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Where There’s Smoke by Kathy Coopmans ~ Blog Tour & Giveaway

Title: Where There’s Smoke
Author: Kathy Coopmans
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Rockstar Romance

Don’t miss Where There’s Smoke, an emotional Rockstar Contemporary Romance from Kathy Coopmans!

The lives of Dean Wagner and Tatum Fields have been ruled by the hand of fate.

The past six years of my life have been consumed by guilt. Since we lost Landon to a fire, I’ve done everything in my power to protect my daughter, Leila, from finding out the truth about how her twin brother died. Nothing in my life means more to me than her.

Not my band, not my reputation. Nothing.

Until I see Tatum, the woman I saved on the beach the same night she dealt with a loss of her own.
The daily routine I’ve settled into is what keeps me going. Work at my chocolate shop, pay the bills, repeat. I don’t date. I don’t trust. And I have never forgotten the man who walked away from saving my life without allowing me to thank him.

I know how to reach him, but I avoid him at all costs.

Until fate decides to make another appearance.

This is a story of how destiny ends up bringing these two souls back together, and how fate, the word very little people believe in is really their friend, after all. 

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Five years ago


As I gaze across the endless dark water of the ocean, the fiery sun begins to set. Waves lap against the shoreline creating an intricate pattern along the smooth sand, and as I lift my face to the half-lit sky, I try to listen for the voice that assures me he’s doing okay.

I can hear his laughter against the waves as they crash against the shore. I can feel the warmth of his tiny hand touching the side of my worn face, and I can smell the sting of the saltwater; it burns and reminds me of a time in my life I never want to forget. I love this peaceful beach, but it’s what I see when I come here that makes the guilt leave a trail of hot fire up my flesh.

I remember his young life as if it were yesterday, a little boy laughing along with his twin sister as they buried me in the sand. Two little toothless kids filled with excitement, bright-colored ribbons trailing behind them as they took off running with kites in one hand while holding hands with the other.

My kids were like night and day, but they had as much love for this beach as they did for each other. Landon always the protector and Leila the one he thought needed his protection. He stood up for her even when she stood up for herself. Which was daily with her being below average in both weight and height. She grew out of it, and eventually the kids who teased her did, too. Landon, though, he watched his sister like a hawk. I’ve never seen two kids glued to each other as those two were. And visualizing how they’d be if he were here is buried under the poisonous guilt spilled all over my dark and secluded mind.

With a heavy sigh that stabs my chest, I observe the familiar beach. There are a handful of people sitting around. Soon, families will fill this place up. Dads will be helping their children show off their colorful kites the same way I used to with mine, and the annual week-long kite fest will be underway, and not a single one of them will know I’ve been here.

Today, it’s just the way I like it. Quiet and peaceful. Still, I’d give everything I have not to be sitting here wondering where in my life I went wrong.

I come to this spot where I vacationed with my kids on the coast of the state of Washington several times a year. It was my son’s favorite vacation spot. The place where my daughter, Leila, and I watched the urn holding his ashes float until it slowly sunk to the bottom of the deep blue water, and now parts of him are scattered everywhere. It’s the way he would have wanted to be.

My boy has been gone one year today, and this place is where I feel closest to him. It could be the memories of a little boy who would throw a fit when it was time to leave are vivid here, could be because here is where I said my final good-bye. I’m not really sure why; all I know is, I feel his spirit soaring when I sit here. It’s the one place that brings me as close to him as I will ever be again.

Landon loved kites; he loved anything with the vibrancy to soar. He was a free-spirited teenager, a good kid who, despite his mother being a junkie and me fighting my own demons of a tortured past through living with an uncle who damaged me more than the abandonment from the woman who gave birth to me did, was tougher, stronger. And unlike his sister, he was determined to find the mother he once knew. At least that’s what he told me, and at first, I believed him; until he started showing signs I recognized all too well.

He was fourteen when I started missing concerts or taking him with me because I thought he was high. I refused to let him see his mother until I could test his blood and his piss. He was squeaky clean. We fought practically every day over my suspicion. Me in his face wanting to know how he hid it every day he denied it, and the parent part of me that believed my son wouldn’t do drugs because of the downhill battle his mother struggled with eventually won. I believed him until that knock came at my door. Several police officers and CPS standing on the other side to give me news no parent should ever have to receive.

