Authors: Luann McLane
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Literature & Fiction
“Sweet romance with small-town Southern charm. . . . McLane weaves together walks in the moonlight, stolen glances, and kisses under the stars with seduction and sizzling sex, populating the carefully crafted story with a cast of affable characters.”
“In this modern Southern romance, charming bad boy Reese and sassy Gabby’s chemistry sizzles. McLane gives readers characters they’ll care about, as she expertly weaves a tale of love and past regrets. Her writing is heartfelt, her characters sympathetic, and her pacing steady.”
—RT Book Reviews
“A lovely, sweetly sexy, terrifically enjoyable read. . . . McLane’s Cricket [Creek] series is similar in style to Susan Wiggs’s bestselling Lakeshore Chronicles.”
“Alluring love scenes begin with the simplicity of a kiss in this romantic Southern charmer.”
“A sweet love story set in the quaint Southern town of Cricket Creek. Reid makes for a sexy hero who could melt any heart.”
“A very charming story, and I would be more than happy to read the entire series.”
—The Bookish Babes
“McLane nails the charm, quirks, nosiness, friendliness, and sense of community you’d experience in a small Southern town as you walk the streets of Cricket Creek. . . . Engaging and sweet characters whose chemistry you feel right from the start.”
—That’s What I’m Talking About
“This latest foray to McLane’s rural enclave has all the flavor and charm of a small town where everyone knows everyone else and doesn’t mind butting in when the need arises. With a secondary romance between members of the slightly older generation,
offers a comforting read where love does ‘trump’ insecurities, grief, and best-laid plans.”
“Visiting Cricket Creek, Kentucky, feels like coming home once again.”
“Cute, funny, and full of romance.”
—Love to Read for Fun
“LuAnn McLane has a rich and unique voice that kept me laughing out loud as I read.”
“McLane packs secrets, sex, and sparks of gentle humor in an inviting picnic basket of Southern charm.”
Ft.Myers & Southwest Florida
“A delightful . . . charming tale.”
“Entertaining [and] lighthearted.”
—Genre Go Round Reviews
Catch of a Lifetime
“I thoroughly enjoyed this amusing tale of baseball fanatics and a quiet little town that everyone falls in love with. The residents are all amusing and interesting . . . pure entertainment!”
“LuAnn McLane has created a delightful small-town romance that just captivates your heart and has you rooting for these charming characters. . . . I thoroughly enjoyed this romance, and I know that readers will want to spend more time with these handsome baseball players.”
—Night Owl Reviews
Playing for Keeps
“A fun tale.”
Midwest Book Review
“Charming, romantic . . . this new series should be a real hit!”
“McLane’s trademark devilish dialogue is in fine form for this series.”
“No one does Southern love like LuAnn McLane!”
—The Romance Dish
Wildflower Wedding: A Cricket Creek Novel
“Mistletoe on Main Street” in
Christmas on Main Street
Moonlight Kiss: A Cricket Creek Novel
Whisper’s Edge: A Cricket Creek Novel
Pitch Perfect: A Cricket Creek Novel
Catch of a Lifetime: A Cricket Creek Novel
Playing for Keeps: A Cricket Creek Novel
He’s No Prince Charming
A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action
Trick My Truck but Don’t Mess with My Heart
Dancing Shoes and Honky-Tonk Blues
Dark Roots and Cowboy Boots
“Hot Whisper” in
Driven by Desire
Love, Lust, and Pixie Dust
Hot Summer Nights
Taking Care of Business
Published by the Penguin Group
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New York, New York 10014
USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China
A Penguin Random House Company
First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Copyright © LuAnn McLane, 2014
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
SIGNET ECLIPSE and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
is dedicated to musicians and songwriters everywhere.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone in the music industry for all of the hard work and dedication it takes to bring music into our lives. From live bands in small venues to huge shows in large arenas to simply turning on the radio, I can’t imagine going even one day without listening to music.
Thank you to the amazing staff at New American Library. From the beauty of the covers to the attention to detail in copyediting, I couldn’t ask for a better team. I also want to thank Jessica Brock for her marketing expertise and for all of the help with social media. And a very special thank-you goes to my wonderful editor, Danielle Perez. From small details to big scenes, you’ve made my writing better on every level.
As always, a heartfelt thank-you goes to my wonderful agent, Jenny Bent. From the moment we met, you gave me the confidence to believe in my writing and to fulfill my dreams. I couldn’t have done this without you!
