Monday, October 30, 2023

Spotlight: Excerpt from A Dish Best Served Hot by Natalie Caña


Author: Natalie Caña
ISBN: 9780778333500
Publication Date: October 31, 2023
Publisher: MIRA
18.99 US | 23.99 CAN

In this follow-up to A PROPOSAL THEY CAN'T REFUSE, single dad Santiago "Saint" Vega gets a second shot at love when he falls for his daughter's teacher, but when duty to his family forces him to do something she'll never forgive, will everything he's built come crumbling down?
Santiago "Saint" Vega gets a second shot at love with Lola León, but when duty to his family forces him to do something she'll never forgive, will everything he's built come crumbling down?
Years ago, Saint walked away from the girl he loved to fulfill his duty. Now he’s struggling to build bridges between his drifting family, take on more responsibilities at his uncle’s construction company, figure out why his daughter refuses to talk at school and curtail his mischievous abuelo’s escalating pranks. Then she walks back into his life.

Social justice advocate Lola León has returned to Humboldt Park for two reasons: to help care for her dear abuelo and to serve the community center she loved, particularly the shelter for unhoused LGBTQIA+ youths. When she finds out that the Vegas are responsible for endangering both, she is more than ready to go to war—even if the boy she never forgot is standing at the front of the battlefield.
Neither of them expects to become allies in saving the shelter, helping Saint’s daughter or ending the decades-long feud between their grandfathers. They definitely don’t expect all of their old feelings to come rushing back. As Saint and Lola enter combat, they can’t help but wonder where the other’s true allegiance lies, and whether they’ll win these battles only to lose each other.

Buy Links: 
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Enjoy this excerpt:

Santiago Vega II—known to family and friends as Junior much to his annoyance—took his time getting back to the front office after dropping off paperwork for Miss Wallis, the school secretary. He loved it when the halls of his high school were empty and mostly silent. It gave him a sense of calm he never got otherwise. Not when he was the oldest of a five-child family who lived in a tiny apartment directly above the restaurant his family ran. The restaurant where his grandpa’s band loved to play music at all hours of the day, because it was always filled to the gills with people from the neighborhood. Junior was surrounded by people all the time—loud, demanding people—so he enjoyed moments of quiet stillness whenever he could.

    That made it all the more annoying when he heard raised voices down the hallway. 

    “You better stay away from her!” 

    “You two aren’t even together anymore.” 

    “She’s mine!” 

    Oh great. Two idiots were about to fight over a girl and Junior had to go that way to get back to his work-study.

   Junior turned the corner to one of the side hallways and stopped dead in his tracks. It was worse than two idiot guys. It was Jose Mendez, one of the largest offensive linemen on their high school football team, and Lola León, the biggest troublemaker in the school. 

    Lola was constantly in the office when he was there, but where Junior was there helping out during his free period, she was always there to talk to the principal after getting kicked out of one class or another. Sure, he didn’t know her well, she was a junior to his senior, but it wasn’t hard for Junior to tell why she was constantly pissing everyone off. She had a terrible attitude and a mouth to accompany it. She said what she wanted and did what she wanted without a care for anyone around her.

    As if to prove his point she opened her mouth and said, “Aww, is your fragile male ego hurt because she liked my kiss more than yours?” 

    Junior’s eyebrows rose. He’d heard that Lola liked girls, but he’d assumed those were ignorant rumors based on how she dressed—in baggy clothes that looked like she’d taken them from a large man’s closet. At least, he’d hoped that was the case after seeing her for the first time in the office a few weeks ago. It didn’t matter that he had no intention of actually talking to the pretty girl. A part of him was selfish enough to be hopeful. 

    Her taunt seemed to be the last straw for Jose. “Bitch. I’ll give you something to do with that smart mouth of yours.” He rushed her and crowded her into a corner before she could dodge. His hand tangled into her long dark hair and pulled it hard. 

    Junior jumped into action without thinking. There was no way he was going to sit back and let someone be hurt. Especially not a young woman who didn’t even reach Jose’s shoulder. He charged forward, trying to remember everything his abuelo had taught him about taking down someone bigger than you. 

    He wrapped his forearm around Jose’s neck and locked it into place with the crook of his other arm. He moved his head to one side just in case Jose decided to try to headbutt him. He looked down at Lola, whose head was pulled back exposing her neck and a pair of wide brown eyes.

    Junior didn’t think he’d ever seen her look scared. Pissed off and scowling yes, but not afraid. For some reason her fear released a new level of anger in him. Junior was quiet and serious, but not usually angry. Except at that moment he was livid. 

    “Let. Her. Go.” He growled in a voice he’d only ever let out when someone was messing with one of his younger siblings. When Jose didn’t immediately do as he said, Junior tightened his grip. 

