April 19, 2016
One Night Charmer
(Included bonus novella Hometown Heartbreaker)
Copper Ridge, Oregon's, favorite bachelor is about to meet his match
If the devil wore flannel, he'd look like Ace Thompson. He's gruff. Opinionated. Infernally hot. The last person that Sierra West wants to ask for a bartending job—not that she has a choice. Ever since discovering that her "perfect" family is built on a lie, Sierra has been determined to make it on her own. Resisting her new boss should be easy when they're always bickering. Until one night, the squabbling stops…and something far more dangerous takes over.
Ace has a personal policy against messing around with staff—or with spoiled rich girls. But there's a steel backbone beneath Sierra's silver-spoon upbringing. She's tougher than he thought, and so much more tempting. Enough to make him want to break all his rules, even if it means risking his heart…
Also In this Series:
Tough Luck Hero
June 28, 2016
Last Chance Rebel
August 30, 2016
There were two people in Copper Ridge, Oregon who—between them—knew nearly every secret of every person in town. The first was Pastor John Thompson, who heard confessions of sin and listened to people pour out their hearts when they were going through trials and tribulations.
The second was Ace , owner of the most popular bar in town, son of the pastor, and probably the least likely to attend church on Sunday or any other day.
There was no question that his father knew a lot of secrets, though Ace was pretty certain he got the more honest version. His father spent time standing behind the pulpit; Ace stood behind a bar. And there he heard the deepest and darkest circumstances happening in the lives of other townspeople while never revealing any of his own. He supposed, pastor or bartender, that was kind of the perk.
They poured it all out for you, and you got to keep your secrets bottled up inside.
That was how Ace liked it. Every night of the week, he had the best seat in the house for whatever show Copper Ridge wanted to put on. And he didn’t even have to pay for it.
And with his newest acquisition, the show was about to get a whole lot better.
“Really?” Jack Monaghan sat down at the bar, beer in hand, his arm around his new fiancée, Kate Garrett. “A mechanical bull?”
“Damn straight, Monaghan. This is a classy ass establishment, after all.”
“Seriously,” Connor Garrett said, taking the seat next to Jack, followed by his wife Liss. “Where did you get that thing?”
“I traded for it. Guy down in Tolowa owed me some money and he didn’t have it. So he said I could come by and look at his stash of trash. Lo and behold, I discovered Ferdinand over there.”
“Congratulations,” Kate said. “I didn’t think anything could make this place more of a dive. I was wrong.”
“You’re a peach, Kate,” Ace told her.
The woman smiled broadly and wrapped her arm around Jack, leaning in and resting her cheek on his shoulder.
“Can we get a round?” Connor asked.
“Yes, please,” Liss said. “I have a one drink limit and we have a full two hours before I have to get back home.”
“Eli and Sadie are on baby duty,” Connor added.
Ace continued to listen to their conversation as he served up their usual brew, enjoying the happy tenor of the banter since the downers would probably be around later to dish out woe while he served up harder liquor.
The Garretts were good people. Always had been. Both before he had left Copper Ridge, and since he’d come back.
His focus was momentarily pulled away when the pretty blonde who’d been hanging out in the dining area all evening drinking with friends approached the aforementioned Ferdinand.
He hadn’t had too many people ride the bull yet, and he had to admit, he was finding it a pretty damn enjoyable novelty.
The woman tossed her head, her tan cowboy hat staying in place while her curls went wild around her shoulders. She wrapped her hands around the harness on top of the mechanical creature and hoisted herself up. Her movements were unsteady, and he had a feeling, based on the amount of time the group had been here, and how many times the men in the group had come and gone from the bar, she was more than a little tipsy.
Best seat in the house. He always had the best seat in the house.
She glanced up as she situated herself and he got a good look at her face. There was a determined glint in her eyes, her brows locked together, her lips pursed into a tight circle. She wasn’t just tipsy, she was pissed. Looking down at the bull like it was her own personal Everest and she was determined to conquer it along with her rage. He wondered what a bedazzled little thing like her had to be angry about. A
She nodded once, her expression growing even more determined as she signaled the employee Ace had operating the controls tonight.
