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HOT AND BOTHERED

Coming March 17, 2015, from Berkley Intermix Digital First!

HOT AND BOTHERED, Book 3 in the Rough and Tumble Series

March 17, 2015

On the dusty outskirts of Vegas, there’s a down and dirty saloon where all sorts of lethally charming—and genuinely dangerous—men carouse to seduce the women who happen to venture inside on their way to and from Sin City.

Despite the many women he’s bedded over the years, Gideon Lane has never been able to get Rochelle Burton completely out of his head. He certainly never expected to see the city girl again, now a successful author, all grown up in all the right places and asking for his protection.

After their disastrous night together, Rochelle was determined to put Gideon—and the things he made her want—far behind her. But when an obsessive fan expresses their anger over her latest book in a disturbing way, Rochelle’s overprotective cousins insist she hire the best bodyguard the Rough & Tumble saloon can offer.

Both Rochelle and Gideon intend to keep their relationship strictly professional, but when the threat to Rochelle puts them in close quarters, Gideon can’t help wanting the chance to prove that some things are better the second time around…

Available at: Amazon | iBooks | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | iBooks

 


Excerpt from HOT AND BOTHERED

When Rochelle Burton first decided to track down Gideon Lane, she’d wondered how much he might’ve changed from the eighteen-year-old man-slut she’d known all those years ago.

But when she found him in the middle of the Rough & Tumble Saloon’s courtyard, doing what Gideon had always done best, she immediately stopped wondering.

A small fire was going in the pit, casting light on him while the brim of his gray Stetson shaded his eyes. But his hat didn’t cover his lazy smile or the cigarillo angling out of his mouth as smoke curled into the mild May night air. He slumped in his seat, one square-toed black boot resting on his leg, his arms draped over two rickety chairs on either side of him. If he noticed that Rochelle was leaning against the door frame where whisky-soaked rock ‘n’ roll spilled out of the saloon from a jukebox, he didn’t show it.

Then again, she suspected he was much too busy enjoying the private striptease that four fluffy-haired women were putting on for him. And she was damned sure that he hadn’t been hired by these girls to be their bodyguard, even if that was his profession. No, this was an entirely different sort of personal body work.

Two of the ladies were twins—bleached blondes, at that—and they straddled one leg over each side of him while the other two felt themselves up, unbuttoning their blouses, laughing and tipsy.

No, Gideon hadn’t changed a bit. He was still a player, even after seventeen years had passed them by, still the only guy who’d ever left her in tears, even though she’d put that behind her a long time ago.

Definitely.

Rochelle eased her sunglasses down her nose, looking at him until he had to feel her stare. She could tell the moment he caught sight of her, and it wasn’t because she could see his gaze under that hat brim. It was because he tensed in his seat, sliding his arms off the backs of the chairs, then taking the cigarillo out of his mouth.

Well, a grand entrance had been pretty easy. She’d see about the rest of this necessary reunion.

The four girls stopped gyrating and glanced back at her. The non-twins shrugged and kept dancing, but the two blond lookalikes kept their legs draped over Gideon, almost as if they were claiming him.

Rochelle didn’t mind. She merely told herself to smile, pushing her sunglasses up and onto her head, where they held back the dark waves of hair from her face.

Was Gideon thinking that she looked different? The same? Or…?

Ugh—she wasn’t here to compete for Miss Nevada or his attentions, so she swiped the thoughts out of her head.

“What do you know,” she said instead, smoothly raising her voice over the music. “It looks like things never change in this town.”

He was still tense, still staring. Her belly flipped, although she wasn’t about to let him know that he affected her, even after all this time.

How was that even possible when she’d put him in her past? Scratch that—when he’d been only such a tiny, insignificant moment in her past?

One of the blond twins glanced down at Gideon. “You know her?”

He let the cigarillo drop to the ground, then mashed it into the concrete with his boot. He nudged back his cowboy hat, revealing a face that used to make Rochelle’s heart skid and bump through her chest. Light brown eyes that could burn a girl, a strong whiskered jaw, a dimple in his firm chin.

Damn, even now her body was reacting like a runaway sports car, an accident just waiting to happen. But she didn’t do accidents these days—those were things that happened to people who let challenges happen to them, not ones who brought challenges on.

