Look Inside — BUCKED

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BUCKED (A STUDS IN SPURS NOVEL)

“a wonderfully sexy and fun story” ~The Romance Studio

This cowboy is looking for more than an eight-second ride.

Mustang Jackson does two things well—ride bulls and love women, so the injury that takes him out of competition leaves him only one way to make a living. Unfortunately, getting paid to be a stud in front of the camera isn’t as fun as private conquests. But when he goes home broke and broken to heal and catches sight of Sage, the neighbor girl all grown up, recuperating at his parents’ house gets a lot more interesting and a whole lot more complicated.

Bucked was originally published by Samhain Publishing under the same title. This edition is a reissue, reedited and recovered but without any substantial additions or changes to the story.

EXCERPT

Depressed by his own thoughts, Mustang headed down the highway, feeling jealous of everyone in the world. Slade, who was probably on his way back to the hotel room to have sweaty sex with Jenna. Chase, for being so young and starry eyed he might actually make things work with their one-night stand Marla. And every other bull rider on the circuit because they weren’t heading home to get a metal plate and screws put in their arm.

They’d all be riding in Baltimore next week while he was in hell, recovering from surgery at his parents’ house in Magnolia, Texas.

Life wasn’t fair.

As his drive stretched long, the feeling of dread lodged in Mustang’s chest increased steadily the nearer he got to the place of his birth.

The anxiety peaked as he saw the sign for Huntsville, Texas.

Tired of being on the road and driving faster than was wise past the city, he became very much aware he was following the same route his father—and his grandfather before him—took to Huntsville Prison. Every working day of their adult lives.

It was the same route Mustang would have taken if he had bowed to his father’s pressure years ago and followed in his footsteps.

Becoming a third-generation prison guard hadn’t exactly been Mustang’s lifelong ambition. Not that his father would ever understand Mustang having other plans, other dreams.

He never understood his son’s willingness to give up what was in his eyes a good, steady job with benefits to instead take a chance on making a living riding bulls, of all things.

Thank God he’d gotten that job at the ranch that summer and discovered he could sit a bull, even if his decision to ride pro hadn’t gone over real well at home.

His father’s prediction back then had been that Mustang would come crawling home either broke or broken.

The trailer hit a bump in the road and he felt the twinge as it jarred his arm in the sling. That served as a very real reminder that he was indeed coming home broken as well as a little broke.

He felt the hard bulk of his Rookie-of-the-Year belt buckle beneath his broken arm. No, his father hadn’t been right. He had made something of himself.

Mustang had the proof right there, pressed against his gut where his self-doubt lived.

Bones healed and he had no doubt that he’d be back on the circuit winning again in just a few months—if he could stay sane and survive living with his father for that long.

On that cheery thought, he pulled the trailer into the city limits of Magnolia and slowed to the local speed limit.

With the exception of the For Rent sign on what had been Hackett’s Hardware during his youth, Main Street looked pretty much the same as it had the last time he’d passed through for a quick, painful visit home.

As he wound his way out of the center of town and toward the country road that led to his parents’ house, Mustang saw other changes. A few large trees had fallen down. They’d uprooted actually. There’d been some nasty storms in Texas over the past year. High winds, tornados, flooding.

Stifling the guilt, he reminded himself he’d called home to check on his family after each and every bout of bad weather had passed through the area. What more could he do from the road when he had competitions nearly every week?

Occupied with justifying to himself that his long absences were unavoidable, not just his attempt to avoid his father, Mustang didn’t notice the strange car parked in front of the house. He didn’t see it until he’d pulled the trailer under the trees around the side and was headed on foot for the front door.

The unfamiliar white car was about the size of a toy. He couldn’t imagine either his six-foot-tall father or his generously proportioned mother picking it as their new vehicle. Mustang’s father, like his father before him, was a pickup-truck man and his mama was a four-door sedan with a trunk big enough to fit a body in kind of lady.

Still wondering about the car, Mustang raised his hand to open the front door while kicking the dust off his boots on the mat. He didn’t bother to knock. Doors in this house had never been locked and most likely never would be, even if they had known where the key was.

He didn’t have a chance to turn the knob before it was yanked from his hand and the door flung wide. He suddenly had an armful of his mother.

She wrapped herself around his neck while kissing his face.

“Watch the arm, Ma.” He hadn’t taken a pain pill in awhile. Good thing Jenna wasn’t there. She’d be shoving one down his throat before he could stop her.

His mother stepped back, focusing on his sling. “Oh my God. Michael, I’m so sorry. Does it hurt?”

“Not too bad.” Except for when he’d fallen asleep after his and Chase’s fun with Marla without taking a pill first and had woken up in agony. He didn’t mention that and instead shrugged. “I’ll be fine. Good as new as soon as the doc operates.”

“At least it’s your left arm since you’re right-handed. If your right arm had been out of commission I probably couldn’t have convinced them to hire you at work.”

At the sound of his father’s voice, Mustang swung his gaze to locate the man. He found him lurking in the shadows to the side of the door.

“What do you mean, hire me? You got me a job at the prison?”

Without asking him first. Mustang took note of that but didn’t mention it. Dear God, if he didn’t recover fully, if he couldn’t ride again, would he have to do the one thing he’d left this town to avoid? Would he be forced to follow his father and grandfather’s path whether he wanted to or not?

“As soon as your surgeon says you can work, you’ve got a position waiting on you. And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy to get either, with your arm broken and all. I had to call in some favors.”

Great, so now he was expected to owe his father for getting him a job he didn’t want in the first place.

“It’s nothing in the high-security areas, mind you,” his father continued. “It’s more like a glorified secretary, mostly watching monitors, filling out reports, but it’s a foot in the door. It’ll help when you finally come to your senses and decide it’s time to grow up and get a real job.”

And there it was, the expected verbal slam and it had been only two minutes or so since he’d walked through the front door.

There were clearly two options here. He could tell his father to take his job offer and his attitude and shove it right where the sun didn’t shine, after which he would have to get back on the road. He supposed he could recuperate in the trailer while parked in a lot somewhere.

Or he could do what he always did. Keep his mouth shut. Bury the anger, then go out and find a bar and a woman. Get drunk and get laid and take his mind off it all.

Mustang set his jaw. There was no way he could endure four months of this. Not even with all the booze and women in the world to help him.

“I’ll have to see what my plans are. I was hoping to take off as soon as the doc said it was okay for me to travel. You know, get back on the road. Join the guys on tour again.”

He’d have to take Slade up on his offer of money, but it would be worth it. Swallowing his pride with his best friend would be a lot easier than biting his tongue around his father for months. He’d likely bite his tongue damn near off by the time his bone healed.

His mother’s hand touched his right arm gently. “Oh, no, Michael. I was hoping to have you around for a while this time. I miss you.”

“That figures. God forbid he do something smart.” His father turned and walked out of the room, mumbling, “Don’t care about anyone but himself.”

Mustang tore his gaze from his father’s stiff back. Leaving his mother would be his only regret when he pulled out of this damn town. “Don’t worry, Ma. You’ll have me around long enough to get sick of me.” His father apparently already was. He drew in a deep sigh and decided to change the subject. “What’s for dinner? I’m so hungry my stomach’s eating my backbone.”

“I’ve got all your favorite food in the kitchen.”

“Great.” Mustang turned toward the doorway and stopped dead at the sight of the beautiful woman who stood there outlined by the afternoon sun slanting through the window behind her.

Her glossy dark brown hair hung to her shoulders and just begged for a man to tangle his hands in it. But what really caught his attention was her hotter-than-hell, girl-next-door body through the thin cotton of her dress.

His gaze traveled back up to her face and Mustang realized this was the girl next door. Or at least the girl who lived on the next street in a house where he’d spent a considerable amount of his youth.

Man oh man had she grown up.

He frowned, shocked. “Little Bit?”

A shy, innocent smile lit her fresh, sweet face. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been called that. Welcome home, Mustang.”

It sure as hell had been a long time. Long enough for Sage, the little sister of his high school girlfriend Rosemary, to be not so little anymore.

Trying to wrap his head around the changes in her, Mustang accepted her welcome. “Thanks. It’s good to be home.”

Good to be home?

What the hell? Had he actually just said that?

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Look Inside — UNRIDDEN

Scroll down for an excerpt from the newly re-released UNRIDDEN, Book 1 in the Studs in Spurs series.

UNRIDDEN (STUDS IN SPURS)

 “sweet and intense” ~ USA Today

When country boys meet a city girl, everyone is in for a wild ride.

Unridden Studs in SpursSlade Bower and Mustang Jackson are living the high life on the professional bull-riding circuit. The prize money is big, the bulls are rank, and the women are willing. But something is missing.

