A wounded warrior
After the catastrophic loss of his best friend in battle, Army Ranger Tyson Brooks trades in his fatigues for a badge, moving to Eden’s Ridge, Tennessee to rebuild his life and find a way to live in a world without Garrett. But no amount of protecting and serving the citizens of Stone County is enough to override the guilt that he simply didn’t do enough.
An incurable romantic
Romance author Paisley Parish has spent her whole career chasing the perfect hero and finding all the real life options lacking. Until she runs into her high school sweetheart—the one who left her for the Army. The old spark is definitely still alive, but the man carries far more scars than the boy.
A second chance to save each other
When Paisley becomes the target of malicious harassment, the police have no suspects, no leads, no way to make her feel safe. As her stalker escalates, she turns to the one guy she knows can protect her. Ty’s determined to put a stop to the harassment, even if it means moving in with the woman who’s so much more than the girl he used to love. He just has to remember to guard his own heart in the process.
Release date: March 19, 2021
Publisher: Take The Leap Publishing
Print pages: 220
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Made For Loving You
“Can you see my baby bump?”
Paisley Parish dutifully looked as her best friend turned sideways and smoothed her sweater over her rounded midsection. “Yes. Although, to be fair, you’ve been showing for a month.”
Emerson grimaced. “I’ve looked fat for a month. I’m trying to figure out if I look pregnant.”
Smirking, Paisley sipped at a mug of tea. “I mean, the regular announcements to all and sundry by your very hot, younger husband kinda took care of that for you.” She’d never seen anybody more excited to be a father than Caleb Romero. His enthusiasm and absolute devotion to her friend was the stuff of romance novels. Paisley would know, as she wrote them for a living. The whole thing did her heart good.
Emerson rolled her eyes, but adoration was clear in the gesture. “He’s so very proud of his virility.”
“And you’re crying so hard about everyone knowing that sexy, unicorn of a firefighter is yours.”
Color pinked Emerson’s cheeks as she offered a sheepish grin. “I mean… you’ve seen him.”
“I have indeed,” Paisley grinned back. “And if he hadn’t been in love with you all this time, I’d have pursued him myself. Alas, he only ever had eyes for you.”
Watching Emerson and Caleb dance around each other for years had been like the longest running will-they-won’t-they romance plot in a favorite TV series. But unlike a show, Paisley had the option to call the protagonists out when they were being idiots. As a devout romance lover, she prided herself on intervening only when absolutely necessary—which she had when Emerson had lost her damned mind, letting fear get the best of her and walking away from the best thing to ever happen to her. They’d toasted Paisley at their wedding, and she was angling to have Baby Romero named after her in tribute. If her own love life was a hot mess, at least someone she loved was getting a happily ever after.
Emerson slid onto the other barstool at her kitchen counter with her own mug of tea. “Speaking of love and romance, how was Ivy and Harrison’s wedding?”
And that just turned Paisley’s mind to the precise hot mess she was trying valiantly not to obsess over. She’d recently attended the wedding of another writer friend and had her world turned upside down.
“The wedding was beautiful.”
“You say that like the reception was not. Did something happen?”
She’d been sitting on this for nearly two weeks, and the not talking about it wasn’t helping. Might as well come clean. “You could say that.” She fixed her gaze on the contents of her mug, as if the chamomile held some kind of answers. “Ty was one of the groomsmen.”
The thunk of Emerson’s mug on the counter made her wince. “Ty? Like the Ty? Your Ty? The high school boyfriend, who smashed your heart to bits? That Ty?”
Paisley held in a wince. That was the part she’d been trying not to think about. “That would be the one.”
After a long moment, Emerson picked up her tea again. “Wow. How was that?”
“It was fine.” Oh, brilliant, Parish. Fine. This is why you get paid the big bucks. You have such a command with descriptive words.
“Fine like you were civil to each other at the buffet table? Fine like he got bald and fat and you’re relieved you dodged that bullet?”
Paisley pressed her lips together. Damn, that tea sure looked interesting. Maybe if she stared hard enough, she could read her own fortune.
“Pais…spill.” Emerson pulled out the Mom tone she’d perfected on her teenager, Fiona.
“Okay, okay.” Maybe if she said it fast, like ripping off a bandage. “Fine like he grew up hot as hell, and we still have enough chemistry to light up metro Nashville, and I took him home with me.’’
Emerson’s jaw dropped. “You cannot just drop a bomb like that and stop there. Details, woman!”
She shrugged with more nonchalance than she felt. “This Creeper of a guy was hitting on me, and Ty stepped in pretending to be my date.”
“Wait…like he did when you met in high school?”
He’d done the exact same thing at a homecoming dance their sophomore year of high school, cementing his place as her first official hero. “It was a very déjà vu situation, except that he didn’t hesitate when I kissed him this time.’’
