hearts in carolina

Happy Release Day, Defend!

Who's ready the next standalone in the Hearts in Carolina series? I AM! Defend does have a familiar character taking the male lead role. If you've read Steady, then you'll recognize Brent Murphy and his family. If not, no need to worry. You can pick this book up without reading Steady (although I totally think you should read Steady, too!😉)

Okay, so now, let's get to all the details you need to know about Defend

A flat tire brings together Brent Murphy, a workaholic parent of two, and Jamie Alexander, a soon to be college graduate. The eighteen year age difference startles them both at first, but they decide there's no harm in seeing where things go. After a few dates, it's clear their attraction to one another can't be resisted.

Jamie's best friend thinks the appeal must be physical. Brent's daughter can't understand why he would date someone so close to her age. Others judge the fact that Brent is dating someone so much younger than him. Over time, it becomes apparent they will have to defend their choices to those around them.

Brent and Jamie are secure in their relationship, but will outside assumptions become more than they are willing to defend?

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Another Sneak Peek: Chapter Two of Defend

Chapter Two

Brent

“I’m the oldest,” I say, answering her question. “There are five years between each of us. Do you have siblings?”

“An older sister.” Jamie wears a slight frown as she stabs a piece of her waffle and I wonder if she realizes it. I also wonder if she knows how beautiful she is. She seems confident enough, but I feel like there are many layers to her. I was instantly attracted to her, tears and all. She has this kind of beauty that makes a man want to throw her over his shoulder, carry her off, and make sure he keeps her all to himself.

“Do you have a good relationship with her?” I’m not sure why I’m pushing. Hell, I’m not sure why I’m still here with a twenty-one-year-old, but I can’t seem to find any reason to leave. There seems to be some magnetic pull to her that I can’t resist. Has been since the moment I saw her hunched over her knees on the sidewalk.

Jamie shrugs. “How’s life been since your divorce?”

I’m not quite sure if she wants anything specific or not, so I answer with what comes to mind. “It’s been good. I work, more than anyone likes. I date here and there. And I make time for my kids.”

“What do you mean about your work?”

I lean forward a little bit, my elbows rest on the table, and my hands clasp in the air above my empty plate. “Okay, here’s the deal. I love my job. I love working and staying busy. Unless there is a reason for me to not work, then I’m at the shop doing just that. Because this is how I am, my daughter thinks I’m a workaholic, which I guess I am, but she thinks it’s a bad thing and she worries. I could step away from my work any time as long as I have a reason to. She doesn’t think so, however. Not only is she on my case, but now, she has my brothers on my case too.”

Jamie smiles and leans forward, mimicking my stance. “So, what you’re saying is that you need someone to see, which will ease everyone’s worries.”

“You offering yourself?”

“Do you see anyone else at this table? Of course I am.”

I grin as I shake my head. “Still way too trusting, Jamie.” She rolls her eyes at that. “I think we need to return to that forgotten issue.” I nearly fainted and she about choked.

“You’re hot and you’re sweet; I can get over it.” She raises her eyebrows in a challenge, waiting for my answer. How did she get that I’m sweet out of a few hours with me? Sure, I helped her with her tire, but that wasn’t extraordinary. “I’m waiting, Brent,” she says in a bit of a singsong manner.

“I’ll make an exception for you,” I decide only as the words flow out of my mouth.

Jamie’s smile is bright and quick. The waitress brings over our bill and I pay. While we wait for her to bring back my card, I ask, “Why don’t you like college?”

“I don’t like school,” she replies flatly. “I’m only in college because my parents insist and they’re paying. If I could quit and do something that doesn’t require a degree, but keeps me around people, I’d be happy.”

I frown. “You don’t think your parents would understand that?”

“I’m still in college, aren’t I? Trust me, if I thought telling them would be better than suffering through four years of this hell, I would drop out in a heartbeat.”

The waitress drops off the receipt and my card. I don’t like what she’s telling me, but it’s not like I can change her situation. We slide out of the booth and I rest my hand on her lower back. I wait until we’re back inside my truck to ask my question again.

“Why do you hate school so much?”

“Ah, ah, ah. I can’t spill but so much about myself in one night and that one is a whopper. We’re not ready for that answer. You’ll have to ask me again another day.”

Hmm. “Okay. Where do you see yourself in five years?”

“Five years, ten years, twenty years, it’s all the same. Hopefully, I’ll have a job I enjoy and in a good relationship with a man I love. That’s all I want out of life.”

It sounds so simple. Maybe too simple. All she wants is a job and a man? No kids? Nothing else on her list?

“Thank you for dinner, by the way,” she adds.

“You’re welcome. We’ll do it again sometime.”

“That sounds like conviction and certainty in your voice.”

I glance over and see her smiling. “It is,” I confirm.

We ride the rest of the way in silence. It seems as if Jamie’s mood darkens by the second. When I park my truck next to her car, she confirms my suspicions with a sigh.

“I have to go back to campus. Yay me.”

“Hand me your keys.” She doesn’t ask or give me a look; she just hands them over. Again, the girl is way too trusting of people. I get out, the cold nipping at my skin, and go over to her car to crank it. It’ll be nice and toasty by the time she gets in it.

“See? Seriously so sweet,” she says as I get back into the truck.

I shrug. “I have manners.”

Jamie stares at me for a moment. “Huh.”

“What?” I don’t know what that huh means.

“I’ve realized that all the guys I know have no manners. None. Absolutely none.” She shakes her head in astonishment. “I don’t know anyone who would open a door for me, much less crank my car so it’s warm when I get in it. You are something else, Brent.”

