It’s summertime in Cottonbloom, where two lovers find themselves at a crossroads just as things start to heat up. . .
Regan Lovell grew up on the wealthy Mississippi side of Cottonbloom—and now, as mayor, she’s determined to save it from the fate of so many small towns. Part of her plan to help the local economy is the Labor Day tomato festival. If only she wasn’t being undermined by Sawyer Fournette, who’s planning a crayfish-themed celebration on the Louisiana side of the river on the very same weekend. The pranks and sabotage are getting out of hand, and she’s had it with him—no matter how much she enjoyed those stolen hours in his truck bed, so many years ago…
Sawyer knows that Regan's never forgiven him for breaking her heart—but despite his reputation as a low-class swamp rat, he’d never hurt the woman who still secretly drives him crazy with desire. Someone in Cottonbloom has it out for her, though, and Sawyer intends to watch her back…and the rest of her too, if she can ever let go of her distrust. But will a common enemy be enough to unite them—and finally fulfill the promises they made one passionate night under the stars?
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
Till I Kissed You
By Laura Trentham
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Laura Trentham
All rights reserved.
Regan Lovell ran her hands up the shifting muscles of her lover's back, lost in a state of wonder. The rhythm of his thrusts progressed from slow and steady to wild and erratic. It didn't take long. He moaned softly in her ear, his hot breath sending shivers through her body.
It was done. She'd lost her virginity to Sawyer Fournette.
While it hadn't been the out-of-body experience the romance novels she'd read in preparation would have her believe, it had been magical in its own way. She clasped her knees around his hips and wrapped him tight in her arms, his body sagging over hers, his breathing ragged.
Her mother would be horrified she'd given up her virginity at all, much less at eighteen, before she could use it to barter for a doctor or a lawyer at Ole Miss. She expected Regan to get an MRS degree, just as she had done thirty-odd years before.
But what would send her mother into an early grave was who she'd lost her virginity to. Her mother deemed Sawyer a Louisiana swamp rat and considered Regan's fascination with him a phase. A means to rebel against her parents and their expectations, and that's all.
What her parents didn't know, or couldn't accept, was that Regan had dreams and ambitions and a heart of her own. It wasn't a phase or a rebellion; it was love.
He stirred against her, his sparse chest hair tickling her breasts. She crossed her ankles around his backside, holding him inside of her. "I love you, Sawyer."
He pushed up on his elbows. "I love you too, Regan."
"And ever." The humor and love in his voice were honestly more satisfying than the sex had been.
"Even after I eat too much barbeque and get fat and my hair turns gray and I lose my marbles like Nana Rosemary?"
"Even so." He kissed the tip of her nose, and she smiled at their game.
Other more immediate questions clawed at her chest. Will you love me after we go our separate ways for college? Will you love me even though prettier girls will try to lure you away? Will you wait for me?
He wiggled his hips free and dropped to her side in the bed of his brother's old pickup truck. She looked down her body, but everything was the same, not that she really expected this final crossover into womanhood to leave a visible mark. She was irrevocably changed but not in a way her mother or her friends could pinpoint.
Now that the sexual haze was clearing, she became acutely aware of her nakedness. Subtle rustling while he disposed of the condom had her biting her lip and reaching for the edge of the threadbare quilt as cover. Was there a bloodstain like she'd read about in books?
Cooling air wafted over her. Through the arms of the pines, twilight cast shadows that shifted with the breeze. The river was close enough to serenade them with bullfrog croaks but far enough to avoid the worst of the bugs.
Citronella candles burned on the tailgate, keeping the mosquitoes away. She closed her eyes. The scent of the candles mixed with the pines and Sawyer to form an intoxicating blend she'd never forget.
Sawyer stripped the corner of the quilt away and blanketed her with his body. His expression was a mystery. He alternated between a too-mature seriousness and a boyish playfulness, leaving her unbalanced.
His everyday life was far removed from the plush elegance of hers across the river in Mississippi. But that's one reason he drew her. He was different, exciting, and had more depth than all the boys in her school combined.
There was more to him than sports and parties. With him, she wasn't afraid to talk about things that interested her — not cheerleading and beauty pageants, but world events and politics. He didn't laugh when she laid out her dreams even though she wasn't yet out of high school.
He believed in her.
"Did I hurt you?" He brushed her hair back from her forehead.
"A little. You were bigger than I expected."
His laughter made her smile. It always did. "That was the perfect compliment."
"Was it? Well, it's the truth. Not that I have any basis for comparison, but I'm sure yours is the best." His chest rumbled against hers, the vibrations electrifying her toes and fingertips. "Was I ... okay?"
"Ah, baby, you are everything I've dreamed about and more." His lips tickled her ear, but she needed to see his eyes. See the truth or lie. She cupped his cheeks and forced his face up.
Nothing but love shone from his face. The kiss he gave her was sweet and retained a hint of the innocence they'd entrusted to each other that night. She squeezed her eyes to shut off the spigot of tears that threatened. His weight pressed her down into the ridges of the truck bed, not that she planned to complain. She would stay all night under him if she could.
