He was a risk she was willing to take…
Brett Wallace was having the worst wedding day ever, suffering insult after injury when his motorcycle breaks down as he’s fleeing the church and his unfaithful fiancée. Still, things are looking better when he’s picked up by a beautiful stranger. It gets even better when she shows up at his motel room, thinking they could keep each other’s company for the evening.
Lauren Baker left her possessive ex-spouse, over-protective parents and her too-sheltered life in the rear view mirror. She’s exploring new horizons and hoping for a bit of adventure. When she picks up a cowboy stranded on the road in the Arizona desert, she finds herself launched into the adventure—and possibly the romance—of a lifetime. The only problem is that she might never want it to end.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Are you sure you know what you’re doing?
Lauren Baker looked down the road before her with no small bit of fear, her best friend Becky’s question ringing in her ears. She was south of Tucson and to say the route curling down into the desert canyon was steep was an understatement. Raised in Connecticut, she’d never in her life encountered such death-trap roads as she was discovering in Arizona.
Was she sure? Hell, no. That was the whole point.
She was a week and a half into her no-schedule, no-destination, no-obligations trip across the country. She had two credit cards, a debit card, her cell phone, one paper map in case she lost coverage, and what clothes and extras she could fit into the trunk of her Toyota Corolla. That’s all. Everything else—not that there was a whole heck of a lot left—she’d told Becky to sell along with her house.
Getting back into the car, she pulled back out onto the road and inched around another excruciatingly sharp curve, ignoring the drop of several hundred feet to her right. She had to fight the impulse to shut her eyes. Since acrophobia topped her long list of fears, her main challenge right now was not completely freaking out about the possibility of plunging to her death.
“C’mon Lauren,” she said aloud to herself. “This is all part of your new, no-wimping-out life, remember?”
An only child of parents who’d wanted a large family but didn’t end up having one, she’d grown up center stage. ‘Overprotected’ would be a mild description of her childhood, and that had led her down a certain very cushioned, very protected path. Now she was trying to carve a new one for herself. One that included dangerous roads.
Her mom and dad didn’t shower her with love, they’d drowned her in it. Knowing so much of their happiness revolved around her, she’d grown up not wanting to do anything that would disappoint them. It was one of the reasons she’d waited so long to divorce Wes.
They’d been surprisingly supportive, but they’d also been very upset when she’d refused their offer to come back home after the split. They hadn’t understood how she needed to strike out on her own, after escaping Wes’s smothering possessiveness. She’d lived her life in cocoons…now she needed cliffs.
One of her father’s ace employees, Wes had been Lauren’s first lover, her husband. He had had her parents’ stamp of approval, especially when Wes had decided to break away from his job and start his own business with Lauren.
Equal partners, supposedly.
Instead, it had been the beginning of her personal nightmare. Wes had never been physically abusive. He hadn’t even been verbally abusive in the technical sense—unless you counted him asking her to account for every minute of her day and his endless questions about her activities, friends and whereabouts. Eventually, explaining everything to him had become impossible, and she’d stopped going out altogether, which had been a big mistake.
He’d won. She’d let him.
Together they had operated a successful, and profitable, consulting business. Lauren’s specialty was as an efficiency expert—she would go into businesses and streamline their production methods and anything else that was causing losses within a company. As a sideline, she’d also started consulting on the home front—helping people with time management and organizing their space.
Wes had put the kibosh on that as soon she started building a substantial client list of her own. When she’d received flowers from a man she’d helped, an innocent gesture of thanks, Wes had made her life miserable until she had given up her home consulting.
Little by little, he’d stopped scheduling her outside appointments, hiring a new employee to take over her accounts, relegating her to the home office. Attempting to save her marriage, she’d gone along.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
By that time, she had no friends except for Becky. She rarely saw her parents and almost never left the house. Deciding to take back some control, she’d called an old friend to go shopping.
When Wes arrived home and discovered she wasn’t there, he’d flipped out. He forbade her to ever leave the house without his knowledge again. That week she’d moved in with Becky, and the next month she served Wes with divorce papers.
Now here she was, driving down these winding desert roads, cliffs at every turn.
Taking a deep breath, she shifted her thoughts away from the past. No more of that, she thought, and applied slightly more pressure to the accelerator as she worked her way smoothly around the next curve. Smiling, she let out a tiny whoop of success.