    Jose let go of Lola’s hair to grab Junior’s arm with both hands and attempt to pull him off. Somehow he couldn’t. Instead he wheezed. 

    “Get behind me,” Junior barked to Lola, who was rubbing her no-doubt tender head. 

    It took her a second, but eventually she did. 

    As soon as she was behind him, Junior started to loosen his grip around Jose’s neck. However, he knew the impulsive hothead would do something in retaliation, so, at the same time he released his neck, he kicked Jose in the back of the knee. 

    He jumped out of the way as Jose went down coughing and rubbing his throat. Then he spun on his heel, grabbed Lola’s hand, and began running in the opposite direction. He wanted to put as much distance as possible between them and Jose. 

    His head swiveled back and forth, trying to find a place for them to lie low, before he grabbed the handle to a door and swung it open. He herded Lola through the empty classroom door, pulling it closed behind them, and backed them both away from the narrow glass window. A second later Junior heard uneven pounding footprints rush past the door. He stayed there silent and still until the footsteps faded. 

    Finally, he turned his attention to the girl next to him. He took a deep breath and told himself to ignore how pretty she was, but wasn’t prepared for the way her eyes would snare him as soon as they met his. Her eyes were a reddish-brown that made him think of lava the moment it hit air and began to cool—dark around the edges and still burning bright in the middle. Junior lost his ability to breathe. He couldn’t do anything but stare. 

    She was the one to break the silence. “I think he’s gone,” she whispered. 

    “He’ll double back,” Junior murmured. 

    “How do you know?” 

    “Because he’s not one to let things go.” 

    That caused her to make a face and a sound almost like a snort. 

    Junior noticed a dusting of freckles across the bridge of her screwed-up nose and pale cheeks. He blinked in confusion. It was just so incongruous for Lola León, whose entire family was known for being dangerous hard-asses, to have something as sweet and innocent as freckles. 

    When he realized how long he’d been staring at her face, and no doubt making her feel uncomfortable, he cleared his throat. “So what’d you do to piss off Jose?” he asked. 

    Lola looked like she contemplated lying, but must’ve decided against it because she replied. “I kissed his ex-girlfriend.” She looked away from him and the air around her seemed to still. It was like she was waiting for him to say something messed up. 

    “Why?” he asked. He knew Jose’s ex, Yesenia. Part of the dance squad and daughter of everyone’s favorite gym teacher, she was one of the most popular girls in the school. Sure, she was beautiful, but she was also dumb as a bag of rocks and selfish to boot. 

    “‘Why’ what?” Lola asked. 

    “Why’d you kiss her? I’ve known Yesenia since we were kids and she’s awful.” 

    Lola just stared at him. 

    Junior rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m just saying. I don’t think there’s a whole lot going on in that girl’s head. You could do better. Not to mention, she’s a very traditional girl from a very traditional family. So just, you know, be careful…” 

    Lola’s voice was full of incredulity when she asked, “Are you trying to protect my feelings?”    

    He blushed. “It’s just that.” He paused. “I mean. It can’t be easy for you to be, you know.” He paused, unsure if it would be okay for him to say the word. He didn’t want to offend her.     


     So she did like guys. The warmth on his cheeks deepened for some reason. “I just wouldn’t want you to fall for someone who would just make things harder. That’s all. You can love whoever you want, but I just think it should be someone who loves you back.” He shrugged awkwardly. 

     She tilted her head and looked at him like he was a brand-new species of animal. “You know, I think you might be one of the first people in this school to tell me that.” 

    “Tell you what?” 

    “That I can love anyone I want. Most people I know tell me it’s just a phase or that I like being difficult.” 

    Junior didn’t know how to respond, so he stayed quiet. 

    “What’s your name?” she asked. 

    “Junior,” he replied. Then he shook his head as if to clear the cobwebs. “I mean, no. That’s not right.” 

    Her smile was wry. “Do you not know your own name?” 

    He gave her a look. “My name is Santiago Vega. Like my dad, so everyone calls me Junior which really makes no sense because no one even calls my dad Santiago.” 

    “Santiago, huh? Like the city in Chile?” 

    “Right, but the city is actually named for Saint James.” 

    “I’m sure whatever he did to get that title was something super cool and not at all colonialist.”    

    Junior was so nervous that he totally missed her ironic tone. He just started talking. 

    “He was one of Jesus’s first disciples. He eventually traveled to Spain while spreading the word and ended up becoming Spain’s patron saint. You can actually follow his path from France through Spain if you want. It takes like a month to walk and leads to a huge church,” He shut his mouth abruptly, highly aware that he was babbling. The daughter of Humboldt Park’s most notorious gang leader didn’t give a shit about the religious origins of his name. 

