A smoking hot stuntman. A fiery horse breeder. And a 220-acre ranch too small for both of them.
She’s avoided Hollywood for years…
When an arrogant Hollywood stuntman struts into Samantha McNeill’s breeding barn, sparks fly. She doesn’t care how mouthwateringly gorgeous he is, not when he assumes Pacific Vista Ranch’s resident horse breeding manager must be a man. Not to mention his job threatens to pull her family back into the paparazzi filled world they escaped from over a decade ago.
Now it’s at her door––wearing faded jeans and a wicked grin.
Holt Ericsson can tell the beautiful redhead hates him on sight and the feeling is becoming mutual. But he will call in a favor and convince Sam’s legendary director father that Pacific Vista Ranch is the only suitable place left in California to film an epic Western. Holt’s invested all his savings in the movie and his entire career is riding on it. No way will he allow one irritating, sexy woman to stand in his way.
Sam intends to fight him at every turn…if only her heart didn’t race when they’re together. Holt does his best to steer clear of her…except all he wants to do is hold her close. The sizzling attraction between them is either going to burn up the sheets or burn down the ranch…
Read an Excerpt
Samantha McNeill was in one of the upper rings of hell, or at least the inside of a wood-fired pizza oven. She wiped the sweat from the back of her neck, shifted her heavy braid over her shoulder, and stuffed her scratchy cowboy hat back onto her head. The Santa Ana winds were plaguing Rancho Santa Fe, California, and the dry, crackling air had transformed her state-of-the-art quarter horse breeding barn into a furnace.
She tilted her head to the high wood-beamed ceiling and huffed out a breath. Pacific Vista Ranch's prized stallion, Hercules, had duties to attend to and time was ticking. No time to contemplate the heat. She smoothed her sweaty palms over her well-worn denims and yelled, "We ready? Where's the tease mare?" "Marco is bringing her. Is the doctor on her way?" Owen, her tall, lanky stallion manager, stood with Hercules in a separate stall space, just beyond the main breeding area.
"I'm here, I'm here. Sorry I'm late." Dr. Amanda McNeill, Sam's big sister and the resident equine veterinarian, rushed directly to the horse breeding platform, and double-checked to make sure the height of the phantom mare was correctly set up. If the breeding mount wasn't precisely adjusted for the stallion, he couldn't perform and the entire afternoon would be a waste of time. "This miserable heat is stirring up all the animals over in rehab."
"Marco, hurry up. Where's Christina? We need the tease mare pronto." Sam gritted her teeth. Without the female's influence in the afternoon romance, Hercules's contribution could be jeopardized. Why couldn't her ranch hand ever be on time?
"In Hollywood, we call the Christinas of the world fluffers." A deep voice drawled from behind her.
Hollywood? She hated Hollywood. Who was in her barn and why was he comparing her mare to a woman hired to arouse a male porn star? Seriously?
She counted to three and turned around to see who'd uttered the juvenile comment. Golden rays shimmered around a tall, rangy man standing in the open entrance of the enormous shed, creating the illusion of an angel fallen to earth. The uninvited stranger's face remained shrouded in the shadows. Probably not an angel.
"Hilarious. Never heard that one before. Yes, Christina is one of our resident fluffers. Ha ha." Sam crossed her arms, her cotton shirt sticking to her shoulder blades. Was the temperature escalating?
"Come on, it was pretty funny." He chuckled. "I'm looking for Chris McNeill or Sam, the breeding manager? The guy at the east gate told me to make my way to the main building. Maybe I took a wrong turn?" He sauntered toward her on long denim-clad legs. "Or are you Sam?" He called out to Owen.
Of course he assumed Owen was the breeding manager, because the breeding manager couldn't be a female, right? She hadn't liked Mr. Hollywood on sight, and now she disliked him even more. "You were right the first time," she said. "You took a wrong turn, so why don't you and your brilliant sense of humor just spin around, get back in your car, and don't stop until you've returned to Los Angeles."
"Sam!" Amanda scolded. Her sister acted more like a surrogate mom, despite being only two years her senior. She called her out when she was rude, or ruder than usual. Sam scowled. What, had that been ruder than usual?
"We don't have time to waste, especially not for amateur comedians." She pivoted back toward the breeding platform. She would fire Marco if he didn't arrive with the fluffer––damn it, the tease mare–– in the next ten seconds.
"You're Sam?" Doubt threaded through Mr. Hollywood's husky voice, which now came from directly over her shoulder. "I thought Sam was a ..." "A man?" Damn it, she didn't need this. She had worked twice as hard to prove herself in the male-dominated industry, not to mention endured endless jokes about her dubious title.
"Look, I've got business —" Mr. Hollywood began.