She would love Sawyer Fournette forever.CHAPTER 2
ELEVEN YEARS LATER ...
AUGUST, COTTONBLOOM, MISSISSIPPI
She hated Sawyer Fournette.
Regan tried to concentrate on the droning voice of the city accountant as he highlighted sections of the Cottonbloom, Mississippi, budget. They needed to vote this evening on the amendments since their fiscal year ran from July to July and it was already the first of August. She needed funds released to finish her plans for the Cottonbloom Tomato Festival.
Numbers garbled in her head as she wondered what the hell Sawyer, the parish commissioner of Cottonbloom, Louisiana, was doing at her meeting. Was he here to watch her squirm like a worm on a hook as people lobbed potshots at her town improvement plan or the festival?
It was standing room only tonight, and he had snuck in through one of the side entrances of the town hall after the meeting had been called to order. Ever since he'd quit his corporate job managing the auto parts factory, he'd let his dirty blond hair grow out a bit and kept a sexy stubble. He'd also traded his preppy button-downs and khakis for jeans and T-shirts.
Tonight a black T-shirt with a gray emblem on the front was tucked messily into a pair of jeans. He crossed one black boot over the other and leaned against the wall with his arms tucked over his chest. It made him look big and tough and not sexy in the least.
Her lady parts protested the white lie. Why couldn't the man have gotten fat and bald over the years? Was that too much to ask of the universe? Apparently it was, because Sawyer had matured like fine whiskey instead of skunking like cheap beer.
"I believe there are questions from the gallery, Mayor Lovell."
She peeled her gaze off Sawyer and took a steadying breath. "Of course. The floor is open for discussion." Rustling and whispers erupted from the packed room. She pounded her gavel, feeling ridiculous even as it quieted the crowd. "One at a time to the podium, please."
She nodded at Police Chief Thomason. He would keep things orderly and moving along. Ms. Martha, the owner of the Quilting Bee, was up first, and Regan winced behind her smile. She liked Ms. Martha and didn't want to offend her. Some of the older business owners were up in arms at the increased property taxes, but the improvements Regan was spearheading, the festival included, would benefit every citizen in the long term.
Ms. Martha cleared her throat when her voice cracked on her first try. The paper she held in her hands fluttered. "Mayor Lovell, I — not only me, but several of us — want to understand better where the money is coming from for this festival. Is it coming from my taxes? Because I don't want my taxes paying for some silly festival that will just drive up costs even more. I can barely keep up as it is."
The more she said, the stronger and more strident her voice grew. A smattering of applause acted as a punctuation mark. Ms. Martha wouldn't want to hear the hard truth. A quilting business in this day and age was a dying proposition.
"Yes, a small percentage of your taxes is funding the festival." A series of unintelligible shouts came from the back of the room, and she pounded the gavel once more. "The publicity Cottonbloom will receive from Heart of Dixie magazine will give our town a boost. And if we're named the Best Small-Town Festival in the South and win the grant money, then we can move forward with improvements that would take us years otherwise. We can turn downtown Cottonbloom into something special."
"We like Cottonbloom fine the way it is," Ms. Martha said. This time the vocal agreement was limited and most of the buzz was about the magazine competition.
Flipping through Heart of Dixie while waiting for her hair appointment, she'd skimmed over the call for entries into their competition. Then, read it again and again, her imagination going wild. The magazine was already a month old and the competition closed for entries in less than a week. She'd walked out before getting her monthly trim and blow-out, lists already forming in her head.
Even though it would be the first of what she hoped would be an annual Cottonbloom Tomato Festival, she had full confidence in her ability to pull off something spectacular. Something that would win the grant money and get them a full spread in the popular magazine. At the time, she'd honestly had no clue that Sawyer Fournette had read the same article two weeks earlier and already entered. Not that anyone believed her. Not even Sawyer. Especially not Sawyer.
Labor Day weekend had been the obvious choice, but because Sawyer had already claimed it, she had been willing to grit her teeth and pick a different weekend — the Fourth of July perhaps, even though it would make planning tight. But once the editor of Heart of Dixie got wind of their two festivals, they had insisted the two sides of Cottonbloom hold them the same weekend. The magazine wanted to play up the decades-old rivalry. Regan hoped they didn't come off as backward as the Hatfields and the McCoys. The grant money had been too important for either side to back down.
"This festival is not a major draw on your tax dollars. A copy of the budget has been available for review for several weeks. The vast majority of your taxes are going to infrastructure improvements and beautification projects. The trees downtown are beautiful, but we can't ignore the fact their roots are affecting our streets, our sidewalks, and our plumbing. You're all here because you care about our town, and no one in this room wants downtown Cottonbloom to follow so many American towns into disrepair. Don't forget, I am a downtown business owner as well."
"But not on the riverfront. Why was I assessed higher than a business not twenty feet away?" Ms. Martha asked.