    “You’re a bit of a nerd, huh?” Lola asked with a curl to her lips. “Makes sense you’d be named after a saint.” 

    He didn’t hear any derision in her tone, but he felt defensive anyway. “Why do you say that?”

    “Because look at you.” She gestured to him. “You jump into the middle of fights to save the underdog. You dish out words of wisdom to protect people. Don’t you volunteer in the office for fun? Shit. I bet you have straight As and help little old ladies cross the street. You basically are a saint.” 

    His brow creased. “I don’t think that’s how it works.” Besides, it wasn’t like he was perfect. He had plenty of flaws. Junior was no doubt about to embarrass himself more by enumerating said flaws, but he was quite literally saved by the bell, which blared through the room and caused them both to startle. 

    Lola recovered first. “Well, to answer your earlier question, I kissed Yesenia because she asked me to. I’m not in love with her or anything.” She slipped around him and made her way to the door. At the last moment she turned back to him. “Thanks for saving me… Saint.” Then she closed the door behind her and rushed to her next class. 

    The next morning when they saw each other down the hallway she shouted, “What up, Saint?” in her loudest voice, making sure everyone heard her, and that was it. The nickname spread around the school and then the neighborhood like a forest fire. He was no longer Junior or even Santiago. He was Saint. And Lola was no longer the troublemaker from the office. She was everything he wanted and everything he eventually lost.

Author Bio: 

Natalie Caña writes contemporary romances that allow her to incorporate her witty sense of humor and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

October Mini Musings - 6 Mini Reviews

Jewels of Halstead Manor
:  This is the first book in the Ladies of Devon series.  I thought this was an adorable romance.  I loved watching Giulia and Nicholas fall in love.  I also loved how she wormed her way into her uncle's heart. I also enjoyed the mystery as well. I highly recommend this one.  I'll definitely continue with the series.

Undercover Operation:  This is the 7th book in the Pacific Northwest K-9 Unit series.  It is a great edition to the series.  Finally, we get to fid out what happened to the kidnapped puppies that were taken toward the beginning of the series.  Lots of action in this one and the romance was sweet.  

Midnight Vengeance:  The first book in the Men of Midnight series, which is an off shoot of the Midnight series, finds Jacko helping Lauren stay safe after a public photo reveals her location to a killer. I really enjoyed this one.  Both Jacko and Lauren have secretly been pining after the other for a while.  It was kind of adorable.  There isn't really much of a msytery surrounding who is after Lauren, but there was a lot of action.  I do recommend it.

Midnight Promises:  The second book in the Men at Midnight series wasn't as enjoyable as the first on.  It was fine, I just wasn't a fan of the insta-love part of it.  Sean and Felicity fell in love way too fast for me.  The events take place over only a couple of days. I would have liked it to be longer.

Fatal Threat
:  This is the first in the Emergency Responders series.  I really didn't like this one.  It was short, but I probably should have DNF'd it.  I wasn't a fan of the couple or the plot line.  I won't continue with this series.

The Cove
:  For the most part, I did enjoy this cozy mystery.  I liked all of the characters, especially Gabrielle and the villagers she encounters. I did think the little romance was sweet.  The solution to the 2 mysteries kind of came out of nowhere for me.  The ending was very rushed as well and felt unfinished.  I'd recommend it as it was a quick and easy read.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Spotlight: Excerpt from Wyoming Proud by Diana Palmer


Author: Diana Palmer
ISBN: 9781335513090
Publication Date: October 24, 2023
Publisher: Canary Street Press

Businesswoman Erianne Mitchell falls hard for entrepreneur Ty Mosby and they quickly get engaged. But their whirlwind romance ends quickly when he gets faulty information that she betrayed him in business. They part ways, leaving both heart-broken, confused, and Erianne secretly pregnant, not to mention blacklisted for every company in town. 
Erianne has to start over and she goes to Wyoming to care for her growing child. Even though furious that Ty didn't believe in her, she can't help missing the man she loves. She builds a life with her child and by cleaning houses.
By accident, as she's rushing to the doctor with her baby, she and Ty see each other. He knows she never deceived him, but can ever get Erianne to trust him again?

Buy Links:
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Ty Mosby was bored out of his mind. He could have been home with his sister, Annie, watching that dragon drama on cable. Even that would be better than this stupid office party with two women drooling over him. One was recently divorced. The other was married. Women!

He turned around and almost fell over Erianne Mitchell. Well, her name was Erianne. Nobody called her that. She was just Erin to Ty and his sister, Annie. He glowered at her.

