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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Reality Check
Chapter 2 - All Shook Up
Chapter 3 - Movin’ Out
Chapter 4 - Starting from Scratch
Chapter 5 - Reality Check
Chapter 6 - Just Rewards
Chapter 7 - Up for the Challenge
Chapter 8 - The Rut Is Officially Over
Chapter 9 - Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Chapter 10 - Driven to Distraction
Chapter 11 - Dancing with the Rednecks
Chapter 12 - Easier Said Than Done
Chapter 13 - A Force to Be Reckoned With
Chapter 14 - Taking the Lead
Chapter 15 - Blame It on Rio
Chapter 16 - Fancy Footwork
Chapter 17 - Workin’ Hard for the Money
Chapter 18 - A Whole New Spin on Things
Chapter 19 - Feeding Frenzy
Chapter 20 - Dancing in the Dark
Chapter 21 - Walking on Sunshine
Chapter 22 - A Kiss for Luck
Chapter 23 - Winner Take All
Chapter 24 - Down to the Wire
Chapter 25 - A New Attitude
Chapter 26 - A Day Without Dancing?
Chapter 27 - Sweep Me off My Feet
Praise for LuAnn McLane
Dark Roots and Cowboy Boots
“This kudzu-covered love story is as hot as Texas Pete, and more fun than a county fair.”
—Karin Gillespie, author of Dollar Daze
“An endearing, sexy, romantic romp that sparkles with Southern charm!”
—Julia London, author of Extreme Bachelor
“Charmingly entertaining . . . a truly pleasurable read.”
“A hoot! The pages fly in this sexy, hilarious romp.”
—Romance Reviews Today
“A collection of sensual, touching stories . . . Wild Ride is exactly that—a thrilling, exhilarating sensual ride. I implore you to jump right in and hold on tight!”
—A Romance Review
“Amusing, lighthearted contemporary romances starring likable protagonists.”—The Best Reviews
“Scintillating romance set against the backdrop of a tropical island paradise takes readers to new heights in this captivating collection of erotic novellas. The three tales are steamy and fast-paced, combining descriptive romance with creative love stories.”
—Romantic Times (4 stars)
“A solid collection. . . . For readers, it is a ride worth taking with these three couples.”
—Romance Reviews Today
Hot Summer Nights
“Bright, sexy, and very entertaining.”
—New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster
“Spicy.”—A Romance Review
“Superhot summer romance . . . a fun read, especially for fans of baseball and erotica. This one earns four of Cupid’s five arrows.”—BellaOnline
“Funny, sexy, steamy . . . will keep you glued to the pages.”
—Fallen Angel Reviews
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First Printing, May 2007
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eISBN : 978-1-101-01080-8
This book is for my beautiful daughter Cara.
May you always have love and laughter in your life.
I would like to thank the dedicated readers on the Scamps VampsandSpicyRomance Yahoo loop. Your cheerful posts mean so very much to me.
Thanks to the Ohio Valley and Kentucky Romance Writers of America chapters for your support and promotion of the romance genre.
I would like to extend a very special thanks to my editor, Anne Bohner, for making this book happen. I’m so lucky to have an editor who understands my quirky sense of humor.
As always, thank you to my agent, Jenny Bent. Your encouragement and knowledge is highly valued and appreciated.
“Oh, come on, Jesse, you’re joking, right?” I pause in my task of filling saltshakers and glance across the counter at my brother, who’s wiping down the speckled green Formica. Mama’s already gone home and we’re buttoning up the diner for the night. “Who in their right mind would bring a ballroom dance competition to Misty Creek, Kentucky?”
Jesse gives me a sheepish look. “Um . . . well . . . Comedy Corner, maybe?”
“You mean the cable channel that you watch all the time?” I sputter and he opens his mouth to answer but I just keep right on talking. “The one that has that disgusting cartoon that Mama said you couldn’t watch?”
