Raising the Stakes
April 1, 2015
April 1, 2015
Hiding from the world…
Tucking herself away in the Adirondack woods was supposed to keep Vivienne Harris safe. From dark memories of the Bronx, from danger, from entanglements. But when an orphaned bear cub raids her pantry and conservation officer Liam Walsh appears with news of poachers nearby, her private, peaceful world is turned upside down!
Suddenly two forces are drawing her out—Button, the cub who needs her help, and Liam, the man who's dead set against her rehabilitating the bear. If she can just win Liam's support, Vivie knows she can give Button a good life. And maybe find the courage to embrace a future with Liam…
Excerpt from Raising the Stakes:
He lifted her chin with a gentle finger and gazed down at her. “You’re always safe with me.”
For some odd reason, her eyes welled and a tear clung to her lashes.
He brushed the wetness away with his thumb, his hands lingering and cupping her face.
“I’m never safe,” she whispered, her voice so low he had to bend closer to hear.
“I’ll protect you,” he found himself saying, a gallant and reckless offer considering his planned move. Still, a fierce urge to reassure her filled him. A need to kiss her full lips followed.
He captured them with his own, tasting berries, and something sweeter still. He buried his hands in her silky hair and brought her close, an insatiable hunger taking hold. The wildflower smell of her enveloped him and her mouth tantalized his. He nibbled on her lower lip, loving her soft exclamation of pleasure. Or was it surprise? She was early spring sunshine, a spring-fed pond, a mountain peak and everything that’d ever made him glad to be alive.
Without warning, she jerked away and sprang to her feet, backing away until her legs brushed the bushes.
Her face had lost all color and she looked as if she might faint. She shook her head, her hand rising to cover her mouth.
Regret snuffed out his elation. He shouldn’t have moved so fast. Or at all, darn it. “Did I offend you? I’m sorry. Blame it on a beautiful day. A lonely bachelor. A stupid one.”
Button appeared at Vivie’s feet. She stretched up on her hind legs, put her paws on Vivie’s sides and pressed her face against her caregiver’s stomach. If Button wasn’t a wild animal, he’d think the young bear sensed Vivie’s mood. Was trying to console her. He’d comfort Vivie, too, if she didn’t seem ready to bolt.
“I’m an idiot, Vivie.” He got to his feet, feeling like a consummate jerk for kissing her without any signs she’d welcome it. But for a moment, when she’d kissed him back, it’d seemed as though…
He shook his head. Women had the final say when it came to what they wanted. He should have been more sensitive. Not given in to impulses. “Please. It won’t happen again.” And he meant it. She was upset. Had a right to be. If he had any sense, he’d know kissing her was wrong for him, as well. Soon he’d be across the country. His attraction to Vivie was irrational.
“Vivie, talk to me.”
She stumbled away, Button stuck by her side, the cub’s turtle dangling from her mouth.
He ducked in front of her, unwilling to let the moment end badly. “What can I do?”
She wiped her nose and met his gaze. “Just stay away.” Without another word, she returned to the trail.
It took all of his willpower not to chase after her. He’d follow at a distance instead, staying far enough behind to ensure she got home safely. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted things back to normal again. If that was possible.
Strange that she’d said the same words he repeated to himself whenever Vivie came to mind—.
Yet the more time he spent with her, the harder that became. His emotions for this complicated woman deepened every day. He could deny it all he wanted, but he cared about her.
The job in Yellowstone came to mind. He wouldn’t put off his decision any longer. As soon as he got home, he’d let them know. Escape before his feelings lashed him down forever.
Vivie was right.
Except when it came to Button, he’d stay away.
Excerpt Four: Whitface Castle Romantic Moment
In a few strides he closed the distance between them and gathered her in his arms.
“You’re right. It’s both of us. Let’s take this one day at a time. See if you feel differently in the next three weeks.” With his head lowered, his words flowed over her lips.
“You might be the one to change your mind… But either way, we can at least enjoy the time we have left together,” she whispered back, and in an instant he was pressing his firm mouth to hers, sucking gently on her lower lip before capturing it fully. She breathed in his scent, the fresh pine smell that made her head swim. She clutched his shoulders as his kiss strengthened, her fingers twining in the thick hair that brushed his collar. He moaned low in the back of his throat and his hands slid up her back, cupping her head as he deepened the kiss until they both gasped for air.
His heart drummed against her chest and an electric lightness rolled through her. She’d never felt so vulnerable, yet empowered, in a man’s arms before. Intoxicating. When his mouth trailed down her jaw, her head lolled back. She shivered when his lips nibbled along her neck, lingering at its base.
“You feel so good,” he growled when he pulled away at last.
She grabbed the back of a nearby seat, feeling dizzy. “So do you.”
“Have I convinced you yet?” The excitement in his eyes was infectious. But how could she be anything but honest? Yes, he made her feel things no other man could. Still…it was a big decision.
“I need time.”
He lifted her off her feet and gave her another breathless kiss before setting her down again. “We have three more weeks and I’m making the most of them. You see…I love you.”
Her breath evaporated in her lungs and her heart somersaulted. He loved her. It was beyond imagining. Wishing. Did she dare say it back given her doubts about their future?
She put a hand against his chest. “Liam. I don’t want you to get your hopes up.” There was so much to consider…and would a refuge in Yellowstone be available for Button? One she could volunteer at perhaps? Would she be able to keep her family together? So many questions to work through. Three weeks might not be enough. But the thought of losing this…these moments with Liam…it hurt, too.
“Too late.” His mischievous grin was contagious and she returned it, pushing him away to return to her dinner.
“Impossible. That’s what you are.” She pointed her chopsticks at him before scooping up a California roll, her heart full to bursting.
“It’s all part of the charm,” he said with a wink before picking up his chopsticks.
And it was…that strong, thoughtful man who’d entrusted her with his deepest hurts, his hidden insecurities. It only made him more special to her.
She brushed away the last shred of her doubts. They had three weeks together and a lot could change. Better to enjoy this time and worry about the future when it happened. For now, she’d let go and live— for Liam, for her pet family, and most of all, for herself.
Karen Rock is an award-winning YA and adult contemporary romance author. She holds a master’s degree in English and worked as an ELA instructor before becoming a full-time writer. Currently she writes for Harlequin Heartwarming and has published five novels with them. Her first novel for the line, WISH ME TOMORROW, has won the 2014 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, the 2014 Golden Quill Contest and was a finalist in the Published Maggie Awards. The first novel in her co-authored YA series, CAMP BOYFRIEND, has been a finalist in the Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards.