7 PM PST.
Eight years ago, she broke his heart.
Eight years ago, he vowed never to let her hurt him again.
Now, they have to work together to keep their town safe.
At the age of sixteen, Val Garcia made the worst mistake of her life. She trusted the wrong guy, and hurt the guy she loved. She can never atone for that one mistake, but she’s trying.
As a cop, Spencer Murdock is trained in the art of evasion, but that isn’t helping him avoid the pariah in his life...his first love, Val. It doesn’t help that as the town baker, his friends and coworkers are always moaning over her cupcakes. Yeah, it sounds dirty to him when they do it, too.
Now, he has to work with her daily, see her daily, listen to her soft voice and see her smooth skin...daily. And daily he’s seeing her more as the girl he fell in love with, not the girl who destroyed him.
There’s no way they can have a second chance. That trust is broken. But every day there are glimpses that make them both ask...what if?
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It was too early in the morning for whining, but obviously, Travis hadn’t gotten that memo.
“What am I going to do, Val?”
I worked hard not to roll my eyes at him. The young college-aged cutie that my BFF and owner of Em-Dash, Kali, had left in charge of her bookstore while she jaunted off to Kenya with her new love looked completely panicked.
Pulling the tray of cookies from the oven, I set them on the row of waiting hot pads and gave Travis my best stern adult look. The comforting scent of cinnamon and sugar filled the air and immediately dropped my heart rate. There was nothing like fresh baked goods to ease the soul.
“Travis, Kali wouldn’t have left you in charge if she didn’t think you were capable.” I gave our clerk a pointed look before reaching into the oven for a second tray.
“And I was capable . . . am capable,” Travis said, snaking a hand toward the cookies before I slapped it away. “But these midterms are kicking my butt, so I know finals are going to be awful. I need about ten more hours in every day to get in classes, work, studying, and the occasional nap.” He ran his hand through his thick, already disheveled dark hair that looked about a month and a half past needing a haircut. Every day he appeared a bit more frazzled, but that could be me projecting my stress.
I laughed and grabbed my dusting tin. “Welcome to the wonderful world of being an adult.” I paused in my cookie routine to give him a soft smile. “Kali said it was okay to hire some part-time help, so do it. Take out an ad in the paper, or put up some signs in the student center.”
Turning my attention back to the cookies, I uncapped the dusting tin and shook out a shimmering cascade of cinnamon and sugar to fall delicately on the still-warm tops of my snickerdoodles. The second dose of cinnamon and sugar gave them that extra oomph that left my customers coming back for more.
“I don’t love the idea of a bunch of new people traipsing around the bookstore.”
My shoulders tightened. “You can’t have it both ways,” I snapped a little too forcefully. “Either you play loosey-goosey with your grades and handle Em-Dash on your own or you hire someone new.”
Blowing hair out of my face, I tried to soften my words with a little smile. Travis wasn’t the only one feeling Kali’s absence. It was hitting me harder than expected to be without my boss babe and bestie. And there was no use pretending that when she got back from Kenya a few days after Christmas that everything would go back to normal. She had Ten, and that meant I would have less of her.
“Look, I’ve got to get these cookies off the trays before the bottoms brown, but we can sit down tomorrow and write up an advertisement to put in the paper. Okay?” I asked, sliding a hot and somewhat-melty cookie off the tray and handing it to Travis.
“Okay,” he mumbled around the soft dough and perfectly portioned sugar and cinnamon.
I would never be a super-nurturing maternal type who could make everything better with a hug and a soft word or two, but I could bake the best snickerdoodle in Colorado, and that was almost the same thing.
“Now, get out of here before the ladies start showing up and you really get uncomfortable with people in your bookstore.” I gave him a playful wink.
Travis was a good kid, and he was super dedicated to Kali, even more so since we all found out that she had been secretly writing horror books as David Greer for the past six years. But even that level of fanboy had its limits, and the line was drawn a long time ago at Single Ladies Book Club.
