ETA: I’ve picked a winner! Thank you everyone for stopping by and playing my little celebration game.
Yes, Loving Lily is still on BookStrand’s Older H/h eBooks bestseller list, for weeks now at number TWO! In celebration, I’m giving away a free ebook copy of Loving Lily. Answer the question below (leave a comment on this post) after reading the short excerpt, and I will pick a winner at random on Friday!
What is Matt riding when Lily first sets eyes on him?
a. a Harley
b. an ostrich
c. a mountain bicycle
d. a hot blonde
Excerpt from Chapter One:
Lily stared at the enormous bra the lingerie lady held out to her.
“Really, I don’t think my boobs are that big,” she said, trying to edge away from the outstretched hands. The woman stepped closer.
“Honey, you really should just try it. You told me you couldn’t figure out why your bras were always uncomfortable. This is why.” She held up the lace and elastic as though it were a flag. “You’ve been wearing ones that are too small.” The silver haired woman smiled kindly. “Trust me. You’ll be a lot happier in this bra. It’s really pretty, too!” The lights of the dressing room made the tiny gems sewn into the bra’s center seam sparkle.
Lily reluctantly took the purple satin from the woman. It was pretty, but she didn’t care. She didn’t want to try it on. It looked like something made for a hippo. “I’m not making any promises,” she said reluctantly, frowning down at the bra.
“Trust me. You’ll look good in it. You have a nice bosom, why not show it off?”
“Because men already have a tendency to miss my face and talk directly to my chest,” she muttered under her breath. The old woman smiled kindly at her and Lily knew she hadn’t heard.
“It can’t hurt to try it,” the woman urged.
Lily tried not to shudder as the lady closed the fitting room door.
Five minutes later, she scowled at herself in the mirror. “Fuck,” she said, then clapped her hand over her mouth. She’d been trying to cut down on the cursing, but every time something bad happened, the f-word slipped out.
And this qualifies as a mini-disaster, she told herself. The bra fit. It looked fantastic, in fact. It was comfortable and her breasts were contained in a way that proved she actually did have a waist.
“Dammit,” she muttered, turning to look at her back in the mirror. She held her wavy brown hair off her shoulders and glared at her reflection. Even the rear view was lovely: no bulging flesh, no side-boobs. She let her hair fall down and sighed. She could never decide if she hated her body or loved it. She wasn’t skinny by any stretch of the imagination, but she wasn’t huge, either. She had a small waist, but it was usually hidden because she had to buy clothes that fit both her top and her bottom. And because her breasts were rather generous, the standard clothing sizes that worked usually made her look like she had no shape. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how she looked at it, her curvy ass balanced the ridiculous size of her breasts rather well. She looked okay naked, but as soon as she put on a blouse or a sweater, all her confidence went out the window.
If I could live somewhere long enough to find a seamstress who could alter my clothes, I’d probably look great, she thought, not for the first time. She laughed at herself. She knew even if that were true, she wouldn’t bother. She just didn’t care enough to settle down. She hadn’t cared since her husband Jack died three years ago.
“For God’s sake Matt, you need to get out of your house sometimes and talk to people. You’re going to rot up on that mountain. We’ll find your body in your foyer someday, desiccated and pathetic.”
Matt sighed loudly. “Stephanie, I’m sitting in a park with you right now. We’re surrounded by people.”
His sister sniffed as she watched her five-year-old twin girls run up the jungle gym steps so they could go down the slide again. “That’s only because I dragged you out today. You’re a hermit. Admit it.”
“I have work to do. I’m just about to finish up the edits on my latest novel. I do have deadlines, you know. And I like being alone,” Mat said absently, smiling as his little niece Keri shrieked on her way down. Her sister, Annie, swooped down right after, landing on top of her. Keri pushed her off with a disgusted look, and then the two were off again. “They never seem to get tired of the slide, do they?”
Stephanie leaned back against the bench, hands twirling the seeded dandelion her daughters had given her just a few minutes ago. “Oh, they will. And then we’ll be pushing them on the swings for about three hours.”
Matt grinned, glad he’d managed to deflect his sister’s nagging. He liked his house. He liked being alone. He liked writing the novels that paid his bills. “I don’t mind. They’re sweet.”
Stephanie gave him a look. “Sweet. Uh-huh.” She smiled grimly and turned to him. “I need a babysitter for Friday night.”
Matt backed away, almost falling off the bench. “Oh no. No way. The last time you roped me into babysitting alone I ended up at the clinic with them.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “How can a Navy SEAL be such a wuss?”
“Ex-Navy SEAL. I haven’t been in the military in ten years,” Matt reminded her.
She mouthed whatever at him and waved her hands belligerently.
He crossed his arms, not about to be taken in by her. How his little sister managed to annoy him so much, he had no idea. She was thirty, thirteen years younger than him, and they hadn’t even really grown up together, but she still drove him mad. “And seriously. I needed stitches, remember? They maimed me,” he said, disgusted just thinking about it.
