Author- Sara Jane Stone
On-sale- January 20th
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He was nobody's hero until he landed in the wrong bed … Armed with a golden retriever and a concealed weapons permit, Lena Clark is fighting for normal. She served her country, but the experience left her emotionally numb and estranged from her career-military family. Staying in Independence Falls seems like the first step to reclaiming her life until the town playboy stumbles into her bed … Chad Summers is living his dream—helicopter logging by day and slipping between the sheets with Mrs. Right Now by night. Until his wild nights threaten his day job, leaving Chad with a choice: prove he can settle down or kiss his dream goodbye. But when he ends up in the wrong bed, the one woman in Independence Falls he can't touch offers a tempting proposition. Chad is ready and willing to give in to the primal desire to make Lena his at night—on one condition. By day, they pretend their relationship is real. But their connection extends beyond the bedroom, threatening to turn their sham into reality if Chad can prove he's the hero Lena needs night and day … forever.
“Thirty minutes,” Lena murmured. “That has to be a record.”
Lena Clark stared at the Cascade Mountains, the postcard-perfect backdrop to the backyard barbecue on the verge of turning into a full-blown party. Hero, her golden retriever, sat at her feet by the man-made pond in Eric Moore’s yard. Although the cleared field behind the sprawling timber-framed structure, home to the owner of the largest timber operation in Oregon, could hardly be classified as a “yard.” Inside the Portland city limits, where she’d lived on and off for the past six years—more off than on, really, due to training and deployments—people had the traditional postage stamp–size grassy areas behind their homes.
But she’d escaped Portland. And landed in Independence Falls, hoping to find her way to normal. Now she was thirty minutes closer.
“I talked to half the people here,” Lena continued, her fingers brushing her dog’s golden fur. Hero’s ears perked up, his head cocked to one side in what she’d come to think of as his I’m-listening expression. A stuffed yellow duck, the doggie toy she’d bought to keep him from chewing on furniture, hung from his mouth. “I mingled without running away and hiding.”
She hadn’t shaken a single hand, and Hero had been by her side the entire time, but she wasn’t looking for major breakthroughs or big victories. At twenty-eight, she knew a war was not won overnight. It took time, bravery, and determination. She possessed all of those things. Even if she had lost more than she liked to admit on the battlefield—like the ability to let anyone get close to her.
“Hey, Lena. Are you OK?”
She turned at the sound of Katie Summers’s voice, glancing past her friend to the crowd gathered on the blue stone patio. “Fine. I just needed some space from the party.”
And a chance to talk to her dog …
OK, so maybe normal was still out of reach.
“Georgia told me that you were looking for a place to stay,” Katie said.
“Just for a night, maybe two. I’m planning to find my own apartment soon.” Along with a job and her equilibrium. “But I wanted to give Georgia and Eric some space seeing as Nate is visiting his grandmother.”
“You think they might get down and dirty on the kitchen table while the three-year-old is out of town?”
“Yes. I do.” Lena looked up the hill. Eric stood behind Georgia, his arms wrapped around her waist, holding her close against his body. Georgia held a beer in one hand, her other reaching back, brushing against Eric’s leg as if she had to touch him. The kitchen table would only be the beginning for those two—if their home was free and clear of a guest who moved in for a couple of nights, and more than a week later, still hadn’t left.
“The apartment over our barn is yours for as long as you need it,” Katie said.
“Your brothers won’t mind?” Lena slipped her hands into the hidden pockets in her long halter dress. Katie still lived with her three older brothers on their family farm. Granted, Josh, the youngest of the three, was in the hospital right now recuperating from a logging accident that had landed him in a coma. But Chad and Brody might object to Katie lending out the apartment to an almost-stranger. Lena hadn’t met Chad yet, but she knew the family was close and the brothers were protective of their little sister.
Liam Trulane, Georgia’s older brother and the man head-over-heels in love with Katie, might not like the idea either. “And you don’t need it?”
“Liam and I have other plans,” Katie said. “Far away from my brothers’ watchful eyes. There is a spare key under a rock to the left of the door. Once you’re inside, move it to the right and take the key upstairs with you. That is the in-use signal.”
Katie’s expression turned serious. “Lena, I would never ask you to leave Hero behind. He’s welcome in the apartment too.”
Lena felt a rush of relief. The thought of leaving her golden retriever outside, even for a night, sent her barreling toward panic. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow? Georgia and I were planning to take a hike. Nothing crazy. I made her promise.”
“Sure.” Lena knew all about Georgia’s need for adventure, the drive that had followed Georgia home from a war zone. And Lena understood it too. Probably more than most, even if she didn’t share the same pull. PTSD refused to follow a linear, predetermined path. Nightmares and survivor’s guilt haunted Georgia. Those symptoms were on Lena’s list, but anxiety topped the chart.
In Lena’s shattered world, every little touch triggered fear. If her ex or one of her friends wrapped an arm around her, took her hand, or pulled her into a hug, she would brace for an attack. Fear would build until panic won. And afterward, once it receded, she’d sink further into depression, cutting herself off from the world around her.
Anxiety had become her constant companion, leading her to an isolated place. Until she’d decided to do something about it, entering therapy and finding the golden retriever lying at her feet, gnawing on a stuffed dog toy.
Katie turned to head up the hill. Lena watched, wondering if she should go back to the party and try for another thirty minutes. She scanned the group of people mingling and drinking—and spotted him.
Jeans and a button-down flannel shirt hugged his body, not too tight, but enough to suggest that this man had muscles begging to be touched. He raised a hand, running it through his short, wavy brown hair. Everything about him screamed for hands-on exploration. That chiseled jaw, the light dusting of stubble as if he hadn’t shaved in a day, the way he smiled …
Lena drew a sharp breath and tried to look away. But her brain short-circuited and her eyes refused. His sex appeal flowed down the grassy slope like rushing water. And if she weren’t careful it would sweep her off her feet, and leave her fighting for air. Looking at him, she wished the road to normal led straight to orgasms.
He turned his head and their gazes met across the empty space. And she swore his warm, I-promise-you’ll-like-me-if-you-get-to-know-me grin touched his eyes.
Lena dropped her gaze to the ground, breaking the contact. He wasn’t touching her, not even close. But that smile …
She turned to face the water. It was better not to look at what she couldn’t have. And that man—he was one giant step beyond thirty minutes of small talk.
After several years on the other side of the publishing industry, Sara Jane Stone bid goodbye to her sales career to pursue her dream-writing romance novels. Sara Jane currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her very supportive real-life hero, two lively young children and a lazy Burmese cat. Visit her online at www.sarajanestone.com or find her on Facebook at Sara Jane Stone.
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