Once a week—and sometimes it even happened twice a week—the single women of Aspenridge descended on Em-Dash to eat cookies, talk vaguely about books, and watch the firemen across the street wash their truck. Travis decided in his first week of working at the bookstore that that level of estrogen was way too much for him. Since then, he’d always made it a point to be out of here well before the ladies started showing up. But a quick glance at the clock hanging next to my giant stainless-steel fridge confirmed he was cutting it close.
I scooped another cookie off the tray and passed it over to him.
“Thanks, Val. See you tomorrow.” He stuck the cookie in his mouth, grabbed his bag and keys, and rushed out of the kitchen to head home.
Chuckling, I finished plating the rest of the snickerdoodles. The SLBC was scheduled to start in less than fifteen minutes, and eager members would be showing up soon. I scooped the last cookie onto the plate and tossed the trays into the sink to clean later, adding it to the list of things I’d need to take care of before finally heading home.
With Kali gone, my hours at Em-Dash had about doubled, and after getting there at four in the morning to start the daily baking, I was usually exhausted by lunch. Staying until five for book club was just about killing me, but I desperately needed some girl time.
I marched out of the kitchen, cookies in hand, just as the front door opened.
“Where would you like me?” A tall, muscular man stood in the entry, already removing his jacket to reveal a tight T-shirt barely holding back a moan-inducing set of pectoral muscles.
My legs quivered, and I bit my lip hard to keep myself under control. I set the cookies down on a table and pointed to a stool next to a floor lamp. “Will, that work?”
He nodded and gave me a quick wink before pointing at the cookies. “Mind if I snag one of those before we start?”
I simply nodded back, frozen in place. He leaned around me to grab a snickerdoodle, and his tight chest brushed against my shoulder, releasing a deep, musky aroma that didn’t help my thin control. I bit my lip harder. If one touch from this guy was getting me this worked up, I was in desperate need of getting laid.
The chime above the door sounded again and pulled me out of my stupor.
“Well, hello there.” Britney’s cheerful voice cut across the silent bookstore as she focused in on the fire station hottie.
I backed away from the very hard chest and created some distance from the distraction. “Britney, this is . . .” I motioned toward the man, but my brain couldn’t pull up the name I was so desperately searching for.
“Mick,” he offered up. “Mick Forrester.” He held his hand out to me, and I gave it a quick shake.
“Mick is going to be helping us out with book club today. With the weather turning colder, the guys at the firehouse won’t be washing the truck as often. So several of them have graciously volunteered to read for us in exchange for a steady supply of baked goods.”
Mick bit into his cookie and licked crumbs off his full lips. “If everything you send over is this good, you ladies might not be too impressed with the show once the spring weather comes back.” Mick patted his rock-hard abs and gave me another wink.
“Indeed,” Britney said, shooting me a loaded look.
I handed Mick a copy of that month’s book, and thankfully he took it and walked over to his stool. Kali had been the one to suggest inviting the firemen to come to do readings for us since our usual club entertainment was locked away for the winter. At the time, I thought it was brilliant, but I was seriously rethinking that. I knew the girls would flirt and fawn all over the well-built guys, but I didn’t expect the guys to flirt back.
I hurried behind the counter where I’d stashed the chairs for the meeting, and Britney followed tight on my heels.
“Well, that was interesting,” Britney whispered in my ear, casting a coy glance back at Mick still sitting on his stool and flipping through the book I gave him. “If I’m reading that right, I’d say Mr. Fireman is interested in more than just your baked goods.”
I picked up two chairs and steadied my face into what I hoped was a neutral expression. “He can be as interested as he likes, I don’t care so long as he sits pretty on the stool and reads all the sexy bits of the books.”
“Right,” Britney said, rolling her eyes. “So you weren’t at all affected by his solid abs, luscious lips, or charming glances?”
“I can appreciate a fine man without wanting to date him.” I hefted a chair under each arm and turned back toward the front of the store. “Besides, I’ve got enough on my plate between covering Kali’s absence and the holiday baking season. The last thing I need is a guy to complicate things.”
And it wouldn’t matter anyway. I’d screwed up my chance at living happily ever after a long time ago, and that wasn’t something you got a second chance at.