I shake those thoughts away. Today isn’t the day to let anger twine its way around my chest and choke me. Except it does. It swirls and mocks, drops seeds of guilt in my veins, and they spread. A disease I’ll never be rid of.

“Damn, I miss you, kid.” There hasn’t been a day gone by that I haven’t thought about him. Wondering what kind of man he’d be growing up to be. If he would have kept up with his love for playing the drums like me, or if he would have chosen a different path to spread his wings and fly.

When I lost Landon, my world collapsed. Shadows took over the light, and the pain has left a constant ache in my chest. It goes on and on like the rippled waves across the sand.

And my mind; it calls out for me to come back to the man I once was. A continuous fight of trying to fit together who I used to be. It’s wrung me out and left me hanging to dry.

Losing a child is a loss I wouldn’t know how to begin to explain. There will always be a hole in my soul that will never again be completely filled, and I’m a resentful man because of it. Losing him stole the man I was away from my daughter. It took me from my friends, and on behalf of the life I have yet to live, I haven’t a Goddamn clue how to get it back or if I even have the strength to try.

The kids’ mother and I were never together. Landon and Leila were created during a drunken night I don’t remember. I mean, I was nineteen, met some random chick at a party I was having. Fucked her and went on with my life. That is until she showed up to give me the news. And like most men, I denied it. Made her get a paternity test. Reality snuck in when the results came back saying they were mine, and they are without a doubt the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ll never accomplish anything greater than being their dad.

I press my hands to my temples. I can’t think of the way my kids came into this world. Not when what I did brought me the only two people I love unconditionally.

“Talk to me, Landon. I need to hear you and get these painful memories out of my head.”

Silence rings in my ears. Guilt claws at my throat. I usually find a sense of peace here, but for some fucked-up reason, all I can think about is what eventually took my son’s life.

Somewhere along the way, the kids’ mom, Kate, got hooked on prescription pills; those turned to weed, and it escalated to the heavy stuff from there. She was out of control and blamed everyone but herself. One day it was my fault because I wouldn’t have a thing to do with her; the next she complained the kids were too much for her to handle. She was a fucking wreck waiting to happen.

I tried getting her off the drugs. I paid for several trips to rehab, and then the day came where I took her to court. Won full custody of the kids and settled into a routine with a nanny to take care of them after I hooked up with Roman and with a stroke of luck we found Miles and Brock. Together we took ourselves to fame.

I wasn’t the perfect parent, but I made sure to fly home whenever we had a break from the tour. I flew the kids to me on the weekends they didn’t spend with their mother, and things were going fine up until Kate claimed she was pulling her life together and asked for more time with the kids. I called bullshit, and so did Leila. But Landon, he went to stay with her as often as he could. A kid set out to save a woman who didn’t want to be saved. And up until the day he died, I still felt that gnawing ache in my chest he was doing something.

The guilt ate me alive when the truth came out of how they were both killed.

“I should have made you go into rehab.” Then what? Would he have gotten out and started right back up like his mother did? “Fuck!” I scream, gaining the attention of a family walking the beach. I close my eyes, suck in a breath, and bow my head between my drawn-up knees.

My son was a drug addict like his mother. They were high the night they died. The forensics experts told me they were making meth and it blew up, caught the house on fire and killed them both.

“I fucking hate you for what you did to him. You were his mother, for fuck’s sake. Flesh and blood, and you dragged him to hell with you. Put our daughter through the worst nightmare she will have in her life.” Regardless of not ever allowing the anger to bubble to the surface whenever I come here, for some reason today it does.

My heart and brain become a game of tug of war—anger versus heartache—and I begin to shake. The tart taste in my mouth turns bitter, and every nerve ending dares to explode.

If she hadn’t died alongside my son, I would have killed her.

I glance around the beach that has been my solace and wish the sand would calm me down like it usually does. It doesn’t do a thing for some reason, except make me angrier. It’s a damn good thing Leila isn’t here to see me like this.

My blood rushes to my head, and my fists ball at my sides. I need to stop and find the man I once was again. Some kind of fucking calming of the soul is what I need. Something besides beating the hell out of my drums. Which I won’t be doing for a while now that we’re done recording our album and the band is taking some much-needed time off.

