From award winning author Laura Trentham comes Set the Night on Fire, a novel about starting over, finding your way back home—and falling head over heels. . .
Ella Boudreaux has a lot to prove to her family, friends, and foes—and to herself. So when her marriage ends she decides to invest her energy and money into a place that brings back some of Ella’s happiest memories: the Abbott brothers’ garage. Maybe, if she puts her mind to it, she can teach skeptical, stubborn Mack Abbott how to make the business a true success. Which would be a lot easier if the hunky mechanic didn’t make her motor run quite so fast…and hot.
Mack was furious when his brother, Ford, sold his share of the business. He’s in no rush to team up with a wealthy divorcée who shows up to the garage in stilettos—and the longest, sexiest legs he’s seen in forever. But Ella’s grit and determination won’t quit…and soon Mack can see that she’s been down a few rough roads herself. Neither Mack nor Ella can deny the fierce attraction that’s revving up between them. Could it be that true love has been in the backseat all along…and they’ve finally found the key?
About the Author
An award-winning author, Laura Trentham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. Although, she loved English and reading in high school, she was convinced an English degree equated to starvation. She chose the next most logical major—Chemical Engineering—and worked in a hard hat and steel toed boots for several years.
She writes sexy, small town contemporaries and smoking hot Regency historicals. The first two books of her Falcon Football series were named Top Picks by RT Book Reviews magazine. Then He Kissed Me, a Cottonbloom novel, was named as one of Amazon’s best romances of 2016. When not lost in a cozy Southern town or Regency England, she's shuttling kids to soccer, helping with homework, and avoiding the Mt. Everest-sized pile of laundry that is almost as big as the to-be-read pile of books on her nightstand.
Read an Excerpt
Ella Boudreaux drove past Abbott Brothers Garage and Restoration instead of pulling into the parking lot and marching inside like the part owner she was. She wasn't scared exactly. More like slightly nervous about her reception.
Lies. Her stomach was ready to turn itself inside out. After all, she'd unwittingly performed a hostile takeover of twenty-five percent of the garage. Ford had made it sound like buying his stake would be doing his family a favor. The three other Abbott brothers had not viewed her buyout as a favor but as an act of war.
Especially Mack Abbott, the de facto leader. The oddity of a well-off society divorcée buying into a car garage and restoration business wasn't lost on her, but the opportunity had fired some deep well of sentimentality she'd thought had been slashed and burned by her divorce.
She stopped the car on the shoulder of the narrow parish road, the Abbott Brothers sign still visible in her rearview mirror. The coward's voice in her head urged her to leave the garage in her rearview and have Andrew Tarwater negotiate a sale back to Mack Abbott. She silenced the dissenting voice with her sometimes-faked bravado. "Fake it until you make it" wasn't just a quaint saying, it was her life motto. She was going to march into the garage and prove she could be an asset.
Would they judge her on her car? She squeezed the steering wheel of the small blue convertible. It wasn't her style, but it was sexy and expensive and had annoyed her ex-husband, Trevor, which had been as good a reason as any to buy it after the divorce.
Since moving to Cottonbloom, people had assumed she was living off her divorce settlement, and she hadn't done anything to dissuade the misconception. Let them underestimate her like her ex-husband had.
The truth was she had taken a cut of the business she had built with Trevor and formed Magnolia Investments. She was buying up promising real estate around Cottonbloom. Her above-average instincts coupled with her methodical research meant she rarely took a loss.
She'd stayed below the radar, using a young, hungry, discreet lawyer to close deals. The last thing she needed was her ex to catch wind of her new venture and to interfere. Negotiating when no one knew her gender was simpler and faster. Dodging all the "honeys" and "sugars" and infiltrating the south Mississippi good-old-boys' network would take time and proven successes.
The garage was different. Personal. Instead of taking on a silent investor role and flipping for a profit, she wanted to get her hands dirty. Her brother had taught her that anything meaningful required work, and she wanted to make him proud — even if he wasn't there to see it. His passion had been cars, and the hours she'd spent shadowing him as a kid had affected her. Although at the moment, she worried her nostalgia had affected her sanity.