His sister laughed. “You were the one who let them play outside with those sticks. I hope you learned your lesson. You’re supposed to be the one who rescues people. You’re not supposed to need rescuing. From two tiny little girls.” Stephanie’s whole face was alight with glee.
He coughed, trying to cover up his sudden embarrassment. That episode with the girls wasn’t his finest hour. “Yeah, I learned all right,” he said grimly. “Don’t let little girls pretend they’re pirates using sticks as their swords. I figured that out real quick.” He ran a finger over his right forearm where the scar from that particular lapse of judgment resided.
His sister rolled her eyes at his tone. “Oh please, you were fine. It was just a little blood.”
He stared at her. “I had to take them to the clinic with me.”
She looked back, nonchalant. “So?”
“Twin three year old girls. The clinic’s urgent care room.” He waved an arm toward his nieces, still running around like wild animals on the jungle gym. “Do I really have to explain what it was like trying to corral them there while keeping myself from bleeding to death?”
His sister patted his arm. “You survived. It was good for you.”
He slumped back on the bench. “That was worse than anything I had to do in the Navy. I kid you not.”
“Stop being so melodramatic.” His sister wasn’t even looking at him now as she grinned.
She didn’t care about his tender feelings, not the least little bit. She thought he was being ridiculous, and in a way, he understood. It was funny. On the other hand, he’d been so worried for his nieces that he’d almost lost it and started bawling in the clinic along with them. They really hadn’t liked watching the doctor stitch up their Uncle Matt. The crying had gone on for a long, long time. Abruptly, he stood up. “I’ve gotta get going. I have a deadline to meet.” He loved Stephanie, really he did, but sometimes she made him want to tear out all his hair. And he knew how stupid he looked without hair. He had pictures from boot camp.
“Don’t forget, we’re having dinner at Mom and Dad’s place at the end of the month. Tell Alex. I never see him. I think he’s trying to avoid me.” She smiled at him, standing up to give him a hug.
“I’ll tell him.” He squeezed her hard, picking her up slightly just to hear her oof.
She smacked him on the head. “Stop squeezing me to death. I need air, you know.”
He laughed, squeezing her again before putting her down. “You’re just so tiny. It makes me want to squish you.”
She huffed. “Yeah, well, my kids need their mom upright and walking, not passed out on the grass. And I’m not tiny. You’re a giant.”
He rolled his eyes this time. “Six-two is not that tall.”
“Says the giant.”
He ignored her, calling out to the twins coming down the slide again. “Bye girls!”
“Bye Uncle Matt! Bye!” they yelled back, running over to hug him goodbye.
“Be good for your mom, okay?” he said, running a hand over their sweaty hair.
The older one nodded. “We will.” She grabbed her sister before she could say anything and dragged her back over to the slide.
Matt waved at them and turned to go, but not before he got one last dig into his sister. “I’m not that big, you know. You’re just shrinking. I’ve heard that having kids can do that. Brain cells are the first to go.” He ducked away before she could swat him again, laughing at the look of ire on her face.
“Fuck. Double fuckity fuck,” Lily muttered, kicking at her stupid, dumb, loser flat tire. She didn’t even bother trying to keep the cursing down this time. She was in the middle of freaking nowhere with her entire life packed into her stupid SUV. And what happens? I get a flat. Of course.
“If you’d bothered to plug your cell phone in, this wouldn’t be a big deal, now would it?” she berated herself out loud. “But no. You couldn’t remember to do that, could you? Of course not. You’re lost, your cell battery is dead, and your car is going nowhere. Fuck!” She yelled out the last part, kicking the tire again.
She looked up at the trees, judging it to be late afternoon by the angle of the sun. She’d been looking forward to checking into the bed and breakfast she’d booked, and then heading somewhere for dinner. Now she was stuck on the side of a mountain, in the woods, in rural Vermont, with no way to get help.
“Looks like I’m walking. Probably for hours,” she said aloud. “Because I’m too dumb to plan ahead. Soon as I get settled, I’m buying an extra phone battery.”
She locked her car and started off down the road. At least it was summertime. And not raining.
“I shouldn’t have stopped in the mall this morning. I didn’t really need a new bra.” She kicked a rock along the side of the road. It made a satisfying sound so she kicked it again.
“I could have stopped for lunch. There was a sandwich shop right off the interstate.” She’d been thinking about the new bra and the trauma of finally accepting that she’d been stuffing herself into lingerie two sizes too small. When she’d driven past the sandwich place, she decided she wasn’t that hungry. “But you’re hungry now, aren’t you, Lily?” She stopped for a moment to look up at the sky. The blue expanse just beyond the treetops mocked her. “Idiot,” she snorted.
The thing was, she really did need a new bra. She didn’t have many because she hated shopping for them so much, so she tended to wash and rewash until the few she owned were falling apart. She was at the point where all of the bras she owned were falling apart.