No, where the boy had frozen when she’d laid one on him to sell the fiction he’d presented, the man had pulled her in and laid waste to her defenses with a kiss that had been playing on her highlight reel of the night. It was a helluva lengthy reel.
“Oh my god! It’s like something out of one of your novels!”
It was, indeed. And that was part of the problem.
“What happened next?” Emerson demanded.
Eighteen years of wanting and wondering made me stupid.
“Creep went away, we danced, then walked down memory lane for a while, and I invited him home.” She shrugged. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
One brow winged up. Damn, Emerson really had the Mom Stare down. “Do I look dumb enough to buy that? I know how bad he hurt you.”
As Emerson had been the one to pick up the pieces when they’d met as roommates their freshman year of college, right after Ty had dumped Paisley and left for boot camp, she knew perhaps better than anyone how devastated Paisley had been. And it was that more than anything else that had kept her from spilling her guts right after the wedding. She didn’t want to answer the inevitable smart questions she hadn’t been willing to ask herself.
“It was a long time ago.” It was, and she should’ve been able to be as casual about it as she pretended to be. But when had anything with Ty Brooks ever been casual?
As the silence dragged out, confirming Paisley wasn’t going to address that issue on her own, Emerson asked, “Was he as good as you remembered?”
This Paisley could talk about. “No.” She couldn’t repress a purr. “He’s even better.” As he’d proved multiple times through the night she hadn’t wanted to end. That highlight reel began to play again, cranking up her inner thermostat.
“So, what was this? Closure? Are you starting over with him? Picking back up where you left off?”
All excellent questions—none of which had answers.
Paisley shrugged again. “It was one fabulous night with no understanding or expectation of more.”
Emerson’s moue of disappointment echoed her own. Not that Paisley wanted to acknowledge that outside the privacy of her own head.
“You’re not even going to keep in touch?”
“He lives in Eden’s Ridge now.”
“It’s a four-hour drive. Caleb and I have made it a few times to visit his sisters. That’s not so bad.”
“Not exactly easy dating distance.” Even if he’d been so inclined. Which he hadn’t.
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“We’re keeping in touch,” Paisley conceded. “But it’s casual. Neither of us wants serious.” Liar liar, pants on fire.
She’d done casual for years, since her second divorce had left her inherent sense of romanticism thoroughly dented, proving once and for all that men could be enjoyed but not counted on. It was all she could handle. So, she’d be fine doing casual with Ty, if that was all she could have. And if her stupid, foolish heart was aching for more, she’d get over it. Besides, she had more pressing things to worry about than when she was next going to get Ty Brooks into her bed, and that was a sad and depressing state of affairs.
Paisley’s phone began to ring. Joel Fisher flashed across the screen.
Rookie mistake. Think about the problem, and that shit manifests.
Bracing herself, she hit answer. “Detective. Tell me you have something.”
* * *
Ty tried not to wince as Crystal Blue proclaimed his presence to the entirety of the lunch crowd at the diner. Not that there was anyone there who didn’t already know who he was. Probably. Eden’s Ridge and the rest of Stone County was a small town. He’d grown up in one much like it within spitting distance over the state line in Georgia, so he understood that, even at more than a year in residence, he was still news and still carried the mantle of New Guy. What he hadn’t been prepared for was being considered fresh meat. The diner’s cheerful proprietress seemed determined to matchmake him, despite all his protestations that he wasn’t looking for a woman. Or a man. She’d run a few of those in his direction, too.
She had that gleam in her eyes as he approached the counter, and he abruptly wished he’d gotten takeout from Elvira’s Tavern. Denver wouldn’t try to marry him off with his patty melt.
“Crystal. Is my order ready? I’ve got some business down in Cummings.” Why couldn’t there be a convenient call from dispatch to back him up on that?
“Nearly. Have a seat, sugar.” She gestured toward the lone empty spot of the counter, right next to a woman in a trim pencil skirt and blouse, head down as she worked on her phone.
He had a bad feeling as he slid onto the stool.
Crystal began to swipe at a nonexistent spot on the counter. “Have you met our Celeste?”
The woman looked up, dark eyes going wide as a deer in the headlights.
Ty could relate. “I don’t believe so.”
“Celeste is the head of our Chamber of Commerce.”
He nodded to the woman, understanding he had to say something. “Ma’am.”
Crystal beamed. “Don’t these former military men have lovely manners?” Ty noted she didn’t bother introducing him. It was understood that everyone knew who he was.
“Um, yeah. Hi.” A faint flush rose beneath the tawny copper of her cheeks, and she flashed an awkward smile that told him she wasn’t any more prepared for this ambush than he was.