Ace moved nearer to the bar, planting his hands flat on the surface. “This probably won’t end well.”
The patrons at the bar turned their heads toward the scene. And he noticed Jack’s posture go rigid. “Is that—”
“Yes,” Kate said.
The mechanical bull pitched forward and the petite blonde sitting on the top of it pitched right along with it. She managed to stay seated, but in Ace’s opinion that was a miracle. The bull went back again, and the woman straightened, arching her back and thrusting her breasts forward, her head tilted upward, the overhead lighting bathing her pretty face in a golden glow. And for a moment, just a moment, she looked like a graceful, dirty angel getting into the rhythm of the kind of riding Ace preferred above anything else.
Then the great automated beast pitched forward again and the little blonde went over the top, down onto the mats underneath. There were howls from her so-called friends as they enjoyed her deposition just a little too much.
She stood on shaky legs and walked back over to the group, picking up a shot glass and tossing back another, her face twisted into an expression that suggested this was not typical behavior for her.
Kate frowned and got up from the stool, walking across the bar and making her way over to the other woman.
He had a feeling he should know the woman’s name, had a feeling that he probably did somewhere in the back corner of his mind. He knew everyone. Which meant that he knew a lot about a lot of people, recognized nearly every face he passed on the street. He could usually place them with their most defining life moments, as those were the things that often spilled out on the bar top after a few shots too many.
But it didn’t mean he could put a name to every face. Especially when that face was halfway across the room, shielded slightly by a hat.
“Who is that?” he asked.
“Sierra West,” Jack said, something in his tone strange.
Ace knew the West family well enough, or rather, he knew of them. Everyone did, though they were hardly the type to frequent his establishment. Sierra did, which would explain why she was familiar , though, they never made much in the way of conversation. She was the type who was always absorbed in her friends or her cellphone when she came to place her order. No deep confessionals from Sierra over drinks.
He’d always found it a little strange she patronized his bar when the rest of the West family didn’t.
Dive bars weren’t really their thing.
He imagined mechanical bulls probably weren’t either. Judging not just by her pedigree, but by the poor performance.
“No cotillions going on tonight, I guess,” Ace said.
Jack turned his head sharply, his expression dark. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He didn’t know why, but his statement had clearly offended Monaghan. Ace wasn’t in the business of voicing his opinion. He was in the business of listening. Listening and serving. No one needed to know his take on a damn thing. They just wanted a sounding board to voice their own opinions and hear them echoed back.
Typically, he had no trouble with that. This had been a little slip-up.
“She’s not bad,” Jack said.
Sierra was a friend of Jack’s fiancée, that much was obvious. Kate was over there talking to the woman, her expression concerned. Sierra still looked mutinous. He was starting to wonder if she was mutinous toward the entire world, or something in particular.
“I’m sure she isn’t.” He wasn’t sure of any such thing. In fact, if Ace knew one thing about the world and all the people in it, it was that there was a particular type who used their every advantage in life to take whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it, regardless of promises made. Whether they were words whispered in the dark or vows spoken in front of whole crowds of people.
He was a betting man. And he would lay odds that Sierra West was one of those people. She was the type. Rich, a big fish in the small pond of the community, and beautiful. That combination got you whatever you wanted. And when the option for whatever you wanted was available, very few people resisted it.
Hell, why would you? There were a host of things he would change if he had infinite money and power.
But just because he figured he’d be in the same boat if he were rich and almighty didn’t mean he had to like it on other people.
Jack’s defensiveness of Sierra made Ace a little bit suspicious. And he made a mental note to keep an eye on that situation. He didn’t like to think that Jack would ever do anything to betray Kate. If for no other reason than that her older brothers would kill him dead without one shred of remorse between the two of them.
Hell, Ace would help. Kate was a nice girl, and up until she and Jack had gotten together, he would never have said Jack was a nice guy. A good guy, sure, but definitely not the kind of guy you would want messing around with your little sister.
