My friend, Dani Collins, is back! I don’t think she needs an introduction. So I’m handing things straight off to her!
I’m so excited to be back here on Jane’s blog, visiting with all of you! Jane’s fans are The Best! (And I know a lot of you are Tule fans, too. You are extra wonderful and amazing!)
When I wrote my first novella for Tule’s Montana Born, I didn’t realize I would have four novellas written before I could blink. They’re Just. So. Fun. I love visiting Marietta and after writing a Homecoming (Fall), a Christmas (Winter), and a Bachelor (Spring) story, I knew I wanted to write a June Bride story to round out the year.
Wouldn’t you spend a year in Marietta if you could?
The best part is, of course, working with the other authors in the series. Rachael and I were back and forth a few times with continuity points since I introduce her heroine’s daughter, Bella. She later borrows Blake’s son, Ethan, from Blame The Mistletoe.
(I’ll tell you a secret. We got so caught up in the potential of Bella and Ethan’s teen romance, I tried to convince my daughter to write it. She politely declined. Like most authors, she didn’t want to be told what to write, lol!)
I think one of the reasons I love Marietta is that I’m a small town girl at heart. I currently live outside a rural town of about four thousand and lift a lot from our local community.
For instance, Piper, the heroine of His Blushing Bride, arrived in my imagination via my son’s Christmas concert at the local high school. Their long-suffering yet beloved music teacher retired and was replaced by a young woman. This gave me the idea of an attractive, moderately hip New Girl taking over from her father as the music teacher at Marietta High.
Originally I was going to pair Piper with a boy band star longing to be taken seriously. Then I remembered Liz in Blame The Mistletoe had a brother who once worked at her mother’s nail salon. Hello. I needed to know more about that.
I adore Bastian and hope you will too. He’s a bit of a player, but who doesn’t love a reformed rake story? He starts out like a shaggy ne’er-do-well and ends up… Well, I wont’ spoil anything. Suffice it to say that even though he’s more in tune with his feminine side than most men, he’s still a bit of a blockhead with lessons to learn.
To celebrate my year in Marietta, I’ve put together this fun prize pack. I’ll be signing that Homecoming print anthology which contains my first Marietta novella, Hometown Hero. To enter, just tell me some of your Marietta wants and wishes.
If you could visit Marietta, who would you want to meet? Where would you go? How long would you stay?
Wedding fever has hit the little town of Marietta…
Piper Tierney is busy wrapping up the school year and planning the music for Marietta’s Wedding Of The Century. She does not need one of her parents’ backpacking hippies under foot. Except the guy they let stay in their house is so much more than the California couch-surfer he resembles. Before she knows it, she’s making time to make time, even though he’s only in town for a couple of weeks.
Taking a break from working on his doctorate in political science, Sebastian Bloom wants to reassure himself his sister isn’t making another mistake with her upcoming wedding to a Marietta rancher. He’s definitely not looking for a bride for himself. Marriage and family are a trap. But Piper is cute, funny, and wants to move on from her ex.
They agree to a no strings affair, but will they wind up tying the knot?
Dani’s Montana Born series
Book 1: Hometown Hero
Book 2: Blame The Mistletoe
Book 3: The Bachelor’s Baby
Book 4: His Blushing Bride
Here’s an excerpt from His Blushing Bride –
Whoa. Who was that?
Pulling into the driveway of her parents’ house, Piper jammed the car into park and stared at the guy leaning on the veranda rail. He wore a white T-shirt, faded jeans, and sneakers. He was reading the romance novel she’d left on the table between the two lounge chairs where she’d sat for five minutes and five pages while eating a breakfast wrap, catching this morning’s sun.
He lifted his head and Piper heard her own breath come in on a sharp inhale.
Wow. Good-bye virginity.
He was thirty-ish, muscled and tanned, had dirty blond hair that was overlong and shaggy, making him look very devil-may-care. Dark golden stubble coated his square jaw beneath hollow cheeks. When did the burgling industry start recruiting through modeling agencies?
Not bothering to pull into the garage since she had to run out again right away, she opened her door and set one foot on the ground, but kept the car between herself and the stranger. Marietta was about the safest place in the world, but she’d picked up some habits of caution at college in Billings. Her parents weren’t home and their neighbor was elderly. Better safe than sorry.
