on November 24th, 2015
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You can’t go too far when you’re fighting for love…
USA Today bestselling contemporary romance author Toni Blake continues her new, heartwarming series set in the beachside town of Coral Cove. This time the town troublemaker, Jeremy Sheridan, gets his chance at love!
Tamra Day swore off men a long time ago. Her art, her friends, and her garden have always been enough…until now. Suddenly Tamra is aching for a connection. Unfortunately, Coral Cove’s most eligible bachelor is the troublemaker who’s building the mini-golf course she’s designing. Brusque and sarcastic, he’s made it a habit of annoying Tamra. But more infuriating is the fact that Tamra can’t help noticing how sexy he is.
They call him a war hero, but Jeremy Sheridan knows better. Still haunted by painful memories from Afghanistan, he’s just hoping for a fresh start. So far, the only problem is his new boss, Tamra, a control freak who’s easy on the eyes—and way too fun to tease.
Despite their differences, Tamra and Jeremy aren’t as alone as they think they are. And together, with a little Coral Cove magic, they’ll discover how good it feels to embrace a bright new future.
“No, you’re good,” she said.
“Where am I going with this thing? I want to put it down once.”
“Well, I haven’t had a chance to plan for this, so it might have to be twice—unless you want to stand there holding it while I think.”
“Nope,” he said, and let it drop right in front of him on the stone.
And then he took in everything around him. It was as if he’d entered a whole new world. One of lush greenery and bright blooms. Her entire backyard was a beautiful garden. “Shit, you weren’t lying,” he said without thinking.
“About what?” she asked.
“You could be a landscaper if you wanted.” “Thanks.” She sounded shockingly bashful. It
threw him, drew his gaze to her face.
She was actually blushing a little. He wondered why, but didn’t spend much time trying to figure it out as his attention was drawn back to the garden.
From the trees hung delicate windchimes and other pieces, all made of colored glass. He caught sight of a blue glass bird that seemed to be flying past, and numerous butterflies in yellow, purple, pink. From
the ground sprung the occasional birdbath, and more pieces of glass mounted on wrought iron sticks—a green glass dragonfly, a row of glass daisies. In be- tween it all ran the stone path—it seemed to make a circle around the yard, and near the house, where they stood, it widened to encircle a large fire pit. Wooden chairs rimmed the pit, and farther back in the garden he caught sight of a hammock that looked like the per- fect resting spot.
“This is . . . freaking amazing,” he told her. “Yeah?” she asked. Again, she sounded so much
more delicate than usual.
“Yeah.” He nodded, still taking it in.
The truth was, he kind of never wanted to leave. It was . . . the perfect place to be alone, the perfect place to hide.
And then . . . he understood. The same way he liked to hide—so did she.
When his gaze returned to her, he saw her differ- ently. He understood her better now—not completely, not by a long shot, but better. He’d sensed a certain beauty in her before—he’d witnessed hints of it want- ing to creep out from around her more rigid persona— but now he really saw it. Looking down at her, here, she was . . . prettier. Her eyes more innocent. Her lips fuller, softer. Maybe he was crazy, or maybe the late day shadows were playing tricks on him, but she was truly beautiful here in a way he’d never seen her look before.
“What are you staring at?” she asked. Like an accu- sation. Softness vanishing before his eyes.
“Nothing.” No way would he tell her the thoughts in his head—she’d just reminded him that she liked to
keep that wall up between them, that employer/em- ployee thing. “Where do you want the bush?”
She looked around the garden and he realized that, even as dense as it was, she knew it like the back of her hand.
“That back corner,” she said, pointing.
“Okay.” He hefted the massive bush’s rootball up into his arms.
When he reached the spot where it was necessary to leave the stone path, he again couldn’t see where he was going. Which earned him a “Don’t crush my ivy!”
“How am I supposed to get it in the corner then?” “Just watch where you’re stepping. This garden is a
lot of work.”
“Well, I can’t see where the hell I’m walking.” That’s when her fingertips touched his arm. And he felt it—damn—in a lot of other places.
“This way,” she said, now guiding him, leading him with the gentle pull of her hand.
And hell, it felt good. To be touched. At all.
When was the last time he had been? By anyone? Other than having handcuffs put on him. Or a cat rub- bing up against his leg.
It almost made him forget how heavy the bush was, focusing on that touch, the ripples it sent up his arm, the slight reaction that tingled through his thighs, groin. Shit. From a touch so simple, so practical.
“Here,” she finally said, pulling her hand away. And the bush suddenly weighed a ton again, so he let it drop directly in front of him on the ground.