No, I’m not. It’s just a damn shame that there aren’t more people with such manners out there. “Your car should be warm and toasty.” I get out and walk around to open the door for her, making her smile once again.

“When do you plan to see me again?” she asks.

“Tomorrow at six in the morning?” Her jaw drops and I laugh. “We could run and I’d make you breakfast afterward. You need a good start to your day so we don’t have a repeat of whatever happened today.”

“Six?”

“Six,” I confirm.

She pulls her phone from her pocket. “What’s your number?” I recite it for her and she adds, “I’ll text you later to get your address. I wasn’t exactly paying attention earlier, so there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to find your house again.” Jamie takes a step closer and closer until our chests touch. It doesn’t seem like enough, yet it is all the same. “One last question before I go. Is this considered a date and if so, do I get a—”

She is not about to ask that question, so I cut her off with a kiss. Within seconds of our lips and tongues meeting, my arms rope around her waist and I move to lean her against the car. She shivers as the cold from the car presses against her back. Her hands rest on my shoulders, her nails digging into the skin as she leans up and presses herself into me, kissing me harder and deeper. A soft moan leaves her to echo into my mouth.

I pull away, breathing as hard as if I just went running. I... What the hell was that? In all my years, no woman has done whatever the hell she just did to me. Kissing when I was a teenager and horny as hell didn’t even feel that good, that right. She tasted sweet and somehow, she smells a little like chocolate.

I need to get my head checked.

Instead, I clear my throat and open the door for Jamie. “Drive safe.”

She slides into the driver’s seat, buckles up, but looks at me. “One more?”

I laugh as I lean into the car and kiss her one more time. “Dress just a little warmer tomorrow. It’ll be colder.”

She tsks. “You’re bossy. I’ll see you in the morning, Brent.”

“Drive safe,” I repeat because one can never be too careful. I close her door, step back, and stand there until her tail lights disappear.

By the time I make it home, Jamie has texted me that she made it back to campus safe and sound and she needs my address for the morning. Now that I’m away from her, I can’t help but wonder what the hell I was thinking, even as I respond to her. She’s not much older than Kayla. I can’t seriously think about doing anythingwith her, can I? Even if I’m completely interested in finding out a little more about her?

What would my kids think? How would I feel if the situation was reversed? Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. It’s not like I’m about to jump into a relationship with this woman. There’s no harm in exploring the waters, right? And just the other day, Kayla actually told me to date more. Granted, she told me so I’d work less if I was dating someone, but that’s beside the point. I’ll just see what happens and if it seems like it might become more than casual, I’ll reevaluate. In the meantime, I have a feeling that Jamie is exactly the person I need to see right now.

~ ~ ~

She knocks on my door five minutes after six. I pull it open, keep my face expressionless, and say, “You’re late.”

Jamie rolls her eyes. “Sorry, boss. I needed this.” She holds up a coffee cup. “As soon as I set this down, we can get started.” She walks past me and adds, “You’re lucky I’m here at all. Do you realize how early it is? Too early, that’s how early.” No shorts this morning, but no pants either. She went midway with capris. And no long-sleeved shirt like me, either. She’s wearing a short-sleeved shirt. How is she not freezing her ass off? “Okay, let’s go.”

“Are you sure you’re ready? I have a jacket if you’d like to borrow it.”

“No, thanks. I overheat when I run. This is enough.” She walks out the door, jogs down the steps, and I have no choice but to follow her.

I catch up to her on the sidewalk. We start slow and steady without any talking. This is the odd thing about running with a partner. You have to learn their running habits. What’s their pace like? Do they enjoy talking or do they prefer not to? I normally run alone, so I enjoy the silence. Jamie had her phone in an armband yesterday with earbuds attached, but I notice it’s missing today.

We run five miles in silence by the time we make it back to my house.

“No wonder you look so great.” She rests her hands on her hips and takes a few breaths. “You’re a workhorse. I almost didn’t think I was going to make it.”

“You should’ve said something.” I hand her her now cold coffee and lead her into the kitchen, where I pull out a seat and make her sit.

“I was fine. You just have a...” Her voice trails off as she thinks and I wash my hands before getting started on our breakfast. “I don’t know what to call it. How I run is based on my emotions. It’s never a smooth, solid run like that.”

“I don’t know if that means it was enjoyable or not.”

“It was. What’s for breakfast?”

“Eggs, bacon, toast?”

She nods in agreement. “How did you get into running?”

“Ran track in high school. It’s a bit of an addiction. You?”

Jamie sighs. “Ever heard of the freshman fifteen?” I nod. “It was more like the freshman fifty for me. Running helped me lose it. I got into the habit of running every day.” She glances down at her lap and then her gaze moves around the kitchen. Everywhere, but at me. “I was scared if I broke my habit, I’d gain it back. That’s not something I want to experience again.”

“There’s more to that story, isn’t there?” Her not looking me in the eyes was my first clue, but maybe I’m wrong.

“None that you’re going to hear.” Or maybe I’m right. “What’s different about your life since your divorce?”

“It’s actually not that different from being married, which probably says a lot about my marriage.” I leave that line of thought behind and say, “I still work a lot. Only changes are I now live alone, I see my son less, and I can date other people.”

“What about your daughter?”

“She lives with her boyfriend now. I see her about the same as I did before. Maybe slightly less with the boyfriend and her new jobs. Where are you from?” I don’t want to talk about my kids just yet. Her age is still too much at the forefront of my mind.

“Charlotte. I wanted some distance between my family and me, and they were adamant about staying in-state for school. I almost went to the university in Wilmington, but changed my mind.”

I make our plates, fix myself a cup of coffee, and walk over to the table. “Still good?” I ask, nodding to her drink. “Or would you like something else?”