“Give me a break, Abby. I’m eighteen. I watch whatever I want to.”
I ignore this and continue. “The station that makes fun of midgets?”
“Little people,” he corrects, “and they don’t exactly make fun—”
“The same station that defames the president of the United States of America?” I slam down the salt container and narrow my eyes at my little brother . . . Well, at six feet two he’s hardly little, but I’m six years older, so that still trumps his height advantage.
“Yes, Abby, and it’s called political satire. Comedy Corner does parodies . . . spoofs on pop culture. Most of their stuff is pure genius.”
Okay, so he’s taller and smarter. Jesse belongs in a big, fancy college but although the diner we own pays the bills we don’t have that kind of money. “Whatever.” I wave my hand like I know all about political satire and whatnot. “So, explain to me how and why Comedy Corner is coming to Misty Creek of all places to do a ballroom dance competition.”
“Well . . .” His sheepish look gets more pronounced and all of a sudden I get it.
“To poke fun of us!” I sputter. “Gee, what are they gonna call it? ‘Dancing with the Rednecks’?” I’m joking but red heat creeps up his neck and I have to gasp. “My Gawd, I’m right?”
“It’s more of a spoof on reality TV, Abby, not rednecks. Where’s your sense of humor? You laugh at Jeff Foxworthy and he makes fun of rednecks.”
“He’s one of us. That’s different.” I point at him. “Jesse William Harper, did you somehow have something to do with this?”
He runs his fingers through his dark blond hair that would be the same color as mine if I didn’t get mine highlighted.
“Well?” I demand, nearly shouting. Jesse is such a hardworking, good kid that Mama and I rarely raise our voices to him, but I’m getting a prickly feeling running down my spine about this whole thing, so I want to know what’s going on. “What’s this ballroom dancing competition all about and just how are you involved?”
He takes a deep breath and jams his hands in his jeans pockets. “Well, a few weeks ago I was surfing the Comedy Corner Web site and I read about the ballroom dance competition spoof that they were going to do. There was a place where you could type in an essay on why your hometown would be the best location for the show and, well . . .” He pauses and then finishes in a rush. “I suggested Misty Creek.”
I put my hands to my chest. “How could you do such a thing? Why would you want them to come here and make fun of us?”
“Come on, Abby, think about it.” Jesse slices his hand through the air in the direction of the big picture window overlooking Main Street. “Misty Creek has been like a ghost town lately. Business is suffering in all of the antique and craft shops. The inns are practically empty. Our traffic here has been off too, and you damned well know it.”
“Watch your language!”
He rolls his eyes.
“This is the slow time of the year. Business will pick up when the weather gets warmer,” I protest even though the lack of customers has been a real cause of concern lately.
Jesse shakes his head. “With the insane price of gas people aren’t gonna take day trips like they used to. We need a reason for people to come here other than shoppin’ and stayin’ at bed-and-breakfast inns. Havin’ this show filmed here could be the shot in the arm that Misty Creek needs.”
I know he’s right but I stubbornly remain silent and cross my arms over my chest.
“Abby, this show could put Misty Creek on the map. People will flock here if it’s a hit and I think it will be.”
“Yeah, but at our expense. I’m proud of this little town and I don’t relish being laughed at,” I tell Jesse in an uppity tone that’s not like me at all. Being laughed at is something I’m no stranger to, so this is hitting close to home. As I start to screw the silver caps back onto the saltshakers I mutter, “Dancing with the rednecks . . . just who would even try out for such a thing?”
I glance up from my task and see guilt written all over his handsome face. Yes, Jesse is quite a hottie with his shaggy blond hair and deep blue eyes even though he has yet to realize it since he’s such a nerd. Just this past year he’s filled out from the tall and gangly proportions that had plagued him all of his life and let me tell ya, the girls have noticed. His tousled hair and chin stubble are from lack of caring rather than a concerted effort to sport the Keith Urban scruffy look. He just doesn’t get it that the giggling girls who stop in the diner after school for Cherry Cokes and chili cheese fries are mostly here to see him.