The plan had always been, finish college, move back to Colorado, and run Naked Brews with her dad. That plan fell apart when Lake's dad died and his ex-wife, AKA the absent maternal figure, inherited the brewery. Now Lake will have to convince her perfectionist mom not to sell the place, sweet talk the bank into a loan she has no credit for, and figure out how to turn the failing brewery into a success. No problem.
The job should be simple. Pretend to be his millionaire best friend, buy a failing brewery, and honor their fallen brother-in-arms. But simple went down the drain the minute he met the sassy new brewery manager. Now he's stuck between a loud-mouth sarcasm factory and her mom. He'd prefer to be trapped between Lake and a soft bed, but he swore he wouldn't sleep with the brewery owner. Though technically she doesn't own the brewery...
They both want to buy the same brewery and ignore the chemistry brewing between them. What could possibly go wrong?
This book was previously published as Deliciously Smooth by KB Jacobs (a pseudonym used by Sarah Nego and Christi Snow).
Amazon author page.
There are links to all my books and the universal links on my website...
“Son of a bitch.” I tossed my phone on the desk and blew my bangs out of my eyes. Staring at the coffee machine gurgling in the corner, I willed it to spit out my caffeine.
“Well, a cheery good morning to you as well.” My best friend, Alex, hung her wrinkled cashmere coat on the rack behind the door and brushed a thin dusting of snow from her brown hair. “What’s got you so riled up before nine a.m.?”
I gave her my best pre-coffee smile and banged the ancient machine on the side as if that would speed up the hot water destined to bring me an ounce of sanity. “Eric just called. He’s sick with the bug going around town and won’t be in today. Now I’ve got to open the pub solo on the same day we have a big delivery coming in and we’re tapping a new beer.”
Alex moved a foot-tall stack of unopened mail across the desk and perched on the edge. “You know, Lake, you don’t have to do everything on your own. I can help you open the pub.”
I held in a barking laugh, a true feat of heroism without coffee. “If I wanted the opening to take twice as long as it should, I’d already have you behind the bar.” The coffee machine finally spilled the last of its dark goodness, and I was gracious enough to pour Alex the first cup to soften my words. “I love you, but we both know you’re a disaster in the pub.”
Alex sprinkled a packet of fake sugar into her coffee and grunted her agreement. The last time she helped me behind the bar, we served more beer to the floor than customers, and I had to buy another case of pilsner glasses to replace the ones she dropped.
“Do I smell coffee?” My other bestie, Melissa, walked into the office, still pulling her long blonde hair up into a messy bun.
I held the pot over my head and swirled it once to let the aroma fill the room. “Coffee is for Americans only.”
Melissa glanced down at her Union Jack T-shirt and shot me a withering look. Or it would have been a withering look if her baby face was capable of anything that tough. When that didn’t work, she switched to her puppy dog eyes and stuck out a whimpering bottom lip. She only had to bat her eyelashes over her baby blues once before I relented and handed her a cup of liquid gold.
“I don’t know why I put up with you two.” I poured my own serving into my World’s Greatest Daughter mug.
The office settled into a moment of contented silence. The truth was I never could have survived the past two months without my best friends, and they knew it. After Dad suddenly died and I inherited the brewery much earlier than anticipated, one phone call was all it took for Melissa and Alex to drop everything, uproot their lives, and move to Aspenridge, CO, to help me manage Naked Brews. I owed them everything.
“So what does everyone have on the agenda today?” I sipped my coffee, reveling in all the caffeine goodness flowing through my veins.
Alex set her mug down and brushed lint from her wrinkled slacks. “I have a meeting with a new distributor. If all goes well, this will open up at least a dozen new bars and restaurants we can get on tap with. After that, I’m hitting the website again. It’s now my personal mission to move our social media platform out of 1997.”
After managing her Hollywood parents’ PR for years, Alex had been horrified when she showed up last month and realized the website hadn’t been updated since Dad had paid some college student to set it up over a decade ago.
“Sounds good. Let me know if you need anything for the meeting with the distributor. Melissa?”
Melissa’s soft smile fell to a look of disgust. “I’ve put it off for as long as I can. Today, I am tackling that stack of mail.”
