Dash had been thrilled when his motivational speaking gig had been canceled. He’d jumped on the first flight out to see his buddy and had arrived in Oak Falls, Virginia, about an hour ago. This was just what he needed—a break from his crazy life and the skintight dresses and money- hungry claws of the plastic women in the circles in which he’d run for the last decade. He’d thought things would slow down after he retired from football, but he’d gone from one media circus to another with motivational speaking gigs, sponsorships, and the upcoming tour for his new bestselling book, Capturing the Fire Within, a guide for young men to find their paths and realize their dreams. The funny thing was, he was still trying to figure out his own path.
“This jam session is frigging awesome!” he shouted as they walked past the stage where a group of twentysomething girls were singing with a band that looked more like a family reunion. A kid who couldn’t have been older than ten or eleven was playing the violin beside a man who looked to be about sixty playing a guitar. A teenage girl was on drums, and a handful of other people were playing a variety of instruments. “How often do they do this?”
“Every few weeks.” Sin raked a hand through his jet-black hair. At six foot three, two hundred and thirty pounds, he stood eye to eye with Dash. “The Jerichos invite everyone in the area to play music and dance. People bring food and catch up with neighbors. It’s pretty cool.”
“Kind of reminds me of home.” Dash had grown up in Port Hudson, New York, which was a college town, not a rural area, but it had the same close-knit feel, and while they didn’t have jam sessions, they had other community activities.
“Good old Port Hudson.” Sin cocked a grin. “I need to take a trip out there soon to see how Dawn and Andi are doing, remind them what a real man looks like.”
Dash narrowed his eyes in warning at the mention of his younger sisters, but it was all in good fun. They gave each other a hard time about their sisters often, but they also stepped in like protective brothers when necessary. “Speaking of sisters, did Kiki tell you she finally kicked that guy she was dating to the curb?”
“Yeah, last week. Thank God she listens to you.” Kiki was Sin’s younger sister. “I owe you one. Come on, let’s find Amber.”
“Right. Amber. The only woman on the planet not clamoring to get near me.” Amber Montgomery owned Story Time bookstore and was hosting Dash’s debut signing in a couple of weeks. She was the only bookstore owner who hadn’t immediately agreed to host, which he found odd, considering how much attention his presence would bring to her store. It seemed like everyone wanted a piece of him. By the time she’d accepted, all the tour spots had been full. Dash had been curious about the holdout, and since Sin lived in the area, Dash had Amber’s bookstore added as the first stop on the tour.
Dash glanced around as they moved through the crowd, noticing that, in addition to the women checking him out who probably had no clue who he was, guys were looking over like they recognized him, and a few cowboys were sizing him up. Don’t worry, I’m not here to take your women for a ride. He’d learned his lesson about meaningless hookups when he was young and stupid, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to screw over some random guy just to get his rocks off.
“Really? With you around, I’d think they’d be like this all the time.” Dash wasn’t kidding. Sin was impressive as hell on and off the football field. They’d met while attending Virginia State on football scholarships. After graduation, Dash had turned pro, and Sin had followed a coaching path, eventually becoming the athletic program director for their alma mater. A couple of years ago, Sin had taken over as the athletic director at No Limitz, the Oak Falls youth center. Dash had always admired his friend’s determination to follow his heart instead of the money.
Sin gave him a don’t-give-me-that-bullshit glance.
“I should’ve worn a cowboy hat to blend in. How about we don’t mention football to your friends? Tonight I’d just like to be your friend, and when necessary, some guy who wrote a book.”
“Yeah, I got that impression when you called. No problem.”
As he followed Sin through the crowd, his attention caught on a beautiful brunette talking with a group of people. Her fingertips grazed the head of a golden retriever wearing a service vest. He had a fleeting curiosity about the dog, but he got caught up in watching the woman as she talked with the dark-haired guy beside her. A smile as natural and enticing as summer rain brightened her face, giving her an even sweeter girl-next-door vibe. As they neared, he realized her hair wasn’t brown but more of a chestnut color, the long layers a little messy. The kind of hair that beckoned to be touched, the kind of easy smile he hadn’t seen in a very long time. There was nothing overtly sexual about her simple peach sweater or dark skinny jeans tucked into scuffed brown cowgirl boots with pink designs that looked like old favorites, but he found her utterly captivating. He wanted to know who she was and what her voice sounded like. Was it as sweet as she looked? Was she? It had been a long damn time since he’d actually been drawn to a woman enough to want to know more about her.
