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Looking for Trouble
By Erin Kern
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Format:ebook $5.99 $7.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 8, 2013. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Noah didn’t become a successful business owner by letting people get the best of him. He knows Avery is running from something, and if getting the beautiful blonde into his bed is the only way to find the truth, well, he has no problem with that. Trouble is, Avery is everything he never expected: sassy, smart, and the kind of understanding woman cowboys like him don’t deserve. Can he put his pride aside and convince this city girl to settle down with him once and for all?
Table of Contents
A Preview of Here Comes Trouble
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FROM THE DESK OF ERIN KERN
I'm a small-town girl at heart who loves living in a small town, visiting small towns, reading about small towns, and writing about small towns. Wyoming is full of picturesque "dots-on-the-map" that are nestled among foothills and aspens. The town of Trouble, although fictitious, has a place in my heart as the quintessential Middle American small town.
The people of these towns are your average, hardworking American families with real stories to tell. People who battle the same everyday dynamics and family-centered idiosyncrasies we all face. The McDermotts are a blended family with the same quirky but lovable relatives we all deal with in our own families. The four brothers, along with their outlandish younger sister, all had their own happy endings waiting for them.
These are their stories, and the stories of the women who bring four devilish, very tough men to their knees.
THE MAN WITH A DARK-BROWN Stetson pulled low over his eyes appeared in Avery Price's rearview mirror a split second before her back bumper knocked him down. Her Christian Lacroix wedge sandal slammed on the brake pedal before her tires could roll over him and snap his bones like fragile twigs. Her cell phone, which had been pressed to her ear for ten minutes while her brother peppered her with questions, slipped out of her hand and clattered to the wood-grained middle console. Moisture seeped out of the corners of her tightly closed eyes, and she wrapped her hands around the fine Italian leather–stitched steering wheel.
A few seconds stretched into an eternity while she inhaled deep breaths and kept her eyes closed. When she opened them, the dented metal door of her motel room came into view along with the early-morning sunshine.
Okay, you barely nudged him. Chances are he's just sore and pissed off. Now would be a good time to get out and check on him.
Her internal lecture was pathetic at best and warranted no action from her hands other than to pick up her discarded cell phone. Her trembling fingers grasped the device and brought it up to her ear.
"Avery, what the hell is going on?" Her brother's unusually demanding voice vibrated through the phone and added to her already jittery nerves. As good as his intentions were, she couldn't deal with his you-need-to-start-making-some-decisions speech.
"Avery, if you don't start talking in two seconds, I'm going to send the Wyoming State Patrol after you."
The man who'd been forced to the ground by her car had yet to pull himself to a vertical position. "I gotta go. I just hit somebody."
"What? See, this is what I'm talking—"
Her thumb hit the end button on her phone, effectively cutting off another one of her brother's annoying but painfully predictable rants.
Her brain fired away commands for her legs to move, to do anything, with no success. After several seconds, a thump came from the back end of the car as though the man on the ground was taking his retribution for being plowed over. The sound prompted a squeak from her, and she fumbled for the door handle.
As far as mornings went, this one ranked down in the shitty category. First, she'd slept through the alarm clock's weak beep-beep ing, and then the fleabag motel couldn't provide her with a decent cup of coffee. Far be it from her to wish for a double-shot latte with no whip. All the shoebox-size lobby offered was the bottom scrapings of hours-old brew and stale English muffins. Not exactly an appealing spread.
Now, in her haste to find something edible and caffeine to rev up her system, she'd bowled over a man who had the bad sense to walk behind a car that had its reverse lights on.
She threw the car in park and exited on shaky legs. The early-morning sun was still weak enough that the temperature hovered in the tolerable range.
As she rounded the back of the car, trying to swallow her irritation at her own carelessness, the man on the ground pushed himself not-so-gracefully to his feet. He swayed, as some drunk people did when they couldn't walk a straight line, and placed a hand on her car. The fierce protectiveness she had for her German-engineered vehicle almost had her demand he remove his hand from her sunflower-yellow custom paint. The fact that she'd hit this poor man, and would probably have to grovel to keep him from suing the pants off her, stopped the words from flying out of her mouth.
A deep, gravelly groan flowed out of the man, now minus his cowboy hat. Burnt sienna–colored hair, mixed with sun-kissed shades of caramel, was smashed down in untidy disarray to the man's skull. The cowboy hat, which now lay about six feet from where he'd hit the ground, had flattened the edges of his hair to a greasy, slicked-down look. Avery considered herself an expert on personal hygiene and keeping one's appearance as perfect as possible. She'd be willing to bet all the money in her trust fund that this man hadn't seen a shower in at least twenty-four hours or his wrinkled, untucked chambray shirt and faded jeans a washer and dryer. For all she knew, he could be some bum who skulked around motels, looking for a place to rest his head.