The three of us turned as one to stare at the toppling pile Alex had moved earlier. When Dad died, it was weeks before I could even set foot in the brewery. When I had finally made it in, the thought of opening up letter after letter with his name on it was enough to send me running for the porcelain throne. As the accountant slash office manager, the task fell to Melissa, but even her organization-obsessed fingers didn’t want to touch the overflowing pile.
“On that note, I’m going to leave you to it.” I topped off my coffee and left the office for the safer confines of the bar.
The brewpub was hardly impressive, but since Dad pretty much raised me in Naked Brews, the bar always felt like home. I ran a hand over the wood bar top, smoothed by decades of Colorado men and women enjoying the beer Dad had dedicated his life to. I gave myself a full minute to close my eyes and miss him. Twenty-four years with the best man on Earth wasn’t enough, but it was all I got.
After a minute, I wiped away the tears that always seemed to come when I gave in to thoughts of Dad, and I pulled on my big girl panties.
Harlan walked by the floor-to-ceiling windows that gave me a great view of the brewery. I gave the brewmaster a quick wave and he nodded back, his hands filled with a fifty-pound sack of grain headed for the hopper. As my dad’s best friend and the man in charge of the brewery, he was a bright spot in the midst of the chaos these past few months. When I was bedridden with grief, Harlan was here every day, making sure the brewery stayed operational, just like Dad would have wanted.
I would have preferred to be back behind the glass with Harlan, crushing grain, stirring hops, and soaking in the smoky scent of barley. Running Naked Brews meant more time in the office and less time with the beer, but I was determined to make this brewery the best it could be. Dad was counting on me.
I took one last sip of my coffee and rinsed my mug out in the glass washer. The back of the bar was a mess, and it wasn’t going to clean itself before the lunch crowd came rolling in. We’d been understaffed ever since Dad died and I took over. Some of the guys had quit because they didn’t want to work for a twenty-four-year-old female, especially not one they’d watched go through those awkward teenage years.
I popped some Skynyrd into the ancient CD player, shoved back the sleeves of my Henley, and got to work. Pretty soon, the soothing tones of “Sweet Home Alabama” and the monotony of washing glasses lulled me into a comfortable rhythm of productivity.
I paused in the middle of “Free Bird” to check my phone. Forty-five minutes until opening and Barb, our weekday cook was MIA. I still had to check the kegs, turn on the fryers, set up the line and tap for a new beer, and prep the food station. Not enough time.
Caffeine pumping through my veins, I dashed into the kitchen and hit buttons and switches until the tiny room was awash in fluorescent light and the sound of machines coming to life. With the deep fryer sending off the smell of yesterday’s burnt fries, I turned my attention to the beer cooler. Of course, there wasn’t a single backup keg for any of our draft offerings. I hefted the keg for Hops on Top, our most popular IPA, and nearly knocked myself over when it lifted so easily. There were maybe a half dozen pours left. It wouldn’t last the first ten minutes of lunch.
I checked my phone again. Thirty minutes left and still no Barb. I shot her a quick text and made a beeline for the back of the brewery.
Harlan and the guys were thick in the middle of the day’s brews, but I tried to call out a greeting to each of them as I dashed to cold storage in the back. I pushed open the door to the cold room and pulled a keg of Hops on Top and Smooth Moves just to be on the safe side.
I glanced around the piles of kegs and bottles for the keg dolly, but it was nowhere to be seen. Crap. Leaning out the door, I yelled out to the first guy I saw. “Hey, Colby, where’s the keg dolly?”
Colby scratched at the red patch of hair on his chin and closed his eyes. “Last I saw, it was over by the delivery door.”
I shouted thanks over my shoulder and raced to the door where the dolly waited for me, leaning against the red brick wall. Grabbing it, I wheeled around countless grain bins back to cold storage.
“There you are.” Melissa ran up to me as I wrenched the door open. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“Well, I’ve been everywhere. The bar was a mess, Hops on Top is almost out, and Barb is late.”
Melissa fluttered her hands in front of her in the most Melissa-like movement possible. “I have something I need to talk to you about. It’s really important.”
“Can you talk and walk?” I hefted the kegs on to the dolly and tilted it onto the wheels to head back to the bar.
