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Hooked on Love
A Cotton Creek Romantic Comedy
By Jennie Marts, Allison Collins
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Jennie Marts
All rights reserved.
The distraction of her gorgeous legs almost did him in. Literally.
Sullivan Reed hit the brakes just in time to avoid a collision in front of the general store.
The curvy blonde in the red jacket didn't even notice, her focus intent, trying to wrench her purse from the passenger seat of her car — a little foreign number with rental tags.
She was wearing some kind of short pants, not quite shorts but not really a skirt. Must be the new fashion — not that he paid attention to fashion. According to his ex, he never noticed anything.
But he noticed this woman — noticed her long legs, her too-high heels, and what the hell was up with that purse? It was practically the size of Wyoming. What could she possibly be carrying in there? He could pack for a three-day trip in a grocery sack.
Not that he cared. He didn't have time to be thinking about how high her heels were or the enormity of her handbag when he had other things to worry about. Bigger fish to fry. So to speak.
He needed to get in, grab his supplies, and get back to the shop. He'd stayed up late last night tying some new flies and wanted to get the new stock put up this afternoon so he could be out on the creek by dusk.
Early summer in the Colorado mountains was like paradise to a fly-fisherman. Plus, he needed the time spent fishing tonight to mentally prepare himself for the visitor who was supposed to arrive tomorrow.
Besides, with that long blond hair and tall curvy figure, the woman in the red jacket was totally out of his league.
Not that he had a league, or even wanted to be in a league. He wasn't even particularly interested in the game right now. He just wanted to be left alone.
Present company excluded. He reached across the seat and patted the neck of his golden retriever, Sadie.
Sadie was the only female in his life now, the only female he trusted, and that was fine with him. She hadn't left him, didn't yell at him to make more money, never nagged him to pick up his wet towels off the bathroom floor, and she hardly ever snored. All attributes that he valued.
The dog whined, sitting upright in the seat of his old truck, her gaze intent on the blond woman.
She stood on the sidewalk, oblivious to him and the fact he'd almost run her down, her large round sunglasses perched low on her nose as she looked over them to read the parking meter.
Sully watched her dig into her cavernous bag for change. He was no lip reader, but he was fairly certain she dropped a pretty clear F-bomb before pulling her hands out and throwing them up in disgust, apparently giving up on the effort.
He stepped out of his truck, his gaze captivated by the way her hips swayed and the swish of the breezy fabric of her shorts against her legs as she hurried into Miller's Mercantile. He slammed the door and stepped up to the curb, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his shorts and jingling his loose change.
After dropping a quarter into his own meter, he paused in front of hers.
It would serve her right to get a ticket. "Just because this town is small doesn't mean you can just ignore the law," he grumbled, half to himself, half to the dog who watched him intently, and then he dropped a quarter into her meter.
Pausing, he thought about the size of her purse — she was probably pretty high maintenance and would be in there for a while.
He dropped in a second quarter.
The bell above the old door rang as he entered the general store. It was a little past noon, but the summer day had already heated up, and he was thankful for the coolness inside.
Madge Miller sat behind the counter, as permanent a fixture in the store as the old time bubble gum machines and the wooden canoe that hung from the ceiling. She usually had her nose buried in the latest romance novel, but today her book sat on the counter, her interest taken by the new customer who was filling her arms with supplies.
"Hey, Madge," Sully said with a nod as he watched the woman throw a shirt over her arm then bump into a display rack of souvenir key chains.
The rack rattled and clanged as it wobbled. Unfazed, the woman steadied the rack, juggling the clothes in her arms as she silenced the jingling key chains, then she turned to rifle through the hangers on a rack of swimwear. Either she was used to knocking into things or she was doing a damn good imitation of not being frazzled by the near destruction of a merchant display.
She'd pushed her sunglasses on top of her head, the large frames looking like the eyes of a fly poking out of her wavy blond hair.
Miller's Mercantile was Cotton Creek's go-to store. It had grown over the years and now sold everything from toilet paper to tennis shoes. They even stocked a little fishing gear.
"Hey, Sully. Something I can help you find?" Madge asked, keeping her eye on the blond woman, who grabbed a bright red bikini off the rack and added it to her pile.
The swimsuit looked awful skimpy, and his mouth went dry at the thought of her curvy body squeezed into it.
He was glad Madge was looking the other way and didn't notice the heat rushing to his cheeks. "Just need some batteries and a pack of lightbulbs."
"Do you have a place I could try these on?" the other woman asked.
"Sure, hon. I'll show you the dressing rooms," Madge said, getting off her stool and then leading her toward the curtained stalls in the back of the store.
