When the frost is on the pumpkin…Grab a book boyfriend! October 2017 Calendar

There’s no Pumpkin Spice Latte on this month’s free downloadable October 2017 calendar desktop wallpaper. But there is one spicy Hot SEAL to warm your chilly October nights in honor of this month’s release of Matched with a Hot SEAL, the next standalone Hot SEALs romance featuring computer guru Will Weber on preorder now. Scroll down to download the image with or without the calendar page. Feel free to share.

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MATCHED WITH A HOT SEAL

A Navy SEAL’s life isn’t all deadly missions. Commandos need love too.

But when Naval Special Warfare computer guru Will Weber puts the fate of his love life in the combined hands of a dating app and his teammates, he feared he’d learn what real terror feels like.

He was wrong. That happened when his ex’s sister walked into his life . . . and his heart . . . and walked out again just as quickly.

In eBook & paperback

CATCH UP WITH THE HOT SEALS YOU MISSED!

 

Hot New Cowboy Wedding Anthology! Read a Full Chapter Excerpt

Out now in eBook, Mass Market Paperback & Audiobook

HAPPY IS THE BRIDE

“Johnson gives us humor and heat”- RT Book Reviews

Scroll down to read a full chapter excerpt!

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHORS LORI WILDE * JANET DAILEY * CAT JOHNSON * KATE PEARCE

1 Wedding, 4 New York Times Bestselling Authors, 5 Happily Ever Afters!

Opposites attract when a wealthy cattleman and a penniless artist decide to get hitched at a Texas dude ranch in tornado country—and the whirlwind festivities are as filled with surprises as their love…especially when the guest list includes: one pretty party crasher on a mission, a sheriff known as the One Night Stand King, and a workaholic event planner who definitely did not plan to fall for a laid back cowboy.

AMZ~   BN~   GOOGLE~   IBOOKS~   KOBO

Enjoy this EXCERPT from “Getting Saddled” by Cat Johnson in HAPPY IS THE BRIDE

It was hot as hell. But then again, that shouldn’t be a surprise. This was Texas after all, but today was hotter than usual for a day in late May.

Tanner should be able to handle the heat. He’d been working a ranch most of his adult life. He didn’t let that stop him from bitching about it now.

“Damn, it’s hot as blazes out here today.” Letting out a huff, Tanner ran his handkerchief across his forehead.

The thin cotton was so damp with sweat and smeared with the dust he’d been working in, the red paisley pattern was barely visible any longer.

Knowing it would only get worse before he was done for the day, Tanner shoved it dirty into the rear pocket of his jeans.

“Eh, the heat won’t last. Supposed to cool off a bit next week.” Randy, the young ranch hand working with him, didn’t look particularly disturbed by the heat kicking Tanner’s ass.

That made Tanner feel old, which only annoyed him more.

Was he just getting old? He considered the possibility.

Nah.

He quickly dismissed the thought. At forty-one he was still in his prime. But that didn’t mean he had to like sweating under the noonday sun. Oh he’d do it, but he sure as hell didn’t have to enjoy it.

Taking the tool in hand again, Tanner went back to work.

The steady sound of the post-hole digger—the chomp of the metal blade hitting the dirt and the swoosh as Tanner pulled it out again—became hypnotic. Combined with the warmth of the sun and the touch of the wind, it lulled him into a relaxed rhythm.

After today’s work he’d sleep good tonight.

City folk wouldn’t need yoga for their meditation or pills to sleep at night—and more pills to get through the day—if they’d just pick up a tool and work up a good sweat every day.

Planting his tool in the ground, Randy leaned on the long wooden handles and let out a long, low whistle. “Holy cow . . . Who is that?”

Frowning at Randy, Tanner wondered what had the kid ignoring his work this time.

Today’s youth had a crap work ethic.

With that thought, Tanner realized he really was starting to act old. That was something his papaw would have said. In fact, Papaw might have actually said it, word for word.

He supposed he shouldn’t be quite so cranky, but damn, was it hot. And it would be nice if the ranch hand helping him would actually, you know, help.

Tanner planted his own posthole digger into the dirt and leaned on it as he tried to see what had Randy so distracted. He spotted the car parked in front of the Cutwrights’ house.

