HERE TOMORROW 7 PM PST. TERRI OSBURN AUTHOR OF: RISING STAR SEE EXCERPTS
7 PM PST.
Can love survive the bright lights of fame?
A popular DJ at the hottest station in Nashville, Charley Layton is doing what she’s always wanted to do: living in the heart of country music. Charley puts her career first and relationships second, but when a charismatic stranger in a black cowboy hat invites her back to his place, she decides to give herself one night of no-strings fun.
But Dylan Monroe isn’t a no-strings kind of guy. Charley is beautiful, brainy, and brassy as hell—the kind of girl he’s always wanted. When his record label books him an interview on Charley’s show, he’s determined to find out why he woke up alone, and when he can see her again.
With Dylan now the most eligible bachelor in country music, Charley doubts their fling stands a chance, but she’s willing to try. Dylan dreams of fame, but he also craves a life offstage with Charley. Can he convince her that both of their dreams are worth chasing, and that love is still possible, even in the spotlight?
“They’re coming this way,” Charley hissed, bracing herself for the pretty boy’s disdain.
“I’ll take care of this,” Matty said with a frustrated huff. “They’ll be on their way in seconds.”
Charley had yet to witness her friend in action. This was going to be fun.
“Thanks for the drink,” Matty said before the ball cap guy could spout his opening line. He’d turned the hat around, revealing a field of freckles sprinkled across his nose and cheeks. “I’m not interested in another one,” she informed him. “Or anything else you have to offer.”
“I haven’t offered anything else,” he replied with a smile. “Yet.” Charley gave him credit for taking the direct hit with grace. “What’s your name?”
Ice-blue eyes narrowed. “Matilda,” she answered.
“Pretty name,” Ball Cap returned. Very smooth. “I’m Casey Flanagan.”
“I don’t care,” Matty replied, her pink lips curled in a fake smile. “My friend and I are here to celebrate her birthday. We aren’t looking for company.”
As Matty delivered the blow-off, the sexy figure in the black hat sauntered over to Charley.
She couldn’t believe he’d deigned to speak to her. “Hi,” she replied, knocked off balance by his nearness. God, he smelled good.
The timbre of his voice sent heat dancing up her cheeks. And ignited a few embers in lower regions as well. “Thanks.”
“I eat guys like you for breakfast.”
Charley nearly choked. She’d given a man the brush-off a time or two, but she would never be as badass as Matty Jacobs.
“Want to dance?” asked the man in the black hat. He’d clearly been cast in the role of wingman, charged with getting Charley out of the way.
Before she could answer, Matty’s admirer said, “I’m willing to take the risk.”
The blonde smiled. “I bet you are.”
In the two and a half months they’d been roommates, Charley had never seen Matty smile at a man. Especially not like that. If Freckle Face could achieve such a feat, he deserved his shot.
“Sure,” Charley said to the cowboy. “I’ll dance.”
The moment she slid her hand into his, the room shifted beneath her feet. With a firm but tender grip, he led her to the dance floor, spun her into the shifting crowd as if they’d rehearsed the move a dozen times, and set them both into motion without bumping into any of the other dancers. Lucky for Charley that she’d been two-stepping since junior high because her partner could hold his own with the pros.
“Is your friend’s name really Matilda?” he asked.
Considering he had yet to ask for Charley’s name, she stiffened with irritation. “Yes.”
“And is it really your birthday?”
Eyes locked on his collar, she offered another one word answer. “Yes.”
The song rolled into the next, but her partner showed no indication of ending their dance.
She met his gaze. “Twenty-five.”
Full lips split into a panty-melting grin. “Good to know. I’m Dylan,” he offered, changing direction so that she no longer danced backward. “What’s your name?”
All too aware of how easily this man could charm her into things Charley had no business doing, she ignored his question and asked one of her own.
“How long are we going to keep this up?”
“That depends.” He shrugged, causing his biceps to flex beneath her touch. “Did you have some other activity in mind?”
Ignoring the implication, and the urge to examine the rest of his muscles, she said, “We both know that you only asked me to dance to give your friend a clear shot at my roommate. There’s no need to pretend you’re actually interested in me.”
Pulling her closer, Dylan whispered into her ear. “What makes you think I’m not interested?”
Charley shivered as his breath caressed her neck. The distraction caused her to lose her footing, but Dylan kept her upright with little effort.
