The town of Bliss, Colorado, offered Hope McLean a second chance at life, a gift she cherishes every day. Her past was dominated by dark secrets and regret, most of which centered on a man named Christian Grady. All of that was behind her now, years of horror distilled down into the occasional nightmare or a random feeling of being watched. Surrounded by new friends, she tried hard to leave the past where it belonged—in the rearview mirror.
Raised together, James Glen and Noah Bennett were the best of friends. They dreamed of growing up in Bliss, finding love, and settling down to share their lives on the Circle G ranch. James would manage the day-to-day operations of the ranch while Noah served the town as the resident veterinarian. Everything was perfectly planned out, until a woman came between them and their future shattered. Noah left Bliss for New York City and James was left to struggle to keep the Circle G alive on his own.
Noah returns to Bliss on a mission to rebuild his life. When he sees Hope, he knows his return home was meant to be. Hope’s kindness shines like a beacon calling him to her. Unfortunately, he isn’t the only man interested in Hope. James is also interested in the beautiful girl with a mysterious past. He can’t be forced to choose between the woman of his dreams and his best friend again.
As romance begins to bloom, a dark specter from Hope’s past returns to claim her. To save Hope, and themselves, James and Noah will have to rebuild the relationship they lost and fight for their future with Hope together.
Release date: March 5, 2019
Publisher: DLZ Entertainment, LLC
Print pages: 312
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“God, man, I can’t believe you’re leaving.” James held a hand out to Logan Green.
Logan shook his hand briefly before letting it go. In the past, James would have pulled the younger man in for a big bear hug, but the last year had changed something fundamental in his friend. Logan looked far older than his years since that day when he’d been tortured and left for dead by a member of the Russian mob.
“Me, either.” Logan turned back slightly to where Wolf Meyer stood by his enormous black truck. James had already said good-bye to Wolf and knew how anxious he was to get to Dallas. The former Navy SEAL had been talking to a woman online and over the phone for weeks. Wolf Meyer was going to Dallas in the hopes that things might work out between him and the woman he’d been set up with. Another friend leaving.
“I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“I have to do something, man. I can’t keep on like this.” Logan smiled slightly, a hint of the sarcastic friend James knew so well. “If I don’t get my ass fixed, I’m going to end up in jail or dead.”
Despite the fact that he didn’t want to lose another friend, James knew Logan was right. Logan had been on the edge of something dark and nasty for months and months. Still, it seemed like everyone in the whole goddamn world was moving on, and he was standing utterly still, watching it all go by. “So you think Wolf’s brother can fix you?”
Logan shrugged. “Wolf seems to think so. I don’t know. He seems to either cuss his brother out or talk about him like he’s some kind of saint. It’s weird.”
“No, it’s not. That’s what happens with brothers.” It had certainly been that way between him and Noah before they weren’t anything at all. He didn’t like thinking about the last time he’d seen his brother. Noah had shown up for James’s father’s funeral, but he’d been a different man. Bitter and sarcastic and distant. He’d stayed a single night and then he’d gotten back on a plane for New York.
God, he missed his brother.
Logan frowned, his brow furrowing. “I hope it’s normal because I’m supposed to live with them for a while. I don’t think it’s a good idea if I’m the sanest person in the place. Did you know they’re taking me to a BDSM club?”
James laughed. He shouldn’t be surprised. After all, his new partner was one of Leo Meyer’s “fixes.” Leo was a psychologist who specialized in men with impulse-control issues. The term “impulse-control issues” pretty much summed up Logan to a tee. “Uhm, so they think putting a collar on you is going to fix your problems?”
Logan rolled his eyes. “I’m the Dom, dummy. Apparently this Leo guy thinks training in a club will help me find some measure of control. You wouldn’t believe the schedule this dude has me on. There’s apparently a lot more to therapy than I thought.”
James could imagine. Group therapy from nine to ten. Whips and Chains 101 from ten to noon. Break for lunch, and then on to Advanced Butt Plugging. Actually, it sounded kind of fun. How long had it been since he’d had anything but vanilla sex?
“I think this Leo guy is pretty good. According to my new partner, the man practically walks on water.”
