Read More from Calle J. Brookes

Free Stories from Finley Creek and more…

One more week until Rhea’s book releases!

I’m in the final rush around to get things ready for release—I’ll be uploading the paperback over the next few days to get it up for launch.

Rhea’s book, Just Loving Gerald, releases on 4/12. Book two, Phil’s story, Forever Holding Phil, releases on 5/17. I’m ‘thinking’ at this point book 3 will release on 6/21, but I need to talk to my editor before I know for sure. Book 4 (featuring Charlotte’s father, from the Finley Creek series!) will most likely release in July or August.

If things are productive today, I’ll be sending book 3 flying off to my editor. Book 3 involves Phil Tyler’s younger brother Nick—and the woman who has always tempted him. (Hint: it’s Phil’s late wife’s sister, who ran away from Masterson County twenty years ago!). It turned into a sweet story that I love, featuring a twelve-year-old boy I had never intended to create. But…now…once he gets a bit older, I can see him being the hero of his own book someday!

Paperbacks & Large Print!

I’ve also been hard at work at creating paperbacks of my entire catalog. And large print. I do feel very strongly that the books need to be in large print. (I went to the eye doctor last week, and the eyeballs haven’t gotten a bit more worse than expected, so large print is dear to my heart!)

I do plan to sell signed copies through my website—at a much better price than Amazon can offer. I have now made all of the ebooks available for direct sale via my website. Amazon’s TOS say I can’t price lower than they do, but…

I can offer as many coupons as I want. (After all, they are my books, and it’s my site!).

Coupon for 20% off…

So now I’m offering a 20% Off coupon for the month of April, on all the ebooksl. (Just type in SAVE20 when prompted). The books are delivered via bookfunnel, which is so easy to use. Plus, Bookfunnel has a great customer service experience.

Masterson #4 in Audio

Another thing I just finished doing an hour ago—I final proofed Masterson #4 (Perci and Nate) in audio! I’m not sure the actual release date, but it’ll be soon. 

Sometime next week, I’ll be prepping the next Masterson for audio (Maggie and Clint). I hope to have all the current Mastersons in audio by Christmas.

The narrator for this book absolutely nailed Nate’s character perfectly, and I love how he portrayed Perci. I got the shivers in several spots in the book. 😉 

If you’d like to listen, I’ve included a sample here.

If you are interested in books 1-3 in audio, Chirp has the best prices. The audiobooks are also available on Apple, Kobo, and Google Play!

I’m hard at work, finishing some books, and playing around with making hand-poured candles this week.

It’s our “break” between basketball ending and softball starting, so I’m trying to get a few things done. Kiddo’s got a test for her purple belt in tae Kwan do this Saturday, too.

She’s exhausting, lol. And very nervous about testing for her belt in front of the rest of her class.

I did get the preorder uploaded for book 2 in the There is a Season... series this week. It’s now available as a preorder. (I’m working on Google now!) The excerpt below is from Forever Holding Phil!

Phil Tyler, the dad from the first four Masterson novellas, is being tormented by the woman he hired to be his housekeeper! That’s a bit ironic, that’s for sure. It releases on May 17th. If you haven’t grabbed your copy of the preorder of book 1 (Just Loving Gerald) featuring Rhea Masterson, the mom from the first four Masterson novellas, you can grab it here now, as well!

There came a time when you had to make a choice. 

This was one of them.

“I’m going to have to do something.”

Glenna Carnes stared at the four women surrounding her as the words seared themselves into her soul. She couldn’t keep doing this to her daughters.

All Glenna wanted was for her daughters to feel safe. This was just proof that she was failing miserably at that task. 

Emmaline was still crying. Emmy—her tough one. Her middle child who had never been afraid of anything before. Today she had been terrified by a delivery man. 

Glenna scooped her up and rocked her, meeting the eyes of her two closest friends, and the two other women at W4HAV, the women’s charity where she worked as a trauma counselor. They all knew this couldn’t keep going on. This fear was destroying her baby girls. “I…this is getting out of hand. I can’t seem to avoid them anywhere. I have to do something.”

The delivery man hadn’t been one of her former brothers-in-law, but Emmy hadn’t known that. All her just almost five-year-old daughter remembered about the uncle who had shown up in the front yard four months ago screaming that Glenna owed them something was that he had been dressed in a private-delivery-company uniform. That had been enough to have her little girl screaming today. Between that and the way her seven-year-old Evangeline flinched each time the telephone rang and her two-and-a-half-year-old baby Eleanor cried and resisted whenever Glenna tried to leave her in the co-op nursery room now…

The girls weren’t getting over their fears—they were just getting worse.

She had to do something.

Glenna looked at Robin and Rory, her two closest friends on the planet. Her sisters of the heart. Rory had scooped Elly into her own arms and was rocking her, too. 

Her most empathetic baby always cried when one of her sisters was upset. 

Evey watched from the doorway to the children’s playroom at W4HAV, a leery look on her beautiful face. One filled with suspicion. Fear. Worry that no child her age should have.

It was the last straw. 

Her ex’s family wasn’t anywhere near them now—not that she knew, anyway, but she wouldn’t put it past them—but their constant harassment of her was destroying her daughters’ sense of safety and peace. 

She wouldn’t have it. Not any longer.

She’d do anything for her daughters.

She looked at the women surrounding her. She knew how the charity operated—knew   what it was capable of. And Lacy, the blond woman next to her, had been trying to talk her into asking for help for weeks “I need to find a place to get away for a while. Build a new life for the four of us. Where they don’t have to be afraid of their father’s family any longer.”

It wasn’t running, exactly. It was relocating. Doing what was best for her daughters.

Even though it meant leaving everything, everyone, she knew behind.

“I have to do this. Before I change my mind.”

“Where are you going to go?” Robin asked, tears filling her big blue eyes. Tears—and understanding. Robin and Rory knew her struggles, knew exactly what battle she had been fighting for just too long…

Robin’s own two-year-old daughter was in the playroom with Robin’s nine-year-old twin boys. Innocent children, too. 

Children who had experienced far too much pain already. 

All Glenna wanted was for them to grow up in a world without this kind of fear and hurt and loss. If she could keep that from touching her girls, she would do whatever it took.

“I…I don’t know. I just know I have to get them away from here for a while. So that they can learn not to be afraid.” Her heart broke for her daughters. She’d tried everything from confronting her ex’s family to speaking with an attorney about restraining orders against all of them. 

She’d filed a report with Detective Acardi, a friend of Rory’s, after the latest incident. 

He had told her the Texas State Police could make a case for attempted kidnapping, but her ex-mother-in-law would probably plead it down to maintaining a common nuisance or something trivial like that. 

Never mind that Elly had had dreams of the scary lady trying to take her away every night since. Nothing Glenna did could fix that.

“I have a brother, but…he lives on a military base. I don’t want to impose on him.” Her half brother would let them stay with him for a while, but it would be awkward for them all. They weren’t exactly close.