Nevertheless, that didn't change the fact that her car had come in contact with a human being, and she needed to make sure he was okay.
With his mile-wide back to her, he bent over and placed both his hands on his knees, dropping his head as though he couldn't catch his breath.
Geez, had she hit him harder than she thought? She certainly hadn't meant to.
"Are… are you okay?" she stammered while taking a tentative step toward him.
He straightened much faster than she expected considering he'd been swaying like a drunk a second ago. When he turned, a gaze grayer than blue—and definitely not pleased—hit her. Thick brown brows slammed down over his eyes, which flashed with anger.
"You hit me, lady. What do you think?" The accusing words came out of a full mouth surrounded by dark growth of beard stubble. It wasn't a full beard; it looked more as if he hadn't made the time to shave, as though he didn't care that his unkempt, wrinkled appearance was less than appealing. Or, maybe, he simply didn't own a razor because he was homeless.
"I know that fancy, expensive car of yours has mirrors, so why the hell weren't you paying attention?"
It's not as if she hadn't looked. She had. Her one quick glance had shown a man just standing there, as though he had all the time in the world. She'd lifted her foot off the brake and had already been backing out of the parking space. She'd scarcely rolled two inches before she tagged him and set him on his ass.
Her fingernails bit into the inside of her palm. "I had my reverse lights on because I was backing out of my space. Didn't you see them?"
He snatched his cowboy hat from the uneven gravel and placed it back on his head. "I was walking and not paying any attention to you. You're supposed to look before you back out."
"I did, and it looked as if you were just standing right behind me. I couldn't stop in time. I'm sorry, but I really didn't mean to hit you."
"Your fault, not mine." His words were short and clipped, evidence that anger, not pain, was his dominant emotion.
Okay, so he had her on that one. Technically it was her fault, regardless of what he'd been doing. She was adult enough to admit when she'd made a boo-boo. As a consolation for hitting—no, nudging—him, she tried to be nice even though she felt like a complete imbecile for not paying proper attention. Despite her put-on cheery attitude, she sensed some serious hostility. Maybe she'd messed up his one and only wrinkled shirt.
She stared back at him and tried to dodge the daggers his stony eyes threw her way. "You don't look seriously injured. Again, I'm really sorry." She bounced from one three-inch platform to the next before pivoting and reaching for the car door handle.
"Now wait a minute."
She paused with her hand on the door and tossed him a look over her shoulder. The cowboy hat shielded his hostile gaze and lent only a view of a straight nose and wide mouth.
"You can't just flee the scene of an accident. How do you know I'm not injured?" The words had lost their heat and rolled off the man's tongue with a deliberate slowness.
Other than his disreputable clothing and stubble-covered jaw, there was nothing to suggest he was anything other than normal. No blood sprayed from an open head wound, no bruises or scrapes decorated his masculine face. He had swayed and stumbled at first, giving her the impression of maybe a mild head injury. Since replacing his hat, he'd only leaned one hip against the bumper of her car and regarded her beneath his hooded gaze.
She wrapped her arms around her midsection. "You're not going to call the cops, are you? I already said I was sorry."
Then a terrifying thought hit her. He could easily file a report against you.
He slid one hand under his hat, lifting it crookedly to one side. "I don't know. My head's a bit tingly, and I feel a little light-headed. You might need to take me to a hospital for some medical attention. Or better yet," he continued while rubbing a hand along his rough jawline, "I know the sheriff pretty well. We can get him down here to straighten this whole thing out. I'd call him myself but"—he dug his hand in his back pocket and produced a small black device—"you crushed my cell phone."
Okay, the cell phone was a good indicator that he probably wasn't homeless. Although his attire suggested someone who'd just crawled out of a cardboard box, he was evidently one of those people who just didn't give a damn what he looked like. His nice little speech was also his way of threatening to have her ass thrown in jail if she didn't do… whatever it was he wanted her to do. This was so not how she wanted to start her new life.
He nudged his hat lower on his head. "I think the sheriff is on duty today and wouldn't mind coming down here—"
"All right," she said through gritted teeth. "Just tell me what I can do."
He held his hands up in front of him. "I don't want to put you out. I can tell you're in a hurry."
She forced a smile. "It's no put out at all. Is there somewhere I can take you?"
The grin that crept up his face resembled the one the big, bad wolf used to lure the three little piggies. Unfortunately she was at his mercy until he decided to let the whole fake-injury thing drop. "I'm so glad you offered. I need a ride to my car."
