Ex commando Brandon Walker has found a semblance of happiness in his post-military life with Emily Irving, but he’s a man with many painful secrets. When one of those secrets, his former lover Jet Durante, reenters his life, Brand’s fresh start with Emily is shot to pieces.
Jet Durante has loved Brand since they were both teenagers, and he knocks on Emily’s door with the hope of reconnecting with the man he’s never gotten over. When he finds the beautiful and guileless Emily instead, at first his hopes are dashed, but then a surprising new attraction emerges.
Emily found the love she’d always dreamt of with Brand. She’s never longed for more—until Jet shows up. She can’t deny she’s drawn to him, and when she witnesses the chemistry between the two men, she sees her chance to make Brand open up at last.
Each story in the Wild Crush series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed in any order.
Book #1: Unforgettable Summer
Book #2: Irrepressible Jasmine
Book #3: Eternal Brand
Book #4: Imperfect Penelope
Book #5: Unbreakable Hope
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"Hey, sis. What's up?"
Emily Irving gaped at the receiver in her hand. "What's up? Our sister's birthday is what's up, Hope. Penny's turning twenty-five, and Mum wants us all to do something special. I left you like a dozen messages."
It sounded like an exaggeration, but Emily was pretty sure she'd rung close to that many times.
"Sure, okay. When's that, in July?"
Emily rolled her eyes. The Irving women were not known for their focus. As the oldest of three sisters, Emily had ended up in the role of organizer by default rather than out of any real desire or natural managerial ability. Penny was a naturopath and the baby of the family, who could be a little flaky at times. But Hope was in a whole other league altogether. Hope didn't care about anything other than where her next wave was coming from, which made her a fairly ineffective party planner.
"Penny's birthday is the nineteenth of July, like it's always been. It's coming up fast. I need some help arranging the party."
"What? From me?"
"Yes, from you." When a twinge of guilt niggled, Emily ignored it. So her sister ran her own surf-instructing business and had to work part-time on top of that to keep it afloat. She was a small-business owner too, with a house to maintain, not to mention fully occupied stables to oversee.
Although, she had help. She had Brand.
"All right, hit me with it," Hope said on the other end of the line. "What do you need from me?"
"I thought you could come out here for lunch sometime this week so we can go over the details." Emily knew that if she didn't watch Hope enter her list of tasks in her smart phone she'd never have confidence they'd get done.
"Aw, come on. You know I can't be around the beasts."
"This from the woman who swims with sharks. The horses won't run up and attack you."
"They give me the heebie-jeebies. And they smell weird."
"So we'll stay in the house. I promise I won't make you muck out the stables."
Hope let out a put-upon sigh. "All right, all right. I'll come. It's not like I'll be able to drag you away from there. How is Brand, by the way?"
"He's good." When asked, Emily always gave the same answer. She was hardly going to mention in casual conversation — not even with her sister — that Brandon Walker had nightmares, or that he retreated into broody solitude on a fairly regular basis. That was normal for Brand, at least it had been for the two years she'd known him. "He's up in Kenmore today with the SES. The river bank looks like it's going to break again."
"Brand joined the State Emergency Service?" Hope queried. "That's civic minded of him."
"You sound surprised."
"You have to admit Brandon Walker doesn't come off as the type to get heavily involved in the community. Or to volunteer to help people in need."
"You don't know him like I do. He helps people all the time." Emily heard the note of defensiveness that had crept into her voice. Hope had never hidden her opinions about Brand. She thought he was aloof and arrogant, and that he was only sticking around as long as it suited him. But Hope didn't know his aloofness covered his fear of getting close to people. She didn't know how tightly Brand held her at night, as though she were his anchor to the world.
Brand wasn't leaving.
Emily pushed that annoying inner voice aside.
"Sure, okay." Hope's agreement was clearly little more than an appeasement.
Emily blew out a breath that lifted a strand of honey-blonde hair in her fringe, the only part of her thick mane that wasn't tied back in a braid. "If we're going to talk about aloof men, let's talk about Dylan and see how you like it."
"Let's not," Hope said immediately, making Emily suspect her sister and her long-time on-again-off-again lover Dylan Wakefield were currently in an "off" phase of their relationship. "I'm clear on Wednesday. How's that?"
"Wednesday's good. Come out for lunch and I'll fix you something."
"Sweet," Hope said with enthusiasm. Emily smiled. Hope exercised a lot — their mother had always said she was hyperactive — and she never seemed to be able to eat enough to keep weight on her athletic frame. Unlike Emily, who felt every slice of cake sticking to her hips like glue.
They settled on noon for lunch and ended the phone call. Emily picked up her abandoned coffee cup, taking a sip only to find it had grown cold during her conversation with her sister. Making a face, she walked to the microwave and set the cup to reheat for thirty seconds. While she waited for the bell to ding, she stared out the rain-spattered kitchen window, her thoughts turning to Brandon Walker.