Though next to him, she gasped. “Not there!” “What?”
She pointed slightly to the left of where he’d dropped it. “There.”
Another sigh. Stooping to lift the bush from hell once more, he found himself murmuring through slightly clenched teeth, “Mary Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” Then he plopped it back down about two feet from where it had just been. “Is that right?” he asked as he stood to face her again.
Though he hadn’t realized the move would put them in much closer proximity—suddenly only a few inches lay between them.
“Yes,” she said—except now she looked annoyed. “But what’s that supposed to mean? What you just said.” Jeremy wasn’t in the mood this late in the day to pull any punches, even if she was his boss, even if he’d learned to mostly try to keep the peace with her. So he replied, “Guess I was just thinking that for a good- looking woman, you sure are hard to get along with.” Her green eyes bolted wider in the shade of the tree they now stood beneath, gangly branches sprawling overhead and all around them. “Is that a compliment
or an insult?”
He shifted his weight from one dusty workboot to the other. “A little of both, I guess.”
She still stood very close to him—he could feel the closeness. Especially when she let out an irritated breath and said, “Then I’m not sure whether to slap you or kiss you.”
And at this, he couldn’t keep himself from flashing a cocky grin. “You’d never get away with the first one, honey.”
“And the second?” she challenged, now planting her fists on her hips.
His eyes flitted down her body, then rose back to her face just before he said, “That you’d have a shot at.” Their gazes stayed locked now and he’d have given anything to know what thoughts flashed through her pretty head. An invisible heat moved between them
that had nothing to do with the late-day Florida sun.
But then, in the very split second Jeremy thought something amazing was about to happen—Tamra let out a harrumph, rolled her eyes at him dramatically, and turned to walk away.
Only he wasn’t going to let her. No way. They both might like to run from things, but he wasn’t letting her run from this. As she took the first brisk step away from him, his hand closed warm and firm over her wrist.
She gasped, her gaze rising back to his. He still couldn’t read her eyes—he had no idea if he was seeing fear or wonder or hope or—hell, maybe it was a little of everything. His heart beat like a hammer and every instinct he possessed told him to go for it. Still grip- ping her wrist with one hand, he lifted the other to her face and brought his mouth down on hers.
Tamra had a split second amidst her shock to decide: Push him away the same as she did everything else . . . or be in it, all the way. And while her initial instinct was to do the first, some tiny ounce of courage and desperation rose up inside her and made her choose the second.
She didn’t know the last time she’d been kissed. She barely remembered how, and she felt a little fool- ish as she tried to kiss him back—but she stayed with it, moving her mouth against his, and soon reveling in what it felt like simply to be kissed, to know he’d
wanted to, that something in her had drawn this from him.
Soon she even quit thinking—and progressed only to feeling. His hand cupping her face, the warmth of his mouth. She drank in the scent of him—they’d been working all day, but a little sweat and dirt had never smelled so very masculine and powerful to her. His mouth moved over hers in a slow, firm rhythm she felt in her gut, and she matched it.
At some point, the hand that held her wrist let go— and moved to the curve of her hip. Her own hands rose to his chest, her fingertips pressing lightly through his T-shirt.
As he eased her back, back, she soon realized he was leaning her gently against a thick tree trunk— and then bringing his body closer, until it connected with hers, their legs intertwining. His thigh lodged between hers and she let out a gasp as pleasure spread outward from the spot between her legs.
Oh God—this was too much. What was she thinking, doing?
This wasn’t her—it was reckless, crazy!
And she had to stop—now. If she didn’t . . . it would get out of control. And her whole life would feel out of control. And she couldn’t have that.
At the same moment she turned her face, ending the kiss, she pushed him away to bring an end to this madness.
They were both panting. God. How had things turned so downright feverish so quickly? Who was she? And who was he? That, she realized, was the bigger question. She really didn’t know him at all, so what on earth was she doing making out with him as
if she did? As if, as if . . . they shared some connec- tion.
“We have to stop.”
“Why?” he asked on labored breath.
She looked into his eyes—or tried to. But she still found it so hard to see past the beard, and all that hair. I can’t see you. I don’t know you. I don’t have sex with strangers. None of those things were answers she could really give him, though, so she blurted out, “We’re so different.”
“Are we?” he asked without missing a beat.
“Yes. Of course.” She spoke emphatically. Because wasn’t that obvious?
Sheesh. Really? He was going to argue this with her? She let her eyes go wide. “In . . . every way.” But she didn’t elaborate, because all the ways she could think of seemed . . . cold. You have no home or direction. You’ve been screwed up by war. You’ve been arrested.