“Hi,” she greeted.
Inside the house, Charlie barked, letting her know he’d heard her pull in.
The stranger lifted one corner of his mouth in a friendly grin. “You must be Piper. You look just like your mother.”
“Do I?” She cocked her head, still cautious. “How do you know her?”
A flicker of surprise crossed his expression before his grin widened fractionally, making her feel like he was laughing at her. “I met Arlene two weeks ago, in Panama. With your father, Henry. They said I could stay in their house if I walked and fed the dog.” He thumbed toward the house, then came down the steps with his hand extended. “I’m Bastian. They said they were going to email you to let you know.”
“They did. Half an hour ago. It read like you wouldn’t be here for at least a week.” She hid her irritation as she stepped out of the car to slam the door and come around the hood.
Wow and wow again. He was tall and such nice shoulders—her fatal weakness. The line of his collarbone was even with the top of her head, filling her vision with his well-defined chest under that layer of damp, white cotton.
All she could think was the universe had picked up her call on the first ring and sent Mr. Fantasy in response. Which only made her feel obvious and juvenile as she tried to catch her breath. Shut that down right now, she told herself, trying to keep her cool, but honestly. He dazzled.
“They would have sent it last week,” he said, amusement dancing in his blue-green eyes.
Seriously. Who in real-life had eyes the shade of Caribbean waters? She couldn’t look away, they were so gorgeous.
“We met in a little town where the internet was really sketchy,” he explained. “The email might not have actually sent until they moved on to a bigger center and they had a decent signal.”
Terrific, she silently muttered, watching his mouth twitch. He knew exactly what was going on with her. He probably hypnotized women all the time. He was probably bored by her reaction.
“They said Sebastian, but you said Bastian?” She tried to pretend she wasn’t buzzing with electrified energy as she shook his hand. The contact actually made her pulse jump. Good grief, this was embarrassing. Since when did her hormones swarm for couch-surfing backpackers?
“Sebastian Bloom, but call me whatever you want.” He had a strong grip and wasn’t shy about letting his blue eyes roam.
When his gaze hung up on the right side of her face, she lost her comeback and pulled away, shifting her gaze to the open door of the car so she wouldn’t see the What is that? question form behind his eyes.
“Welcome to Marietta.” She ignored the way his callused palm left a lingering impression on her hand and she moved back to the car to gather her things. “We’ll go in through the back—oh!”
He had followed and was really close behind her. He took her school bag from her shoulder as she straightened and she stumbled against the car in surprise, flooded with a fresh rush of excitement. “What are you doing?
The corners of his beautiful mouth deepened. “Helping.”
He took her insulated coffee mug from her lax grip and stepped back, leaving her with the car keys and enough room to swing the door shut before she led him to where the backyard was fenced in six-foot cedar planking. It was her father’s effort to keep the deer from jumping in to decimate her mother’s garden, but Charlie had turned out to be the better deterrent.
Her back and bottom tingled as she walked in front of Bastian. Her breasts felt heavy and achy, making her blush at how physically she was responding to just being in his vicinity. This was so weird.
“Don’t you have luggage?” she asked over her shoulder as she held the wooden gate, trying to act normal, but he came through her space in a faint cloud of masculine scent and stallion power. Her knees felt weak, for heavens’ sake!
“Stolen. In Dallas, if you can believe it. I made it six months across South America, but lost everything fifteen minutes after I hit American soil. I was holding my wallet and passport and was wearing these clothes, but I had just tucked my phone into a pocket on the backpack so I lost that, too. Everything was saved to the cloud, but still.”
“Bummer.” Awesome. She was regressing to twelve. Try again, Piper. “Marietta seems an odd destination from Panama,” she commented. “Do you have family here?” And therefore, why aren’t you staying with them instead of making me feel like an idiot?
“My sister is here. She’s getting married—”
“You are not related to NancyLynn Pruitt,” she charged, letting the wooden gate slam closed with a clank of its catch. She didn’t know all the Pruitts, but she would have remembered Sebastian Bloom if he’d grown up around here.
“Never heard of her. No, my sister is Liz Flowers. You might know my niece, Petra. You teach at the high school, don’t you?”
