Looking for Troubleby Erin Kern
FIRST TIME IN PRINT!
WHEN YOU GO LOOKING FOR TROUBLE... Avery Price is taking her life back. Fleeing her uber-rich, overbearing family, and an arranged wedding to a wealthy, cheating fiancé, she trades couture for country and makes her way to Trouble, Wyoming. Going incognito gives her the chance to try things the old Avery wouldn't dare, like having a… See more details below
FIRST TIME IN PRINT!
WHEN YOU GO LOOKING FOR TROUBLE... Avery Price is taking her life back. Fleeing her uber-rich, overbearing family, and an arranged wedding to a wealthy, cheating fiancé, she trades couture for country and makes her way to Trouble, Wyoming. Going incognito gives her the chance to try things the old Avery wouldn't dare, like having a sizzling, no-strings affair with her sexy new boss, Noah McDermott-and discovering he's the kind of mistake she can't resist.
Noah didn't become a successful business owner by letting people get the best of him. He knows Avery is running from something, and if getting the beautiful blonde into his bed is the only way to find the truth, well, he has no problem with that. Trouble is, Avery is everything he never expected: sassy, smart, and the kind of understanding woman cowboys like him don't deserve. Can he put his pride aside and convince this city girl to settle down with him once and for all?
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Looking for Trouble
By Erin Kern
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 Erin Kern
All rights reserved.
The man with a dark-brown Stetson pulled low over his eyes appeared in Avery Price's rearview mirror a split second before her back bumper knocked him down. Her Christian Lacroix wedge sandal slammed on the brake pedal before her tires could roll over him and snap his bones like fragile twigs. Her cell phone, which had been pressed to her ear for ten minutes while her brother peppered her with questions, slipped out of her hand and clattered to the wood-grained middle console. Moisture seeped out of the corners of her tightly closed eyes, and she wrapped her hands around the fine Italian leather–stitched steering wheel.
A few seconds stretched into an eternity while she inhaled deep breaths and kept her eyes closed. When she opened them, the dented metal door of her motel room came into view along with the early-morning sunshine.
Okay, you barely nudged him. Chances are he's just sore and pissed off. Now would be a good time to get out and check on him.
Her internal lecture was pathetic at best and warranted no action from her hands other than to pick up her discarded cell phone. Her trembling fingers grasped the device and brought it up to her ear.
"Avery, what the hell is going on?" Her brother's unusually demanding voice vibrated through the phone and added to her already jittery nerves. As good as his intentions were, she couldn't deal with his you-need-to-start-making-some- decisions speech.
"Avery, if you don't start talking in two seconds, I'm going to send the Wyoming State Patrol after you."
The man who'd been forced to the ground by her car had yet to pull himself to a vertical position. "I gotta go. I just hit somebody."
"What? See, this is what I'm talking—"
Her thumb hit the end button on her phone, effectively cutting off another one of her brother's annoying but painfully predictable rants.
Her brain fired away commands for her legs to move, to do anything, with no success. After several seconds, a thump came from the back end of the car as though the man on the ground was taking his retribution for being plowed over. The sound prompted a squeak from her, and she fumbled for the door handle.
As far as mornings went, this one ranked down in the shitty category. First, she'd slept through the alarm clock's weak beep-beep ing, and then the fleabag motel couldn't provide her with a decent cup of coffee. Far be it from her to wish for a double-shot latte with no whip. All the shoebox-size lobby offered was the bottom scrapings of hours-old brew and stale English muffins. Not exactly an appealing spread.
Now, in her haste to find something edible and caffeine to rev up her system, she'd bowled over a man who had the bad sense to walk behind a car that had its reverse lights on.
She threw the car in park and exited on shaky legs. The early-morning sun was still weak enough that the temperature hovered in the tolerable range.
As she rounded the back of the car, trying to swallow her irritation at her own carelessness, the man on the ground pushed himself not-so-gracefully to his feet. He swayed, as some drunk people did when they couldn't walk a straight line, and placed a hand on her car. The fierce protectiveness she had for her German-engineered vehicle almost had her demand he remove his hand from her sunflower-yellow custom paint. The fact that she'd hit this poor man, and would probably have to grovel to keep him from suing the pants off her, stopped the words from flying out of her mouth.
A deep, gravelly groan flowed out of the man, now minus his cowboy hat. Burnt sienna–colored hair, mixed with sun-kissed shades of caramel, was smashed down in untidy disarray to the man's skull. The cowboy hat, which now lay about six feet from where he'd hit the ground, had flattened the edges of his hair to a greasy, slicked-down look. Avery considered herself an expert on personal hygiene and keeping one's appearance as perfect as possible. She'd be willing to bet all the money in her trust fund that this man hadn't seen a shower in at least twenty-four hours or his wrinkled, untucked chambray shirt and faded jeans a washer and dryer. For all she knew, he could be some bum who skulked around motels, looking for a place to rest his head.
Nevertheless, that didn't change the fact that her car had come in contact with a human being, and she needed to make sure he was okay.
With his mile-wide back to her, he bent over and placed both his hands on his knees, dropping his head as though he couldn't catch his breath.
