What better way to throw out the old year and bring in the new? All the Days After on MEGA-SALE. Okay, it sounds cooler when cool words like MEGA-SALE are involved, right?
Either way - BIG feature (note the bombastic verbiage again, so much more exciting this way) for All the Days After going on now - limited time only!!
Enjoy a few teasers to whet your appetite.
Skipping to the melty-knee, mouth watering, lust at first sight scene...
A shrill, grinding sound pierced into her brain. She covered her ears reflexively. Wincing, she walked around the back of her car and caught sight of the racket in the neighboring garage bay.
No wall separated the three single bays of the garage. Just tool benches, boxes, and automotive equipment that formed an unofficial, mobile divider. A pair of legs covered in oil-stained jeans and ratty combat boots stuck out from an antiquated Ford pick-up.
Assuming this was the notorious Asher, Sophie attempted to sneak away. Not that she was a fraidy cat, but she didn’t feel an overwhelming need to meet him just yet. Not after Pippa’s warnings about him. Not when she was tired and likely wouldn’t be very witty or quick on her feet to deal with the rumored Casanova.
Too late. The screeching halted, leaving a thick, deafening silence in its stead. The body connected to the legs shoved out from under the truck and rose to stand.
Oh. So that was Asher.
Floppy as over-boiled spaghetti noodles, Sophie’s legs completely betrayed her, and she worried as to whether they could continue to hold her up. A warm, fuzzy sensation coursed rapidly through her veins. All reasonable brain activity went caput like a fried hard drive, and she forgot her own name.
Before he noticed her, with her mouth gaping open from the next garage bay, he pulled his ratty cotton shirt over his head and used it as a makeshift grease-rag to wipe the black grime off his hands and face. Now that was just unfair. His abs defied reality; that was more than a six-pack. Was that even possible? Without her consent, a dreamy sigh escaped Sophie’s mouth.
Dammit, he heard. Asher turned in the direction of the sound. If he was surprised to see a stranger standing there, he didn’t let it show. “Hey. Want to give me a hand with something?”
What? She managed to pull her gaze from the ridiculously chiseled abs in front of her and looked at his face.
Warm, whiskey eyes surrounded by dark lashes brushed over her from head to toe and back again. His sharply angled jaw was accented by last Friday’s 5 o’clock shadow. His brown hair, a few shades lighter than his stubbled beard, was a few weeks past needing a trim.
The corner of his mouth quirking into a devastatingly attractive smile, he asked, “I can’t get the light at the right angle, mind holding the flashlight?”
She surprised herself with a docile nod of assent and ambled brainlessly over. May as well extend her arms out and start drooling, demanding brains for dinner.
He handed her a flashlight, which she accepted without thinking. As if talking to a clueless child, he showed her the location of the black hole that had swallowed the lost bolt.
Scowling, she remembered herself. She was an intelligent human being. Not a zombie-giggling-horny-groupie flashlight holder. “Actually, I just got in. Pippa’s waiting for me so we can go unload the moving van.”
With a nod and a heartbreaking sigh, he ran a wiped-clean grease-blackened hand through his already mussed hair. “Of course. Sorry. Never mind. I’m good.” Eyes lingering on her lips for a fraction of a second, he shifted his focus to the flashlight.
Well, now she felt like a jerk. Refusing when he tried to take the flashlight back, Sophie moved closer towards the truck. “Sorry, it’s been a really long drive. My brain turned to mush after being stuck on I-5 behind an accident for hours. What do you need?”
Asher’s gaze flashed back to hers and stayed this time. His eyes softened, the whiskey warming to a gooey honey. “Thanks. I really appreciate it. I lost a f***ing bolt.” Gesturing at the engine compartment, he scowled at the beast that had so cruelly swallowed such a tiny, critical part. “If I could just get the light in the right spot to see what I’m doing, I think I can reach it.”