“Oh! Second flute and keyboard.” She had talked to Bella about how Petra would be a sort of mentor and was new to the area, too. It had seemed a good match.
Piper saw a vague resemblance in Bastian’s blond, blue-eyed California looks now. Darn it, why did he have to have such a nice family connection? Now she couldn’t help but warm to him on a more personal level.
“Your sister is marrying Blake Canon, isn’t she? I know who he is, but I’m friendlier with his sister, Meg.” Meg was yet another woman in town glowing with the joy of a fresh relationship.
“Yeah, she’s the reason I needed a place to stay. Moved back home, I guess, so there’s no room for me at the ranch. I’d rather be in town anyway. It was nice of your parents to offer their house.”
Piper couldn’t help pausing on the porch steps, not the least surprised her parents had done it and confident in their judgment. They wouldn’t have sent a creep to Marietta, let alone their own house where their daughter lived over the garage. Still, Piper thought it was curious. “How did they know you were coming here?”
He shrugged. “It was just one of those things where you hear an American accent in a cantina and get to chatting. They said they were from Marietta. I said, small world and that I was coming here for my sister’s wedding…”
She nodded and moved to set the key in the lock on the back door. “Brace yourself,” she warned and opened it.
Charlie came out in all his excited glory, never jumping, but he had to scramble a frantic, wiggling figure eight around both pairs of legs, bumping and nosing, tail whapping crazily against their legs while he moaned a prolonged greeting of whines and near-howls.
“Lab and spaniel?” Bastian guessed, bending to pat and make friends. Best friends. Charlie tried to lick Bastian’s fingers right off his hands.
“That’s our guess. He’s a rescue and so happy to have a home it’s ridiculous.” She gave Charlie a few jostles and rubs as he came over to her, scrubbing his ears and getting under his collar before she nudged him toward the stairs and the lawn. “Go, you goof. Work out your kinks. I’ve had to leave him inside the last few days. The neighbor is having some work done and he just stands at the fence and barks the whole time. But he should be fine until I get back in an hour or so?”
“Where are you going?”
That took her slightly aback. It must have shown. His mouth twitched again.
She was getting really tired of being laughed at. Especially by a guy who looked a little too old to be living like a broke student taking a gap year.
“I need some things,” he explained patiently. “Clothes. Groceries. Does it make sense to drop me off and I’ll shop while you run your errands? Your parents said I could use their car, but why waste the gas? Unless the store is close enough to walk?”
“Oh. Of course.” She supposed it was reassuring to know he planned to buy his own food, but she’d just been looking forward to time alone to pull herself together and quit acting like an infatuated teenager. “I mean, you could walk, but it’s a long walk back if you have a lot to carry. I can drop you. It’s on the way. Let me put my bag away and get changed.” And maybe stop babbling. Argh.
* * *
Bastion watched—and grinned—as Piper headed up the outside stairs on the side of the detached garage. The backs of her knees flashed from the short slit in her navy blue skirt. A stripe of red on the back of her heels matched the narrow strip of red that belted her white shirt. She was definitely working the hot teacher angle.
It was definitely working on him.
Even if she looked a shade too young for him. Not young, actually. If she was teaching she had to be mid-twenties. No, she seemed innocent. Inexperienced. Her reaction had been something like when his niece’s girlfriends met him and fell into an instant crush. They tended to giggle and blush—which had been an exciting reaction when he’d been a teenager himself, but these days just made him shake his head at having ever been so young.
Not that Piper had acted quite that immature, but she definitely didn’t have a handle on her reaction. Women her age, with a track record and an interest, usually looked at him with invitation. That, he liked.
If she’d waved him in with something like that, he would be upstairs with her right now. She was cute. Her blond hair looked glossy and soft, her brown eyes warm and confident despite the air of jittery shyness she projected. The way she’d angled her face told him she was self-conscious about the birthmark on her cheek, which maybe accounted for some of her wariness. He wanted to say, Forget about it. I already have.
He wondered how she’d react if he told her he was feeling all the same sparks and runs of heat, just hiding it better.
He hadn’t expected that. He’d seen the twinkle of a set up in Piper’s mother’s eye as she’d offered their house, mentioning that Piper could use the help with the dog since she was so busy. There’d been a note of caution—protectiveness maybe—in Henry’s tone as he’d agreed that of course Bastian could use their house.