Actually, it was less car and more mommy minivan, but either way it was nothing for Randy to be so excited about. People came and went all day around here, especially since Brady had gotten engaged. And as far as vehicles went, this one was pretty plain. Straightforward. White. Square. Probably useless in the mud.

Then a woman stepped from around the nose of the van and into Tanner’s view and he had to give Randy a pass for staring.

She opened the passenger door and bent at the waist as she fiddled with something inside.

Holy cow was right. A few other exclamations, not quite as tame, flew into Tanner’s mind.

“Don’t know who that is.” But Tanner would sure like to get to know her.

Mommy van or not, she certainly didn’t look like any mother he’d ever seen. Though he wouldn’t mind if she called him daddy.

Even at this distance he could see the glint of red as the sun hit her glossy chestnut hair while it bounced around her shoulders.

And that body . . . phew!

In spite of the length of the skirt that came all the way down to her knees, he could tell she had legs that went on for days and hips he’d really enjoy getting his hands on.

Nope, he didn’t know who she was or why she was here, but he’d have to make it his business to find out.

It was a rare occurrence that a female—and one that shapely to boot—showed up unexpectedly at the ranch. Brady Cutwright’s wife-to-be, Ellie, was here a lot. And Brady’s friend Meg Stoddard, who owned the adjacent ranch, visited all the time. But this woman . . . he was sure she’d never crossed his path before.

Maybe she was lost. If that was the case, it was up to him to investigate and help her out; she might need some direction. In fact, his being ranch boss meant it was Tanner’s duty to be on top of what happened around here.

He pulled off his work gloves and shoved them into the belt on his jeans. “I’m gonna go check it out. See if she needs any help. You keep digging. I’ll be right back.”

“Hey, why do I have to stay and keep working and you get to go?”

Tanner glanced back and saw the kid’s deep frown. “’Cause I’m your boss, that’s why.”

Before Tanner took even a step toward the house, Randy scowled deep. The kid’s reaction made Tanner grin, but it sure as hell didn’t make him change his mind.

Someone had to get those holes dug. Lucky for Tanner, he had somebody to delegate to. Besides, from what he could see at this distance, the lady in question wasn’t Randy’s type. The kid liked them young and dumb, in painted-on jeans and showing enough cleavage to be illegal.

The twenty-two-year-old cowboy wouldn’t know what to do with a real woman, and as far as Tanner could determine, that was what the mysterious lady was. A real woman who’d need a real man, and he was just the guy for the job.

The closer he got as he headed toward the house, the more details he could make out. Their mysterious visitor’s tight skirt looked like it belonged on a naughty librarian or a sexy secretary . . . and maybe Tanner had watched too many dirty movies during his misspent youth.

Sometimes his current lack of a steady lady in his life made itself very apparent. Today’s little fantasy about the Cutwright family’s unexpected feminine company was proof of that.

Tanner sidelined his fantasies and got his head back to the business of being the ranch manager greeting a guest . . . before his hard-on greeted her for him.

Given she was still bent over, he would have to address her posterior, which was no problem for him. “Excuse me, ma’am. Can I help you?”

She bolted upright and turned, arms loaded. It had been a long while since Tanner had been in school, but what she held looked like a couple of years’ worth of schoolwork barely contained in a few large white binders. His fantasy immediately shifted from naughty librarian to hot for teacher.

“Hi.” She frowned. “Um, any chance you’re Brady?”

Tanner let out a snort. He respected his boss, the whole Cutwright family, but no way any one of them would be covered in sweat and dirt from digging holes the way he was now. “No, ma’am. I’m Tanner Black. Ranch manager. Brady’s my boss.”

“Oh good. At least I’m in the right place.” She smiled until it reached her sky-blue eyes.

Up close he could appreciate the porcelain quality of her complexion. This woman would fry up in no time out in the sun, which would be a perfect reason to keep her inside—in his bedroom.

She still hadn’t offered up who she was or why she was here, but upon further inspection the van provided his answer. The lettering on the side panel supplied him with a company name. He considered the other tidbit of information that the van’s lettering supplied—the company’s location.

Austin.

She was a city girl.