Sophie walked closer to the truck and shined the light down into the engine, searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
“It’s right down there,” he gestured as he approached. Moving to her side, smelling deliciously masculine, all sweaty and half-naked after working in the garage all day, he pointed where he’d last seen the bolt.
Inhaling his mind-bogglingly rugged scent, an unexpectedly appealing mixture of engine oil and mountain air, she tried to focus on her task. “Here, you hold this,” Sophie ordered as she handed him the flashlight.
Stepping up onto the rusty chrome bumper, placing her feet wide apart for stability, she rested one hand on the side of the truck and leaned down over the engine. With her free hand, she grimaced as she reached deeply into the narrow opening where the light shined on the troublesome bolt.
Stretching to her shoulder until she nearly fell head-first into the engine, she was able to grasp it out from the crevice it had been lost in and hopped off of the front bumper. Got it. She almost cheered but didn’t want to sound too eager.
Holding the prize between two fingers, she rested the other hand on her cocked hip and raised an eyebrow. “Looking for this?”
Smiling with relief, he tried to grab the bolt from her hand.
Feeling uncharacteristically flirty, she pulled it away, hid it behind her back and demanded a thank you with a raised eyebrow and a taunting smile. It had been a painfully long time since she’d flirted with an attractive man… and meant it.
Clearly enjoying the challenge as much as she did, he closed the distance between them. Stopping inches away from her, he drove her mad as she ached with the need to get closer, nipples standing at attention. She could feel the heat radiating off his body, warming her down to the bone. Biting her lip, she managed to withhold the dreamy sigh that tried to escape, again.
His hands trailed down her arms, his fingers tracing every groove in her skin, until he reached her hands, his chest a breath away from pressing against hers.
Stunned by the electricity between them, she didn’t have the wherewithal to maintain her tease and her grip loosened. Snatching the bolt from her hand, he stepped back and flipped it in the air like a coin. If she weren’t so aroused by the playful smirk he wore proudly, she’d smack it right off his arrogant face.
Seeing her offence at his lack of politeness - well what was actually an expression of oh-sh!t, because she couldn’t believe she’d reacted so strongly to him - he leaned toward her and placed a sadly fleeting kiss on her cheek. Hesitating a moment longer than needed, he whispered, “Thank you.” His breath brushed across her ear, before he pulled away.
Before she knew what had happened, he was back under the truck. What the hell was that? Her cheek still burned where his lips had been, her hand still gripped the non-existent bolt in the foolish hope that he’d touch her again.
She’d really lost her marbles. Shaking off the moment, she grabbed her bags and headed for the house. Berating herself for falling into exactly the trap Pippa had warned her against, she tried to deny the desire he’d stirred in her.
Pippa was already inside. Lincoln and Grady had gone to unload the bulk of their belongings alone and head home for the evening. Sophie was glad for some peace and quiet. She really enjoyed Lincoln and knew she would hit it off with Grady as a friend, but his persistent attentions were getting exhausting.
Everyone expected them to get together, particularly now that they were best man and maid of honor, and living in the same town, but Sophie just didn’t see it happening. Maybe once she was settled, she’d give it a try.
With her fresh new start, maybe a fresh new look at his handsome face would tempt her. Although, after her response to Asher, she wasn’t so sure.
Okay, I can't resist. One more teaser. A favorite scene:
Sophie needed a break. From everything. Yvette had ruled so much of her life. Faintly, she remembered the few times her own mother had taken Yvette’s call when Sophie was a kid. Occasionally she’d sent money to keep her sister out of prostitution and life on the streets. Or, that’s what Sophie figured out much, much later.
Strolling out to the garage, hair on fire despite an hour of useless meditation, followed by therapeutic spreadsheet design, she decided to take a drive into town. Or something, anyway, to clear her mind.
She needed to get started with work. Soon. Maybe find a place to live. Keep herself occupied.