Every positive emotion I’ve tried to find is spread across the wide span of this ocean. I fake my way through the happy times with the happy disposition I’ve perfected. The problem I’m having now is, all the space inside of me is overflowing with negativity. I’m finding the bad in the good, and every day it’s becoming so much harder to ignore. The gap in my chest and the inner pain are almost too much to bear. It’s a lame and deadly excuse, but not even the rush of a cigarette calms me anymore, or watching Leila turn into the loving woman she was meant to be. My head is fucked up, and my guilt is slowly killing me.

“Damn it,” I grumble and turn my head when I see a woman frantically stripping out of her wedding dress at the shoreline. She tosses it into the water and crosses her arms over her chest. Her long black hair is blowing in the wind. “Christ, what the hell is she doing?”

I study her for a silent beat. There’s something about the way she’s gazing out into the ocean as she stands there in a white strapless bra and lace panties that grips me in the chest. I should pay more attention to her because despite whatever has her beaten down, she is absolutely exquisite. I wish I could hold on to the beautiful profile of her face, because it’s obvious she’s troubled over something, but the man standing several feet behind her in a black tuxedo spikes my anger. I dig my hands in the sand to stop me from standing up and walking toward him to knock him on his ass.

His tall frame is bent over with his hands on his knees as if he’s trying to catch his breath, and when he glances this way, every part of me begins to shake.

Sam Borst, a reporter for Hollywood Living. A young punk in his mid-twenties. I hate him nearly as much as I did Kate. The last thing I need is for him to see me and pop his mouth off. The guy is the biggest gossip talker this side of the Mississippi. Gives his opinions freely and exploits celebrities with misguided information. The fucking world eats out of the palm of his hands. He hosts a two-hour radio show where he asks their opinions, has them call in and stir the pot even more. Hollywood gossip. It all makes me fucking sick.

I’ve kept my personal life hidden since the day half of it was stolen from me, yet this man has never given up on trying to dig up the truth of why I buried my son.

The bastard didn’t come along and stick a thorn in my side when he first started talking about their deaths; he stuck a Goddamn knife in me, twisted it, and left it there when he opened a forum on their website for opinions on how the public thought it all went down. Our publicist told me to let it go when all I wanted was to kick his teeth in.

He didn’t give two fucks I was mourning and at the same time trying to bring my daughter back to life. For months, all I did was make sure she was going to be alright. I might have been slowly dying every day, pretending I was strong, but I had a responsibility much larger than taking care of myself, and that was her. So, I let him rattle off and ignored the prick the best I could until the rest of the paparazzi started coming around, digging for the one piece of dirt they they will never find.

I beat the shit out that motherfucker six months ago. Broke his nose, fucked up his jaw, and spent a solid thirty days behind bars. The worst part of it was, I lost my temper in front of my daughter.

It was hard as hell trying to explain to Leila that she had to stay with one of the guys while I sat in the hole wishing I had let it go like I was told. She ended up staying with Miles because his apartment was closer to her high school.

At the time, I was thankful Leila didn’t watch the news or listen to gossip, so, at first, she had no idea what the hell was going on. It drained me to make up some lame-ass excuse as to why I fucked him up and to make sure she stayed away from anyone with a camera or microphone, and to this day, she’s the only one close to me who doesn’t know the truth about Landon. But I’d bet my ass this fucker here would plow her over if he knew death wouldn’t come to him the minute I found out he talked to her. Protecting Leila is the reason why everyone close to me took a vow to keep quiet and stay away from the paparazzi.

I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my daughter from people like him, and when I say that, I mean it with a vengeance that would cause the earth to shift.

The vindictive assholes who stalk us would sell their soul to the devil for a good story, and the truth behind my son’s death would have every one of them lining up to see which one the devil would take first if word got out. My bet would be on him.

It was bad enough she watched her mother whittle away, but to have her think poorly of her brother or blame herself because she didn’t see the signs would kill me. Leila loved Landon more than she loved anyone, anyone, and I need to keep her heart from tainting his memory.

I pull my ball cap lower over my head and exhale. Pisses me off that my time with my son was already ruined by my anger, and now it’s doubled that he’s here.

I’m up on my feet when the woman catches my eye again as she starts walking into the water, the waves coming up to her knees, her waist, and then her neck. “Shit, she’s going to drown.”

“Damn it, Tatum, you’re my fiancée. Let me help you. Stop!” Sam’s voice that reeks of panic and fear loops around my feet. I start running toward the freezing water.

I couldn’t save my child, but I’ll do whatever it takes to save her.