“Fuck. This stupid bra really is comfortable,” she said aloud, kicking the rock again.
“Hello there! I saw a car with a flat back there. Is it yours?” a male voice called out.
Lily jumped, heart knocking against her ribs. She spun around, surprised to see a man standing over a mountain bike just behind her. What the hell? Where did he come from? And also, oh shit, did he just hear me talking about my bra? Out loud?
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said, unbuckling his helmet.
Lily stared, still too freaked out to speak. He was huge. Like, really, really tall. And built. Her eyes wandered over his green t-shirt, down his cargo shorts to his feet. He was wearing some sort of hard boots with metal clip things on the bottom. Given all the crap that had happened in her life, she should probably be frightened about being caught alone in the middle of rural USA with a strange man, but she just couldn’t work up the energy for it right now. Plus, he had kind eyes.
And he’s extremely good-looking, she thought to herself, a little bit star-struck. He was movie-star hot, especially with the hint of silver at his temples. The crows-feet at the corner of his eyes made him seem real. Approachable. He looked like a man who’d been through a lot and come out the other side even better. He smiled appealingly. Lily stared some more. His teeth were perfectly white.
“Are you okay?” he asked, making no move to come closer. It was as if he knew how intimidating he could look if he tried. He stood there casually, one hand cradling his helmet, the other held palm out near his hip. It was a distinctly unthreatening gesture.
Lily took in his bright hazel eyes, his messy dark hair, the width of his shoulders, and swallowed, hard. If he knew I was speechless because he’s insanely gorgeous, not because I’m afraid, he’d probably turn tail and run to get away from the crazy woman, she thought. “Um, yeah. That’s my car,” she finally managed to say aloud. She grimaced. “And my flat tire.”
He cocked his head.
He looks adorable when he does that, she thought absently, eyes wandering back over him again.
“Do you have someone you can call?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. Even if my cell phone wasn’t dead, I’d just be calling the nearest tow company. I’m not from around here.”
“I figured that,” he said, smiling. “The nearest tow place would be my brother, Alex. He owns the town’s only mechanic shop.”
Lily grinned, holding out her hand. “That’s good to know. I’m Lily Solton, by the way. Do you, by any chance, have a working cell phone?”
He walked closer, wheeling the bicycle with him. It was mud-spattered, but bright green paint shone through the dirt. When his hand closed over hers, she gasped at how gently he held it. His hand was warm and dry and strong—she could see the muscles in his forearm flexing, but he didn’t use it to hurt her like some men would. Instead, he shook her hand and let go politely.
“I do,” he said, then blinked. “Have a phone, that is.”
Lily laughed out loud. “If I said ‘I do’ too, does that mean I get to buy you dinner? I mean, if we’re going to get married, the least I can do is ask you out on a date, right?”
To her astonishment, he blushed.
Whoa, she thought, inordinately charmed. He’s hot and nice and he blushes, oh my.
“Um, yeah.” He stumbled over his words. “I mean, no. Wait, that didn’t come out right.” He stopped and took a breath and tried again while Lily grinned at him. “I would enjoy having dinner with you, but marriage on the day we meet is a bit too hasty for me.” His hazel eyes twinkled down at her. “It’s not you, it’s me,” he added, chuckling.
Lily laughed, stepping back. “I get that, sure.”
He reached into his pocket and extracted a phone. “Want me to call my brother?”
“If he’s the guy with the tow truck, yes, please.”
He nodded and Lily watched him punch a button.
“Hey,” he said, phone to his ear, lips quirking up on one side. “I’ve got a lady with a flat out on Rock Creek Road.” He nodded. “Yeah. Sure, we can wait.” He slid the phone back in his pocket, shaking his head. “Not like you can go anywhere, not with that flat.” He jerked his thumb back down the road.
“How long?” Lily asked him, trying not to stare at the way his shirt stretched over the luscious perfection of his pectoral muscles.
“He says fifteen minutes. I’ll walk you back to your car.” He hooked his helmet on his handlebar and turned the bicycle around.
“You don’t have to do that,” she protested. “I don’t want to hold you up. Looks like you were in the middle of a ride.”
He shrugged. “I ride almost every day. It’s no big deal.” He began walking. “You coming?”
Lily hitched her purse higher on her shoulder. “Yeah. I’m coming.”
Lily desperately wants to start over after her family dies in a series of suspicious accidents, but just as she’s moving on, her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, a handsome hero comes to her rescue.
Matt is everything Lily didn’t know a man could be: strong, kind, and willing to stick around, even when they discover someone is trying to kill her, too. Lily isn’t sure she’s worth his protection: she’s forty years old and too outspoken to be sweet, but Matt can’t help loving the curvy woman with the fabulous sense of humor. Lily can’t help falling for the sexy ex-SEAL who seems to like her just as she is.
When a storm and a dangerous vendetta threaten Lily’s life, will Matt’s strength and Lily’s resilience be enough to stand between love and disaster?
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