She cut him off. "Listen. As you may be able to tell, we are in a horsebreeding barn. People from all over the country pay big bucks for our top stallion's bloodline. We are right in the middle of helping our stallion make a deposit with the phantom mare so we can freeze it and send it off." She enunciated each word slowly, as if she were trying to communicate with a toddler. "So I'd appreciate it if you'd just shut up and––"
She turned toward him and her breath lodged in her throat as she caught her first full glimpse of him, and a shiver of awareness prickled the hairs on the back of her neck.
Messy blond hair framed a high-cheek-boned, square-jawed, perfectly chiseled face. Piercing silvery blue eyes narrowed and his full lips pressed together when her words registered. A white scar slashed through his left eyebrow, saving him from looking too angelic. No wonder he was cocky. His face would cause any woman to forget her own name.
Any woman except for her, of course. She was immune to pretty boys. Her accelerated pulse had nothing to do with his broad shoulders or his warm masculine scent.
Of course it didn't.
She pulled her attention back to the center of the room. Her sister was biting her lip, fighting back a grin, obviously reading her reaction to the man, as sisters do. And maybe not just sisters. Owen kept his gaze focused on Hercules, but a reddish flush crept up his neck, a sign he was stifling laughter. Hercules tossed his ebony mane, pawed the dirt and seemed to roll his eyes.
"Enough already. This is business." Sam said when Marco sashayed in with Christina, the beautiful chestnut mare who always managed to get Hercules motivated for his job of sharing his superior genes.
And Christina was not a fluffer.
"Nice of you to finally join us." She frowned at Marco and vowed to reprimand him later.
Hercules chuffed and pawed the ground. Christina was one of his favorite ladies, but in reality Hercules liked them all. Unlike their former stallion Julius, who would turn up his velvety nose if a mare didn't meet with his approval, Hercules wasn't picky. He didn't care if the brood mare's haunches weren't well-rounded or her mane wasn't suitably silky––he was always raring to go.
The stallion made her job easy––unlike her tardy ranch hand and the tall unwelcome stranger. What business could this guy have with her dad or her? No way was he here to buy or sell horses. She squared her shoulders and focused. She was one of the best breeding managers in the country and she wouldn't be distracted by Mr. Hollywood's presence in her barn.
Sam hurried to the breeding platform and took her place opposite her sister, ignoring the irritating man behind her, at least for now. Awareness skittered down her spine––she could feel his hot gaze burning into her. She nodded to her sister and called to Owen.
"Let's do this."
After allowing Hercules a brief nuzzle, Christina exited stage left and Owen led Hercules to the phantom mare, which had the right anatomical parts of a real mare, without the legs, tail and head. Twenty seconds later, it was over. Hercules didn't waste time. The stallion manager escorted a now relaxed Hercules back to his premium fancy stall, where all he needed was a cigarette and a nap.
"I'll bring everything back to the lab for you," her sister said after Sam had collected the sample from the phantom mare.
Sam walked over to the large sink against the near wall and washed her hands. "Thanks, Amanda, is everything okay down at the rehab facility or do you need some help?"
"I've got it covered, but I'll run back down now because I still have tons to do. Are you sure you've got everything handled here?" Her sister raised her brows.
Sam had almost forgotten about idiot hot guy, but when she turned back, he remained rooted to the same spot. Damn it, he was as gorgeous as a fallen archangel. Too bad the effect was ruined when he opened his mouth and spoke.
"I thought I'd seen everything, but that was something else. Your stud sure doesn't seem to mind an audience, does he?" Mr. Hollywood chuckled.
"Oh please, I'm sure you wouldn't either." Okay, so maybe she should have kept that thought to herself, but he rubbed her the wrong way.
"Ma'am, if you could just tell me where I can find your father, I'll be out of your way." He aimed a crooked grin at her sister. Sam's gut clenched––this guy was trouble. She always trusted her gut.
"I'll show you where to go —" Amanda stepped off the platform and approached Mr. Hollywood.
Sam scowled and crossed her arms. "Who are you and what do you want with our father?"
"I'm sorry, my name's Holt Ericsson. I'm sure he'll fill you in, but I need to speak with him directly. He's expecting me, so if you'll just point me in the right direction ..." Despite his polite tone of voice, she could swear he was smirking at her. What was this guy's deal?
Shaking her head, Amanda smiled at him. "You just take the road about a quarter-mile farther and you can't miss it. Our dad's office is in the house. You can park in front. Are you sure we can't answer any questions for you?" "No thanks. I appreciate the enlightening scene — I'll never forget Christina." He grinned at Amanda, pivoted on his worn cowboy boots, and strolled out of the barn. And, no, Sam wasn't checking out his butt, she was simply making sure he was gone.