USA Today Best Selling Author Kathy Coopmans is a Michigan native where she lives with her husband, Tony. They have two son’s Aaron and Shane.

She is a sports nut. Her favorite sports include NASCAR, Baseball, and Football.
She has recently retired from her day job to become a full-time writer. 

She has always been an avid reader and at the young age of 50 decided she wanted to write. She claims she can do several things at once and still stay on task. Her favorite quote is “I got this.”


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Follow Me Back by AL Jackson ~ Cover Reveal

Follow Me Back

A stand-alone romance in A.L. Jackson’s Fight for Me series…

Coming February 5th

Photo: Sara Eirew
Ahh, you guys!! I am so thrilled to unveil the cover of FOLLOW ME BACK!!! I am absolutely in love with this gorgeous, sexy cover created by the incredible Letitia Hasser of RBA Designs with photo cred going to the amazing Sara Eirew. The image is absolutely SPOT-ON for my vision of Kale Bryant, the super sexy, swoony doctor in FOLLOW ME BACK.
I fell for this book and these characters HARD ((YES, YES, there’s a chance it may be my favorite!)). There is just something so sweet gliding beneath all the sexiness that drew me deeper and deeper into these characters with each line I wrote! I absolutely CANNOT WAIT for you to meet Kale and Hope on February 5, 2018!
SERIES: A Fight For Me Stand-Alone Novel
RELEASE DATE: February 5, 2018


The next seductive, unforgettable stand-alone romance in the FIGHT FOR ME series from NYT & USA Today Bestselling Author A.L. Jackson . . .
Kale Bryant. Arrogant. Gorgeous. Commanding.
This ER doctor is married to his job. His only vice is one-night stands and short-lived flings. He learned a long time ago loving someone isn’t worth the risk.
Harley Hope Masterson. Beautiful. Brave. Sweet.
The owner of a small coffee shop knows what it’s like to struggle. Embroiled in a bitter divorce, she’s threatened with losing everything.
When Kale accepts a new position down the street from Hope’s shop, he begins to question every wall he’s built around his heart.
He wants her in a way he hasn’t wanted anyone.
One touch is fire.
One kiss, and he’s spinning out of control.
But taking her won’t come without consequences.
Hope is in for the fight of her life. One neither of them saw coming.
Now Kale must decide if loving her is worth risking it all.
She will fight with everything she has.
But sometimes even hope needs a hero . . .

Don’t miss our amazing giveaway going on to celebrate the FOLLOW ME BACK Cover Reveal!! Grand prize includes a Kindle Fire HD 8, a signed Show Me the Way Paperback, plus a $25.00 Amazon Gift Card!! Heck yes! 


A.L. Jackson is the New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author of contemporary romance. She writes emotional, sexy, heart-filled stories about boys who usually like to be a little bit bad.
Her bestselling series include THE REGRET SERIES, CLOSER TO YOU, and BLEEDING STARS novels. Watch for A.L. Jackson’s upcoming novel, FOLLOW ME BACK, the second stand-alone novel in her brand-new FIGHT FOR ME SERIES.
If she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the pool with her family, sipping cocktails with her friends, or of course with her nose buried in a book.
Be sure not to miss new releases and sales from A.L. Jackson – Sign up to receive her newsletter or text “aljackson” to 33222 to receive short but sweet updates on all the important news.

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Spar by Rebecca Jenshak ~ Release Blitz & Giveaway

Title: Spar
Author: Rebecca Jenshak
Series: Sweetbriar Lake
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Blue Tulip Publishing

Chris White can take his big, chiseled muscles and shove it… at least to the room down the hall. After her apartment building goes up in flames, Tori Calloway finds her-self shacked up with her brother’s best friend and the man she’s spent the better part of her twenties hating with every fiber of her being.

Chris knows how to throw a punch that’ll drop a man to his knees, but sparring with Tori is a whole different game. He was just a boy when he lost her the first time, and he’s not about to make the same mistake twice. Toe to toe with his fiercest competitor yet, he won’t go down without a fight.

**Spar is a sexy, contemporary romance STANDALONE. Each book in the Sweetbriar series will follow a different couple**


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Chris racked the barbell and glanced at the clock. It had been nearly eight hours since Tori had stormed — or rather, haughtily limped — upstairs. If she was determined to hide out, he wasn’t going to go banging down the door. This was his house, and he wasn’t tiptoeing around to spare her feelings. As he skipped up the dark stairway, he peeled off his sweaty shirt and shorts. A hot shower before bed sounded great.

