Series: Shine Not Burn #1
Published by Self-Published on July 1, 2013
Genres: Contemporary Romance
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IT HAPPENED IN VEGAS.
I can't be held responsible. Things that happen there are supposed to stay there, right? Right? Yeeeah. Not so much.
Andie's just days away from tying the knot, but there's just ooooone little glitch. Apparently, she's already married. Or someone with her name is married to a guy out in Oregon of all places, and the courthouse won't issue her a marriage license until it's all cleared up.
Tripping her way through cow pies and country songs to meet up with a man who gets around places on horseback is her very last idea of how to have a good time, but if she's going to get married, make partner at the firm, and have two point five kids before she's thirty-five, she needs to get to the bottom of this snafu and fix it quick ... before her fiance finds out and everything she's been working toward goes up in flames.
Never ever wanting to follow in her mothers footsteps, Andie decided that she needed a life plan – graduate from law school and become partner at her law firm by the age of thirty, be married and have two point five kids at the age of thirty-five. Professionally that life plan was working out perfectly but personally – not so much.
Conforming to the “plan” she always ended up in disastrous relationships with very incompatible men. Her besties have told her repeatedly that her “lifeplan” had to go but she wasn’t having any of it. She was one successful lawyer because of it after all.
During a best friends’ bachelorette getaway she has one rare moment of spontaneity in Vegas that leads her doing the crazy unthinkable. Fast forward two years later she’s off to try to fix what she thinks was one huge mistake. But what if that one lapse in judgement is the one thing that she’s been searching for all her life all along?
“….his body felt like it was made for me and we fit together like it was meant to be. This was what I wanted. Nothing else in the world mattered right now but finding release with this man inside me.”
Personally I had a hard time getting into this story. The banter in the beginning fell a little flat for me but once I got used to the author’s sense of humor I found myself giggling at the hilarity of it all.
Then we meet Mack. Oh my gawd! This man in cowboy boots was just HOT! Instantly, I forgot about the ditzy friend and the clumsy drunkenness (or anything else for that matter). If I was in Andie’s shoes I wouldn’t have been able to resist his spur of the moment request either.
There was so much to love about Mack. The best part about him was how involved he was with his family. Who doesn’t love a family man? He had the means and the opportunity to live his own life but he chose to stay close and be active in the family business.
Then again his family was so amazing I wouldn’t want to leave either. Besides the amazing chemistry I thought that this is another good reason why this two were good for each other.
The only thing about this one was I thought there were some questions that I thought were left unanswered even if we did have a very great HEA. For such an entertaining book I’m hoping that the author decides to write more about these characters.
Otherwise I enjoyed this easy read and highly recommend this one.
Andie and Mack take a ride on horseback….
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d sat in the sun and just let my thoughts wander. It was nice, making me wish Mack wouldn’t come back too quickly. Right now, I’d willingly pay big money for a spell that would make time freeze so I could sit here and just breathe for a while without worrying about Bradley or Hannah or my future. It was all such a mess.
Replaying the things Mack had said to me in the truck was helping me piece together what had happened in Las Vegas. Not all of it was making sense, but some of it was. Obviously, the first thing that had gone wrong was my complete lack of self-control. Mack’s sexual energy was like a magnet, pulling me in and making me do stupid things like forget my plans and all the things I’d sacrificed to leave the past behind and accomplish my goals. Just the idea of abandoning what amounted to my life’s work made me scared senseless, like I’d be floating in the wind with no direction forever – a complete lack of control. And on top of all that, in the space of maybe six hours, Mack had somehow convinced me to unload all of my personal garbage onto his shoulders to carry around. The skeletons that used to live in my closet had come out to dance in the hot, Las Vegas night.
Even so, he still acted like being married to me wasn’t the worst thing that had ever happened to him. He’d said the L-word while we were in the middle of having shower sex, but that kind of declaration can’t be taken seriously. So he wasn’t in love, but he wasn’t in a hurry to divorce me either. What was he, exactly?
A small smile played across my lips. Him loving me was too ridiculous to even consider part of my reality. People don’t fall in love with strangers. Strangers could be anything, anyone, with an unlimited amount of awful baggage no one would ever want to bear. How could he know I wasn’t a serial killer or mother of eight kids or already married? He couldn’t. Smart people like us don’t do stupid things like get married at twenty-four-hour chapels by a man named Elvis. That’s what irresponsible people who have nothing to lose do.
