"You can't go wrong picking up a Susan Fox book." Romance Reviews Today
Pay a visit to Caribou Crossing, the rustic, inviting Western town where broken hearts mend and new love takes root. . .
Dave Cousins, owner of the Wild Rose Inn, is known throughout Caribou Crossing as the nicestand loneliestguy in town. He's had his heart broken more than once, and he's determined not to let it happen again. So it's no wonder he's wary when a free-spirited drifter leaves him longing for more than just a steamy fling. . .
Like the wild goose tattooed on her shoulder, Cassidy Esperanza goes wherever the wind takes her. For her, a new day means a fresh start. And yet something about her days in Caribou Crossingand nights with its handsome hotel ownermakes her think about staying a while. But when life takes an unexpected turn, her first instinct is to take flight once more. Is Dave strong enough to help them both face their fears, come to terms with the past, and believe that sometimes love truly can last a lifetime?
"The perfect sweep-you-away storysmart, sexy, funny and touching. Susan Fox delivers an unforgettable read." Susan Wiggs on Home on the Range
About the Author
Award-winning, international best-selling author Susan Fox (who also writes as Savanna Fox and Susan Lyons) is a Pacific Northwester with homes in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. She has degrees in law and psychology, and has had a variety of careers, including perennial student, computer consultant, and legal editor. Fiction writer is by far her favorite, giving her an outlet to demonstrate her belief in the power of love, friendship, and a sense of humor. Visit her website at www.susanfox.ca.
Read an Excerpt
Love Me Tender
By SUSAN FOX
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Susan Lyons
All rights reserved.
At five-thirty A.M., Dave Cousins eased open his daughter's door to check that all was well. Eleven-year-old Robin didn't stir from what he'd be willing to bet was a horsy dream. Merlin, their black poodle, raised his head from where he lay curled on the rug beside the bed. At Dave's silent gesture, his head went back down. Robin would take the dog out once she rose. Until then, it was Merlin's job to guard her while Dave, the owner of the Wild Rose Inn, went downstairs to do some work.
He cast one more loving glance at her face, so sweet and relaxed in sleep, and the tumbled chestnut hair that by day was always pony-tailed. He sure did like the days Robin stayed with him, rather than with Jessie and Evan. His ex-wife and her new husband lived outside town, surrounded by horses. In many ways, they had so much more to offer Robin. So far, luckily, that fact didn't seem to trouble the girl. Dave loved her to pieces, and she seemed to reciprocate.
When Robin wasn't around, his life, no matter how busy, felt empty. Lonely.
If Anita hadn't died, things would be so different.
The thought brought a surge of pain, anger, guilt, and desolation, that nasty thundercloud of emotions. He swallowed against the ache that choked his throat, and forced back the feelings.
This was why he tried not to think of the fiancée who had been the love of his life.
Briskly he walked to the door of the two-bedroom owner's suite on the top floor of the Wild Rose and pulled on his cowboy boots, then let himself out. As he ran down the four flights of stairs, he was already looking forward to returning in a couple of hours to have breakfast with Robin.
When he entered the lobby, lit by early morning sun, the Wild Rose worked her—he always thought of the inn as "her"—magic on him, and he felt a sense of peace and satisfaction. He had rescued a lovely but ramshackle historic building that was destined for destruction and restored her, creating a haven for travelers and a gathering place for locals.
The décor featured rustic yet comfortable Western furniture accented with photographs and antiques honoring Caribou Crossing's gold rush history. Behind the front desk, Sam, the retired RCMP officer who handled the inn overnight, frowned into space through his horn-rims.
"Morning," Dave greeted him. "Words not flowing?" Sam was writing a mystery novel and it came in fits and starts.
"Got distracted." Sam scratched his balding head. "By the woman in twenty-two."
"Someone who checked in last night?" Twenty-two had been one of only three empty rooms at the beginning of the man's shift. "I take it she's pretty?" Sam had never married and had an eye for the ladies, which translated into a rough charm that suited the Wild Rose's ambience.
"For sure. Once she got some color back in her cheeks." Sam paused, a born storyteller confident that he'd hooked his audience.
The night manager leaned forward, his pale gray eyes bright even after a night awake. "It's past eleven when she staggers into the lobby. Mid- to late twenties, slim build, some Latina blood. Jeans and a top that's too light for the nights this time of year." June in Caribou Crossing featured warm, sunny days but the temperature cooled when the sun went down.
"Staggers?" Pale and staggering; that didn't sound good.
"Those white cheeks of hers, they weren't just from the cold. It's more like she's done in, on her last legs. She stumbles across to the desk, backpack weighing her down. I get up to go take her pack, but before I reach her, what does she up and do?" His shaggy gray eyebrows lifted.