Pity. City folk made Tanner twitch.

Get it now at AMZ  ~ BN ~  GOOGLE ~  IBOOKS  ~ KOBO

“You the wedding planner?” he asked.

“I am. Erin Saddler, owner of Happy Is the Bride Event Planning. I’d shake your hand, but . . .” Her gaze dropped to the binders about to slip from her overloaded arms.

“That’s a’ight.” As dirty as he was, it was probably best she couldn’t shake his hand. In fact, he thought twice before offering to take the notebooks from her for fear he’d ruin those pristine white binders. “Can I help you with some of those?”

“Thanks. There are actually a few more.” She took a step back from the open door and he saw them on the floorboard.

“No problem. I’ll get ’em.” Tanner was reaching into the van for the books when he heard the screen door of the house slam.

“Erin?” The voice of Brady’s fiancée came from the porch.

“That’s me. And you must be Ellie, my bride-to-be.” At Erin’s reply, Tanner went from wondering what the hell she had in these binders that weighed so damn much to thinking no woman’s voice had ever cut through him quite like Erin’s did.

And she wasn’t even talking sexy. They were talking about his boss’s wedding, for cripes’ sake. Nothing that should have every cell in him aware of her.

Tanner straightened up in time to see the bride-to-be trotting down the stairs, beaming with the biggest grin on her face. That was pretty much how Brady had looked lately, too.

Young love—they’d better enjoy it before they got cynical like him.

“I’m so glad you could meet with us so fast.” Ellie reached out to take one of the books in Erin’s hands.

“Not a problem. The sooner the better. It’s going to be tight.” Of course, Erin was talking about the timing of the wedding, but Tanner’s mind went to bad places as he started to ponder everything that was tight on Erin’s tempting little body.

Down, boy.

Tanner wrangled his libido into check and reminded himself that city girls and country boys didn’t mix well. Been there, done that, and he had the scars on his heart to prove it.

“We realize the date we chose is coming up fast, but neither of us wanted to wait.” As the bride turned toward the house, Brady appeared in the doorway. “Oh good. Here’s Brady now.”

Erin flashed first Brady and then Ellie a brilliant smile that showed off her perfect white teeth. “And now I can see why you don’t want to wait.”

Ellie giggled. “I know. Isn’t he the cutest?”

Tanner rolled his eyes as he followed behind the two women. He felt nothing but respect for the Cutwrights, but this shindig, which seemed to grow daily until it had taken on a life of its own, was bullshit in his opinion. Waste of time and money, if you asked him.

Then again, unlike Tanner, the Cutwrights had the money to waste. That was probably one reason for the wedding planner’s warmth as she greeted Brady: dollar signs.

Thinking of Miss Erin Saddler, wedding planner extraordinaire, as just another money-hungry big-city business owner helped. Tanner needed something to balance out his other, baser feelings for the woman as she climbed the steps ahead of him and he got another eyeful of her shapely behind in that skirt.

Yeah, he needed to get out of there before he embarrassed himself.

Ellie led Erin into the house and Tanner could finally think again, now that her tinkling laugh and twinkling eyes were safely out of range.

“Here you go, boss. Have fun.” Grinning, Tanner shoved the books toward Brady while thinking that whatever those binders contained was going to be anything but fun.

Brady was no dummy. He narrowed his eyes. “Oh no. You don’t get out of here that easily.”

Tanner frowned. “What’s your wedding got to do with me?”

“Ellie and I have another appointment we have to get to this afternoon, so I need you to take the wedding planner over to Meg’s and show her where the reception’s gonna be. And drive her out to the chapel so she can see where we’re having the ceremony.”

Oh no. No, no, no. Him alone in his truck with her was not gonna happen.

He’d been too long without his hands on a woman to be alone with Miss Sex on Heels inside the confines of the cab of his truck.

Tanner was in to many things, but self-torture wasn’t one of them. He had a bad feeling Miss Saddler was already going to invade his sleep tonight, just from this one brief encounter by the minivan.

He didn’t need to fuel that fire with any more time spent with her—alone and in his own damn pickup truck to boot.

“Why don’t you just give her the directions? Meg can show her around there.”