Melissa trotted after me, wringing her hands like she was trying to kill a chicken. “This is really important. Did I say that?” She stayed hot on my heels as I wheeled back through the brewery and toward the bar. “We should go to the office. Actually, maybe pour a beer first and then come to the office.”
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I eased the dolly down and pulled out my phone. Five minutes until the open sign flashed on unless I wanted a mob of local guys beating down my door.
“This had better be Barb.” I pulled up my text messages, and sure enough, Barb had sent a quick note saying she was running late. “No shit, Sherlock.”
I shoved the phone back into my pocket and angled the dolly back up again.
“Really, Lake. We need to talk.”
“Really, Melissa. This is not the time.” I pushed through into the beer cooler. “Barb is late, so now I’ve got to run the bar and the food until she gets here. I’ve got a keg about to blow, and I still haven’t hooked up the new on-tap offering. “
“I know, I know.” Melissa stood to the side while I offloaded the back-up kegs. “It’s just, this really can’t wait.”
“Is the bar on fire?” I sniffed, inhaling nothing but the scent of burnt french fries and hops. “Nope, didn’t think so.”
Outside, the first rumbling diesel engine pulled into the parking lot. There wasn’t enough time to take the dolly back, which meant I’d have Harlan bitching at me in an hour. I hauled ass back through the kitchen. The fryers were hot and ready, but I had no idea if any of the food I’d need today was prepped or even here. I mentally added kitchen inventory to my to-do list.
Melissa tailed me as I marched into the front of the pub. The lights needed to come on, and I’d just have to pray that Barb would be there soon.
“Lake, I just need a few minutes. This really can’t wait.”
I flipped the light switch that powered the neon tube sign in the window, alerting all of Aspenridge the best beer in Colorado was now available, served cold and fresh. “Dammit, Melissa. I love you, but can’t you see I’m trying and failing to do the job of three people right now? What is so frickin’ important that it just can’t wait one more second?”
Melissa squared her shoulders and looked me dead in the eye. “You don’t own the brewery.”
As an avid reader her entire life, Christi Snow always dreamed of writing books that brought to others the kind of joy she felt when she read. But...she never did anything about it besides jot down a few ideas and sparse scenes.
When she turned 41, she decided it was time to go after her dream and started writing. Within four months, she'd written over 150,000 words and hasn't stopped since.
She's found her calling by writing about sexy, alpha heroes and smart, tough heroines falling in love and finding their passion. An author of twelve novels and two novellas, she's truly living the dream and loving every minute of it. Her days in her West Texas home are spent reading, writing, and taking care of her husband, two kids, and two cats.
Her tagline is... Passion and adventure on the road to Happily Ever After. She's loving this adventure!
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CANDI HEARTAUTHOR OF:
Rad-Reader: How did you come up with this story?
Candi: Well, my main objective for this series of books is going to be about big, beautiful women. I also wanted the leading lady to sort of be “outside the box”–so what better than a female mechanic? I had a lot of fun with Charlyse.
Rad-Reader: Are you a racing fan or anyone in your family?
Candi: The funny part is, no not really. I had to do some research on NASCAR and Grand Prix, where they’re held, types of cars, etc. It was actually really interesting and got me wanting to start watching races (which I had no desire to before—LOL!) I also had a little help from someone who was very familiar with racing.
Rad-Reader: How long has she worked for Tyler?
Candi: Charlyse doesn’t work for Tyler, she works for her father at the mechanic shop.
Rad-Reader: Is this the first time she had been invited to the party for Grand Prix?
Candi: Yes. Tyler’s father was always in charge of the annual party. After his death, Tyler decided to extend it to everyone in the racing circle, to include the “little” people like mechanics, and smaller vendors, versus just the drivers, big companies and celebrities.
Rad-Reader: Ty seems to have fond memories of his father. Why does he shutout the memories?
Candi: He’s not necessarily shutting out memories of his father, but rather thinking about him in general. He misses him too much and it’s just painful to think about him.
Rad-Reader: It’s like he’s afraid some bad memories will surface. Are there some?
Candi: No, he’s got nothing but happy memories of his father.
