A great story about accepting yourself as well as believing in yourself. And of course, the healing power of love.Jean Oram
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
Sawyer Banks only does the winter guide thing to prove to his sister he's still a functioning member of the human race. He's not but the former SEAL isn't ready to hurt the only family he has left. He'd rather spend time with the wolves he's helping to reintegrate but the sexy little pixie with the titanium attitude he yanked out of a ditch keeps dragging him out on another of her adventures.
When those adventures turn deadly, Sawyer and Myla have to learn to trust themselves and each other if they're going to get out of the woods alive.
Reaching For Normal is the first book in the Bloo Moose Romance series. Each book can be read as a standalone. The book contains some strong language and sexy times. Enjoy the read!
Release date: July 21, 2020
Publisher: Jemi Fraser @ Just Jemi Books
Print pages: 336
Content advisory: The book contains some strong language and sexy times. Enjoy the read!
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Reaching For Normal: A Bloo Moose Romance
Myla Esperanza squeezed the steering wheel and aimed for what she hoped was the middle of the road. The snow drifting down from the sky wasn’t fooling her anymore. Those pretty flakes morphed into ice monsters ready to fling her tires across the highway.
Another crazy curve loomed ahead so she eased off the gas but didn't apply the brake. Only minutes before, her poor little Prius, Freddy, had swished from one side of the empty Vermont highway to the other.
Freddy traveled safely through the curve and Myla smiled her relief. She'd passed the ten-mile marker to Bloo Moose a few minutes ago, so she'd be there soon, well before nightfall. Hopefully, they had a coffee shop. With donuts. Jelly filled donuts. Sprinkled donuts. Chocolate dip. She wasn’t fussy.
As she neared the next curve, a huge animal bounded out of the bush and onto the road. Bigger than her car, the beast turned its massive head in her direction, antlers pointing directly at her. Myla screamed and slammed her foot onto the brake. The gargoyle didn't budge, so she swung the steering wheel to the left but Freddy didn’t slow a bit and she prayed no cars were coming around the corner. The ditch on the side of the road loomed and, with a yelp, she spun the wheel back the other way, then back once more as she got close enough to see the white flecks of hair around the beast's nose.
The car swerved and Myla blew out a breath as she passed the animal without a thump. Relief evaporated as the steering wheel stopped responding and the car started to spin. Her blood raced through her veins and she wasn’t even sure she was breathing. Myla cranked the wheel to the right, then the left, pumped on the brakes. Nothing worked and she bit her lip to keep in the swear words she’d promised herself she’d stop using.
The animal whipped past her windshield three times before her car started to slip backward off the road. Myla squealed and pressed all of her weight onto the brake pedal and leaned into the steering wheel, trying to shove the car back the other way.
Sliding backward, the car bounced hard, her seatbelt locked and she slammed into it before smacking her head back on the headrest.
Dazed, it took Myla a few moments to realize the car had stopped. She forced her eyes open and watched the snowflakes fall down toward her. Straight down.
No road, no trees, just snow and sky. Where had Freddy landed? An icy spike of terror shuddered through her as she imagined resting vertically on a ledge. If she shifted her weight, would she send herself tumbling down the mountain? Would anyone even know she’d died?
Gulping in lungfuls of air, Myla finally dared to turn her head a fraction. Snow. Trees, sideways trees. A peek to the other side and behind her showed she was in a ditch, not balanced precariously on one of the terrifying mountain slopes she'd passed. She’d have cheered if she’d been able to muster the energy. Not dead, not dying. Just ditched.
As her breath settled, a part of her brain realized this would make a fantastic entry for her blog. Clumsy Girl Ditches Vermont. As if on cue, the monstrosity she'd avoided peeked over the edge of the road. Trapped safely in the car, Myla's sense of the ridiculous pushed out the remaining fear. She scrabbled to grab her phone from the mess her purse had made on Freddy's floor.
Breathing heavily, she managed to find it and snapped off a couple of pictures before the animal ambled away. The phone slipped out of Myla’s hands and she squeezed her fingers to stop the shaking. Once she found civilization again, she’d need to get in some research. Maybe the magazine would be willing to pay for an article on how not to drive in winter along with the adventure articles she was commissioned to write. She’d also have to find out if the gargoyle was actually a moose. She hadn’t expected them to be quite so big.
Myla blew out a noisy breath and tried to shove the anxiety out with it. She'd be fine. She was always fine. Nothing more than a minor setback. No problemo.