“I saw you across the bar,” she explained, determined to keep her senses. “You were obviously unhappy about your friend’s choice of targets.”
A deep chuckle rumbled through his chest, sending sensual vibrations through hers. “I was informing my friend that he was about to get his ass handed to him. Miss Matilda is out of my boy’s league, as I’m sure you’d agree, but Casey was hell-bent on making a fool of himself.”
Craning her neck to peer through the crowd, Charley saw Matty toss her head back in laughter. “Don’t look now, but I think he’s proving you wrong.”
Another quick turn and Charley’s back was to the bar.
“I’ll be damned,” Dylan mumbled.
The full smile would have been enough to turn her inside out, but the moment he tipped the hat up to reveal a twinkle in his blue eyes, Charley knew she was in trouble. Big trouble.
“You’ve done your duty, then,” she said. “No need to keep up the charade.”
The smoky depths dropped to hers, sweeping the breath from her lungs. They’d stopped moving.
“You still haven’t told me your name,” he said, his attention dropping to her lips.
“I’m Charley.” Voice cracking, she cleared her throat and tried again. “My name is Charley.”
A slow song filled the air, lazy and seductive, and Dylan shifted into a gentle sway that lit every circuit in her system.
“Nice to meet you, Charley.”
Unsure how to respond, she nodded. “Nice to meet you, too, Dylan.”
As if they’d signed a truce, her partner tucked her hand atop his heart and rested his chin against her hair. Unable to help herself, Charley surrendered, if for only one song, and relaxed into his arms.
Three days into life with her new neighbor and Carrie Farmer wanted to shove a tailpipe up the man’s nose. Sideways.
The newcomer had no respect for the people around him. Though, technically, they were the only two houses for half a mile, so in reality, he had no respect for her. And he definitely didn’t think twice about sleeping babies if the last two nights were any indication.
Enough was enough.
“I can do this,” she muttered, stepping through her side gate to cross onto his property.
The farmhouse had sat vacant since Carrie moved in a year ago. She’d assumed the family who owned it would sell off the rest of the land one plot at a time, in sizes similar to the one she’d purchased. Thanks to a small life insurance policy on her deceased husband, Carrie had been able to put a modest single-wide trailer on her lot, and she’d enjoyed blissful peace and quiet ever since.
That peace and quiet no longer existed thanks to the jerk next door.
When she reached his porch, she fortified her resolve with several deep breaths. Confrontation made her nervous, for good reason. Seeking conflict wasn’t Carrie’s style, but this man had messed with her child, and that could not be ignored.
Plucking up the courage, she knocked on the door and then shuffled several steps backward. Nothing stirred inside. She knocked again. No response. What the heck? The red truck next to the house meant someone was home. Carrie moved down the porch to peer through a window, but the second she pinned her nose to the glass, a roaring engine shattered the silence. She nearly peed her pants as her heart threatened to beat right out of her chest. With clenched fists, she bit back the profanity dancing on the tip of her tongue. As Molly was on the cusp of talking, Carrie did her best to keep her language baby appropriate.
But dammit to hell, that thing was loud. Much louder than it had sounded through her trailer walls.
“This is ridiculous,” she murmured, charging down the steps and around the side of the house. Nearly fifty yards away stood the scene of the crime—an old barn turned garage that did nothing to buffer the sound coming from inside. By the time Carrie reached the entrance, the noise cut off, and she hustled to take advantage of the quiet.
The dimness of the garage compared to the blinding September sun made seeing anything inside nearly impossible. One motorcycle hovered on a table to her right. Though, upon closer inspection, she realized the frame was empty. Clearly not the source of the problem. Another machine occupied the center of the space, and as her eyes adjusted, Carrie recognized a figure crouched down on the other side of it.
“Excuse me?” she said. “Can I have a word with you?”
Without getting up, a baritone voice said, “If you’re looking for money, I don’t have any. If you’re recruiting for God, I’ve already punched my ticket to hell. Anything else, I’m not interested, so haul your scrawny ass back to the road and take a hike.”
Undeterred, Carrie said, “I’m here to talk about that monstrosity that you’re hiding behind.”
Rising out of the shadows, he said, “Did you just insult my bike?”