“Meg is meeting us in the city for our appointment. It’s wedding stuff and Ellie wants her there.”

Tanner lifted one shoulder to concede Brady’s point as he crafted another suggestion to get himself out of escorting Miss Tight Skirt. “The dude ranch has staff. They can take her around.”

“Meg’s crew has their own work to do. This time of year you know she’s booked full up. It’s nice enough of her to clear her reservations for the week of our wedding on top of letting us have the ceremony and the rehearsal dinner and the reception there. I’m not gonna take her crew away from their work.”

“Fine. I’ll do it.” Tanner scowled, unhappy with the turn of events. To make sure his displeasure was fully known, he added, “It’s not like I got a fence to put up or anything.”

Brady shook his head. “I knew you were a confirmed bachelor, but I had no idea your aversion to marriage included other people’s weddings, too.”

“Maybe it’s my aversion to city folk and not weddings. You ever think of that?” Tanner cocked a brow high.

The problem was, this particular city girl made him want to break his own rule. Made him want to run his hands through her hair to see if it felt as soft as it looked. Made him want to lean in and get a better whiff of whatever damn scent she wore, which still clung in the air long after she was gone.

“Well, you can get in that fancy air-conditioned truck of yours and chauffeur that city girl in there around for an hour or so while Randy works on the fence and finishes the afternoon chores in this heat. Or I could see if Randy wants to take her over to Meg’s while you finish up work here for the day. You decide.” Brady folded his arms and waited.

Given those options, there was no choice in Tanner’s mind. “What time you figure she’ll be ready for me to take her over to Meg’s?”

Brady grinned. “Thought you’d say that. And I’d say in about an hour.”

“A’ight.” With a nod, Tanner spun on one boot heel and headed back out to the new paddock to break the news to Randy and then get himself and his truck cleaned up before either could mess up pretty Miss Erin and her skirt.

GET HAPPY IS THE BRIDE TODAY!

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New Release Excerpt from That Mistletoe Moment

That Mistletoe MomentTHAT MISTLETOE MOMENT (a multi-author anthology from Kensington featuring my story, “A Boyfriend by Christmas”, as well as two other great new stories by two fabulous authors Kate Angell and Allyson Charles) is available today in eBook and print. Read an excerpt from my story below. Enjoy! Cat

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Amazon CA  ~UK ~AU ~DE

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“In Johnson’s charismatic ‘A Boyfriend by Christmas’, a chance meeting on Thanksgiving and a text sent to the wrong contact lead to alluring romantic possibilities…” ~ Publishers Weekly

EXCERPT

 

Nikki sat perched on one of the bar stools at the kitchen island, focusing on her cell phone. “So, I downloaded this app . . .”

“Mmm-hmm.” Noelle sat too, reached for a second cookie, and took a good-sized bite out of it.

“I signed you up.”

Her sister was always doing stuff like that. Signing her up for mailing lists and websites without her permission. Noelle pulled her mouth to one side. “Great. Now I’ll get a bunch of e-mails because they have my address. What’s it for, some store?”

“Uh, no, not a store.” Nikki put her own cell down just as Noelle’s phone vibrated with a text alert. Nikki eyed the phone on the countertop, where Noelle had tossed it. “You gonna check that?”

Suspicious, Noelle put down her mug and picked up the phone. There was a new text from a number she didn’t recognize, but it was from her local area code. She frowned at the screen as she hit the button to read it.

Hello, beautiful! Reply to this number to start chatting with your new boyfriend.

“What is this? What did you do?” Noelle glared at her sister.

Nikki’s face lit up with a grin. “I got you a boyfriend.”

“A what?” Noelle’s voice rose high.

“Not a real one. Relax. It’s the Build-A-Boyfriend app.” Nikki held up her phone as if that would explain it all. “Remember, I told you about it at Thanksgiving?”

Noelle grabbed her sister’s phone and glanced at the screen. “But I don’t understand. Who is this text from?”

“Actually, I’m not really sure. That’s kind of proprietary information. I read an article about the app in the Wall Street Journal before I signed you up, and the owners of the company were pretty secretive about how they actually generate the texts.”

“Oh, well, that’s comforting.” Noelle rolled her eyes.