“It’s not my fault that you’re gorgeous,” she teased. “Mary over there has forgotten her ex-husband in her fever to get you into a dark room. And Henrietta—” she nodded toward a gan- gly woman with wild dark hair who was sighing into her drink as she studied him over it “—hasn’t given her husband a thought all night. Just as well,” she added under her breath, “because he’s running around with the Tarver woman.”

“What are you, the town crier?” he chided.

“It’s a nasty job, but somebody has to do it,” she replied with sparkling gray eyes. She laughed and half turned away, her dark hair in an elegant chignon at the back of her neck. “And there’s

Grace. Didn’t you date her last year?”

“Oh, God,” he groaned.

“There, there, she hasn’t noticed you. She’s too busy trying to get Danny Barnes to notice her. He just inherited his grandfather’s ranch over in Comanche Wells.”

“I’ve had my fill of social climbers,” he muttered. He was giving her the once-over with black eyes. “On the other hand, there’s you.”

“Oh, don’t be absurd, I’m not your type,” she murmured, her mind on something else altogether. It was a lie. She’d loved him forever, but Ty couldn’t see her for dust. And why should he? She was plain compared to the women who chased him. He was absolutely gorgeous. He had jet-black hair and black eyes, and light olive skin that made him look even more gorgeous in that spotless white shirt he was wearing with his dinner jacket and slacks. No wonder women drooled over him. Erin had drooled over him for years and hid it so carefully that not even his sister realized it.

“Why not?” he asked, really curious.

“I don’t run around with men.”

He blinked. “You run around with women?”

“I don’t run around period.”

“You’re what, now, twenty-five? You’d better run around with somebody or you’re going to get left behind.”

“You’re thirty-one and you’re already left behind. Besides, I work for you,” she added. “I don’t get involved with people that I work for.”

“We could make an exception,” he pointed out.

She glared at him. “Tyson Regan Mosby,” she said, exasperated. “If you keep this up, I’m calling Annie.”

“God forbid!” he groaned.

“She loves you. She’ll protect you from predatory females.”

“I’ll give you a great job recommendation if you’ll find my sister a husband,” he coaxed.

“Annie doesn’t want to get married yet,” she said. “Any more than you do. And I don’t need a job recommendation unless you have in mind firing me tonight.”

He made a face. “I don’t have enough people as it is. Other San Antonio businesses keep luring our best people away. Even the ones I fire.” He didn’t like firing people, but he sometimes had to. Even though his company was headquartered in San Antonio, people from Jacobsville worked for it. Mosby Construction Company had grown under Ty’s management. He’d taken a little construction company owned by his father and built it into a major contender. He had a degree in architecture. He loved to build things.

He had inherited wealth, he and Annie, and he didn’t really need to work. But he loved his job. And San Antonio was the best place for his company headquarters, although he and Annie still lived in Jacobsville. Ty and Annie were direct descendants of the town’s founder, Big John Jacobs, who’d talked his father-in-law into putting a a railroad through Jacobsville and built it into a cattle shipping center in south Texas back in the nineteenth century.

“Well, isn’t that just like you,” she said, exasperated. “I brought you a brand new human resources manager just last week!”

“He drinks vodka,” he said irritably. “I don’t trust men who drink vodka.”

“How do you know what he drinks?” she asked.

“I asked him.”


“What are you looking for?” he probed.


“Excuse me?”

“Clarence Hodges,” she muttered, peering over a nearby woman’s shoulder. “He’s like my personal devil. I can’t turn around at a party without running into him.”

He didn’t like that, but he hid it. “What does he want?”

She looked up at him with raised eyebrows. “He wants me!”


She really rolled her eyes. “Annie needs to get you a book or something about human relationships.”

He grinned. “I think I can figure those out without self-help diagrams.”

“Can you, now?” she murmured absently, still looking for Clarence.

He’d known her for years. She was as familiar to him as her best friend, his only sibling, Annie. She’d spent weekends with them all through high school and through community college, where Erin got an associate’s degree in business education. She was great at cost estimates, which was her position in the company. She had a brilliant mind for math. She could do most anything on a computer, even rework spreadsheet programs that he used in his construction company. She was his right arm at work, perfectly capable of standing in for him at meetings because she knew the business inside out. Of course, why wouldn’t she, when she’d worked there part-time through high school and full-time during and after college. He trusted her. Well, on a professional basis. He wasn’t keen on thinking about anything more personal. Erin was standoffish. Once, just once, he’d teased her about going dancing with him and she’d mumbled something noncommital and shot out of the room.

He’d never admit it, of course, but it had bruised his ego. Erin wasn’t beautiful. She had pleasant features. Nice mouth, pretty complexion, gorgeous figure, sparkling eyes. But she dressed like an old woman most of the time, and she never seemed to date anyone. He’d wondered why. He’d even asked Annie, but all he got was a blank look and a smile.

