Something Sweeter

Read the Excerpt

Beyond the huge ranch-style home, the enormous barn, and the tall oak shade trees, Allison didn’t have far to look to find the source for her sudden racing heart. He stood about ten feet away—tall, blond, and stunning with his hair pulled back into an untidy ponytail and a hint of beard stubble dusting his masculine jaw. He wore a plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a pair of jeans with specific and infinitely interesting areas worn to a faded blue. His muscular arms were folded across what she knew was a rock-solid, mind-blowing, want-to-lick-it-up-one-side-and-down-the-other chest. And the boots on his big feet were planted in the soil as if claiming his territory. Though it seemed impossible, the man looked even tastier in the daylight. Unfortunately, the steady scowl on his face was a clear sign that while all her girl parts might be buzzing at the mere sight of him, anything male inside of him—and she guessed there was a whole lot—was still a bit miffed that she’d pulled a fast one on him in that parking lot last night. She’d had no choice. She wasn’t usually a woman who had trouble saying no. But if she’d have leaned into his kiss a bit further, tasted him a little more, inhaled his warm, male scent just a smidge longer? She’d have been toast. There hadn’t been a possibility in hell that her lips would have formed the letters n and o. Dragging her gaze from the blue-eyed glare shooting bullets in her direction, Allison took a quick glance at her surroundings. The large ranch-style home’s open veranda had been made inviting by the addition of wooden rocking chairs and colorful pots of red geraniums with trailing purple and white alyssum. The huge, weathered barn and the horses moseying about in a nearby corral finished off the reality that this was an authentic working ranch. Beneath the canopy of a large tree, extralong picnic tables had been set with colorful cloths and dishes in a fashion she could imagine on the cover of a country-lifestyle magazine. Maybe the goat and the little orange poodle playing tag was a bit unusual, but other than that, the entire place had a welcoming atmosphere. Except perhaps for the firing squad of Wilders waiting to make her acquaintance. With one of her more professionally affable smiles, she tuned her ears in to her father’s enthusiastic introductions. “Sweetheart,” he said to her, wrapping an arm around the most seasoned female in the crowd. “This is Jana.” What the woman lacked in actual height, she made up for in big blond hair, bright blue eyes, and a warm smile. Her simple jeans and button-down floral blouse were a complete 360 from anything Allison’s own mother would wear. A woman who, with her five consecutive marriages and divorces to men each more wealthy than the last, refused to wear anything unless it bore a designer tag from Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus. A woman who depleted vast portions of her divorce settlements for the series of nips and tucks she believed would keep her young. Jana Wilder had pleasant, soft features that hadn’t been subjected to needle or scalpel. The crow’s-feet at the corners of the blue eyes said she laughed often. Allison extended a polite and friendly hand for a formal greeting to her potentially future stepmother and let out a squeak when the woman pulled her into a tight embrace. “Welcome to Texas, sugarplum.” Allison wished she could share in the excitement of her father’s recent engagement. But she couldn’t. Not yet. Once she unraveled from Jana’s enthusiastic greeting, her dad guided her down the reception line while she tried to figure out how to avoid the man at the very end. “You’ve already met Jake,” her father said. Like the rest of the men gathered, Jake Wilder was mouthwatering. And, as she’d learned on the thirty-mile ride from the airport to Wilder Ranch, he was always ready with a flirtatious smile and a humorous story. With a hand firmly grasping her elbow as if given the chance she’d run, her dad continued down the really long line of really good-looking people. “This is Jackson, a firefighter in San Antonio. His fiancée Abby, who’s recently opened an animal-rescue center. And Fiona who was once married to Jackson. She’s moving to Sweet soon and plans to open a cupcake shop.” While the women all gave her a friendly hello, Allison couldn’t help but be fascinated. Ex-wife and current fiancée? Interesting. And this cute little muffin …” Her father picked up an adorable little girl with golden ringlets and a shy smile. “Is Jackson and Fiona’s daughter, Isabella. Or, as we call her, Izzy.” Allison adored children. While part of her wanted to run off with Izzy and play dolls just to get away from the awkwardness of meeting potentially new family members, she managed a simple hello. A quick glance between Fiona the ex and Abby the new told Allison that any obvious animosity was absent. Hopefully, that worked well for little Izzy. Being the child of combative, dissociated parents sucked. Allison knew that sad story only too well both in her personal and her professional life. Her father then gave a hug to a beautiful and very pregnant young woman. “This is Abby’s sister Annie, who just moved back to Sweet from Seattle.” Farther down the line, her father said, “And this is Reno and his fiancée Charli. You might recognize Charli from My New Town, the cable TV show she hosted.” Allison didn’t have much time for boob-tube viewing, but Charli’s smile was infectious and did a lot to put Allison at temporary ease. The slight frown on Reno’s handsome face tempted her to say they’d already met, but she would never be one to instigate ill will between an engaged couple. Even if she believed that the marriage in which they were about to embark had a slim chance of survival. A quick glance at the three sets of happy couples, all of whom appeared to be utterly in love, gave her pause. She’d been witness to too many “happily ever afters” that were doomed from the start. And she wondered how many—if any—of these pairs would actually make it for the long haul. Thus her entire reason for coming to Sweet in the first place. Her dad had already suffered one devastating end to a relationship; she didn’t want to see him have to endure another. She’d made the trip to Texas to figure out the specifics of his sudden push to tie himself to a woman he’d just met. Allison might not have been around to pull back on the reins of his disastrous engagement to her own mother, but she darned well wouldn’t stand by now and let him make another grievous error. The end of the greeting line came up way too fast, and she found herself face-to-face with Mr. Gorgeous. “This is Jesse,” her father announced. “Our resident veterinarian. And like the other boys, a Marine.” “Former Marine,” Jesse politely corrected her father. The intensity of his blue eyes flipped her stomach as she extended her hand. “Nice to meet you.” A smile brushed those chiseled lips as their palms met midair. The instant heat felt like she’d been zinged by a bolt of lightning. Electricity snapped between them, and her mind went right back to last night when she’d had to crawl inside her rental car so she didn’t crawl all over his big, muscular body. “A handshake instead of a hug?” One sexy slash of brow lifted. “That’s not how we do it here in the Lone Star State, darlin’.” With the ease of a man who knew exactly what he was doing, he gathered her in, and both of those strong, muscular arms went around her. Flashes of dancing within those arms and against that chest the night before zoomed back. And just like the night before, unwanted desire pinged through her system. In that brief moment, with their bodies pressed together, she knew she’d have to put up every guard, every fence, every barrier she could find to keep her hands off the merchandise and her heart locked up nice and tight. “Award-winning performance,” he whispered against her ear. “You always that good at faking it?” The innuendo hit its mark. Sometimes, when a girl met a new guy, she knew immediately whether she’d have to fake it or whether she’d get the real deal. Everything about Jesse Wilder shouted “satisfaction guaranteed.” With as little fanfare as possible, she extracted herself from his hold. “In Seattle, we usually just say hello with a cup of coffee or a flying fish.” “Proof that everything’s bigger and better in Texas,” he drawled.  

About the Book