Ignoring the sarcasm, Nikki continued, “The exact process and technology is kept under wraps, but there’s speculation it might be a combination of computer technology and real-life human interaction.”

“So basically the nicest compliment I’ve gotten in recent memory is from either a computer or someone being paid to text me.” Noelle twisted her mouth unhappily.

“Yes. But that’s the beauty of it. You get to pretend you have the perfect boyfriend for the family at Christmas without dealing with any of the problems of a real man.”

“None of the problems but also none of the fun,” Noelle reminded her overly jubilant sister.

Nikki dismissed that complaint with one flick of a wrist. “Oh, seriously. When was the last time you had fun with George? I mean real fun, where he didn’t criticize you or act like a stick in the mud?”

It was a knee-jerk reaction to defend George to Nikki, but just the mention of his name raised a horrible realization that had Noelle gasping. “George’s parents will be at the Christmas party.”

Nikki nodded. “I’m sure they will. And I think you’d better prepare yourself that George could very well come, too.”

Noelle widened her eyes. “You think he would?”

How could she face him? And what if he came with a date? He wouldn’t have the nerve—would he? She had the bad feeling he might.

“Yes, I do. And I think you need to be ready. Which is why we’re setting you up with a new boyfriend.”

“I don’t think a couple of possibly computer-generated texts are going to convince anyone I have a boyfriend.”

“The app does more than just text. You can get e-mails. Even a real handwritten letter. And you can set up for flower and gift deliveries, too, but that’s an extra charge.”

All of that sounded expensive. “How much is this thing going to cost me?”

“Nothing. There’s a free trial. For the basic membership during the trial period you get a limited number of texts, and we can design a complete boyfriend. We name him. Give him an occupation. We can even download photos from their database.” When Noelle continued to look skeptical, Nikki continued. “I’m telling you, this will work. We post a couple of status updates and pictures online, and you’ll have what looks like a completely convincing relationship.”

“No. I’m not posting pictures of a made-up boyfriend. That’s too much. Then what happens when I meet a real guy and there are these pictures of my fake boyfriend all over the web?”

“Fine. No guy pics right away, but we’re going to revisit that idea before the party. Okay?”

Noelle sighed, too beaten down to fight her sister. “Okay.”

“Even without pictures of a guy, we can fabricate a complete relationship online starting right away.”

“How in the world are you going to do that?”

“Easy. A close-up shot of two glasses of champagne with a status update that reads something like, Enjoying some bubbly at Sunday brunch with my new man. A pic of a Christmas tree lot with the post, Good thing my boyfriend is strong since I chose the biggest tree here. A few posts like that and George and the relatives will think you have the most active social life of anyone we know.”

Shocked, and admittedly a bit impressed, Noelle stared at her sister. “You do realize that if you put this much creativity and effort into your dissertation and building a career, you’d be making enough money to move out of Mom and Dad’s place, right?”

“Ugh. Work and school are no fun. This is fun. I can’t wait to create all sorts of dates for you and—wait—what are we calling him?” Nikki picked up her phone again. “There’s a place for all that info in the dashboard of the app. So, what do you want to call your new fake boyfriend?”

“First of all, can we stop referring to him as my fake boyfriend?” Noelle sighed with self-pity. “Other than that, I don’t know what to call him.”

“Just choose a guy’s name. Make it something strong and sexy.” Nikki waited, phone in hand as Noelle glanced around the room, looking for inspiration and not finding much that would work for a good name.

“Strong and sexy . . . Hmm. Ooh, wait. I got it.” She smiled in triumph as an idea struck. “Type in that his name is Nathan.”

“Nathan. Okay. Sounds good to me.” Nikki typed in a few things. “Where’d you get that name from?”

“He was this guy I met at the store when I ran out to buy more cranberries on Thanksgiving.” Back when she’d been happy and hopeful for a future with George. Apparently, also back when she’d been delusional that she and he were in the same place in their relationship. “Anyway, there were only two bags left and he was going to buy them both but he gave one to me.”

“That was nice of him.”

“Yeah. It was. I gave him my cranberry recipe as a thank-you.”

Nikki sucked in a breath. “You gave it to him and you won’t even give it to me?”