No more letting anyone run her life but her. No more living in fear of what lay around the next corner. No more playing it safe. Playing it safe had only led her down the wrong roads, living her life for everyone except herself. There was so much she had to discover, and so much to experience. Now was the time to do it.
According to the map, there was a town called Soul Springs—nice name—at the bottom of this canyon. Maybe she’d stay awhile, who knows?
No plans, no limits. That was her motto.
She sang along with the music blaring from her radio, chasing away the crippling ghosts of the past. The clear blue desert sky spread out before her. Dizzying heights aside, this was some of the most spectacular scenery she’d ever laid eyes on.
“Whoa!” she yelled, panic sucking in her breath as a motorcycle zoomed up behind her, then around her, seeming so close she thought it might rip off her hubcaps it skimmed so close. The loud rattle of the bike’s powerful engine deafened her momentarily, adding to the shock of its sudden appearance. In a flat second, the speeding cyclist was gone, literally leaving her in his dust.
Pulling into small turnout, she put the car in Park and took several deep breaths, stilling her shaking hands and pounding pulse.
“Jerk!” she spat belatedly along with a number of other choice words at the daredevil who’d almost scared her to death. Who drove these roads like that? It was irresponsible, dangerous and just plain stupid.
“Might as well stretch my legs and let that moron get as far ahead as possible,” she muttered. Getting out, she walked over to the passenger side, a safe distance from the edge, trying to enjoy the view.
Frowning at her own apprehension, she took a step forward. There was nothing to be afraid of—the guardrail was there, and it wasn’t like someone was going to push her over the side. It was a stunning landscape.
No wimps allowed.
One more step forward, then another.
Adrenaline pounded in her veins, her breath a little shallow as she stared out over the valleys and mountains, awestruck. The dry wind was hot on her face, but the heat relaxed her, permeating her skin, claiming her.
“Oh my God,” she breathed the words out, overcome. It was so beautiful. So vast. Opening her arms to the vast space, she laughed, and then laughed again at her echo.
“You’ve come a long way, baby,” she joked aloud, feeling cocky and brave. She risked a look down over the rail and then skittered back from the edge.
“Okay, well, baby steps,” she reassured herself, shuffling back to the solid safety of the car, her hands shaking a bit, but she was still smiling. Behind the wheel, now she was anticipating the rest of the drive more than ever.
Switching the radio to a different station, she looked up, surprised to see that daredevil motorcyclist again. The bike was parked, its slanted posture mimicking the way the man who rode it leaned against the guardrail as if there weren’t a sheer drop on the other side. Even more amazing, he was standing there in a tux, the collar ripped back, his black tie hanging crookedly.
She drove closer, going slowly again—square jaw, dusty, sun-bleached sandy hair—she wasn’t sure what to make of him. Part GQ model, part Road Warrior. Maybe she’d give him a piece of her mind for passing so hazardously, but something about his expression and his posture suggested that maybe she’d be better off driving by.
A lifetime of training in good manners wouldn’t allow it though; he clearly needed help.
He was tall. As she pulled the car up near him, she could see that the wind had apparently whipped the crap out of what was once a lovely boutonniere. When he fixed intense green eyes on her, she met his stare. There was something wild in that look, a feral gleam.
She rolled down the window. “Is everything okay?”
Nice voice, not as smooth as she would have expected, given the tux. Gravely. The voice was definitely Road Warrior, low and dry.
“Lucky you’re alive at all, the way you drive,” she said under her breath.
He might have heard, but he didn’t say anything. She tried again.
“On your way somewhere?” she asked.
“Can I make a call for you? Triple A?”
Lauren frowned. He wasn’t being very cooperative.
She should leave.
“Do you want a ride?” The words were past her lips before she could reconsider them.
He appeared to consider, too, pausing, and then answered her with one short, curt nod. As he reached for the door handle, she wondered what the heck she was doing.
He settled into her small front seat, looked at her and smiled ever so slightly, wiping out every coherent thought she’d ever had.
She never picked up hitchhikers—what rational woman did? But he wasn’t exactly hitching, was he? In her experience, most hitchhikers weren’t hanging around in designer tuxes, either.
He paused again, staring out the window, and shrugged. “Surprise me.”