I too grew up being all knees and elbows, hating my long legs that made me tower over boys like the Jolly Green Giant. But now those same boys are men and tend to give me the once-over every time they come in for the blue plate special. Jackasses. Where were they on prom night? But I digress. Right now all I want to know is why Jesse looks so damned guilty. “There’s more to this story, isn’t there?”
Jesse puts his palms up in a whoa there position and gives me a level look. “Now, just keep your cool and hear me out.”
Of course that’s the kind of statement that makes a woman immediately lose her cool but I take a deep breath and say as calmly as possible, which is not calm at all, “Tell me what the hell’s goin’ on here!”
“Well, after Comedy Corner showed interest in my essay, they e-mailed me this form that asked for names of potential contestants.”
“See, they wanted six men and six women representing . . . ah, various walks of small-town life. I had to provide names of these certain individuals to help them narrow the field since they want to get this show on the air right away. For instance, they wanted a farmer and I suggested Travis Tucker.”
“To ballroom dance?” I squeak. “No . . .”
Jesse nods. “And they wanted a truck driver. Mac Murphy came to mind.”
I’m trying to picture three-hundred-pound Mac Murphy doing the tango and I have to chuckle. My mirth encourages Jesse and he smiles. “See, you’re catching on to the concept. It’ll be a riot. They wanted a high school lunch lady and I suggested Betty Cook.”
“Olive Oyl?” We call her that because she looks just like the cartoon character. I try not to snicker. “Who else?”
He hesitates but then says, “Julia Mayer.”
“Why her?” My good humor evaporates like rain on a summer sidewalk. Julia Mayer is one of the few people in Misty Creek that I don’t like. She was Miss Popularity back in high school, homecoming queen and all that, and never gave me the time of day. Although . . . the thought of her being ridiculed by some snarky judge in front of millions of people does have a certain appeal. “Well?”
Jesse shrugs. “They needed a hairdresser. She may actually be kind of good.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “Fat chance.”
“Why do you hate her so much?”
I angle my head and tell him firmly, “I don’t hate her. Although she did steal my boyfriend in high school.”
“I don’t remember you having a boyfriend.”
Details, details. I feel heat creep into my cheeks. “Okay, potential boyfriend. I was making huge strides with Danny Becker when Julia up and snatched him away from me.”
Jesse swallows and gives me a look that I don’t like. “You mean Danny Becker the mechanic?”
I roll my eyes. “How many other Danny Beckers are there in Misty Creek? Of course I mean him. Ohmigod, is he part of the competition?”
When Jesse nods I have to snicker once more. Seeing Danny taken down a peg or two would suit me just fine, too. My major crush on him in high school went unnoticed because his sights were set on petite and perky Julia Mayer instead of tall and dorky me. Of course just last week I gave him a little bit of payback for snubbing me when I was a teenager. I had my Ford Ranger in at Becker’s Garage for a lube job and when Danny was coming on to me like gangbusters I ignored his flirtatious comments even though I secretly wanted to flirt back. My mama tells me that I have a bad habit of cutting off my nose to spite my face. While I know that she’s right it’s hard to get over my hellacious high school years.
“ ‘Dancing with the Rednecks’ might be fun after all,” I admit and chuckle again. I expect Jesse to laugh with me since I’m coming over to his way of thinking, but he blinks for a second like he’s trying to think of how to word something so that I won’t freak. “You’re fixin’ to tell me something that I won’t like, aren’t you? Ohmigod, did you enter Mama into this farce?”
“No . . .” he says slowly but then clears his throat, which is a telltale sign for Jesse. He’s chock-full of telltale signs, which is why I always beat him at poker.
“What, then?” I prod, but then it hits me like a ton of bricks. While shaking my head I point at Jesse. “No . . . No. Tell me you did not give them my name!”