She whipped her car around, the tires spinning on the gravel on the shoulder, and headed back toward the garage, parking next to a big black truck that could squash her little convertible like a no-seem-um.
Her hands trembled. While hard work might not scare her off, she was a teensy, tiny bit afraid of facing Mack Abbott. Not only was he physically intimidating, but his dark eyes could cut a person to ribbons.
She slipped out of her car and smoothed her gray high-waisted pencil skirt and retucked her white blouse. The red pearl-buttoned sweater she wore did little to protect her from the bite of the March breeze.
In case anyone was watching, she pasted on a smile flavored with more than a little bit of "I don't give a damn what you think of me." It was a smile she'd perfected since leaving her childhood home in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi, and it had served her well.
She threw open the customer door and was hit by a wall of noise. Sparks arced from a corner where an Abbott grinded down a piece of metal. His coveralls and safety mask made identification impossible, although he wasn't as big as she remembered Mack being. In another corner, another brother welded, and she averted her eyes from the snapping light. He too was concealed by a mask.
That left the third Abbott on a skid tucked under a jacked-up cherry red Datsun 240Z. Ella touched her fingertips against the cement-block wall to ground herself in the here and now. She'd sat on a worktable when she was a kid and watched her brother fix up a car exactly like it, down to the same color.
Her heart rate picked up like goosing a gas pedal even though her head accepted the fact that the man underneath the car wasn't her brother. Yet, could the car be an omen?
Only the man's jeans and work boots were visible. She cleared her throat, but it sounded like a pebble falling into a raging waterfall. She stood there for several minutes without anyone noticing her. Honestly, she had expected to walk in and spark a fight, not be ignored.
The wait sent a nervous ball ricocheting around her stomach, setting world records in how high and fast it bounced. She felt physically ill.
She nudged the leg of the man under the car with the toe of her red high heel and could only hope it was one of the twins and not Mack. While they might not like the situation, they didn't seem as volatile as Mack.
The man didn't move. She dropped to a crouch and peeked under the car. The man's face was obscured by shadows and pipes. He twirled a socket wrench at his hip, not putting it to use as if he were deep in thought. His blue-and-green flannel shirt was untucked, the sleeves rolled up almost to his elbows.
It was a broad hand with calluses and visible tendons and an underlying grace highlighted by the economy of his movement. His forearm was muscular and exuded raw power. Awareness of danger tinged with something she couldn't identify streaked through her.
Her impulse trumped her common sense, and she touched his arm. Before she could register more than a sprinkling of dark hair and warm skin, the man shot out from under the car on the skid. Surprise sent her reeling back. She teetered on her heels, unable to regain her balance, and plopped on her butt.
Of course, the man under the car with the pornographic forearm was Mack Abbott. If she had to confront him first, she'd want to do it in his office, calm and cool and confident. Instead, she was on her butt in the middle of his garage with her skirt riding up and no graceful way to rise without giving him an eyeful.
He was still lying back on the skid with a direct line of sight up her legs. She pressed her knees together. Slowly, he sat up and leaned toward her. Even sitting, he loomed over her like a hawk on the hunt. Unfortunately, she was the mouse. Her muscles tensed and trembled, and she forced herself to relax before she gave away her nerves.
"What the hell are you doing on your ass in my garage, Ms. Boudreaux?"
She responded to his attempted intimidation the way she had since her kindergarten teacher had whispered a soul-withering question about her family in her ear while she'd traced her letters — with a knee-jerk sass that got her in trouble.
"Not entirely yours, Mr. Abbott." It was the wrong thing to say.
He stood. An anger-fueled energy threatened to burst out of him, like the Hulk. The grinding noise had ceased, leaving an eerie silence. Her attention didn't waver from Mack and the threat he presented.
She remained on her butt, unsure what he planned to do and how she would react. Men were unpredictable creatures, some more prone to violence than others and with no guessing the outcome from the way they looked or how much money they had in their bank account.
