NYT Bestselling Author A.L. Jackson has the prologue AND first chapter of her upcoming single dad, enemies-to-lovers romance, Love Me Today, available to read now. Coming May 29th!
Energy crackled through the dim-lit hall.
Tension binding the oxygen in attraction and need.
Every-fucking-thing I could no longer ignore as I stared at her where she hovered in front of her door.
“Caleb.” My name barely hit the air.
At the sound of it, I broke.
I crossed the space. No restraint left.
My hand dove into her hair at the side of her head, and I curled the other around her waist and tugged her against me.
We collided in a torrent of greed.
Mouths and tongues and spirits that no longer knew how to exist without the other.
We spun, gripping at each other, desperate to erase every inch of space as I kissed her.
Kissed her with a madness that burned me to the soul.
This woman who’d scored herself into the places I wasn’t supposed to let her go.
Because I knew what I brought into the lives of the people I cared about.
I knew the price they paid.
And I should have known what touching her would cost…
Chapter One – Paisley
Leave it to me to be late, but it couldn’t be helped.
Gathering the straps of the reusable grocery bags, I slung them over my shoulder and shifted my cell to my other ear as I hustled out the automatic doors of the small grocery store.
“You know I don’t have many details,” I told my bestie Dakota as I jogged toward my old truck in the parking lot, my boots thudding hard on the pavement. I pinned my phone between my ear and shoulder so I could dig my keys from my bag. “You know Ryder got me the gig. Some cousin he doesn’t know all that well has a little girl who got her first pony, and she needs to learn how to ride it. Easy peasy.”
Extra cash in my pocket. Exactly what I needed.
“Are you sure you don’t just want to come and work with me at the café? We’re slammed this morning. I could really use the extra help.”
A small chuckle got free. “Which is why you’re wasting your time on the phone with me?”
“Hello, bestie duties. I needed to get the details before you run off to some rando stranger’s house in the middle of nowhere. You haven’t even talked to the guy. You could end up dead in a ditch somewhere. Buried in a shallow grave. Locked in an attic or basement with some freak telling you that you’re his new pet.”
I could physically feel Dakota shudder through the phone. She was so dramatic.
“You really should stop listening to true crime podcasts before you go to bed at night. Your paranoia is getting out of control. Besides, this is Ryder’s cousin we’re talking about. He isn’t going to send me to some serial killer’s house.”
At least I hoped so because it was super odd this guy had only communicated through email, all formal and calling me Ms. Dae, referring to himself as Mr. Greyson as he gave me the precise time to show at his ranch.
What a weirdo.
As far as I knew, Ryder had spent summers with him growing up, but they hadn’t seen that much of each other as adults, and the mysterious Mr. Greyson had moved into Time River about six months back. In all that time, I didn’t think anyone had ever even met the guy, which considering the size of the town we lived in, that was on the questionable side.
He had to be some kind of recluse, I guessed.
“It’s fine,” I told her. “You know Ryder wouldn’t lead me astray.”
“Okay, just text me as soon as you’re done. I want all the details. Or wait, come into the café so you can tell me face-to-face. Even better.”
A giggle slipped up my throat. “You missed me while I was away, didn’t you?”
“I won’t even try to deny it. This town was boring as crap without you.”
Regret pulled at my ribcage. The intense kind because you could never make up for time that had passed or the things you had missed. But I couldn’t wallow in the mistakes that I had made, I could only make sure I never repeated them again.
“I promise you will be bored no more,” I said like a solemn oath. “Mack’s Friday night?”
These cowgirl boots were made for dancing, and I was about to set them free.
“Um, you could not keep me away. Kayden is having a sleepover at my mom’s, and this girl is ready to get her party on.”
Dakota’s son was almost two. He’d been born while I’d been living in Arizona. It was just another thing I’d missed—being there when he was an infant, being there for my best friend.
“I can’t wait,” I told her. “I gotta run. I just picked up my grandpa’s medication and need to drop it off at his house before I head out to this interview, and I’m wicked late already.”
“Give your grandpa a hug for me.”
“Will do. Talk to you soon, Doodle-Boo.”
Ending the call, I yanked open the door to my old truck who I lovingly called Maybe.
Her hinges creaked in protest.
Yes, I’d named her. She’d been with me from the beginning, since I was sixteen and had scraped together enough money to buy her, and she’d been by my side through every escapade I’d embarked on ever since.
I tossed the grocery bags across the bench seat and hopped in, and I pushed myself up close to the steering wheel as I leaned in and stuffed the key into the ignition. I bounced as I gave it a little gas and cranked it over, coaxing her with sweet nothings. “That’s it. We have this. It’s you and me, Maybe. Don’t let me down now.”
She roared to life.
And I mean, roared, my old girl rumbling and chugging and vibrating like a raring beast. I caressed a hand over the weathered dash that sported a crack rivaling the Grand Canyon that ran from one side to the other, a perfect reflection of the one that ran across the windshield. “You’re so good to me.”
My phone pinged, and I glanced to the side where it was sitting on the seat.
Ryder: Don’t be late.
I rolled my eyes. As if.
Okay. Fine. I was always late.
Ryder knew me well. And truth be told, I didn’t want to make him look bad, so I pressed down on the brake as I shoved the gear into reverse.
Plus, I really needed this job. No, I really wanted this job.
I could feel the hope of it vibrating through my spirit, and I needed to get my butt in gear before I messed up this opportunity before it even started.
I glanced in the rearview mirror, squinting against the blinding rays of morning light that streaked in as the sun climbed into the endless expanse of blue Colorado sky.
I gunned it out of the spot.
