Authors: Candi Wall
Tags: #Cowboy romance;Texas;ranch;reconciliation;lost love;the one that got away;erotica;sexy;western;second chances
He's determined to change her mindâ¦through her head, through her bed and through her heart.
Home is Where the Heat Is, Book 1
Miya Jackson always believed life had more to offer outside Dead End, Texas. So when circumstances turned her life upside down, she took her chance to break free. A few yearsâand some brutal doses of realityâlater, her little sister's wedding brings her back to the hometown she left behind.
The last place she expects to end up is in the arms of the man she's tried and failed to forget. One scalding, passionate night is all it takes to make her rethink her damn good reasons for leaving.
Shawn Dalton always hoped this day would come. Hell, he and Miya have a history, and any misunderstandings can be fixed if she'll only stay in one spot long enough. Now that's she's back, he's determined to make her see that she belongs in Dead End. With him.
Her obstinate nature is intact, but he can deal with that. It's the cold, detached woman she's become that worries him. Melting that wallâand reminding Miya of her rootsâis going to take every hot, sinful moment he can wrangle.
has never had so many meanings. This cowboy is hell-bent on rekindling a lost love...even if he has to fight dirty.
Bring Me Home
Bring Me Home, the first in the Home Is Where the Heat Is series, goes out with special thanks to Shawna Simmons.
What can I say beyond thank you? I appreciate you reading me at every turn, and so quickly I barely have time to blink. Every comment you make is this writer's personal crack.
Also to Gail Hart. Sister Diva. Author I love. Thank you for pointing out the fatal flaw. No character should be able to fix IT with a conversation. Without your guidance, my characters would still be cardboard. I love you so hard.
And once again, to my wonderful editor, Jennifer Miller at Samhain Publishing. Damn, woman. I love that you believe in me, my characters, and my stories. Thank you for your guidance, encouragement, tolerance and support. I swear someday I'll figure out the damn em dash. Really. I will. :-)
Mule's Bar, Dead End, Texas
“One, two, threeâ¦holy shit, Mi! There's got to be ten guys in here I'd fuck in a minute.” Chloe's eyes rounded as she eyed the men. “Why exactly did you leave, again? Good Lord, I might stay here when you go back.”
Miya rolled her eyes to the smoke-darkened ceiling. The soft twangs of a guitar drifted through the bar, just as they had for years. Same barstools, same sawdust, and the old man passed out in the corner was probably the same old man who'd been there four years ago when she'd last seen this damn place. Same cocksure cowboys in low-slung jeans, flannel shirts and dingy cowboy hats.
Dead End, Texas. Sunday dinners with extended family, Mary-Sue and Jo Bob hitched on a whim, and fresh-squeezed lemonade on the front-porch swing. Hell, her Momma's curtains were still the same hand-sewn creations she remembered from her earliest years. Nothing had changed, just as she'd suspected.
She turned to Chloe and almost laughed. Citified to the tips of her toes, Chloe was drop-dead gorgeous, and nearly every man in the bar took notice. But the men weren't the only ones enjoying the view. The look on her friend's face, at the moment, resembled something close to euphoria.
Miya really couldn't blame her. If she hadn't grown up around these men, she'd have thought it resembled heaven too. They were rough, earthy, toned from hard labor. Completely different from Chloe's usual tastes. “Watch yourself Chlo, these guys are smooth talkers, but they aren't anything like your fancy model boys back in New York.”
Chloe didn't look away from the hunk she eyed across the scarred dance floor. One neatly manicured nail slid across her lips and she sighed. “So you're telling me they'll take charge, maybe demand a little more than I'm willing to give? If that's the case, I'll take one of him, and one of him, and maybe the two of them.” She punctuated the words by pointing at several of the men. “I'm not even going to tell you what I'd like to do to that one. We'll let your severely neglected crotch do the walking through that dream.”
Leave it to Chloe to find humor in any situation. Of course, her friend had no idea what Miya's heart was going through at the moment. She scanned the bar again. The one set of eyes she'd expected to turn her way stayed focused on the pool table. He looked the same, maybe a bit more rugged. His arms were more defined, the muscles shifting with every move he made. The light-blue fabric of his shirt stretched across wide shoulders. Broader than she recalled. And he'd let his hair grow longer. Now it fell in waves against the lines of his neck, not quite reaching his shoulders. The sun had burnished the portion she could see beneath his hat, the same as it always had over those long-ago summer days.
She wasn't certain whether she wanted him to look up. His hat hid the green eyes she'd been terrified to see again. Did he still hate her for leaving? He hadn't been at Casey's wedding today, and now he wouldn't even look in her direction.
Guess she had her answer.
What else had she expected? Shawn Dalton was a proud man. And she'd told him she didn't love him anymore. She wouldn't have come back, but missing her little sister's wedding had been out of the question.