Logan’s arms crossed over his chest. “McNamara? I kind of hoped to meet him. Damn, that guy was some kind of quarterback.”
He felt a weird surge of emotion at the thought of his new partner. Trev McNamara was absolutely the calmest presence he’d ever been around. He’d only been on the ranch for a short time, but he was already someone James could count on. “He’s some kind of man, Logan. He’s been to hell and back, and apparently Leo Meyer was the guide on the ‘back to reality’ portion of his life. Seriously, Trev is someone I admire, and he gives Wolf’s brother all the credit. I think you’re going to be in good hands.”
He’d been a bit disappointed when Trev had come complete with a family. When Trev had called to let him know he was coming to Bliss with a wife and a partner in tow, James had realized that he’d secretly hoped Trev could fill the void Noah had left behind. Trev, Beth, and Bo hadn’t been in Bliss for long, but James was already jealous of their close-knit little family.
Logan nodded. “I know his story. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m willing to go to Dallas. And I trust Wolf.”
“He’s a good man, too. Damn, I’m going to miss you.” He’d said that far too much in his life.
Logan smiled slightly. “You, too. You’ve been a good friend these last couple of months when I didn’t really deserve it.”
“You always deserved it, Logan.” If this went on much longer, James was going to embarrass himself. “Go on. Go to Dallas and get fixed up.”
Logan flushed, looking like the comic-book-loving geek he’d been before that terrible day. Even a hint of that fun-loving man made James hope for the best. “Well, you’re my last stop before I head out. I’ve already said good-bye to my moms and everyone in the department. I made sure I said good-bye to Holly and Caleb and Alexei. I said I was sorry, too. God, I wish I could look at that man and not get mad.”
Alexei Markov was the reason Logan was twelve kinds of fucked up. He was also the reason Logan was alive. “You’ll get there. You have to. I don’t think the man is going anywhere.”
Alexei Markov was madly in love with Holly Lang. He and the town doctor, Caleb Burke, had settled their differences and were happily sharing Holly. It was kind of a way of life here in Bliss.
Logan leaned against the rail of the white picket fence that wrapped around the porch. It had been a joke among his parents that they had found the American dream of one woman, two men, and a whole bunch of cattle. “I wanted to talk to you last because I have to ask a favor of you.”
“Anything.” For the last several years, Logan had been his closest friend. He would do almost anything for the man.
“Something’s wrong with Hope.”
Just like that his stomach took a nose dive. A vision of Hope McLean assaulted him. God, how could a woman who wore too-big clothes and hid behind glasses get to him the way she did? He steered clear of that girl. He made it his mission in life to not get close to her because every time she talked in that ridiculous Southern accent of hers, his cock got hard and his heart soft. It was a bad combo. “What do you mean?”
Logan sighed. “God, you have to get over whatever it is that puts you off her. I don’t get it. She’s so freaking nice. Why are you the only one in this damn town who can’t be cool with her?”
Because every time she walked in a room, his libido went into overdrive and his brain took a nosedive. He’d cultivated an air of cool indifference around the lovely, soft, and scrumptious Hope McLean. “We don’t get along, I guess.”
Bullshit. You would love to get along with her, but she’s not some good-time girl. She would want more than a quick fuck and you know it. You would want more. And you have no idea how to do that without your brother at your side.
Logan straightened up. “I’m asking you to look past that. I like the hell out of her. Something’s up with her, and I can’t get anyone to talk to me about it. She’s closemouthed. She won’t admit to anything. I think Nate knows something, but the bastard never tells me a goddamn thing. He’s even been quiet around Callie.”
Nate Wright was the sheriff of Bliss. He was also married to the worst gossip in Bliss. And his partner was Bliss’s only tavern owner. Between Callie and Zane, gossip flowed freely. It said something that Nate Wright knew how to keep a secret. What the hell kind of secret could someone as sweet and harmless as Hope McLean have? “What makes you think she’s in trouble?”
“She’s not sleeping. I can tell. I’ve caught her napping in the break room several times this week. She’s working far more than she’s scheduled to. Cam and I added up her hours for the last week, and we’re pretty sure she hasn’t been at home for more than a few hours a day. And she’s been touchy. She’s usually a rock, but she’s been jumpy lately. I overheard a call two days ago. She yelled. Hope never yells. She told someone named Christian to leave her alone.”