“Let W4HAV find you a place,” Lacy said for about the fifteenth time in a week. “It’s what we do.”

“I know.” She didn’t want to need that kind of help. There were women out there who needed the escape the women’s charity provided far more than Glenna did. Abused women who needed to get away however they could. Abused men, too, who came to W4HAV for help, though far fewer men would admit they needed the help than women.

Glenna was a respected mental health counselor; she led four different counseling groups for the charity at two o’clock, four days each week. She worked the intake desk four nights a week from three thirty p.m. until nine, when she took the girls home and put them to bed. She had a small home she had purchased on Boethe Street after she’d paid off half of her student debt, and then she’d paid that house and her remaining debt off with the life insurance policy she’d still had on her ex at the time of his death over two years ago. 

She had a good job, her bills were paid, there was a roof over their heads, and her children were safe. They should have been just fine.

But they weren’t.

Her ex’s family could get to them at any time. 

His mother walking into the church multipurpose room where the homeschool co-op met each week and nearly walking out with Elly had just proven that. 

There had been a homeschool dad Glenna had known well in the parking lot who had seen what was happening—and stopped it. Just in time. She had been lucky he had recognized Elly that day and stepped in to make a difference. Had questioned.

Glenna hadn’t slept well since. 

Her arms tightened around Emmy. Her bright, fiery, passionate, brave little girl who would challenge the world just because she could.

Crying because of a package left on the desk at W4HAV. 

Glenna understood how trauma worked, though she didn’t work with children in her groups. She wasn’t going to see the trauma of their father’s death get compounded with her own children because of his family.

That was one thing he had been adamant about when she’d filed for divorce—he hadn’t wanted his mother or three brothers anywhere near the girls. No matter what. That had been something he and Glenna had actually agreed on.

Lincoln’s mother didn’t believe that. And she was determined to get to the girls, no matter what. 

“I need someplace to go. Even if it means I’m washing dishes for a living for a while. I need to get out of Finley Creek. Before they destroy my daughters even more.”

Lacy asked for her to give her a day or two to work things out. To find some options that would suit Glenna and the girls. 

Glenna knew how it worked. There was a fund that no one talked about. 

The escape fund.

It was designed to help those victims of violence who had no real recourse but to run.

Glenna wasn’t like that. 

The same procedures in place for that, would help her now. 

She looked at her children one more time. Yes. She would do whatever she had to for her girls. Anything.

Even if it meant leaving everything behind.

***

He wasn’t dead yet. At fifty, Philip Tyler knew he still had a lot of kick left in him. Even if it didn’t feel like it, all the time. He was too damned tired for this constant traveling between Masterson, Wyoming and Finley Creek, Texas. That was becoming clearer every time.

It was time he figured something else out.

He had a plan—go home, let his nephew Fletcher buy in to his partnership with Travis Worthington-Deane in Texas, and hire himself a housekeeper.

So he could spend more time with the four daughters and three sons he had in Masterson. His seven grandkids and any others that came along. And his oldest son, whenever that boy bothered to come back in from L.A. where he was making his own way in the world.

Phil wanted time with his family.

Phil wasn’t going to retire exactly. He was going to slow things down some. He’d accomplished what he’d set out to do with this partnership. His ranch was secure, for whichever of his kids took it over eventually. He had paid down most of his debts, and had put a little back in case some of the younger kids needed help with college. 

He had finished what he’d set out to do. That didn’t mean he was dead yet, though.

Now it was time to sit back and enjoy it. Enjoy the remainder of his younger kids’ childhoods while he still had that opportunity. And get to know the boy who was almost a man before it was too late.

Phil had taken Lacy and Travis up on their offer to spend another night with them after he’d not been able to get a flight in time the night before. He enjoyed himself. They were good kids. Good friends. He considered them family, too.

He was fond of them both, even if little Lacy, a blond dynamo a few years older than Phil’s eldest girl, was nervous with any man not her husband or his brothers when they got too close into her space. She was getting better with him, poor kid. After nearly dying in much the same way as Phil’s third daughter, Perci. 

Lacy reminded him of Perci.

Both girls had that same fighting spirit. 

It had given him time to talk with them about his plans for the next few months.

Or rather, his lack of plans. Phil was looking forward to it. Thanks to money he and Travis had earned through their risks, he had some extra cash. Cash he intended to use to fix up the house and barns a bit. He wanted to tackle the basement, finally. He and his late wife, Becky, had planned for years to finish it out and make a genuine family space down there for the kids. 

He just had the three at home now. He suspected Pete would stick around once he turned eighteen in six months, though. Phil was hoping. His second son was a rancher born and bred. He didn’t see Pete going anywhere too far away. If that was what his son wanted, then so be it. Phil would support him.

Just as he’d supported Phoenix’s move to Hollywood of all places. His oldest son had left after they’d used Phil’s ranch as a location shoot two and a half years ago. Phoenix was making his own way there.

Phil thought leaving Masterson was probably the best for Phoenix, but not having one of his children right there stung.

Phil thought about that as he and Travis headed toward the women’s charity Lacy volunteered at several nights a week. 

He was hoping to meet his new housekeeper there. Lacy had talked with him quietly the evening before. Had asked him to consider a woman she’d known for years.

He was there to do a favor for Lacy. That was it.

Travis’s daughter babbled at him as they walked up the sidewalk toward the charity. Phil laughed. 

The sight of little Alonna with her white-blond hair sticking up everywhere, and her little plaid shirt and denim overalls was cute. Made him miss his grandchildren. All seven of them, from five-year-old Ivy all the way down to the newest, Griffen. 

Phil would admit it—he was a homebody family man. He wanted to go home, and know he didn’t have to go anywhere for a while if he didn’t want to.

He’d turned his rental car in already—Travis was going to drop him off at the airport after he dropped the baby off with Lacy.

At W4HAV. Phil had heard great things about it but had never been there himself.

His niece Maggie had stayed with Travis’s in-laws for a few months after some trouble in Masterson. She’d received counseling there at the charity that she said had helped her through a great deal.

He was going to make a small donation while he was there. It was the least he could do for the place that had helped his Maggie. 

And if he could help Lacy help someone else in need, then Phil was going to damned well do it.

He saw the woman they were looking for the instant he opened the door to the charity and stepped inside.

Lacy stood near the receptionist desk speaking with a woman who looked so much like Phil’s daughters Pip and Perci that he did a double take.

And then he couldn’t believe what he was seeing at all. Who he was seeing.

***

Phil!

Phil opened his arms, and the woman jumped straight into them. He wrapped her up tight and just held her.

As everyone around them stared. He just held her. Remembered her as a scrawny, terrified kid so long ago. Finally, she pulled back. Wiped her wet cheeks.

Phil ignored the crowd around him.

He got his first real look at his late wife’s baby sister. She had put on a bit of weight, but not much. Still was on the small side.

Her sister had been the same way. His daughters all took after that side of their family. 

Robin’s hair was the same burnished red as three of Phil’s daughters, and three of his sons’. Her eyes were a lighter shade of blue. He and Becky had both been blue-eyed redheads. Their children had been bound to inherit the same.