A familiar screech of mechanic tools rang out from the third garage bay. Asher’s legs stuck out from under the truck. Silence. Another screech. Silence again.
In a flash, Asher appeared from under the truck and popped up to stand, distracted by his current automotive repair mission. From afar, still standing in the huge doorway of the open garage bay, Sophie watched. He hadn’t noticed her yet. He hopped in the driver’s seat and tried the engine.
Started right up with a rumble then a purr. A whoop of satisfaction echoed out of the truck cab. He revved the engine, noting it responding appropriately. Jumping out as quickly as he’d hopped in, Asher checked under the hood.
No squeals or rattles. Better than when he’d tried a few days ago when Sophie had left with Pippa and Denise for yet another round of wedding errands, followed by a lady’s lunch. The grinding sound it made that day had been terrible. Sophie moved closer, not quite sure if she was heading to her car or to Asher.
Something tugged and pulled in her gut the moment he laid eyes on her, creating a gnawing, craving sensation like she hadn’t eaten in days and his touch was the only food that could bring her back from the brink of starvation. His expression heated, her breath caught in response. He dropped the hood and stalked toward her like a predator moving in for the kill.
Stopping a few feet from her, he was careful not to get too close. Not that it cooled anything down. If anything, it made her tense in anticipation of the final strike.
Seeing she held her car keys and purse, the fading redness of her eyes from her self-pitying crying jag, his posture opened. “Where’re you headed?”
“Nowhere, actually. I just need some fresh air.” She looked back to the mountains, hearing them call her name.
“Want to hop in? I need to take her for a test drive.” He gestured toward the smoothly running truck with a shrug and a smile.
Biting her lip, she nodded. “Sure.” Finding herself suddenly the shy one, she climbed in as he held the door open for her with subtle finesse.
They were quite the pair today, she noted as he climbed in the driver’s side. She wore a pink cotton sundress, her hair neatly straightened and styled in an effort to perk herself up. As usual, he wore a low-slung pair of jeans with a fitted, ragged t-shirt; this one had SEAL printed across it and had clearly seen better days, as the jersey fabric was faded with a few rips scattered around the stiff white letters.
Backing out of the garage, his hand rested on the seat behind her. He wasn’t even touching her, wasn’t even trying to make a move, and her skin prickled, longing for a physical connection. He shifted into drive and the truck rumbled down the driveway. Her shoulder suddenly felt cold at the loss of the almost-contact.
Turning up the hill, he tested the engine’s muster up the hill, it’s rumbling engine complaining, but cooperating.
“Don’t you think we ought to stay within cell phone range in case the truck breaks down?” Despite the recent improvement in the truck’s functionality, she had her doubts it would make it up the mountain roads. After all, this was the first she’d ever seen it leave the driveway.
Scoffing, Asher shook his head in feigned disbelief. “This baby will do fine. Besides, I brought my toolbox just in case. And, I brought this great long, skinny arm that can reach into awkward places in the engine to retrieve things for me.”
“That’s a brilliant plan. Unless we need a tow.”
Glancing over at her, he looked a little defensive with his jaw set firmly. “Hey, Grandpa bought this truck right off the lot in the early 1970’s; over three hundred thousand useful miles on it. It’s a worthy truck.”
Sophie could hear the fondness for the rusted piece of machinery. “It’s a classic; I’m not questioning that. You must be a decent mechanic to have kept it running all this time. Did you learn that from your grandpa?”
“Yeah,” he answered wistfully, his head tilting and his eyes steady on the road.
“Denise or Paul’s dad?” She’d met Denise’s dad twice before he passed away. He was a jovial man with a rubrous complexion and a smattering of wiry gray hairs on the top of his head, but he hadn’t quite seemed like he’d ever been the handy sort.
“Paul’s. The second Sutherland of Sutherland’s Hardware, but a much better grandpa and mechanic than shop owner.” His tone was pure pride.
“You were close?”