Romance writer Jenna Block has a problem: her agent thinks a cowboy book will jump start her career. A born New Yorker, Jenna doesn’t do cowboys, not on paper, and definitely not in real life. Luckily for her there are two cowboys ready, willing and able to take her out of her comfort zone in every way that counts…and some ways she hadn’t counted on.

Each story in the series is standalone.

Unridden was originally published by Linden Bay Romance – Samhain Publishing. This edition is a reissue, reedited but without any substantial additions or changes to the story.

Voted BEST WESTERN ROMANCE in the 1st Annual Authors After Dark BOOKIE Awards

Unridden is Available in eBook and Paperback

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UNRIDDEN EXCERPT

Day one of the competition in Tulsa had Mustang evaluating that night’s possibilities. He swept the females in the stands until his gaze landed on one woman who made him stop dead in his perusal.

He jumped up onto the rail of the chute and hissed to Slade, “Second section, fourth row back, reddish-brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, black turtleneck.”

In the process of tugging the rope that stretched beneath the bull and winding it once around his gloved hand, Slade frowned up at Mustang from the animal’s back. “I’m in the middle of taking my wrap and you’re pointing out some woman to me? In a turtleneck, no less? Since when are you interested in women whose tits aren’t hanging out?”

“This woman’s different, Slade. I can tell.” The bull hopped once in the chute and Mustang quickly reached over and grabbed the back of Slade’s vest, steadying him on the animal’s back.

“Dammit, Mustang, quit distracting me.” Slade settled himself again and then gave a nod to the gateman. The cowboy on the ground swung the gate open to release both bull and rider into the arena.

“Talk to you more when you get off,” Mustang called after him.

As Mustang watched his friend disappear into a cloud of dust, Chase Reese hopped onto the rail next to him.

“Slade’s amazing. It’s like he’s glued onto that bull. I wish I could do that. I went two for ten last series.”

The kid had been favored for Rookie of the Year until he’d hit a recent dry streak.

“That’s because you look at the ground.” Mustang followed Slade’s progress while the bull spun around to the left without deviation, from one end of the arena to the other.

The eight-second buzzer sounded and Slade released the rope wrapped around his hand. He jumped off the bull, hit the ground with his shoulder and then rolled to avoid a hoof to the ribcage before the bullfighters redirected the charging animal away from him.

“I do what?” Chase asked.

Seeing his friend was safe, Mustang took the time to turn to answer Chase’s question.

Damn, had he ever been this young? The kid probably didn’t even have to shave once a week.

“You’re looking down at the ground while you ride. If you look there, you’re gonna end up there. It’s a fact. Now, ’scuse me. I gotta talk to Slade.”

Leaving the kid with an amazed expression on his face, as if he’d just been handed all the secrets of the universe, Mustang jumped down to go meet Slade behind the chutes.

“Hey, man. Good ride. That bull was one hell of a spinner, huh?”

Slade laughed and pulled the tape from around his wrist where it held the glove on his riding hand firmly in place.

“Hell yeah. They weren’t kidding when they said he came out of the spinner pen. Felt like I was on a ride at the county fair.”

“Now we’re both done riding for the night, we have to formulate a plan,” Mustang began.

“A plan for what?”

“To reel in that woman I told you about.”

“You mean Miss Turtleneck?” Slade dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “Just do whatever it is you usually do.”

Mustang shook his head. “The usual bullshit isn’t going to work on her.”

Slade sighed. “Where did you say she’s sitting?”

Ha! In spite of all his bitching, Slade was actually showing some interest.

Feeling justified his choice for the night was the right one Mustang narrowed his eyes and easily found her again in the stands. She was writing feverishly while trying to watch the rider in the arena at the same time.

He tilted his head toward the section directly behind them. “Far end of the fourth row.”

“What the hell is she doing?” Slade frowned as he watched her.

“Hell if I know, but I think she’s taking notes. See what I mean? This woman is different. She isn’t going to just fall into our bed.”

Her hair wasn’t huge. She wasn’t made up like a showgirl and her clothes showed curves but not an inch of skin. She was different, which was what had drawn Mustang’s attention to her in the first place.

Since Slade had been in his strange funk lately, Mustang figured he’d try something unusual. Hell, even the two girls going at each other in front of them had barely got a rise out of his friend last night.

Mustang was running out of ideas, but this woman . . .

She was pretty much the opposite of their usual conquest and that might be exactly what they needed. It was worth a shot to cheer up Slade.

Besides, never opposed to trying new things, Mustang could use a bit of a change himself once in a while.

“Mustang, she’s probably a damned reporter. That’s all I need, to be featured in some exposé. I can see the headline now. Slade Bower, third-ranking bull rider in the world, propositions reporter for a threesome with former Rookie of the Year, Mustang Jackson. That’ll go over real well with the fans in the Bible Belt.” Slade scowled at Mustang. “Pick someone else. How about the one bouncing up and down over there? She’s about to pop right out of that top. You might want to keep an eye on her.”

Mustang glanced her way. “Yeah, I saw her already. I’m set on the other one.”

Laughing, Slade shook his head. “Good luck ’cause I can just about see the stick up her ass from here. That one is wound tight. But sure. Go ahead. You go for it, man. I’ll enjoy watching you get shot down.”

Mustang raised a brow. “Is that a challenge, my friend?”

Slade let out a short laugh. “No, it’s the truth.”

“I think you’re wrong. Sometimes it’s the quiet ones who are the wildest once you get them naked.”

“And you think you can get her naked?”

Mustang nodded. “Yup. I do.”

“Well, I’d like to see that.”

Grinning, Mustang slapped his friend on the back. “Don’t worry. You’ll be there too.”

Slade shook his head. “Maybe, and that is a big maybe, you might be able to get that woman naked, with enough alcohol and bullshit, but no frigging way she’ll agree to both of us. Never in a million years.”

Feeling cocky and never one to resist a challenge, Mustang crossed his arms and dug in his heels. “We’ll see. You willing to make a bet on that?”

Mirroring Mustang, Slade crossed his own arms over his chest. “Yes, we will see and, yes, I am. What do you want to bet?”

Mustang grinned. Slade was showing more interest in their extracurricular activities than he had in weeks. Maybe he had really just been bored like he said.

Perhaps what they both needed was a good challenge. Mustang knew to his core this woman would provide at least that, but more than likely, so much more.

Besides, he really enjoyed a good bet.

“How about the loser has to buy the winner a new pair of chaps?”

Slade grinned. “I could use me a new pair of chaps, so you’re on.”

Glancing back at the stands to search again for the object of their wager, Mustang frowned. “Where the hell is she? Slade, she’s gone.”

Panicked and afraid he’d lose the bet on a technicality if she’d disappeared, Mustang spun back and found the last person he ever expected to see leaning over the rail behind Slade.

“Excuse me. I was wondering if I could ask you two a few questions.” His angel in black spoke with the sexiest voice he’d ever heard.

From the sound of her, she was from back east and definitely not a local, just like he’d thought. Mustang only hoped Slade’s theory about her being a reporter was wrong.

He saw Slade raise an eyebrow and cockily turn to him, waiting expectantly for Mustang to answer her question.

What had that been again? Oh, yeah, she wanted to ask them questions. Interesting.

“Um, yeah, sure, darlin’. What do you need?” Suddenly face-to-face with her, Mustang stumbled over his usually smooth tongue a bit.

Leaning forward, she extended her hand and broke out into a smile. “Great. Let me introduce myself first. I’m Jenna Block.”

Not remembering the last time a woman had stopped to shake his hand before they fucked, Mustang smiled. He took hold of her hand, noticing how her hazel eyes had tinges of both gold and green in them.

She had a good, strong grip too. He liked that in a woman. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Mustang Jackson.”

Mustang took a second to admire the rest of Jenna, from the tip of her brunette ponytail to the tops of her shiny black, pointy-toed cowboy boots—and if those boots of hers had walked anywhere besides the concrete sidewalks of a city street before tonight, Mustang would eat his hat.

After the quick visual sweep, he continued the introductions. “This here’s Slade Bower.”

He turned to introduce Slade, only to find the man was in the midst of his own full-body sweep of Ms. Jenna Block.

Oh yeah, now which one of them wanted to get her into bed naked?

Jenna turned and shook Slade’s hand as he mumbled a greeting and barely wrenched his gaze up from the outline of her sweater-covered tits in time before she caught him with his eyes where they shouldn’t have been.

Mustang grinned. Yup, Slade didn’t seem bored anymore.

“Wow.” She released a breathy laugh, shaking her head and glancing from one to another.

Mustang raised a brow at that. “Wow what?”

She blushed prettily. “Sorry, I’m being silly. It’s just that I recognize your names from television. It’s a pretty big coincidence that I saw you on TV just yesterday and now I’m talking to you in person.”