Being stuck in a ditch wasn’t a 911 emergency. She wasn’t in mortal danger. It might be way deeper than she expected but it was only a ditch.
The only Bloo Moose phone number she had was for Darby Banks, the sister of the guide she’d hired for the next couple of weeks to teach her all things winter. Apparently, Darby handled all the details for Sawyer’s outdoor expeditions. If she called, she'd look like an idiot, so she'd hang onto that option until there was no other choice.
Time to get out of the car.
Nerves made it more difficult than it sounded. If a moose came stampeding down the ditch she’d be trampled in a heartbeat. Or eaten. Although without fangs or claws it didn't look like a typical predator. The thing had looked sort of friendly. Ugly and unconcerned with her spinning car but not evil-out-to-get-her either.
Myla eased open the door and twisted in her seat, checking for any more moose friends before committing her poor sneakers to the snow. Cold immediately seeped through the orange canvas into her skin and then soaked into her bloodstream.
If her editor had given her more than a couple of hours notice, she’d have been more prepared. Not that Miami was teeming with winter gear. She should have asked Darby for more information.
She did know Sawyer hated rookies and never booked new customers for more than a day at a time but when Myla had explained her need to do a series of articles about adventuring in the snow, Darby had laughed and told her she'd take care of it all. "Sawyer's a little rough around the edges but that's just bluster. His growl is all for show.”
Myla had her doubts.
She'd never had any desire to travel north in the winter, now she needed to experience it all in the next two weeks. If her article series went over well, it would pad her resume and she’d be able to put away a little into her savings account. All she needed was a pair of boots, some warm clothes, her guide, and she'd be having fun in no time. Winter couldn’t be that hard to conquer.
Putting weight on her feet caused the snow to slip in over the tops of the shoes and she almost changed her mind. But retreating wasn't an option. Ever. Looking back only reminded her of heartbreak.
Myla stood and stretched her weak leg, stiff from the ride. She’d lived with the infirmity all of her life and while it was her normal, it took a lot of work to ensure it didn’t slow her down. She wasn’t letting a withered leg mess up her life. She did a good job of that without any help, as a peek at the looming ditch confirmed.
A quick survey showed she was still alone. No moose, no other animals, not even a bird. Certainly nothing as helpful as a human.
Each step away from the car made her braver. Adventures were her thing, after all. She'd made a living reporting on them for the last few years. Everything from parasailing to white water rafting. Better than any of the dozens of jobs she'd held before that.
Myla pulled her jacket more tightly around her but it did nothing to stop the wind sneaking through the thin fabric. She could let Freddy’s heater warm her up but that wouldn’t last forever. And it wouldn’t get her to the road. She’d worry about warming up once she was in town.
Walking up the ditch proved impossible. As did crawling. As did running. And leaping from the hood of her car. Her leg simply wasn't up to the task no matter which way she approached it and frustration made her want to scream. Nothing annoyed her more than her body letting her down. Nothing. Leaning back against Freddy's hood, she studied the incline and rubbed her knee. Ditch Defeats Clumsy Girl.
No way. She needed a more logical approach. Maybe if she’d paid more attention in science class, she could use something as leverage or a fulcrum or some other engineering thingamajig. Her knowledge of oxymorons and tropes in romance novels might make life more interesting but it wasn’t going to save her today.
When her teeth chattered and her toes started to tingle, Myla pushed off Freddy’s hood and tromped back and forth along the ditch. A car had to pass by eventually. Maybe if she made snowballs, she could throw them up when she heard it. The driver would see and stop to find out if she needed help.
Her first snowball melted in her hands. The second fell apart in her fingers. By the third, she was getting the hang of it. When she tossed her fifth one at the ditch, it made a satisfying thump. Grinning, she made more and piled them on the hood. It didn't take long to make a perfect little pyramid of them, along with a family of snowmen.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Myla squealed and whirled toward the deep, male voice. Her leg buckled under her and she thumped against the car but managed to keep herself upright. At the top of the ditch, a man stood, hands on hips.
"Hi. Um. Well, I'm making snowballs."
"Why?" Squinting up into the falling snow and the dimming light made it impossible to see him clearly but she didn't need to see him to hear the disbelief in his voice. His silhouette showed a tall, strong body with wide shoulders. Hopefully not a serial killer searching for easy prey in the ditches of Vermont.
"I was going to use them to signal for help when I heard a car passing by."
His snort told her what he thought of that plan. "Then maybe you should’ve been listening better."
Oops. "You have a car here?"