I sighed, drawing a heart in the dust next to me. Looking back and seeing things from the view of this porch, I wasn’t sure anymore that I’d had much to lose back then. Two years ago I was freshly dumped by Luke the Puke, vying for a coveted junior partner spot at a firm that was sucking the life out of me, and getting ready to kiss my friendships goodbye for another guy. That didn’t sound like something to strive towards.
All my grandiose ideas of who I am fell apart when I received that document from the Nevada State vital records department. Apparently, smart, responsible people do sometimes do stupid things like get married at twenty-four hour chapels by a man named Elvis; either that, or I’m at least ten times dumber than I thought I was.
The problem wasn’t so much that I’d done it, but that for the first time since figuring this all out, I was wondering which was worse: getting married to a stranger in Vegas or scripting my life out and expecting to be happy at the end of the production. My life was like a play with actors and scenes and lines I’d written, with a happily-ever-after I couldn’t even visualize. Instead of working towards a clear vision of happiness, I’d been head down, moving in the direction of … nothing. A big cloud of smoke I couldn’t see through. I drummed it into my own head, this mantra of success, success, success … but where was the happiness? Where was the love? And why hadn’t I realized this before?
As I sat on the porch trying to envision myself as an older woman, all my brain would conjure was an image of an older Mack sitting across the dinner table from me, smiling in that knowing way of his. Looking back now, the plan I had laid out for myself seemed not only stupid, but dull. Empty. Safe, but in the end, very very dangerous for how it could cause me to lose the real me entirely. Who have I become? And what is it about this ridiculous, dust-covered snake haven that’s causing me to re-think my entire life? Maybe I did get bitten by that snake after all. Can poison do this to a person? I looked at the back of my ankles for the telltale double puncture wounds.
“Ready?” Mack’s voice came to me from down in the yard.
I pulled my head out of the ether and stared at him and his transportation. When my voice came back it got away from me a little. “No fucking way, Mack.” I shook my head. “Excuse my French, but that is not going to happen.”
He grinned, holding two sets of reins in his hands. “Sure it is. You’ll be fine. Come on over here so I can give you a leg up.” He stood between a brown horse with a black mane and a blonde one with a pretty cream-colored mane.
I didn’t care how pretty she or it was, I was not going to ride it. “Give yourself a leg up. I’m not riding a horse anywhere. Those things bite. Bring me the four-wheeler or whatever you call it.”
“Can’t. It’s out of gas.” He was still smiling, obviously very pleased with himself.
I ignored the beauty of it, refusing to let him charm me into my death. “You’re lying.” I stared him down.
He lost the grin and put on his innocent-as-a-lamb expression. “Nope. Dry as a bone. Come on, I brought you an old nag.” He gestured to the brown one with his chin. “She couldn’t buck you off if she wanted to, and I promise, she won’t want to. And she doesn’t bite either.” His elbow came up to greet the teeth of the blond one who had swooped its head in towards his waist. He didn’t look like he’d hurt it, but he’d done a good job of blocking its moves.
“Ha! That one just tried to bite you!” I backed up a little, making sure I had plenty of room to maneuver if it decided to come after me next. The thing was huge, towering over Mack who was pretty damn tall himself.
“This one’s feisty, I admit. But I’ll be riding her and you’ll be riding her momma, so you’ll be fine. Cross my heart,” he said, making an X on his chest.
“Your heart’s on the other side.”
“I know,” he said, winking. He held up crossed fingers. “Got all my bases covered, just in case.”
My mouth dropped open at his casual dismissal of my well-grounded fears. “You don’t have to kill me by horse, you know. All you have to do is sign the papers.” When he looked at me quizzically, I explained. “People die on those things every day.”
“Not on my horses they don’t.” He held out his hand. “Come on, wife. Come take a little ride with me. Let me show you all the things you’ll be missing when you go back East and leave me here with a broken heart.”
My heart melted just a little bit in that moment, and I was pretty sure I’d never get it to go cold again. It wasn’t just the things he said but how he said them. He swung so easily between strong, sexy cowboy and soft-hearted loverboy, he was making me dizzy with it. Maybe even a little love-drunk.
I stood, grabbing his hand petulantly and scowling at him, doing my damnedest to not fall for his charms. “You’re not going to have a broken heart, you big dummy.”