“You watch bull riding on television?” Her surprising statement had knocked some coherent words out of Slade.

“Mmm hmm. Well, I mean not usually but I have recently. It’s a long story. Look, would you be willing to let me buy you both a drink so we can sit down while we talk and I ask you a few questions?”

The shock on Slade’s face at her proposing they get a drink together nearly made Mustang laugh out loud.

Oh yeah, those new chaps were as good as his, and it was Slade’s wallet that would be a little lighter after the purchase.

Mustang controlled his glee long enough to answer for both of them, forcing himself to sound casual as he said, “I guess we could sit down with you for a few minutes.”

Before they went back to the trailer and he could show Slade that there was no stick up her ass, though there could hopefully be some Mustang in there . . .

Oh, he was a dirty boy.

Maybe Ms. Jenna Block should spank him. Mustang had never tried that. Could be interesting. He’d keep it in mind for later.

Mustang enjoyed that vision as the woman in his newest fantasy flashed him her perfect smile again. “Great. Is there somewhere within walking distance we can go? I came in a cab.”

“Well, there’s our trailer. It’s close and the drinks there are free.” Mustang grinned, waiting for her reaction while knowing there was no way she’d fall prey to them that easily. Anyway, what would be the fun if there wasn’t even a little bit of a challenge?

She didn’t prove him wrong as she raised one brow cockily. “Is there someplace public we can go?”

Mustang smiled at her sidestepping the invitation as Slade jumped in and said, “There’s a bar across the street. We can walk there.”

“Wonderful.” She looked around at the rapidly emptying stands. “Is this thing over for the night or is this an intermission?”

Controlling his smile at the intermission comment, Mustang said, “We’re done for tonight. We just have to stash our gear . . .” And possibly shower in case they did end up in bed. Mustang had never wanted to get a woman naked this badly. “Can you give us ten minutes then we’ll meet you right over there by the exit?”

She nodded. “Sure. Sounds good. Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” He grinned. Never had truer words been spoken.

As she waited safely behind them by the entrance, Mustang led Slade out of the public part of the arena, grabbing his rope along the way from where they’d looped them over the railing.

“Okay, admit it. You like her,” Mustang accused Slade once they were out of hearing range.

Slade scowled at him as they walked. “Doesn’t matter either way. We’re not taking her back to the trailer because I’m telling you I’m convinced now more than ever that she’s some kind of reporter. She shook your hand, for God’s sake.”

Mustang considered that as well as her odd choice of the turtleneck when the rest of the females in the crowd had worn T-shirts or boob-baring low-cut numbers.

Her dark blue jeans had an actual crease down the leg as if she’d ironed them. Then there were those shiny black boots that city folk wore for fashion not utility, and the huge black leather satchel slung on her one shoulder that most likely carried the notebook he’d seen her writing in.

Not to mention the way she carried herself, with confidence and polish.

But that she seemed to know their names but nothing else about bull riding confused Mustang the most.

If she was a true fan or a sports reporter she would have known that with Slade ranked third, barring any re-rides, the second and first-place riders that had followed him were the final two rides for the night and the competition would continue tomorrow.

Mustang shook his head as they walked into the rider room. “She’s something, I’ll give you that much, but I don’t think it’s a reporter.”

“We’ll see.” Slade shoved his vest and rope into his gear bag.

“Yes, we will.” And in just a few minutes too.

This could be the most fun he and Slade had had in a long time.

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Romanced by a SEAL Excerpt

Hot SEAL s 9 Ali Quote

Romanced by a SEAL (Hot SEALs 9)

 

As a SEAL, Jon Rudnick dodged copper and lead without flinching, but just the thought of one tiny gold band around his ring finger sends 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.

Romanced by a SEAL in eBook and Paperback Tues, July 12

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EXCERPT

Too angry to eat the dinner she’d spent hours shopping for and preparing, Ali yanked hard on the kitchen drawer.

Just like everything else in Jon’s life, even the drawers in his condo were neatly organized. Rolls of plastic wrap lined up in precision formation amid aluminum foil and boxes of plastic bags in every size.

The sight only ramped up her anger.

Everything in Jon’s existence was in perfect order except for his relationship with her.

She was the messy junk drawer of his life.

That realization had her pausing, hand on the plastic wrap. No wonder he avoided spending time at home with her. Running out at every opportunity. Each excuse plausible but seeming more flimsy than the last.

It had been a mistake moving in together. Just because something made financial sense didn’t mean it was right.

Things between them had started to go downhill shortly after she’d moved in so it was pretty obvious to her that this decision, though practical, had been very, very wrong.

Hot angry tears pricked behind her eyes as she grabbed the wrap and yanked to tear off a piece.

The clingy plastic got tangled on the sharp serrated edge. She pawed at it but only ended up cutting her finger instead of the clear wrap.

“Shit.” Tossing the whole mess onto the counter, she shoved the stinging finger in her mouth and sucked at the thin stripe of red that appeared.

One handed as she nursed her wound, she grabbed her food-laden plate from the counter, intent on shoving it onto the fridge shelf uncovered.

Unwrapped food in the refrigerator—that would drive Jon crazy. Perfect. It would teach him for walking out—

again—this time after she’d gone to so much trouble to make a nice meal for him.

The spiteful thought had her feeling quite satisfied as she spun toward the fridge . . . and jumped as a scream tore from her throat.

That was followed directly by a huff of frustration. “Dammit, Jon. Will you please make some noise when you come in? You scared the hell out of me.”

“Sorry.” He tracked her with his eyes from where he stood in the kitchen doorway as she moved to the refrigerator.

Judging by the one brow he cocked up as he watched her, he definitely took notice of the unwrapped dish she shoved inside.

She closed the door and leveled a gaze on him, silently daring him to say a word. That he didn’t comment surprised her.

“What happened to your finger?” He lifted a chin toward the finger she held up in the air so she didn’t get blood on her clothes.

“I cut it on the plastic wrap box.”

He moved forward and took her hand in his, inspecting the wound. “You should clean it and put on a bandage.”

“It’s not that deep.” She hated that she couldn’t control how her heartbeat sped when he touched her.

“It could still get infected.” Standing close, he didn’t drop his hold on her hand.

She raised her gaze and found he was focused solely on her.

Those piercing blue eyes of his had gotten to her starting the first day she saw him on Rick and Darci’s front doorstep. When he looked at her like this, the depth of the feelings hidden within Jon’s eyes could still make her weak in the knees.

“Okay.” She felt breathless as she only vaguely remembered what she was agreeing to.

She reminded herself how often lately she’d seen those eyes go hard and cold as Jon slammed the wall down between them.

Drawing in a shaky breath she pulled her hand from his grasp.

He let her, but it was only to reach out and pull her body close. Holding her tight against him with the hands he clamped on her hips, Jon dropped his head and took possession of her mouth with a demanding kiss.

She wanted to stay angry.

Wanted to pull away and punish him, not give him what he wanted, but it seemed so long since he’d touched her. And it felt so good to know he still wanted her. She’d begun to doubt that as he became more distant and obsessed with work.

At least she’d hoped it was work and not something or someone else. She’d begun to doubt that too.

But right now there was no doubt what he wanted as he plunged his tongue against hers while backing her against the cabinets.

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Excerpt Tempted by a SEAL #HotSEALs

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TEMPTED BY A SEAL EXCERPT

The bartender paused in front of Mack. “Another one?”

Mack raised his gaze from the now empty glass he’d been hunched over, partly because he was mentally and physically exhausted, but mostly so no one would bother him.

He wasn’t there for small talk, but he was there for the booze.

“Yeah. Thanks.” Mack nudged the empty tumbler forward with one finger.

As he leaned back while the bartender upended a bottle over the glass, he glanced around and took in his surroundings. The place had filled up a bit more since he’d arrived.

It looked like the usual late night crowd, most a good ten maybe twenty years younger than the patrons who came in during daylight hours.

Mack was more than a bit familiar with the comings and goings of the establishment’s customers.

That wasn’t just because he lived directly across the street and had a view of the place from every one of his apartment’s windows. It was more because he had frequented the bar during all hours of the day and night himself.

Working vampire hours a lot of the time had made him an equal opportunity drinker. Daytime. Nighttime. Anytime.

He didn’t judge anybody else, so he figured they had better not judge him either. Not if they knew what was good for them, anyway.

The one whisky he’d downed hadn’t improved his mood any. Maybe he’d have better luck with the second.

Mack pushed the change he’d left out from the first round closer to the bartender. “Take it out of there.”

The bartender nodded and grabbed a bill from the stack.

They’d done this dance many times. Mack knew the next round would be free. He would down it and leave the remaining cash on the bar as a tip before making his way across the street to his bed.

