About the Author
Tara Sands is an American voiceover artist and the former co-host of Cartoon Network's weekly Friday night lineup. Her voice can be heard on hundreds of radio and TV commercials, video games, and cartoons, and she has narrated dozens of audiobooks, including the Sammy Keyes series. A multiple Earphones Award winner, she was nominated for an Audie for the multicast performance of the first Lemony Snicket book.
Read an Excerpt
She had never believed in love. Maybe for others but not for her. But then he smiled at her and it was as if she'd found a piece of herself that she didn't know was missing. When he took her in his arms and held her close, she knew that for the first time in her life, she was home.
Savannah Wilson closed the book and sighed. No one, but no one, wrote a love story that hit her in all the feels like Destiny Swann did. The woman plucked her heartstrings like a virtuoso playing a sonata.
"Savy, come on," Maisy Kelly said as she entered the room. She slapped Savannah's feet off the coffee table, grabbed her arm, and hauled her up to stand, which was no small feat given that Maisy was the short side of petite and Savannah was more Amazonian in height and build.
"I'm reading," Savannah said. She held up her book. "Isn't that sacred time? You own a bookstore; I would think you of all people would respect that."
Maisy glanced at the book. Then she crossed her hands over her heart and said, "Oh, Her One and Only, that's one of my favorite Destiny Swann books. I totally get it, I do, but you're my sous-chef, and I need you in the kitchen. Besides, you shouldn't be hiding in the parlor when we have a house full of people coming for Thanksgiving dinner."
"I'm not hiding. I'm just not very good company right now," Savannah said. She tossed the book onto the coffee table.
"Work stuff?" Maisy asked. She tipped her head to the side and studied Savy through the black-framed rectangular glasses she always wore.
"Yes, but it's not about the bookstore. It's stuff about my old job in New York, and I don't want to talk about it," Savy said. "Thus, the book."
"I'm getting an A," she said. "Although, Swann does set the bar pretty high in the hero department. I mean what man could possibly live up to Tag McAllister? He's smart, kind, devoted to his grandmother, and completely swoon-worthy."
"Maisy, where do you want me to put my famous smashed potatoes with green chilies?" Joaquin Solis called from the doorway.
Maisy glanced at him and then turned toward Savannah with her eyebrows raised above the frames of her glasses as if to say, Him. Savannah shook her head. It made her long wavy red hair, which she'd twisted into a sloppy knot on the top of her head, unravel and fall down around her shoulders. She glanced at the man in the doorway.
He was watching her as if he could happily do so for the rest of the day, never mind the Crock-Pot of mashed potatoes he held in his hands. This little bit of domesticity only added to the package of hotness that was Joaquin Solis, but Savannah was immune to him. Mostly.
She could, in a completely objective way, acknowledge that he had a certain something, sort of like acknowledging that diamonds were sparkly and chocolate was yummy. It didn't mean she was going to partake of either and break her bank account or add some squish to her middle. She had greater willpower than that. Still, Joaquin, Quino to his friends, was the sort of man who made girls with good intentions do naughty things and not regret it one little bit.
Tall with broad shoulders, he sported a thick thatch of dark hair, chiseled features, and eyes so dark they appeared bottomless. Joaquin was the sort of man women noticed. If it wasn't his rugged good looks and honed physique, it was his wicked sense of humor and flirty ways that made ladies fan themselves when he walked by with a casual wink and his charmer's grin. It worked on every female who crossed his path, Savannah had noticed-every one except Savannah.
While she could admit that he was a fine specimen of a man, she had less than no interest in getting tangled up with Quino Solis. He was as entrenched in Fairdale as the old maple trees on the town green. Which was saying something, since their trunks were the size of small cars, as they'd been there since the founding fathers had declared Fairdale a town and planted them in an attempt to tame this wild patch of earth in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Joaquin was like those trees-the roots ran deep.
He owned the Shadow Pine Stables on the outskirts of Fairdale, where he offered trail rides and riding lessons and worked with special-needs kids using equine therapy. He was never going to leave this town he loved, and Savannah had no intention of staying. Anything that happened between them was just flirting with heartbreak, most likely hers, and she'd had enough of that to last a lifetime.
She was leaving Fairdale as soon as she got her old job in Manhattan back and no ridonkulously hot stable boy was going to change her career trajectory. She was 100 percent immune to him-okay, more like 95 percent. But she figured if she stayed out of his gravitational pull, she'd be fine.
"You don't know what you're missing," Maisy said under her breath. She tossed her short dark curls and turned away, but not before Savannah retorted, "Neither do you. You're marrying his best friend but that does not mean you are an expert on all things Quino."
"I don't need to be," Maisy said. "He is legendary in Fairdale."
Savy rolled her eyes. Like she cared if Joaquin had dated every available woman in their quaint college town of seventy-five thousand.
"I'll take those, Quino," Maisy said. She scooped the Crock-Pot out of his hands and swept from the room, leaving Savannah and Joaquin alone. Subtle, Maisy was not.
Savannah would have cursed her friend, but Maisy had been doing this for months, pushing the two of them together, clearly hoping to start a romance between them that would prevent Savy from returning to New York. Not gonna happen.
An awkward silence filled the room. At least for Savannah it was awkward. Joaquin just shoved his hands in the back pockets of his jeans and studied her in a way that made her feel like he really saw her and that he liked what he saw. It was too much. He was too much.
She twisted her hair back up into its sloppy knot and he tipped his head to the side as he watched her. He seemed fascinated. It made Savy self-conscious, which never happened. Being taller than average with fiery red hair, freckles, and broad features, she was used to being overlooked as unfeminine, more handsome than pretty. She was fine with it as she liked getting by on her brains more than her looks, but Joaquin never overlooked her. She faced him, crossed her arms over her chest, and tried to stare him down. This was a mistake.