She tightened her hands around her keys. "That's it? Just a ride?"
"Oh, I want a lot more than that."
She crossed her arms, then let them drop. Maybe she should have stayed in bed and watched the rabbit-ear-adorned television at the motel. "All you're going to get out of me is a ride to your car."
A lone passing car filled the silence between them. "Okay."
Without giving him a chance to make more threats, she jerked open the car door with all the force her arm would allow and plopped herself in the driver's seat. She had the car started and was rolling backward by the time he yanked the door open and sat himself next to her.
"Are you trying to run me over again?" he asked after folding himself in the seat until his knees bumped against the glove compartment. Her little roadster was not designed to hold men the size of the Jolly Green Giant. His hat remained firmly on his head.
"I can't help it if you don't move fast enough." She jerked the wheel and maneuvered her car around a pothole.
His narrow hips shifted until he'd slid lower, as though he were settling down for a nice Sunday drive. "I think you were trying to ditch me." The leather beneath his backside squeaked when he moved again.
"Can you sit still? You're going to scratch the leather."
"Can you not shout? My head feels as if it's going to crack in two."
Avery eased the car to a red light. "You haven't heard loud yet. Get one scratch on my car and you'll know the meaning of loud."
One corner of his mouth turned up and created shallow lines in his stubble-covered cheek. "Poor princess. Daddy might have to buy you a new one."
She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and decided to let the "daddy" comment roll off her back.
The light turned green, and she tapped her manicured index finger against the gearshift. "Would you like to tell me where your car is, or should I drop you off wherever I please?" Like here?
"Go straight and make a left turn at the fourth light down," he replied without so much as moving a muscle.
She wound her hand tighter around the steering wheel and cursed herself for being so stupid and careless. Avery was the sort of person who treated everyone with respect, regardless of how that person treated her. She'd been caught off guard and lost in her own thoughts about what she was going to do with her life. With practiced patience, she eased off the brake pedal and set off down the street. The inarticulate man next to her didn't so much as utter a grunt. Instead, he remained slouched low in the seat with his hat pulled down so it covered half his face. Only his deep, even breathing indicated he was still alive.
Over the years, she'd worked to develop an ironclad backbone, so she rarely let situations or people intimidate her. The man who sucked all the breathing space out of the car, with his massive shoulders and long legs, sent her nerves tingling in a way they hadn't in a long time. Was it intimidation, or fear that she'd injured another human being? Avery didn't know, nor was she comfortable with the feeling. She couldn't say it was his looks, because so far all she'd seen was half his face and hair that hadn't been combed in days. Perhaps it was just the sheer size of the man. Even though he sat perfectly still, there was an edge to him but also an air of confidence, as though he knew how he looked and damn the world if they didn't like it.
The characteristics defied everything she knew about men. A heavy breath left her lungs.
"You sigh a lot."
Another light turned red, allowing a man hunched over like a question mark to cross the street. "I'm just mad at myself. I'm usually much more observant."
He was silent for a moment. "Don't feel so bad. I'm not that hurt."
The look she threw him went unacknowledged. "But I do feel bad, even if you don't seem that hurt."
"I thought I saw you checking me out." The grin in his voice was unmistakable, although Avery didn't see the humor. Nor did she appreciate it. Whatever. Let him make his wisecracks. In a few blessed minutes, she'd be free of him.
After the old man shuffled his way across the street, the light turned green, and she made her way toward where she was supposed to turn.
Her phone vibrated in the middle console, where she'd dropped it in her haste. She kept her hands on the steering wheel, having no desire to listen to her brother call her incompetent while the stranger who'd kissed the back end of her car listened to her humiliation.
She made the left turn as instructed, then looked to him for the next set of directions. "Go down about half a mile then turn right on Beach Street." The deep timbre of his voice had her mind wandering to unsuitable thoughts as she passed a hay-and-feed store.
"What were you doing at Dick's Motel if your car is way down here?" She'd already come to the conclusion that he wasn't homeless; homeless people didn't have cell phones and wear brand-new Timberland boots. He was just a man who didn't iron his clothes and woke up two miles from his car.
For a moment he sat as still as he'd been since entering the car and didn't answer. Then he said, "What people usually do at motels."
O-kay. That could be anything from doing drugs to cheating on a significant other. For whatever reason, the former didn't seem likely. As for the latter, well, what did she know? Maybe the woman he was with had kicked him out and refused to take him anywhere, leaving him stranded without transportation. Then Avery had gone and knocked him down, destroying his cell phone in the process. For all she knew, he could have a wife at home who was pacing herself sick at this very moment. And Avery could be an accomplice to his sordid love triangle. Now she felt even worse than she did before.