Asher kept one hand on the shifter and the other loosely on the wheel as they crossed a long bridge over a rocky river, continuing to climb in altitude. “Yeah. Grandpa retired early, as my dad was more than ready to take over. Plus, Grandpa preferred to play. So, while Dad worked 70-hour weeks - mind you, that he didn’t have to work - Grandpa would come over and take me fishing, hiking, camping.”
“Pippa was fond of him, too. He and your grandma. He passed away, what, five, six years ago?” The truck wound round the bends of the hillside as they gradually increased altitude.
“Yeah. I was deployed, deep cover op, and didn’t find out for two months. He and grandma were on a cruise in Alaska. He got sick while they were there and died of pneumonia a few weeks later. Refused to admit it was more than a simple virus. Pissed Grandma off so much, she followed him to the grave a few months later. Stubborn ass.” The words sounded harsh, but the tone was regretful, affectionate.
“I’m so sorry.” Sophie didn’t know how to respond. She’d lost so many, she ached to think of others going through that same pain.
Before reality sunk in too deeply and irrevocably, in the form of Yvette’s disinterest and manipulation, she used to imagine what it would be like if she’d had a grandparent that could have taken her in when her mom died. Chocolate chip cookies after school, trips to the park or the movies, learning to sew, knit, fish, and camp. Life doesn’t always work out the way it should.
He patted her knee and gave her leg a sympathetic squeeze before moving his hand back to downshift for the next turn. Slowing the truck, they pulled into an overgrown road Sophie wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. Not seeming to care that not much was left of the road, Asher drove them over the grassy ruts, breaking branches of the shrubs and low hanging trees along the way.
“Are we allowed to be down here?”
“Not exactly. It’s an old logging road, but it sold hands three or four times within a few months’ time, years ago, so no one realized they never locked the gate. Those of us who noticed didn’t exactly advertise it.”
After a quarter mile of bucking and bumping in the springy old seats, they came to a small clearing with scattered stumps and patches of tall grass. No concerns about traffic, they parked in the middle of the path. Looking her up and down, taking in her attire, he hesitated. “It’s a bit of walk; you okay in that?”
Sophie glanced at her outfit. The dress was one of her favorites, pretty but practical. She’d worn light tennis shoes with it. “All good. We should have brought a picnic.”
They climbed out of the truck. Asher came around to meet her and led the way. “Didn’t you just have lunch?”
“Yes. But now we’re out in nature so I feel like I need to bring supplies.” She grinned up at him. Hiking hadn’t exactly been Yvette’s thing, of course, but her mom had loved to hike and would always bring a backpack full of snacks, even for brief jaunts in the park.
“Hang on.” Asher disappeared for a moment, returning with a branch of leaves and berries. He popped one of the orangey red berries in his mouth and handed her the tasty looking bundle.
“I didn’t know raspberries grew wild around here.” She took the offered branch and studied one of the berries.
“Salmonberries. They’re everywhere around here this time of year. Try one.”
Popping one in her mouth, she was surprised at the pleasant taste. A bit seedier and more tart than a raspberry, but very refreshing. “Thanks.” She munched a few more as they walked.
Before long, they reached a babbling brook bathed in shade from the surrounding maples and alder. The place was a surprising oasis, something one might find in a fairyland. Linking his hand with hers, Asher led her over and under a few fallen trees until he found just the right one.
They stepped up onto a massive tree trunk that had fallen across the creek. Maybe a foot and a half wide, it was wide enough that she didn’t have to worry much about watching her balance. The bark was already stripped off by time and weather, so she had no trouble walking across it. Asher stopped halfway across and sat down, his feet dangling over the side. Sophie sat next to him on the log, her feet facing upstream while his faced down, a few inches of space between them. They watched the stream pass below them, the surface of the water a good three feet beneath their shoes.