A slight head shake. "A truck. Surprised you didn't hear it and put your plan into action."
His sarcastic emphasis on the word plan had Myla biting her tongue. A truck was good and she didn’t want him turning away from her and making her beg.
He sighed and his hands moved to his hips. "Wouldn't it have been easier to wave a car down from up here?"
Clamping her teeth onto her tongue helped bite back a sarcastic remark. No sense in alienating him. When he continued to shake his head, she couldn’t stop herself. “Gee, why didn't I think of that?"
The man grunted as he surveyed the scene. With an audible sigh, he turned sideways and walked at an angle to the bottom of the ditch. Simple as walking down the stairs.
Even as her body responded to the effortless, fluid strength he exhibited, she wanted to poke him. How dare he make it look so easy?
The man stopped a few yards away from her, so she got a better view and her annoyance increased. Dark hair curled out from under a knit hat. Strong bones highlighted eyes that were the color of really good, really dark chocolate, except they held none of the warmth.
His gaze followed her tracks and then roved over her outfit until her toes curled in her sneakers and she shoved her red hands into the pockets of her jacket.
Without a word, he turned his attention to her car and one eyebrow shot up. He shot her a glance, then swiped away her pyramid and snowmen and leaned over the hood, giving her a fine view of how his jeans fit. And they fit well. Very well.
The worn leather jacket was padded but couldn’t hide the breadth of his shoulders. She’d bet every chocolate bar she’d stashed in her car that the leather hid some very nice muscles.
“How did you know I was in the ditch?”
“You left more tire tracks than a platoon of tanks.”
A few muttered curses later, the man stood up and brushed off his hands, turned, and strode up the ditch without a slip or another word. She muttered a curse of her own. The truck firing up gave her a start and her heart leapt. Was he leaving her here? Despite the crankiness almost exuding off him in physical waves, she hadn't imagined he’d abandon her.
Myla stepped forward to yell up at the road but the bumper and back up lights popped over the edge of the ditch and kept backing up until they were suspended in the air above her. Myla blew out her relief as the man hopped out.
“I thought you’d left.” The words slipped out before she could stop them. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Or sound so needy.
His answer was another raised eyebrow. The man needed to stop channeling Spock. He walked around to the back of the truck, flipped up a cover, pulled out a chain and hooked it up to the back of his truck and the front of her car in less time than it had taken her to make her first snowball.
Finally, he turned to her as he brushed the snow off his jeans. He eyed her feet again and his mouth twisted. "Okay, let's get you topside and out of the way.” He strode toward her and she barely resisted the urge to back up. He must have sensed her tension though because he stopped about a yard away. "Do you want my help?"
No. Not even a little bit.
But she needed it.
He waited her out, his frown deepening as he turned to check out the tracks she'd made in her earlier attempts to escape the ditch. He held out one hand to her with a slight grin. “Trust me?"
She shook her head even as she realized she did. Dumb but true. He might not be the most talkative rescuer in the world but he'd proven himself more than capable of coping with winter. Chocolate eyes watched and waited. No pressure. No impatient superiority.
It took her a moment, okay, more than a moment but Myla managed to put her hand in his. She held steady even as she hoped he couldn’t feel the tremors running through her.
Their eyes remained locked as he waited for her to retreat or change her mind. When she didn’t, he tugged her forward toward the ditch wall. As he moved he swung her forward and up into his arms without any hesitation.
Even through the thick layers of his clothing, heat seared through her in every place their bodies touched—and in several they didn't. A few of those places hadn't been awake in a long time. Maybe Vermont was sprinkling magic lusty-dust in with the snowflakes.
In seconds, they reached the top of the ditch and he put her down and stepped back but didn't release her hand. Another raise of the eyebrow and when she didn't protest—no way was she anywhere near capable of words—he led her around the truck until they reached the passenger side. He opened the door and then released her hand to brush his over her body swiftly.
“You need to stay dry or you’ll never be warm.”
Removing the snow.
That's all he was doing. Removing the snow.
Didn't want his truck wet.
Probably didn't have a clue her poor, lonely girlie parts were having a dance party.
Throwing herself into his arms and kissing the breath out of him would definitely be an overreaction. When he straightened, his eyes held nothing but amusement. Then he reached for her and for a millisecond, she thought her fantasy was going to take flight but he lifted her under the arms and plunked her in the seat then shut the door in her face.
Time to pull herself together. Must be the cold weather getting to her. Clumsy Girl Gets Cozy With Rescuer. Totally not going to happen but maybe she could sell an article on the effects of snow on people's libidos. She'd have to check to see if northern states had more babies nine months after particularly chilly winters.
