When I woke up this morning and realised the date, I grabbed hubby’s arm and said, “Seventeen days to go.”
“What!?” The poor guy sat bolt upright, freaked out because he was sleepy and thought I was talking about the pregnancy.
“Our book releases in seventeen days,” I clarifed. To which he groaned and rolled over, burying his head in his pillow while mumbling something about nerves.
To say this is an exciting time in our house is an understatement.
To say we’re proud of this book is also understating things, because we worked together and made it to this point without killing each other—I’d say that’s a cause for celebration, right?
I revealed the cover, blurb and preorder links on my Facebook page and in my newsletter recently. Here they are in case you missed it…
Both Wade and I are very happy to present you with the first two chapters of Till There Was You…
Looking at the groaning bodies on the floor around him, he turned toward her voice, pressing his lips together as his chest heaved. Coming here was a mistake.
A cheap shot from an unknown assailant connected with his jaw, causing a burst of pain as his lip split against his tooth. The taste of copper filled his mouth. He didn’t get the chance to react before a shock landed low on his back.
“Argh.” Zapping agony raced up his spine, the pain momentarily blinding him and messing with his balance. He stumbled and tried to regain his footing.
Then came the blow to his head…
It was a good tactic against a man his size. It was what he would’ve done had he found himself out-sized and outmatched—pick your moment, do something to slow your opponent down, then do whatever it took to knock them out. Which was exactly what happened, and why he was now sinking deep into the darkness—a darkness he feared and loathed in equal measures. They were always waiting for him there, their innocent eyes reminding him of all he lost.
As Linc’s mind fled toward the light, he became aware of the ache in his back and the stinging pain in his lip. “What the hell?” he murmured as the room slowly came into focus and the memory of how he got there resurfaced. A small growl of anger rumbled through his chest.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, sleeping beauty.” A smug voice informed him he was not alone. “We thought you’d be out of it for longer than this. I did hit you pretty hard.”
Slowly, he rolled over to see whom the voice belonged to. The first thing that came into view was a solid looking set of bars; the second, a man standing on the other side of those bars wearing a police uniform with the name ‘Colbert’ on his nametag. He stood twirling a set of keys around his finger in a lazy fashion. Jackass.
Linc narrowed his eyes in contempt. “Screw you, princess. Come at me from the front next time and we’ll see who gets knocked the fuck out.”
The cop smirked. “Australian, huh? Heard the loner in the Plowman place had an accent.”
“My nationality has nothing to do with the fact that I’d beat your arse in a fair fight. Blindsiding a guy is dirty—even for a cop.”
“Think I’ll pass on that invitation. Saw what you did to the four guys at the bar—who, by the way, say you started it by sucker punching two of their friends.”
“Bullshit. Those fucking cowards started it after they ignored the waitress’ protests and grabbed her arse. I just stopped them.”
As that bit of information surfaced, the smug smile slipped from Colbert’s face. If Linc hadn’t been watching, he never would have seen it, because it quickly erased when a pounding on the front doors grabbed everyone’s attention.
A younger cop emerged and moved toward the doors. He peered outside, squinting to see through the stormy night before turning back, his brow furrowed and his lips pressed into a thin line.
“Um, it’s your sister. She looks seriously pissed.”
Against his better judgment, Colbert released a resigned sigh and motioned for her to be let in.
When the door opened, it seemed as though two storms raged into the room, one born of Mother Nature and freezing cold; the other of human flesh, a torrent of blonde hair, and female indignation. When she stopped in front of her brother, there was something about the raging hot look on her face and her white knuckled fists balled at her sides that had Linc recalling times past. He had to look away and squash those memories into the back of his mind where they belonged.
The key twirling stopped abruptly as Colbert’s hands went up and he took a few steps backwards in the face of his sister’s wrath.
“Whoa there, Lil, take it easy. Look, no real harm done.” He pointed to the cell where Linc had taken temporary residence. Despite himself and the uncomfortable split lip, Linc smiled at the Mountie’s obvious fear of his hot-headed sibling.
“Let him out,” she yelled. “Those assholes started it. And if he hadn’t punched them in the face, I was about to.”
The other officer let out a chuckle, obviously finding her amusing. She spun around in white-hot fury and focused her luminescent green eyes on him. “You don’t think I could?” she demanded, holding up her fist like she was about to hit the guy in the nose.
“No, I…ah…” he stuttered, shrinking back from her. Feeling his lip would split further if he smiled any broader, Linc thought it best to hide his amusement behind his hand and turn away until he had a straight face.