His gaze rode over her, from her face, then down a body that had developed more than a few curves and swerves since they were just a couple of dumb kids, and she flushed all over.

She sure felt like a kid now, but she blanked out the weakness.

“I’ll be damned,” he finally said in that velvet twang she’d never quite forgotten. “Rochelle Burton.”

She hadn’t known what kind of greeting she’d get, but she thought she heard a never-thought-I’d-see-you-again tone to his voice.

Welcome to the club.

Both twins leaned down to whisper in his ear, and he rested his hands on the backs of their thighs, just below their hemlines. As he stood, he rubbed his palms up their skin, his fingers disappearing under their dresses. Then he softly patted their bottoms as they traded saucy smiles.

Had that little show been for her benefit? Just to send her a message that he’d forgotten her, too, and he couldn’t have given less of a crap she was here?

She only continued smiling, so friendly, so like a dear old friend who had left him behind one summer then gone out into the world, made a name for herself writing novels, and returned to the one town she’d been avoiding.

No more avoiding, though.

She moved toward him, and she could feel the girls’ gazes as they checked out her understated Calvin Klein capris and vest. Her clothes made her stand out from this denim-and-boots crowd, yet she’d taken care not to get too gussied up, either—not for the Rough & Tumble Saloon. Maybe she should’ve even worn a torn T-shirt and shredded Daisy Dukes but…oh, well.

Gideon was sporting a wry grin as she approached. “You came in here alone?”

Such a personable opening. “My manager’s inside. She’ll be out shortly.”

Suzanne, who oversaw her writing career as well as the book promo push Rochelle would be doing in the area, had been feeling nauseated from something they’d eaten at sushi dinner and had been dying for a restroom where she could splash water on her face and get herself together. But Rochelle was in no rush to have more company—it wasn’t as if she were afraid of anything or anyone in this saloon, even with all the Harleys parked out front. Or with Gideon right here. No fear, that was what she always said.

One of the twins pouted at Gideon. “Who is this?”

He seemed to turn the question over in his mind as he continued to run his gaze over Rochelle. “She’s an old acquaintance,” he said to the girls.

Okay. That was fair. What had she expected—a reunion in which they ran across the courtyard in slow motion to the strains of “When I Was Your Man” and embraced?

Not with the way she’d left him, without even a word after a night that had been so damned disastrous. A night that should’ve been so romantic and perfect but had instead ended with her embarrassed and never wanting to see him again…

Rochelle stood her ground, but she acknowledged Gideon’s slight with a tilt of her head.

He squeezed his girlies’ bottoms, giving them a light push toward the saloon. “You all go on to that game in the backroom. I’ll be along.”

“But, quick-draw,” said one of the non-twins, “you said you’d also play, and after that, you’d get some friends together for a real party at your place.”

Quick-draw, huh?

“Those’re still the plans.” He winked, and the gesture seemed to encompass his whole estrogen entourage since they all fluttered.

Appeased that Rochelle seemed to be worth only a minute of his time, the girls minced off, but as the last one went through the door, Gideon raised his voice above the music.

“Shut that closed, would you?”

She beamed at him and obeyed, leaving the knocking murmur of jukebox rock behind while it tried to make its way through the door. But Rochelle’s heartbeat clamored over the muffled beats as Gideon slowly faced her, his hands planted on his jeaned hips.

He’d grown from a hot young cowboy into this—a man who was gunslinger lean, towering over her, making her feel tiny with his wide shoulders and broad chest under his denim jacket. And he could still make her wilt with just one look from that intense gaze, a muscle ticking on one side of his jaw.

The motion drew her attention to something new about Gideon—a dark mark just under his cheekbone. A scar of some sort? Whatever it was, it sent a tick of its own low in her belly, arming her with an attraction that had obviously never died.

Fortunately, she wasn’t here for personal reasons.

She breezily nodded toward the closed door. “They still have illegal backroom poker here, do they?”

“Always have, always will.”

“Like I said—this town never changes. Except for maybe the nicknames. What did your friend call you—quick-draw?” Was it a poker name?

Gideon’s smile was bitter as he watched the ground. Had she hit some kind of nerve?

But he’d always been a straight shooter—at least on everything but that one night they’d spent together. After that, there’d been no talking at all.