The driver's door opened and the already warm cab of the truck heated up instantly. Myla laughed at herself. She'd never reacted to anyone like this and the man acted like he'd picked up a toddler off her bike. No hint of anything remotely sensual, while her glands were salivating. Sad statement on the state of her love life.
Maybe time to think about staying in one place long enough to have one.
Sawyer Banks told himself not to, even as he pulled off his gloves and tossed them to the crazy woman sitting in his passenger seat.
"You ever hear of winter?" Ridiculous orange sneakers, jeans that showed off every inch of her legs, and a jacket that only worked for winter in a place where flowers bloomed all year long.
No hat or scarf. Not even any gloves.
She'd been halfway to frozen solid when he'd spotted her grinning like a fool as she made another snowball to add to the pile she'd already created on the hood of her car. If you could call it a car. Instead of towing it, he'd been tempted to just lift the thing out and toss it in the back of his truck.
Definitely not made for Vermont in the winter. Like its driver.
Florida plates explained a lot.
Nose and cheeks pink from the cold, she looked at him from bottomless hazel eyes. Distrustful, unsettled. She should be. February was no time for tourists.
She needed to take her dark mass of whacked-out curls and hit the road. In the other direction. From the looks of it, she’d been stuck in the ditch for a while. Because she was too weak to get out? There was something wrong with her left leg but she hadn’t blubbered about it.
Sawyer pushed away the questions forming. He wasn't interested. He’d had more than his fill of people who needed rescuing. Thankfully, Bloo Moose was less than five minutes away.
Once she put on the gloves, he shoved the truck into gear and yanked up the baby car. The neon green paint hurt his eyes. Who chose a color like that? Same person who wore orange sneakers with pink spots all over them in the middle of winter.
As soon as he put the truck into park, the woman slipped out and ran to the back, leaving his gloves on the seat. By the time he got out, she’d climbed into her car. He leaned one arm against the truck bed and waited for the vehicle to laugh at her attempt to thaw it.
Instead, the silly green car flashed its lights at him and purred like a kitten. She opened the door and leaned out. "Thank you so much for hauling Freddy out of there."
"Freddy?" She'd named her car Freddy. He needed to get back to his woods.
Her grin lit up her eyes. "He's the exact shade of one of those tree frogs that live in the Amazon." She nodded to show that her explanation made sense. Right.
Instead of asking more questions, Sawyer squatted down to undo the chain from the ridiculous Freddy and then his own truck. After dumping the chain in the back, he turned to her. "Take the car into Mel's Garage in town. Make sure there's no damage. She'll give you a fair price and good service."
“Thanks for everything. Don’t know what I would have done without you. How can I pay you back?”
Sawyer waved her offer away and got into his vehicle. A look in the mirror showed her smiling and running her hands along the steering wheel. Nuts. He rolled down the window and waved her forward. He'd ensure the wacky woman arrived at Mel's and then his duty would be done.
The car surprised him again when it pulled out onto the road without so much as a cough. He followed her as she drove like a grandma toward town, slowing down at every curve and accelerating like a nervous snail.
He shouldn’t have been surprised when she slammed on her brakes at her first sighting of the town’s end-to-end boardwalk and the life-size moose statues along the waterfront. The string of colorful shops along the other side of the street captured her interest as much as the lake.
The dangerous, sexy woman shouldn't be allowed a license. When they approached the side street, Sawyer honked his horn, flipped on his blinker, and motioned for her to turn. She gave him a thumbs-up and turned, proving she possessed some sense.
Once she spotted Mel's garage, she did some tooting and pointing of her own. After driving onto the lot, she gave him a big smile and wave as he drove on past. Damn if he didn't find himself almost smiling back.
As he drove through the rest of the town, Sawyer used his Bluetooth and placed a call. The sooner it was over, the sooner he could ignore civilization.
“Is everything okay? Did he want you to go back?” His sister’s voice trembled, making him realize he should have called her from New York.
“No, Darb.” His sister might not know the details of Afghanistan but she knew the experience had shattered him. Sawyer had joined the Army a year after their parents had been killed. It had been a good way to ensure he could help Darby financially. Then Anderson had spotted him, taunted him into surviving BUD/S training, and signed him up for the teams. He’d found a place he belonged.
For years, under Anderson’s command, he’d gone places people should never go, helped people who suffered unimaginable hurts, and thrived on the physical work, mental pressure, and teamwork.