“Actually, can I have some water?”

“Sure.” Once I’ve fixed her a glass of iced water, we’re finally able to eat.

Except, Jamie’s eyes are fixed to my fridge.

“What is it?” I ask.

She stands and walks over to the refrigerator. She points to one of the pictures from a family vacation last year. “Who are these people?”

“My kids: Kayla and Gregory. Why?” My muscles tense and coil, ready to spring into defensive mode if necessary.

“Your daughter is Kayla Murphy?” She releases a short breath before looking over at me. “I have a class with her this semester.”

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Happy Release Day, Steady!

Today is the big day! We get to celebrate my first release of 2018 and the fact that this release marks a big milestone for me! Steady is my 20th solo release (40th including my coauthored books)! How crazy is that! 

But I don't want to spend too much time on that when you're probably wanting to know more about the release itself. Steady kicks off a new series, Hearts in Carolina, which is set in North Carolina. Some characters you may meet in previous books (or even in the Carolina Rebels books) or some may be brand new. Because of this, all will be able to be read as standalones.

Now, here's all the details about Steady!

A chance meeting and a spontaneous marriage proposal leads Logan Archer on a first date that turns his dull, unhappy life around. With her help, he finally lands his dream job. But what Logan really wants is his dream girl to spend his time with.

He’s certain that girl is Kayla. He’ll do whatever is necessary to secure a future with her.

Kayla Murphy might be able to turn down Logan’s many proposals, but she can’t resist his charm, his many nicknames for her, or his ability to make her laugh when it’s the last thing she wants to do. 

But unwanted distractions threaten what these two are building together.

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One More Sneak Peek: Chapter Two of Steady!

Chapter Two

Kayla

“Whose hoodie is that? Where have you been? I thought you were coming home sooner.”

I sigh at my mom. Still living at home instead of on campus means enduring her nosy questions. “It’s a guy’s. I was out, and apparently, my plans changed. I’m going to my room.”

She says something under her breath, but I ignore her and continue to my room. My dad tried to tell her that since I’m in college, I should have more freedom. Mom told him he didn’t live here anymore, so he should stay out of it. It’s been a battle ever since.

I plop onto my bed and take a deep breath. As I relive the afternoon’s events, I try to figure out what exactly happened. I think about all the ways it could’ve gone wrong. How I could be tied up and in a trunk on my way out of the country right now. Logan and his sister seemed nice enough. That’s the first time I’ve met a guy’s family the day I met him. It wasn’t bad, though.

The incessant buzzing of my vibrating phone cuts into my reminiscing with a call from my dad. “Hey, Daddy.”

“Hey. How’s my little girl doing today?” he asks. I may be twenty and his oldest child, but I’m his only girl and therefore, I’ll always be his little girl. I don’t mind at all.

“Good. Just getting home. How was your day?”

“I’ve been at the shop.” My dad is a mechanic. He and my uncles own a shop where they do pretty much anything to cars.

“Are you still there? Have you had dinner yet? You should go home and eat, Dad.” Ever since my parents divorced, my dad spends most of his time working. I waste my breath, trying to get him to go home and rest, but I’m worried about him. He worked crazy hours before, but I feel like he works all the time now. That can’t be good for him.

Dad laughs. “Quit worrying about me. The only one of us who is supposed to do the worrying is me. Now, tell me about your day.”

I roll my eyes. “I still worry. You’re all alone now.”

“I’m fine.” His voice is firm and allows no room for me to continue on that line of thought. I guess my argument is too predictable if he knows just from that one sentence that I was about to start my you-should-be-with-mom lecture. I’ll even admit that part of the reason I want him back with my mom is so he can handle her and keep her off my back.

“Fine. I practiced my guitar.” Code for playing at the coffeehouse since I haven’t told them about that yet. “And I went out with a guy I met.”

Dad grumbles under his breath. “How’d it go?” he asks anyway.

“Good. He won me over enough to get my number. Now, I’m back at home for the night.”

“Why don’t you tell me more about this young man?”

I laugh. They used to be boys, but Dad begrudgingly upgraded them to young men now that I’m in college. “But what if it doesn’t work out? Then I just told you about a boy for nothing.”

“I’m not going to talk to you for a week since you’re in college now, Kayla. Humor your daddy.”

I smile. He says it as if I set the limit, but he did. Since Mom has been so overbearing still, Dad thought he should limit his contact with me to give me more space. He only calls me once a week, but makes sure I know I can call whenever I want.

“Well, his name is Logan.” Dad grumbles when I mention the proposal and again when I bring up how he led me to a house, but otherwise, he quietly listens as I recount the evening.

“He sounds like a jackass.”

I laugh. “That’s what you say every time I tell you about a date.”

“And how often am I right?”

“A lot of the times,” I acknowledge.

“Exactly. Okay, I’m gonna get off here and let you do whatever it is you do now that you’re in college. Study, hopefully. Call if you need me. I’ll talk to you soon. I love you.”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

We hang up and I close my eyes for a moment. I don’t know why my parents’ divorce surprised me so much. My brother, Gregory, says he knew it was coming. I was apparently oblivious to whatever problems my parents were having. I thought they were happy and still in love. They were the high school sweethearts who would grow old together.

Or not, as it turns out.

I was pissed at both of my parents. Mom for asking for it, though Dad swears to this day it was mutual, and Dad for agreeing to it so easily. Mom asked, Dad gave in, they separated, and later, they made it official. Dad even bought himself a present! He bought a new truck. Who the hell does that? And maybe it’s crazy for me to still want them together, but their lame excuse for divorcing was they “grew apart.” Well, grow back together! They put no effort into trying to keep their marriage intact.