"You understand, I didn't perform the assessments. We had an outside real estate firm examine all the properties."
"Well, they didn't look close enough at mine. I have plumbing backups that fall under city jurisdiction and there are" — she glanced down at the sheet in her hand — "structural integrity issues with the back alleyway brick wall that affects the value. I ask for a reassessment to be done taking all of this into account."
Regan massaged her temple. Someone must have fed Ms. Martha those lines. Someone out to sabotage her. Her gaze swung toward Sawyer. His expression hadn't changed from the mysterious, serious mask that had fascinated her as a teenager. Now though, she knew what was behind it. A two-faced jerk.
Her face heated. Damn her fair skin. She could almost feel the flushed splotches break out. Everyone would assume she was embarrassed or frustrated, when in truth she wanted to march over and punch Sawyer Fournette in the face.
Never let them see you sweat. The old line from a commercial from her childhood popped into her head.
"Is that acceptable, Mayor?"
She swiveled toward the town accountant. "I'm sorry, what was that?"
"Councilman Crane motioned to postpone the budget vote until Ms. Martha's concerns are addressed." She opened her mouth to protest until he added, "And I seconded it."
Unless she wanted to seem like a power-hungry steamroller, she couldn't see a path to push the budget vote through tonight. The smile she pasted on had been perfected on the pageant circuit. "Of course, I agree. I motion we reconvene one week from today. Same time and place to discuss any changes and vote."
One of the councilwomen down the line seconded her, and the meeting broke up. She stood up and turned toward the side door, but Sawyer's black shirt and fine backside were halfway out the door, leaving her killing glare impotent.
She scooted out of the meeting hall by the same door Sawyer had left through. A more patient mayor would have fought the gauntlet of people to the door, offering platitudes and reassurances. She wasn't in the mood for the kind of butt kissing politics demanded.
She wanted to stand up and tell them they either needed to accept the changes she was pushing through or accept that their town was dying. She wanted to ask why people couldn't see beyond their small patch of breathing space to embrace changes that would benefit future generations.
But she wouldn't. She would keep her mouth shut and smile while she worked behind the scenes to steer policies, compromising only when she was backed into a corner. Like tonight. No doubt, she'd be receiving emails and phone calls all week. A glass of wine and headache medicine were next on her agenda.
Her heels clacked on the marble floors, the air refreshingly cool after the body-jammed meeting room. Sawyer was probably laughing his butt off at her plight. Movement down one of the dim hallways leading to the county clerk office drew her attention, and she whipped her head around in time to see Sawyer slip around the corner and out of sight.
A banked fury that only he inspired filled her belly, and she didn't bother to muffle her steps. "Sawyer Fournette, what are you doing skulking around my building?"
He stepped out and propped a shoulder against the wall, resuming the position he'd held inside the meeting. This time she was close enough to see his ridiculous biceps pop. If anything, he'd gotten in even better shape working in the garage with his brother Cade. She couldn't contain a huff at the injustice.
"I'm not skulking." His gaze darted to the side.
"Well, the front door is back thataway." She kept her tone mocking and thumbed over her shoulder. "Are you planning to break into the tax assessments or something?"
This time he met her gaze with a huffy sigh of his own. "Of course not."
"Then why are you here?"
"Heard you were voting on the budget tonight. Checking out the competition."
Not buying what he was selling, she studied him, stepped closer, and hiked her purse up on her shoulder. "It was you, wasn't it?"
"What are you talking about, woman?"
"That you would stoop so low to give Ms. Martha a script to read from. Seriously, that is pathetic. Did you blackmail Crane into motioning for the delay too?"
He ran a hand through his hair and rubbed his nape. "Let me get this straight. You think I masterminded the delay in your budget vote by secretly meeting with Ms. Martha and Councilman Crane?"
The way he said it made her feel like a fool, which only drove her ire higher. "Maybe. And it's your fault I was all distracted and didn't get a chance to respond."
"How was that my fault?" He leaned in. His scent muffled the institutional smell of the courthouse. Another black mark against him. Why couldn't he smell like BO or garlic instead of a woodsy, pine-scented cologne that cast her back a decade to the bed of his truck?
"I don't know, but it is," she said weakly. The truth was too embarrassing to speak aloud.
They stood too close. Neither of them pulled back or spoke. The moment veered from confrontational to uncomfortable to downright awkward, yet the way his hazel eyes warmed and narrowed on hers hypnotized her as if seeking all her secrets.
She didn't like him, not one bit. That fact didn't stop the call of her body whenever he was within ten feet. Okay, maybe closer to twenty-five feet. The physical attraction was an inconvenient echo from their past lives together.
Her brain clamped down on her body, and she spun around and stalked out of the hallway toward the front doors. The crowd had thinned out, leaving only a few diehard citizens. One called her over. Even though she desperately wanted to be home, she smiled and changed directions.
Excerpted from Till I Kissed You by Laura Trentham. Copyright © 2016 Laura Trentham. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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