“They needed a waitress, Abby!”
“I won’t agree to do it! I refuse to humiliate myself on national television! Do you hear me?” I’m on the balls of my feet shouting, so he doesn’t have to answer that particular question. “No way! I won’t, I won’t, I won’t. My God, you know I have two left feet. I would suck . . . suck! There’s nothin’ you could say to make me do this. Not one thing!”
“How about a fifty-thousand-dollar first prize?”
“Whoowee, shut my mouth!” I blink at him. “Except for maybe that.” I continue to blink dollar signs at him while cha-chinging is ringing in my head. “Fifty. Thousand . Dollars?”
With raised eyebrows, Jesse nods. “Yeah.”
“Wow.” I’m still cha-chinging.
“I know.” He’s still nodding. “Think of what we could do with that kind of money.”
“Yeah . . .” I respond breathlessly, placing my palms on the cool countertop. But then reality slaps me right upside the head. “I’m a horrible dancer, Jesse. There’s no way I could win a ballroom dancing competition no matter how good my instructor might be.”
“Come on, did you hear some of the names I threw out there? Besides, you’re a hard worker and a quick learner, Abby. You can do this.”
“Ah, so you think that I could be the best of the worst?” My voice is dripping with sarcasm.
“Something like that,” he responds with a grin.
I’m not so sure but I don’t want to burst his bubble. “Are these people really going to compete? Has Comedy Corner decided that Misty Creek will be the location? Where would all of the people stay? All we have are bed-and-breakfasts—”
Jesse puts up his hands again. “Whoa there, motor mouth. One question at a time.”
“Okay, first tell me, is this a sure thing?”
“Not definitively until today.”
Now, what teenager uses words like definitively? Jesse has been using fifty-cent words since he was a little kid. It occurs to me that winning this money could send him to a fine college that he deserves. “Why today?”
“Well . . .” He starts wiping down the already clean counter so as to avoid looking directly at me. Not a good sign . . .
“Jesse . . .” I say his name in a low-octave voice of warning that used to get his immediate attention. It has little to no effect now but I’m desperate.
“Well, I’ve sort of been showing a couple of big-shot producers from Comedy Corner around Misty Creek for the past week.”
“What?” I squeak two octaves higher and a lot louder. “Why didn’t you tell me about all of this?”
He shrugs. “I guess I didn’t think it was really going to happen so I didn’t want to get you all wound up for nothin’. Comedy Corner had to go through some red tape to get city permits to do the filming and take care of some other legal stuff.”
“But it’s a done deal?”
He nods. “Yep. They’ve rented out Rabbit Run Hunting Lodge. The whole doggone thing. Nothing is in season right now so it was just sitting there empty and there’s plenty of room. The actual dance competition will be filmed live every Saturday night at the Bluegrass Dance Hall.”
“Have all of your suggested contestants signed on to do the show?”
“Except for you. I asked them to wait to approach you since I thought it might take a bit of convincing. Are you willing, Abby?”
I look around the diner that could use some serious updating. I think of my mama, who has worked her fingers to the bone providing for us after my daddy died in a tragic farm-related accident twelve years ago. Without asking for a lick of help she sold the farm to get us out of debt and bought this diner. Yeah, I could send her to a fancy spa for some much-deserved pampering. I think of my old truck that coughs and sputters . . . man, how nice would it be to get a brand-spanking-new pickup with all the trimmings? But most of all I think of my little brother, who deserves the best education that money can buy and who has never asked for a damned thing.
“I’ll do it.”
“Woohoo!” He gives me a very un-Jesse-like whoop and a double knuckle-bump that nearly knocks me over. It’s great to see my laid-back brother so revved up and I’m feeling pretty excited too; but in the back of my head I’m wondering what the hell I just got myself into. While my brain is still trying to wrap itself around this whole thing Jesse is already dialing up someone on his cell phone.