“Let him out, Matt. Now.”
Her tone matched the temperature of the storm outside. “And why not?”
Brave or foolish, the young cop answered, “It’s policy, Lily. Once in for drunk and-or disorderly, it’s an overnight stay, for better or worse.”
“Don’t worry, sis. I’ll make sure no charges are pressed, and he can go first thing in the morning—after a good night’s sleep and when he doesn’t look like he wants to punch my face in. Besides, it will give us a chance to learn a bit about our reclusive friend here.”
Lily looked between Linc and her brother. “I’ll be back first thing in the morning to make sure he gets out of here.” Her tone left no doubt about her displeasure.
“Yeah, sure, do whatever you want. You usually do anyway,” Colbert said to her back as she stalked outside, deliberately leaving the door open as she vanished into the swirling white embrace of the storm from which she had appeared.
The younger cop rushed to shut the door as soft but stinging wisps of pure white snow bit at his exposed hands and face. After a brief struggle, he managed to close and lock the door, letting warmth seep back into the room.
“Well, I’ll take the first shift. You go home and get some sleep,” Colbert ordered.
“Sure thing, Sarge,” the younger cop mumbled as he moved toward the back of the station, rubbing his hands over numb ears.
Linc watched as Colbert grabbed a chair and placed it close, but not too close to the solid-looking bars before taking a seat to stare directly at him.
“The name’s Matthew, Matt, or Sarge, feel free to use whichever one you want. Now, let’s start with your name.”
“Fuck you, Sarge,” Linc replied, his voice monotone.
“Well, that’s a really shitty name. How about your age?”
All manner of questions followed the first—from background to likes to dislikes—but the only response Linc used was a calm, consistent, “Fuck you, Sarge.”
After a solid twenty minutes, Linc was glad the cop was showing signs of frustration.
“So, you’re going to give me nothing here? No name, no reason as to why you moved here—nothing?”
Linc shrugged. He didn’t have any information he wanted to give.
“Why the secrets? You hiding something?”
Without responding, Linc stared at Sergeant Matt Colbert, Head of Police in the tiny town of Newsham. From looking at the cop, he could tell the mystery he presented was eating at him. Cops were usually inquisitive by nature, and this guy seemed no different. After arriving in Newsham about a year ago, Linc had kept to himself as much as possible and only ventured into town when he absolutely had to. He’d avoided making friends and limited every conversation to the barest minimum. He simply wanted to be left alone.
With a heavy sigh, Colbert stood and slid the chair back into place. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of trying to hold a conversation with myself. Enjoy your night, John Doe. We’ll get to the bottom of who you are in the morning.”
Raging hot in spite of the chilling winds tearing around her, Lily made her way back to the bar, kicking at any snow that had the audacity to get in her way. When she reached the front door, she unlocked it and shoved it open with more force than necessary, causing it to thump against the wall before closing again with a heavy thud.
The mess from the fight was right where she’d left it. Two tables and more than a few stools lay in splintered pieces from the wild brawl that had been fierce and frightening. Everything had gotten out of hand way too fast.
With a heavy sigh, Lily began clearing away the chaos in front of her, going over the events in her mind. She’d never felt so out of control before. She’d never been so scared. Had it not been for him—the stranger with the intense eyes—she had no doubt that a few broken stools would have been the least of her worries…
The holiday season was always busy for her small bar, and being the only bar in town, New Year’s was by far the busiest day of the year. Even with all her staff on duty, they were run off their feet. But it was something they could handle, and rowdy drunks tended to be par for the course. Lily was known to give as good as she got and had a reputation for being a bit of a ball breaker. On this particular New Year’s Eve, however, a group of out-of-towners seemed to struggle with the concept of respect toward women.
They had arrived at the bar early to celebrate the occasion and had been drinking beer steadily for most of the night. As midnight drew closer, they switched to downing shots, which is when their rowdiness started to show.
“Come on, sweet thing,” one had called out to Bec, Lily’s youngest server. “How’s about you show a man some real fun to ring in the new year?” he continued, coupling the remark with some sexually suggestive hip movements.
Noting the look of discomfort and disgust on Bec’s face as she shook her head and tried to smile as she refused their attentions, Lily decided to put an end to their unwelcome behavior before it went too far. Throwing down the cloth she’d been using to wipe down the bar, she stomped over to their table and stood with her hands on her hips.