“He sounds like a douchebag.” The thought that Hope had a boyfriend named Christian unnerved him.
“I need someone to figure out what’s going on with her. I might not be the best cop in the world, but I know when something’s wrong with one of my friends. I would feel better about this if I knew you were looking after her.”
What choice did he have? Logan was in serious trouble. He needed help. It wouldn’t be the friendliest thing to do to tell him that he wouldn’t look into Hope’s trouble because he was worried he couldn’t control himself around her. “Sure.”
And he would do it. He’d promised with one simple word, and that was his stupid-ass bond.
Logan sighed, his relief obvious. “Thank you. I really like Hope. I would hate to think something bad was happening and no one cared. Just figure out if it’s dangerous and handle it. Okay?”
It was right there on the tip of his tongue to ask what could possibly be dangerous. He held that thought. In the last several years, Bliss had seen its share of druggie bikers, stalkers, serial killers, and the damn Russian mob. Hope could be involved in anything from white slavery to alien abduction, and it would be the norm in Bliss. “I’ll check it out.”
Logan reached out and slapped his shoulder. “Thanks, man. Give me a call if you find anything out. I want to know what’s up with that girl. She’s a sweetheart. Makes the best chocolate chip cookies ever. And she always watches out for me. She showed up at Hell on Wheels to haul my ass home one night. I owe her. Please, Jamie. Take care of her. She’s a friend.”
James nodded his head slowly, the true weight of what he was agreeing to coming down on him. “I will.”
He would. He didn’t have much in this world beyond his word. He would figure out what was making Hope not sleep at night. It was probably something like a lost library book.
He wouldn’t get close to her. He wouldn’t spread her legs and penetrate her. He wouldn’t tie her up and have his wretched way with her. He wouldn’t take those glasses off and look in her eyes while he stroked into her with his cock. Nope. He was going to figure out her problem and solve it and send her on her way.
Logan put out a hand. James shook it. He was losing another friend. It seemed to be a theme to his life.
He watched as Logan got into Wolf’s truck and drove off to face his future. James knew where his future was. It was right here on the Circle G. It always had been. This land was his legacy, his burden, his destiny.
He’d given up a lot for this land.
And now he only had half of it left. He sighed as Wolf’s truck drove off, churning up dirt in its wake. He still had the Circle G. He’d almost lost it.
James turned and went back in the house. He needed to head into town and see what was up with Hope. He’d made a promise, and he intended to keep it.
* * * *
Hope McLean stared out the window of the Sheriff’s Department, watching the world go by. Not that there were tons of people walking down Main Street. A couple of late-season tourists walked up the steps to the Trading Post. Mel and Cassidy walked down the street, their hands tucked together. Cassidy wiped her eyes with her free hand, and Mel pulled her close, whispering something to her that got her smiling.
Cassidy had recently said good-bye to her son. And Hope had said good-bye to her friend.
She sniffled. God, she was going to miss Logan. She understood why he was leaving, but even at his worst, Logan had been a good friend to her.
Mel waved as he walked by. Hope raised a hand and prayed she was smiling. She could feel her lips tugging up, but sometimes she wondered if the people around her could tell that it was all for show.
She sighed as a Bronco pulled up and Deputy Cameron Briggs slid from the driver’s seat. Cam Briggs was an all-American hunk of man. He filled out his khakis with impressive style.
He was also totally taken and insanely happy with his woman. He and his partner, Rafe Kincaid, shared Laura Niles.
There was a whole lot of sharing going on in Bliss.
And Hope was alone. But then she deserved to be.
“Hey, Hope. Anything happening?” Cam asked with a smile as he walked through the inner doors. He pulled his Stetson off his head and set it on his desk.
She shook her head. “Nope. I think we’re in a quiet period.”
That was the way it was in Bliss. Months of lovely boredom broken up with flashes of catastrophe. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to work for the Bliss County Sheriff’s Department, but she did love her job. Sometimes it was the only thing she had.
“Nate’s settled into the cabin,” Cam said. “Callie seems to be recovering quite nicely. Those babies are adorable. And Stefan gave them a little present.”