His eyes narrowed on her, his mouth in a grim frown. He raised his fisted hand, uncurled it, and held it out in offering. She stared at it for a long moment, slightly disbelieving. His palm was scored with grease.
"Too dirty for your highness?" His voice was rife with sarcasm and disgust.
Before he could pull away, she slipped her hand into his. The dirt and grease didn't bother her in the least. That Mack assumed they did bothered her more than she cared to examine at the moment.
His hand engulfed hers. A heat wave traveled up her arm and into her face as a blush. He hauled her to her feet with little effort and waited until she quit teetering on her heels before he let go. She had to berate her brain to quit clinging to him.
Standing didn't improve the situation. He still loomed over her with a stormy expression in his eyes. Eyes that weren't dark at all, but a swirl of blues and greens and browns with a golden circle outlining his pupils, highlighted by the sunbeams cutting through the windows in the bay doors.
Everything else about him was dark, though, from the heavy brows shadowing his unexpectedly lovely, complicated eyes to the dark beard covering his face. His hair was a mixture of dark browns and waved a little at his collar and over his forehead.
But, most especially, the invisible yoke around his shoulders was dark. Dark and heavy and burdensome.
"What do you want, Ms. Boudreaux?"
"I want ... I want ..." She blinked and forced her eyes away from his. "I want you to call me Ella. Since we're going to be working together."
He took a step back as if she'd physically shoved him, even though she was pretty sure if she'd tried it would have been like moving a two-ton boulder. His gaze roved down and back up to her face. Not in a sexual way, but in an "am I being punked?" kind of way.
"You planning to slide under a car and work a wrench in that getup?"
"Of course not. Don't be silly." Her skirt and pearl-buttoned sweater felt more ridiculous the longer she stood there. She should have worn jeans and a T-shirt, but that wasn't the professional first impression she'd wanted to make.
"Look around you. This is a garage, Ms. Boudreaux. It's grease and metal and hard work. Are you going to pull your weight?"
"Not under the hood of a car."
"Then we don't have anything to discuss. Why don't you run along to your riverside mansion and paint your nails or something." He crossed his arms and chucked his chin toward the door.
Did he intimidate her? A little, but now she was starting to get pissed. Paint her mother-flipping nails? She had a two-hundred-thousand-dollar real-estate deal to close when she got home. "I think not. Unless I'm mistaken, I own as much of this garage as you do, Mr. Abbott."
She was dimly aware that the noise of work had ceased. An old rock song played on in the background, its upbeat guitar riffs at odds with the tension ratcheting tighter like an over-torqued nut.
A door in the back of the shop opened and a person in a baseball cap stepped through. Her figure had a hint of female curves under the coveralls and brown hair curled at the edge of the cap. Ella stared over Mack's shoulder at her. An employee?
A ball of black-and-white hair streaked in her periphery, and Ella gave a little scream. A dog. Friendly or menacing? Fear was like a blanket thrown over her head, leaving her in the dark. It was all she could focus on. This dog whose intent was unknown.
It was coming at her, teeth barred. Animals could sense fear, couldn't they? She should stand her ground, yet her feet were on the retreat. Her heel hit something metal and heavy. It didn't give, but her body did. She windmilled her arms, but only managed to slow her fall not stop it. For the second time in less than five minutes, she was on her butt in front of Mack Abbott.
The dog pounced, its paws on her chest driving her backward. Would it bite her? She cringed back and closed her eyes, the nightmare of getting rabies shots or plastic surgery flashing through her addled mind.
A rough tongue went up the side of her face, accompanied by warm, panty breaths. She cracked her eyes open. The dog gave her another lick. Ella swore it looked like it was smiling. Was it getting a taste before it took a bite?
"River! Bad dog. Get over here." The girl in coveralls tugged at the dog's collar, but it stood its ground, focused on Ella's face.
Ella swept her forearm over its legs, pushed the hairy devil off her, and scrambled backward like a crab until her back hit the cool cement wall.
"All Along the Watchtower" started playing in the background as the Abbott brothers gathered in a semicircle around her.