That is what pisses me off the most.

My phone beeps with a text from an unfamiliar number.

Unknown: Hey, it’s Logan. Miss me yet? Too soon?

I laugh and save his number before responding.

Me: Yes, it’s too soon.

Logan: Well, what about my marriage proposal?

Me: Having dinner at your sister’s is not a date, so no answer for you yet.

Logan: That’s true. When can I see you again? I’m asking now because you must have so many guys chasing after you that I need you to pencil me into the next available free space in your calendar.

Me: Depends. What are we doing?

Logan: I’ll give you options and you can pick. My brother-in-law plays hockey. Option #1: We can go to a game. Yes or pass to option two?

A hockey game? That might be fun. Dad watches the Rebels so I’ve seen a few pro games on TV before. I don’t know if he’s talking about a pro game or not. They didn’t really talk about Sydney’s husband while we were at her house. Either way, it’ll be fun.

Me: Sounds like fun. When are you thinking?

It takes a few minutes before the next text comes in.

Logan: Thursday night. Will that work?

Me: Yep.

Logan: Can’t wait. Gotta go. Savannah is annoyed Lo-Lo is paying more attention to his phone than her. Talk soon.

I smile. It’s sweet that he went back to his sister’s house to visit with his niece. He obviously loves his family. That’s a good trait to have. I put my phone away, grab my laptop and a textbook, and continue working on one of my first papers of the semester until my phone rings again with a call from a friend I met on campus.

“It’s Saturday! Why aren’t you hitting up parties?” Suzanne asks. “Please tell me you aren’t studying.”

“School first.”

I imagine she’s rolling her eyes right about now as she says, “You’re missing out on so much.” That’s what she always says, but so far, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. I still go to parties, meet boys, and have plenty of fun. What’s wrong with staying in here and there to prioritize? Not to mention, the course-load can be freaking ridiculous in college. Schoolwork is all I have time for sometimes. The semester practically just started; I have no plans to get behind any time soon.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come? I could pick you up.”

“I’m good.”

She groans and hangs up without another word. She’s clearly on her way to one of those parties I’m missing out on.

The night is quiet. Mom checks in on me like I’m a five-year-old who needs supervision still. When she opens my door to poke her head in, I simply point to my textbook and go back to work, ignoring her. I love my mom, I do, but ever since she kicked Dad out, she has been way too obsessed with us.

I manage to get the first draft of my paper done around eleven. Perfect time to stop and head to bed. Tomorrow is a new day. I’m playing at the coffeehouse again and then who knows what I’ll get into.


I first learned of the coffeehouse when I was simply walking around one day. I wanted to get away from home and here was a place that wanted people to sing for the customers. Jackpot. Some people in the coffeehouse pay no attention to me. Others like to watch and listen, but very few are as captivated as Logan was yesterday.

Today is a day where no one cares. That’s okay. I play my set, collect the few tips I manage to earn, and head out. The park Logan and I went to is calling my name. The park is my favorite place to go, play, and write new songs. January isn’t the ideal time to go, but I don’t mind. And today, I’m wearing Logan’s hoodie to help keep me warm. Mom eyed me hard when I walked out of the house with it on. She was dying to ask me where I was going, and I was completely prepared to give her a vague answer.

Who cares where I’m going? Who cares if I’m wearing a guy’s hoodie, which smells totally amazing? I could’ve died and gone to heaven when I put it on yesterday. What is it with guys’ hoodies anyway? They always smell so freaking good and wear so much better. At least he isn’t around to see that I’m wearing it again today. I’m not sure if he’d smirk and find it cute or think I’m crazy. You never know with guys.

Sitting at the same bench as yesterday, I bring my legs up to criss-cross them and lay my notebook on the side next to me. There’s one song I’ve been working on for a month. Nothing is flowing well: not the music nor the lyrics. It’s irking me so much. Everything is right there on the tip of my pencil, but it’s like my hand is frozen and can’t write down anything. The signals cross somewhere between my brain and my hand.

Closing my eyes, I breathe in and out for a minute or so before my hands find their place on my guitar. The notes strum out slowly and surely until I reach the part where the song abruptly ends. I start again, this time softly singing to myself. The words die, but the notes manage to continue a little bit longer and I hurry to jot them down before starting from the beginning once again. My process repeats like this over and over, sometimes writing down words, other times notes, until I mold and edit and complete the song. Once done, I grab my notebook and look over my notes and scribbles.

“You are amazing.”

Screaming, I drop the notebook and clutch my guitar to my chest. My heart hammers in my chest as I look up and see Logan.

He grins as he closes the distance between us, picks up my notebook, and sits next to me. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says as he hands back my notebook. The fact that he doesn’t even look makes me feel good. Why, I don’t know. He was basically spying on me just now, so him not looking doesn’t exactly equate to a respect of privacy. But somehow, it does.

“What are you doing here?”

“I was driving by and I saw you. I drive by this place all the time, but never paid much attention to it before. Savannah and I normally go to one closer to their house, or just stay and play in their backyard.” His eyes drift down to his hoodie and his grin grows, but he doesn’t say anything else. “Should I go? I don’t want to keep you from working.”

“I’m finished, actually.”

“Is that a subtle acceptance for me to stay?”

I smile and nod. “Sure. How was your night with Savannah?”

“Good. Savannah, Andrew, and I all played together while Syd snuck off to relax. I may have let Savannah eat some ice cream since she wasn’t around.” Logan grins at his sneaky accomplishment and I laugh.

“You’re a good uncle.”

“It’s fun. Speaking of which, what do you like to do for fun other than serenade people?”

“Live the college life.”

Logan chuckles and smiles, almost to himself. “Parties, drinking, and all-nighters?”