Thank you so much to my loyal readers. Your continued support over the years has kept the joy in writing my stories. My goal is to bring you love, laughter, and, of course, a happy
Here Comes the Sun
IGHT TURN IN FIVE-POINT-TWO MILES,” THE FEMALE voice of Cat’s GPS said with staccato precision. Although she was tired to the bone, Cat had to grin. “Is it my imagination or do you sound as road-weary as me?” Cat glanced at the screen on her dashboard, half expecting Rita, the name she’d given the voice, to answer. Earlier Cat had accused Rita of being a bit tipsy when she sounded as if she were slurring her words.
Cat glanced at the map showing her SUV driving down the two-lane road and sighed with relief. “Yes! I’m almost there.” After driving all day from her parents’ home in Chicago, she was anxious to reach her destination near the city limits of Cricket Creek, Kentucky. Because Cat wanted solitude for songwriting, her friend Mia had handpicked the location of the log cabin nestled in the woods and with a river view from the back deck. Cat knew the cabin was nicely decorated with rustic yet stylish furnishings because Mia had sent dozens of pictures. Cat was also aware that the fridge was fully stocked, including a chilled bottle of Cupcake Chardonnay, because Mia sent even
more pictures of the contents of the fridge. To say that Mia was excited about Cat’s move to Cricket Creek was a vast understatement.
“It sure is pretty here, Rita.” The sun was dipping lower in the sky, casting a soft golden glow over cornfields in the early-spring stages of growth. In the distance, tender green leaves made the woods appear fresh, and redbud trees added a splash of bright reddish purple to the landscape. When she passed cows lazily grazing in the grass, Cat waved and offered a tired “Moo.”
Although Cat knew she would miss living in Nashville, her switch to small-town life already felt like the right choice. So did leaving Sweetside, her big corporate record label, for independent My Way Records in Cricket Creek. But changes, even ones for the better, still held an element of fear that Cat couldn’t completely shake.
“In one mile turn right on Riverview Lane,” Rita reminded her.
“It’s not soon enough.” When the sign appeared, Cat smiled, having been worried that the road out here in the countryside wouldn’t be marked. She turned down the dusty gravel lane and, even as weary as she felt, her pulse kicked up a notch. This was going to be her home.
Cat had sold her sprawling home in Brentwood, Tennessee, completely furnished except for the music industry awards and personal items she’d taken with her. She’d donated most of her designer clothes to charity and sent dozens of shoes to Mia’s Cricket Creek–based foundation, called Heels for Meals. Cat wanted a fresh start, a new beginning, to go back to performing and writing songs for the love of music and not worry as much about record sales and concert attendance.
A sudden stiff breeze caused dust to kick up, and the field of wildflowers on either side of her started dancing in the wind.
I’m going to like living here,
Cat thought, and she felt a sense of peace chase away her lingering fear. During the past year of legal entanglements with
her record label, selling her home, and ending a toxic relationship, Cat had vowed to keep negativity out of her life. She longed for less chaos and more simplicity. Through it all, her charity work had kept Cat grounded, bringing her some joy along with the constant reminder that there were those in dire need which made her own problems seem somehow trivial.
Luckily, Mia had done the legwork with the local real estate agent and found the location on Riverview Lane. Not only did Cat trust her best friend’s judgment, but the never-ending pictures already had her in love with the quaint cabin.
The fields of flowers gave way to woods with only fingers of lingering sunlight able to reach down through the trees. Cat knew that there were a few other cabins nestled in the woods, but they were mostly for weekend use by tourists or fishermen putting their boats in Cricket Creek, which led to the Ohio River. So for the most part Cat should have the solitude she’d been craving for the past year.
“Five Riverview Lane is located on the left. You have arrived.”
“Thank goodness,” Cat nearly shouted as she pulled up in front of the cabin. After killing the engine she inhaled a deep breath and then blew out a sigh. Staying up late with her mother and father the night before was catching up with her, but her parents were heading out of the country to do some charity work, so she knew it would be a few weeks before she’d see them again, making her fatigue worth it.
“Oh . . . wow,” Cat said when she spotted a doe walking up from the edge of the trees on the opposite side of the lane. Knowing she would frighten it away, Cat sat there for a moment and drank in the deer’s quiet, gentle beauty. As she’d suspected, as soon as she opened her door the deer bolted, doing a graceful jump back over the gulley and then disappearing into the woods.