She couldn't blame Hope for her wariness about Brand. He was a big man, with wide shoulders and chiseled features often set in grave expressions. His manner was quiet, his gray eyes watchful, and Emily could see how that might be unsettling for those who hadn't glimpsed his soft smiles or the moments of humor he was capable of. Add that to the military shortness of his light-brown hair, plus the fine scar that cut a swathe through his left eyebrow, and Brandon Walker made an imposing figure.
Yet, she'd never been afraid of him. It had been almost two years since he'd first turned up at her door. He'd ended up doing some odd jobs for her, and their relationship had begun soon after. Was relationship the right word?
Friendship with benefits?
Emily wasn't sure what she was supposed to call what she and Brand had together. All she knew was that he needed her, needed this place. And she never wanted him to leave.
The microwave pinged, rousing Emily from her thoughts. Just as she was about to pull the mug from the machine, she stilled. A man, dressed in black from head to toe and riding a black motorbike, emerged from within the tunnel of high sugar-cane stalks that bracketed her long driveway. Visitors to Mulholland Homestead usually came in horse floats or big four-wheel drives, not on motorbikes. This man definitely didn't seem like Emily's type of customer, someone who wanted to stable their horse or to book a twilight beach ride on one of Emily's own steeds.
Perhaps he was lost. Tourists often took a detour off the main highway to drive the coast road through Leyton's Headland and the other picturesque small towns south of it. Although they rarely made it as far as Kingston Vale because it required crossing the river by ferry. Still, it wasn't impossible that someone would stumble upon her out here if they were looking for the beach but couldn't find one of the concealed access points amidst the cane and the eucalypts.
He doesn't look like the beach-going type, Emily mused as the man pulled his bike to a stop in front of the house and switched off the thrumming engine. She watched through the window as he dismounted, his long, black-denim-encased leg arcing gracefully off the machine. The rain had grown heavier in the last few minutes, so the man kept his jacket zipped and his helmet on.
Gus, her five-year-old kelpie, came bounding around from the side of the house barking. A moment later the click of toenails sounded on the timber-planked veranda as the older, pint-sized George bothered to emerge from the warmth of his kennel to see what was up. Other than a couple of warning yaps though, the mixed-breed mutt mostly left the barking to Gus.
Before Gus got himself too worked up, the man — heedless of the rain now — quickly took off his helmet and bent to his haunches. Even his hair was black. He stretched out a hand to Gus, who gave it a closer inspection and, seeming to like what he smelled, started to wag his tail. The man crooned a low "good boy" and gave the dog a pat. On the porch, George started to leap from foot to foot, his stumpy tail moving from side to side in similar excitement over the unexpected visitor.
"Great watch dogs you two are," Emily muttered, as she plucked her steaming mug from the microwave and headed toward the front door. "He better not be an axe murderer."
Emily opened the door as the man mounted two of the porch steps and waited there, close enough to be standing beneath the overhang but not so close as to take liberties. The screen door banged behind her as she approached him. "Nice afternoon for a ride."
The man smiled, flashing a set of perfect white teeth. Emily's heart tripped in involuntary response. He was handsome. Black hair long enough to rest on the collar of his leather jacket, dark irises almost the color of his pupils, olive skin that was saved from being too supple only by the shadow of beard on his jaw.
He brushed the damp hair back from his face. Even through the leather, Emily could sense the lithe, easy strength in his arms. "Not really. But when a bike's your only form of transport you make do."
Emily glanced at the motorbike, seeing now the waterproof compartments on either side of the seat, like the kind a rider could keep clothes and other belongings in. She took a sip of her coffee, then returned her attention to the bike's rider. "Are you traveling through the area?"
"Something like that. Actually I'm hoping you can help me." Expecting a request for directions, Emily raised her brows and waited. She couldn't have been more surprised when he said, "I'm looking for Brandon Walker."
Almost two years Brand had been staying here. Living with her, in actuality. That's how her mother described it. You have a live-in lover, Emily, she'd said more than once, with neither obvious condemnation nor approval. Like Hope, Alicia Irving seemed to be waiting to make her mind up about Brand. Everyone wanted to know more about him before they accepted his presence in her life.
But Brand was a hard man to get to know. Not once in two years had he received a personal phone call, a letter or a visitor. Emily stared at the man standing on her porch steps. "You know Brand?" There was the briefest hesitation before he answered. "We're old friends."
"Brand doesn't have friends."
The man laughed easily. "So he's still a loner? Some things never change, I guess."
Emily watched the man's laughter settle into a smile, one that turned him from handsome to drop-dead gorgeous. When he met her gaze, she had the distinct sense that he was assessing her in exactly the same way she was him. A frisson of awareness passed through her, an instinctive reaction to holding the gaze of such a gorgeous male for a bit too long.
At least that's what Emily told herself.
"I'm sorry," he said at last, seeming to shake himself. He held out a hand. "I'm being rude. The name's Jet. Jet Durante."
Jet waited while the woman glanced at his outstretched hand and took her time deciding if she should touch him. She displayed the justifiable wariness of a female finding herself alone with a strange male, and he deduced that Brand wasn't here.
Not now, but he had been. Brand doesn't have friends. She knew him, well enough to have formed such an opinion and to deliver it with a hint of affection. Brand was here.