I jarred forward when Maybe banged into something from out of nowhere. The sound of grating metal was garbled by the screech that tore up my throat.
I rammed back on the brakes, holding tight to the steering wheel, blinking through the confusion, before my mind finally caught up to what had just happened.
“Crap,” I grumbled under my breath, and I tossed it into park and hopped out. I absolutely didn’t have time for this.
My boots hit the pavement, and I rounded the rear to find Maybe’s tail-end banged up against the bumper of a shiny black Range Rover.
Just freaking awesome.
The SUV was halfway out of its spot, too, and appeared to have been pulling out to head the opposite direction. The two vehicles had made impact right in the middle of the aisle.
I knelt to inspect the spot where we’d collided.
There was only a small dent and a scratch on the Rover’s bumper, and my truck didn’t have any damage at all.
It didn’t look bad. Nope, not too bad at all.
Except I was pretty sure the other driver might not agree when I felt the dark cloud descend from above.
Warily, I looked up, and my heart pitched in my chest.
I could barely make him out with the sunlight that blurred around him, the man a silhouette of darkness that towered two feet away. That didn’t mean I couldn’t feel the stone-cold eyes glaring down at me.
“Are you hurt?” His tone was completely at odds with the question.
“No. I’m fine.” It came out shakier than I’d anticipated.
Air huffed from his nose, and his deep voice was a rumble of condescension as he looked at the damage on his bumper. “I guess it’s too much to ask people to watch where they’re going.”
I pushed to standing, my words cracking with anger. “Excuse me? You ran into me.”
Okay, we’d run into each other, but if he was going to be a jerk about it…
A displeasured scoff blew from his nose, and he stepped forward.
I really hoped my eyes hadn’t actually popped out of my head when it brought him into view.
Bollocks and ballsacks.
I’d backed into an Abercrombie model.
Or maybe a Greek God reincarnated.
He glowered, his jaw and cheeks as hard as the icy blue eyes that seemed to glow from his ridiculous face. He was all sharp angles and polished stone, his lips so full and red that my tongue unconsciously stroked over mine.
That’s what he was.
A dark one who’d been booted right out of paradise for being a giant dick.
His brow lifted, his dark blond hair mostly short, cut close on the sides, but the longer pieces on top were pushed back, making him look fiercer.
My stomach twisted.
“I ran into you?” he challenged.
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Um, yes, you did. You’re clearly farther out of your spot than I am. Besides, doesn’t your fancy-ass car have some sort of warning system to keep you from crashing right into unsuspecting people?”
I flung a hand toward his showpiece, scowling hard to prove my point.
Annoyance had him readjusting the cuffs of his suit jacket.
His suit jacket.
Seriously, who was this guy and where did he come from? He was obviously lost. Men like him didn’t belong in Time River, a spec of a small town in Nowhere, Colorado.
But he wouldn’t be the first tourist to stray from the big city and onto our streets. Seeking the beauty of the plains set in a backdrop of breathtaking mountains and the gorgeous river that ran through. In the winter, the mountains would be covered by snow, but at this time of year, only the soaring peaks were painted white, the snow slowly melting as the fullness of the summer approached.
The irritation the man wore was almost palpable. “It warned me, but since you flew out of your spot without care in that monstrosity, there was no time to avert the accident.”
“How dare you call Maybe a monstrosity.” I set my hand on the tailgate like it could shield her from the slur.
Exasperation seemed to shake his head as he shifted a bit to the side, and he had the audacity to rake his teeth over that full bottom lip. He returned his potent gaze back to me, blowing out a sigh of resignation. “You know what, I don’t have time for this.”
“Like I do,” I spat, trying to ignore the buzzy power radiating from him.
It wasn’t like he was beefy or anything. Everything about him was lean and hewn, but I’d bet my ass everything under that suit was sculpted in strength. Deceptively smooth. He was the type of guy who would strike before a person even knew he was coming for them.
I propped my hands on my hips. “Do you want my insurance information or what? Or we can exchange numbers or whatever. You barely have a scratch on your car, but I’m sure you’re going to want to get it fixed.”
Like this guy would settle for anything less than perfection.
“No, I don’t want your information. I’ll handle it.”
My mouth dropped open. I didn’t know if I was offended or relieved. “I do have insurance, you know.”
“Congrats, but I think I’ll see to things for myself.”
Without saying anything else, he turned on his heel and strode around the side of his car, taking that dark, broody, self-righteous ego with him.
I stood there gaping at his overpowering form as he slipped into the driver’s seat, the man far too tall and powerful for anyone’s good.
He didn’t spare me a glance when he put the SUV into drive, his tires squealing as he peeled away.
“Grrr…what a freaking jerk,” I shrieked. And still, I stood there staring as he took off onto Manchester, the main street that ran through Time River.
The second his SUV disappeared, I tore myself out of the trance he had me under and hightailed my ass back to the driver’s side of my truck and climbed inside. I shoved it back into reverse the way I’d done before I’d been so rudely interrupted and finished pulling out of the spot, then I shifted into drive and gunned it.
Sorry Ryder, now I really was going to be late.
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Connect with A.L.
A.L. Jackson is the New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author of contemporary romance. She writes emotional, sexy, heart-filled stories about boys who usually like to be a little bit bad.
Her bestselling series include THE REGRET SERIES, CLOSER TO YOU, BLEEDING STARS, FIGHT FOR ME, CONFESSIONS OF THE HEART, FALLING STARS, and REDEMPTION HILLS novels. Watch out for her upcoming stand-alone, LOVE ME TODAY, releasing May 29th!
If she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the pool with her family, sipping cocktails with her friends, or of course with her nose buried in a book.
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