ANIMAL ATTRACTION eBOOK

Harlequin
June 1, 2013
ISBN 9781459254084

Animal Attraction – Imagine Me and You

Imagine Me and You is a finalist in the Romance Writer's of America RITA® Awards.

Four of today's most popular romance authors introduce four sizzling new tales of finding love unexpectedly—with a little help from man's best friend. Includes an all-new Buckhorn Brothers story from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster!

The authors are donating all of their proceeds from Animal Attraction to the Animal Adoption Foundation of Hamilton, OH, a charitable organization.

Anthology includes:
Buckhorn Ever After by New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster
Imagine Me and You by USA TODAY bestselling author Maisey Yates
Gimme Shelter by USA TODAY bestselling author Heidi Betts
Partner in Crime by Jules Bennett

Excerpt

Chapter One

“I’m literally out in the cold, Jace. I need you.”

Jace Colter looked at his best friend Samantha Parker, who was indeed on his porch and freezing her small, perfectly round butt off. Which was a damn shame in his opinion. Because it was a perfect butt. Completely perfect. Not that he’d noticed. At least not that he should have noticed, but he had.

And then he looked down at her companion. Not too far down. Even sitting, Poppy was one big-ass dog. A giant mound of hair and drool that, Samantha was always quick to point out, was a purebred Newfoundland. As if that somehow excused the drool.

It didn’t. Not in his opinion.

He and Poppy had a tentative truce when he was over at Samantha’s place, but the idea of letting her, and her huge paws, in his house on his couch was enough to make it feel like his skin was itching. Like he already had dog hair embedded into his clothes. Dog hair he would never, ever get out.

“Start at the beginning.”

“Can we come in?” she asked, hazel eyes huge, her red hair creating a ginger halo around her head thanks to the porch light. As if on cue, snowflakes started falling behind her. She looked like a pitiful angel.

“Yes,” he growled, standing to the side and letting Samantha hop over the threshold.

Poppy followed, no encouragement needed, as she tended to do. Poppy was as insistent as she was shaggy. She always wanted him to pet her. Stroke her. Things he could never, ever get away with doing to her owner. Not that he would try. Samantha was his friend and this sudden surge of lust, whatever it was, that had crept up on him over the past couple of months was just damned annoying. And completely impractical. And not something he could do anything about.

Ever.

Samantha bent down and started taking her boots off. She knew him well.
Jace had no problem getting his hands dirty working his ranch, but he didn’t track that dirt inside his house. His operation was an organized one: a place for everything and everything in its place.

He had a major outfit here with horses and cattle, and letting loose ends hang could result in devastating consequences. Jace didn’t allow loose ends, and he didn’t screw up. Ever.

“Let me get a towel for your dog. And then you can explain to me why you’re standing here looking like a dramatic reenactment of the Little Match Girl.”
Jace stalked off to the laundry room and took a towel from the dryer, then walked back into the entryway, where the dog was currently dripping on his wooden floor. He tossed the towel to Samantha, who bent and started working on Poppy’s massive paws.

“My lease is up,” she said, straightening. “Poppy sit.” And Poppy did. “And basically, no one in town will rent to me as long as I have her.” She gestured to her massive, hairy companion. “And I can’t buy anything yet. Not until I can do taxes for the year. Because that’s when my income from the bakery will count,” she added, her face glowing now. “Two years in business.”

“That’s great, Samantha—it is. But it doesn’t really answer the question of why you’re here.”

Except he had a feeling it did. And he had a feeling he knew just what she would ask of him. And he had a feeling he really, really wasn’t going to like it.

“I can do my taxes in January. I just need a place to stay, with Poppy, until then.”

“So, you need a month. A whole month.”

“Yes, and Jace, you’re my best friend and I didn’t have anywhere else to go and I knew you wouldn’t turn me away and—”

“Take a breath, Sam,” he said, his head pounding as he tried to sift through the jumble of words she’d just let spill out of her mouth.

“You have a lot of room here, you would hardly notice me. And I would cook for you.”

Samantha looked at Jace and tried to will him to feel her desperation. She was sure if she tried hard enough, she would be able to make him understand her distress. He’d been her best friend since high school, and fourteen years after they’d first met, he was still her best friend. Her rock. Her support. He was all things stable and good, and given her upbringing, he was everything she needed.

Not that her adult life had been a whole lot more stable, except there was Jace. Always Jace. And Poppy, whom she was not, under any circumstances, getting rid of, even if it meant sleeping in a snowdrift in eastern Oregon in December.
Because friends took care of each other, no matter what. And Poppy was her friend. And Jace was her friend, so she expected him to extend her, and thus Poppy, the same courtesy.

He wouldn’t let them freeze in a snowdrift. Though he looked as if he was considering it.

“What would you cook?” he asked.

“Stew. And bread. I would bake you bread. And pies. Lots of pies. All the pie you could eat.”

He cleared his throat and shifted his weight. “Generous.”

“Well, yeah, I thought so.” Jace had plenty of room. His two-story, Craftsman-style home had gorgeous, exposed wood beams in the ceiling, making the space feel huge and expansive. His fireplace had a huge couch in front of it, and it really would just be sad to sit there alone. And a dog should definitely lie on the rug by the fire too.

He also had four bedrooms and he didn’t need them all. He could certainly spare a corner of his house for a small redhead and her not-so-small dog.
“She’s not allowed on the furniture,” Jace said.

“Thank you!” She flung her arms around his neck and buried her face in his skin. And for a moment, she couldn’t help but be conscious of just how hard and muscular his body was. Or of the fact that his skin smelled like soap with a sheen of sweat over it, thanks to the long workday.

No. She wasn’t going there. Jace was her friend. Her attractive, hyper-masculine, sexy friend. But just her friend.

She had her occasional forgetful moments, often fueled by the scent of his skin or an unexpected smile that seemed to break through all the walls surrounding her heart and hit her square on.

But she knew friendship was the best place for them to be. He was her pillar. And without him…without him she would fall.

Which meant no risking the solid relationship they had for a little spark that was probably one-sided. Heck, it was almost certainly one-sided. If Jace wanted a woman, he didn’t sit around and wait. He went out and got her. Temporarily. Jace was a fling guy. And while she was sure being flung by him would be a good time, it wasn’t what she wanted.

Samantha was a bit more reserved in her relationships, but even with the great caution she exercised, they always seemed to sink like a bad soufflé. Nope. Definitely not moving Jace from FriendZone to BoyfriendZone. In her case, BoyfriendZone was always temporary, and it always ended in disaster.

She’d had all the relationships-ending-in-fiery-hellstorms-of-doom that she could possibly take for one lifetime. And not just with boyfriends. She hadn’t spoken to her mother in years. Jace was her rock. And cracking the foundation she built her life on was just not going to happen.

“Jace,” she said, pulling her face back so she could study him. He wasn’t smiling, but had a weird kind of intent look in his eyes.

“Yes?”

For just a second, a little tiny second, she thought about leaning in and brushing her lips against his. A friendly thank you. An expression of gratitude.
But that would be stupid. And it wasn’t the kind of thing they did.

“Yes, Sam?” he asked again, his voice a little deeper, a little huskier than normal. Oh, my.

She pulled out of his embrace. “I’m going to make you some cupcakes.”

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