He studied Erin while she looked around for the man she dreaded seeing. It wasn’t so much how she looked that made her attractive, he decided finally; it was her personality. She was warm and friendly to most people, outrageously funny around friends, and she loved animals. That last thing was important to him, because he bred and trained purebred German shepherds.

His dogs were like part of the family. They lived inside with him and Annie in their huge inherited mansion in Jacobsville, Texas. The puppies, when he bred them, had their own room and a caretaker who watched over them and kept their living quarters spic and span and odorless. He rarely had more than one litter a year and by a different female each year, from an outside stud male. No interbreeding at all, because it invited birth defects. He loved the pups when they came and had to be persuaded to give them up for adoption. Even so, he actually ran background checks on potential adopters, right down to requiring photographs of their yards and the pup’s living quarters. He was protective.

A recent adopter had taken a leather strap to his puppy when it made a mess on the carpet, and a neighbor had seen and heard what was going on. She’d promptly phoned Annie, who told Ty. He’d gone to the owner’s house that very day, accompanied by police chief Cash Grier and the local vet, Dr. Bentley Rydel, along with a search warrant that would give them access to the dog in question.

To say that the man was shocked was an understatement. He hemmed and hawed and tried to weasel them out of looking at the dog. Cash Grier glared at him. That was all it took.

Most everybody was scared of the town’s police chief, who was nice enough at public gatherings, but hell on lawbreakers of any kind. Cash loved animals as much as the vet and Ty.

The owner was forced to give them access to the puppy, which had been locked in a closet with bloody marks on its back.

Ty had slugged the man before his companions could react. He picked the pup up, gently, and after Cash took photos to document the abuse, walked out the door with Bently Rydel, to end up at his office where the poor little morsel was treated and sent home after an antibiotic shot and stitches. Cash had promptly arrested the owner. The pup’s owner went on trial, was convicted and sentenced to jail. Nobody in Jacobsville liked a dog beater. The jury had only deliberated for ten minutes, despite the harried public defender’s best efforts. All the District Attorney, Blake Kemp, had to do was put up a poster-sized photo of the abused puppy for the jury and the audience to see. It had drawn gasps and the pup’s owner had looked around at glares that felt like burns on his skin.

“What’s the matter with you?” Erin asked, glancing at his taut face.

“Puppy beaters,” he muttered.

Her expression softened. “The man got what he deserved. How is Beauregard, by the way?” she added.

He smiled. “He still whimpers in his sleep. I keep him with me at night. Rhodes isn’t enthusiastic about it, but I think he senses that the puppy needs to be spoiled for a few weeks.

Actually,” he added on a chuckle, “it’s Rhodes’s bed that they sleep in, curled up together. For an old dog, Rhodes is amazingly sweet.”

“You’ve had him a long time,” she remarked.

He nodded. “Thirteen years. I worry about him. Big dogs don’t have the life span that smaller ones do.”

“Rhodes is practically immortal,” she replied with a smile. “He’s pampered.”

“I guess so. Dad gave him to me as a Christmas present the year I graduated high school.”

“I remember your parents. They were so sweet,” she added. “Your mother and mine were best friends.”

“Hell of a shame, what happened,” he said stiffly.

She nodded. “It’s a rare thing, to have a tour bus go off the road and crash down a ravine. But those mountain roads in South America can be treacherous. Your parents were so much in love,” she added quietly. “It’s hard to imagine one going on without the other.”

“That’s what Annie and I thought,” he replied. “But it’s damned tough, losing them both at once.”

“I remember. At least you were both grown at the time,” she added softly.

He drew in a breath. “Didn’t help much,” he muttered.

“For what it’s worth, I know how it is. It was hard for Dad and me to go on, after we lost Mom.”

“Your mother had a hard life,” he said.

She sighed. “Yes. Dad’s hard to live with. He’s not mean or anything, he just makes stupid decisions and runs his mouth when he shouldn’t. Jack Dempsey won’t even speak to him.”

“That must hurt. They’re best friends.”

“They were,” she said sadly. “Dad was repeating some gossip that he’d heard about Jack’s wife running around on him. It got exaggerated, by Dad,” she muttered, “and Jack’s wife divorced him. It wasn’t even true. My father has a gift for saying things without thinking first.”

“A lot of people are like that.”

She grimaced. “I wish they’d had more kids than just me,” she confessed, looking up at him. “It would be easier to manage Dad if I had brothers and sisters to share the misery.”

He chuckled. “You do pretty good.”

She shrugged. “I could do better. I’d have to take away his phone though.”

His eyebrows arched.

