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Rough and Tumble

NAUGHTY AND NICE, a Rough and Tumble Novella

Everyone at the Rough & Tumble Saloon has a secret…

But Jesse Navarro has a Secret Santa, and she’s about to rock this reclusive, gruff army vet’s world!

At first, Ivy Carroll only wrote to him online, but one night before Christmas, she shows up at the Rough & Tumble Saloon in the flesh, and she has something even naughtier than a regular gift exchange in mind with this sexy bad boy. A something that’s perfectly suited for some wicked nights in Sin City...

Available for Kindle | iBooks | Nook | Google Play | Kobo

 


Excerpt from NAUGHTY AND NICE

Reclusive, gruff army veteran Jesse Navarro could deal with a Secret Santa who only wrote to him online. But when she shows up at the Rough & Tumble Saloon in the flesh, she has something even naughtier than a regular gift exchange in mind—and it’s perfectly suited for some wicked nights in Sin City…

Even though Ivy Carroll suspected that her Secret Santa partner was the loneliest man on earth, she couldn’t help thinking that she’d gotten the luck of the draw.

As she stood at the doorway of the Rough & Tumble Saloon, where white Christmas bulbs decorated the bar and scraggly wreaths hung on the planked walls, she leaned against the frame, running a gaze over Lieutenant Jesse Navarro, in the flesh.

And, damn, it was some flesh.

He made her think of a strong, towering war god as he propped a black combat boot on a rickety chair, leaning his arms on his thigh. Stone-faced, he watched a few laughing men toss coins into a tarnished spittoon that matched the Old West surroundings. His legs were long and muscled in jeans, his biceps thick and defined, rock-solid. And under his dark, tight T-shirt?

Something in Ivy’s belly took a tight, rolling dip as she dwelled on those steel-beam shoulders, the obvious bumps and ridges on his torso that told her there were more and more muscles. Mmm, he was a hunk of a man, intimidating with an image of a primitive sun shaved into his dark, stubbled hair.

The thing was, he seemed different from the man she’d warmed up to online.

She’d seen a shadowy picture of the lieutenant when they’d been matched in a Secret Santa military vet program sponsored by a local community center, so she knew some of his face, knew that he was in his early thirties and had done a tour in Afghanistan and come home three years ago. But she hadn’t seen many other details in his gray-toned picture. At first, she’d wondered if he was a gruff, beer-bellied man who didn’t say much in real life and made her read between the lines of every cyber sentence. Or was he a big kid who was as wiry as that bartender who was fetching drinks for the bikers and rough men throwing down shots of whisky at the bar? She’d barely had a clue about Jesse, because he didn’t leave many digital footprints, except for the Desert Star Center’s boards.

But Ivy did know one thing: Lieutenant Navarro’s most recent message, a few days before Christmas, had struck her heart, making her think that no one should be spending the holidays at a bar. How much would she suck if she didn’t reach out to him from just a few miles away where she lived, spreading a little cheer to someone like that?

It was a just a bonus that he looked like this. Hotter than hell, a real man who was already turning her on.

As the jukebox played a countrified version of “Blue Christmas,” Ivy straightened from the doorframe and made her way across the floorboards. The guys at the bar turned to check her out, but she wasn’t afraid of road trippers or leathered tough men.

One of them whistled. “Hey, flower child.”

Ivy ignored them, still heading toward her lieutenant, and the crowd at the bar laughed. It caught the attention of Jesse.

He’d been in the process of standing to his full height, reaching into his back pocket, taking out a beaten leather wallet. As he paused, watching her, she saw that his eyes were dark and liquid, making something inside of her melt, too, desire trickling down and down until it bubbled.

Ivy smiled in greeting. He didn’t.

Stopping in her tracks, she paused as he went back to what he’d been doing before, extracting some money then handing it over to a cowboy with a gray hat angled over his gaze. The man nodded to Jesse and stuffed the cash into his own jeans pocket.

The lieutenant’s voice rumbled over the soft music. “Gideon, you could just ask your famous author wife for some cash instead of betting me for it over a game of spittoon.”