Seeing Robin was like seeing Becky all over again. Twenty years—it had been twenty years, now. He’d heard rumors she’d returned to Masterson fifteen years ago, but it hadn’t been her. He’d looked for her. They’d missed her so damned much. Especially her sister.

But she was in front of him right now. 

“I didn’t realize you were in Finley Creek.”

“I bounced around a bit…after I left…and ended up here. Built a life here. Married. I’m a widow, now. Three years ago.”

He suspected it was more complicated than she was making it out to be. Phil looked at the people surrounding them. Even little Alonna was watching them. He saw the obvious confusion. “Robin is my late wife’s younger sister. She had to leave Masterson twenty years or so ago after some trouble with the former sheriff. We haven’t seen her since. Or really even known where she was. One hell of a coincidence finding her here.”

Once again, an oversimplification of what had been an extremely tense situation, and Robin had been no more than eighteen at the time.

Phil had put her on the bus out of town himself, with four hundred borrowed dollars and a prayer. He would never forget how that moment had felt.

“You needing a job, Robbie? It’s yours. Come on home.” He had had to help her leave, because he had had no other way to protect her back then. 

“I’m not the one for the job, Phil. But…my best friend, Glenna…is.” She stepped aside, and he got his first good look at the woman sitting at the table behind her.

She was around the same age as Robin, maybe a bit older. But was around three inches taller and a bit curvier. But not much. She was a pretty woman, one who would probably age very well. And there was a fear, a sadness, in her eyes that Phil didn’t like to see.

It was far too similar to what had been in his second daughter’s eyes not that long ago. 

The woman stood. Stared at him out of beautiful green eyes. She held out a hand. “Hello, I’m Glenna Carnes, Robin’s best friend. I’m the one who…Lacy…told me you are looking for a housekeeper to help with your children.”

Phil wrapped his fingers around hers. She had a very soft, feminine hand. Delicate and silk beneath his work-roughened fingers. “Yes. I will be honest. It’s not a high-paying job. I simply can’t afford it now. And the work will only be part-time now. I am throwing in room and board as part of the deal.”

“I’d…need that. I want to start completely fresh somewhere away from Finley Creek. I am not a housekeeper by trade, though I worked my way through college with my own cleaning business eighteen years ago. I know what the work involves.”

“Glenna is a licensed mental health counselor here,” Lacy, his business partner’s wife, said quietly. “She’s intending to transfer her license to wherever she settles eventually. That will take time. She’ll need a job in the meantime. I thought the two of you could help each other.”

Phil nodded. He hadn’t had any intention of interviewing a housekeeper tonight. He’d wanted to wait a few weeks after he got home. Talk to the boys—he still had three at home, ranging from almost eighteen down to his youngest at ten—see what kind of a woman they wanted living in their house.

When Lacy had come to him, telling him of a woman who needed a bit of help for a while, Phil had had to say yes. He was the kind of man who did what he could to help those who needed it.

Finding Robin again was just a miracle that he had never expected to have again.  

“What kind of job do you have in Masterson?” Robin asked quietly.

Glenna stepped forward, shooting him a shy look that had him feeling a bit protective. She did have that air about her just like his daughter Pip had once had. “I should tell you before this goes any further. If you offered me the job, I wouldn’t come alone. I have three children. Girls. Ages seven, almost five, and two-and-a-half..”

That was something he hadn’t counted on. He also saw the fear in her eyes.

The desperation. 

She wanted out of Finley Creek. And Robin and Lacy were trying to help her.

“I need someone to help me with the ranch now. The house, I mean. And the boys. It’s not fair to keep putting it on the girls when they are trying to build their own lives, their own families. I need someone I can trust, but I can’t afford much more than room and board. I can feed extra mouths, Mrs. Carnes. Food’s not the problem. And I have extra bedrooms. I was planning on hiring someone when I got home. Pip and Phoebe usually help with the boys, but they have four kids between them now. I can’t keep asking this of my girls. I’m a fair employer, and the ranch is a safe place for kids. I’ve made sure of that years ago. There will be room for them to play and grow. They’ll be treated as honorary Tylers. And it’ll get you far away from Texas, if that’s what you’re wanting. For as long as you are needing it to.”

* * *

Glenna didn’t see where she had much choice. Not if she wanted to take the girls someplace safe. Lacy had called her late the night before and told her she had a job in mind for her. That Lacy was one hundred percent certain the job would be perfect for her—and would provide exactly the safety she was looking for her girls. 

Glenna wanted that so much. They couldn’t even play in the yard without fear that Lincoln’s crazy family would drive by and harass them again. They lived three blocks away. His family walked by her house every single day. 

After they tried to take Elly, Glenna hadn’t been able to sleep at night, afraid they’d break in and take one—or all—of the girls. She and the girls could just leave—just pack up the rest of their things, load a rental truck and just…go. 

To Masterson.

Leaving Rory and Robin. To even think of that was like the idea of tearing off a limb. 

They were her family, too.

“It is beautiful there,” Robin said. She had spoken of home so many times, but the reason why she had left had always been a secret. “Go there, Glenna. It’s a wonderful place.”

“Room for you and yours, too, Robin. There always will be. And don’t you ever forget it. We can do some shifting around, and if the kids wouldn’t mind doubling up, there are plenty of bedrooms. The house may be small, but it was built for a family.”

Glenna looked over at her children, at her three little girls playing together, with Robin’s daughter’s bright strawberry-red head in the middle of them. The boys, older, strong and sturdy, played a board game. They were laughing, having fun. Being children. 

She lived in a tiny house on Boethe Street. Robin was just three doors down. They were still trying to fight with insurance companies more than a year after the tornado, just to make the rest of the repairs. Half of Robin’s windows were still covered with plywood. Their yards were tiny, not much room for children to run and play. Boethe Street wasn’t the kind of place you let your children play unattended either.

Not like the place this man had described.  

His name was Philip Tyler. He’d been married to Robin’s sister Rebecca. Robin’s children: Philip, Wesley Tyler, and Rebecca.

Her best friend had missed her family so much she’d named her children after them. 

She looked at him, wondering what she should say next. Lacy Deane’s baby reached for him, and he took her. Naturally. Like he’d held her a hundred times before. 

She just wanted someplace where she and her girls could relax. Not worry about someone gossiping about something they’d done to Lincoln’s mother or brothers. 

The petty harassment his family repeatedly dished out to her and her daughters was sickening. They walked by her house all the time. Calling to her, calling to the girls. Nothing she’d done had been able to stop them.

Rory had even asked a few friends from the TSP to talk to them. It hadn’t helped. 

If a six-foot-four, angry detective from Major Crimes couldn’t stop them from harassing her, nothing could.

She just wanted to get away from it. Here was a man that her best friend was telling her she could trust offering her exactly that. 