He looked back over at Kate, who patted her friend on the shoulder before shaking her head and walking back toward the group. “She didn’t want to come sit with us or anything,” Kate told them, giving Jack a sideways look.
Now he wondered if she was an ex of Jack’s. If she was, he also wondered why Kate was being so friendly to her.
Kate Garrett was good people, but even she had her limits, Ace was sure.
The Garrett-Monaghan group lingered at the bar for another couple of hours before they were replaced by another set of customers. Sierra’s group thinned out a little bit, but didn’t disperse completely. A couple of the guys were starting to get rowdy, and Ace was starting to think he was going to have to play the part of his own bouncer tonight. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Fortunately, the rowdier members of the group slowly trickled outside. He watched as Sierra got up and made her way back to the bathroom, leaving a couple of girls—one of whom he assumed was the designated driver—sitting at the table.
The tab was caught up, so he didn’t really care how it all went down. He wasn’t a babysitter, after all.
He turned, grabbed a rag out of the bucket beneath the counter and started to wipe it down. When he looked up again, the girls who had been sitting at the table were gone, and Sierra West was standing in the center of the room looking around like she was lost.
Then she glanced in his direction, and her eyes lit up like a sinner looking at salvation.
Wrong guess, honey.
She wandered over to the bar, her feet unsteady. “Did you see where my friends went?”
She had that look about her. Like a lost baby deer. All wide, dewy eyes and unsteady limbs. And damned if she wasn’t cute as hell.
“Out the door,” he said, almost feeling sorry for her. Almost.
She wasn’t the first pretty young drunk to get ditched in his bar by stupid friends. She was also exactly the kind of woman he avoided at all costs, no matter how cute or seemingly vulnerable she was.
“What?” She swayed slightly. “They weren’t supposed to leave me.”
She sounded mystified. Completely dumbfounded that anyone would ever leave her high and dry.
“I figured,” he said. “Here’s a tip, get better friends.”
She frowned. “They’re the best friends I have.”
He snorted. “That’s a sad story.”
She held up her hand, the broad gesture out of place coming from such a refined creature. “Just a second.”
She turned away, heading toward the door and out to the parking lot.
He swore. He didn’t know if she had a car out there, or if she was intent on driving herself. But she was way too skunked to drive.
“Watch the place, Jenna,” he said to one of the waitresses, who nodded and assumed a rather important-looking position with her hands flat on the bar and a rag in her hand, as though she were ready to wipe crumbs away with serious authority.
He rounded the counter and followed the same path Sierra had just taken out into the parking lot. He looked around for a moment and didn’t see her. Then he looked down and there she was, sitting on the edge of the curb. “Everything okay?”
That was a stupid question, since he already knew the answer.
She lifted her head. “No.”
He let out a long, drawn-out sigh. The problem was, he’d followed her out here. If he had just let her walk out the door then nothing but the pine trees and the seagulls would have been responsible for her. But no, he’d had to follow. He’d been concerned about her driving. And now, he would have to follow that through on that concern.
“You don’t have a ride?”
She shook her head, looking miserable. “Everyone left me. Because they aren’t nice. You’re right. I do need better friends.”
“Yes,” he said, “you do. And let me go ahead and tell you right now, I won’t be one of them. But as long as you don’t live somewhere ridiculous like Portland, I can give you a ride home.”
And this, right here, was the curse of owning a bar. Whether he should or not, he felt responsible in these situations. She was compromised, it was late, and she was alone. He could not let her meander her way back home. Not when he could easily see that she got there safely.
“A ride?” She frowned, her delicate features lit dramatically by the security light hanging on the front of the bar.
“I know your daddy probably told you not to take rides from strangers, but trust me, I’m the safest bet around. Unless you want to call someone.” He checked his watch. “It’s inching close to last call. I’m betting not very many people are going to come out right now.”
She shook her head slowly. “Probably not.”
He sighed heavily, reaching into his pocket and wrapping his fingers around his keys. “All right, come on. Get in the truck.”