His heart thumped a bit harder at the knowledge. Its pace only increased when the woman finally slipped her hand in his. "Emily Irving."
"Good to meet you, Emily."
Her handshake was firm yet feminine. When she drew away, her fingernails brushed the length of Jet's fingers. His blood sparked and heated, the heat moving around his body until it settled in his groin. Well, hello, old friend. Sexual attraction to a woman. It had been a while.
Emily had big green eyes flecked with gold and rimmed by lush brown lashes. Her hair was thick and, Jet guessed, wavy when it wasn't tied back in a braid, its hue that of honey taken straight from the hive. Her lips were full, as were her breasts beneath the blue and white checkered shirt she wore with her faded jeans. She had the toned, confident air of a woman who was comfortable around horses and a softness that kept her from appearing tomboyish.
She was striking, alluring. Jet's swift reaction to her took him by surprise.
"I'm sorry, but Brand isn't here right now," Emily said, confirming Jet's suspicion. "I expect him home before dinner though."
Home before dinner. A very domestic term. In the one letter Brand had sent to Jet's mother in two years, he'd left the number of Mulholland Homestead as somewhere to reach him in an emergency. He'd said he was working here. But Brand was involved with this woman, not simply working for her. He had to be. Everything in Emily's demeanor telegraphed it.
Something inside Jet dropped, a slow painful slide down into his stomach. He'd come to see if Brand was available, if there was any chance ...
But no, there was no chance because Brand was otherwise engaged.
"Oh, okay." Jet swallowed past the lump of disappointment in his throat, calling himself a fool for allowing hope to germinate in the first place. "I could catch him another time."
Jet had no intention of doing anything of the sort. He shifted on his feet, preparing to leave. Emily stopped him.
"You could wait here for him. He should only be an hour or two."
He turned to her in surprise, her offer hanging in the air between them. She looked a tad surprised herself, as though she hadn't known she was going to say what she had until the words were out. But then she seemed to make a decision. Her expression eased into a smile. "Please stay. I'd feel bad sending you out on a motorbike in this weather, and it would be a shame for you to miss seeing Brand."
Jet hesitated. Brand wouldn't be back for an hour or two. There would be time for Jet to stay a while, chat to Emily and satisfy his curiosity about Brand. One of the reasons he'd sought the man out was to make sure he was okay, it hadn't all been about reestablishing a romantic relationship. He could find out what he wanted to know and leave before Brand got here, before things got awkward.
And the idea of riding off again in the wet wasn't very appealing. Jet was sorely tempted, and it must have shown on his face. Emily tilted her head and regarded him with a twinkle in her green eyes. "I make a mean cup of coffee."
In the end the rain, which started pounding harder on the tin roof covering the veranda, made the decision easy. Jet grinned at Emily. "Coffee sounds great."
"So you know Brand from his army days?"
Emily's gaze slid over Jet's muscular frame, on display now that he'd taken off his leather jacket. The long-sleeved white shirt he wore underneath molded to his chest and arms, the V neckline showing the glint of a metal chain resting against the smooth skin of his chest.
Seeing the direction of her gaze, Jet reached into his shirt and withdrew the medallion. "No, these aren't dog tags. It's a St. Christopher's Medallion."
He leaned forward, inviting her to inspect the silver medallion closer. The action made his shirt fall open, improving Emily's view of his chest. She glimpsed the jut of his dark brown nipple before she caught herself and dragged her focus to the necklace instead. You're ogling him, Emily! Brand's friend and a virtual stranger! It was hard not to though. Jet Durante had the looks of a Hollywood movie star, and more than his fair share of easy charm.
"It was my grandfather's. My mother gave it to me the first time I went overseas. It's supposed to protect me." At her expectant look, he elucidated. "I'm a photographer. Wildlife, mostly. I go where the animals are."
"You mean like Africa?"
Jet nodded and took a sip of his coffee. "Among other places."
"Where? Tell me." At the surprised hike of his dark brows, Emily blushed. "I've never actually been out of Australia. Pretty sad for a thirty-year-old woman, huh?"
"Not everyone gets the chance to travel. I've been lucky." He smiled, not making her feel parochial for her lack of worldly experience. "Let's see, besides Africa I've spent some time in Alaska photographing the brown bears during salmon season. I traveled down the Amazon and got shots of so many species I won't list them now. And I just got back from Borneo where I spent a month photographing the orangutans."
"Gosh. That all sounds so exciting."
"It can be. It can also be tedious. A lot of waiting around for that perfect shot."
Emily nodded, easily able to imagine Jet huddled in the bushes, patiently waiting for a bear cub to emerge from its den and then springing into action the second it did. He had an aura of contained energy about him that gave the sense he could handle whatever life threw his way.
"So how do you know Brand?" Emily couldn't fathom how Brand had met a globe-trotting wildlife photographer.
"I've known him since we were both fifteen. My parents have an orchard down near Picton, a ways west of Sydney. They also keep some animals. Brand ... he stayed with them a while."
Excerpted from "Eternal Brand"
Copyright © 2015 Sami Lee.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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