She just had to make a deal with a total stranger to make it happen…

The past few months have gone by extremely fast for me. I’m going to “blame” kiddo’s sports schedule. She went straight from volleyball into basketball. Basketball ended this past Saturday–the same day the softball coach called to tell me we had enough girls to form actual teams this year, and to confirm I’d be there to help this season.

Practice starts in two weeks. But kiddo–she’s already “dragging” me out into the yard to throw bright yellow things at me. All I have to defend myself with is a leather thing on my hand. I’m just supposed to keep it in front of me… (Ok, so I actually do know what I am doing on the ball field…)

I enjoy watching her play–I enjoy watching her in all of her activities. Now that she’s getting a bit older, (she’s 11 now!), she’s getting a lot more freedom and independence. She’s building relationships with people now. She sees the same kids at most of her activities–she’s at the age when friendships matter more than everything. That is one of the great things about living in a small town.

I love small town life. If I had unlimited free time, I’d travel to all the small towns I could and just absorb their history.

I think that is one reason I enjoy the Masterson County series so much. The way people connect in a small town. I want to know my kiddo is going to have connections as she grows.

My new series focuses on connections.

But…it’s not really new.

It’s set in Masterson County.

It features some characters that came before. Book one starts off with Joel, Nate, Matt, and Levi’s mother. And she’s busy tormenting her new neighbor: Gerald Talley. (Gerald is the father of Miranda Talley, by the way. She’s from the PAVAD series, and she was featured in Buried Secrets!). Gerald is also the uncle of Darcey, Dixie, Dusty, Daisy, and Charlotte. (Charlotte was heavily featured in Finley Creek’s Stand Next to Me!). He’s the father of Marin, Miranda, and Meyra.

All of them are on the schedule to get their own books soon.

But there are a few things new about this series.

  1. It is not romantic suspense. Masterson County is just too small for that many bad guys to be running around believably. (Although small towns do have their fair share of bad guys!)
  2. It is later in life contemporary romance. Romance doesn’t just happen in your twenties or thirties. Sometimes, it smacks you in the face in your forties or beyond. (Or, in Rhea’s case…her sixtieth birthday!). I found writing older characters to be so much fun. They don’t have the insecurities or the same needs as younger characters, and are usually confident enough to know themselves better. That changed dynamics a bit!
  3. This is a limited number series. There are going to be approximately 4-8 titles. Then I have other series’ planned!
  4. These books are going to be releasing rather quickly. More details on releases will come later, though.

Book 1 is now available as a pre-order. (click here!)

THAT DAMNED MAN IS BACK. 

This is not good. She isn’t ready for her late husband’s best friend now.

Widowed Rhea Masterson is finally finding her footing again after losing her husband so suddenly three years ago. Life is good—her sons have all married and are making her the grandchildren she adores. She is happy now.


Until he came back home, anyway.

Retired general-turned-diplomat Gerald Talley is moving his overly rigid hiney in right next door. The man is militant, bossy, arrogant, clueless and just a real pain in the neck. Seeing him brings the memories of the only man she would ever love. Gerald and her husband had been almost inseparable for decades.

And it hurts to remember…

HE IS USED TO MAKING THINGS HAPPEN. 

He fixes things that are broken. That isn’t happening now.

He’s failing where it matters most.


His daughter had suffered a horrible trauma two months earlier—but Marin needs more help than Gerald is equipped to give. He is not used to failure. Especially his own.

Gerald is not about to fail his daughter ever again.

THERE IS ONLY ONE WOMAN HE CAN TURN TO.

Rhea.

As maddening as she’s always been, he needs her. So much.

Rhea’s the one person who can reach his daughter in her time of greatest need, and neither Gerald nor Rhea are ready to let Marin keep breaking the way she is. Now these two need to team up to fix this…

Before Marin slips further away.

But along the way, they realize one truth:

Maybe… life isn’t over when you lose the one you love.

Maybe you can fall in love again—with the friend you’ve never realized you’ve had right next to you all along.

Also: Jude & that Barratt Man

Jude & That Barratt Man has been released as an ebook. There are two versions of this book. One, available at all the major ebook retailer sites (click here).

Available at Most Retailers.

The other edition contains bonus material (a prologue and epilogue featuring Mel and Houghton Barratt). It is only available through direct purchase from me, through Payhip. If you use the coupon code JUDE25 you’ll save 25% off the full retail price of the bonus edition.

Buy Direct!

And one more quick note! I am in the process of getting the website updated–so if things seem like an alien landed in the middle of the Masterson page, etc. I apologize. I’m also in the process of getting as many of the books into paperback as I can. In 2022, I will be selling signed paperbacks directly from the website!

I had to cut some great scenes from Nikki & Hunter’s book (Meaning in Masterson) to keep it under my word count goal. They all featured Nikki’s brother Fletcher. Fletcher can be a bit clueless! I thought you might enjoy getting to know him. He’ll eventually get his own book, too. (As will Ben and Gil!)

Deleted Scene 1:

Dusty Talley was one of the most perfect women to ever walk the planet. Fletcher Tyler was almost one hundred percent certain of it.

She was also definitely not the woman for him.

But he could appreciate the sight before him. Long, straight blond hair hung loose around her shoulders, almost to her waist. Big green eyes shot fire at him and his brother.

It was mostly his brother that her ire was directed at now.

Not that Fletcher fully blamed her. Ben had overstepped a bit. It was always Ben with Dusty lately, it seemed.

It was hard for them not to. She had practically grown up right in front of them, side by side with their baby sister. Fletcher and his brothers had been watching out for Dusty almost as long as they had Nikki. It was just what they did.

Dusty and Nikki had given Fletcher gray hair a time or two, with the things they’d get up to. It was almost like they’d had devils nipping at their heels, his father had said once.

Fletcher could agree with that.

His father had said it was because the two young girls had learned early on about their own mortality. And wanted to enjoy every moment of life they’d been given.

It had taken Fletcher a while to understand what his father had meant about that.

Nikki had been so hurt by their mother’s death. And Dusty… she’d collapsed in the middle of a tae kwon do studio during a group lesson not even two months after they’d buried Fletcher’s mother. From a heart condition Dusty had been battling all her childhood. She’d only been fourteen or fifteen he thought. They’d taken her back for emergency surgery.

They had almost lost her.

Fletcher had been there that day. He had carried her to his truck and rushed her to the hospital himself, Nikki terrified beside her, holding Dusty up in her arms, begging her best friend to just be ok. To not leave Nikki, too. Hard not to feel protective over the girls after that.

Nikki had been beyond terrified. Fletcher had taken care of his little sister himself, then. While they waited.

It had made a guy feel a bit overprotective of the sweet and gorgeous blonde in front of him. Dusty was like another baby sister to him.

Fletcher knew it was his duty to protect. Same probably went for Ben.

Dusty had her arms crossed over her Come to Flo’s Diner hoodie, as she stared up at Ben.

“You are a massive idiot,” she said. “Both of you. You don’t have the right to tell me who I can date and who I can’t. I am not Nikki! And you can’t even tell her, either. Why can’t you get that through your thick skulls?”