Bastian had read the undercurrents and figured he’d be facing a woman of marriageable age, but Piper was no desperate spinster who needed her mother to find her a husband. That was serious temptation living a short fumble in the dark away. Good thing he knew how to keep a lid on his libido, because he was really tempted.
But he wasn’t about to repay his hosts’ kindness by banging their daughter. The Tierneys were obviously solid folk and Piper struck him as equally conservative. Best to keep her on the no fly list. He was only here a few weeks then heading home to California anyway. An affair would be awesome, amazing, a huge relief, really. But wasn’t going to happen. Not here. Not with Piper.
Stepping into the house, he glanced around the laundry room, then walked through to the living area. It was a standard American bungalow, very middle-class and modest, like its owners. At the same time, it was luxury compared to some of the places he’d been staying. In those one-room shacks, the kitchen had usually been a single hotplate burner, the pantry a box about the size of a milk crate. If it had a tap, the water was cold. Refrigeration had been non-existent.
Scratching the prickling stubble on his jaw, he decided it was probably a good thing he’d come here instead of going straight back to L.A. The electricity and television were going to be culture shock enough, he thought wryly.
The old-fashioned landline and phone book were quaintly familiar, though. He used them to let Liz know he was in town and made plans to drive out and see her tomorrow. He was beat from over thirty hours of non-stop travel and tempted to fall on his face, but he would power through to the end of the day and hope to adjust his body clock quickly.
Besides, he wanted to talk more with Piper. He wasn’t going to make any moves, but flirting was harmless.
He watched her through the window over the sink, as she descended the stairs and he drank a glass of water. She’d changed into a pair of blue shorts and a white and blue striped T-shirt, losing the heels for a pair of open-toed flat sandals. Her legs were really nice. Long and slender with enough muscle and curve to make them very appealing. She’d tidied her ponytail, but otherwise didn’t look like she’d dressed to impress.
Maybe she isn’t interested, Bloom. Maybe you’re seeing something that’s not there.
He wasn’t at his best that was for sure. But even scruffy and decidedly white in a Latino and indigenous landscape, he’d garnered more than his share of female attention. Girls liked him. They always had.
“Are you going to behave yourself?” he heard Piper ask.
She was talking to Charlie, but he mentally answered with a beleaguered, I’ll try.
Charlie was acting like he hadn’t seen her in days. She bent to pet him and her shorts snugged her backside, making Bastian itch to take his time fondling and getting to know those bare thighs and plump cheeks.
He swallowed another gulp of cold water.
“If you bark, Mrs. Clements will tell me. Don’t think I won’t find out. Hear me? Ready?” she asked Bastian as she straightened, cheeks flushed, gaze skittering away from his.
She might not be interested, but she was definitely feeling the chemistry.
He patted for his wallet and nodded, silently letting out a slow breath as he took in the way her shirt hugged her breasts. Not heavy, but very nice.
He came to the door, but she didn’t move.
“I’ll just, um,” she edged around him in the small laundry room, taking a key off the hook behind his shoulder, giving him a whiff of girly smells and toothpaste. “Wait a sec before you lock it.” She grabbed a handful of kibble and stepped outside to throw it into the lawn. One foot came up and so did her shorts as she leaned over the rail, exposing even more of the backs of her thighs.
Dear God. Was she trying to kill him?
Award winning author Dani Collins wrote for twenty-five years before selling to Harlequin Mills & Boon in May of 2012. Since then, she’s turned in more than a dozen titles to Harlequin Presents and written four sexy, small-town novellas to Tule’s Montana Born. She has even found homes for some of her previously rejected manuscripts, including indie-publishing her single title romantic comedy, Hustled To The Altar and signing with a small press for her medieval fantasy, The Healer.
Dani doesn’t have any hobbies. She’s too busy writing. Look for Seduced Into The Greek’s World where Harlequin Presents are shelved and His Blushing Bride from Montana Born, which releases as an ebook on all platforms May 11th, 2015.
Thank you, Dani for sharing with us today! Readers, grab your copy of His Blushing Bride soon! I also have a Dani Collins Book Girl giveaway for one lucky winner! For a chance to win this prize, leave a comment below and you’ll automatically be entered to win! Contest ends on Thursday with winner announced on Friday.