Cover Designer: Qamber Designs
Publication Date: April 26, 2023
Retail Price: $3.99
Genre: Contemporary (steamy small town) romance
Tropes/Themes: Military, fake dating, second chance, opposite attract
I remember three things most about Lucas Warner.
One. He’s a dirty talker, and I doubt ten years in the military cleaned up that filthy mouth of his. (Not a complaint. In fact, just the opposite.)
Two. He has a possessive streak. When we dated, I was his. Hard stop.
Three. The look on his face when we broke up. When my father’s relentless complaints about “that boy from the wrong side of town” finally wore me down.
Unfortunately, my father was wrong about a lot of things including that breaking up with Lucas would effectively end my “bad boy” phase. Because he’s back home, raising hell in Kitchi Falls by opening up a tattoo parlor on our quiet little Main Street, and nothing would make me happier than to march into his studio and beg for him to possess me one more time.
The only problem? Besides the fact that Lucas hates me?
He’s not the only one on a road to redemption, and my path does not include a detour with the one man most likely to break my heart.
“I don’t know anything about what you did while you were gone. Ten years, Lucas. Ten years and not a word from you. And now you’re suddenly back, opening up this shop? When did you even take an interest in tattooing? Where were you the whole time? Did you ever think of me?” I just couldn’t stop now. “Did you even consider looking me up on those rare occasions you did come home?”
I chose not to continue.
I wasn’t sure I liked this version of Lucas. Raising my chin stubbornly, I refused to answer.
“It means I’ve been deployed twice, once to Iraq and once to Africa. Those were fights. Got my first tattoo while stationed at Camp Ederle in Italy and, as you can see, took a liking to it. Started sketching and found I had a knack for it. As to where I was the whole time? Tennessee, Georgia, Europe, Africa. . . take your pick.”
He said this all with the emotion of a fly, like he was reciting the phone book rather than reliving what must have been some very difficult days.
“Did I think of you? Did I consider looking you up? Those are questions best left unanswered.”
“You’re like a robot, Lucas. This isn’t you.”
“I can assure you,” he countered, “this is very much me.”
Something inside me just snapped. Simply. Snapped. I didn’t care for this Lucas.
“Fine, this is you,” I said, my voice rising. “Great talk. So glad to clear everything up. Have a good one.” Heart pounding, I stood up, intending to leave. But just as I passed him, Lucas’s arm shot out before I even saw him move, and he grabbed me by the wrist.
His grip was firm. Borderline too firm. My core clenched at the sheer strength of him.
“I don’t remember so much sass, Charlee.”
He still held my wrist. “No? It seems maybe we’ve both changed a bit.”
He made a sound deep in his throat. An annoyed, guttural, downright sexy-as-all-hell sound. What would it be like to kiss this Lucas? The other one was the best kisser of my life. This one?
Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
“Have you changed too? I hear you’re working for your father.”
I twisted my wrist, but he didn’t budge. “Bastard.”
He goaded me. Pressed the exact wrong buttons.
“What?” he asked innocently. “Am I wrong?”
Fuck him. I was done with this.
Never mind that the guy nearly made me come the second he grabbed my wrist. Never mind that the veins in his forearm were visible even beneath his tattoos. Or that the look on his face made me want to forget how he was treating me at this moment and screw the ever-loving shit out of him.
I was done. “Let go of me.”
In an instant, his hand was gone. My wrist, suddenly and unexpectedly felt bereft.
My chest rose and fell, my breathing, uneven. I remembered feeling breathless around him back when we dated. Back in high school. But never quite like this.
My feet wouldn’t move. A second ago, I’d wanted to run out of this shop. But now all I wanted was to fall into his arms.
Ever so slowly, the corners of his lips rose. It was the first time he’d smiled in my presence since returning. But it wasn’t a sweet or friendly smile. Instead, it was knowing. Taunting.
“And so,” he said, his voice low and deep. A voice to make a girl lose her shit. “We dance.”
I couldn’t process his meaning. I just had to get out of there.
I did. Ran like a baby out of that shop and into the street, where the air wasn’t so heavy and I could actually breathe. When it became clear he wasn’t going to come after me, I slowed my pace.
Walked toward my car.
And jusat there.
Bella Michaels is the pen name of a contemporary romance author.
When not writing steamy small town romance like the Grado Valley Vineyards series—or historical romance as Cecelia Mecca and paranormal (vampire) romance as C.L. Mecca—Bella loves dreaming up new sassy heroines and alpha heroes for readers to enjoy armed with a PhD she no longer uses and copious amounts of chai.
Firmly House Stark, this Disney fanatic lives with her husband and two teens (send help!) in Pennsylvania where she enjoys drinking pinot noir and planning girls trips.
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Pen name: Cecelia Mecca
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