Ben reached out and patted Dusty on the head. Fletcher practically saw the steam coming out of her ears at that one. That wouldn’t calm her down—Fletcher had tried it before. Dusty was quiet—but she could sure breathe fire when she wanted.

Ben was about to get singed.

“You can do better than that damned Cadell Grady, Dusty.”

“Why? Cadell is a nice guy who I like very much.” Dusty’s frustration was practically visible, steam coming right out her ears.

“He’s a Grady.”

“So? You’re not telling me you’re holding what his father did to Maggie and Marin against him?”

Ben just shrugged. Fletcher knew that was exactly what his brother was doing. Maybe it wasn’t fair, but it was the truth. He didn’t exactly want Dusty going around with a Grady right now. He didn’t trust the guy at all. Guy had to be almost ten years older than Dusty, too.

What kind of guy wanted to date the cousin of the woman his own father had shot?

Talk about awkward.

Besides, Dusty needed better than a stuffy, workaholic attorney. Dusty enjoyed being outdoors, working with animals. Everyone knew that. She came out to Gil’s new place with Nikki at least once a week to ride the horses.

Gil and Ben were talking about giving her a horse for her birthday coming up, too. It had been Ben’s idea, but Fletcher thought it was a good one. He’d pitch in on the purchase price, too.

They just wanted to take care of their pseudo-baby-sister, after all.

Even so, Ben threatening Cadell right there in the middle of the diner probably hadn’t been the way to go about it. Ben was a former military cop, after all. He knew everything there was to know about guns. Not to mention the mixed martial arts his brother had been into since he was no older than their ten-year-old cousin Parker, after all.

Fletcher had his own black belt in tae kwon do, but his was nothing compared to the skill Ben had. Fletcher hadn’t been able to keep up.

His brother scared people. And that he wrote books about murder and mayhem didn’t help his reputation.

Ben just wanted to protect Dusty. Too bad the girl was too stubborn to see that.

Dusty and Nikki both.

Deleted Scene 2:

Worrying about his sister was just something he did. Fletcher suspected the same was true for his brothers. It always had been, from the moment their parents had brought the little lump home from the hospital. Her eyes had been funny—he remembered thinking that the first time he saw her.

His parents had explained that she wouldn’t be able to see very well. Probably for a very, very long time. Years. And that her brothers had to help take care of her.

They had.

When she’d been a teenager, eye surgery had corrected a big portion of her vision issues enough that she could see ten times better than she had before, but by that time, taking care of Nikki was ingrained in him.

Of course, he was a Tyler, and taking care of their women and girls was ingrained in a Tyler man’s DNA.

He knew she’d said she’d be just fine, but the idea that his little sister could be sitting in an old building with no power and frozen pipes and no real heat—or way for her to reheat food in her microwave—had him worried.

She liked to say that she could take care of herself completely, but he suspected that was just pure stubbornness. No one did stubborn better than his baby sister, after all.

“She should have gone to the inn. Stayed with Dusty. What was so different about this time? She stays with Dusty all the time, and they do each other’s nails and chatter about boys while it storms.”

“When they were thirteen,” Gil said. Fletcher got the impression his oldest brother was laughing at him. Gil did that sometimes, when he thought Fletcher was being an idiot. “They stopped talking about boys years ago. They’ve moved on to men now, I believe. I heard Gabe Masterson is sniffing around Dusty. And Eli… well… he’s been spending an awful lot of time in the diner. But only during Nikki’s shifts, I heard. Or is it the other way around and Eli is there during Dusty’s shifts and Gabe during Nikki’s? They are not girls anymore, you two. Something to keep in mind. Men are going to come around. It’s just inevitable. I’m surprised they’ve both not married yet, actually. Nikki’s going to eventually want a family of her own. Look at Maggie and Uncle Phil’s girls. It’s just a matter of time. If she’s not too set in her ways, our stubborn little sister.”

Nikki marrying some guy? Hell. Fletcher had never even considered it. He did the math in his head quickly. Nikki was only twenty-four, Dusty a half year older. They were too young to be thinking about settling down, seriously. Right? “What’s the big rush? She’s still young. They both are.”

Ben growled something from the rear seat. Fletcher had beaten him to the front passenger seat, and Ben had been grumbling ever since. They were full-grown men, but sometimes defeating your older brother for a place in the car was oddly satisfying, still.

Especially faster than the speed of light Benji-the-ass.

Probably because Gil and Ben used to beat him up every chance they got. “What was that?”

“Gabe Masterson is an arrogant asshole. He needs to stay away from Dusty. She doesn’t need a man like him.”

“What’s wrong with a nice, steady, stable, successful pediatrician like Gabe?” Gil asked. “He’s a good friend. And has been for years. I’d fully trust him with Nikki or Dusty. He wouldn’t do anything he shouldn’t. You aren’t holding his brother against him, are you?”

Fletcher knew what he meant. Jack Masterson had stolen their cousin Martin’s girl right out from beneath Martin’s nose. Not even six months later, he’d done the same to Ben with another girl.

Jack was supposed to have been their friend. That his brother was sniffing around their Dusty, well, that didn’t sit so well with Fletcher, either. And that the other brother was looking in Nikki’s direction?

Nope. Not going to happen.

“Dusty is old enough to make her own decisions about who she dates, and even who she sleeps with,” Gil said firmly. “You two are to stay out of her love life. Or she may borrow Matt’s scalpel he uses to neuter dogs and come after the two of you. I heard about the last incident.”

Fletcher winced in shame. Maybe they shouldn’t have run that Hoffman guy off in quite the manner that they had. But Ben hadn’t liked the way the man had been flirting with their Dusty. They’d been duty-bound as her pseudo-big-brothers to run him off.

Even if that had just exasperated Dusty, and made Nikki laugh like a little lunatic behind the counter.

His sister got a kick out of the weirdest things.

Fletcher had mostly been just joking—Dusty had always had her head on her shoulders where guys were concerned—but Ben…

Ben had actually meant it.

Ben had chased that guy off from Dusty like he was a junkyard dog, with only one nicely shaped bone to guard.

They’d known Barand Hoffman their entire life.

The guy had looked at Ben like Ben had gone mad.

Maybe he had.

Dusty really had been angry that day. He’d probably need to apologize first chance he got. At least for his part.

“I just want to check on Nikki. She’s up to something. I just know it,” Ben said. “And I heard a rumor Rowland Bowles and some of his people are back in town—including Phoenix, which I confirmed myself—and may have been seen with either Maggie or Nikki in town. I want to make sure she isn’t being bothered.”

Well, Fletcher had to agree with him there.

Nikki had been extra secretive when he’d brought the kerosene. And she’d kept looking toward that empty apartment.

Like… maybe someone had been in there.

Maybe his sister had had a man in the building that she didn’t want Fletcher to know about? Rowland Bowles, maybe? The guy had been all about Nikki after she’d been shot, coming to check on her, bringing her expensive flowers and stuff. That could turn a young girl’s head.