“This guy called dad and said he could save ten dollars a month if he switched our long distance to their company. Dad said great, let’s do it. So I tried to phone one of our colleagues at home in Dallas last weekend and got told that we didn’t have long distance anymore. It was a scam. Dad had no idea what he’d done. I tried not to yell,” she added on a laugh. “Honestly, he’s like a little kid sometimes. Ten dollars a month.” She shook her head.

“My mother was like that,” he reminded her. “She got a call telling her the sheriff was coming over to arrest her for a bill she hadn’t paid. The man asked for pre-paid gift cards to save her from jail. She was halfway out the door on her way to town when I stopped her to ask what was wrong. Sadly for him, the scammer was still on her phone talking her through the process.”

She grinned. “I’ll bet his ears are still burning, wherever he is.”

“I imagine so. I was really mad.”

“Do you still have that jar your mother made for you? The one you had to put money in for every bad word you used?”

He laughed. “Yes. It doesn’t get fed, but I’ve still got it.” His eyes were sad with the memory. “She wanted to be a missionary, but Dad came along. She’d lived on a budget for so long that she almost ran away when she saw how much he was worth.” That was true. Her father had inherited a lot of money from his late mother, but he squandered it all on get rich quick schemes. He was still doing that, albeit on a very small shoestring. Erin wore herself out trying to save him from himself.

“A unique woman,” Ty continued. “She really didn’t care about money at all.” He studied her quietly. “Sort of like you.”

She sighed. “I like being able to buy food and gas and pay bills. That’s what money’s good for. There are lots of things it won’t buy.”

He nodded.

“Besides that, I work for this terrific manager who gives me raises,” she added with twinkling gray eyes.

“I don’t have to think too hard to do that,” he said. “I know how hard you work.”

“I’m just grateful to have a job. The economy is pretty bad right now.”

“It is,” he agreed. “Even this company has to be careful. You’re working on that bid now, the one we hope will get us the job just outside San Antonio in Bexar County; a whole retirement complex. It’s worth millions.”

“You’ll get it,” she said with supreme confidence. “You really do know how to undercut the other bidders. And I know how to price out almost everything,” she said, not bragging, just making a statement. She was a good cost estimator.

“We can undercut most of the major bidders,” he corrected. “But I’ve heard that one of them is Jason Whitehall. He and his son Josh have one of the best construction companies around south Texas.”

“His son’s a dish,” she mused.

“And how would you know?” he asked.

“I ran into him at that conference you sent me to, in Dallas, month before last. He looks just like his dad. All three of them were there, Jason and Amanda and Josh.” She sighed. “They’re just beginning to get over losing Jason’s mother, Marguerite. She was a lovely lady. So kind.”

“You know a lot about them,” he said.

“Well, one of our clients was trying to retool his public image and Amanda still owns that PR firm, so she was there getting information from him. She’s very nice. We keep in touch on Facebook.”

“Don’t keep in touch too closely,” he cautioned with snapping black eyes. “They’re competitors.”

“As if I’d ever sell you out,” she said, exasperated, as she stared up at him. “Get real! Annie would have me for breakfast, smothered in jelly!”

He relaxed. “Okay. Just testing the waters.”

She ground her teeth together. “Oh, no.”

He followed her irritated glance and saw a short, rotund man with thinning hair and a big smile headed toward them.

“I told you so,” she moaned. “I’ll go hide in the rest room… Ty!”

His arm was around her waist and he smiled down at her shocked expression. “Don’t give the game away. Smile.”

She did, trying hard to disguise the sudden acceleration of her heartbeat as she felt the strength and heat of his powerful body, smelled the spicy, clean scent of him. She’d danced with him at parties, rarely, and it had been just as problematic, to keep her headlong feelings for him from showing.

He felt a shiver go through her and his brows drew together just for an instant. Surely she wasn’t afraid of him?

Then he felt her heart race where her small, firm breasts were pressed close against him, and odd feelings stirred. Her breath was coming too fast. She was trying to disguise it, but he knew more about women than he ever let on in public.

She stiffened and started to pull back, but his arm tightened.

“What are you afraid of?” he asked in a slow, deep tone.

“Noth…nothing,” she faltered.

“Lies,” he mused. “Here.” He handed her his drink. “Liquid courage. Take a sip and we’ll ward off your would-be suitor.”

She took the glass, sniffed it, and made a face. “It’s whiskey. I hate whiskey!”

“Take a sip. It works better than it smells. Trust me.”

She took a deep breath, held it, and forced about a teaspoon of the vile-smelling liquid into her mouth. She choked it down, catching her breath.

“You could fuel trucks with this,” she muttered as she handed it back.

“This is the very finest aged Scotch whiskey,” he defended. “And now I’ll know not to share my most precious substance with those same people you don’t cast pearls before!”

She glared at him. “I am not a swine!”