“Something I can help you with, gentleman?” she asked, glaring at them all one by one.
Completely ignoring the question, one of the men rocked back on his chair and lifted the hem of Bec’s skirt, causing her to slap his hand away as she jumped out of reach.
“Don’t touch me!”
Lily knew from experience things were about to go from bad worse. With a quick look at Bec, she nodded her head in the general direction of the police station where her brother was working. As much as she was sure she could handle herself if things got ugly, the odds weren’t in her favor, and she had a feeling she was going to need help against these four.
“You sure can help, darlin’,” the dark haired one said as he sucked his teeth and eyed her up and down, his gaze practically licking her from head to toe. Lily’s stomach twisted uncomfortably. “With a pretty mouth like that, what you can do is get on your knees and suck my dick as we count down to twelve.” He reached down to his crotch and began to pull his belt loose from the buckle.
A sudden quiet came over the bar as the last words fell slurred from the man’s mouth. The townsfolk knew from experience you didn’t speak to Lily that way—especially not if you wanted to keep your balls.
“What did you just say?” Lily demanded, her arms now folded and eyes blazing with anger. Her facial expression and body language spoke only a little lower than a direct scream in someone’s face. A person would have to be pretty stupid not to pick up on the level of her anger. Stupid, or incredibly drunk…
The biggest, drunkest, and loudest of the group leered toward Lily and spoke to the reckless enjoyment of the other idiots at the table. “He said get on your knees and suck him off.”
Taking a deep breath, she told herself to be calm and patient. But as soon as Beck moved toward the front door, one of the group, a freckle-faced ginger bastard, reached out and grabbed her around the waist, trying to force her to sit on his lap while he and the rest of his comrades laughed in mirth. Lily couldn’t contain herself any longer. Placing her hands on the edge of the table, she shoved it into the ginger’s chest.
“Get the hell out of my bar,” she yelled, giving Bec the chance to break loose and run out the door.
The big one’s face flushed red with anger as he burst out of his chair and grabbed Lily by the front of her shirt, bringing his face close to hers. “Make us, bitch.” As he spoke the putrid smell of alcohol wafted into her nose as spit formed at the corners of his mouth. She had to fight the gag in her throat.
“Hey!” Some of the locals stood to come to Lily’s defense, but were brought up short as the other three guys stood, creating a human barricade designed to cut her off. Pushing and swearing ensued, and the noise level in the bar rose to a roar.
“Let go of me,” she growled twisting her body and attempting to knee her captor in the crotch. But he deflected the move and simply laughed at her attempts to force his hand.
Hot breath dampened her ear. “I thought you were told to get on your knees.”
Gripping her tighter, he attempted to force her to the floor. With all her strength she tried to fight him, but as her knees buckled under the strain, a sinking feeling formed in her stomach. She was out of her depth and cut off from the other patrons in the bar. She needed help.
“Come on, sweetheart. You know you want it. One good hard fuck is all you need to get rid of that stick up your ass. Now, get on your knees like a good girl.”
“Fuck you!” She spat in his face and with an almighty twist of her body, managed to bring her leg up enough to stomp him on the foot—hard. This was her bar—the only thing she had left of her dad. She wasn’t going to let these bastards ruin it for her. She wouldn’t let them win.
“You fucking bitch!” he roared as he used his other hand to wipe the spit from his eye. “Now you’re gonna get it.”
Two things happened next: the big guy spun her around and locked her arms behind her back. Then, as she struggled against him while he was forcing her to bend forward, her frightened eyes locked with the quiet stranger in the back corner of the bar—the only person not blocked off by the big guy’s thug friends. He’d been there since ten, with the same untouched glass of whiskey the entire night. She knew he was local, she’d noticed the tall, dark-haired man around town more than once. He had always intrigued her, but he kept mostly to himself. No one knew him. Some were a little afraid of him. She just hoped he would heed her plea and do something to help her. She needed him.
Time moved in slow motion as Lily watched a range of emotions flit through the stranger’s eyes. He glanced at her to his drink and then back to her as he rose from his chair with catlike grace. With an apologetic look in his eyes, he upended the glass on the floor and made his way over to where she stood, still painfully gripped by the drunken idiot.
“Let her go,” he demanded, his voice calm, deep, and foreign.
“Fuck you,” the big guy spat, tightening his grip on Lily’s arms.
Without any further comment, the stranger leaned between them, the simple weight of his body forcing the big guy to let go of Lily and take a drunken step backwards. Immediately, Lily took refuge behind the bar as the stranger stood calmly in front of the drunkard and placed the empty glass upside down in the middle of the table.