Three drinks, straight with no ice to water down and ruin the whisky—that would hopefully keep the nightmares away. For tonight, at least.

Tomorrow would be another story.

In the morning he had that waking nightmare of meeting Daddy’s new wife and her daughter. What fun.

Mack felt the guilt niggling at the back of his brain. He should be happy his father had found someone to make him happy after the loss of his mother.

He wasn’t.

Pressing the glass to his lips, Mack downed a large swallow and relished as it burned a path down his throat.

He felt the fire all the way through his chest. Clear to where his cold dead heart was lodged, still beating away somehow when so many others no longer had that luxury.

Funny that he had plenty of heart when he was fighting. Hell, maybe all that took was balls, not heart. Maybe he was as far past caring as he suspected he was. He didn’t seem to be able to feel all that much for other people at the moment.

“I said no!”

A voice that rose above the usual volume of the din of the bar had Mack twisting in his seat to get a better look.

He zeroed in on the source of the annoyed-sounding exclamation and saw the woman he’d noticed briefly before when he’d surveyed those around him.

Okay, he’d noticed her because her ass, round and firm as she perched on the bar stool, had looked particularly enticing.

Nothing he liked more than a woman with generous curves. Another time, he’d be more than interested in an ass like that, but he was not interested in this particular woman.

First of all, she looked painfully young. Young enough that he hoped the bartender had taken the time to check her ID and verify she was allowed to be drinking that bottle of light beer. The bottle that was giving him ideas he shouldn’t be having as she pressed the longneck against her lips.

Staring straight ahead at the shelves of bottles behind the bar, she was making an obvious attempt to ignore the sleazy guy next to her.

The lowlife—a snap judgment on Mack’s part that he was standing behind even if it was made just by looking at him—leaned closer.

The young woman planted the bottle on the bar and turned to face the man. “Look. I said no thank you.”

Mack didn’t hear the bastard’s response but he could only imagine it wasn’t good since the chick grabbed her purse from the bar and moved to climb off the barstool.

When the guy grabbed her arm, Mack decided he’d had enough.

He was behind the guy and had him in a headlock before anyone knew what was happening, particularly the douchebag himself.

Ignoring the shock on the brunette’s face, Mack leaned down close to the guy’s ear and hissed, “She said she wants to be left alone. So how about you listen to her and go somewhere else?”

The guy looked torn between pissing his pants and wanting to break free and take a swing at Mack.

Mack wasn’t sure about his first prediction coming true, but he knew the second wasn’t going to happen as long as he was living and breathing. He tightened his hold just enough to scare the guy.

If this went on any longer, he’d be perfectly comfortable choking out the guy. It wouldn’t kill him. He’d wake up eventually and Mack had no doubt that once this asshole was blissfully unconscious he could leave him to recover on the floor in the back hall by the bathroom and the bartender wouldn’t have a thing to say about it.

Mack didn’t tell people what he did for a living but in this area—just a few miles from the base—it was easy enough for the locals to pick out the Navy guys among them.

His disappearing for months at a time didn’t help hide Mack’s occupation. Neither did the fact that he could take out this asshole so easily, so quietly, no one would notice except for the sweet, curvy young thing watching him with her big brown eyes wide with surprise.

“We gonna do this the easy way or the hard way?” Mack asked, low and close.

“I wasn’t doing any—”

Mack squeezed a bit tighter. “See, now that wasn’t the question. Wanna try again? You’re going to leave the lady alone. You can do that under your own power, or mine. Your choice.”

“Fine. I’ll go.” The guy’s reply was more of a wheeze.

Mack probably shouldn’t take such great satisfaction at that, but hell, sometimes little things made him happy.

“Good boy.” Mack waited a second before easing up his hold, all while watching for any move the dickhead might make to indicate he wasn’t going to go quietly.

The guy would have to be pretty stupid to try anything.

Dickhead proved to be stupider than Mack anticipated.

It was the smallest shift in posture, but Mack was skilled in reading body language. Just as the guy pivoted and drew back his fist, Mack sprung into action.

He had the guy face down on the ground, arms secured behind his back, all before the first punch was ever thrown.

Mack sighed. There was no hiding the conflict now. The others were starting to notice his knee in the back of a man whose face he was grinding into the dirt of the bar floor with one hand while holding his wrists in the other.

“Need a little help?” The bartender’s black pants and shoes came into Mack’s line of vision.

Mack twisted his neck and glanced up. “Does it look like I need help?”

“Nope, but if you hurt him the police are gonna get involved, then there will be reports to be filed and I ain’t got the time or patience for that. So how about I take over and you can sit down and relax?”

Mack pursed his lips. He had no dog in this fight. He’d just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. And for some reason had felt the need to get involved.

That was pretty unlike him, actually. When he was in civilian mode, usually all hell had to break loose before he bothered to take note and even think about intervening.

The bartender was right. Maybe it was time he got back to his brooding.

“Well, I would like to finish my drink.” He shot the bartender a crooked grin.

The burly man, who probably owned the place given he was there so often, snorted out a short laugh. “Yeah, I figured.”

They swapped positions, the bartender taking over dealing with stupid ass and dragging him up off the floor.

The kid looked happy to be standing or maybe he was just grateful to be away from Mack. At this point, Mack didn’t know and couldn’t care.

Mack glanced at the girl. “You okay?”

She watched him for a second before nodding. “Yes.”

He dipped his head in a nod, not bothering with more conversation. He had his answer, so he turned to move back to his spot and his drink.

“Wait.” She scurried after him, arriving just as his ass hit the barstool.

He cocked one brow. “Yeah?”

“I uh wanted to say thank you.”

“No problem.” He lifted one shoulder and reached for his glass.

He didn’t quite make it before she stuck her hand out to him. “I’m Lydia.”

Yes, she was cute. Yeah, he hadn’t gotten laid in far too long. But this close up, and under the light above them, his initial impressions were confirmed. She was young.

Young and naïve and sweet and everything he had no interest in and no business touching.

Completely ignoring her and her gesture would be rude. Since that wasn’t an option he liked, he turned his body enough he could extend his right hand out to her. “Mack.”

The corners of her mouth lifted in a smile. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah. You too.” He dropped his hold and turned back to reach for his glass.

Get Tempted by a SEAL today in eBook or Paperback!

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Cowboys & Cookies

Enjoy this peek into my February Midnight Cowboys series release and scroll down to the bottom for my friend Donna’s famous Thumbprint Cookie Recipe, the cookies “with the jam in the middle” that the cowboys are fighting over in the scene.

MIDNIGHT HEAT (Midnight Cowboys #3)

Midnight Heat by Cat JohnsonHe needs to escape… Justin Skaggs is on the road to anywhere—as long as it’s far from home—when fate throws a kindred spirit across his path.

She needs to get to Oklahoma… Phoenix Montagno can’t believe her luck when she runs into the hottie from the bar. He’s the key to her getting everything she’s always wanted, but she can’t tell him that. Luckily he’s not interested in learning her story any more than he is in sharing his. It’s perfect . . . until they decide to share a bed.

MIDNIGHT HEAT EXCERPT

“Dang it, it’s colder than a witch’s tit out there.” Colton came into the kitchen accompanied by a gust of cold wind.

From his seat at the kitchen table, Justin cocked a brow at Colton’s colorful metaphor. He waited for him to close the door before saying, “It’s December. What the hell did you expect?”

Colton screwed up his face unhappily and reached for a coffee mug in the cabinet. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

The door opened again and Tyler pushed through. “God, I really hate shoveling snow and now I have to do it at four different places.”

Tyler took off his hat and knocked the snow from it before planting it back on his head. “I hope there’s coffee.”

Justin nodded. “Yup. I put on a fresh pot when I got here. And Bonnie put out the leftover Christmas cookies for us.”

That got Colton’s attention. Mug in hand, he came over to the table and eyed the open tin. “Any of the ones with the jam in the middle left?”

“No. I ate the last one of those.” Justin laughed at Colton’s scowl. “Sorry. You should have gotten here earlier.”

“How the hell early did you get here that you had time to make coffee and eat all the good cookies?”

Justin shrugged. “About twenty minutes ago, I guess.”

Since his life for the past few months had consisted of nothing more than going to work and then going home, with an hour or so a day spent in the garage lifting weights to try to keep some semblance of sanity, it wasn’t like he had any reason to be late.

“You trying to make us look bad?” Tyler asked.

“You don’t need me for that.” Justin grinned at his own little joke. His life was so uneventful, it didn’t take all that much to amuse him nowadays.

Colton grabbed a peanut butter and chocolate cookie from the tin and glanced at Tyler. “Why are you shoveling snow at four houses?”