She could guess what the King of Bliss had given to his oldest friend. Callie had been unaware she was having twins. “A second set of everything?”
Cam grinned, sitting on the edge of his desk. “Callie was damn happy about that. So were Nate and Zane. They’d talked about putting baby Charlie in one of the dresser drawers.” He sighed. “I love this town. Back where I came from no one would have cared enough to make sure those babies were comfortable. The women wouldn’t have made sure that Callie didn’t have to cook for a couple of weeks. They would have shrugged and moved on. Of course, the town where I came from would have driven them out. They’re kind of traditional.”
Most of the world was. Bliss was different. “Did Logan say good-bye?”
Cam hopped off his desk and came to stand right in front of her. He put his hands on her shoulders. She had to look up, way up, to see his face. His blue eyes were somber as he looked down at her. “He’s going to be okay. He’s going to get what he needs, and then he’ll come back and maybe it can work for the two of you.”
Hope felt her own eyes go wide. “Logan is like my brother. I have zero interest in him in any kind of a physical way.”
He dropped his hands. “Damn it. I always get that wrong. I thought you two would make a good couple. You’re not seeing anyone. He’s not seeing anyone.”
She shook her head. “Not going to happen. But I do care about him.”
They hadn’t tried dating. They’d seemed to be such good friends that there was no reason to screw it up by dating. Sex screwed everything up.
So why couldn’t she get her mind off James Glen? He was sex on a stick, walking around town in cowboy boots. He was too perfect, too gorgeous. With his easy smile and laid-back manner, he charmed almost every woman in a hundred-mile radius. He was flirty and playful. There wasn’t a woman in the county that James Glen didn’t sharpen his skills on. From babies to old ladies, he was charming with them all.
With everyone but her. It was her luck that the only man she was interested in was totally turned off by her.
Cam shook his head. “Well, it shows what I know. Laura told me I was wrong. She seems to think you have a thing for that rancher.”
Her stomach twisted. The last thing she wanted was for gossip to start. “James? I don’t think so.”
“Well, that’s good because from what I can tell, he’s on top of any female who will let him climb on.”
Again. Any female with the singular exception of one Hope McLean. Her skin grew hot at the thought of the one time she’d asked him if he maybe wouldn’t mind having dinner with her since they had both been alone at Stella’s and it seemed silly to take up a whole booth when they could sit together.
He had explained that he was done even though his burger was untouched. He’d thrown some money down and nearly run out the door.
Hope hadn’t eaten that day, merely walked up the steps to her apartment, sat down, and cried.
No. James Glen wasn’t for her.
“Hey,” Cam said, patting her on the back. “What do you want for lunch? It’s on me. We’re going to be stuck together for a couple of weeks until Nate gets back or we hire another deputy. We might as well enjoy ourselves. I brought a set of checkers and some other games.”
Logan had been the one to sit and play games with her. It would have been easier on her ego if she had been madly in love with Logan.
“I would love the special.” She had no idea what the special was today. It could be anything from enchiladas to something utterly unpronounceable made from goat and truffle oil. It all depended on what Hal, Stella’s short-order cook, had recently seen on the Food Network. Still, it was always an adventure, and Hal was nice to her.
“Brave girl. I’ll go pick it up.” Cam winked and then disappeared, jogging down the street.
She watched him go, her eyes trailing back toward the diner. It was the place where all the citizens of Bliss met and hung out. She’d eaten lunch with Logan there at least four times a week. Even at his surliest, he’d been company. Now he was gone.
And James was dating some actress, though dating wasn’t exactly what Hope would call it. James wasn’t known for his long-term relationships.
Hope caught sight of the mailman. Barney Osman was a sweet man nearing retirement age. He drove all across two towns, carrying the mail in his truck. Hope stepped outside the double doors, walking to meet him before he had to come up the steps. Barney was a nice man, but his knees weren’t what they used to be according to his many health-related stories. Hope spoke to him for a moment, learned about his ongoing battle with gout, and waved him on his way. She stood outside, sorting through the mail, which included a catalog of fishing equipment, some formal-looking letters that Nate would probably toss out in favor of the fishing catalog, an ad for computer equipment, and a large flyer for the new play being presented by the Repertory Theater.
