you’d prefer an apartment over a hotel room.”
“The last time I stayed at the inn I was practically mobbed. The staff was wonderful, but some of the other guests…” He winced, remembering. Someone had let his location leak. “Rowland had to get in a trailer for me after that.”
The inn had been overrun with fans. All looking for him. They had done some significant damages, too.
“Yeah, I heard about that.” She sent him a mischievous smile that shot straight through him. “My bestie was the clerk at the time. Dusty told me all about the chaos.”
“This…apartment will stay our little secret. I’m here to work. That’s it. Not be the evening’s entertainment.”
He’d just have to remind himself of his goals every time she looked at him with perfect blue eyes and those sweet pink lips curved in a welcoming smile just for him.