She watched him for several minutes before pulling Chloeâbodilyâto the bar. A wave of nostalgia came on when the bartender slammed a hand on the tattered wood. “What'll ya have?”
“Two beers, Mule.”
Mule nodded, though she didn't miss his momentary stare. Propping two bottles on the bar, he snapped the covers off with a flick of his calloused thumbs. When Miya reached for them, he leaned close. “Miya Jackson?”
“Yeah.” She laughed. “It's me.”
“Wasn't sure if that was you at Casey's wedding.” His grin revealed several missing teeth. The numerous scuffles he'd had to break up in his rundown, memory-filled bar had taken their toll. “Yer sister sure looked lovely today. It's good ta have both the Jackson girls home again.”
“I'm not home permanently, but it's good to see you too.” She grabbed the bottles and smiled. “Casey was a beautiful bride. I still can't believe my little sister is married. Daddy was a wreck.”
“Don't blame 'im. Ya'll ain't mine and I still think ya grew up too quick.” Mule moved away to swipe at the bar top with a dingy towel. He stopped halfway down the bar and looked back. “Shawn's in tonight.”
Miya passed one of the bottles to Chloe. “I know, Mule. I saw him.” With what she hoped resembled an unconcerned smile at the mention of her high school sweetheart, she grabbed Chloe's arm and guided her to a corner table.
Chloe plopped down in one of the chairs and ran the beer bottle along her abundant display of cleavage. She winked at one of the men before turning her attention back to Miya. “
Miya took a long drink of her beer before settling back into the chair with a sigh. If anything felt right about being home again, it was sitting at these tables with a cold drink. It used to be a soda, but she needed the bracer of alcohol tonight. She really didn't want to compound her anxiety by talking about Shawn Dalton. Chloe knew everything there was to know. Why rehash it? “Yes, Chlo. That Shawn.”
“Playing pool.” Miya groaned. She set her bottle back on the table and made small water circles on the beat-up wood with the base. “Taller of the two with the black hat.”
Chloe squealed, rather loud. “Oh, he's about as yummy as they get.” Her gaze moved over Shawn from top to bottom and back again before she propped an elbow on the table to rest her chin on her knuckles. “I tell you one thing, if you don't go talk to him, I'm going to. That man's entirely too good-looking to spend one night without some woman worshipingâhell, lickingâhis body.”
“Chlo.” Miya tempered the warning in her voice. She held no claim to Shawn. If Chloe wanted to fuck him, there wasn't a thing she could, or would, do about it. Even if that meant ignoring the churning blob that settled in her stomach at the thought. Another long drink calmed the uneasy sensationâfor a second.
“Come on, Mi. It's been four years. The least you can do is talk to him.”
Talk to him? What exactly was she supposed to say to the love of her life? The man she'd never expected to be without?
Hey, Shawn. How ya been? I'm sorry I left you high and dry for a life I thought would be bigger and better than Dead End, Texasâand you.
No. It was better to leave the past alone. At least as far alone as it would stay. Being home brought back the night her world had fallen apart. His low moans of pleasure coming from the bedroom, the way Susan had grasped his arm in the moonlit corner of the porch and begged him not to tell anyone. Miya had hid in the dark, not wanting them to see her pain. The look in Sean's eyes had stayed with her all these years. She hadn't even confronted him about Susan. She'd just told him she didn't love him anymore, that she no longer wanted anything to do with him. She'd run.
She shook the thoughts away. “I wouldn't even know where to start.”
“How about a simple âWanna fuck? You know, for old time's sake'?” The slight arch of one perfectly plucked brow confirmed Chloe's disgust. “This isn't rocket science.”
There were times when Chloe's easiest-possible-path-in-life philosophy bordered on ridiculous. Although her friend did live a relatively stress-free lifestyle, so there might be some merit in her way of thinking. “That's something you would do. Not me.”
A typical indifferent shrug was Chloe's response. Just when Miya thought she might leave it alone, her friend smacked her beer on the table. “Well there's absolutely no reason you can't have him planted between your thighs for the next few days. You don't have to do it my way, but you really should get laid. I can't think of a better choice since you're always so damn picky. Then you can leave as planned.”
Miya choked on the drink she'd taken. Sputtering, she glared at Chloe's innocent smile. “You're something else. You know that, right?”
“So they say.” Like a switch, her expression changed to an all-out pout. She glanced in the direction of the pool table. “Strange.”
God how she hated to ask. One never knew what went through Chloe's head, but years of fun times and friendship made it impossible to keep the question locked down. “What's strange?”
“He hasn't even looked over here.”
Trepidation gripped Miya. “Leave it alone, Chloe.”