Especially since he’s so famous. Easy for a girl like Nikki to just get star struck or something.

That… that idea was crazy.

His sister wasn’t experienced enough for that. Hell, if she’d done more than kiss a guy or two a few times, Fletcher would eat his favorite hat. With ketchup.

He wondered idly if they’d ever scraped the ketchup off the ceiling of the diner after that last major incident with Marin there. He’d have to ask Dusty the next time he saw her.

He’d stop by when he got a chance. See if Dusty had a clue what Nikki was up to.

Just in case.

And he’d tell Dusty upfront… it hadn’t been his idea to run off that Hoffman. It had been Ben’s.

Gil’s warning about Matt’s scalpel was a good one.

Dusty had a bit of a temper when she was riled.

Deleted Scene 3:

After the party for his uncle—aka the latest Tyler excuse to get together—ended, Fletcher spent some time helping Martin and his cousins clean the remodeled barn everyone was affectionately calling Tyler Hall. There were metal chairs to fold and hang on the rack, the floors needed swept—some of the younger Tylers were messy—and the trash needed taken out.

Martin’s brother Michael was busy tending to his sweet, pretty little wife. She wasn’t handling the morning sickness all that great, Fletcher thought. It was knocking her flat.

She sure was trying, though.

Michael was a darned lucky man. To have found Jude like that—and then to have been able to save her from that monster who had tried to kill her and her little friend Linsey.

Linsey had been there tonight, with Jude. She was a beautiful woman, with wildly curling blond hair, a tiny but curvy body, and a sense of humor that would leave a man in stitches. Well, most of the time. She had spent a fair amount of time today snipping at Martin’s brother, Chandler.

Fletcher thought about Linsey as he ran the broom over the concrete floor Michael and Martin had spent some time staining with a pretty cherry wood color.

Maybe Nikki had been right. Maybe he’d been alone too long. A woman of his own wouldn’t be so bad. He shot another look at Michael and Jude. Followed by one at Michael’s sister Maggie, where she stood bundling her son into his winter coat while her husband did the same to their daughter.

Maggie seemed wildly happy, too. She was smiling now. Her husband leaned down and said something, then snagged a kiss. Clint was a quiet guy. Maybe he thought no one was watching. Or maybe he was so happy with his woman that he just didn’t care who saw?

Movement caught his eye. Fletcher looked toward the doors. Just in time to see that darned Hunter Louis Clark holding Nikki’s coat out to her, a firm expression on his face.

Nikki always had needed to be reminded to put on her coat sometimes. Gloves and hat, too. Which Clark held in his other hand.

Nikki grinned up at Hunter. There was an ease between them that had Fletcher’s attention focusing.

Right before his eyes, Clark brushed a hand down Fletcher’s baby sister’s cheek. Touched her mouth. Lingered.

The look in the man’s eyes…

That wasn’t right.

Fletcher started in that direction.

Hell. That bastard was putting the moves on Nikki. Right there in front of them. Even though Fletcher had thought the guy wasn’t interested in Nikki that way before.

Nikki. That was just crazy.

Here he’d almost convinced himself the man wasn’t so bad, after all.

Fletcher was going to have to warn his brothers. See what they thought should be done.

They wouldn’t just stand by and watch as Nikki got hurt by some love’em and leave’em type. Not even for a moment.

Fletcher was going to kick the guy’s ass.

Then again, didn’t Clark have some serious martial arts training or something?

Maybe Fletcher would just sic Ben on Clark instead.

Deleted Scene 4:

That damned Hunter Louis Clark had broken her heart. It was obvious when he got a good look at his baby sister’s face. Fletcher didn’t know what else to do, so he just scooped her up. Nikki didn’t weigh much. Sometimes he forgot how small she was. How it was his job to protect her from assholes like Clark.

He should have stepped in. Kept this from happening. Everyone could see that it would have. Clark… whether he was a nice guy or not, he wasn’t the kind of guy meant for Masterson. Not permanently, anyway.

And his sister was—of any of them, Masterson was in his sister’s blood so deep Fletcher didn’t think she could ever be happy anywhere else. Not really.

Not even with the man she loved.

Holy hell, he hoped her feelings for Clark weren’t that deep. That she’d get over the man quick enough.

It had been over a week now since Clark had left.

At first, he’d thought Nikki was just… not feeling great. Now Fletcher realized how stupid he’d been—she was grieving.

Heart-broken over what that ass Clark had done to her.

For a moment, Fletcher actually considered hunting that bastard down and making him hurt the way his baby sister was.

But sanity took hold after a moment.

Clark wasn’t good for Nikki. It was better she hurt a little now, then be totally devastated later when the inevitable happened and he left her cold turkey. After she loved him.

She hadn’t been with him enough to love him now. Fletcher was thankful for that, at least.

There were other men in Masterson. Men who would suit his little sister far better than some untrustworthy Hollywood type.

Once the snows thawed and it was easier for Nikki to get out a bit, he’d happily introduce her to some men he knew. Men he respected, and knew would take good care of a sweet woman like Nikki. She’d have to move out of town, eventually.

But she’d make a decent rancher’s wife.

Maybe. She didn’t cook all that great, and she didn’t like doing ranch chores, but she’d make a great mother. Of course, she’d have to find a way into town every day. He couldn’t see her leaving the bookstore. She loved it too much.

Maybe he’d better stick to the guys he knew who lived close to town. There was Shane Lowell. He was a decent sort of a few years older than Fletcher, and a doctor. He lived right there by the inn, so she’d be close to Dusty. Shane had a couple of kids already. Zach Lowell, the deputy, was Shane’s cousin. He was a decent enough guy. And he thought there was a surgeon named Paterson around. Not to mention Gabe Masterson. And there wasn’t a darned thing wrong with Eli Masterson, either.

Except… guilt settled in his gut. He and Ben and Gil had chased Gabe and Eli off just a few weeks ago.

From Nikki and Dusty. Maybe they shouldn’t have done that.

“Just tell me what I need to do, and I’ll do it. Just to make everything better. Like a good big brother.” He rocked back and forth a bit as his eyes met Dusty’s.

Those soul-stealing green eyes of hers were filled with concern and heartbreak. She just shook her head at Fletcher. She knew…

There was nothing either of them could do to make this better.

Nikki stepped back, and Fletcher yanked Dusty close for a hug. She wasn’t half-bad as a pseudo-baby sister. He was glad Nikki had her.

He told her that, too.

Then watched as she led his sister back to the rear of the diner, where they kept their things. Nikki would spend some time with Dusty and her sisters and cousins. And Flo. Flo had been like a stand-in grandmother to Nikki. He knew that.

Maybe between them, they could help Nikki get through this.

Maybe. Fletcher sure as hell didn’t know what else to do.

He looked up as the girls left the diner. He’d offered to drive them to the inn, but Nikki wanted to walk—despite the cold. She said she needed to see the town around her tonight.

And Dusty… Dusty would be at her side, like she always had been. No matter what life had shoved in Nikki’s face, Dusty would always be there.