He looked amused as he met her gaze. As if she was issuing him a challenge and he was eager to accept it.
"Quit looking at me like that," he said. The twinkle in his eye let her know he was teasing but she stepped in it anyway.
"I assure you, I don't."
"Like you want me to kiss you," he said. His gaze moved to her mouth and then back up to her eyes. It made her heart beat a little faster. She ignored it.
"What?" she scoffed. "Did you fall off your horse and hit your head? I do not want you to kiss me."
"No?" he asked.
He was the picture of innocence. Meanwhile Savy could feel her face heat up, because in fact she had thought about him kissing her. Not right now, but the idea might have flashed through her mind once; okay, twice; all right, probably five or more times since she'd met him, but that was only because she hadn't been on a date in months and her hormones were wreaking havoc with her common sense.
"No." The word fired out of her like a bullet shot from a gun.
"Huh," he said. His gaze dropped back to her mouth. "My mistake."
"I'll say it is." She tried to sound indignant but the attempt was shaky at best.
She marched stiffly past him, not giving him a chance to back up as she brushed by his muscle-hardened shoulder. A quick glance up and her gaze met his. His dark eyes were amused but they were also full of desire.
It occurred to Savy that all she had to do was rise up on her toes, twine her arms about his neck, and kiss him and she could finally put to rest the curiosity she had about the feel of those full lips against hers. Would his kiss be soft or firm, gentle or rough? Would he hold her low and tight or high and loose? Would he bury his fingers in her hair while his mouth plundered hers, making it bruised from the impact of his kiss?
Her thoughts must have been reflected upon her face, because the teasing glint left his eyes and he let out an unsteady breath. His voice when he spoke dropped an entire octave and was little more than a growl when he said, "You really need to stop looking at me like that."
Savy felt a pull in her lower belly as strongly as if he had hooked a finger in her waistband and was drawing her in close. From the overheated look in his eyes, she knew he'd most definitely been thinking about kissing her. The attraction between them had its own sizzle and zip and she knew if she gave in to it, she was going to get burned. She quickly stepped away.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said. She made an exaggerated shrug. "I was just thinking about how badly my toilet needs a good scrubbing."
Joaquin blinked at her and then he tipped his head back and laughed. Full lips parting over white teeth in a deep masculine chuckle that made her want to laugh in return. Whatever he'd been expecting that clearly wasn't it.
Savy took some satisfaction there, but the grin he sent her was full of admiration with a nice dose of heat, making it nearly irresistible. She fought the urge to fan herself as she hurried to the kitchen to help Maisy with dinner, and maybe while there, she'd just crawl into the freezer until her body temperature went down.
"The countdown has begun," Ryder Copeland said as he handed Quino a beer. They were standing outside Ryder's half-restored Victorian house in the chilly midday air because Ryder thought deep-frying a fourteen-pound turkey was the coolest thing ever.
"What are you counting down?" Quino asked. "How long until Maisy kicks your butt for drying out her bird?"
"Ha ha," Ryder said. He gestured to the bird that was sitting in a plastic tub on the wrought iron table beside them. "This poultry is going to be amazing. Just look at him."
"He looks like Deadweight Dougie," Quino said. "Same male-pattern baldness and beer gut."
Ryder looked at the bird, then he picked it up under the wings and made it dance across the container. "He's got about the same sense of rhythm, too."
Quino snorted. "Worst foreman ever."
"And how," Ryder agreed. "I wonder what ever happened to that guy." He put the bird down with a pat on its rump.
Ryder and Quino had become fast friends while working construction over a decade ago in Texas, under the dubious supervision of Deadweight Dougie, so named because he was usually drunk, and when he passed out he had to be rolled because he was deadweight and too heavy to pick up and carry. Dougie spent more time sleeping it off in the bed of his pickup truck than he did supervising his crew.
"No idea, but I'd bet dollars to donuts he's snoring on someone's couch today." Quino glanced at the stone patio that was covered in a heavy tarp to catch all of the oil splatter. "So what are we counting down, the time until kickoff?"
"Nope. The ticktock is for you," Ryder said. "I'm calling you out. You said in July that Savannah would be your wife by Christmas, we are one month out, and unless I am misinformed, you haven't even had a date with her."
Quino took a long pull on his beer. "Details."
"Yeah, kind of important details," Ryder said. He squinted at his friend. "She may be the first woman who has not succumbed to the Joaquin Solis magic."
Quino lifted one eyebrow. He knew Ryder was teasing him, and he was cool with that, but his friend was also speaking the truth. Quino had never felt the sting of rejection from a woman before. Savannah was the first woman in memory who seemed indifferent to him. She was a challenge, which he had to admit made her sexy as hell.
"That's how I know she's the one," he said.
"Or not the one," Ryder countered. "You've been playing it pretty chill with her, keeping your distance, working the banter angle without being a pain in her ass."
"Is that what she said?" Quino asked.
"No, that's what Maisy said she said."
"I love having spies." Quino grinned. "So, what's the intel? Think she's ready for me to go full-court press in the charm-and-disarm department?"
"Not unless you want to be dropped by a sharp knee to your junk," Ryder said. "Last I heard, Savannah was still planning to move back to Manhattan by the end of the year. She wants her old life back. She's a city girl through and through, and living here in the Smoky Mountains is not her bag."
Ryder checked the temperature on the oil in the deep fryer. Then he hefted up the naked bird and gently lowered it into the boiling oil. Quino felt for the bird. Whenever the subject of Savannah moving back to New York came up, he felt exactly like that, a dead bird hanging by a metal handle from his innards while being dipped in boiling oil. He clearly needed to step up his game. He pondered his options while the bird sizzled and Ryder talked about Maisy, football, and more Maisy. He came up with a whole lot of nothing.