“You should come. It’s going to be a great night,” a confident voice said.
Hope turned, her heart sinking a little. Speak of the perfectly coiffed devil. Serena Hall stood in front of her wearing jeans, a silk blouse, and heels. She looked utterly out of place and wholly beautiful. She was also known to be a complete bitch. According to the gossip, she was sweet as pie around men but liked to play the queen bee around other women.
Still, Hope tried to get along. She nodded, clutching the mail to her chest. “I’m sure it will be.”
“I have the lead this time.” Serena adjusted her handbag. “It’s hard to have to carry a whole play, but I’ve been assured that I’m doing a good job. Everyone who has seen it so far loves it.”
Hope barely avoided rolling her eyes. “I’m sure you’re great.”
She shrugged slightly. “You know, you never can tell. James told me how good I am, but you know him. He’ll say anything to get a girl in bed. You know the type.”
Yep. She knew the type. “Sure. Well, good luck with the play. I should get back to the station in case anyone dies or something.”
“Please, Hope. No one dies around here.”
Hope stared at her.
“Well, no one important dies. It's all people from the outside.” Serena’s eyes narrowed. “I wanted to talk to you about James. Look, every woman in this town knows you have a thing for him. I think you should know that I understand. He’s a very attractive man, but he isn’t interested in you. You need to stop making a fool of yourself. It’s sad the way you look at him. I’m trying to help you out.”
Hope felt her eyes narrow. She might be quiet, but she wasn’t an idiot. And she wasn’t a doormat. “No, you’re being mean. I haven’t pursued him. I asked him out once. He turned me down. I stay away from him. I’m not any kind of threat to you, so why are you here throwing this in my face? There’s no reason for you to do that except for the fact that you want to hurt me. Are you so insecure that you feel the need to hurt the people around you?”
Serena sputtered. “I am not.”
But she was, and Hope could see plainly that she didn’t like to be called on it. Well, too bad. She hadn’t done anything wrong. She’d liked a man who hadn’t liked her back, so she’d left him alone. She wasn’t going to take crap off this woman. “Yes, you are, and I think that makes you the pathetic one. Now, I have work to do.”
Serena’s lovely face hardened, losing the pseudo sympathy of before. “I’m dating him now. I’m warning you to stay away from him.”
Hope sighed and actually felt a little bad for the brunette goddess. The fact that she called what she and James were doing dating meant she didn’t understand James at all. James Glen didn’t date. He hooked up, and he didn’t tend to do it for long. Though usually he made the arrangement perfectly clear, from what Logan had told her. James was famous for the speech he gave before he slept with a woman.
She turned as quickly as she could, hoping not to get humiliated again. That was when she saw him.
A ghost from her past. Her heart nearly stopped in her chest because it couldn’t be him. Not him.
It was a single glance. Golden hair and a lanky, lean build. Piercing gray eyes. Sensual lips. He stood outside the Trading Post, leaning against the huge evergreen that dominated the street. He was dressed in loose clothes and an open-necked shirt that showed off the beginnings of a cut torso. He was heartbreakingly gorgeous and evil beyond compare.
Her heart froze. She blinked, and he was gone as though he’d never been there in the first place.
And he couldn’t have been. There was no way she’d seen what she thought she’d seen. No way he was here. It was a trick of her mind since that one phone call had sent her reeling back into the misery of ten years before. She could still hear it. A single sentence. “Hello, love.” Then he’d hung up. And her world had turned upside down.
“I’m warning you, Hope,” Serena said, her bratty voice sounding far away. Hope didn’t look back. She simply stared at the place where the ghost had stood, a little smile on his face as he’d watched her. After a moment, Hope heard the click-clack of Serena’s heels on the pavement as she walked off to meet her friends. Serena and her jealousy didn’t mean a damn thing now.
Only one thing mattered. Christian Grady.
He couldn’t have been standing in front of the Trading Post. Hope rushed down the street, but she saw nothing beyond the tourists and the women from the rep theater walking toward the diner. She hadn’t seen Christian, and she was sure of it.
Because she’d killed him. She’d killed him, and he wasn’t coming back.
Copyright 2019 Lexi Blake
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