No light peered out from the master bedroom. Tori was either sleeping or pretending to sleep. Either way it was a pretty clear signal she wanted to be left alone. Chris turned the door handle to the room he’d claimed for himself. Inside, he closed the door quietly and stepped out of his boxers. He fumbled for the light switch, cursing as he tripped over a pillow lying on the floor. What the hell?

“Oh my God, what are you doing!?” A female voice screamed as the light flicked on, revealing a shocked Tori in his bed, pulling the covers up to her chin like a child.

Chris froze, momentarily taken aback by the woman in his room. Recovering quickly, he let her stare at his naked form. That’s right, sweetheart. Look all you want. A faint pink crept up her neck and into her cheeks, confirming that she liked what she saw.

Tori covered her head with the blanket, screaming incoherently.

Chris headed to the bathroom, smiling at the sight of her hiding under the covers.

“This is my room. I had planned on taking a shower and going to bed alone, but this is a nice surprise. Care to join me in the shower, or do you want to wait for me here?”

Tori flung the covers off and hobble-stalked after him.

“Shower it is, then?” Chris said as his eyes wandered down to her bare legs and back up to her chest, which was covered with his gym shirt. The cut-off sleeves showed just a hint of side-boob, making it next to impossible to look away.

She crossed her arms as she apparently recognized him openly appreciating her choice of clothing. The weight of her arms pressed against her chest pushed her breasts up higher. He’d never be able to wear that shirt again without picturing her in it.

“So where am I supposed to sleep?” she demanded, not looking at him.

“You’re more than welcome to sleep in my bed, but I made up the master for you. End of the hallway,” he said as he stepped into the spray of warm water.

She either needed to get her ass in the shower now, or he was gonna need a hell of a lot more than water to keep his feelings and something else from springing up.


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Rebecca lives in Arizona with her husband and children. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, going to the movie theater, and binge-watching Netflix.

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He Loves Me… KNOT by RC Boldt ~ Release Blitz

Title: He Loves Me…KNOT
Author: RC Boldt
Genre: Contemporary/Second Chance Romance

Sometimes love needs a second chance…

Sometimes love needs a second chance…

I never looked back after skipping out on my own wedding, even if it did leave me estranged from most of my family. Eight years later, I have the life I’ve always wanted. As an advertising account executive, my world is damn near perfect.

Until I come face-to-face with my past. With the man I once loved. The man who holds my future in his hands. The man who’s hell-bent on getting even with me for leaving him at the altar.

Even with all the unfinished business between us, I still love Knox Montgomery. The only problem?

He loves me…KNOT.


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RC Boldt enjoys long walks on the beach, running, reading, people watching, and singing karaoke. If you’re in the mood for some killer homemade mojitos, can’t recall the lyrics to a particular 80’s song, or just need to hang around a nonconformist who will do almost anything for a laugh, she’s your girl.

RC loves hearing from her readers at


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A Better Place by Jennifer Van Wyk ~ Release Blitz & Giveaway

Title: A Better Place
Author: Jennifer Van Wyk
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Blue Tulip Publishing

Because fighting for love is always worth it.

After James Cole’s wife walked out on him, he put his dreams aside to raise his daughter. But now she’s grown and he’s ready for more.

When the opportunity arises to own a restaurant, his life-long dream, he can’t deny that it’s meant to be. And for more reasons than one.

He’s kept his heart closed off since the day his wife walked away. He’s never found someone who he thought was worth opening himself up to. But one look at her, and he knew she was everything.

Carly Hanson has a secret. A secret only she and her teenage son, Jack, know about. She’s built a new life but kept herself carefully guarded.

The day Carly stumbled, literally, into James, her world was turned upside down. She tries to keep him strictly as a friend, but he’s relentless in his pursuit. Can he break down the walls she’s so firmly built? Can he get her to join him in… A Better Place?


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“Can I come in?” he asks, still standing on my front porch under the soft glow of the porch light.

“Oh! Yeah. Of course. Let me just let Jack know you’re here,” I say over my shoulder as I make my way back into the house.

“Wait. Can I talk to you? Just for a quick second?” he asks, reaching out and touching my hand and stopping me.