“I had to clear the drive over at Janie’s. Then I ran home and did my parents’ driveway. While I was there I saw the neighbors’ place wasn’t done. The old man’s still using a walker after that stroke he had, so I did the driveway and the walk and wheelchair ramp for them. And now we’re going to have to shovel here.”

“Tough being a saint, huh?” Justin hid his smirk behind his coffee mug as Tyler shot him an unhappy glance. He didn’t feel too bad teasing Tyler. Their area rarely got as much snow as they’d gotten from the last storm so it wasn’t like Tyler had to suffer often.

The sound of footsteps on the stairs alerted them to someone’s approach. Judging by the heavy step and boots, Justin wasn’t at all surprised when Rohn came through the kitchen doorway. What was a surprise was how exhausted he looked.

“You just waking up?” Colton asked, eyeing Rohn.

“Yeah.” Rohn rubbed a hand over his face.

“What’s up? Bonnie keep you up late last night?” Tyler waggled his brows, but by the look of Rohn, tired and cranky, Justin figured they’d all better be on their best behavior.

Rohn raised a brow at Tyler as he moved toward the coffeemaker. “Yes, she had me up late, but not in the perverted way you’re insinuating, boy. She decided we needed to shampoo all the upstairs carpets before Phoenix’s visit. If they were gonna dry in time, she figured it had to happen last night.”

Colton looked from Rohn to Tyler. “Between Tyler having to shovel extra snow for his girl and you having to play janitor for yours, you’re making me glad I’m single. Right, Justin?”

The sound of Colton saying his name caught Justin’s attention, which had previously been completely focused on Phoenix and the impending visit Rohn had mentioned. He knew she’d planned on visiting, but he hadn’t realized it would be so soon.

Justin looked at Colton but had no idea what he’d been asking him.

Figuring if it was important he’d ask again, Justin ignored Colton and turned his attention to Rohn. “When is Phoenix coming?”

“Tomorrow. We’re picking her up from the airport, which is another reason I was up half the night. Bonnie’s obsessing over the weather and worried about flights.”

“She staying here?” Justin asked, trying to sound casual but feeling anything but.

He might not have seen her in close to four months, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t thought about her, or the decision he made to ease his way out of her life. He hadn’t done such a great job. He hadn’t texted or called, but he also couldn’t bring himself to delete her number. He still had it saved in the contacts list on his phone.

It twisted his heart just a tiny bit every time he had to scroll past her name to get to a number he needed.

“Of course she’s staying here,” Rohn said.

Justin’s head was spinning. If she was here, he’d definitely run into her. How would he act? How would she?

Unaware of Justin’s turmoil, Rohn continued, “She can only stay for the week, and then she has to get back. School starts up again the Monday after New Year’s.”

“Rohn?” Bonnie’s voice came from the direction of the staircase.

“Yes, dear?” he called back as the rest of them sat by, smirking at his compliance.

“Can you come up and help me with the mattress in the guest room?”

“What in the world are you doing with the mattress?” he called back.

“Flipping it over. They say you’re supposed to do it every couple of months.”

“Even when there’s no one sleeping on it?” He sighed and stood anyway. “I’ll be right back.”

Colton smiled. “Oh, I’m sure she’ll find something else for you to do.”

Rohn leveled a stare at Colton. “Most like. And in that case, you can work on clearing the snow from the driveway and all the paths, if I’m not back down by the time you’re done feeding and watering all the stock.”

“See? You had to make a smart-ass comment and now we’re shoveling paths.” Tyler scowled at Colton.

“We would have been shoveling anyway and you know it.” Colton’s eyes moved from Tyler to Justin. “But let’s talk about what’s really important here.”

“What’s that?” Tyler asked.

“Phoenix coming for a visit.” Colton’s focus stayed pinned on Justin.

“And?” Justin asked, feeling the weight of Colton’s stare.

“You tell us.” Tyler raised a brow. “You two been talking?”

“No.” For better or worse, Justin spoke the absolute truth.

“So does that mean I’m free to take a shot at her?” Colton asked.

Justin frowned at Colton. “No.”

He grinned and glanced at Tyler. “Yup, you were right. He still likes her.”

Tyler grinned. “Yup. He sure does.”

These two had been talking about him and Phoenix behind his back? They both needed to get a life and leave his alone.

“Aw, jeez.” Justin stood and carried his mug to the sink. “I’ll be outside making up the feed buckets.”

A man couldn’t even enjoy his coffee in peace. Unfortunately, Justin had a feeling there’d be no more peace for him until after Phoenix flew back to California.

Midnight Heat in eBook, Print & Audio Feb 23, 2016

 Preorder at AMAZON US ~ CANADA ~ UK ~ GERMANY ~ AU   

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Midnight Cowboys Series by Cat Johnson

Don’t miss Midnight Ride (Tyler’s story) and Midnight Wrangler (Rohn & Bonnie’s story) available now in eBook/Print/Audio in the Midnight Cowboys series!

Pictured Below: Enjoy Donna’s Thumbprint Cookie Recipe!

Thumbprint Cookie Recipe

 

Midnight Wrangler Release Day Excerpt

Quote Bonnie Boots

Get Midnight Wrangler today in eBook, Paperback & Audiobook
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“Johnson…sensitively paints a sweet and sizzling contemporary romance” Publishers Weekly Starred Review

“a moving story about second chances and rediscovered love that will delight fans” RT Magazine

Midnight Wrangler Chapter 1 Excerpt

Some days no matter what a man did nothing seemed to go right. Today at the Double L Ranch was one of those days.

Rohn Lerner let out a sigh tinged with frustration as he found his three ranch hands shooting the breeze by the barn instead of tackling all the chores that needed to get done.

“Hey!” He strode toward the group.

“Hey, boss.” Tyler tipped his chin in Rohn’s direction. “What’s up?”

Tyler was usually the ringleader of the lazy hands so his what’s up particularly rubbed Rohn the wrong way today. They’d know what was up if they weren’t so busy jabbering.

Rohn came to a stop as he reached the three young men. “The bull pushed over the water trough again.”

Tyler glanced at the field where the bull was currently penned without water. He scrunched up his face and looked back to Rohn. “Yeah, I saw that before.”

Rohn’s eyes widened at the revelation. “Then why aren’t you over there refilling it?”

These boys had been working for Rohn for enough years that they should know what to do without him having to tell him.

Colton knocked his hat back a notch. “We’re fixin’ to get to it, Rohn. Relax.”

“You’re fixin’ to get to it?” Being told to relax by an employee half his age made Rohn’s blood pressure rise. “And when would that be, this getting to it?

“We were going to head over right after lunch.” Justin, a couple years older and apparently wiser than the other two, stepped in with his attempt to soothe the situation.

“That bull is worth his weight in cash, so how about if he gets his water before y’all get your lunch?” Rohn would really like to know when the youth of this country had been taught that it was all right to talk back to their boss. Probably about the same time they’d convinced themselves it was all right to put off doing important tasks until later.

Justin gave a nod. “A’ight, Rohn. Sorry, but you know in this kinda weather the hose bakes in the sun and we have to drain the hot water outta it before we can fill the tanks. I just figured since we were going to scrub and refill all the buckets after lunch anyway, we’d take care of it then instead of wasting the water draining it twice.”

They had been through some pretty bad droughts lately in this part of the country, and wildfires were always an issue in Oklahoma. Justin’s point about saving water was a valid one, but Rohn was in no mood to concede that.

He cocked one brow. “Then maybe you outta finish all the watering now and then take a late lunch.”

Tyler blew out a breath. “Somebody’s cranky today.”

“Today?” Colton frowned beneath the brim of his cowboy hat. “Try every damn day lately.”

“Yeah?” Rohn lifted his brows high and hooked a thumb toward the drive. “There’s the way out. Y’all feel free to hit the road and look for another job whenever you want.”

Colton snickered. “Yeah. All right.”

It was Rohn’s own damn fault. He’d always been more of a friend to these kids than a boss. He’d joke around and act like a buddy, but in his current mood that last threat hadn’t been completely in jest.

Tyler turned to Colton and Justin. “Can you two go on over, right that trough and start on the water? I’ll meet you out there in a bit and we’ll figure out how to make it stay upright for good this time.”

Colton’s mouth dropped open. “Since when do you get to tell Justin and me what to do?”

“Since I wanna talk to Rohn alone for a minute.” Tyler crossed his arms over his chest, not backing down.

“Come on, Colt. Let’s go.” Justin tipped his head toward the field.

Colton continued to sputter. “But why should we?”

“So we can talk crap about Ty behind his back, that’s why.” With a grin, Justin winked at Tyler and pivoted on the heel of one boot toward the pasture. Colton shot Tyler a parting glance that expressed exactly what he thought about the situation, but followed Justin.