"Is that steam pumping out of your ears, little sister?" Amanda said. "I know it's hotter than Hades in here and the season's in full swing, but you were pretty hard on him."
"Didn't he bug you too? I'm sorry, but I don't like this one bit. A Hollywood guy looking for Dad can only cause trouble." But maybe she had been a teeny bit over the top.
"Who knows? If you're really concerned, why don't you go up to the house and see?" Amanda squeezed her shoulder. "You have to admit he is awfully easy on the eyes."
"Easy on the eyes. Please." Sam snorted. "You're right though. After I clean up everything here, I'll go up and make sure Mr. Hollywood doesn't get lost on the way off our property."CHAPTER 2
Holt Ericsson accelerated up the hill because he had a feeling he wouldn't get much time with Mr. McNeill if his fiery-tempered daughter interrupted them. Come on, his joke had been funny — but maybe they'd heard that one hundreds of times before. He had grown up around horses outside of Denver, but he'd never been on a quarter horse breeding ranch. Who knew stallions needed a little encouragement? He'd received a full education in less than five minutes. Fluffer horses. He chuckled.
Maybe he should have conducted a little more research on the key players before cruising down from L.A. He'd never heard of a female breeding manager and with a name like Sam, who could blame him for assuming she was a he? Although Sam McNeill smelled like sunshine and her snug jeans showcased the most perfect butt he'd ever seen, he had an assignment. No time for prickly pint-sized redheads.
When he curved around the winding road, he hit the brakes to admire the sunlight glancing off the terracotta tiled roof and enormous sparkling windows of the cream-colored, Mediterranean-style estate. No way could anyone miss this house. It resembled a sprawling Bel Air mansion or Malibu manor, accented by beds of white and pale pink roses, clusters of red and purple bougainvillea, and giant orange birds of paradise. Did people get lost when they lived in houses this huge? He'd grown up in a modest ranch-style house outside of Denver and had never become accustomed to the ostentatious estates up in Los Angeles.
Holt continued up the driveway and parked his white Ford truck next to a gleaming Land Rover, which made his five-year-old pickup look ready for the scrap yard. He got out of his truck and headed to the front door, which was twenty feet high with a large black wrought iron door handle and a huge brass lion doorknocker. He lifted it and let it drop to announce his arrival.
A few moments later, the front door opened and instead of a stereotypical British-accented butler in a tuxedo he'd been half-expecting, a striking redhead in a floaty sundress stood in the open entrance. He did a double take because there was something familiar about her.
"Hello?" Her musical voice lilted up in question and her full ruby lips curved in a welcoming smile. "Can I help you?" She tilted her head to the side.
"I'm Holt Ericsson and I'm here to see Chris McNeill. Am I in the right place? Because I already made one wrong turn. Your vet was kind enough to direct me up here."
"Oh, you must've stopped at the breeding barn. People make that mistake all the time. Come on in, I'll take you to my dad's office. It's in the other wing." She stepped back and gestured with one slender arm for him to enter.
"Your dad?" Another sister? How many were there?
"Yes, I'm Dylan McNeill. You met Amanda, my older sister, and probably ran into Sam too."
He swallowed a rude comment about Sam. "Yes, I walked in on some, umm, horse business."
"Oh no, you didn't walk in during the middle of a breeding session, did you?" Laughter tinkled in her voice.
He fell into step alongside her and they crossed an enormous biscuit-colored hallway with vast ceilings and rich hardwood floors. Open doorways revealed glimpses of colorful paintings, large furniture, and azure sky peering in through floor-to-ceiling windows. Impressive.
"That's exactly what I did. And your sister Sam wasn't too happy about it."
Dylan laughed. "That's my twin sister. She's very serious about her job and runs the operation with an iron fist. Sam can be blunt when she's working, but you shouldn't take it personally."
Her words registered and his jaw dropped open. "You're twins?" It was like The Dark Half by Stephen King––the evil twin had devoured the good twin in the womb.
She smiled. "We're identical twins."
"No way." No way in hell could this sweet, polite woman be the twin of the sassy terror in the barn.
"Yes way." She nodded and her dark eyes sparkled with humor. "Seriously, we are identical. Our features are exactly alike, even if our personalities aren't. We used to trick people all the time when we were kids."
"I'll take your word for it ..." No need to argue, but no way. The foul-tempered woman in the barn was most definitely not a beauty like her graceful, feminine sibling.
"Here we are." She stopped in front of a closed door, rapped twice, and opened it. "Dad, I've got someone here to see you."
He followed her into a huge study. Wow, he'd never seen so many books except in a library. Along the far wall, built-in bookshelves were stuffed to the brim with leather-bound tomes. If he hadn't known the ranch was successful, he would now by all the framed certificates and trophies on the walls and shelves.