“This isn’t any of your business. Stay the hell out of it,” the big guy grunted, poking the stranger in the chest to punctuate each word.
Lily wondered whether it was the Dutch courage from the alcohol or the three guys backing him up that gave the big guy enough backbone to poke the dark stranger in the chest. Anyone could see the barely restrained anger radiating off the man. He was about to explode, and on the last jab, he did exactly that.
Not only did the big guy’s finger not make it to the stranger’s chest, but with a swift movement and a distinctive popping sound, the stranger had realigned the offending digit so it was now pointed in an unnatural direction.
“My finger!” The big guy howled in pain as the stranger picked up his empty glass and slammed the base of it into the center of the man’s throat.
Gripping his throat, the big guy gasped for breath as the stranger leaned close, his lip curled back in contempt. “Do as the lady said. Get your arses out of here before I make you leave myself.”
They should have listened. Instead, the big guy’s companions surrounded the stranger and attacked in unison. The entire bar seemed to hold a collective breath as the stranger moved with fluid grace and took each of them down with what seemed like minimal effort in a series of swift, heavy punches.
“Holy shit,” someone gasped as the three men lay on the floor, unconscious. “Did he kill them?”
The stranger’s eyes locked with Lily’s and an expression washed over his face that broke her heart. He looked lost, ashamed even.
“Thank you,” she said, hoping to let him know he’d done her a great service by coming to her aid. But the sound of breaking glass drew their attention before he could respond.
Cradling his sore hand against his side, the big guy swung the jagged edge of a broken bottle at the stranger. “Come on, motherfucker. Let’s see how tough you are now.” The stranger dodged, and the big guy continued to jab.
When the door opened, a wave of relief washed over Lily, her brother, Matt, had finally arrived with his off-sider in tow to put an end to this. “Thank god,” she gasped, meeting his eyes briefly before he took a grim assessment of the situation as it unfolded in front of him.
The drunk had clenched the bottle tighter and the recluse started to smile as if he were playing some game with the drunk. The jagged glass came in straight, aimed directly at his face, but he stepped forward and to the right, his left hand reaching to push the bottle away as his right fist darted in twice, delivering two heavy blows. The first landed on the big guy’s ribs with a crack that caused a shuddering chill to run down the spine of every person present. The second landed on the side of his open, screaming jaw. The drunk and the bottle hit the floor with heavy thuds as the stranger stepped over him, fist raised, ready to continue beating the living daylights out of the awful excuse for a human being.
“Stop!” Lily yelled. The guy was knocked out; there was no need for any more violence.
In the same moment, her brother moved, taking the opportunity to land a punch against the stranger’s jaw, followed by a Taser blast to the lower back.
“What are you doing, Matt!” she shrieked. The stranger had stopped. The fighting was under control. There wasn’t any need to Taser the guy unconscious.
Eerily, the stranger made no noise as he dropped to one knee. But as he fought the Taser, a deep growl built in his chest while he forced himself back up again. His fists clenched by his side as he turned on Matt.
Lily covered her mouth, fearing the worst, but Matt’s fist connected with a heavy thump against the side of the stranger’s head. When it seemed that hit wasn’t going to be enough to put him down, Matt kept his finger on the Taser trigger. The clicking sound rattled through the air as the fire that seemed to rage in the stranger’s eyes died, replaced by a sudden look of panic as he wobbled on his feet and hit the ground, a trickle of blood leaking into his full, scruffy beard.
With his chest heaving from effort, Matt signaled for his constable to give him a hand getting the big recluse off the floor. “Call an ambulance for this lot,” he told Lily, indicating the men on the ground.
“It wasn’t all him, Matt,” Lily informed her brother as he struggled under the weight of the stranger.
“Just close this place down, Lil. Night’s over…”
What a nightmare evening, Lily thought as she carried broken wood to the dumpster outside. When she walked back through the empty bar, an overwhelming sense of sorrow washed over her. She didn’t dare let herself think about what would have happened to her if the stranger hadn’t intervened. But she knew that she owed him—big time.
Deciding the rest of the cleaning could wait until morning, she left the bar and looked up, checking her watch as she walked toward her truck. It was almost two in the morning. They completely missed the countdown to midnight.
What a crappy start to the new year.
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Remember, Till There Was You releases on June 30, and if you preorder you’ll get it for the discounted price of US $2.99