“I like having the pocket change.” The man shrugged. “‘sides, taking the money from you is the best part-time job I can imagine.”

“Yeah, well, I hear there’re some job openings in hell, quick-draw. You should go there and check it out.”

Then, as if Jesse remembered that there was a woman standing not five feet away from him, he went even stonier, shooting her a look that she supposed was an apology of sorts.

Why was he acting so cold? Didn’t he recognize her?

The cowboy chuckled and sauntered away, leaving two other men—bikers, with their sleeveless leather jackets—to keep tossing coins at the spittoon from their seats and counting off whenever a quarter landed.

As sinful neon lights from the beer signs on the walls dimmed Jesse’s face, he slowly dragged his gaze back to Ivy, scraping over her with a look so rough and hot that her pulse skipped. First he took in her fringed boots, then up and over her flowy skirt that was fluttering with every chop of the ceiling fans, then her vintage white crocheted blouse that looked like a bunch of connected holly flowers. He stopped at the glittering holiday snowflake pendant she wore around her neck, her unbraided, wavy hair brushing it. His gaze dipped back down to her breasts, his eyes going even darker.

A thrill spun through her until she realized that he truly had no idea who she was.

Didn’t he recognize her from the picture on the Secret Santa boards?

She thought of the gentlemanly messages he’d sent, the thank yous, the faint insights into the life of a man who seemed like he was made to stay on the fringes of things. A polite yet distanced man.

Had he fooled her with the “polite” part?

She hesitated again, then fumbled into her roomy tooled-leather purse. She took out a small present she’d giftwrapped for him after she’d read his most recent email and held the offering out. That’s why she’d traveled the short way here—to cheer him up. This gift should do the trick.

His gaze turned to the little box then he stared at her again, his eyes like black smoke burning off a fire.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Special delivery from your Secret Santa.”

When recognition finally dawned in that dark gaze, it almost seemed like he might’ve been moved by her gesture.

Then he barred his arms over his massive chest. “I just got those cookies you sent.”

O…kay “And did you like them?”

“They were much appreciated.”

Was that a yes? Ivy was used to people gushing about her baking, especially when it came to her Christmas magic cookie bars.

Behind her, the men were clearing their throats, but Ivy didn’t look to see exactly what they were doing. Teasing him because he had a sweet little Secret Santa?

She almost laughed because she wasn’t all that sweet. Her cookies definitely qualified, but her? Well, how many sweet girls were ballsy enough to track down a guy who’d seemed so alienated online?

After shooting the other men a deadly look, Jesse finally gritted his jaw and accepted her gift. He muttered something under his breath that she didn’t catch. A thanks?

Then again, who cared when he didn’t even open the present? He only moved toward the bar, where a few guys in flannel shirts moseyed out of his way like they didn’t want anything to do with his mood.

Ivy had the feeling it was a perpetual mood that hadn’t exactly come through crystal clear in their emails. Maybe he’d been slightly closed-off in them, sure, but this?

She stood next to him. “Don’t you want to see what’s inside the box?”

“I’m hoping it’s more cookies.”

“Oh, you can see that the package is too small for that.” They’d also joked online, as much as Lt. Jesse Navarro joked, and she’d had the feeling he didn’t do much of it in reality.

One of the men shouted across the bar. “Navarro, open it up! We wanna see.”

Jesse bristled.

Ivy hadn’t come here to make him tense and embarrassed. And if she had to admit it, she would confess that she’d been very curious about him, so a trip had seemed in order.

“Never mind all of them,” she said about the men. “But if you need some privacy to open your gift, I can leave you alone.”

She started to go, and Jesse grumbled something else she didn’t understand as he caught the edge of her blouse. The skin beneath the thin material tingled as she realized how long and strong his fingers were.

What would they feel like if he skimmed them below her blouse, brushing her waist? What if he slipped them into the waistband of her skirt, easing over her belly?

“Don’t get chased off,” he said. And when he lasered a glare around the bar, the men shut up and went back to their drinks.

Impressive. She just hoped Jesse never leveled her with a look like that...

 

 

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