Sully tried to focus on the task at hand. What had he come in for again? Oh yeah, batteries.
But he found himself drifting closer to the fitting rooms. He almost choked on his gum when he saw her grab a pair of chest waders off the rack before she pushed through the curtain and dumped her purse and the contents of her arms in a heap on the floor.
This girl did not look like the fishing type.
He caught one last glimpse of her long expanse of tanned legs before she pulled the curtain shut with a clatter as the metal rings ran along the flimsy pole. The fabric stopped several feet short of the floor, and his eyes widened at the sight of her bare feet as she kicked off her high-heeled shoes.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" Madge asked, drawing his attention.
He cleared his throat, the temperature of the room seeming to heat up by ten degrees. "I'm gonna need a couple of packages of those batteries. And some D-cells. I didn't see any on the shelves."
"I think I've got some in the back. Gimme a minute and let me go check." She gestured to the curtained dressing room and winced at the swear word uttered loudly from behind it. "Can you keep an eye on things out here?"
"Oh, yeah, sure thing," he stuttered, his eye going to the mountain of clothing visible on the floor of the dressing room.
* * *
Avery Oliver reached for the pink T-shirt on the top of the pile of clothes she'd dumped unceremoniously onto the floor. The shirt read: "You'll fall for Cotton Creek Falls." Driving in, she'd seen a sign for the state park and the giant waterfall, Cotton Creek's obvious source of tourism, on the outskirts of the tiny town. If you even considered this a town. More like a few old stores, a church, and a single stoplight.
Standing in only her black lace bra and panty set, she held the shirt up to her, not bothering to try it on. She was expensing all of this stuff to the magazine where she worked anyway.
Serves them right for giving me this crappy assignment.
She'd only been with the outdoor magazine a few months. It had been her only option at the time, the only one that had given her a chance. She'd never considered herself much of an expert on the outdoors, even an amateur. She'd never been camping, preferring hotels and room service to roughing it in the wilderness, and she deemed it hiking if she had to walk the ten blocks to her job in Chicago instead of taking a cab.
Which was why she'd been assigned to do the story in the first place. The magazine had a last minute opening in their next issue, and some genius thought it would be fun to send a tried-and-true city girl into the mountains to see if she could learn how to fish — a real 'fish out of water' story.
They were calling it "A Week in the Wild" and had enlisted the services of a local fly-fisherman and his shop in the middle of Podunksville, Colorado. She didn't know anything about fishing — except that she preferred grilled salmon over smoked.
They'd given her nine days, two extra for travel. Nine days in Cotton Creek to spend time with the owner of the store and see if she could learn to fish. They'd even arranged for her to go on a guided fly-fishing trip down the river with him.
Oh joy. She couldn't wait for that. Two days spent on a stinky boat with some old guy that probably smelled like fish and worms.
Her only saving grace was that she'd been in contact with an editor at a larger magazine who'd told her to get some experience, and if she could nail a great article with the smaller magazine, they'd consider taking her on for their publication.
So as much as she dreaded this assignment, she needed to make the best of it and do a good job.
Which meant she had to spend some time outdoors and at least try to learn how to fish.
The editor had made the arrangements, and she'd been on a plane within a few days of getting the assignment, leaving her only enough time to pack the essentials and what she thought she might need. She'd thrown in some shorts and summer shirts and a pair of sneakers but had no time to shop for any actual outdoor gear. She'd assumed she could buy what she needed once she got to town.
Arriving about an hour ago, she'd checked into her room at the local bed and breakfast. It was only as she drove through the town that she realized her shopping choices were severely limited.
Miss Abigail, the cute little old lady that ran the bed and breakfast had suggested she try Miller's Mercantile, claiming they had just about everything.
They did have everything, including an old canoe hanging from the ceiling. Everything about the store was old, from the battered display shelves to the crumbling water-stained walls to the woman sitting behind the counter, reading a book.
She tried to see the charm in the decades-old store, with its kitschy knickknacks, polished hardwood floors, and the underlying scent of lemon floor wax.
But she was hot and tired and her patience was wearing thin, and all she saw as she looked around was a scattering of cheap clothes on the dressing room floor. If you could even call it that. It was really just a set of partitions separated by flimsy dividers against the back wall of the store.
Peering up the paneled walls, she saw boxes and display racks stacked in the rafters of the unfinished ceiling. A series of cobwebs clung to the single lightbulb above the dressing room, and she started at the sight of a bare-armed hand poking out from behind a box, but then she realized it belonged to the arm of a mannequin.
Great, it would be just her luck to have one of those boxes or a one-armed mannequin fall on her head.
