Are you a fan of small town romance? Me too!! I think you’ll enjoy Sam Burnside’s story – hot on the heels of book one in the series, LIVE, LAUGH picks up after Destiny and Hefin have traveled to Wales, Sam is struggling with his life decisions and meets a strong woman in Nina Paz – sexy, romantic and sweet this story is like none other, guaranteed to warm your toes!
Be careful though, it is an unputdownable read!
Nothing like a little sneak peek to entice a reader — hee hee – enjoy!
Sam Burnside reached in his car’s console for a pack of cigarettes, and instead found a crumpled stack of overdue parking tickets.
He had given up cigarettes two years ago, but his right hand was still surprised not to close around a slick cellophane-wrapped box of smokes.
Clearly it wasn’t his higher, executive functioning that was in charge this morning.
That never bode very fucking well.
He needed every neuron of his higher, executive functioning he could recruit or marshal with his morning dose of Adderall.
He hiked up his hips, sweat sticking his t-shirt to his back to pull his phone out of his pocket, thinking he’d thumb through his mail while he waited. Except there wasn’t a phone in his pocket. He had forgotten to charge his phone last night, then meant to grab it with his car charger this morning, then left it on his kitchen counter this morning where it would be just as dead when he finally got to it this afternoon.
This isn’t where he wanted to be on a Saturday morning.
Though, lately, trying to sleep, he wasn’t sure where he was wanted to be.
Or maybe, he wasn’t sure where he belonged.
Lacey, his partner in the low-income health clinic they were opening, had decided that his helping her on Saturdays was “too much,” but he didn’t think that meant he was actually too much help.
He was pretty sure that meant he was too much, in general. He was really good at a particular kind of too much that was, in fact, not enough at all.
He remembered the first time his parents told him that he would be a big brother, and that he would have to be extra good, and a help, and an example.
He was a big brother three times over, and he felt as solemn about his duty to his family as his did when he was a kid.
He also felt more and more certain that the more he did try to help and to protect and to be an example, that he was fucking up.
So he was here.
No convenient vices.
He closed his eyes.
No distractions. He reminded himself. That’s a good thing.
He gazed into the red haze of sun filtering through his eyelids. Took a slow breath.
Recalled his ophthalmologist had warned him to start wearing sunglasses.
He wondered if the sunscreen he applied that morning had already sweated off in the hot car.
Realized he forgot to tell his sister to get the mole he noticed on her shoulder checked out before she went overseas.
He opened his eyes.
He looked at his watch. Six thirty. It was already close to ninety degrees. He thought farmers were supposed to get up early. He had been up since four. He’d actually been up at eleven-thirty, somewhere around two, three, and then four, terrified that he wouldn’t get up in time to be here at six.
But the farmer he was supposed to meet, the farmer who farmed in the middle of the city, was late.
This farmer was a new friend of Lacey’s, and had new interests in the neighborhood that Sam and his family had lived in his whole life. This farmer had opened a café on the north end of their neighborhood, closest to downtown, that it seemed everyone had tried but him. The farmer had taken over vacant lots and grown things in them. She had made partnerships with the neighborhood schools to get kids outside, and with the city hospital where Sam moonlighted—she was starting a series on healthy eating.
He’d only seen the farmer in passing, as much as he’d heard.
Pretty. He had the impression she knew how to laugh.
Nothing better to do, he looked at the vacant lot he was parked alongside that sat right between the Lakefield Public Library’s parking garage and an older brick building Lacey had told him was for the grounds maintenance staff of Celebration City Park.
The lot was—fecund. That was the only way to describe it. Raised wooden growing boxes disappeared in long, narrow rows into the back of the deep lot. Every box supported tall ladders of rebar structures twined and tied with massive plants.
The plants seemed to steam and rustle in the morning heat, like creatures occupying the middle of a scale between animal and vegetable.
It was unlikely looking, absurd, this compressed farm between two very urban buildings. Sam thought of rabbit holes. Stumbling into a snowy kingdom found in the back of a wardrobe.
Surely, he didn’t belong here.
If he hadn’t been watching the serpentine movements of the plants, he would have missed the very human-like movement in depths of the lot. He squinted against the heat mirage rising between the rows of plants. Well. The backside pointed in the air inside those very small shorts was decidedly human.
And woman shaped.
He guessed his farmer decided to start her day, after all.
He climbed out of the car and the air outside felt cooler, but thicker. For all the moisture in the air, it hadn’t rained for days. He unlocked his trunk and pulled out the dripping wet flat of flowers that Lacey told him to buy and deliver to this lot.
Their fledging clinic had a relationship with the hospital, and since the hospital had a relationship with this farmer, he was here.
Lacey said it was good for the clinic, and for the neighborhood.
What she really meant was she thought it would be good for Sam.