"What does she up and do?"
"Faints dead away."
Dave frowned, worried. "Did you call nine-one-one?"
The storyteller was probably incapable of giving a simple yes-or-no answer. "I bend down, make sure she has a pulse, and by then she's stirring. So I whip into the bar and fetch a shot of rye. The Caribou Crossing Single Barrel. Figure if our hometown drink doesn't fix her up, I'll call for help."
Dave didn't know whether to groan or grin. "Did she drink it?"
"I wave it under the gal's nose, and she snorts and jumps back like a horse when it sees a snake. She sits up, grabs the glass, downs it in one swallow, and says, 'Damn, that's good.'"
Surprised and relieved, Dave laughed and Sam joined in.
"I did offer to call a doc," Sam assured him, "but she says no, she's just exhausted and hungry. Been hitchhiking all day, up from Vancouver, hasn't had much to eat. Says she came in to ask if there's a hostel in town. That whisky put some color back in her cheeks and she's trying to be all bright and cheery. But under all that, she looks like a nag that's been rode hard and put up wet. I tell her she'll stay here; she starts to argue; I tell her I won't take no guff. Give her a key, carry her pack up to twenty-two, then I heat up some beef stew and biscuits from the kitchen and take it up." He shrugged. "After that, I don't hear another peep out of her."
"Hmm." Dave glanced at the ceiling, still concerned. "I'd feel better if a doctor had taken a look at her." A few of the doctors had an arrangement through an answering service: one was always on call, and they made house calls.
"She said she wasn't going to waste a doctor's time. The gal was pretty damned firm about it." He gave his balding head a shake. "Put me in mind of old Ms. Haldenby. You know?"
The retired schoolteacher was a fine—and intimidating—woman who definitely knew her own mind. "There's no arguing with someone like that," Dave agreed. "It sounds like you did all you could. Good work, Sam."
"See if you still say that when I tell you I didn't get a credit card or even a name. Figured it could wait till she was feeling better."
"Yeah. Even if she skips, it's no big loss." Dave was more worried about the woman's health. But Sam was a smart, observant guy. If he'd thought their visitor really was sick, he'd have overridden her objections, as he had when he'd given her a room.
"Anyhow," Sam said, "the damned woman took my mind right out of my book. Got me thinking about her story, and I bet it's a good one."
Dave rolled his eyes. "You and your overactive imagination. She's a hitchhiker who didn't have the sense to rest when she needed to. She'll be up and on the road, hopefully paying her bill before she goes."
* * *
Around eleven, Dave was at the front desk relieving Deepta, the receptionist who worked week days from six-thirty to two-thirty. He was trying to book opera tickets in Vancouver for guests who were heading there tomorrow, but the online system kept glitching. Frustrated, he took a deep breath, unsnapped the cuffs of his Western shirt and rolled them up his forearms, and gave the system another go. It stalled again.
"Hi there," a cheerful female voice said. "Anywhere around here I can get a good capooch?"
He looked up and his eyes widened in appreciation. This had to be the guest in twenty-two, and yeah, she sure was pretty. Medium height, slim, nice curves shown off by shorts and a purple tank worn over something that had pink straps. He saw the Latina in her olive-toned skin and the shiny black hair cut in a short, elfin cap. Her black-lashed eyes were blue-gray and sparkling, matching her white smile. She was the picture of health, he was relieved to see.
And that smile was irresistible. He smiled back. "That translate to cappuccino?"
Humor warmed her eyes. "What else?"
"Thought maybe you were talking about some weird mixed-breed dog," he drawled.
Her burble of laughter was musical and infectious. "No, it's caffeine I need right now." She yawned widely without covering her mouth.
It should have been unattractive but he had trouble imagining that anything this woman did would be unattractive. Something stirred inside him, a warm ripple through his blood. "Caffeine does come in handy now and then."
"A double-shot capooch sure would." She stuck a hand out. "I'm Cassidy. Cassidy Esperanza."
With guests, he aimed for the personal touch, so he came out from behind the desk and extended his hand. "Dave Cousins."
He spotted a tattoo on the cap of her right shoulder: a Canada goose flying across the moon. Striking, almost haunting.
Cassidy's hand was like the rest of her: light brown, slender, attractive. Her shake was full of vitality. He shook a lot of hands in the course of a day, but this one felt particularly good in his—and now the ripple in his veins was a tingle of awareness. No, more than awareness; he was aware of lots of appealing women. This was attraction.
His heart—the part of it that could fall in love—had died three years ago. His body hadn't, but he had zero desire to follow up on any hormonal stirrings.
