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Berkley Sensation
August 5, 2014
ISBN 9780425273692

Unbroken

#3

(Cade’s Book)

Amber Jameson has always thought of her best friend Cade as an older brother. A really hot older brother. But growing up in foster care, she learned to rely only on herself. As much as she likes stealing glances at Cade’s chiseled jaw and painted-on jeans, she resents the way he swoops in like a superhero to fix things for her.

When former rodeo rival Jim Davis starts harassing Amber to sell her grandfather’s failing ranch, Cade swoops in once again. To send Jim on his way, Cade pretends to be Amber’s boyfriend, moving in to help fix the place up. With her grandfather behind the idea, Amber and Cade have to keep the charade going—whether she likes it or not.

But as their make-believe romance starts to heat up, maybe Cade and Amber will learn to admit that they both could use a little saving…

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Excerpt

“It’s bad form to get drunk at your sister’s wedding, right?”

“Since when has that ever stopped you, Cade?”

Amber Jameson leaned back in the folding chair and then checked to make sure the little purple bow tied to the back hadn’t fallen off and onto the grass. She’d spent too many damn hours tying those things on yesterday.

They were finicky. Finicky flipping ribbons. Almost as finicky as the bride, who, while cute as a button under normal circumstances, had had a bridezilla flare‐up while they’d been decorating yesterday, turning Elk Haven Stables into a country‐fairy‐princess dream, and had gone around micromanaging said ribbon‐tying.

And placement.

She’d demanded ribbon curls in lengths that were impos‐ sible for mere mortals to achieve,. If Lark weren’t the little sister Amber had always wanted, she would never have gone along with all of it. Not without attacking her with the scis‐ sors she was using to curl ribbons, at least.

But then, Lark’s life had been short on frills. Being that she had been raised by two brothers and a dad. So Amber supposed she was entitled.

But then, Amber’s life had been short on this kind of thing too, and she didn’t feel at all yearny for it. Nope. Mar‐ riage and men and bleah. Not her thing. Not these days.

“It doesn’t usually,” Cade said, leaning back in his chair so that they were sitting at the same angle. “But I thought, since this is for Lark, maybe I should behave.”

She looked at her friend’s profile. Strong, handsome. Square jaw, roughened with dark stubble. Brown eyes that always had a glint of naughty in them. And today, he was wearing a suit jacket and a tie, along with a black cowboy hat.

Damn, damn, damn, he was fine. Sometimes it hit her, like a shit‐ton of bricks, that her best friend was the best‐ looking guy in a five‐hundred‐mile radius. Or possibly the world. And it made her feel . . . things she didn’t want to feel.

Then he turned to face her head‐on and offered her his very best smart‐ass Cade smile, and the moment faded out as soon as it hit. Like driving on one of Silver Creek’s fir‐lined high‐ ways and seeing a sunbeam peek through the trees. A brilliant shaft of light that colored the world gold for just a moment before racing back behind the dark green branches. Just a glimpse; an impression of something she didn’t want to explore.

Like, ever.

“When did she grow up?” Amber asked, looking over at the dance floor, where Lark was currently holding on to her new husband, both of them swaying to the music without displaying any particular dancing skills. Quinn was a rough‐ and‐tumble cowboy type, though he seemed to have a little more rhythm than his new bride. “It makes me feel old,” she continued. “Like an old cliché. Sitting here at her reception looking at this grown‐up woman in a wedding gown and thinking . . . how is she not eight years old still?”

“Imagine how I feel,” Cade said, his voice rough. “Yeah, I know.”
The Mitchells were a part of Amber’s cobbled‐together

family. She didn’t have a lot in the way of people who loved her, so when she found people who were willing to accept her, she clung to them as best as she could.

In her younger years that clinging amounted to some very poor decisions, but she’d matured past that. Especially after she’d realized that her grandma and grandpa weren’t going to just ship her straight back into the system. That they were going to let her stay in Silver Creek.

That she could stay, with them, in their home.

Since then, she’d built herself a solid foundation for her life. And Cade was the cornerstone. Had been since she was fourteen years old. She would never, ever do anything to jeop‐ ardize that.

Though, there was nothing wrong with infrequent, secret ogling.

“Are you having empty‐nest syndrome, Mitchell?” she asked, nudging him with her elbow.

“Me? Oh, hell no. This nest isn’t getting emptier. Maddy runs around like hell on pudgy feet. That little beast cut holes in one of my work shirts the other day with those little plastic‐ handled scissors. And now Cole and Kelsey have the other baby coming in January. Nope, it’s just filling up over here.”

“But Lark’s gone.”

“She’s been gone. She’s been shacking up with that ass‐ hole I now call a brother‐in‐law for a year.”

She patted his thigh and pretended not to notice how hard and hot and muscular it was beneath those thin dress pants. “I know. But now it’s official.”

“Yep.”

“Emotions don’t bite, Cade. Don’t run from your feels,” she said dryly.

“That’s pretty rich coming from you, missy.”

She made a face at him and earned a smile. “I don’t have to take advice to give it. I’m emotionally stunted and I know it.”