“You two both love the patty melt on sourdough with curly fries,” Crystal announced, preening as if she’d brokered world peace.
She was matchmaking by food preferences now?
As Ty tried to come up with a polite, noncommittal response, an arm slung around his shoulders. He recognized the weight and feel of it before the other man even began to speak. “Reckon you’re too late, Crystal. Ty here was seen in the company of a mysterious brunette at Harrison and Ivy’s wedding. Could be he’s off the market.’’
Ty had been avoiding this for two weeks. It seemed his time was up. He turned a silent glare on the man who’d had his back on more missions than he could count. It was really too bad Ty was gonna have to kill him.
“Is that true?” Crystal vibrated with equal parts affront and interest.
Ty thought of the brunette in question, startled to realize how much he wanted to say yes. But what he had with Paisley wasn’t a relationship. It was... Well, he didn’t know what the hell it was. He wasn’t willing to share with the class either way.
“My food, Crystal? I really need to go.”
With a pout, she handed over the bag. Ty made as dignified a beeline for the exit as he could manage.
Sebastian followed him out the door. “So, who is she?”
The girl he’d once been willing to do anything for. Including letting her go when his life path would have broken her, no matter how much it had hurt him to do it.
“Just a wedding fling.”
Even saying it made him want to wince. Paisley Parish wasn’t just anything, but he wasn’t opening up that vein with Sebastian.
“Well, whatever it is, we’re all happy to see you get back out there. Garrett would be proud that you’re starting to live again.”
The familiar rush of shame and guilt swept over him, as it always did whenever anyone mentioned the best friend he’d failed to protect. Garrett would be anything but proud. He’d be lining up to kick Ty’s ass for the casual, no strings arrangement he’d agreed to. Paisley was a forever girl, not a fling. When they’d both been preparing to go into the Army with an eye toward Special Forces, Garrett had called Ty a fool for breaking things off with Paisley instead of marrying her as Garrett had his own long-time girlfriend. From this side of it, with Garrett dead and Bethany a widow, it was hard not to think that, on this at least, he’d made the right call.
Ty didn’t know if he was making the right call now, keeping in touch with Paisley. He hadn’t planned to. Then again, nothing had gone according to his plan since he’d run into her at that wedding reception. He’d been riding on nostalgia and lust and the embers of other feelings he’d thought long dead and buried. His entire adult life had been spent running headlong into situations where others feared to tread, yet somehow this felt more dangerous.
After losing Garrett in the line of duty and separating from the Army, Ty wasn’t in any shape for a relationship. He lived for the job now. It was the thing that had salvaged his sanity, if not his soul. That made him a shit bet for someone like her. All he had to give her was the physical. Knowing she deserved so much more than that, he’d tried to walk away from her. Again.
But Paisley hadn’t asked for more than the physical. And when push came to shove, he hadn’t been strong enough to do what he’d done at eighteen. He was enough of a selfish bastard to take her at her word because being with her was the first thing he’d done in two years that had made him feel anything but numbness or raging grief. Garrett would’ve been taking him to task for using her. Or advising him to call the damned preacher.
But Garrett wasn’t here. There was, for now, only Sebastian, who was lounging against Ty’s squad car, grinning.
Shit. How long had he been standing here thinking about Paisley?
“Nothin’. I just think you’re mooning an awful lot over something that’s just a wedding fling.” The grin got broader, taking on a Cheshire Cat cast at the prospect that another of their circle had been hit with the love stick.
“Don’t be a dumbass. I’m not mooning.”
“Sure, you’re not.” He clapped Ty on the shoulder. “So, when are you going to see her again?”
“What makes you think I’m going to see her again?”
“Because, until you got ambushed by Crystal in there, that was the most relaxed I’ve seen you in…hell, maybe a decade. Certainly, recent memory. Seems a shame not to repeat the experience.”
Well, he wasn’t wrong. And Ty would’ve been lying if he said he hadn’t been thinking about her. Constantly. They’d been texting. He’d held himself back from calling her, as much to see if he could as to stick to the terms he’d agreed to. But he’d sooner be waterboarded than admit it to the asshat masquerading as his friend.
The radio at his shoulder crackled. “Deputy Brooks, this is dispatch.”
Grunting, Ty dragged open the door to his Sheriff’s Department cruiser and tossed in his food as he reached for the call button. “Dispatch, this is Brooks. Go ahead, Essie.”
“We’ve got at situation down at 583 Westinghouse Road.”
“What kind of situation?”
“Probable domestic dispute. Clyde is en route for backup.”
“On my way.”
Sebastian’s smile had disappeared. “Be careful, brother.”
“Always am.” He slid into the driver’s seat, nodding as Sebastian double tapped the hood in farewell.
Flipping on the light bar, he headed out to save the day.
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