Cat walked around and opened the tailgate of her white SUV, now covered with a light sheen of golden brown dust. She leaned in to drag out her overstuffed suitcase, but the doggone thing barely budged. Thinking of the hearty snacks and chilled wine waiting inside, Cat tugged harder, grunting with the effort. “Apparently I need to do some lifting at the gym,” she grumbled, but then remembered it had taken both Cat and her father to heft the suitcase up into the SUV. With a quick intake of pine-scented air, she braced the heels of her boots into the gravel, grabbed the handle with both hands, and gave the suitcase her best tug.
The suitcase slid across the slick tailgate much quicker than Cat had anticipated, making her backpedal, but not nearly fast enough. The painful impact of the heavy luggage smacking into Cat’s legs sent her stumbling backward. Cat’s butt hit the gravel with a bone-jarring thud. After a stunned grunt she uttered a string of words that didn’t even fit together, but she was so spitting mad that she continued saying them, adding a random curse word here and there. “Stupid, ye-
, oversized damn piece of luggage. Dear God, that hurt. Oh, my shins . . . Sent from holy hell.” She sat there breathing as if she’d just run a marathon and then glared at the suitcase as if it were somehow to blame. “Wow, ohhh, that hurt like . . . ohhh. I hope your blasted wheels are broken, you lousy piece of ugly . . .” she whimpered and then added weakly, “leather . . .
Cat desperately wanted to dislodge the luggage from her legs, but all her brain could deal with was the pain shooting up her shins. Rocks bit into her denim-clad butt and both elbows stung. “Don’t you know I bruise easily?” She intensified her glare but then sudden tears welled up in her eyes and with a little groan she shoved hair that had escaped from her ponytail off her forehead. Cat considered herself a tough cookie, but this past year
had tested her mettle in more ways than one, and in that moment she threatened to fall to pieces. “This is your new beginning! No negativity,” she reminded herself and swallowed hard. “Get a damned grip!”
Cat gritted her teeth, determined to shove the suitcase aside. “Get off me.” But just as she leaned forward she heard the crunch of gravel and her heart rate increased. Could it be another wild animal from the woods? But this time, instead of a doe, could it be the kind with claws and big teeth?
Before she could turn around to face her fear, the suitcase was suddenly lifted from her legs as if it didn’t contain piles of clothing that had the lid bulging like a muffin top. From her sitting position Cat looked at scuffed brown cowboy boots and jean-clad legs.
“Hey, are you okay?” His deep Southern drawl oozed with charm and a hint of concern.
Cat leaned back on her palms and tilted her head up. Wow, he was tall. And even through the pain throbbing in several places she noted that he filled out his flannel shirt quite nicely. “Define
.” She meant it as a joke but her voice had a slight hitch in it.
as in, are you hurt?” The tall cowboy flashed Cat a slight grin that caused two very cute dimples in his cheeks, which were covered in dark stubble that matched the dark hair clipped close to his head. He had a strong jaw and straight nose but a full mouth that suddenly captured her attention. “No, really—are you okay?”
“Sorry, but I was distracted by . . . ah, your sudden appearance.” She blinked at him, thinking he looked familiar. She wondered whether he’d recognize her, but with her hair pulled back and not a trace of makeup hopefully he wouldn’t. Cat wanted to remain on the down low while she got her life together. “To answer your question, um, yes.”
. Everywhere. In fact, I think I’m one giant bruise. Where did you come from, anyway?”
He jammed his thumb over his head. “I heard your . . . um, rather colorful shouts of distress and decided I needed to jog up here and investigate. So just bruises?”
“And maybe broken bones.” She frowned at her legs.
His grin disappeared, and his green eyes suddenly appeared concerned. “Are you serious?”
“Yes . . . well, kinda. Oddly enough, I’ve never had a broken bone, so I don’t know, but it sure feels like my legs are crushed.” Okay, she might be a teensy bit overly dramatic, but she was a singer, an entertainer, and an only child diagnosed with ADD. Drama was in her blood.
“Well, I’ve had a few broken bones, and, believe me, you’d have a pretty good inkling.”
“Come on, it was the attack of the killer suitcase. That thing is a monster on wheels. Do you really think I’m overreacting?” she asked with an arch of one eyebrow.