At first, they took in their surroundings, listening to the summer birds chattering away around them. Eventually, they commented about the scenery, the weather, growing into more personal topics. They visited comfortably until Sophie’s cheeks hurt from smiling and chatting. Later, she couldn’t have recalled what they talked about. Something, nothing, anything.
For someone his family didn’t think talked much, he was surprisingly easy to visit with. Even more so out here than he was over their morning coffee. She didn’t want to pry, but from some of the things he said, it was more than the distance and friendships that had widened the distance between he and Pippa.
Such polar opposites, Pippa and Asher may not have understood each other as kids, but there was hope for them to figure it out now. She didn’t bring it up today; they were having too nice of a time. Knowing them both well, she could see they just needed to break down a few walls to be good friends again.
Paul was a good dad; he just didn’t see Asher for who he was. Maybe never had. Although, it sounded like Asher hadn’t made any effort to show him anything worth seeing, in his youth or lately. Which, Sophie regretted, was unfortunate, as she was getting to see so many of his good traits.
Rays of sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy above, dancing across the babbling creek below. A maple leaf floated downstream, under the log, then continued on its merry way. Sophie leaned her head on Asher’s shoulder, more relaxed than she’d been in ages. He’d definitely picked the right spot for her to decompress.
“Hang on. Don’t look as I try to stand up; there’s no discreet way to do this in a dress.” Swinging her legs up onto the log, Sophie tried to maintain her decency as she stood.
“No promises.” He didn’t promise, but she noted he did try to avert his eyes from any potential underwear showage. For a pair trying to avoid anything beyond friendship, flashing him intentionally wouldn’t be prudent. Didn’t stop her from considering it.
Returning with an armful of sticks and leaves, Sophie sat down on the log, straddling it this time, facing Asher. The dress was a bit high on the thighs in this position, but she managed to keep it PG.
Laughing with total confusion, Asher flipped his leg across their fallen tree, so he straddled the log facing her. “Did I miss something? Are you part beaver? Bird? Other forest animal building a home?”
Chuckling, she shook her head, “Didn’t you ever read Winnie the Pooh? It’s a favorite pastime in the Hundred Acre Wood.” She handed him a stick. “On the count of three, drop your stick.”
Holding their sticks as far upstream as they could reach, they let go on three. Watching the sticks pass beneath them, Sophie cried out with a whoop of delight, “My stick won.”
“I think that was my stick. Yours was bent more than that.” Laughing at himself, or the silliness of the situation, he was getting into the game.
Flipping her hair out of the way, she was in full competitive mode now. “Nice try. I totally won that round.” Holding her stick up, he caught her drift and raised his up for comparison so there would be no argument this time.
The game went on until the last of the sticks, some broken in half to make it last longer, had been tossed in the stream. “You’re going to make some beaver or salmon very happy downstream.”
Both giggled like silly children as the last of their sticks drifted out of sight. Asher glanced down, suddenly a hot-blooded adult, noting that her skirt had hiked up a little further in the excitement of the game. She was just barely covering the important stuff.
Looking back up, his eyes locked onto hers. Slowly, he grazed his hand up her thigh, teasing the edge of her skirt with his thumbs. Eyes hungry, melting her with the heat behind them, he asked, “This okay?”
Brain turned to mush, entirely distracted by the feather light contact, Sophie nodded, biting her lower lip as she struggled to steady her breathing, “Yes.”
He shifted closer to her along the fallen tree, pulling her legs over his to link them together. Both hands now stroking the smooth skin of her legs, teasing along the edge of her dress, he leaned in and lightly touched his lips to hers.
Pulling back no more than a breath away, his eyes didn’t stray from her lips. “This okay?”
Sophie reached her hand up and ran her fingers through his tousled hair as she gripped the back of his head to pull him closer. Lips touching in a light kiss, both smiling playfully, she whispered, “Yes.”