“Well, I’m not twenty-one yet, so...”

He laughs. “You’re in college, though.”

“That’s very stereotypical thinking, Logan,” I tease.

“If I’m wrong, I’ll apologize.” His brows shoot up while he waits for me to prove him wrong. Since I have drunk at college parties before, I can’t. It’s a true bummer, especially when he gets this cocky grin on his face.

“What do you do for fun?”

Logan shrugs. “Not much anymore. I work, hang with Sydney and the kids, and find pretty girls who sing to hang out with.”

I roll my eyes hard at that last bit. “I think you’re trying too hard to butter me up.”

“It’s not working?”

“Not really.”

He laughs. “Come on then. Let’s get out of here. Trust me enough to ride with me this time?”

Instead of answering, I let him take my hand and pull me up. After putting my guitar and notebook into my car, I lock the doors, grab my purse, and follow Logan to his car. When he heads to his door, I hesitate as I stand next to mine. My dad’s voice filters through my mind.

If they don’t open the door for you, you don’t go, Kayla. You’re a woman, a lady, and too many guys these days forget how to treat one. Don’t let them treat you any less than the absolute best. And that includes opening every door for you.

Dad drilled various versions of that into me from a fairly early age. It still trips me up to this day when a guy doesn’t do it. I always hesitate, hear my daddy’s voice, and wonder what to do. Making a guy open my door for me has ended badly, believe it or not. Dad will always say that proves they aren’t worth it.

The sound of the window rolling down lets me know that I’ve been pondering this for too long. “What are you doing? Having second thoughts?” Logan teases.

Well, only one way to find out how Logan will react. I lean down to look in at him. “I don’t know what your daddy taught you, but mine taught me that if I was with a man, I wouldn’t have to touch a door handle.”

His eyes nearly pop out of his head as he scrambles out of the car. “Shit, Kayla. Sorry. I was too excited about the fact that you’re going somewhere with me,” he says, the words rushing out of his mouth as he rounds the front of the car. “I swear I have manners and chivalry isn’t dead and all that stuff.”

I can’t help but laugh. “It’s okay.”

“Here.” He seems so flustered that he hands me my seatbelt. At least he doesn’t try to buckle me in. With amusement, I watch as he triple-checks that all my limbs are inside the car before he closes the door and jogs around to the other side. “Sorry,” he repeats.

“I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” I tell him seriously. I’m starting to feel bad about his reaction. “My dad is old-fashioned and so serious about those things, I can’t help but think about it.”

Logan reaches over to take my hand as he backs up and then pulls out of the park. “Honestly, it’s fine. You caught me off guard is all. I don’t think any girl has ever demanded it before. They should. I’m normally more on top of my game, but I don’t know what happened. Do you have instances like that often?”

“More than my dad would approve of. They don’t all go so well either.”

“Really?” Logan’s voice hitches a bit with surprise.

“Yeah. One guy left me stranded because I essentially said the same thing to him as I did to you and it pissed him off. Some are miffed and do it, but I never hear from them again. Then, there are guys like you who do it and everything is fine.”

“A guy left you stranded?” he asks incredulously.

“Yeah, my dad was pissed because I called him to come pick me up. I was upset over it and he was the only one I wanted to call.”

“That’s insane. I’m sorry, Kayla. Sounds like you have a good dad, though.”

“Yeah. Where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” he says with a smile.

We’re quiet the rest of the way, but then we arrive and I’m confused. “What is this place?” There are a ton of people out here for it to be as chilly as it is today. There are also at least two dozen trucks lined up.

“It’s like a food truck convention of sorts.” I must wrinkle my nose because he says, “Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Some of the best food I’ve ever had has come off of a food truck. It’ll be great, I promise. Don’t move.”

I laugh and unbuckle my seatbelt as I wait for him to move around to open my door for me. He takes my hand, tells me to leave my purse if I want, and then leads the way into the rather massive crowd.

“Here’s the game plan. We’ll pick one thing per truck and share. That way we can try as many as possible. I would like to think I’ve gotten good at doing this, so do you give me free rein to choose for us?”

“Go ahead.”

He grins and pulls me along. The line is long for every single truck, which is good. It gives Logan plenty of time to scan the menu. My phone vibrates in my pocket and I take a quick peek.

Mom: When are you coming home?

Me: Don’t know.

Mom: I need to know how much dinner to fix, Kayla.

Me: Count me out.

After eating with him, I won’t be hungry and Mom won’t have to worry about feeding me. I focus on the menu as I slip my phone into my pocket and wonder what Logan will order. This truck is all about burgers with sides like fries and mac and cheese. Logan picks a burger and fries. He’s already breaking his one thing per truck rule. After a couple minutes of searching, we find a place to sit down and eat.

He slides the containers in front of me. “You first,” he says as he steals a fry, causing me to laugh.

I grab the burger and take a big bite. Holy moly. I don’t know what all is on this thing or what seasoning they used, but it might just be the best burger I’ve ever had. I hand it to Logan and grab a fry. Those are pretty good, too.

“This is the best date ever already,” I say when he hands the burger back. “This burger is delicious.”

His grin is cocky. “I told you. Just wait. There are more to try.”

“I’m ready.” There’s a brief lull before I say, “Can I ask you something?”

“Let’s hear it.”

“You’ve mentioned Sydney, your stepmom and your dad, but not your mom. How come? What’s your relationship with her like?” The moment the words leave my mouth, I know I asked the wrong question. Logan tenses ever so slightly, but it’s enough that I notice.

Have I screwed up already?

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Sneak Peek: Chapter One of Steady!