“Tell me how,” he insisted.
She let out a sigh. Lord, why was he making this so difficult? When a woman pushes you away, does it really matter why? But Tamra closed her eyes and tried to summon an answer that would make him under- stand . . . without hurting his feelings. A few days ago, she wouldn’t have cared about that, but now she did. She supposed that if he’d been worthy of kissing, even just once, that he was worthy of her kindness.
“I . . . don’t really know anything about you,” she said. “And I . . . I can’t even really see your face.” She finally drew one hand from his chest and motioned vaguely to his beard. “And I guess that all just makes me . . . nervous. Working with you is one thing, but
this . . .” Lord, simply looking down, seeing their bodies still so close together, remembering how much closer they’d just been, nearly stole her breath. “This is another.” And she concluded by finally drawing her other hand away from his chest, as well.
As she stood there awaiting his reply, she grew more aware of his body again, aware of the sinews in his arms, the tattoo on his right biceps, the muscles in his chest she’d unwittingly felt beneath her palms. In that way, she knew him far better now. It was one thing to see a man’s body, but another to feel it, experi- ence it, press into it. Yet it was the rest of him she still didn’t have a handle on.
“The truth is, Mary Mary Quite Contrary, that we have a lot more in common than you think—you just don’t want to see it.”
Her eyes flitted from his chest to his gaze, un- planned. “What are you talking about?”
“The very fact that you’re pushing me away,” he said. “That’s what I do to people. Neither one of us wants to let anybody get too close. Or I haven’t until now. But I’m trying to change. Trying to start being more like . . . like the guy I used to be.”
“Well, I don’t know him any more than I know you.” Which kind of sidestepped the whole point of what he’d just said. Because she didn’t like it—it felt too per- sonal.
“He was . . . a nicer guy than me. I think you’d have liked him.” His voice held a certain wistfulness, a vul- nerability she’d never heard from Jeremy before. And looking into his eyes now made her see something more. Regret. Lost youth. A strange innocence. A man who . . . needed to be loved.
She sucked in her breath at that last thought, though. Was she losing her mind? Nothing about this had anything to do with love—it was two lonely people succumbing to physical urges in her backyard. And that . . . just wasn’t enough for her.
Fletcher and Christy and Cami—they all wanted her to have fun, loosen up, be more casual about ro- mance and sex . . . but she didn’t know how. She didn’t know how to join her body to someone she was com- pletely uncertain of in every way.
She finally pulled her gaze from his, even turned her body away. Her eyes fell on a patch of fiery red snapdragons as she said, “I’m just not in the habit of making out with men I don’t really know. And given that we’re working together, it seems like it could only complicate things. So no matter how you slice it, it’s a bad idea. Okay?” She went so far now as to step out onto the stone path, put more distance between them, move this encounter toward a conclusion.
Still, it almost surprised her when, a few seconds later, he quietly said, “Okay.”
When she sensed him following her out from under the tree, she kept walking, back toward the garden gate. Silently saying it was time for him to go.
She almost stopped when she reached it, but de- cided no—to stop and turn toward him now would still be . . . awkward and tempting at the same time. Behind the garden wall, there was just too much pri- vacy. So she walked through the open gate, following the path around the house and back to the driveway.
Suddenly they were back out in the bright sunlight, the sound of the surf in the distance more audible now, signs of vibrant life all around them—from seabirds
cawing overhead to Jack backing out of his driveway next door and tossing up a wave as he drove by.
Upon reaching Jeremy’s truck, she really had no choice then but face him. And nothing had changed. He was still unkempt and not her type and still some- how sexy as hell. She dropped her gaze from his im- mediately. “I suppose things will be weird between us now,” she mused.
He just shrugged, the corners of his mouth turning up. “Things have always been weird between us.”
And she couldn’t help it—it made her laugh. But then she added, “Well, weirder probably.”
Jeremy tilted his head. “Doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll do my best to be normal. Well, as normal as pos- sible. For me.” He ended on a small wink that, for some reason, she felt at the crux of her thighs.
She pushed down the response as best she could. “Me, too.”
Then she stepped back, away from the faded red door of his truck—and he took the hint, opening it and getting inside. Through the lowered window, though, he said, “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”
“It’s fine,” she said quickly, shaking her head as if it were no big thing. “Forgotten.” Ha. As if. Where was she getting this stuff?
He gave a short nod. And something in it almost made her sorry she’d said that last word—she didn’t want him to feel forgettable.
But she stayed quiet as he put the truck in reverse and began to back out. “See you tomorrow,” he said.
“Yeah,” she replied. “See you then.”