Good for getting him out of the way.
Sam picked his way through a row, his forearms and shoulders getting drenched with dew from the plants he was brushing past. The light was green and murky and even here, in the middle of the city, the noise of insects beat loud.
At the end of the row he emerged into a clearing crowded with a shed, a low run of fencing, and a huge and dirty worktable made of several wooden pallets hiked up on sawhorses. The entire area looked chaotic, like a dumping ground for large and useless objects. It made Sam itch to look at the mess, so he focused on the farmer.
Her back was to him, those small shorts giving way to legs so curvy and muscular he caught himself tracing the anatomy of her posterior thigh—biceps femoris, semitendinosus.
The gastrocnemius of her calf was bunched so tight under her tan and mud-spattered skin he thought she must be standing on her toes.
He snapped his gaze away from her legs and refocused on the head end. She hadn’t turned around. Two jet-black braids, as thick as his wrist, hung down her back. Her voice was so clear and low it sounded like it should be on news radio.
“I’ve been here since six. You’re late.”
“I’ve been here since four thirty. You’ve been sitting in your car doing nothing for a half an hour.” She still didn’t even grace him with a perfunctory look. She did reach down and grab a large plastic bucket of what looked liked at least twenty pounds of something vile and thumped it onto the table.
The sleek curve of her deltoid barely jumped with the effort.
Sam felt the indignation fire like the precision explosion trapped in a combustion engine. No. No. “I was told to be here at six. I was. Exactly. No one was here, I looked.”
She turned around. Her gaze was more than perfunctory. In fact, it was direct and considering. A single jet eyebrow arched up. High.
There was something offensively smirky going on with her mouth, which should have been impossible with lips like that. Softness like that shouldn’t have the tensile strength to harden into a smirk.
Arms were crossed. That, he was okay with. Because her crossed arms with those tight brachioradiali held up the best breasts Sam had ever seen in real life. And he was a doctor.
He’d seen a lot of breasts.
“What are those?” She pointed her chin at his flat of flowers, which soaked the entire front of his t-shirt with leaking plant waste.
“What am I supposed to do with those?”
This time he leveled the hard and considering look, and raised his eyebrow. “You tell me. You’re the farmer.”
“What’s that you’re doing with your face?”
Sam suddenly felt a mental trip that forced him to quickly readjust the awkward flat of flowers. “What?”
“When you looked at me you screwed your face up weird. Are you having a stroke?”
Sam stared. “Am I having a stroke.”
It seemed safer to mirror back what she said in a neutral tone until he caught up.
“Because, I saw this thing on TV about recognizing the warning signs of a stroke, and I think rudeness and ugly faces were on the list. And possibly planting petunias in the middle of July in Ohio, but I could be wrong about that one.” She reached up and rubbed sweat off her forehead and left a long streak of mud behind. Her eyebrow arched up again, waiting for him to get his thumb out of his ass, he supposed.
So was he.
He briefly considered a conciliatory measure and polite reintroduction of himself and his mission there, and then quickly settled on fuck that.
He dropped his flowers to the ground and crossed his own arms over his chest.
“Lacey told me to bring those petunias. Everyone’s rude at six thirty in the morning. You have mud on your face.”
The eyebrow didn’t lower. In fact, it may have curved a little higher. However, her arms squeezed tighter and so her pretty rack bounced higher, too. He kept a furtive eye on it.
She looked him up and down, and the wry in her face didn’t spoil the exciting effect of her big brown eyes lingering on his linger-worthy places.
He knew he had more than few she was certain to notice.
Then she squinted at him. “Are you wearing sunscreen?”
Sam gave up. This was not a normal woman. “Am I wearing sunscreen.” He repeated her question slowly to give himself time to think.
This was important, as this was precisely the kind of situation where if he didn’t give himself time to think he would have to give himself time to apologize, later.
“You’re a red-head. And have freckles all over. I can practically see more popping out all over from here. You’re going to be as bright as one of my tomatoes before we even get started. You remind me of the one red-headed kid, with the freckles, on that old television show. The one set in the small town with the cops and the Auntie—“
“Opie. You’re thinking of Opie. And believe me, I’ve heard it before.”
She leaned back against her worktable. Crossed one racehorse-worthy leg over the other and gazed into middle distance. “No. That’s not it. You know, the little precocious boy who’s always going fishing. Real popular show that’s on cable re-run all the time—“
“The Andy Griffith’s Show. Opie. That’s what you’re thinking of.”
She met his eye. Shook her head. “Hm. Yeah. I don’t think so. Must’ve been one of my mom’s old telenovelas I’m thinking of.” She pushed herself away from the table. “Ready?”
“For what? Getting confused to death?”
“Do you at least have a hat, Opie?”
“No. I do not have a hat. I have about five hundred petunias you don’t want and a headache.” And a mental note to take contract out on Lacey’s life.