The beauty shook her head, and her hair tumbled in front of one eye, giving her an alluring edge. She tucked that wayward strand behind her ear, her eyes sweeping over the crowd, colliding with Dash’s, and holy hell, the air between them sizzled with a wild, frenetic energy. He couldn’t look away, didn’t want to, the need to meet her as real as the heat burning beneath his skin, and Sin was leading him directly toward her.
When they joined the group, Sin said, “The best thing about these jam sessions is seeing all the hottest ladies in Oak Falls in one place,” startling the chestnut-haired beauty. She tore her gaze away from Dash, crimson spreading over her cheeks.
A familiar-looking dark-haired guy rolled his shoulders back and cleared his throat. Sin laughed. “And the hottest guys. Sorry, Axsel.”
“No worries. With a body like that, you’re always forgiven.” Axsel dragged his eyes down Dash’s body. “And hello, gorgeous friend of Sin’s.”
Dash offered his hand. “Hi. I’m Dash. Where do I know you from?” In the next second, he recognized the man as Axsel Montgomery, the lead guitarist in the infamous band Inferno. “Wait, you’re a rock star, right?” He started connecting the dots and wondered if Axsel was related to Amber.
“In and out of the bedroom,” Axsel said flirtatiously, giving Dash’s hand a squeeze. “And you have a great name. Short for Dashing, I assume?”
Dash laughed and shook his head, his eyes finding the brunette’s again, causing a rush of heat to redden her neck and cheeks. She was adorably refreshing, in the sexiest of ways—a rarity in his world.
“Keep your trousers on, Axsel,” Sin said. “Dash is straight, and I brought him along tonight to meet Amber, not to hook up with her brother. Dash wrote a book, and he’s doing a signing with her in a couple of weeks.” He motioned to the brunette, who was staring at Dash again. “Dash, this is Amber Montgomery. Amber, this is Dash Pennington.”
It’s my lucky day. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person, Amber.” Dash held out his hand. “Shea had wonderful things to say about you.” Shea Steele was his publicist. She’d told him that Amber ran the busiest bookstore in the area, and she was sweet, cautious, and definitely not his type. Shea couldn’t have been more wrong.
The blond woman standing next to Amber, wearing about a dozen necklaces and a blouse with flowing sleeves, nudged Amber with her elbow, startling Amber out of her trance. Amber blinked repeatedly and shook Dash’s hand. “Hi. It’s nice to meet you.”
Her hand was soft and warm, her voice as sweet as honey, and her gorgeous hazel eyes were as lost in him as his were in her. “I hear you own a great bookstore. I’m looking forward to getting to know you.”
She continued shaking his hand. “I...yeah. Books...in the shop.” She was too damn cute.
A tall woman with thick and wild dark hair trailing over her shoulders from beneath a cowgirl hat stifled a laugh, and the blonde nudged Amber again.
“Bookstore, sorry,” Amber said quickly, dropping his hand. Her fingers landed on the dog’s head. “I own a bookstore. But you already know that. Oh my gosh. I better...” Her eyes darted around them. “Nice to meet you. I have to...do that thing. Over there.” She pointed into the crowd. “Sorry. See you in the bookstore. Come, Reno.”
As Amber hurried away, a thin blonde lowered her voice and said, “So much for flirting lessons.” Flirting lessons? That piqued his interest.
“You’ll have to excuse my sister,” the hippieish blonde said. “She’s had a long day.”
Dash watched Amber moving through the crowd. “No excuse necessary. She made a remarkable first impression.” And he couldn’t wait to see what her second impression was like.
Melissa Foster is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling and award-winning author. She writes sexy and heartwarming contemporary romance, new adult romance and women's fiction with emotionally compelling characters that stay with you long after you turn the last page. Readers adore Melissa's fun, flirty, and sinfully sexy, award-winning big family romance collection, LOVE IN BLOOM featuring the Snow Sisters, Bradens, Remingtons, Ryders, Seaside Summer, Harborside Nights, and the Wild Boys After Dark. Melissa's emotional journeys are lovingly erotic and always family oriented.
Melissa also writes sweet and clean romance under the pen name Addison Cole.
Melissa has painted and donated several murals to The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC. Her interests include her family, reading, writing, painting, friends, helping others see the positive side of life, and visiting Cape Cod.
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