She’d earned Fletcher’s undying loyalty for that.

Ben sank down into the empty chair. He hadn’t seen his brother come in. He grunted at Ben. The last thing Fletcher wanted to do was talk right now.

His heart was breaking for Nikki right now. “What do you want?”

“What were you doing, hugging all over Dusty like that?”

“What do you mean? I hugged her right after I hugged Nikki. To say thank you for taking care of our sister. What’s your problem with it?”

“I don’t have a problem with it at all. I’m just looking out for her, that’s all. Making sure you weren’t hugging her because she was hurt or upset. That’s all.”

Fletcher looked into eyes as blue as his own. He snorted. “Sure you don’t. You can’t tell her who she can hug and can’t, bro. She’s not really our sister, you know. You probably should stop forgetting that.”

A look went through his brother’s eyes. One that told Fletcher just what exactly he had missed.

Hell.

Ben had it bad… for Dusty.

Fletcher doubted the big doofus even knew it. Fletcher wasn’t about to say a darned thing.

Ben would have to figure that out for himself.

Fletcher thought about his sister’s sad little face. He’d hate to see Ben hurt Dusty like that. He knew his brother wouldn’t mean to, but relationships were hard. Things could go wrong in a moment.

Deleted Scene 5:

His little sister’s heart was still breaking. Fletcher could see it in her big blue eyes. But Nikki was the stubborn type. She wouldn’t let anyone see it.

Dusty had spent the night with her, he thought. It was obvious, considering what she was wearing.

Ben said something—probably something stupid—and Dusty shot him a heated look.

It was ruined by the girly pink pajamas she was wearing and the two childish braids. She looked like she had when she’d been a kid, running around his parents’ house, getting into stuff.

They’d played with dolls and stickers, then talked about boys, and then their futures. All right around him.

Fletcher had watched them both grow up.

He hadn’t missed that Dusty was an adult now. A damned attractive one, at that. His cousin Derrick had mentioned that to him and Ben just a few weeks ago. Ben had punched Derrick, pretending to be joking. But Fletcher thought his brother meant it when he’d told Derrick to stay away, that Dusty wasn’t old enough for what Derrick had said.

Hell, Derrick had just mentioned asking her to the movies once the roads to the next county cleared a bit. Harmless.

Dusty was six months older than Nikki. She wasn’t a kid any longer.

That sank in as Fletcher watched her hook an arm around Nikki’s shoulders.

Nikki was an adult. Capable of making her own decisions—even about her love life.

Why hadn’t Fletcher seen that before?

Maybe he and his brothers were as clueless as Dusty and his sister had always said.

“Come on, girls. Get dressed. We’ll take you back to Gil’s place for a few days,” Ben said. “Ride out the incoming storm there.”

“I’d love to hang around with you three cavemen,” Dusty said, rolling those gorgeous greens of hers. “But I’m on at the inn for the next three evenings, while Daisy handles parent-teacher conferences. Nik? Why don’t you come stay at the inn with me? You can have Char’s room. We’ll go through the stuff she left and text her mean messages.”

“How is she doing?” Fletcher asked. He… knew… Charlotte Talley well, after all. In the most elemental of ways. But he doubted she’d told her slightly younger cousin that.

And Fletcher’s daddy had taught him long ago that a gentleman didn’t kiss and tell.

That some rogue cops in Finley Creek had shot her and her friends just pissed him off.

They might have dated six or seven years ago, when she’d been nineteen and he twenty-three, and it had ended, but he had always cared about the woman.

Charlotte had been pure hell on wheels.

“She’s better. Back to work now.”

“Good.”

“I think… I think I’d like that. I need to get out of here for a while. I’ll walk home to open the store each morning. We’ll hang out, like we used to.”

It wasn’t exactly what Fletcher wanted, but as Dusty hugged Nikki again, he understood—she’d know how to help Nikki deal with whatever was bothering her. Far better than Fletcher and Ben and Gil could.

Fletcher wasn’t stupid—it was all about Hunter Louis Clark.

Damn that bastard for hurting Fletcher’s sister.

She’d been an easy mark. Sweet, naïve, right there across the hall from him in the middle of winter. She had been right there.

Of course, a man like Clark would take advantage of that. Men like him weren’t raised to be gentleman.

Not like Tylers were.

As Dusty turned again, to say something to Ben—who she seemed to think constantly talked out of his ass lately—Fletcher took in the beautiful feminine body, the gorgeous face, and the far-too smart mouth.

Hell, of course, some guy would look at Dusty and want her. She was damned hot. Sexy, even. Fletcher almost gawked as that sank in. Dusty wasn’t a kid anymore. Guys would want her.

Some of those guys wouldn’t be good guys.

With no dad or brothers of her own, of course, she needed Fletcher, Gil, and Ben to look out for her. Make sure some guy didn’t take advantage of her, or break her heart.

Maybe it would be best if Dusty just got with a Tyler man. He’d be sure to treat her right, to take care of her. A Tyler wouldn’t take advantage of her either. Not like Clark had Fletcher’s sister.

He’d just make a point of telling Derrick if he wanted to date Dusty, he could.

Fletcher would just have to make Ben behave himself.

Ben really didn’t have the right to dictate to Dusty what she did with her love life, after all.

He shot another look at his older brother and Nikki’s best friend.

They were glaring at each other, Ben towering over her, almost. Hell, he almost had his arms around her. Did Dusty even realize that?

Ben was the tallest of Fletcher and his brothers. Ben had one of Dusty’s braids in his hands. She had a furious look on her face.

There was a lot of heat between the two of them now. He didn’t remember them acting like that before. He’d have to ask his brother about it, first chance he got.

In the meantime, Fletcher’s baby sister needed a hug.

She looked like her entire world was ending.

If you haven’t grabbed your copy of Meaning in Masterson, click here!

I am a bit behind in getting a blog up. Kiddo started basketball games and we have practice one night and a game the next already. O.o Softball starts in two weeks, too.

(I’m still not sure how MY child ended up liking sports, as clumsy as her parents both are!)

ANYWAY,

Nikki and Hunter are finally out there. 😀 (Click the image below…)

AN ORDINARY GIRL…
 IN AN ORDINARY WORLD

Nikki Tyler knows exactly what she is—and where she belongs. She’s a Tyler—and that means Masterson County.

When the most sought after producer in Hollywood wants to make a documentary about her family, Nikki reluctantly agrees to help…

But…she hadn’t counted on Hunter Clark.

HE IS MORE THAN JUST AN ACTOR.

Hunter is considered the hottest action star in Hollywood, but he wants to be far more than that. He wants to produce—to create. To have people speak his words.

When he’s given the opportunity to do just that, Hunter jumps at the chance.

Even though he knows it means… her.

Nikki.

The one woman Hunter has never forgotten. The one woman he has never stopped dreaming about. Hunter knows he’s not the kind of man a real woman like Nikki needs—but he just can’t keep it professional between them.

He just…can’t. 