So why was it so difficult to free his hand from his guest's? "Best coffee in town's right here." A couple of the coffee shops did a fine job too, but for some reason he wanted to keep Cassidy Esperanza at the Wild Rose. "Good food too, if you're hungry."
"Cool." She gave another of those huge yawns, stretched her arms up, and raked her fingers through that cap of hair, ruffling it. Normally, he preferred long hair on women, but the pixie cap suited Cassidy's slightly exotic face.
"I'm awake," she said with a quick laugh, eyes dancing as she studied his face. "I swear I am. Got a good sleep too. Don't know why I'm yawning." Her face sobered. "Before I do anything, I need to have a talk with the manager."
"Let me guess, you're twenty-two."
"Twenty-two?" She shook her head slightly, looking confused. "No, I'm twenty-seven. What a weird question."
"Sorry, I mean room twenty-two. The woman who came in last night and ..." He paused, curious to see what she'd say.
"Did a face plant?" She raised her brows ruefully. "You heard about that? Yeah, that's me. Totally embarrassing. But the guy on the desk was great. Only problem is ..." She pressed her full, pink lips together, then released them. "Can I confide in you? Maybe you can give me some advice."
He dragged his gaze from her lips. "Uh, sure."
"The nice guy gave me a room last night, and food, but the thing is, I don't have the money to pay. I came in to get warm and see if someone could point me toward a hostel, and next thing I knew I was on the floor and this guy was"—she broke off and grinned with the memory—"waking me up with a whiff of whisky. Which tasted delicious, and I guess I owe for that too, now that I think of it."
"No, I realize I owe for the room and everything, and this is a classy place so it won't be cheap. But the thing is, I'm pretty much broke."
He opened his mouth, but she rushed on again. "I swear I won't cut out on you. I was going to look for a job in Caribou Crossing anyway, and as soon as I get one and have some money, I'll pay up. But it might take a few days and I'd sure understand if the manager was mad. So if you could give me any tips on how to deal with him, I'd really appreciate it."
As best he could tell, she was sincere. "Tell him the truth. And you did. I'm the owner of the Wild Rose."
"Oh! My gosh, I didn't realize. Wow. You don't look old enough."
He'd heard that before. "Just turned thirty."
She studied him again, lips curving. "Gotta love a hotel where the owner wears jeans and cowboy boots."
"It's part of our ambience."
She glanced around the lobby. "Yeah, it's kind of a cool blend of Old West and Santa Fe. That room—twenty-two—is awesome. That four-poster canopy bed with all the ruffles and flounces, the stool to climb up into it. I worried when I saw the chamber pot, but then I realized it was for decoration and there was a real bathroom. Claw-foot tub and all."
Canopy bed. Claw-foot tub. Slim, vibrant, sexy Cassidy. Physical stirrings below the belt had him giving a mental head-shake. He would never fool around with an inn guest. In the past three years, he'd pretty much figured he'd never fool around again. If he wanted female companionship, he had platonic friends. Casual sex wasn't his thing, and love wasn't going to happen. Anita had been the love of his life. His heart belonged to her, and always would.
And there he went, thinking of her again. The familiar sense of desolation threatened, but somehow the grin Cassidy tilted toward him countered it.
"So, Dave Cousins, Mr. Owner, want to have breakfast with me? I'll run my tab even higher and you can tell me where I might find work."
Though he liked being friendly and informal with guests, he kept it professional. Occasionally, he joined them for a drink or a coffee, but not often. This time he was tempted—against his better judgment. There was something about Cassidy that made him feel ... lighter.CHAPTER 2
Cassidy studied the man in front of her. He was handsome in a way that snuck up on you. At first, he'd just been a tall, rangy guy with regular features. But the longer she looked, the more she took in. The leanness of hip and length of leg in nicely faded jeans belted with braided leather. The flex of muscles in his tanned forearms and beneath the gentle drape of his sage green Western-style shirt. The way his thick sandy brown hair framed the strong lines of his face and flopped engagingly over his forehead; the direct gaze of hazel eyes flecked with green and gold; the tiniest suggestion, when he smiled, that a dimple might want to break through.
Easy on the eyes. The expression had been made for Dave Cousins.
"Easy" wasn't the word to describe his effect on other parts of her body. He most definitely sent a tingle through all her girly parts. It had been a while since she'd felt so attracted.
Unfortunately, Dave was shaking his head. "Sorry, I need to stay on the desk until the receptionist gets back."
Cassidy was about to respond when her attention was caught by a Native Canadian woman striding into the lobby. She looked to be twenty or so, and was striking with long, shining black hair falling past the shoulders of a crisp white Western shirt. Cassidy checked the footwear below her slim-fitting dark jeans: red cowboy boots that gave her a rare case of shoe envy.