“That’s why we get along so well.”

“I thought it was because I’m such a good pool player,” she said, lifting her beer up from the table and taking a long drink.

“That’s not it. I’m a lot better than you are.” “Uh‐huh.”

She eyed Cade. More specifically, his leg. The one she hadn’t just patted. “Um . . . really?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Okay, maybe not.” The grooves around his mouth deepened, and Amber felt an answering chasm deepen around her heart.

She hated that he couldn’t dance anymore. Hated that the man she knew as being so totally vital and energetic was hobbled because of a rodeo accident four years ago.

For a long time they’d all blamed Quinn, Lark’s husband, but they found out they’d been mistaken—which was hard for Cade to process, as evidenced by the fact that he fre‐ quently referred to his new brother‐in‐law as an asshole.

They were getting there, but they weren’t exactly best friends yet.

The dude‐bonding process was not yet complete.

Now they didn’t quite know who to blame, except for a poor kid who’d been paid to sabotage the ride. The spike he’d put beneath Cade’s horse’s saddle had only been in‐ tended to end the ride faster, not send Cade to the hospital and cause life‐changing, career‐ending injuries. Getting hung up on your horse was never a good thing, but when the horse was that spooked? You didn’t walk away. You got carted away on a stretcher.

Quinn got to move on from it all. His name was cleared. He was reinstated into competitions. And the question of who’d sabotaged Cade was left unanswered.

And Cade would never be fixed. Even if they did find out who was behind it, Cade wouldn’t magically be healed, damage undone by justice. That hurt her. Always. Every day.

Because whenever she had a problem Cade was there. He was always trying to fix things for her. Had been since they were in high school. But there was no fixing this for him. And she’d give her own leg to do it, so he could go back to doing what he loved.

She only used her legs to wait tables and help around her grandparents’ ranch.

She didn’t do anything like Cade had been doing. Watching him ride? It had always sent a flash of light down her spine. A spark that lit her up everywhere and sent tingles to places.

It was art with him: athletic grace and sheer masculine willpower. Straining muscles, gritted teeth, dirt, sweat and mud flying in the air.

Yeah, that flipped her switches like whoa.

Cade Mitchell on the back of a bucking horse was a truly orgasmic experience.

When he was through with a ride, he always shook. From his hands down to his boots. Adrenaline, he said. She shook too though, and it wasn’t always from adrenaline.

He scared the hell out of her. Watching his accident dur‐ ing the Vegas championships, on TV in her living room, had been the single most painful moment of her life.

Her best friend, her family, dragged around the arena like a rag doll, white as death and knocking on that door.

In those moments, she’d gotten a look at life without Cade. And it had been a yawning vacuum of empty cold. She’d always known he was important. Right then, she’d realized just how important.

Ironically, she would still give just about anything to get him back in the saddle, so to speak. Because he loved it. Even though she knew that after that accident she’d sweat off three pounds during those precious seconds he was on the back of one of those beasts.

Small price to pay for allowing him to have his passion. For giving him back the ability to dance, however badly, so they could go out on that wooden floor together on his sis‐ ter’s wedding day.

But there was no going out on the dance floor for Cade. So they sat at the table and drank beer until the sky turned purple and the candles, strung over the tables in mason jars, lit everything with a pale yellow glow.

“Last dance,” Amber said, knowing that Quinn and Lark would be leaving soon, off on their honeymoon. “Wanna get out of here?” she asked.

“Are you hitting on me?”

“Hay‐ell yeah. What do people come to weddings for but to hook up? Certainly not to see their BFF’s little sister tie the knot with a ridiculously handsome cowboy.”

“You think he’s handsome?” Cade asked, eyes narrowed.

She looked back at Quinn and Lark, who were still twined around each other like vines. “Uh, yeah. Have you checked that tat he has on his shoulder? Me‐ow.”

“Hey, he’s my sister’s husband,” he said, grimacing slightly when he said the words.

“Don’t worry, I’m out of the game.”

“I thought we were gonna hook up.”

“Did I say hook up? I meant ‘Let’s get out of here so I can whup your ass at pool.’ How about that?”

“Sounds like more fun anyway.”

More fun than watching his little sister ride off into the sunset with a guy that Cade still had a tough time with in some ways. He didn’t say that, but Amber could read Cade’s subtext pretty well. Most often, said subtext was cheeseburger or breasts. But every so often it was a real, deep emotion that he was never, ever going to show to the public.

Or even to himself.

Which was when she made sure she was on hand to help him out.

“Yep. I’ll even buy you a beer because you look so damn purty,” she said, tweaking his hat.

“Well, shucks,” he said, that lopsided grin tilting to the left, tilting her stomach along with it. “Let’s get on with it . . .Can you play pool in that dress?” he asked, indicating her very abnormally feminine attire.

“If you can play in a tie.”

He reached up and grabbed the knot at the base of his throat and loosened it. “I think I can handle it.”

“But can you handle me?” she asked, quirking her brow. “I guess we’ll see.”

 

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