Geez, had she hit him harder than she thought? She certainly hadn't meant to.
"Are ... are you okay?" she stammered while taking a tentative step toward him.
He straightened much faster than she expected considering he'd been swaying like a drunk a second ago. When he turned, a gaze grayer than blue—and definitely not pleased—hit her. Thick brown brows slammed down over his eyes, which flashed with anger.
"You hit me, lady. What do you think?" The accusing words came out of a full mouth surrounded by dark growth of beard stubble. It wasn't a full beard; it looked more as if he hadn't made the time to shave, as though he didn't care that his unkempt, wrinkled appearance was less than appealing. Or, maybe, he simply didn't own a razor because he was homeless.
"I know that fancy, expensive car of yours has mirrors, so why the hell weren't you paying attention?"
It's not as if she hadn't looked. She had. Her one quick glance had shown a man just standing there, as though he had all the time in the world. She'd lifted her foot off the brake and had already been backing out of the parking space. She'd scarcely rolled two inches before she tagged him and set him on his ass.
Her fingernails bit into the inside of her palm. "I had my reverse lights on because I was backing out of my space. Didn't you see them?"
He snatched his cowboy hat from the uneven gravel and placed it back on his head. "I was walking and not paying any attention to you. You're supposed to look before you back out."
"I did, and it looked as if you were just standing right behind me. I couldn't stop in time. I'm sorry, but I really didn't mean to hit you."
"Your fault, not mine." His words were short and clipped, evidence that anger, not pain, was his dominant emotion.
Okay, so he had her on that one. Technically it was her fault, regardless of what he'd been doing. She was adult enough to admit when she'd made a boo-boo. As a consolation for hitting—no, nudging—him, she tried to be nice even though she felt like a complete imbecile for not paying proper attention. Despite her put-on cheery attitude, she sensed some serious hostility. Maybe she'd messed up his one and only wrinkled shirt.
She stared back at him and tried to dodge the daggers his stony eyes threw her way. "You don't look seriously injured. Again, I'm really sorry." She bounced from one three-inch platform to the next before pivoting and reaching for the car door handle.
"Now wait a minute."
She paused with her hand on the door and tossed him a look over her shoulder. The cowboy hat shielded his hostile gaze and lent only a view of a straight nose and wide mouth.
"You can't just flee the scene of an accident. How do you know I'm not injured?" The words had lost their heat and rolled off the man's tongue with a deliberate slowness.
Other than his disreputable clothing and stubble-covered jaw, there was nothing to suggest he was anything other than normal. No blood sprayed from an open head wound, no bruises or scrapes decorated his masculine face. He had swayed and stumbled at first, giving her the impression of maybe a mild head injury. Since replacing his hat, he'd only leaned one hip against the bumper of her car and regarded her beneath his hooded gaze.
She wrapped her arms around her midsection. "You're not going to call the cops, are you? I already said I was sorry."
Then a terrifying thought hit her. He could easily file a report against you.
He slid one hand under his hat, lifting it crookedly to one side. "I don't know. My head's a bit tingly, and I feel a little light-headed. You might need to take me to a hospital for some medical attention. Or better yet," he continued while rubbing a hand along his rough jawline, "I know the sheriff pretty well. We can get him down here to straighten this whole thing out. I'd call him myself but"—he dug his hand in his back pocket and produced a small black device—"you crushed my cell phone."
Okay, the cell phone was a good indicator that he probably wasn't homeless. Although his attire suggested someone who'd just crawled out of a cardboard box, he was evidently one of those people who just didn't give a damn what he looked like. His nice little speech was also his way of threatening to have her ass thrown in jail if she didn't do ... whatever it was he wanted her to do. This was so not how she wanted to start her new life.
He nudged his hat lower on his head. "I think the sheriff is on duty today and wouldn't mind coming down here—"
"All right," she said through gritted teeth. "Just tell me what I can do."
He held his hands up in front of him. "I don't want to put you out. I can tell you're in a hurry."
She forced a smile. "It's no put out at all. Is there somewhere I can take you?"
The grin that crept up his face resembled the one the big, bad wolf used to lure the three little piggies. Unfortunately she was at his mercy until he decided to let the whole fake-injury thing drop. "I'm so glad you offered. I need a ride to my car."
She tightened her hands around her keys. "That's it? Just a ride?"
"Oh, I want a lot more than that."
She crossed her arms, then let them drop. Maybe she should have stayed in bed and watched the rabbit-ear-adorned television at the motel. "All you're going to get out of me is a ride to your car."
A lone passing car filled the silence between them. "Okay."
Without giving him a chance to make more threats, she jerked open the car door with all the force her arm would allow and plopped herself in the driver's seat. She had the car started and was rolling backward by the time he yanked the door open and sat himself next to her.
"Are you trying to run me over again?" he asked after folding himself in the seat until his knees bumped against the glove compartment. Her little roadster was not designed to hold men the size of the Jolly Green Giant. His hat remained firmly on his head.
"I can't help it if you don't move fast enough." She jerked the wheel and maneuvered her car around a pothole.