"Hey," Dave greeted her. "Madisun, this is Cassidy Esperanza, one of our guests. Cassidy, Madisun Joe is my assistant manager."
And young for such responsibility. Clearly, Madisun had career ambitions and drive. Unlike Cassidy, who was all about new places, new people, new experiences.
"It's nice to meet you," Cassidy said.
"Welcome to the Wild Rose, Cassidy," Madisun said. She turned to Dave, setting silver feather-shaped earrings dancing against her neck. "I have the final plans for Karen and Jamal's wedding reception, whenever you want to take a look."
"Thanks." He glanced at Cassidy, then back to Madisun. "Would you mind taking the desk until Deepta comes back?"
Excellent! Thank you, Madisun.
"Great," Dave said. "And could you book two tickets for the Vancouver Opera's Carmen at the Queen Elizabeth, Wednesday night, for Mr. and Mrs. Grunewald? The online system kept glitching, so you may have to make a call."
"If you need me, I'll be in the restaurant with Cassidy."
Madisun's brown eyes widened slightly. "Okay."
Smiling, Cassidy crossed the lobby at Dave's side. As they were about to enter the dining room, a female instinct made her dart a glance over her shoulder. Madisun stood rooted to the spot, staring after them. Hmm. What was up with that?
Inside the restaurant, Dave said hello to a female server. The young blonde's long burgundy velvet dress was flattering, but the style was old-fashioned, as was her upswept hairdo held in place with sparkly combs. Glancing past her, Cassidy noted a male server in a buttoned vest, bow tie, and brimmed hat. The servers and the décor, featuring dark wood and gleaming brass, had the feel of a classy saloon from a Western movie set back in the 1800s.
The Wild Rose Inn was impressive, and so was its owner. Cassidy peeked at Dave's ring finger, which was bare. If he was single, a hot guy like him, a business owner, had to be one of the most eligible bachelors in this small town. Which meant that, if he was still single, he likely wasn't marriage minded. And that meant he and Cassidy had something important in common. Marriage was a crap shoot, the odds of failure higher than those of success. She'd learned that from her parents. And when marriages failed, families were torn apart. Hearts got broken.
Excerpted from Love Me Tender by SUSAN FOX. Copyright © 2014 Susan Lyons. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fear. It's what kept Dave's heart closed for so long, and what kept Cassidy on the run. Amazing how one word, four letters, can do to a person. Dave and Cassidy struggled with their individual fears for most of this story. Dave buried his heart with his fiancee three years ago. Cassidy refused to open hers because her parents were lousy examples of what it meant to love someone. Disillusioned but needing each other more than they needed air, this unlikely couple embarked on a casual relationship where emotions were not supposed to come into play. But the heart has a way of knowing that the time to love again and to begin loving is right. It was amusing to watch Cassidy work her magic on Dave, convince him with words and smiles to talk about his late-fiancee, to try to allow his broken heart to heal. In retrospect, she should have heeded her own advice. While I liked Cassidy's sunny disposition and carpe diem attitude about life, I kept hoping she'd hear what she was saying to Dave and put her own words into action. While she seemed to understand that parents are supposed to be examples for their children to follow, but she also seemed to forget that parents are not infallible. They will make mistakes, but the beautiful thing is that a child can learn from them and make conscience decisions to do differently. The inclusion of multiple sclerosis was brilliant. Cassidy's reaction to her diagnosis wasn't a surprise. bit Dave's reaction was. I figured he would've let her go after she disappeared with a text saying goodbye. He didn't. His daughter's Facebook updates about Cassidy's whereabouts led to them reuniting and to her returning to Caribou Crossing for treatment with him as part of her support team. For the first time in a long time, Cassidy had what she'd been denied most of her life: support from others. I really enjoyed this story. It's a nice, easy going read for a rainy day. It made me laugh, smile, frown, and think. It had me appreciating Dave and Cassidy's individual differences while hoping they made it to forever together. Characters from other books make appearances, adding to the richness of this small town romance between two people who needed to overcome their fears first before they could really, truly fall in love. 4.5* ***Received from NetGalley via Tasty Book Tours for an honest review***
I have found a new series! While it is not necessary to read the previous books in the series, I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I was familiar with Dave as well as the supporting cast. That said, there is enough background provided so that you aren't wondering who everyone is. I feel that Dave and Cassidy complimented each other perfectly. Cassidy made him feel alive again after suffering a devastating loss, and Dave shows Cassidy what love and home really is. Like the title suggests, this book is full of tender and romantic moments, as well as some sexy ones. I'm looking forward to reading the previous books as well as the next one! eARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.