Chapter One

Logan

Life sucks. It has ever since I graduated from college last year. My best friend, Carey, has moved in with her boyfriend. My sister, Sydney, has gotten married and given me a nephew to love on, in addition to my niece. Yet, here I am. Single. Struggling to find a job that fits the degree I earned. Bored as fuck with life. I almost want to go back to college when life was more fun. Almost.

Everyone made out as if life after college would be like cruising on a highway. Easygoing and you’d go places. That has not happened for me. I’m still working the sucky job I got while in college because I can’t find one more appropriate. The girls I would see don’t appeal to me anymore. Life has turned into a cycle where I go to work, come home, mope, and sometimes beg Sydney to let her kids come over. I don’t actually have to beg, but it’s sad that a baby and a three-year-old are the highlights of my life right now.

My sigh echoes around my lonely apartment. When Carey left, I decided to move too. A one-bedroom apartment made more sense money-wise and space-wise than a three-bedroom. Sydney told me I could move in with them, but that would make me feel even more pathetic than I already do. Besides, I do not want to be in the Rhett household. I’m over there enough as it is. I can’t see her husband, Ian, being happy with me spending even more time there. I like my own space, too.

Ever since I graduated, it’s like I immediately fell into this rut. A rut which keeps getting deeper and deeper. If something doesn’t happen soon, I’ll be convinced that there’s no way out. I need a new job. I need some excitement. I need something other than the exact life I’m currently living.

My phone rings with a call from Sydney. It’s tempting to ignore it, just because I’m in no mood to pretend like my life is where I want it, but I don’t ignore her calls.

“Hey, Syd.”

“Hey! I haven’t heard from you all week! What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” I answer honestly. Absolutely fucking nothing is happening in my life. That’s the problem.

“Well, what are you up to this weekend?”

“Nothing,” I repeat.

Sydney is quiet for a moment. “What’s going on, Logan? Please don’t say nothing.”

“It’s nothing to worry about, Syd. Just in a mood. How’s my niece and nephew?”

I’m thankful that she lets it go. “I think we’ve finally nipped her jealousy in the bud.” It didn’t take long after baby Andrew was born before Savannah decided while she loved her baby brother, she didn’t like all the attention he was getting. He was born back in October; it’s now January. “Or have a handle on it, at least,” Sydney continues. “Andrew is cute and adorable and a good baby as usual. Except for when he’s not.”

I laugh. “Maybe he has more of Ian in him than we thought.”

“That’s probably it,” she agrees. “Savannah wants to see her Lo-Lo.”

I snort. “Ian must be gone on a trip.” Ever since Ian entered Savannah’s life, she only wants to see me when her daddy’s gone. Well, that’s when she wants to see me the most.

“She asked me yesterday before he left, actually. Want to come over for dinner?”

“Sure. I’ll be over in a bit.”

I pack a bag, just in case Savannah wants me to spend the night. She often does. Before I can deal with an active little kid, I need some coffee. The lack of energy pulsing through my veins is equivalent to the energy in my life. Quite simply, there is none. With my bag all packed, I head out for my favorite coffeehouse.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I mutter under my breath.

They’re closed for remodeling. Great way to lose customers. I pull up the map on my phone and see there’s another one close by. I like to go to non-corporate coffeehouses, so while there may be five that are closer to me than the one I’m going to, they are not for me.

When I walk into the store, my brain acknowledges that music is playing. However, the only thing I clearly focus on is the relief that there is not a line. I step up to the counter and order my coffee. That’s when I hear the most angelic, magnificent, powerful voice. Whirling around, I discover it’s not just music, but live music.

There’s a small stage in the corner by the window. A girl sits on a stool with a guitar in her lap. Her hands move fluently; her eyes are closed. Her lips move with the words of the song.

“Hello? Here’s your coffee.”

I face the cashier and take my drink. My body seemingly moves on its own to find a seat to watch her. Her foot taps. Her body sways as if she’s completely lost in the song. Her hands move with such grace on the guitar. The song reaches its height and man, the girl has a set of lungs on her. I’m completely mesmerized. She’s beautiful, too. Well, from what I can see. The guitar hides some of her. She has ridiculously long, wavy black hair. It looks to be almost to her hips. What color are her eyes? When will she open her eyes?

At some point, I should look away, but I can’t. She’s too lost in her song, and I’m too lost in watching her sing.

The song comes to a close and green eyes flash open, landing right on me. Again, I should look away instead of staring at her, but hell, she’s pretty. Fuck, a slow smile rises. I smile back and mouth marry me before I can think better of it. I’m too swept away to think clearly. She laughs; the mic echoes the sound and intensifies my infatuation. She thanks the clapping crowd as she steps off the stool. Once she collects her tips, she leaves the tiny stage.

With her guitar in hand, she walks over to me. I stand and shake the hand she offers.

“Kayla.” The smile on her face is enough to make me want to drop me to my knees and propose again.

“Logan.”

“Did you propose to me, Logan?” she asks with a giggle.

“Depends on what your answer would be.”

She sweeps her eyes over me. “I deserve a date before I can answer, don’t you think?”

“When are you done here?” I ask.

Her eyebrows rise in surprise. “That was my last song.”

“Then let’s go.” I hold out my hand. It hovers in the air for a solid thirty seconds.

“I’m driving myself.” When I nod in acceptance, she finally takes my hand. Hers is soft and slightly smaller in mine. She waves to the cashier as we walk out. I show her what my car looks like before we walk to her car. I stand silently, enjoy how she glances over at me while she puts her guitar safely away in its case, and then I open the driver’s door for her.

“Just follow me.”

“I will.”