With a mischievous grin, Chloe pushed her chair back and stood, wobbling a bit. Then, with a broad, almost comical wink, she walked directly toward the pool table. Miya cringed. Maybe coming out for a drink hadn't been the best idea. Chloe had already had more than enough to drink at the wedding reception, and the last thing Miya wanted was a scene. She'd only needed a break from her mother's constant attempts to get her to stay “now that she'd come home”. Leave it to Chloe to create trouble. Maybe one of the men staring at her friend would stop her.
No such luck. They parted like the Red Sea, and Chloe didn't seem to be second-guessing her decision.
Miya closed her eyes for a moment but couldn't keep them shut. The temptation was too strong, or was it macabre curiosityâwhichever it was, she couldn't resist watching. This was going to be interesting. The theoretical dull moment became obsolete when Chloe Garrison walked into a room.
Chloe didn't disappoint. She didn't just interrupt the game, she planted her barely-covered-by-a-sexy-skirt ass directly over the pocket Shawn aimed for. He looked up then, his gaze moving over Chloe with such scorching intensity, fire erupted in Miya's stomach.
Then he smiled. Damn, that man could smile. New York City's male population outnumbered Dead End, Texas, by the droves and she'd yet to witness a smile half as sinful or enticing as Shawn's.
Heat intensified until she wiggled in her seat, trying to ease the increasing ache that pulsed through her body. Her nipples tightened as he straightened up from the pool table and moved around to where Chloe neatly straddled the pocket. His hand moved suggestively on his pool stick as he approached, laughter and no small amount of interest reflected in his eyes. Miya traced the delicious curve of his ass when he slid one muscular thigh between Chloe's parted knees. He leaned forward to whisper something in her ear and Miya had to look away.
She couldn't breathe.
Four years. It had been four years and she'd yet to meet a man that could compare to Shawn's allure. She still dreamed of him from time to time, woke aroused from the memory of his touch, his kiss.
But dreaming of him, wanting him, didn't change anything. She'd left for a reason. She'd made her bed. And now? Nowâ¦
She looked again. His hand moved around to the small of Chloe's back, his fingers brushing over the exposed curve of her hip. Memories of that touch caressed her skin, the rough calluses on his hands, the strength that tugged her closerâ¦ Like he drew Chloe closer against him.
Chloe slid down off the pool table, rubbing against him in open invitation. His gaze moved over where their bodies touched, oblivious to the people around them, watching, waiting. Sexual tension oozed from their heated connection, thickening the bar's atmosphere. Miya wanted to look away, save herself the agony of witnessing their foreplay, and yet her eyes wouldn't budge. With his head still bent toward Chloe, he whispered something else, but when he looked up, he didn't look at Chloe.
Miya inhaled sharply. Their eyes locked, and the threatening wave of desire burst into desperate need so intense she almost cried out. It'd been so long since she'd experienced such insane hunger. Four years, to be exact. She gasped for a steady breath in the suddenly thick air, her pulse humming through her veins. She still wanted him. Reason twenty to get out of there.
Downing the rest of her beer, she threw a twenty-dollar bill on the table and rushed to the door. She didn't look back. Didn't want to know if that sinful gaze followed herâor worseâlaughed at her knowingly.
Cool night air washed over her the moment she stepped on the porch. She nodded to several men standing at the opposite end of the wooden porch and leaned against the railing to support her shaky legs. Millions of stars glimmered down from the clear night sky. Honeysuckle climbed up the trellis covering the outside of the porch, filling the night air with its sweet aroma. The scent was so thick, she could almost taste it.
She closed her eyes and breathed deep, needing the calm reassurance of childhood nostalgia to center her frazzled mind. Home. She really hadn't thought she'd missed it at all, but being back satisfied her more than anything had in years. A quiet peace welcomed her home, so different from the city, where she'd never experienced true acclimation. Even after Chloe had taken pity on a homegrown vagabond and led her through the tangled streets of city life.
The sad memories of leaving Dead End were never far from her mind, and now, with Shawn's appearance tonight, the decision to leave all those years ago welled up inside her with ferocious intent.
Glancing at her watch without really seeing the time, she stepped down the stairs and walked around to the open picnic area behind the bar. She could wait there. When Chloe was done doingâwhatever she planned on doingâshe could come find her.
The old picnic tables were still scattered across the back lawn. Carved and worn, the tables brought her home more than anything else so far. She guessed some things didn't have to change. How many wonderful nights had she sat out behind the bar, laughing, drinking? She and Shawn had even made love on one of the tables years ago. There were hearts and initials carved everywhere in the weathered wood. Shawn's and hers among them.
She sat down at the farthest one from the bar, the one lovers always knew was sheltered by darkness, trees and distance from prying eyes. So many fun nights.