“No, you aren’t,” he agreed. He cocked his head and his black eyes twinkled. “But I’ll bet you taste almost as good as a barbequed one,” he added in a slow, soft tone as his eyes fell to her pretty, soft mouth.

She actually gasped and her heart ran wild.

“My, my, is that the whiskey or me?” he asked, his eyes dropping to the fluttering of her heart, very visible under the thin bodice of her pale blue cocktail dress.

“Don’t you stare at me like that,” she said indignantly.

“Like what?” he asked, amused.

“Oh, hi, Erin,” Clarence Hodges said as he joined them. He looked crestfallen when he noticed Ty’s arm around her. “I was hoping you might like to talk to me about having your company do a remodeling job on my new house…?”

She forced a smile. “I’m truly sorry, Clarence, but that isn’t the sort of project we do,” she said in a gentle but professional tone. “We do big projects. Shopping centers. Apartments. Housing complexes. That sort of thing.”

“It’s a big house,” he persisted.

“Erin’s right, we don’t do small projects,” Ty told him, and the irritation he was feeling was visible in the tautness of his unsmiling face. “Even if we did, we’re already overbooked. Sorry,” he added. But he didn’t look sorry. He looked oddly threatening.

Clarence swallowed. Hard. His face flushed. “I see. Well…” He smiled hopefully at Erin. “Maybe you might like to come over and have coffee with me one morning?”

Ty’s chin lifted. His black eyes narrowed. He glared at the smaller man.

Erin just smiled.

“Oh, there’s Billy Olstead,” he said, looking past Erin’s shoulder. “I need to talk to him about my mother’s new car. I’ll see you later,” he added to Erin and smiled again, nervously, as he made a beeline toward the newcomer.

“Thanks,” Erin said with a heavy release of breath. “He’s not a bad man, but he can be annoying.”

“Annie says he’s started calling you two or three times a week.”

“He does,” she agreed sadly. “I can’t make him understand that I just don’t feel that way about him. I’ve never done a single thing that he could construe as encouraging.”

“It wouldn’t help,” he replied. “Men like that don’t take hints. They think they’re irresistible and it only needs persistence to wear you down.”

“He’d need more persistence than he’s got,” she said flatly.

He pursed his lips. “You could go out with me.”

Her eyes widened. “What?”

He shrugged. “You could go out with me. Jacobsville is small. It would get all around town in no time that we were dating. Clarence would hear it from everybody.” He chuckled. “Even Clarence wouldn’t be able to convince himself that he’d be any competition for me.”

“Well, yes, but…”

“But, what?” he asked quietly, and he looked down into her eyes until she flushed. Her heart was trying to get out of her chest now.

She couldn’t even find words. It was like having every dream of her life come true unexpectedly, and all at once. She was breathless, giddy. But it was insane to even think of doing it, of going out with him. The gossip would be terrible. It wouldn’t matter that the company where they worked was in San Antonio; too many employees lived in Jacobsville, where Ty and Erin lived. It would be all over town in no time. When he didn’t go out with her a second time, it would be even worse. People would start wondering what was wrong with her.

“I don’t think,” she began.

“Good. Don’t. Thinking is responsible for most of the misery on the planet. We can go dancing. There’s a Latin club up in San Antonio.”

He knew she could do Latin dances. He’d taught her how, for a high school date. How many years ago that seemed now!


Amazing. She was reluctant. He’d never had any woman try to refuse a date with him. It was intriguing, especially considering how fast her heart was going right now. She was attracted to him. Was it new? Or had she always been attracted, but kept it hidden? He wanted to find out.

“Live dangerously. A little gossip never hurt anybody,” he teased.

It did, but he wouldn’t know, not with his spotless reputation. Well, hers was spotless, too. So spotless that she didn’t want to risk staining it, however lightly.

“People will talk. A lot.”

He just smiled. “Your friends won’t care. What your enemies think won’t matter.”

“Yes, but I hate gossip.”

He cocked his head and smiled at her with those black eyes making sensual promises. “There’s a sushi place just down the block from the Latin club,” he said. “They have ebi.”

Ebi was her favorite sushi dish. It was so expensive that she couldn’t work it into her budget. Her father did contribute a little to the family kitty, but never enough. They lived frugally because he was a spendthrift. Ty didn’t know and it would kill her pride to confess it.

She loved sushi, especially ebi. She couldn’t afford it.

“You’re weakening. Think about it. Chilled shrimp with rice. Wasabe and soy sauce and pickled ginger to go on it…”

“Stop! You’re torturing me!”

He chuckled. “I love it, too. Come on. Say yes.”

She drew in a long breath. “Okay,” she blurted out, against her own best interests.

He grinned. “Okay.”

When she got home that night, she could have kicked herself for agreeing.