He put his hands on my waist and leaned down, putting his lips near my neck and ear. “It’s already bruised.” And then he lifted me up all of a sudden, causing me to whoop with fear.
The horse he was putting me on didn’t bat an eyelash, but the other one jumped to the side and made snorting noises at us. From my new perspective on top of the two-story horse, I could see the blonde one was very agitated.
“Oh my god,” I whisper-squealed, forgetting about everything else, “I’m on a horse!” My butt muscles clenched so tight, my whole body raised up about three inches. Sweat broke out all over my body and my heart doubled its pace.
“Just relax,” he said, adjusting a stirrup and putting my foot in it when he was done. He walked around the horse and did the same on the other side. “She’s as gentle as a baby. You won’t have to do anything. She’ll just follow my horse wherever she goes and all you have to do is enjoy the view.”
I snorted. “Yeah, right.” My hands and thighs were trembling.
He came to my left side again and put the reins in my hand, leaving his fingers on top of mine. He stared at me as he gave me a quick lesson. “If you want to go to the left, just move your hands like this.” He dragged the leather strips to the left. “The bit in her mouth and the reins on her neck and head will let her know what you want to do. If you want to go right, take the reins and do this … see?” He went the opposite direction, reaching over the horse’s neck to demonstrate, waiting for me to nod my head before continuing. “When you want to stop, just pull back gently. Not too hard, she has a sensitive mouth. Try not to raise them up high, just keep them at waist-level. When you want to go, loosen the reins and give her a kick or squeeze her with your legs and click your tongue and she’ll go.”
“I thought you said I was just going to follow you and I wouldn’t have to do anything.” Sweat kept pouring down my sides and back. The heat had nothing to do with it; it was all plain old, garden-variety, paralyzing fear.
“I’m giving you instructions, just in case,” he explained.
“Just in case what?” The pitch of my voice came out way too high, but I couldn’t control it.
He didn’t answer me until he was on his horse’s back. “Just in case my horse bucks me off and throws me to the ground, knocking me unconscious.”
He shot me a grin and pulled his reins sharply to the left while kicking his horse and talking to her. “Get-up there, girl.”
I was so busy watching him ride away, I was totally unprepared for my horse to follow. She jerked me to the side and then backward as she moved to follow Mack’s horse, and I had to grab the saddle horn sticking up in front of me to keep from falling off. My reins dropped to her neck and hung down limply on the sides in big loops.
“I lost my thingies!” The right words wouldn’t come out in my panic.
“What are thingies?” he shouted, not even looking.
“The leather things! The reins!”
“Pick ‘em up.”
I held onto the saddle with a death grip in one hand and reached out with the other to grab the knot holding the two thin straps together. As soon as I snagged it, I pulled back on the reins, anxious to get control of the horse.
The horse stopped going forward.
I panicked, watching Mack get farther and farther ahead, worried my horse would run to catch up and dump me on my sorry butt. I’d probably fall right onto a snake, and with the way my luck was going, I’d land on him while he was sunning himself fang-side-up. My whole body tensed into a human-shaped board of solid fear.
The horse snorted and began walking backwards.
I yanked on the reins some more, trying to get her to stop, but she wouldn’t listen. She just kept going faster the wrong way.
“Mack!” I shrieked. “It’s broken or something! It’s in reverse! It’s going in reverse! How do you make it go into drive?!”
He twisted in his saddle and started laughing.
I was torn between laughing with him and crying, my whole body trembling, even my lips.
“Stop squeezing her sides and let the reins loose. You’re telling her to go backward with your conflicting signals!”
I immediately shot my legs away from her sides, sticking them straight out like Hawaiian canoe out-riggers. I dropped the reins to her neck again and held onto the horn with both hands. I would have slid right off and saved myself from the nightmare of riding this beast if I’d thought I could land without dying.
The horse moved forward and ambled over to where Mack was waiting. The bulk of my rear end was pushed up off the saddle by two very tense ass-cheek muscles.
He couldn’t breathe for a little while, due to all the laughing he was doing. I, on the other hand, was sweating-hot and cranky, wondering what had possessed me to listen to this idiot and get up on this monster when I knew damn well it would be a mistake. He could charm the fangs off a snake if he wanted to. “Can we go back now? I think I’ve seen enough scenery.”
Mack leaned over and grabbed my horse’s reins, pulling the animal up next to his. “Get over here, girl,” he said, wrapping his hand around my neck and pulling me closer. He leaned in and kissed me right on the mouth.