“Fine. I’ll text it to you.” Noelle scrolled to the outgoing text with the recipe and sent a copy to her sister. Nikki’s phone chimed a few seconds later and Noelle said, “There. You have it now. Happy?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Nikki continued to tap away on her phone before raising her eyes to Noelle. “Okay. I’ve put everything in your app dashboard. You’re all set up, or rather he’s all set up. Remember to save that Build-A-Boyfriend number into your contacts under Nathan. It will be good proof.”

“Proof for whom? Who’s going to see the texts on my phone?”

“Everyone you show them to at the Christmas party when you’re telling them about how great your new boyfriend, Nathan, is and reading them what sweet things he is going to text to you.”

Picking up her phone again, Noelle sighed deeply. She spotted the number with the local area code and hit the button to create a new contact. She narrated her actions aloud for her bossy sister. “Create new contact. N-A-T-H-A-N. Save. Anything else, boss?”

“Well, you’re going to have to text him back so he can respond. That’s how it works.”

“Stop saying ‘him’ likes it’s a real guy.” Noelle tried not to think that at best her texts would be from some bored Build-A-Boyfriend employee, and at worst from a computer.

“If you don’t start acting like he’s real, how do you expect anyone else to believe it?” Nikki cocked a brow and ignored Noelle’s pout. “Now, go put on something cute and festive. We need to go out and start faking some dates.”

Noelle wasn’t sure she had the ability to be cute or festive right now. “Why?”

“For the pictures. We’ll take some of you getting your Christmas tree. Oh, and bring an extra sweater and a scarf or hat with you so we can fake a few different dates to post all throughout the week.” Nikki stopped her planning long enough to shoot Noelle a glare. “What are you waiting for? Go.”

“Fine.” Rolling her eyes, Noelle slid off the stool and turned toward the hall.

“And put on some makeup. You look like death.”

“Thanks.” She shot her sister a glare over her shoulder.

Nikki responded with a broad grin. “You’re welcome. Ooh and mistletoe. We definitely have to buy some mistletoe. We can take a picture of it hanging up. It’ll be perfect.”

Nikki continued talking as Noelle walked away. Her only concession was to raise her voice louder.

In her bedroom, Noelle shook her head at this whole thing. Faking a relationship was a lot of work. It might be easier just to find a real man.

AMAZON US   ~B & N  ~ iBOOKS ~ GOOGLE ~ KOBO

New Release! Romanced by a SEAL (Hot SEALs)

Jon and Ali have been together since I started the Hot SEALs series in 2014. They met in Book 1 Night with a SEAL and, as readers and reviewers have so lovingly pointed out, Jon never proposed . . . until now! But you know the course of true love never did run smooth and that’s true here as well. Ali is making Jon work for it! Please enjoy the below excerpt from ROMANCED BY A SEAL, available now in eBook and paperback.

Hot SEAL s Book 9

Romanced by a SEAL (Hot SEALs)

As a SEAL, Jon Rudnick dodged copper and lead without flinching, but just the thought of one tiny gold band around his ring finger has always sent him into a cold sweat. Love is one thing, but marriage is another. He’s not sure he’s ready for that just yet . . . until a near miss serves as a wake-up call he can’t ignore.

Now he’s ready, but his girlfriend Ali has gone from rushing him toward the altar, to running in the opposite direction at full speed. Hell if Jon can figure out why, but he knows one thing. All’s fair in love and war and he’s not going to rest until he makes Ali his again. This time for good.

Amazon.US ~ CA ~UK ~ AU ~ AReiBooks ~ Kobo~ BN ~Google

Romanced by a SEAL Hot SEALs #9

Romanced by a SEAL Excerpt

Jon drove faster than he should have given the conditions and it wasn’t long before he stood at the door of his condo.

He drew in a big breath as the emotions he’d kept on lockdown while he’d been gone started to surface, unlocked the door and swung it open.

The first sight to greet him was Ali, curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket.

At the sound of his entering, she spun around. Her eyes flew wide when she saw him in the doorway . . . before they narrowed beneath her frown.

“Nice to see you made it home alive. And nice to see that you finally shaved.” She’d obviously gotten over her shock of seeing him home and had moved right on to her anger over him being gone.

