by Carol Burnside
Contemporary Romance, Sensual
Release date: 09.16.2016
Novel length, e-book
This book is the third in the Sweetwater Springs series of stand-alone books by Carol Burnside.
J.T. Baxter is having a very bad year. As if adjusting to widower status and caring for two sons, weren’t enough, he has a landscaping business to keep afloat with a loan coming due. The last thing he needs is the town princess waltzing into his life with a business proposal he can’t afford to refuse.
Cassandra Bing feels adrift after her father’s death, a nasty broken engagement and enduring a job she loathes. She’s searching for her niche, something that would’ve made her dad proud and will bring her fulfillment. But gardening is a hot, dirty business, and soon she’s wishing she’d made a different sort of proposition to the sexy dad.
As attraction escalates between J.T. and Cass, tensions grow in a house where secrets fester. Can her presence begin to heal the Baxter household, or will their tender feelings become a casualty of the impending emotional storm?
Fans of Marie Ferrarella, Tanya Michaels, Leanne Banks and Susan Mallery will enjoy this series, which contains sensual romance against a backdrop of family and community.
Book 1: A Suitable Wife (Rosie Baxter and Sam Moreland), January, 2014
Book 2: Her Unexpected Family (Claire Larkin and Travis Baxter), February, 2014
Other titles are planned for this series.
Cass opened her eyes the next morning and groaned. It was ungodly early, but she’d slept like the dead after the day she’d put in yesterday. There was too much to do for her to lollygag in bed, but the memory of kissing J.T. popped immediately to mind along with the feel of his hand closing over her breast.
She smiled, taking a moment to revel. Now that had been the best part of the day. Working toward building her own business was satisfying, but kissing him had made her body come alive for the first time in a long, long time. She stretched, then gasped as sore work-worn muscles protested.
Throwing back the covers, she came to a decision regarding that talk he wanted to have and suddenly couldn’t wait to get to work. She sped through her morning routine, happy to ditch corporate clothes for skinny aqua capris, a pale gray buttoned front tunic and Croc sandals in aqua and gray. There was no reason she shouldn’t coordinate while doing dirty grunt work.
If she’d had hopes of seeing J.T., they were dashed when their paths crossed on the road just before she reached his driveway. He had the boys in the truck, obviously taking them to school.
Inside Number One, she donned an apron, cued up her favorite rock playlist on her iPod, and went straight to work. She paused after the tenth flat was filled and undulated her hips to a Bon Jovi favorite, a trowel in one hand. As the song reached the chorus, she tossed the trowel aside and dug into the dance, then glanced up and gasped.
J.T. stood about eight feet away, leaning against a support pole, watching. He was the picture of casual from his stance to his jeans to his work boots, an unbuttoned plaid shirt hanging loose over a plain white tee.
Cass pulled the buds from her ears and silenced the music. “You’re back.”
Way to state the obvious, Cass. She couldn’t get a read on his expression as he continued to stare at her. Peruse her was more accurate, because his gaze traveled the length of her and back.
She lifted her chin. “Was there something you wanted?”
He narrowed the gap between them to an arm’s length and scowled. “Don’t ask me that. I came back to tell you we can’t do this.”
And just like that Cass’s world stilled. Images of the things they could do together crashed through her mind like a movie on fast forward. She shook back her hair and tilted her chin up to meet his gaze. “Oh, but we can.”
There was a warning with her name, but she chose to ignore it along with the nervous quiver in her stomach. “We started something last night that begs to be finished. You know it and I know it. The where and when remains to be seen.”
“We’re business partners. I have kids and no time for…” He trailed off with a pained look.
At least he hadn’t said he wasn’t ready. If he had, she would have understood, even if it had been well over a year since he’d lost his wife. Cass held onto her bravado and pressed onward. “For what? Hot, sweaty sex?”
“For God’s sake, Cass—”
“Who doesn’t have time for sex?”
“Please stop saying sex.” He looked away from her, emphasizing the request with a frustrated hand flourish.
It appeared she’d flustered him. Cass smiled, gaining confidence. “Avoiding the word won’t keep either of us from imagining the possibilities of where and when and whether clothes are involved.”
Oh, how she’d imagined. All through her shower and the drive here, she could hardly think of anything else.
J.T.’s gaze targeted her chest, then swung away, his neck flushing with color.
“Yes. Today I’m wearing a bra. Panties, too. Would you like to know what kind?”
“No.” His cheeks puffed on an exhale, and his gaze raked over her again. “Yes.”
She sashayed closer and slid her arms around his neck. “A lace thong in nude, and the bra matches. Practically looks like I’m not wearing anything at all.”