She'd already tried on a plaid shirt that blocked UV rays and mosquitoes — note to self, get bug spray — and some khaki quick-dry shorts that had enough zippered pockets to hold everything and the kitchen sink.
She let out a sigh and picked up the chest waders, or at least that's what the tag said they were called. How do you even wear these things?
They were like a pair of rubber overalls with adjustable canvas suspenders, and she wrinkled her nose at their strong latex smell. Pausing, she considered putting her clothes back on first, but she didn't want them to smell like the weird rubbery scent of the waders.
Should she even try them on at all? She had no idea.
But she decided it was better to try them on now and figure out how they worked rather than make a fool of herself in front of the fishing guide.
Leaning against the wall, she pulled the chest waders on and slid the suspenders over her bare shoulders, then stood back to check her reflection in the mirror, laughing at the image of her lacy bra and panty set under the waders as she stood on the banks of a creek.
That'd shake up this sleepy town.
The waders had slick soles and the filmy rubber stuck to her skin. She lifted her knee, sticking her hand into the waders to release the suction of the rubber. Unsteady on one foot, with her hand caught against her leg, her feet slipped on the tile. She lost her balance and bumped against the wall. The boxes above her rattled in the rafters, and she pulled her hand free as she peered up, blinking into the dust that had shaken loose.
A small movement in the rafters caught her eye, and she froze, staring in shock at the thin greenish snake that slithered out of the loosened box and glided across the rafter.
What the hell?
She blinked, unable to comprehend the image of a snake on the ceiling of her dressing room. Taking a step back, she knocked into the partition, jostling it against the wall and knocking the snake loose.
Frozen in place, her eyes wide, she could only stare as it clung to the side of the rafter with the end of its tail, the rest of its thin striped body dangling in the air.
Then to her utter horror, it lost its grip and dropped from the ceiling, its slimy, slithering body hitting her chest and her bare stomach before it fell straight down into the leg of the waders.
For one long second, she stood stock still, immobile with the terror of what had just happened — then all hell broke loose.CHAPTER 2
Sully heard the shriek of panic and dropped the pack of batteries as he raced for the dressing room.
He didn't hesitate. Sensing she was in trouble, he shoved a rack of clothes out of his way as he sprinted toward her.
He'd barely reached the fitting room when the curtain pushed out, and the woman inside flung herself through it and into his arms.
Hopping back, she continued to shriek as she peeled down the suspenders of the waders, exposing her bare stomach and ample breasts that practically popped out of a black lace bra.
Scarcely able to register that she was in her underwear and waders, he could only stare as she performed what appeared to be a panicked striptease.
"Get them off," she screamed at him, falling to the floor and kicking her legs. "There's a snake in my pants!"
He finally grasped what she was saying — not that a snake in her pants made any kind of sense — but he reckoned she wanted out of the pants and grabbed the heel of the waders. Giving a hard tug, he tried to free her, but the rubber stuck to her bare legs.
Between that, the way she was kicking her legs, and the distraction of the black lace thong she revealed as he pulled on the waders, it was a miracle he could focus enough to do anything.
He gave a final yank, and her foot popped free. She wriggled backward, drawing her knees up to her chest as a small garter snake slithered out of the top of the waders.
"Get it! There it is!" she screamed, pointing at the snake.
He reached down and picked the snake up by the tail, holding it in the air as it tried to coil up to his hand. "This little guy?"
"Little? He didn't seem little when he was slithering down my chest," she shrieked, her breath coming out in hard gasps. "I'd like to see how you'd react if you had a snake in your pants."
He blinked — completely at a loss for how to respond to that.
He was saved by Madge hurrying in from the back room, a package of batteries in her hand. "What's going on? I heard someone screaming."
She looked down at the woman in her underwear on the floor, and her eyes widened.
Sully glanced around, looking for something, anything, to give the blonde to cover up with. He grabbed a compact umbrella from the rack next to him and tossed it to her. It was the closest thing to him, and it was better than nothing.
She caught the umbrella and, turning it over in her hands, she gave him an incredulous look. "What the hell am I supposed to do with this?"
"Open it," he sputtered, gesturing to her body. "To cover yourself."
"I'm not opening an umbrella inside. It's bad luck." She tossed it to the floor.
He couldn't believe it. The woman who just had a snake fall in her pants was now worried about her luck.
Madge grabbed a raincoat from a nearby rack and passed it to the woman, who offered her a grateful glance then covered herself with the jacket. "There was a snake. It came out of those boxes in the ceiling and fell on me. It hit my chest then fell down inside my pants."
Excerpted from Hooked on Love by Jennie Marts, Allison Collins. Copyright © 2016 Jennie Marts. 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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