His narrow hips shifted until he'd slid lower, as though he were settling down for a nice Sunday drive. "I think you were trying to ditch me." The leather beneath his backside squeaked when he moved again.
"Can you sit still? You're going to scratch the leather."
"Can you not shout? My head feels as if it's going to crack in two."
Avery eased the car to a red light. "You haven't heard loud yet. Get one scratch on my car and you'll know the meaning of loud."
One corner of his mouth turned up and created shallow lines in his stubble- covered cheek. "Poor princess. Daddy might have to buy you a new one."
She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and decided to let the "daddy" comment roll off her back.
The light turned green, and she tapped her manicured index finger against the gearshift. "Would you like to tell me where your car is, or should I drop you off wherever I please?" Like here?
"Go straight and make a left turn at the fourth light down," he replied without so much as moving a muscle.
She wound her hand tighter around the steering wheel and cursed herself for being so stupid and careless. Avery was the sort of person who treated everyone with respect, regardless of how that person treated her. She'd been caught off guard and lost in her own thoughts about what she was going to do with her life. With practiced patience, she eased off the brake pedal and set off down the street. The inarticulate man next to her didn't so much as utter a grunt. Instead, he remained slouched low in the seat with his hat pulled down so it covered half his face. Only his deep, even breathing indicated he was still alive.
Over the years, she'd worked to develop an ironclad backbone, so she rarely let situations or people intimidate her. The man who sucked all the breathing space out of the car, with his massive shoulders and long legs, sent her nerves tingling in a way they hadn't in a long time. Was it intimidation, or fear that she'd injured another human being? Avery didn't know, nor was she comfortable with the feeling. She couldn't say it was his looks, because so far all she'd seen was half his face and hair that hadn't been combed in days. Perhaps it was just the sheer size of the man. Even though he sat perfectly still, there was an edge to him but also an air of confidence, as though he knew how he looked and damn the world if they didn't like it.
The characteristics defied everything she knew about men. A heavy breath left her lungs.
"You sigh a lot."
Another light turned red, allowing a man hunched over like a question mark to cross the street. "I'm just mad at myself. I'm usually much more observant."
He was silent for a moment. "Don't feel so bad. I'm not that hurt."
The look she threw him went unacknowledged. "But I do feel bad, even if you don't seem that hurt."
"I thought I saw you checking me out." The grin in his voice was unmistakable, although Avery didn't see the humor. Nor did she appreciate it. Whatever. Let him make his wisecracks. In a few blessed minutes, she'd be free of him.
After the old man shuffled his way across the street, the light turned green, and she made her way toward where she was supposed to turn.
Her phone vibrated in the middle console, where she'd dropped it in her haste. She kept her hands on the steering wheel, having no desire to listen to her brother call her incompetent while the stranger who'd kissed the back end of her car listened to her humiliation.
She made the left turn as instructed, then looked to him for the next set of directions. "Go down about half a mile then turn right on Beach Street." The deep timbre of his voice had her mind wandering to unsuitable thoughts as she passed a hay-and-feed store.
"What were you doing at Dick's Motel if your car is way down here?" She'd already come to the conclusion that he wasn't homeless; homeless people didn't have cell phones and wear brand-new Timberland boots. He was just a man who didn't iron his clothes and woke up two miles from his car.
For a moment he sat as still as he'd been since entering the car and didn't answer. Then he said, "What people usually do at motels."
O-kay. That could be anything from doing drugs to cheating on a significant other. For whatever reason, the former didn't seem likely. As for the latter, well, what did she know? Maybe the woman he was with had kicked him out and refused to take him anywhere, leaving him stranded without transportation. Then Avery had gone and knocked him down, destroying his cell phone in the process. For all she knew, he could have a wife at home who was pacing herself sick at this very moment. And Avery could be an accomplice to his sordid love triangle. Now she felt even worse than she did before.
Her desire to attempt a conversation with a man who'd strong-armed her into driving him across town was minimal. She kept her gaze on the street in front of her and both hands on the wheel. Under normal circumstances, Avery was a pretty chatty person. She didn't like uncomfortable silences that stretched into eons of nothingness. The silence made her fidgety, and it felt as if worms crawled underneath her skin. Oh, but the cowboy loved it. His answers were clipped and to the point as though he couldn't be bothered with trivial things like speaking to another person.
"It's on the left-hand side of the street at the very end," he muttered after she'd made a right turn onto Beach Street.
A metal sign that read DAVE'S WATERING HOLE sat crooked on top of a masonry building as though someone had just tossed it up there and hadn't bothered to make it sit straight. There were no windows, no landscaping, or anything that was minimally appealing about the place. The building sat away from the street in the middle of a cracked, weed-adorned parking lot. This definitely wasn't an establishment that screamed fine family dining, though Avery was pretty sure anything with the word "hole" in it wasn't suitable for little children. Given the behavior and the dozen words she'd exchanged with the man next to her, she hadn't expected something with gold-plated front doors.
Excerpted from Looking for Trouble by Erin Kern. Copyright © 2013 Erin Kern. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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