Running her tongue along the crease of his lip, she urged him on. He groaned in response and moved his hands up to her waist, pulling her closer against him. Deeper, more intense, they moved together as the creek murmured beneath them. Hands splayed around her waist, he held her steady as he kissed her, exploring, tasting, experiencing.
She felt herself slipping irretrievably into uncharted territory. Sensation rocketed through her; her heart thundered like an avalanche in her chest.
Pulling away before she was ready, equally breathless, he leaned his forehead against hers, his hand moving to her cheek in a soft caress. “The sun’s starting to set. We should probably get back.”
Hating to see the moment end, but knowing he was right, she agreed. Both rose cautiously on the log, a little less steady than they had been a few moments ago. Sophie held his hand to steady herself, more emotionally than physically.
Continuing hand-in-hand to the truck, they didn’t say a word. They climbed into the ancient pickup and Asher fired up the engine. Tried, anyway. It didn’t move. He turned the key again. Nothing.
“Sh!t. Hang on.” Groaning in frustration, Asher climbed out of the truck.
Sophie glanced at her phone. Nothing. Out of range. Refusing to sit helplessly, despite having no idea how to fix a car, she joined him and stared cluelessly under the hood.
Dashing to the truck bed, he grabbed a few tools and started tightening bolts, checking connections. Sophie didn’t know much about engines, but she did know batteries well enough. “Is this supposed to be loose like that?”
Asher stepped over to her and looked at the wire that should have been attached to the battery she was looking at. He laughed out loud. “Yep, that’s the one. Must have come loose on the bumpy road. I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t think to check the damn battery first. Let’s just blame my wandering imagination.” He flashed her a dashing wink.
He quickly connected the detached wire and hopped back into the truck. Sophie strolled cheerfully back into the truck. His self-effacing attitude, the pure appreciation without criticism or chauvinistic undermining, was incredibly refreshing. Not that she’d dated too many jerks, but there were enough out there that that she was wary.
The engine fired right up this time. “Nice one.” He leaned across and pulled Sophie in for a brief, but heated kiss. As he pulled away, he plucked a twig from her hair. “Let’s get back before anyone notices we left together.”
Sophie sighed, wishing they had more time. “I hate secrets.”
“Me too. Let’s feel things out and see how it goes? I don’t want to stress Pippa out before the wedding. Let’s not provoke the wasp’s nest of pre-wedding psychosis she’s developed. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” He paused, considering. “I only promised to not have sex with you, and I haven’t broken her trust on that one. Yet.” He flashed a tempting glance her way before turning the truck around in the clearing and getting them back on the road.
“For now, we can see where this goes, up to but not including sex, so neither of us breaks that promise. Feels like a lie of omission, but I’m willing fudge it a bit.” Whew. Sophie rolled down the window even further to cool her raging sex drive.
How had this happened so quickly? It had been forever since she’d been so caught up in someone. Never, actually, that had she felt the fire in her belly with a simple look from someone. One easy glance from those whiskey eyes, and her limbs went weak and burned like she’d taken a shot of the smoothest whiskey in the bar.
They pulled up to the house a short while later. Pippa was just heading into the house with grocery bags full of food and flowers and wine bottles. She briefly took note of the truck pulling in the driveway, but thankfully didn’t stick around to chat.
Sophie knew her friend’s fear came from losing more than one good friend due to the heartache Asher could cause if things went poorly with Asher. As long as she protected her heart and didn’t ditch Pippa, she was good to go. Right?
Asher parked quickly and checked Sophie one more time. He pulled another twig from her hair. Running her hands through her hair, she made sure it was the last. “That could make this afternoon look way worse than it was.”
He grinned smugly and soothed her with a warm chuckle. “Agreed.”
Sophie reached across and smoothed out his hair where she had dug her hands into it. After climbing out of the truck and making sure it didn’t look like anything had happened, they grabbed the final grocery bags from Pippa’s car and headed into the house. She bit her lip to hide the happy smile that was rapidly becoming uncontainable.