At the second stoplight, my phone lights up with a text from Sydney and the plans I made crash down on me. Damn it. We’ll make a pit stop. She’s likely told Savannah I’m coming. I can’t let that little girl down. I’ll drop in for five minutes and tell Savannah I have to go, but I’ll come back tomorrow. It’ll be easier for me to let her down in person than to let Sydney be the bad guy.

We pull into Sydney’s driveway and I get out to see Kayla rethinking this entire thing. I told her we were going out and we come to a person’s house. I walk to her car. She rolls down the window.

“So, here’s the thing. I forgot I was supposed to come to my sister’s for dinner; I just need five minutes and we can go.”

Skepticism creeps into her eyes. “You couldn’t call her instead?”

“No. This is simpler.” She probably doesn’t understand how, but that’s okay. “Would you like to come in with me?” I’d hate to leave her sitting in the car.

“To meet your sister?” Her head tilts a little bit and the skepticism continues to rise.

I laugh. “I’m starting to think you don’t believe I’m meeting my sister at all. That settles it.” I open her car door. “Come on.” I hold my hand out.

She gets out of the car and takes my hand. “Were you hoping I’d say no? What will your girlfriend think?”

I laugh again. “It’s my sister. Well, technically, she’s my stepsister, but she might as well be my sister.” We walk up to the door and I open it without knocking. “Savannah, Lo-Lo is here!” I shout.

Kayla gives me another one of those brow-raising looks. Little pounding footsteps come and there she is. I release Kayla’s hand to crouch and pick her up.

“How’s my favorite niece?”

“Good. Who’s that?” She points to Kayla.

“That’s my new friend, Kayla. Where’s your mommy?”

She points upstairs. I start walking and motion for Kayla to follow us. We find her in Andrew’s room, changing his diaper. “Oh! You didn’t tell me you were bringing someone. Sorry,” she says to Kayla.

“I can’t stay,” I say, earning a glare from Sydney. “I’m sorry!”

“You told me you were coming for dinner and all I’ve heard since then is how Lo-Lo is coming over. Now, you’re telling me you aren’t staying? Why? Did you just meet her?” She glances at Kayla and smiles. “No offense and I’m not angry at you.”

“You’re leaving?” Savannah pouts.

“See,” Sydney says as she picks Andrew up.

“We can stay.”

Everyone looks at Kayla. “For real?” I ask.

She shrugs with a smile. “You proposed, only makes sense that I meet the family.”

You what?” Sydney exclaims as I grin at Kayla. I think I’m in love already.

“Do you have enough for one more, Syd?” I ask.

“Of course.”

“Then, let’s eat.”

We head back downstairs while Sydney talks to Kayla. She finally introduces herself, learns Kayla’s name, and finds out that I did indeed just meet her. They leave me with the kids while they bring dinner to the table. Kayla doesn’t look like she feels out of place. She looks like she belongs here.

“What’s this proposing mess, Logan?” Sydney asks as we sit down to eat.

“She was singing in the coffeehouse. When she finished, I asked her to marry me. She laughed, but agreed to go out with me first.”

“He didn’t ask. He mouthed it at me,” Kayla corrects.

“And you just said yes?”

“I am a catch, you know,” I say with a roll of my eyes.

“Lo-Lo,” Savannah says, stealing my attention.

The bad thing about having dinner here is that Kayla is free to talk mostly to Sydney. Savannah talks to me too much for me to talk to Kayla. Regardless, it’s nice to hear her voice. I keep imagining her singing. We need to escape. I need to know more about her than Sydney does.

The moment dinner is over, I stand. “I love y’all, but we gotta hit the road.”

“No, Lo-Lo!” Savannah shouts.

“I’ll come back tomorrow or tonight to see you, but you have to be a good girl.” She pouts her lips, which makes me laugh. I lean over to kiss her forehead and then stand to kiss Andrew on the forehead, too. “Thanks for dinner, Syd. I’ll call you later. Call me if you need anything.”

“Have I called you once while Ian is away?”

I snort. “All the time.” It’s an exaggeration, but she does call here and there.

“Thank you for letting me intrude,” Kayla says. Impatiently, I wait while goodbyes are said once and for all. “Where to now, Lo-Lo?” she teases.

“Somewhere we can talk. Ideas?”

“Follow me.”

I’d follow her anywhere. To Antarctica to freeze to death? Done. To the pits of Hell? Done. To Heaven? I’m practically already there with her. But for right now, we get into our respective cars and I follow her to a park. It’s a bit chilly outside, but if this is where she’s comfortable, it works for me. I grab a hoodie from the backseat and an extra in case she needs one. It turns out she doesn’t have one, which makes her smile as I offer one of mine.

“Thanks.”

I shrug and pull mine over my head while we walk over to a picnic table, straddling the bench.

“So, what did you want to talk about?”

“You.”

“What about me?” she asks. She goes to stick her hands in the kangaroo pocket, but I grab them in mine first. Wow. Her hands are soft. I wasn’t imagining it earlier. Kayla flicks her gaze back and forth between our hands and my eyes with pure curiosity.

“How long have you been singing?”

“Since I could talk.”

“Do you know you’re amazing?” I give her a little smirk; that, my question, or both makes her laugh.

“I think I’m decent, but thank you for the compliment.”

My thumbs rub over her knuckles. “Why do you sing in the coffeehouse?”

Kayla shrugs. “It’s a great way to earn extra cash and a way for me to perform, even if it is just in a coffeehouse.”

“What do you normally do, if this is extra cash?”

She frowns for a moment. “Nothing. I’m a sophomore in college.”

I sit upright. “What? For real?”

“You don’t go to Whaley Jones University?” Her eyes fall to the WJU hoodie I’m currently wearing.