I squealed against his lips, fearing I was going to fall too much to appreciate their warmth.
“I gotcha,” he said, putting his arm around my waist and steadying me. My horse shifted under the saddle, but she didn’t move away.
I let him kiss me this time briefly before pushing him back. It felt too nice not to. “You’re going to make me fall,” I said, pushing him away.
He smiled, all kinds of happiness lighting up his eyes. It made me think of sugary sweetness and vulnerability, things I never showed anyone. Things I’d removed from my repertoire a long time ago. He’s braver than me.
“I think you’re going to be a natural in the saddle,” he finally said.
I tried to hit him, but he was too far away. “I think when I finally get off this thing, I’m going to kill you. I hope you can run fast.” I plucked the reins off the horse’s neck and held them in a slightly-less-shaky grip.
“Is that a promise? Cuz if it is, I can run extra slow and give you half a chance of catching me.” He winked and clicked his tongue, sending his horse forward and leaving me behind again. He spoke to me without looking back. “Pick up the slack in the reins, but don’t pull on them. Rest your toes in the stirrups but don’t squeeze the horse with your legs. Just pretend you’re straddling a log. Find your center balance.”
“Straddling a log,” I grumbled quietly to myself. “Why don’t you go straddle a log, you big dope.” I gathered up the reins and pictured myself riding a stupid log over a stupid rushing river, letting my stupid moccasined feet just hang down.
The horse moved forward instead of backwards, and after a while I was surprised to find her pace calm and relaxing. The rocking motion soon worked its magic on me, lowering my blood pressure and dispersing the images of death that had crowded my mind. I took a deep breath and exhaled, letting out all the tension that had gathered. As my butt cheeks took a vacation from turning into rock, I settled lower into the saddle and found the process of riding the horse almost pleasant.
We wound our way through some trees and piles of rock, steadily moving uphill towards a nearby mountain range. Sitting high up on the tall horse, I could see everything normally blocked to me when on foot, the vista spreading out before us like an impressionistic painting done entirely in nature’s most beautiful shades of green, brown, and blue.
Neither of us spoke, making it easier for the sounds of the wild West to trickle in and take over my normally busy-with-words mind: a hawk screeching; wind blowing through branches; leather squeaking and creaking on the saddle; the horses’ footsteps over rocks and crunchy plant debris … swish, clop, swish, swish, clockle, crack … swish, clop, clop, crack. A bark announced the arrival of one of the ranch dogs, who raced past us and took the lead on the path.
Maeve’s words came back to me, how she liked to let the men drive so she could enjoy the scenery … how Baker City was one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I’d argued with her then in my mind, but right now I wasn’t, and I knew I never would again. It was wild here and untamed for sure, but its savage beauty was something I’d never seen before in real life, living in cities and their suburbs. Majestic was a word that came to mind as I scanned the landscape around me. A spiritual place. It made sense that Native Americans had chosen to settle in this area of the country. I felt really connected to the Earth for some reason.
It was crazy to be feeling this way when I was a city-girl at heart, but denying it would do me no good. The irrational, emotional part of my brain might be claiming that I’d suffered a nervous breakdown over my destroyed wedding plans or the fallout that awaited me back home, but the fully functioning rational brain inside me and my heart too were both telling me the truth: that this place isn’t just a city on a map. It’s a home – a place where a person could be herself, and surround herself with people who loved her and respected her and laughed with her.
With that realization came the understanding that sometimes you can’t appreciate the true beauty of a thing until you’ve experienced it for yourself; no amount of words or pictures will do the trick. And no amount of planning could make it happen. Sometimes, we just have to go where the wind takes us and see where we end up.
I sighed with both happiness and melancholy. The wind had blown me to Baker City, Oregon and by being here I’d found a place in the world where I could very possibly discover peace, for the first time in my life. But this Eden was inhabited by one of the biggest mistakes I’d ever made in my life, and because of that, I would have to leave.
There was just too much negativity wrapped up in the situation to consider staying: a drunken, blacked out marriage that was neglected for two whole years; a girlfriend waitress who maybe wasn’t a girlfriend but she sure seemed to think she was; an angry younger brother who may or may not blame me or Mack for his failed wedding plans; and the fact that I’d poured my heart out to this stranger and shared pieces of me that I’d been trying to lose for over ten years. It was hopeless.