Her desire to attempt a conversation with a man who'd strong-armed her into driving him across town was minimal. She kept her gaze on the street in front of her and both hands on the wheel. Under normal circumstances, Avery was a pretty chatty person. She didn't like uncomfortable silences that stretched into eons of nothingness. The silence made her fidgety, and it felt as if worms crawled underneath her skin. Oh, but the cowboy loved it. His answers were clipped and to the point as though he couldn't be bothered with trivial things like speaking to another person.
"It's on the left-hand side of the street at the very end," he muttered after she'd made a right turn onto Beach Street.
A metal sign that read DAVE'S WATERING HOLE sat crooked on top of a masonry building as though someone had just tossed it up there and hadn't bothered to make it sit straight. There were no windows, no landscaping, or anything that was minimally appealing about the place. The building sat away from the street in the middle of a cracked, weed-adorned parking lot. This definitely wasn't an establishment that screamed fine family dining, though Avery was pretty sure anything with the word "hole" in it wasn't suitable for little children. Given the behavior and the dozen words she'd exchanged with the man next to her, she hadn't expected something with gold-plated front doors.
She cringed as the front bumper of her car scraped the pebbly ground when she drove into the parking lot. A handful of early-model trucks and a later SUV sat in the parking lot without any sort of rhyme or reason. Apparently the owners didn't feel designated parking spaces were necessary.
"Just stop right here." The man straightened in the seat and reached for the door handle.
When the car purred to a stop, he opened the door and unfolded his long limbs from the low-slung vehicle.
She grabbed his arm before he had a chance to exit. "Wait a minute. Are you sure you're okay? Can I take you to a doctor?"
His stunning gray eyes lit on hers. "Nothing more than a bruised ego, princess."
She let the "princess" comment slide and withdrew her hand from his arm. "I really am sorry."
The car door slammed shut before she had a chance to grovel for more of his forgiveness. What was wrong with her? She didn't just go around hitting innocent people with her car. She was a better person than that.
Executing an abrupt U-turn, she left him in the dust of her Mercedes and hauled ass away from Dave's Watering Hole as fast as she could.
What a way to start your life over, Avery.
Well, son of a bitch. Noah McDermott withdrew car keys from his pocket and hit the unlock button.
The Mercedes princess was all spitfire and sass.
The curved backend of her car sprayed all sorts of dirt and gravel in the wake of her swift retreat. Maybe Her Highness was late for her manicure.
Or maybe she just wanted to get away from your grumpy ass.
It certainly wouldn't be the first time. Mary Ellen hadn't wasted any time kicking him out of the motel room this morning after she'd had her way with him. Not that he'd been heartbroken. He hadn't been expecting to find a hot meal in his lap and a ball game on the television. Instead, Mary Ellen had emerged from the shower and told him he needed to be on his way. She didn't have to tell him twice. He'd quickly thrown on last night's wrinkled, stale-cigarette-smoke-shrouded clothes and let himself out the door. Just before exiting he thought he'd heard Mary Ellen asking him to call her. Yeah, that wouldn't be happening. She was the type of woman who sat around in bars, as she had last night, and waited for a man to pay her any sort of attention.
The argument he'd gotten into with his father had propelled Noah into the dingy and disreputable interior of Dave's. Once there, he'd immediately spotted Mary Ellen, with her too-tight jeans and dark, overly processed hair. Initially he hadn't been looking for a woman, only the comfort of a pool table and a longneck bottle of beer. By his third game, Mary Ellen had wormed her way into his game and bought him another beer. She'd spent the remainder of the time slipping her hands in his back pockets and rubbing her double Ds against his arm. He'd been just drunk and pissed off enough to allow her to drive the two of them to Dick's Motel and promptly handcuff him to the wooden headboard.
Hours later he'd woken up with a bitch of a headache and blurry memories of new sexual positions he'd been introduced to.
The interior of his car was cool, having not yet been affected by the heat of midday. He tossed his hat on the passenger seat and slid in with deliberate slowness so he didn't make the pounding in his head worse. After dropping his eyelids closed and inhaling several deep breaths, he started the car. A morning meeting with one of his subcontractors prevented him from returning home longer than to take a shower. With the condition his head was in, he'd love nothing more than to wash off the previous night and dump himself into bed.
As he exited the parking lot and headed toward the outside of town where he lived, Noah's thoughts returned to the Mercedes princess.