Her father was watching television. A movie on DVD. They couldn’t afford cable or satellite. The only reason she had a high-end cell phone was that the company provided it for her, along with a company car. These would have been luxuries, even on her good salary.

“I’m home,” she said.

“Hi.” He grinned at her while the commercial was on. “Had fun?”

“It was a business party,” she reminded him.

“Easy enough to have fun and do business. Speaking of business, I saw this commercial on TV about how to invest in the stock market by doing day-trading…”


“Now, Erin…”

“No,” she repeated. “We’re still paying off that course you took learning how to sell real estate,” she added pointedly.

He grimaced. “I didn’t know I was a bad salesman until I tried it.”

“Well, trying things is what got us into this financial mess, Dad,” she said, sitting down across from him. “I’m making a good salary. If we live on a budget, we can make it, just. But there’s no extra money. None at all. I can’t work two jobs.”

He studied her with the face of a child. “But it’s only two hundred dollars, this course, I mean.”

“I don’t have two hundred dollars. Not even in savings. That went to the online gambling website you found,” she added, trying not to sound as accusing as she felt.

He grimaced. “I guess I’m not as good a gambler as I thought, either. But, listen, this course,” he began again.

“I can get an apartment of my own and move out,” she said flatly.

He gasped. “Erin, no!”

“I can’t live with the way you spend money, Dad. Either you stop trying to spend it on things we don’t need, or I’m bailing out.” She felt a hundred years old. “I can’t keep bailing you out. We already owe more than I make in a year. I’m just one person.”

“I do help out,” he said stiffly.

“You do odd jobs and you spend what you make as soon as you get it,” she replied.

He flushed. He couldn’t deny that.

“I’ll try to restrain myself. I will.” He smiled. “But the man said that this course is foolproof.”

She ground her teeth together as she got up. “I’m going to bed.”

“If you’d just listen,” he said sadly.

She turned. “I’ve listened since Mom died,” she said. “And every single thing you’ve spent money on has cost us money without returning any. I’m so tired of debt, can’t you understand that? I’m being crushed by the weight of it, worried to death about it, and you just can’t seem to see what it’s doing to me.”

He blinked. He shifted uneasily in his chair. “I’ll do better next time. You’ll see.”

“Next time it had better be your own money that you’re betting,” she replied and toughened her stance. “Or I’m moving out.”

“You’re being unreasonable, Erin,” he retorted. “You don’t love me.”

“I do love you. And you’re the one being unreasonable. Good night.”

She went into her bedroom and closed the door, sick at heart. It was like trying to explain to a child. Her father had always lived in the clouds, but her mother had been able to manage him with supreme ease. Erin couldn’t.

“I’ll spend the rest of my life paying off his bills and then I’ll die,” she thought miserably. “I’ll never get away.”

Which was the one reason she could never let Ty Mosby see how she felt about him. Everybody knew her father kept them poor, but not how catastrophically. Ty would never be sure of her. Was she dating him because she cared for him or because he could pay off their debts.

It was an unrealistic thought, but she was almost panicked at the thought of dating Ty. She’d have to find some way to back out of it, a way that wouldn’t hurt his pride. All her life, her father had been a stone around her neck. Since her mother’s death, it had been much worse.

It would have helped if she had someone to talk to about it, but her only real friend was Annie, and she’d never be able to tell Annie the truth. It would just get back to Ty. Her pride wouldn’t take that.

She wanted that date with all her heart. It was just too risky. She was crazy about him. It might show. There were so many reasons that she didn’t dare let him see what she felt. Her father was the biggest one.

But there was another. Ty wasn’t a marrying man. He kept his liaisons very private, but he’d had relationships in the past. In a small town like this, they wouldn’t be able to hide one.

Erin had a spotless reputation. She wasn’t having it damaged to keep steady company with a man who only wanted one thing from a woman, and it wasn’t love.

So, better not to complicate her life any more than it was already complicated. Which left the problem of her father to solve, if it could be solved. She would never be free of him and his get-rich schemes that never paid off. She’d be in debt until she died.

She put on her gown and crawled gratefully under the covers. She’d think about it tomorrow, she told herself. Tonight, she was going to savor her memory of Ty’s arm around her, his deep voice sensuous as he teased her about going on a date.

It could never happen. But dreaming about it hurt nobody. Especially not Erin.

Excerpted from Wyoming Proud by Diana Palmer. Copyright © 2023 by Diana Palmer. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.


Author Bio: 
The prolific author of more than one hundred books, Diana Palmer got her start as a newspaper reporter. A New York Times bestselling author and voted one of the top ten romance writers in America, she has a gift for telling the most sensual tales with charm and humor. Diana lives with her family in Cornelia, Georgia.
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