Carrie swallowed hard. Dark eyes narrowed under full brows that matched the reddish-brown whiskers covering half his face. With slow, methodical movements, he wiped his hands on a dirty rag, causing the muscles along his shoulders to flex beneath stained white cotton. Years of living with her former husband had made Carrie an expert at recognizing danger. Keeping one eye on the looming giant, she scanned the area for a weapon, aware that without one, she didn’t stand a chance against a man this size. His arms were larger than her thighs, for heaven’s sake, and the rest of him was proportioned to match.
A crowbar leaned against the table to her right. She could probably get to it before he did.
“I’m not here to insult anything,” she assured him, hoping her bravado would hold out. “But I have a baby next door who needs to be able to sleep through the night without that thing thundering to life at two in the morning.”
Surely any reasonable person would feel bad about waking a baby. Then again, this bearded behemoth didn’t look at all reasonable.
Instead of offering an apology, he stepped around the bike, his heavy boots thudding in the dirt with each step. Carrie scooted closer to the crowbar.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
“Like I said. I live next door. I’m sure you’ve seen me in the last few days.”
He shook his head, releasing a long, wavy lock to hang over his right eye. “No, it’s more than that. I’ve met you before.”
As if she’d forget meeting a towering mass of muscle who bore an uncanny resemblance to a grizzly bear. “I don’t think so.”
“What’s your name?”
His eyes went wide. “As in Patch Farmer?”
Panic raced like a gas fire up her spine. “He was my husband.”
“You’re that married chick he was seeing the last time I was home.”
“I can’t believe he married you.”
The insult stung like a slap.
“Life is full of surprises,” she said through gritted teeth. “Are you going to stop cranking this machine every night or not?”
He held up both hands in surrender, the rag dangling from callused fingers. “I get the message. I’ll work on something else at night.”
Satisfied, Carrie nodded. “Thank you. I won’t bother you again.”
“Hold up,” he said, following her out of the garage. “Is the kid Patch’s?”
This man took being a jerk to new levels. Without turning around, she replied, “Yes, she’s Patch’s baby. I was pregnant when he died last summer.”
“Slow down.” The moment his hand touched her wrist, she jerked away, spinning to protect herself.
“Don’t touch me,” she snapped.
“Whoa.” Again he held his hands palm out. “I’m not going to hurt you, lady. Patch was my friend. I just want to know about his kid.”
Reluctant to discuss Molly with this stranger, she asked, “If he was your friend, why weren’t you at the funeral?”
His stance tensed. “Because I was stuck in a desert trying not to get my head blown off.”
Recognition dawned. “Noah?” she said, trying to see the man beneath the beard. “Noah Winchester?”
She had met him before. Except he hadn’t been anywhere near this size, and he’d been clean-shaven with the typical military buzz cut. Of course, he’d been an ass back then, too. Of all the people who could have moved in next door, why did it have to be one of Patch’s friends?
Pointing out the obvious, she said, “You don’t look like a guy in the military.”
He tucked the rag in his back pocket, stretching the cotton over his broad chest. “The hair and beard were necessary to blend in for my last assignment. I got used to it, so I kept them after I got out.”
“So you’re living here permanently?” Please say no. Please say no.
“I am.” Of course he was. “This house belonged to my grandparents. No one told me a piece of the land had been sold off.”
“The trailer should have been a big clue,” she said.
The hint of a grin drew her attention to his full lips. The top one curved like a perfect bow. She felt the urge to follow that curve with her fingertip.
Blinking, Carrie gave herself a mental slap. Where the heck had that come from? There would be no lip touching. Or anything else touching, for that matter.
“You interested in selling it back?” he asked.
Dragging her brain back to reality, she said, “Sell what back?”
“The land. I’d rather be out here by myself.”
Of all the . . . She’d worked hard for this little piece of heaven, and she’d definitely earned it. Noah Winchester could blow it out his tailpipe if he thought she’d hand over her land so he could fire up his stupid toys whenever he wanted.
“This is my home. I’m not going anywhere.”
Tucking the loose hair behind his ear, he sighed. “I was afraid you’d say that.”
“I have no intention of bothering you again,” she said, more than happy to give him his space, if not his land. “Keep the noise to the daylight hours and we won’t ever have to talk again.”
“Fine by me,” he said. “But I have one request.”
Carrie held the eye roll in check. She’d do just about anything to keep him out of her hair. “What’s that?”
“I want to meet Patch’s daughter.”
Anything but that.
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