Someone like her didn't enter the town of Trouble very often. Her sleek dark hair and perfectly pressed clothes screamed wealth. Of course her car was also a dead giveaway. He didn't need to see the little roadster to know she'd grown up with privileges most people in this town only dreamed about.
Having a hundred-thousand-dollar car knock him on the ground had upgraded the pounding in his head to freight-train status. He hadn't noticed anyone sitting in the car when he'd stepped out of the motel room. His mood was already dangerously close to black, and allowing a woman, who hadn't been paying attention, to catch him off guard had pissed him off big-time. Never mind the fact that she was a delectable little thing who smelled like vanilla and peaches.
She had guts and looks that would send most men drooling at her feet. Not him. His mind had been too foggy and his limbs too achy for him to notice anything beyond the fact that she was a knockout with bags of money.
A small smile turned up the corners of his mouth. Sparring with her over who'd been at fault had been enough to erase the previous evening from his mind. For that much he was willing to forgive her affront of hitting him.
Okay, so she'd been genuinely sorry and only his ego had been hurt. The only other thing he'd suffered from was lack of sleep and a broken cell phone. Just to lay it on extra thick, he'd antagonized her into giving him a ride. He'd never had any plans to call law enforcement into the picture. But there hadn't been any harm in making her think he would. The steam coming out of her feminine little ears had been satisfaction enough. And being in the car with her had given him the chance to poke at her some more. So far the morning had been more entertaining than he'd anticipated.
Fifteen minutes later he pulled into his driveway, and as he stepped out of the car he realized his pocket was empty.
His wallet had fallen out in the princess's car.
AFTER HUNTING DOWN AN ESPRESSO as though it were the Holy Grail, Avery chugged the barely drinkable sludge down in three rapid gulps. The coffee was bitter and entirely too strong. The town's one and only coffee shop was closed due to renovations, leaving her no other choice but to go to the self-serve machine at a gas station. Luckily for her they offered other flavors besides straight black coffee. She opted for an espresso, thinking it would vaguely resemble something other than tar. After taking one sip, she realized she'd set her hopes too high.
On her way out of the gas station, she picked up The Trouble Citizen, the town's newspaper. She tossed the paper on the passenger seat and set off to find a place where she could sit and drink her sludgy espresso and browse the classified section in hopes of finding a job.
Grinning, rosy-faced children held hands with their Leave It to Beaver parents as they skipped across the crosswalk. Bouncing curly pigtails and golden retrievers on leashes screamed of a Norman Rockwellian society, and Avery had grown fond of it during the past week. Who knew?
After half the population of Wyoming crossed the street, the light turned green, and Avery eased her foot off the brake pedal. Jittery nerves dancing across her body from the accident had her driving slower than normal. She stayed a good two car lengths behind the wood-paneled station wagon in front of her. Lord knew one ticked-off person with her car's imprint on his backside was one too many for her. Guilt still tore at her. How had she managed to be so careless? It shouldn't have mattered what the man had been doing. No one deserved to get hit by a car. Had she apologized enough? Had he really not been hurt or had he just been saying that? She now chastised herself for not making completely sure he was okay. If he ended up with a concussion and crashed his car, she'd never forgive herself.
Just as she was about to start her search for a place to stop, her cell phone chirped from the cup holder it rested in. Gritting her teeth against having an unwanted conversation, Avery left one hand on the steering wheel and picked up her phone with the other.
"Please have a good explanation for what I just heard," her brother demanded after she pushed the answer button on the touch screen of her phone.
"Don't worry; everything's fine," she reassured him halfheartedly.
"So, you didn't just hit somebody?" The hope in Landon's voice almost made her say, "Yep, false alarm," and hang up on his overprotective ass.
Alas, Avery could never lie to her brother. He meant too much to her. "No, I did. But don't worry; I was practically crawling, so the guy walked away unscathed." Unless you counted his personality.
Don't think things like that, Avery. You're not a mean person.
A colorful array of expletives flew from Landon's mouth. "Whether or not the guy was hurt doesn't matter. It'll get back to Dad, and then you'll be screwed like a Cinemax B-movie actress."
"Nice, Landon." She steered her newly scratched Mercedes into the uneven, cracked parking lot of the Greasy Spoon, a place that dared anyone to eat their one-pound hamburger. "Don't worry your handsome little head, because I didn't give him my insurance card."
"How in the world did you manage that? Don't tell me you fled the scene of an accident."
"Do you really think I'm that irresponsible?" Well, you did just hit someone
- "Fun and hot!"—MyGuiltyObsession.blogspot.com
"...Feel good romance ..."
—Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer
"An unexpected surprise..."
- On Sale
- Jan 8, 2013
- Page Count
- 400 pages