★ JUST A TEMPORARY THING. ★

Nikki knows Hunter’s time in Masterson is only temporary.

So

She’ll just love him while she can. And protect her heart somehow…

Because L.A. is already calling his name…

But someone doesn’t like the hold Nikki has over Hunter, and he’ll stop at nothing to get Hunter back to where he thinks Hunter belongs.

Even kill the one woman standing in his way.

Can Nikki survive long enough to show Hunter just how real the love between a Hollywood man and a small-town girl can be?

I haven’t had time to blog over the last few weeks–we’ve had a few health issues and things that have derailed my work schedule. I’m slowly getting back into the routine after the holidays, as well.

I’m hard at work on new books. Zoey’s book is going to be an absolute monster to write! In it, I will expand and resolve a HUGE plot line that starts in the PAVAD series and runs throughout the Finley series and ends in a Small-Town Sheriff book! It’s the story of Zoey’s mother and just how she managed to have so many children that she sold for profit.

The Children of Denise Daviess saga started in Redeeming. It is the story of Zoey’s eldest brother Luc. Right now, Redeeming is on sale for $0.99, if you’ve never read it.

Next is REVEALING–Zoey’s older sister Paige’s story. In this book, younger sister Ariella is introduced!

The following Finley Creek novels tell more of Denise’s story:

WOUNDS THAT WON’T HEAL (Rafe)

AS THE NIGHT ENDS (Ariella)

LOST IN THE WIND (Nikkie Jean)

In STAND NEXT TO ME (the latest Finley Creek novel) Zoey has a major role–and a major life changing event.

There are more missing children of Denise Daviess out there. Some of them will most definitely get their stories told, too!

Zoe’s hero is Murdoch Lake–her co-sheriff and mortal enemy! (I love a good enemies-to-lovers novel!).

Murdoch is the brother of the hero in HIDING. Some of Murdoch’s family story is told in that book, if you want to check that out as well.

Zoey and Murdoch’s book (tentatively titled HEAR HER CRIES) will release LATE 2022. There will be a few other releases between now and then.

Nikki and Hunter’s book is now available for preorder (everywhere except Google Play, which is still publishing, anyway.)

The release date will be Feb. 12th. (THE LISTINGS SAY IT’S 25-28 PAGES LONG. IT’S ACTUALLY OVER 200!). I’ll post the Google Play link as soon as it goes live.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ AN ORDINARY GIRL…

— IN AN ORDINARY WORLD. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

When the most sought after producer in Hollywood wants to make a document about her family, Nikki reluctantly agrees to help…

Nikki Tyler knows exactly what she is—and where she belongs. She’s a Tyler—and that means Masterson County.

She hadn’t counted on Hunter Clark. Hottest guy in Hollywood. On her doorstep. Asking to be let in.

★ ★ HE IS MORE THAN JUST AN ACTOR. ★ ★

Hunter is considered the hottest action star in Hollywood, but he wants to be far more than that. He wants to produce—to create. To have people speak his words.

When he’s given the opportunity to do just that, Hunter jumps at the chance.

Even though he knows it means… her.

Nikki.

The one woman Hunter has never forgotten. The one woman he has never stopped dreaming about. Hunter knows he’s not the kind of man a real woman like Nikki needs—but he just can’t keep it professional between them.

★ JUST A TEMPORARY THING. ★

Nikki knows Hunter’s time in Masterson is only temporary.

So…

She’ll just love him while she can. Because L.A. is already calling his name…

But someone doesn’t like the hold Nikki has over Hunter, and he’ll stop at nothing to get Hunter back to where Hunter belongs. Even kill the one woman standing in his way. Can Nikki survive long enough to show Hunter just how real the love between a Hollywood man and a small-town girl can be?

Just a quick note today!

Finley Creek book 12, Stand Next to Me, will be on sale for $5.99 (US) for a few more days. I’ve extended the sale through January 1. After Jan. 1, it’ll go to it’s regular price of $7.49!

Also, Nikkie Jean is currently free for one more month, and Annie is at 50% off! They are books 1 & 2 of Finley Creek: Disaster.

The preorder for Stand Next to Me is now live everywhere, including Google Play. It’s a day early, so I’m excited.

SNTM will be available at a special discounted price of $5.99. (Preorder 12/15-12/20). She’ll release at $5.99 and stay there until 12/26. On 12/27, Shelby will move to her regular price of $7.49.

Shelby’s book took on a life of its own (like they all somehow do), and ended up turning into a monster book. Shelby had a lot of growing to do–and so did Jake. I think he actually changed the most in the book. He starts off being a total butthead to her–because she terrified him!–but changes as the story progresses.

Because I don’t start a book completely knowing what will happen, I wasn’t sure at the beginning what story needed to be told. Or even when it started. Shelby’s book actually begins on the one-year anniversary of the storm that struck Finley Creek, during the Finley Creek Disaster series. While it definitely wraps up a loose end or two with the Disaster series, it’s really more independent of Fin, Nikkie Jean, Annie, and Izzie’s books.

And it is definitely a stand-alone. But…it does tie-in to some events that occurred in Lacy’s book (If the Dark Wins), as well. (If you’ve not read Lacy’s book, it is on sale for .99 right now!)

Like I said…a monster book. But one I am super-proud of and excited to release. I’ve linked to the retailers.

◆◆◆◆◆ TAMING THE BEAST? 

NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. ◆◆◆◆◆ 

Not when the beast is Major Crimes Detective Jake MacNamara. Sparks fly between them every time they meet. Shelby Jacobson doesn’t have time to deal with him.

Especially now.

He is just getting in Shelby’s way as she finally fights to keep a promise made long ago.


◆◆◆ HE LIVES FOR THE JOB. ◆◆◆

The TSP and being a cop is so deeply entrenched in his soul Jake doesn’t know where the Texas State Police ends and he begins.

But… he has always wanted Shelby. And sometimes the woman who had inherited millions just gets too close. Tempts him too much.

That makes him a bit…surly…where the sweetly shy lady is concerned.

He knows he’s an ass to her, but it’s the only real defense he has against her.

Jake is made for work boots and cotton T-shirts—not donning tuxedos and attending charity benefits with a woman like her. He’ll just keep his distance so he doesn’t do anything stupid.


◆◆◆ BUT… ◆◆◆


Shelby has a secret so dark and dangerous people will kill to keep it hidden. Now she’s found herself entangled in the biggest case of Jake’s career—with only one man who can protect her.

Only…Jake and the TSP might not be enough to keep her safe.

If Jake fails, Shelby will pay the price.

And Jake will lose the one woman he has ever loved forever.

★★★★★

Stand Next to Me takes place one year after the events of the Finley Creek: Disaster trilogy, and is a complete, stand-alone romantic suspense novel. 

★★★★★

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.

His life.

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.

Nicolette Tyler. 

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. 

Usually.

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. 

Returning.

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.

Maybe.

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.

Apparently not.

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.

With her. 

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? 

Yeah, right.

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.

And women.

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.

Most weren’t.

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.