It didn’t take a genius to see she was good and pissed at him, but he didn’t care. He’d been to hell, danced with the devil and made it back to her and he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to at least kiss her now.

Determined, he strode across the room, pulled her off the sofa and drew her to him in an embrace that was as much for his benefit as hers.

She let him hold her, but she remained stiff in his arms. He decided to take what he could get and be grateful.

“I know you’re mad but it’s so good to hold you.” The words were muffled as he clasped her tight and buried his face against her hair. She smelled familiar and felt like home.

He’d missed her. He didn’t realize how much until now while she was in his arms. He pulled back and tipped her face up. There was no controlling the urge to take her mouth.

The danger of posing as an ISIS fighter hadn’t scared him as much as knowing that just days away from being safely home and with Ali he’d nearly died.

It only proved what he knew already. No one could predict what could happen or when. He could live to a hundred or he could die tomorrow. It was about time he started really living.

“God, I missed you.” The words were barely out before he crushed his mouth against hers.

Overwhelmed by the need to feel safe and alive, he kissed her hard and thoroughly. The long list of miracles that had brought him home mostly unscathed grew by one more when Ali didn’t push him away.

She sank into his kiss, clinging to him through the jacket he’d never taken the time to remove.

He wanted to get her to the bedroom. Wanted the clothes separating them—his damp ones and her warm ones—gone.

But he wanted something else more.

Breaking the kiss, he blurted out the words that would make her his for the rest of his life. “Marry me.”

She pulled back from him. “What?”

“Marry me.” Now that he’d said it once, the words spilled out even easier.

Her eyes narrowed. “Why are you asking me that now?”

“What?” He was too confused to comprehend her frown or the suspicion in her tone. Wasn’t this what she’d wanted?

“Did you come right here or stop somewhere first?”

Further confused by that question, he said, “I stopped at the office.”

Her nostrils flared. She was mad he went to the office?

He continued, trying to diffuse this bomb while blind. “I had to. My truck was parked in the lot. And my house keys were there too. Ali, I don’t know what’s happening here. All I know is I want to marry you.”

“You didn’t before you left.”

“I did. I just—”

“I can’t be here with you right now.” After cutting him off she moved toward the door.

What the fuck had just happened?

How could things have gone to shit so fast? All he’d done was try to give her what she wanted. What he now realized he wanted too.

He knew one thing, as the tears streamed down her face and she struggled to get her shoes on by the door, he wasn’t going to be able to reason with her now.

“Ali. You stay. I’ll go.” Confused at why she refused to be under the same roof as him, Jon still wasn’t going to make her go out in the rain just to get away from him.

He knew he could crash at Chris and Brody’s apartment for the night. The office was probably a better bet. He really didn’t want to deal with any questions. This was his mess and he’d deal with it on his own in private.

“No. You stay. This is your place. It was never mine. I can sleep at Darci’s. She already offered me Rick’s bedroom.”

Why the hell would Darci be offering her a place to sleep when Ali was living with him? What had happened while he’d been gone? Had Ali been confiding in Darci about wanting to leave him?

He had a feeling he wouldn’t like the answer.

Meanwhile, Ali continued to ramble as she reached for her jacket. “Sierra’s in LA filming a movie and Rick will be out there with her for the next few weeks. It’s been all over the television . . . but you wouldn’t know that since you haven’t been around.”

He didn’t argue that he probably wouldn’t have known about Sierra and her movie even if he had been around. If Rick wasn’t Darci’s brother, and Darci wasn’t Ali’s best friend, Sierra Cox wouldn’t even be on Jon’s radar.

He honestly couldn’t give a shit where Rick was at the moment. All he could focus on was that she was leaving for some reason he couldn’t even begin to guess. “Ali, I don’t want you to go. Can’t we talk about this?”

Dry-eyed now, she just shook her head. “I’m not sure you know what you want, Jon.”

There was no anger in the statement. Just resignation.

Jon would rather she yell at him. Rant. Throw things.

At least that would show some passion and make him feel as if she cared. Not like this new freakish calm that had settled over her as she grabbed her purse and walked out the door and out of his life.

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