Once they were gone, Tyler turned to Rohn. A crease furrowed the forehead above his dark brows. “You a’ight? You need to talk?”

Rohn let out a snort. “What, are you a therapist now?”

“No, I’m your friend. And it wasn’t too long ago you pulled me aside to talk privately when I was wrestling with some shit of my own. Remember?”

That all had been barely a couple of months ago. Back when Rohn had been dumb or desperate enough to listen to Colton and ask his widowed neighbor Janie out on a date. Rohn remembered that dinner with Janie, as well as the exact moment he’d figured out that the woman already had feelings for Tyler.

That’s what Rohn got for taking relationship advice from a twentysomething-year-old cowboy with little experience and no serious girlfriend that he knew of.

Meanwhile, being twenty-four and dense as a lump of coal, Tyler had been too young and stupid to realize how Janie felt until Rohn had explained it to him.

Nope. Rohn hadn’t forgotten any of it. “Yeah, I remember. Except what you were wrestling with was that a beautiful, smart, intelligent woman was in love with you. So, I’m sure that shit wasn’t all that difficult for you to get over.”

Tyler tipped his head. “I was miserable for a while, just the same, and you stepped in and straightened me out.”

“Somebody had to.” Proven by the fact that since that conversation as far as Rohn could see, the couple was not only together, but looking pretty serious. If he wasn’t mistaken, Tyler was all but living at Janie’s. “So are you officially moved in to her place yet, or just staying over there every night?”

Tyler opened his eyes wide. “Wait a minute. Is that what this crap mood of yours is about? You’re upset I’m with Janie?”

“No, I’m not upset you’re with Janie.” Rohn shook his head, sorry he’d said anything at all. “As long as you’re treating her right, I’m happy for her and for you. That’s not it at all.”

“Then what is it?” Beneath the brim of his hat, Tyler drew his brows low.

“Nothing.” His love life, or lack of one, was one thing Rohn didn’t want to discuss with a cocky twenty-four-year-old who had everything in the world at his fingertips and his whole future ahead of him.

“Rohn, come on. Just spill it.” Tyler crossed his arms and leaned back against the fence, as if he was willing to wait as long as it took.

Damn persistent kid. Rohn silently mouthed a cuss, but finally gave in. “I guess I’m just kinda lonely sometimes, okay?”

Tyler threw his hands in the air. “That’s why I’ve been telling you to come out with us. You ain’t meeting any girls here at the ranch.”

“And I told you I don’t want to meet girls and I’m not going to find a woman of any substance at the bars where you yahoos hang out.”

“Then set up one of those online dating accounts. They have them for older folks now.”

“Older folks?” Rohn let out a snort as that hit him hard, like a punch to the gut. “Great. Thanks a lot.”

How the hell old did these kids think he was, anyway? Rohn had quite a few years left before he turned fifty. Enough years he felt justified still holding on tight to his claim of being in his early forties. Okay, maybe he was inching closer to his midforties, but still.

“I’m not trying to insult you, Rohn. I’m just trying to give you some options.”

“Well, no offense, Tyler, and thanks for trying, but I don’t like your options.”

The kid had work to do still, and lunch to eat, but he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get going. Tyler stayed put, eyeing Rohn. “You know, if it’s just sex you’re missing, there are girls you can call for that. . . .”

“Jesus, Tyler. Please stop talking.” Rohn scrubbed his hands over his face, ignoring the dust and dirt he’d probably smeared all over himself.

“I’m serious. You can probably ask for any age woman you want, too, if you don’t want a girl who’s too young.”

Letting out a laugh at the ridiculousness of this surreal conversation, Rohn still couldn’t help but ask, “How the hell would you know about any of that?”

Rohn had no doubt this former playboy had never had to hire a professional in that area. Before settling into a relationship with Janie, Tyler was the type of guy who would never have come home from a rodeo or a night out on the town without a willing recipient of his affections in his passenger seat.

Sure, over the years Tyler had probably spent a small fortune buying drinks for women before he got a little loving in return, but to outright pay a prostitute for sex? No way. Rohn couldn’t see it happening. Not for Tyler and definitely not for himself.

“I planned my brother’s bachelor party. The place I hired the stripper from also offers girls who provide other services, if you know what I mean. I have the phone number—” Tyler reached to pull his cell phone out of his jeans pocket.

Rohn threw up one hand to stop him. “No. Enough. I don’t want the number. Not now. Not ever. Okay?”

The dead last thing Rohn needed was Tyler putting some stupid idea into his head about paying a woman to have sex with him. Worse, as the years of celibacy since his wife Lila’s death started to add up to be more than he could count on one hand, the idea didn’t seem as horrifying to him as it should.

He’d been lucky enough to love two women in his life. Bonnie Martin for that single magical perfect summer after high school. And Lila, who’d been his wife and best friend for the fifteen years they were married.

Rohn knew finding love again, a third time and at his age, was a long shot. But that didn’t mean he was willing to explore the alternative Tyler had suggested.

“Okay, but if you change your mind . . .” Tyler let the suggestion hang in the air.

This conversation had gone on for too long already, and all it had done was make Rohn more agitated. He’d gone from cranky to being both appalled and needy. As crazy as it seemed, talking about strippers and hookers had woken up his long suppressed sex drive…

Read the rest of Rohn’s story in Midnight Wrangler Out Now!

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The Midnight Cowboys Series

Midnight Ride (Tyler)
Midnight Wrangler (Rohn)
Midnight Heat (Justin-Feb 2016)

NOVEMBER 2015 $1.99 MIDNIGHT RIDE eBOOK SALE ENDS SOON!

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Midnight Ride Homemade Mac & Cheese Recipe / Excerpt

Enjoy the Mac & Cheese Excerpt from MIDNIGHT RIDE then scroll down for the recipe

Midnight Ride SALEFinally, she sat and Tyler lifted the fork full of food he’d been dying to try. Flavor assaulted his senses as the rich sharp cheddar filled his mouth. His eyes drifted closed and a low rumble of appreciation came from his throat.

He opened his eyes again to see Janie watching and smiling. “I guess you like it.”

“Oh, my God. This is the best I’ve ever eaten.”

She rolled her eyes. “Thanks, but you don’t have to flatter me, Tyler. I would have invited you to eat anyway. It’s the least I can do in exchange for all you’ve done for me.”

“Janie, there’s one thing you should know about me.” He set his fork down and leaned forward, his forearms braced on the table. “I never mess around when it comes to food. I’m not flattering you. This is amazing.”

“Thanks.” Her cheeks turned pink and he couldn’t help but smile.

“You’re welcome.” Satisfied she believed he was sincere, he picked up the fork again and dug in for another bite. “What’s the spice? It’s not jalapeno.”

“No.” She shook her head. “It’s a pinch of cayenne. I bought a cookbook the year I got married and I’ve been using the old recipes in it ever since. I know a lot of places use other spices and other cheeses, but I just do the same thing as I always did. Plain old sharp cheddar. Oh, and a little bit of mustard, too.”

“That’s what that other flavor is. Don’t change a thing, whatever you do. I don’t care what else other places are putting in their mac and cheese, you leave yours just as it is.”

She laughed. “Okay. Since you feel that strongly about it, I promise.”

Midnight Ride Recipe: JANIE’S HOMEMADE MAC & CHEESE

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon mustard powder

Pinch cayenne pepper, salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste

9 ounces cooked macaroni (elbows or shells—whatever shape you want)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

To make the cheese sauce, melt butter in saucepan. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly as it bubbles but does not brown (about 2 minutes). Add milk, stirring as it comes to a boil and thickens. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, and mustard. Lower heat and stir in shredded cheddar cheese until melted (about 2 minutes). Set aside.

To make the casserole, in a 1 ½ quart oven-proof casserole dish, put the cooked macaroni. Pour the cheese sauce over the top. Mix gently with a fork. Bake uncovered until top is golden and the sauce is bubbling (about 30 minutes).

Serves four.

Women and Food Quote

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The Truth about Tyler’s BBQ Joint in Midnight Ride

Midnight RideMidnight Ride is the lead-off title in the Midnight Cowboys series, which is a spin-off of my Oklahoma Nights series and set in the same world with crossover characters.

The second book in the Midnight Cowboy series, Midnight Wrangler, is Rohn’s story and releases Tuesday, Nov. 24th, but before it does, here are some fun facts about one of the book’s locations.

You probably already know that Joseph’s Fine Foods, the restaurant in One Night with a Cowboy (Oklahoma Nights) where Tuck and Becca eat fried bologna, jalapeno hushpuppies and smoked brisket, is real and really located in Drumright, Oklahoma just as I wrote. But did you know that Tyler’s favorite barbecue place in his home town is also real? But this time I cheated a little.