“A little.” He gave her a slight grin. “Although that overstuffed monster does weigh a ton.” He tilted his head in the direction of the suitcase. When he knelt down beside her she got a subtle whiff of spicy aftershave that made her want to lean closer. “So do you think you can move?”
She made a show of wiggling her toes. “That’s a good sign, right?”
He nodded. “Think you can stand up?”
“I’m sort of afraid to try,” Cat admitted with a wince. “I think I’ll just chill here for a few minutes. Or maybe overnight.”
“Out here with coyotes and raccoons?”
Cat glanced toward the woods. “Okay, scratch that idea.”
“Do you want me to carry you inside?”
His question made her eyes widen. “No!” Cat replied, but in truth his offer held more than a little bit of appeal.
He held up both hands in surrender. “Gotcha.”
Although Cat could be a bit dramatic, she also thrived
on being independent, so her unexpected, rather needy reaction to this perfect stranger felt confusing. She blamed it on fatigue. Or maybe low blood sugar. Or maybe she was damned tired of being strong and wanted a shoulder to lean on other than her parents, who didn’t fully understand what was going on in her life and career. No, it wasn’t that last one! Fatigue and hunger were the culprits. She glanced at those wide shoulders. Maybe.
“Well, then at least let me help you up.”
Cat gave him a quick nod conveying more conviction that she felt and then accepted his outstretched hands. His grip was warm and strong as he effortlessly tugged her to her feet. Cat was tall and had a solid build, but he suddenly made her feel feminine. He held on after Cat stood up, presumably to make sure she remained steady on her feet, which she wasn’t. To her dismay her legs hurt and her knees felt wobbly.
“The offer remains,” he said with a hint of concern.
Cat inhaled a deep breath. “I’ll be okay, really.” She stiffened her spine. “I’ve just had a long day of driving and I pushed too hard to get here. Low blood sugar,” she added. She swayed slightly as she pulled her hands from his, and he immediately put an arm lightly about her waist.
“Are you sure about that?” His question still held concern but a slight hint of amusement.
“I’m fine,” Cat insisted. In the cool air, his body felt warm, and she fought the urge to snuggle closer.
“Hey, just let me help you inside. Look, I know we’re strangers, but not for long. I live in the cabin just around the bend in the road. My family owns this property and it butts up to our farm. The local real estate company handles the rentals for us. I didn’t realize you’d be moving in or I would have come over to help earlier. That’s the way we do things around here.”
“Oh.” Cat wondered why Mia hadn’t mentioned that she would have a cute country-boy neighbor, but then maybe she didn’t know.
“I’m just being a neighbor and a gentleman. I’ll bring your suitcase to you once you’re inside.”
“Okay, thanks. But now that I’m standing, I’m feeling better,” she lied. “It was just the initial shock of pain that threw me for a loop. I can make it on my own.”
“My mother always told me to err on the side of caution.”
“And do you?” She tilted her head up to get a better look at his face. Again, Cat felt as if she somehow knew this guy, but she met so many people, and it was embarrassing when she failed to remember names. Having ADD certainly didn’t help matters. “Well?” she prompted, still racking her brain for his name.
“No.” Oh, there were those dimples again. “Dare me and I’ll do it. It’s kind of a country boy thing.”
He helped her up the three steps to the front porch that Cat knew wrapped around to the back to overlook the river in the distance. She knew there was a grill, a swing, and a hot tub, all visible in Mia’s pictures. Unfortunately, her friend had had to head out of town to watch her husband play baseball, or she would have been there to greet Cat. “Oh, I forgot. There is supposed to be a packet with keys and instructions in the mailbox.”
“Sit down here in the chair and I’ll go get it for you.”
“Thank you.” Cat eased into the big wooden rocking chair and watched her neighbor walk across the lawn. While she wanted the cabin in the woods for solitude, it was comforting to know she’d have what seemed to be a nice guy nearby to rely upon if an emergency occurred. He certainly oozed small-town charm, and she suddenly wondered whether he had a girlfriend, but then quickly squashed that thought. She was on a mission to switch gears in her music career and didn’t need any complications to get in the way.
And yet Cat looked at the flannel stretching across his shoulders and suppressed a sigh. Because she stood at five foot nine, Cat was always attracted to big, tall men.
Throw a sexy Southern drawl into the mix, add arresting blue eyes, and he was quite a pleasant package. The dimples and crooked smile were just an added bonus.