Until he’d returned from a scouting mission to find his team in pieces. Still, Anderson hadn’t given up on him. So, when the Captain asked him to go to New York, he’d gone. No questions. He’d do anything in his power for the man.
Now the colonel was trying to recruit him again. To some training squad he was developing. How in the hell was Sawyer supposed to train others when he’d let his teammates die?
Nightmares had plagued him since, except these dreams weren't make-believe, they were memories. He was shit at protecting people and his Spidey senses were gone. No way could he go back to that world. Not even for Anderson.
“Nothing to worry about. I’m home and I’m not going back.”
Darby’s exhale was audible through the line, making Sawyer feel even lower. He knew she worried and he had to keep his head out of his ass long enough to remember to call her.
“Good. You stopping by?”
He briefly considered turning the truck around but he knew she’d understand. “Too itchy. I’ll see you before I head out tomorrow. Going to do some tracking for a couple of days.”
“Oh. Um.” Hell. That wasn’t good. “About that.”
“What’d you do, Darb?”
“I booked you a client in the morning. Snowshoeing.”
Her overly cheerful voice had him keeping in a sigh. “Is this payback because I didn’t call earlier?”
Her laugh sounded more than a little forced. “Nope. Just a snowshoeing lesson. I’ll make you waffles when you’re done.”
Waffles. That meant it was even worse than he’d thought. “You sign up another rookie? You promised me you were done with that. The last one wanted to add getting laid in a snowbank to her bucket list.”
Darby snorted out a laugh. “Myla’s not like that. You’ll like her. By the way, can you smell the cookies from there?”
Sawyer gritted his teeth and focused on not yelling. His sister was determined to keep him busy with this guide business, keep him interacting with the rest of the human race. He hadn’t figured out a way to make her back off without crushing her and he’d done enough of that for a lifetime.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?”
The hint of worry in her voice was his downfall. “Fine.”
“Love you, Sawyer. Glad you’re back.” She hung up before he could answer. Typical.
The rest of the drive out to his cabin was peaceful. The trees wore their blankets of snow, deadening the sound and creating a barrier between him and the rest of the world.
Sawyer parked the truck behind his log home but instead of heading inside he walked around to the front and grabbed his shovel. Clearing off the decks and a path down to the dock would help settle him.
Halfway through, the dogs bounded out of the woods and clamored for his attention, Loco bouncing around like the halfwit he was, while Gunner loped straight for Sawyer, demanding a rub down. The huskies probably had more than a drop or two of wolf in their blood, making them loyal, smart, and the perfect companions. No talking. No questions.
They'd spent the time he was in New York fending for themselves in the bush and had returned to greet him with almost spooky timing. Just as they had since they’d adopted him a few years back. Deciding they all needed some playtime, he gave the command to get the ball. It was the only command where Gunner wasn't the first to comply.
Loco jumped off into the snowbanks Sawyer had created around the deck, then burrowed into the corner where he kept the balls. The dog set off a triumphant bark when he found one and the trio turned to the lake. For the next hour, he played with the dogs and let the stress of Anderson’s request melt away, leaving his mind blissfully empty.
Until the face of the woman he'd met on the road filled it. A striking face. Definitely not a traditional beauty. More interesting than anything else. Dusky skin, deep brown curls that had been partially pinned up with the rest tumbling everywhere. Deep hazel eyes with a touch of gold. Unique. Intriguing. Great ass didn't hurt. And while the legs were short, they used every damn inch well.
Nothing wrong with noticing the facts. Nothing wrong with a little pursuit of those facts either if both of them were interested. Hell, Darby would be cheering him to do more than a little pursuing. It had been far too long.
That's all it was. Anderson had stirred him up, made him think of things he hadn't thought of in a long time. Scared the hell out of him. No way could he go back to that life. No way was he anywhere near capable of training anyone else to watch their buddies’ lives seep away into the ground. Nope.
Totally explained why his mind had latched onto the first woman he’d seen. Sure, she was attractive but his reaction to her was totally unwarranted. She was nothing like the women he'd dated before. Nothing like anyone he'd met before. A weird combination of energy and nerves.
Shaking his head at himself, Sawyer threw a long last bomb for the dogs to chase. As usual, Gunner's straight trajectory beat out Loco's distracted run. Some serious canine ADHD in that one.
While the dogs chased each other through the snow and over the ice, Sawyer let the whole scene soak into him. No one to rescue. No one to watch die. No one expecting him to be the hero.
Exactly the way he wanted it.
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