The actual inspiration for Tyler’s BBQ joint is not in Oklahoma. It’s right here in New York State and it happens to be my favorite local place to grab dinner.

The story in Midnight Ride of how Tyler found his barbecue joint is exactly how I found mine…Driving past a rundown hardware store, seeing the generic OPEN flag flapping along the road, and smelling the smoker.

Enjoy this excerpt from Midnight Ride as Tyler enjoys his brisket and jalapeno mac & cheese, and then watch the video I made of the actual place and food!

MIDNIGHT RIDE (Midnight Cowboys) by Cat Johnson

“Packs a powerful emotional punch” Publishers Weekly
“Johnson is a master at pushing boundaries, and the opening of her Midnight Cowboys series is no exception.” RT Book Reviews

One bucking bronco…Oklahoma ranch hand Tyler Jenkins is too young, too sexy, and too damn wild to be tied down by any single woman—for more than a few steamy hours…

One hard-working widow…Widowed rancher Janie Smithwick is too busy paying off her debts to play rodeo with a reckless young cowboy like Tyler—no matter how hot he gets her…

One midnight ride they’ll never forget…As a rule, Janie should be dating a man her own age, like her handsome neighbor Rohn—not the twenty-four-year old ranch hand he employs. But once Tyler gets Janie alone—held tight in his arms, pressed against his hard muscled body, burning with desire—the widow realizes that some rules, like broncos, are meant to be broken…

Midnight Ride Chapter 1 Excerpt

There was something about a really good, down-home barbecue joint that made Tyler Jenkins happy, deep down all the way through his stomach and to his very soul.

Of course, to meet his very high culinary standards, it couldn’t be one of those bullshit places that pretended to be real. It had to be authentic, or why bother? If all the restaurant did was slap some sauce on a piece of meat and call it barbecue, he might as well go to a fast food chain.

To be worth his time and money, there had to be smoke, and lots of it. He wanted to smell it in the air as they slow-cooked the meat out back. He wanted to taste it the moment the food hit his tongue.

Like most things worth doing, getting that kind of result took time. Hours. All day, in fact. Only the best places devoted that kind of time and effort. Where he sat now was one of those places.

It looked like nothing from the road. A run-down shack with an old RV parked next to it. A couple of wooden picnic tables inside and a couple more out front by the parking lot, each with a roll of paper towels set out on top for customers to wipe their hands and mouths.

That was the extent of it, except for the most important part—the smoker. The big steel barrel pumped a mouthwatering cloud of meat-laden smoke into the air.

Yes, sir, there was everything right with this place. Incredibly good food that was fast and cheap—everything Tyler looked for.

As he sat with the sun beating down on his shoulders and the wide brim of his cowboy hat shading his eyes, he was in heaven. He shoved another piece of marbled brisket between his lips, and a burst of flavor filled his mouth. He couldn’t help the sound of appreciation that rumbled from deep within him.

It might very well be hereditary in the Jenkins men—this appreciation for fine barbecue. Tyler’s older brother Tucker had his own favorite place in Drumright. Tuck would travel quite a distance if he had to, and drive hours to get his favorite smoked meat. It must be in their genes, right along with the other Jenkins traits—dark hair, blue eyes, an appreciation for the gentler sex, a love of all things rodeo, and, of course, the ability to sniff out good food.

Closing his eyes to better enjoy every subtle nuance, he absorbed how the smoky taste stuck around for a while. He could feel it settling in on the back of his throat for a nice long stay, even after he’d swallowed the beef.

Another sound of pure appreciation grumbled from within him. Two things made Tyler purr like a house cat from pure contented satisfaction, but only one of them was something he could do out in public. “Mmm, mmm. This right here is good enough to make you want to smack your own ass.”

With a forkful of jalapeño macaroni and cheese poised in midair, Tyler’s boss let out a laugh. “YouWomen and Food Quote ain’t kidding. How’d you find this place to begin with? There isn’t even a sign out front.”

Tyler laughed at the older man. “Rohn, please. There are two things I can always find—women and food. I’ve been working for you at the ranch for long enough, you should know that by now.”

The truth was, the scent of smoked meat and the telltale trail from the smoker rising into the air like a beacon had first led him here.

The building was partially hidden from the road by a hardware store in front of it. The OPEN banner blowing in the breeze from a pole stuck in the dirt along the road hadn’t told Tyler what the hidden establishment sold, but the scent in the air sure had. He could sniff out good barbecue a mile away. He was certainly glad he’d swung the truck onto the dirt of the parking lot that day.

MIDNIGHT RIDE in Paperback, eBook & Audiobook

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New Contemporary Romance Novel – Loved by a SEAL ( Hot SEALs ) Ch 1 Excerpt

SEAL6 Hello Brody Sept 22

Loved by a SEAL (Hot SEALs) by Cat Johnson 

Loved by a SEAL is a USA Today Bestseller!

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 CHAPTER 1 EXCERPT

 A man didn’t appreciate something until he had to go without it for a while.

Brody Cassidy knew that to be true with bone-deep certainty because he’d gone without many things for a good long while. Six months and three days to be exact, give or take a few hours . . . not that he was counting.

As he stepped off the transport and felt the breeze of the Virginia evening blow across his skin he made a mental note of all he’d missed and all he wanted to take advantage of now he was back on U.S. soil.

First, he was going to take the longest, hottest shower in the history of modern man.

And his bed—how he had missed his own mattress every time he’d lay down on his uncomfortable rack to try to sleep. Going to bed tonight on the two thousand dollar support mattress he’d splurged on last year was going to be so good he was almost giddy at the thought.

Of course that would be after he went out and got himself a nice stiff drink because alcohol was one of two more things that he really enjoyed but hadn’t had in six months. Brody was definitely going to partake in both of those things before he lay down his head tonight.

Alcohol was one. The other was a woman. He’d gone so long without the sweet touch of one of those he was starting to dream about it—when he slept deeply enough to dream that was.

But before all of that he had to eat, because good food was right up there at the top of the list of things he missed most on these long ass deployments to some foreign country that never failed to make a man extra grateful to be an American.

Good ol’ downhome cooking. He missed it. All of it, from juicy corn on the cob straight from the field to anything fried as long as it was fresh and hot and crunchy.

He’d give his left nut for Nana’s fried catfish. Or her chicken and dumplings.

And God, her Johnny cakes . . . or even better, her black skillet cornbread. How much would he give for some of that right now?

Crap. Now his mouth was watering and there was no hope of getting the kind of chow he wanted in the near future.

Or was there?

As Brody hoisted his pack over his left shoulder he pulled out his cell phone with his right hand and powered it on.

Years of experience and some smart advanced planning on his part meant he’d anticipated his homecoming and had acted accordingly. Before his unit had moved out of Turkey, while he still had access to secure computers and internet, he’d arranged to have his cellular service turned back on.

During the time away he’d used his cell phone for not much more than taking pictures and playing word games. Oh, and the device made a hell of an alarm clock too, since it seemed he was always working odd hours and having to wake up at times no man’s body was used to.

After six months Brody would finally be able to use his cell as an actual phone again. He sure as hell was going to use it now as it was intended—to call his older brother Chris.

With any luck he could arrange some home cooked grub to celebrate being back. His brother always had been fairly good in the kitchen—at least better than Brody—but since Chris’s retirement from the Navy a couple of years ago, he had expanded his culinary skills enough that at least they didn’t have to eat take-out every night.

It wouldn’t be Nana’s chicken-fried steak, but Chris could definitely grill a mean bone-in rib eye and he was pretty good at frying up onions and baking potatoes. That was one of Chris’s favorite meals to make.

Brody supposed a man had to do something to occupy his mind after retirement but after living the adrenaline-fueled life of being a member of the teams, how could wielding a chopping knife rather than a sniper’s rifle be all that satisfying?

He couldn’t comprehend it but God willing he wouldn’t have to deal with retired life for a good long while.

The future was a far distant worry. His immediate concern was food. Why eat take-out when he could have some home cooking and give his brother something to do?

He swiped through his list of contacts until he found Chris’s name and then hit to make the call.

Brody listened to the ringing through the line as he crossed the tarmac, heading for the bus that would carry him to the base. When the call went to voicemail, he had to wonder what the hell Chris was up to that he couldn’t answer the damn phone.

It wasn’t as if Chris’s only brother had been away in some foreign hellhole training Syrian rebels how to fight ISIS for the past six months or anything.

With a snort of sarcasm, Brody waited for Chris’s outgoing message to end before he said into the cell, “Bro, it’s me. I’m back. Where the hell you at? I gotta check in at base and stow my gear but after that I wanted to see if we could do dinner. Call me back. Bye.”

He hit to disconnect and scowled.