“Sure.” I nod my head. “What about?” I ask as I lean against the back of the couch in the living room. I reach over and grab one of the cream-colored throw pillows and hug it to my chest. It gives me a sense of comfort, and stops me from fidgeting — or reaching out and tugging him close to kiss the crap out of him. That might not give him the right idea for just staying friends.

“I have a favor to ask,” he hedges but hastily continues, “and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t really important, and it’s a strictly friendship favor. I promise.”

“James. I know I’ve been a little… determined to keep it in the friend-zone, and you’ve never crossed the line. I can’t tell you how much your patience means to me. I trust you. I promise.”

“Yeah? I’m not being too pushy?”


“Okay. Good. That’s good. I would never want to do anything to make you feel uncomfortable.”

There’s not a single molecule in my body that doesn’t believe that. “I know. And you haven’t.”

“Would you go to a wedding with me?” he blurts out.

“What?!” I ask, surprise evident in my voice.

“I’m sorry. I just kind of blurted that out, huh? Let me start over. My niece, Emily, is getting married a few weeks after Christmas. It’s only about two hours from here, but I wondered if you would be my plus-one? And I’d love for you to meet Lily, and she’s been so swamped lately that she hasn’t had a chance to spend much time here. I guess she’ll be here for Christmas, so maybe you can meet then, but yeah. And, Tess will be there, obviously, so you would know someone.”

“I don’t know, James. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m honored that you invited me, or thought of me…”

“No one else I would think of,” he murmurs before I continue with my protest that I know will just fall flat anyway.

“You don’t want to bring someone else?”

“Like who?” he challenges, turning his head to the side.

I shrug my shoulders and say the only name that comes to mind. “Christine?”

They actually seem like a logical couple to me, both being in the food-service industry. Both being single parents of daughters. But even though there’s so much that seems right about those two together — and I love Christine dearly — the thought of it makes me physically ill.

He’s shaking his head before I even finish saying her name.

“There’s no one else I would rather bring with me to this wedding, Carly. Jack can come with us, if you’re worried about it being too date-like. I told you I would keep it in the friend-zone, and I don’t go back on my promises. But that doesn’t mean that I want to stop getting to know you better or spending time with you.”

“Can I think about it?” I ask, already knowing that he’ll break me down, and my answer will be yes.

His smile stretches across his scruff-covered face. I was never big on facial hair, but the way James does it makes shaving seem like it should be a crime. Apparently, anything James does makes me change my views. Tattoos? Used to make me turn the other direction. Now? Hot enough to lick. Facial hair? Used to make me think lazy and dingy. Now? I want to run my fingers through it and lick. Either I’m severely hard up, or James is getting burrowed deep under my skin.

“Of course. But let me sweeten the pot. This way you can answer that question that you’ve been dying to have answered since the moment you met me.”

I giggle quietly. “Oh yeah? And what’s that?”

“Who’s the cooler uncle, Dean or myself?”

I almost burst out laughing. He’s so lighthearted and full of life. He’s truly just a fun guy to be around — always a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He could have become a bitter and cynical man after being left to raise a daughter on his own. Instead he embraced it.

“Oh, that question! I already figured it out!”

“It’s not hard to realize, right?” he said as he puffed his chest out a bit, giving me an impish grin.

“Nope. Dean is obviously the way cooler one between you two.” I press my lips together to stop the smile threatening to take over my face.

“Carly,” he warns playfully as he takes a step toward me.

“What? He’s probably not boring, and I’m sure way better looking.”

“Oh really?”

Two steps.

I nod my head seriously. “And in way better shape,” I say, almost choking on the words.

“You think so?”

Another step.

“I’m positive. And cooking? Pssshhh. Hands down, I bet he’s better in the…”

I squeal and take off running through the house as James advances one step closer, a deep growl escaping his throat.

I burst out laughing. Heavy footfalls follow me, making my heart race in anticipation. I round the kitchen island and spread my hands across it, breathless from laughing and running. “Maybe I had it wrong this whole time, and he’s Captain and you’re Private?”

“Take it back,” he says, smiling, his own hands spread wide across the wooden countertop of the island.

I turn my head to the side. “What? Take what back?” I ask innocently.

“Carly,” he warns again.

I tap my finger on my chin, feeling more playful and lighter than I have in years. “Hmmm, maybe I will have to come with you to the wedding. See what the younger Cole brother has to live up to.”