Rad-Reader: He seems to really like and enjoy Char. What is it about her that he likes over other women he’s been with?
Candi: Charlyse is different. She doesn’t fangirl, she doesn’t have aspirations to be a model or his arm-candy. She’s real, down-to-earth, and doesn’t need to have a man. Plus, Tyler loves curvy women!
Rad-Reader: Ty was walking in his own fear. Was seeing his own driver talking to Char what made him cut her off so badly?
Candi: It had nothing to do with Justin, per se, but more of how it showed Tyler that Charlyse most likely had men chasing her down and that she would be fine once their weekend was over. Tyler’s own insecurities started to come through once he was reminded of that.
Rad-Reader: Was it the connection in the vintage car later that evening that scared him? It was just too close of a connection?
Candi: No, I think Tyler had already made up his mind to let her go by then. If anything, seeing her love of cars and that connection between them was what made him start to waver a little on his decision.
Rad-Reader: Won’t there be long lasting repercussions for his actions in the vintage car?
Candi: Nah, Tyler’s the boss. He can do what he wants.
Rad-Reader: He had to know how badly his words cut Char the next morning, didn’t he?
Candi: He knew the minute he said them, hence the drinking in the bar at 10 a.m.
Rad-Reader: Even though Ty knew he lied to Char and went looking for her. She was gone. He hadn’t continued to pursue her. Why?
Candi: He knew he fucked up. He didn’t think there was anything to say and didn’t believe an apology would cut it.
Rad-Reader: After she got home she was home, how long before Colton came over with the ice cream?
Candi: It had been about two weeks.
Rad-Reader: Did the magazine photo capture something Colton had been wondering about but when said and done better left undone?
Candi: No, Colton doesn’t feel that way about Charlyse. He got caught up in the moment, desperate to make Alyssa jealous and hurt her the way she’d hurt him so many times.
Rad-Reader: If Ty had not seen the picture in the magazine do you think he would have gone after Char anytime soon?
Candi: Yes, there was no way he could stay away. His lovesickness was getting worse. The photo was the catapult that pushed him to over the edge. Reminded him with one picture how much he missed her.
Rad-Reader: If your book was made into a movie who would you have play…
Char: Tara Lynn
Ty: Chris Pine
Colton: Alex Pettyfer
Candi: Those are good comparisons. Tyler probably more resembles Ian Sommerhalter in mind, though.
Rad-Reader: What three things can’t you leave home without?
Candi: Phone, wallet, lipstick
Rad-Reader: What advice would you give to a young author?
Candi: Don’t expect instant success. Read a lot of books in the genre you want to write. Have your work edited professionally and read by trusted beta readers. Get yourself a professional cover done. Hard work pays off, you just have to patient and persistent. Don’t quit after one book, keep writing them.
Rad-Reader: What other genres would you like to explore writing?
Candi: I’m sticking to contemporary romance. Specifically, big, beautiful women and hot alphas!
Rad-Reader: How did you come into writing about racing?
Candi: I wanted my alpha to be a race car driver. Tyler’s character just came to me. The rest of the Curvy Hips & Sexy Lips series is not about racing. All the characters have different occupations, but one thing that remains consistent is that all the female leads are self-employed (or are by the end of the book) and belong to the Curvy Hips & Sexy Lips weight loss website.
Rad-Reader: What is your next project and when is it due out?
Candi: I’m working on two books in the Curvy Hips & Sexy Lips series. One is about a photographer who falls for a video game developer, and the other is about a food blogger who falls for a cardiologist. I’m having so much fun with these sassy girls and growling alpha men!
Rad-Reader: Where can our readers buy your books? Links
Candi: Right now, we’re in Kindle Unlimited so you can read them free if you have KU. Otherwise, just Amazon for now.
Rad-Reader: Where can our readers find you on the Web? Links
Candi: I’m still working on my website, so for now, Facebook and email are the easiest and fastest way to reach me.
Thanks for taking the time answer all my fangirl questions. I know we ask a lot of questions but it lets our reads get a taste of your books and a taste of who you are as an author. Being a BBW it is nice to read ones that actually have a storyline and not just an erotica all the way through. Thank you for that.
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