A tall, rugged, strawberry-blond man rose from behind a massive teak desk, scattered with files and papers.
"You must be Holt. Harry told me to expect you sometime today." He skirted around the desk and offered a firm handshake. "Did you find it okay?" "He accidentally went to the breeding barn first and interrupted Sam." Dylan laughed, apparently highly entertained about the situation. If she only knew the off-color joke he'd made and her sister's furious reaction, she might not be so friendly.
Mr. McNeill barked out a laugh. "That must've been educational."
Holt nodded and smiled. No need to offend the patriarch. Who was he to judge if the man allowed his brash daughter to run his ranch operation? From what he'd seen in Los Angeles, wealthy parents indulged their children all the time.
"If you gentlemen will excuse me, I'll let you get to your business. I've got to get back to my studio." Dylan strolled out of the room.
"Holt, can I offer you anything? I've got bottled water here in the minifridge or we can get some coffee?" Mr. McNeill asked.
"Water's great. No need to make a fuss." Go time. His movie producer boss, Harry Shaw, had warned him to seal the deal.
Mr. McNeill returned to the chair behind his desk and gestured for Holt to sit in one of the comfortable tan leather chairs facing him. "So, tell me what's so urgent Harry insisted I meet with you today?" He steepled tanned fingers under his chin and rested his elbows on his desk.
Holt rubbed his hands on his thighs. Damn, why hadn't Harry made it clear how much he'd shared with McNeill and also the nature of the favor he was calling in?
"Well, he probably told you his new movie is a large-scale Western." When Mr. McNeill nodded, he continued. "Everything has been going smoothly in pre-production and then we lost our location site."
"And what does that have to do with me?"
"Well, the ranch in Paso Robles we were planning on using was destroyed in a fire. Without the location, Harry's worried the movie will go under. The budget is astronomical already and we can't afford to pay too much for another location."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Nobody Else But You"
Copyright © 2019 Claire Marti.
Excerpted by permission of Claire Marti.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Horses, Hollywood and Past Tragedy. A highly enjoyable story set on a luxurious horse breeding ranch. Interesting plot and characters with a HEA ending. This is the first book I have read by this author and I am now a fan of her work. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
One must pick and choose their battles before they enter into a war. Holt and Sam are in for one epic battle. Nobody Else But You breathes fire. Marti overpowers the senses with strong personalities, engaging storytelling and a fierce battle of hearts. Neither Sam or Holt back down from a challenge. From foolish pride to a hopeful future the Pacific Vista Ranch series is off to an irresistible start.
This was a fun read for me, growing up in California I can totally picture the horrible Santa Anna winds to a T. My heart broke for this family the emotions and what they faced just jumped off the pages. Sam was so feisty and she reminded me of one of those sour patch kids sour then sweet you never knew what you were going to get but you know where you stood with her for sure. Holt's childhood was no cake walk either but neither acted like a victim. Even though the author wrote about some rich people all the characters seemed completely relatable and fun. This book does have some curse words and sex so may not be suitable for all readers. Overall this book was super fun read I had a hard time putting it down and well worth the read. I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley. I was under no obligation to post a review and have given my honest opinion
The first meeting between Holt and Samantha gets off on the wrong foot. He cracks jokes while she’s in the horse breeding barn. It’s taken a long time to build up her reputation as one of the best breeding managers in the country and she’s not about to let an egotistical Hollywood stuntman get to her. Only he does, so much so, Sam wishes she could flee, like her twin sister did. Hollywood is back in her life, whether she likes it or not. But the more she’s around Holt, her feelings change from hate to love. Turns out, he’s a good man with a heart of gold. But when the paparazzi discovers they’re filming an epic western on the property, will Samantha ever forgive Holt? Nobody Else But You is a charming enemies-to-lovers romance unlike anything I’ve read before. The setting is in a place I visited a lifetime ago so reading this book was like returning home. Claire Marti does an impressive job plunging the reader in a ranch where horses are big business. Everything from breeding to riding to even physical therapy is explored with precise accuracy. There’s plenty of drama in this epic romance but then considering what Sam and her family have been through, it’s understandable. The characters leap off the page and by the time I finished reading, they became a part of me. The romance between Holt and Sam is slow-burning and trust me, the wait is worth it. I’m so excited for the next book in the series! Patience is not my strong suit, but I’ll sit on hands until I can read book two. If you’re looking for a divine escape from the mundane, take a detour through Rancho Santa Fe, California and grab Nobody Else But You. Highly recommend! Favorite Character/Quote: Samantha. What a fiery heroine! I connected with her right away. She’s got a huge chip on her shoulder and the last thing she needs is some hotshot stuntman telling her what to do. Turns out, he’s exactly what she needs and it was such fun watching her soften and fall in love. My Rating: 5 stars