“Everyone in this place has a reputation,” he said, lifting his focus, sending a jolt through her as their gazes connected. “They started calling me the quick-draw cowboy years ago because I’m fast with the women—the first fellow to get one out of the door every night and into my bed.”

A wicked shiver consumed her, and she fought it off, remembering how he’d had his hands on the butts of those twins just minutes ago.

Don’t let him get to you, she thought. But he clearly already had.

The corners of his lips curled, as if he’d taken a certain satisfaction in giving her this news. “Did you come back here to see how fast I could get you out of this bar?”

Another rush of naughty temptation, tingling all over her. “I see you’re as confident as ever.”

“It’s just how I am. But then you already knew that.”

They were coming dangerously close to talking about that night, and she had no intention of getting caught in its emotional mire. “Gideon, I have no interest in your conquests.”

“Oh,” he said, holding a hand over his chest. “Your aim. It was always real good—especially with the way you left me hanging.”

She blew out a breath. Do not take the bait, Shel. “I know that my favorite pastime used to be thinking up ways to rankle you, but that’s not why I’m here tonight.”

“Well, we sure spent enough time together at your uncle Dennis’ ranch every summer so I’d remember all the rankling. Lord knows there wasn’t enough otherwise to keep a city girl like you busy.”

Wasn’t there? Wasn’t I enough? he seemed to ask.

The questions hovered, waiting to swoop down on them. It was that night again, when she’d finally given in to the Romeo she’d crushed on for summer after summer—the bad boy who had a reputation that had enthralled her, the one her three cousins would’ve killed her for being with, if they’d only known. They were like brothers to her, always watching over her, but she hadn’t needed watching. She’d been just as wild as Gideon, only less experienced, chomping at the bit to know what it’d feel like to be with a guy.

To be with him.

But, oh, God, every dream she’d had about Gideon Lane, every fantasy, had only set her up for disappointment. She’d been awful at sex, no matter how good he was. He’d known it, she’d known it, and she’d run away so she wouldn’t have to face him ever again.

Eighteen years old, humiliated, and crushed. And in the most personal, exposed way possible.

She hadn’t expected him to come running after her then, to call her or soothe her—she’d known what she was signing up for with a boy about town like him. And she probably should’ve thanked him in the long run, because she’d been so determined never to have a repeat sex disaster like that night that she’d set out to improve herself.

Her rules? Never get your hopes up. Expect fun, not anything that might tie you up and tie you down. That way, there’d never be disappointment again.

Thanks to Gideon, she’d gotten damned good at sex, as a matter of fact—not that he was ever going to know.

He nudged back his hat, obviously tired of spinning in circles with her, because he dropped the subject.

“I’d heard a couple months ago,” he said, “that you’d been working on some book and it was going to be released about now.”

“Yes, tomorrow.”

“It’s about Cherry Chastain, ain’t it?”

She nodded, thinking of the painting inside the saloon and above the bar—a redhead in leather, straddling a chair like a wide-legged good time gal presiding over her people at the R&T. Rochelle had snuck into the saloon one afternoon when she was fifteen, just to get glimpse of the portrait everyone talked about, and she’d never been able to get Cherry out of her head.

“All of that’s true,” she said.

“From what I hear, she’s making you even richer than you were as an uptown kid who got flown off out here to the country every summer.”

Where she could be out of her workaholic dad’s hair? That was also true. Then again, Cherry’s story wasn’t the only book Rochelle had turned into a “fictionalized history” novel. She’d also put a lot of work, creativity, and research into her first bestsellers, where she’d spun fiction around people like Veronica Lake, Lupe Velez, and Mae West. Cherry was just her latest and most successful so far—a subject far more personal than ever. Luckily, it was going through the roof with online and storefront pre-orders.

Gideon was shaking his head. “No one even had a clue you were writing about her.”

“That’s because I knew that not everyone in this town would welcome the news. In fact…”

She steeled herself. No fear, she thought. Tell him why you came.

He crossed his arms over his chest.

Say it.

“That brings me to why I’m back in Rough and Tumble, Gideon.” She took another deep breath, letting it out. “My cousins were going to contact you about doing a bodyguard job, but I volunteered to talk to you first.”

He narrowed his eyes at her, as if bracing himself, too. “Who’s it for?”

She let him have it. “Me. I need protection, and the boys won’t hear of hiring anyone but you.”

 

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