“No, I graduated last year.” My gaze falls to our hands. Well, this puts a new spin on things. I hadn’t considered where she’d be in life or her age or anything of the sort. I simply assumed we were in the same place and the same age.

Kayla dips her head and leans forward. “Well, then.” Her voice changes with a tone of conspiracy. “It sounds like I have an older man after my heart.”

I laugh. “Sounds like. Is music your major then?”

Kayla sighs. It’s such a heavy, disappointed sigh. “No. I’m declaring anthropology as my major and music as my minor.”

“How come? It doesn’t sound like you’re thrilled about it.”

“I can’t see my parents approving of it.”

“But music is what you want to do?” She nods. “Do you know what I’ve learned?”

“What?”

“When you grow up, you have to make the decisions you want because guess what? Your parents won’t be living your life and as an adult, they lose control anyway. They’ll get over it. It’s your life; do what you want.”

Kayla chuckles. “Yeah, I’m not that brave yet. Music is what I want to do, but I’m not sure what they would think of it. I would like their approval, whether I technically need it or not. And right now, I do rely on them, so I feel like they have a say.”

“Understandable.”

“Have you always been close to your stepsister?”

I flare my eyes. “Ooh, the girl is becoming interested in me now. About time.” She laughs and I gather my thoughts on my relationship with Sydney. “We didn’t care for one another at first, but we became friends.” I shrug a shoulder. “I don’t know. We just got close and have stayed that way. It’s why I call her my sister instead, because I consider her my sister. Do you have siblings?”

She nods. “A younger brother, but we never get along. Or never as well as you seem to get along with Sydney.” Her mouth opens, but she hesitates. “Can I ask you something personal?”

“Sure.”

“What was it like when your parents divorced? How did you feel about it?”

Out of all the questions she could’ve asked me, I never would’ve thought of those. I try to think back on my parents’ divorce. “I don’t know. It happened when I was seven. My dad didn’t marry my stepmom until way later. All I really remember about it is my dad saying he wasn’t gonna live with us anymore, but he still loved us, and me begging to live with him.”

“Oh.” Kayla seems disappointed in my answer.

“Are your parents together?”

She shakes her head. “They’re officially divorced as of last year.”

“Not taking it so well?”

“Not really,” she admits. With a deep breath, her eyes find mine. “Let’s talk about something else. What was your first impression of me?”

“Well, I heard you before I saw you. I was hooked. And when I saw you, I was swept away because you were so beautiful and I wanted to see what color your eyes were. You?”

She smirks, which gives me a heads-up that something funny is coming. “My exact thought was why is this creepy hot guy staring at me?”

“Hot, huh?” I smile.

“Don’t forget creepy.”

“I think you threw that in there for your own amusement. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here with me now.”

“Maybe. Maybe I like to be a stupid college kid sometimes.” Kayla pulls her hands from mine. “It’s dark out here. I should go.”

I stand with her. “Can I have your number?”

Kayla glances around, stalling. She’ll say no. I don’t know why when nothing has gone wrong, unless she’s here to humor me.

“Yes, you can,” she finally says. I whip out my phone so fast and have it ready before she can take her next breath, making her laugh.

Once she recites it, she goes to take the hoodie off. “Keep it for now,” I say. “I don’t want you to be cold on your way home.”

The smile she gives me is a killer. “Thanks, Logan. I’ll see you later.”

Yes. Yes, you will.

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Have you heard about my new series?

My new Hearts in Carolina series starts off on January 4, 2018 with Steady! And, if you've been reading the Carolina Rebels series, it's with a character you're already familiar with: Logan (Sydney's stepbrother) from It's Our Time

Steady is a New Adult Romance.

Steady_Lindsay Paige

A chance meeting and a spontaneous marriage proposal leads Logan Archer on a first date that turns his dull, unhappy life around. With her help, he finally lands his dream job. But what Logan really wants is his dream girl to spend his time with.

He’s certain that girl is Kayla. He’ll do whatever is necessary to secure a future with her.

Kayla Murphy might be able to turn down Logan’s many proposals, but she can’t resist his charm, his many nicknames for her, or his ability to make her laugh when it’s the last thing she wants to do.

But unwanted distractions threaten what these two are building together.

 

Get it on Amazon | iBooks | Nook | Kobo

About the series: The novels will be set in North Carolina, loosely connected to one another, and can be read in any order. There will also be some crossover with my Carolina Rebels series on occasion, as seen with Steady.

WIP Progress Report

WIP Progress Report.jpg

- Title: Untitled
- Genre: Hockey Romance
- Word Count/Goal: 49,409/80,000
- Release Date: Spring 2018
- Series? Carolina Rebels 

It's been a LONG time since I posted my last WIP progress report, which was back in mid-June. I've been slacking, and I apologize.

There is a lot to catch up on, but I'll start with my current WIP. 

So, Scott & Sylvia's An Unexpected Life released last month. Brayden's book, Attached to You, releases next month. We've already met Rebels Noah, Marc, and Ian as well.

Up next and the Rebel starring in this WIP?

EJ!

His story has been flowing so smoothly! I can't wait to get this first draft done. I've had his story in my head for a very long time and it feels so good to finally write it. I can't wait to share it with you next year!

Now that you're all caught up on my current project, let me catch you up on my others.

Other Projects:
The first book in my New Adult Romance series, Hearts in Carolina, goes to edits and gets a cover soon! More details to come. (If you liked Logan from It's Our Time, then you'll be excited about this book!)

- As soon as my secret project (a newsletter exclusive) is ready, it'll be shared with my newsletter subscribers

- As I mentioned above, the next Carolina Rebels book, Attached to You, releases October 19, 2017.