The girl in the hat and coveralls squatted next to the dog and held on to its collar. "I'm so sorry, Ms. Boudreaux. River is not usually so energetic with strangers. She must like you." She laughed, but it was an uncomfortable sound.
Ella smoothed her hands down her skirt and tugged at the hem. Now that she could see the dog, the threat level ramped down, but the blast of fear left her trembling. River was shaggy and harmless looking, except for her teeth. Her black-and-white face might even be cute if you were into dogs with huge canines. Which she wasn't. Obviously. She'd exposed a weakness to Mack Abbott, and the damage needed to be minimized.
She smiled when she really wanted to lock herself in her car and cry. Putting on a "face" was something she'd gotten good at through necessity. "I guess bacon-scented perfume was a poor choice this morning." If her voice was less lighthearted and quavered more than she wished, she chalked it up to being out of practice.
She rose with as much grace as she could muster under the circumstances. The dog lunged toward her with a bark and a lolling tongue. Ella pressed into the wall, wishing she was on the other side.
The girl tugged the dog by the collar, led it to a side door, and shoved it outside. Ella took a deep breath. Not that she was comfortable facing a testosterone-hardened wall of Abbotts, but at least they wouldn't take a bite out of her. Probably. Mack's face was blank, but she could imagine he had a plan to capitalize on her epic fail.
"I'm so sorry about River. She's very friendly though. Doesn't bite; only licks you into submission." The girl whipped her hat off and ran a hand through thick chestnut hair that was at an awkward stage between short and shoulder length.
The girl shuffled closer. No, not a girl, but a woman. Younger than Ella, but only by a few years. And she was pretty. Very pretty. A woman that pretty didn't work with three men and not attract them. Ella understood from a too-young age how men manipulated and wielded power.
Mack stepped forward to stand at the woman's side. Were they involved? They looked good together and had a lot in common, no doubt. Ella's smile felt like a caved-in soufflé.
"I'll pay to have your blouse cleaned." The woman stared at Ella's chest.
Dirty dog prints dotted the front of her white blouse. Ella tried to brush them off but only managed to transfer grease from her hands to her shirt. Black streaks highlighted both breasts. She needed to retreat and regroup.
"I've got some wipes in my office. Come on in. We need to talk." Mack turned on his heel and walked away, expecting her to follow. She hesitated. The moment felt like a skirmish in their battle of wills.
The woman gave her a tight, apologetic smile. "Send me the bill. Seriously."
"Sure." Ella nodded, though she knew she wouldn't. The blouse was an expensive remnant from her failed marriage. She wouldn't replace it.
Mack had propped his shoulder against the jamb of the door, his bulk filling the doorframe. Although a part of her wanted to stick her tongue out as she stalked past him to her car, her practical, mature side decided to concede. Just this once. She needed to establish the fact she wasn't going away.
She ambled over, making sure to swing her hips. The grease and paw prints decorating her chest dented her air of brazen defiance. He didn't immediately move to allow her inside his office, and a game of chicken commenced.
She slowed but didn't stop. He shifted like a door opening when she was inches from his chest. She sidestepped by him, so close his heat and scent enveloped her. He smelled of honest work and cars. Potent, painful memories rushed her like a flash flood and left her floundering for her footing.
Afraid to give him access to another weakness, she presented her back to him. Two deep breaths helped control her physical reaction. She rubbed at the grease stain on her hand, and like her memories, the grease didn't go away, only spread over her palm.
"Here." His voice was husky. He held out a canister with the top popped and a wipe poking out.
She ran the lemon-scented cloth over her hands, turning the white gray. Next, she dabbed it over the front of her shirt, doing nothing but wetting the cotton. Giving up, she tossed the wipe into the trash. "Thanks."
"You've got ..." He pointed at her face.
She swiped her hand over her right cheek.
"No. The other side. Here, let me ..." He pulled another wipe from the canister and stepped closer. Taking her chin between his thumb and forefinger, he titled her face to the right.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Set the Night on Fire"
Copyright © 2018 Laura Trentham.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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