His eyes flash, and I know I’m in trouble, but I can’t seem to stop. “Oh, you think you’re so funny, don’t you?”

I giggle and shrug my shoulders as I start to take steps toward him. He turns and saunters my way, flipping his ball cap backward, our eyes never leaving each other’s. “I think I’m a little funny,” I say as I continue walking toward him, holding my finger and thumb up with only a little space apart.

“Funny or delusional?”



I guffaw and press my hand to my chest. “Delusional? Who’s the delusional one here?”



“You’ll see.”



“I’ll see the awesomeness of Dean? I have no doubts.”



And I’m suddenly hanging upside down over James’s shoulder being carried back into the living room.

“Aggghhh! James! Put me dow…” I laugh. “I’ll pee! James! Seriously!” I’m laughing so hard that tears are already forming in my eyes.

He tosses me on the couch and pounces, his large body covering mine in a very non-friendly way, but I don’t say a thing. I can’t say a thing. While we have not been overly touchy in the weeks that we’ve known each other, we also haven’t refrained from showing each other small amounts of affection. He always puts his hand on the small of my back when we’re walking, and he’s held my hand when we were crossing the street to go for supper. This, though? This is by far the most affection and feeling we have shown each other.

“Take it back,” he repeats, his eyes heated and voice husky, his arms pinning my hands above me, our fingers threaded together so perfectly it felt like they were made for each other.

“Hmm? What was that?”

“I said…” He lowers his face so we’re nose to nose. “…take…” His nose skims the length of my neck. “…it…” Deep inhale. “…back.”

Heart flutters.




My breathing picks up, and I know in this moment that I have two choices:


  1. Melt into a pile of goo. Which I’m basically well on my way to doing.
  2. Take matters into my own hands.


I choose option two.

I pull my hands free, frame his face, and pull him down closer. His eyes heat and flit over mine questioningly. And I do something I’ve been wanting to do for what feels like ever.

I lick him, from jawline to temple.

I lay my head back down on the pillow and watch as his face transforms from lust-filled to incredulous.

“Did you just… lick me?”

“I did.”

“I don’t know what to do with that,” he admits.

He pushes himself into sitting position, and I shimmy up the couch, crossing my legs and tucking my hair behind my ears. He’s facing forward. Slowly he turns his face toward me. “You licked me,” he says like he still can’t believe it.

“Yup,” I say. I have no clue why I did it, other than I just wanted to, so giving an explanation isn’t even an option at this point.

“First time your tongue was on me…” He trails off, looking away again.

A giggle bursts out of me, and I quickly put my hand up to my mouth to hold it in.

James shakes his head at me, stands up, and places his hands on his hips. He narrows his eyes and points at me. “Now you have to go to the wedding with me.”

“For the lick?”

“Wedding for the lick.” My eyes widen, and he continues. “That’s right. I said it. You licked me. Therefore, we wedding.”

“That’s not even grammatically correct!” Stupid argument? Probably.

“That’s your defense against going?”

“Hey! It’s true!”

“Be that as it may, doesn’t change the fact that you licked me. And we’re now going to a wedding. Together. Hi, Plus-One.”

I hear a deep snort from the other side of the room and gasp when I see Jack standing in the doorway to the living room, his broad shoulder leaning against the opening, an amused expression on his face.

“You guys are so weird,” he says, pointing to the two of us.

“You say weird. I say awesome,” James says. “Just wait and see who the best Cole man is when you both join me for Emily’s wedding.”

“Why am I being sucked in to this thing?” he asks. “I hate weddings. I don’t wedding.”

“Maggie will be there. In a dress. She’s a bridesmaid.”

“I’ll be there.”

James snorts and looks my way, winks, and my entire body goes up in flames. Bye-bye wall I built so strongly.

James huffed and puffed, and it blew right down.


From the Ground Up was Jennifer’s first published novel, with the hopes of many more to come. Jennifer makes her home in small town Iowa with her high school sweetheart, three beautiful and amazing kids, one crazy Jack Russell terrier. This is where her love for all things reading, baking, and cooking happen. Jennifer’s family enjoys camping, boating, and spending time outside as much as possible. When she’s not writing or editing/proofreading manuscripts for the many talented authors she’s come to love, you can find her cheering the loudest at her kids’ sporting events, sipping coffee or iced tea out of a mason jar with her Kindle in her lap or binging on Netflix.

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