Chris was probably balls-deep in Darci and that’s why he hadn’t answered. After six months of going without that particular pleasure himself the thought didn’t make Brody feel all that understanding.

He sighed and shoved the cell back into one of the cargo pockets in the leg of his tactical pants just as his teammate Thom Grande trotted up beside him.

Brody shot the man a sideways glance as he showed no sign of slowing down his pace. “Hey, Thom! You anxious to get somewhere?”

Thom let out a short laugh. “Oh, yeah. I gotta dump my shit and go. Ginny flew down from Connecticut. She’s waiting on me at the hotel.”

Ah yes, the girlfriend. No wonder Thom was in a hurry, but his rushing to the bus wouldn’t get them to base any sooner. Not when the rest of the unit still had to deplane and load onto the vehicle with all their bags.

Brody didn’t bother reminding Thom of that. Instead he pushed down what felt a bit like envy and said, “Have fun.”

“No doubt about that.” Thom grinned and then strode on ahead.

“Where’s he off to?” Rocky caught up to Brody and watched alongside him as Thom took off at a run to the bus.

“Girlfriend.”

Rocky snorted out a laugh. “If she’s not hiding out on that bus, he’s got a bit of a wait until he sees her.”

“You got that right.” Grateful that Rocky didn’t have a girl waiting on him, Brody glanced in his direction. “You got plans for tonight?”

“Yup. Sure do. Shower, food and then a little loving from some lucky female.” Rocky had held up his hand and counted the three priorities off on his fingers, starting with his thumb.

Rocky was a man after Brody’s own heart. Those were pretty much his plans too, but he had one more addition. A nice cold one to wash down that food.

There was one destination Brody knew he could get the things they both wanted. “Wanna eat quick and then hit the strip club?”

Chris hadn’t answered his phone and honestly it would be easier for Brody to decompress with one of the team for a few hours than be with his blissfully happy, retired brother.

“Hell yeah. Wanna head over as soon as we dump off our shit? I was gonna shower at the base. Do you have to go home first?” Rocky’s enthusiasm to get going was no surprise. He had been through the same shitty six months Brody had.

Brody shook his head. “Nope. I’ve always got clean clothes in my locker. But shit, my truck’s at my house.”

“My truck’s parked on base. I’ll drive us over to the club. I can drop you home later if you want.”

“A’ight. Sounds good. Thanks.”

It was funny how sometimes teammates, especially after a long deployment, felt more like family than actual blood relatives did.

“No problem. The guy who lives next to me in the bachelor barracks has been running my truck once a week. You know, to keep the fluids circulating and the tires from getting flat spots, so it should be good to go.”

Chris was supposedly doing the same thing with Brody’s truck. He only hoped his brother wasn’t so into playing the happy couple with Darci that he’d forgotten about it.

With Brody’s luck he’d go home to a dead battery. If that happened, Brody was going to enjoy torturing Chris for his negligence for a good long while.

Rocky dumped his pack on the ground next to the luggage hatch under the bus and reached up to scratch his beard. It had gotten pretty long while they’d been gone.

Brody hated facial hair himself. All it did was itch and make him feel hot and dirty.

Rocky was the opposite. Since he’d joined the team about a year ago, Rocky had sported a beard in some form or another. Sometimes he kept it cropped short and neat. Other times he’d grow it so long he looked more Afghani than American, which wasn’t a bad thing for a SEAL.

Brody eyed the length of it now, definitely on the longer side than usual. “You gonna trim that thing now that we’re back?”

Shaving was the first thing on Brody’s list, right along with a shower. Now that fresh razor blades and hot water were readily available, he couldn’t wait to be clean-shaven on a daily basis again.

Rocky stroked his facial hair like a man would caress his lover. “No way. Chicks love my beard.”

Brody cocked up one brow. “Do they?”

“Hell yeah.” Rocky snorted. “You’ll see tonight.”

Tonight they’d be at a strip club where it was the girls’ job to pretend they loved everything about the male patrons, so Brody wasn’t convinced that would be a real good test of Rocky’s theory.

He laughed. “A’ight. If you say so.”

“Eh, you don’t know what you’re missing.”

“Yeah, I do and you can have it.” Brody knew exactly what he was missing not having a beard and that was mostly needing to clean food out of his facial hair after he ate.

Rocky lifted his shoulder in a half-shrug. “All right. More girls for me then.”

Brody had to chuckle. For tonight he wasn’t worried about Rocky’s threat. Where they were going, all he had to do was stop at the ATM for some cash and his evening’s female companionship would be guaranteed.

Brody had to consider that. Had he become such a jaded son of a bitch he would rather pay for female attention than look for some kind of meaningful relationship?

He supposed he had.

Hell, just that term—meaningful relationship—had him wanting to run and hide.

Though, it was more likely he was simply being a realist. He’d done the whole love and girlfriend thing once long ago. All that experience had accomplished was prove to him that things were easier this way.

Looking for Ms. Right Now was so much simpler than trying to find Mrs. Right and then discovering later she was oh so wrong.

The number of divorces he saw in the military was proof of that.

He’d thought he found her once—the girl he might be able to spend a lifetime with—but that hadn’t worked out so great.

Ashley Reed. His first love. Hell, his first for everything.

Christ, how could just thinking her name after a decade raise the memory of that teenage heartbreak all over again? That right there was reason enough to not repeat the mistake of getting involved seriously with a woman.

He rubbed at the tightness in his chest and hoped that it was just indigestion.

It had to be from the shit meal he’d eaten on the transport because he refused to admit one woman could still have a hold on him after ten years.

Look for Tempted by a SEAL (Mack’s story) Jan 2016 and Wed to a SEAL (Rocky’s story) April 2016 in the Hot SEALs

Hot SEALs Series

Say Hello to Hot SEALs Brody!

Hello Brody Sept 22

Meet Brody! Although, the reality is that you’ve already met him. First in Night with a SEAL (Book 1), but he really made an impression in the end of Saved by a SEAL (Book 2). After finishing that story last September, my mother called and said, “I hope Brody’s story is next.”

I apologize for the year long wait but Brody’s story is finally here. LOVED BY A SEAL is releasing in just two weeks, September 22, and is on preorder now in eBook and print.

Preorder now at:   Amazon   iBooks   Google  (BN, Kobo, ARe to come)

As we wait for release day, here’s a short snippet from that scene from Saved by a SEAL that had readers (at least my mother) clamoring for more of the southern charmer, Brody. Enjoy!

SAVED BY A SEAL EXCERPT

The man watching what was happening behind the truck while Zane watched what was in front, glanced quickly at her. “You doing a’ight, Miss Greenwood?”

She couldn’t see him clearly in the dark while he was wearing grease paint, but she recognized the southern drawl. It was Brody who’d guarded the entrance to the tent while Jon had freed them.

“Yes.”

Finally letting herself breathe as she squelched the fear that they’d be attacked, Missy looked around at who else was in the truck with her.

In the dark, huddled together and silent except for one who was weeping softly, were six of the girls. Diana sat opposite Missy, her arm around one of the students. Missy tried to catch her friend’s eye, wanted to ask her without words if the girls were all right, but in the darkness it was too hard.

Maybe it was better if she didn’t know. She dreaded seeing the girls in the daylight. Seeing what damage the men had inflicted.

“How did you find us?” Missy asked, raising her voice so Brody could hear. Talking seemed to help and Brody seemed willing to talk, even if Zane no longer was.

He angled his head to her even while watching the forest around them. “Leads from the locals. Drone surveillance. A damn good bit of luck.”

That last part struck her as funny. Missy let out a laugh even as the tears started to flow. She covered her mouth with her hand to hold in the sobs. All that could have happened to her, all that had happened, it seemed to hit her all at once. Now that she might actually be safe, she couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“Missy.” The sound of Zane’s voice brought her head up.

“I’m sorry.” A sob followed her apology.

“Christ. Don’t apologize.” He reached down and pulled her by the arm. It would have been impossible to stand in the bouncing truck as it jolted along the rough road if he hadn’t tucked her in between him and the back window of the cab. “Listen to me. I need to do my job to get you out of here safely.”

“I know.” Just the warmth of his hard body pressed against hers calmed her. She could handle this version of Zane if he continued to hold her like he was.

“But after we get back . . .” He let the sentence trail off as he looked down at her.

“After we get back?” She waited for him to finish.

At this close distance she felt him draw in a deep breath. Zane mumbled a low curse before he leaned down and delivered one hard, fast kiss to her lips before he broke away. He took one more look at her and then returned his attention to the forest surrounding them.

“Hey, now. I would have volunteered for that there duty if anybody had asked me.”

“Shut up, Brody,” Zane yelled to the back of the truck.

Missy saw Brody grin before he went back to watching the road behind them.

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