“You’re deliberately baiting me.” His gaze, while reflecting a definite interest, remained wary. “It’s been a long time for me, Cass. You don’t know what you’re asking for.”
“Don’t I?” Her question was hardly more than a whisper, so the sharp double ding of her cell signaling an incoming text was especially loud.
J.T. flinched. “Aren’t you going to get that?”
“I’d rather finish this conversation.”
He took a step toward her phone where it lay beside her gloves and trowel, then looked at the screen as it dinged again. “Says you have a message from Randy. Sure you don’t want to get it?”
Ohmigod. Today was Friday. She’d completely forgotten about the plans she’d made with her ex-boss. Shock must have registered on her face, because J.T.’s eyes narrowed before he picked up her phone and touched the screen.
His gaze lifted to hers, as if asking permission to intrude on her privacy.
Having nothing to hide, she shrugged.
J.T. tapped the screen. “He says he’s looking forward to dinner tonight and will pick you up at six-thirty.”
What God-awful timing. She reached for her phone, but J.T. held it out of her reach, his jaw jutting forward.
“Don’t ever toy with me again, Cass.”
“No excuses!” he ground out through clenched teeth while taking a step back. “I get that you’re spoiled and may be used to having a string of men, but I don’t operate like that. When I’m with a woman, it’s exclusive. I don’t date or have casual sex, nor do I want to. I’ve got kids and a mortgage and a business to run. Playing sex games isn’t even on my radar. Let’s keep things all business between us. So save your kisses and flirting for Randy, who probably lives up to his name.”
His voice escalated with each line delivered. Cass held her tongue, suspecting there was more at play here than had to do with the heavy flirtation they’d been engaged in. What, she wasn’t sure. Neither of them was emotionally invested enough for this kind of reaction. Exclusivity? Sex games? They’d shared one kiss.
It also didn’t miss her notice that even though J.T. was shouting and veins stood out on his neck and forearms, she wasn’t fearful of him. He was angry, but not threatening.
She kept her voice low and soft. “Just so you know, I made that date before I moved here. I wasn’t toying last night nor was I toying a few minutes ago. I was acting on genuine interest.”
“Until the next guy shows up.” Both his voice and glare held contempt that twisted her heart. “Don’t cancel your date on my account. I assure you that would be a futile move because I’m out of the equation.”
How had he gotten so mistrustful? “It was a kiss and an almost kiss, J.T. Okay, a really interesting kiss, but —”
“Interesting?” He sounded more intrigued than irritated now.
“Yeah, interesting in a I-wanna-climb-inside-your-pants-and-play kind of way, y’know?” His eyes widened at her casual description, and she wondered if she’d gone too far, scared him off. “Doesn’t mean I want to drag you to the altar, but we’re both adults, J.T. I could deal with an exclusive, steamy affair.”
Had she really said that out loud?
“Damn, Cass. Haven’t you ever heard of a filter?”
She opened her mouth to say she’d been joking, to take it back, but the words wouldn’t form. “I wouldn’t say those things to just any guy, but I know you. There are times for polite responses, and there are times for the bald truth. I stifled my thoughts and words a lot when I was with Dean. Look what kind of relationship that got me.”
He exhaled and his shoulders looked less tense. “See? That’s the problem right there. What you’re suggesting isn’t a relationship. It’s a series of…booty calls.”
Deep inside her abdomen, muscles contracted and her belly heated at the idea of J.T. calling her for sex. She’d never had such primitive reactions to a man’s words. “I got the distinct impression you weren’t interested or ready for a relationship.”
She lifted one shoulder, pretending his quick admission didn’t sting. “So, either we pretend there’s no chemistry between us, or we let the fire burn until it goes out.”
“I have too much at risk to take a chance on this business venture ending up in ashes, too.”
“One doesn’t have to affect the other.” Cass recognized the words as nonsense while they crossed her lips. He was right. Her heart sank as his brows rose, no doubt questioning her sanity.
There was too much at stake to indulge in their attraction. The business, for one. It had already become important to her. She didn’t want to lose the feelings of purpose, of building something worthwhile and having something to look forward to each day.
J.T.’s boys were another consideration. They wouldn’t understand the grown-up arrangement and could be hurt. So… what? She and J.T. would sneak around like horny teens? Obviously, she hadn’t given the whole affair thing a lot of thought.
He was the voice of reason, while she’d acted out the part of spoiled brat to perfection. She pulled a face. “Damn it. I hate to admit it, but you have a point.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Reviews will appear here…