“It’s the heat.”
“What’s the heat?”
“Why you have a headache. You need a hat. I’ll see what I can find. You might as well take those petunias home to kill. This heat’s not good for anything but tomatoes and zucchini. I told Lacey to donate salt hay. You can bring that tomorrow.”
She turned around and walked toward the shed, stepping around debris Sam had no name for. He stood in his wet t-shirt and closed his eyes, listening to the insects hum.
His mind was empty, for once.
Stunned, he could only guess.
He opened his eyes to the farmer standing right in front of him, holding out something that looked like a hair bezoar he had once removed from an eighty-five-year-old woman’s stomach after she took up the habit of grooming her toy poodle with her teeth. “What the fuck is that?”
He looked at it. It might have been straw once, but now it was mostly fungus. He shivered. “I am not putting that on my head.”
She looked at it, and before she could completely school her features back to polite helpfulness, he saw her adorable nose wrinkle with disgust. Ah. So that’s how she was playing it. Well.
He had been a medical student. A freakishly hot farmer, no matter how amazing her legs, could not haze him.
She started back towards the shed. “Well, if you’re certain. It’s just that you look a little—pink already. There around your nose, where most of your freckles are.” She tilted her head and squinted up at him. “Though, it’s hard to tell where most of your freckles are. You have these massive crops everywhere. You should wear sunscreen.”
Crops of freckles his ass. He had two dozen at the most, and not a single woman had ever complained. In fact, women loved his freckles. The last woman he was with had told him that they made his handsomeness more approachable.
Direct fucking quote.
“Give me that hat.”
She looked down at the green and brown clump. They watched something drip off of it. Something that was not water. She held it out. “This hat?”
“Do you see any other hats?”
“No. This was the only one I could find. I don’t even remember putting it in the shed. It’s probably been in there for years. Vintage.”
“Hand it over.”
She straightened her arm out, and dangled the hat on one finger. He stepped forward to take it, and then noticed the smell. As if a creature in that shed had eaten the hat, and the hat hadn’t been agreeable, and so the creature dispatched some kind of foul, hat-shaped dung.
He looked back at the farmer.
Her eyes were dancing.
He took the hat delicately by its crumbling brim, ignoring the vaguely slimy texture, and raised it to his head, breathing through his mouth. He looked directly into her glittering brown eyes and brought the hat closer.
He watched a dimple crater her left cheek.
He wanted to put his tongue in it.
The dimple got bigger, and deeper, the corners of her mouth started to tremble. He felt the cool, wet edge of the hat against his brow.
She burst out laughing, so loud that a pair of birds startled out of one of the grow boxes. She actually had her head thrown back, and the sweat-shiny hollow of her throat was a revelation.
His farmer looked back at him, her smile wide and easy. He hovered the hat over his hair.
“Ay dios mio. Give me that hat.” She laughed.
“This hat?” He dangled it by a finger in her direction.
She laughed again. “You see any other?”
“Actually, I don’t see any hats. I think this might be shed monster scat.”
She laughed again, her hands on her hips, and took the hat, turning to toss it in a penned-in piled of dirt so dark it looked black. It landed neatly onto the top and settled into the loam.
She stepped forward and stuck out her hand, streaked with dirt. “Nina Paz.”
He took her hand, surprising himself by not caring about the dirt. “Sam Burnside.”
“I know.” She didn’t let go of his hand, which suited him. “Lacey told me she was sending me an uptight ginger doctor and not to go easy on you.”
He squeezed her hand and tugged it two millimeters towards him, which was proof of his showing just a little restraint, for once.
She was pretty close now, and there were little beads of sweat along her upper lip.
She was pretty close and she was also pretty. It felt like the two of them were caught in slow, thick, seconds, the air actually green and live, something growing.
He felt good, on the verge of laughter and a little helpless.
He didn’t know really Nina Paz, he reminded himself. He didn’t know her, and if her eyes seemed knowing, he didn’t have to keep holding her hand and looking her over, just to find out what she knew.
He just wanted to do a good job, here, and go home. Charge his phone. Check in with Lacey, his brother and sisters. Do his laundry.
He could feel the sweat slide down his own spine, under the waistband of his shorts. Looking right into her shiny eyes, the lashes winged and dark, he had a flash of slick bodies bent over convenient sawhorses, muscles moving along his.
He gripped her hand tighter.
She pressed her thumb, just a little into his hand, to tell him she noticed.
What did she notice?
He lowered his eyes from hers, shy, suddenly, for her to see either his crass or tender thoughts.
“I’m surprised she gave me such a glowing recommendation, actually.”
“She also said you were bossy, rude, a control freak, would probably bring the wrong thing and to not let you come back to the office today or borrow my phone. Then she promised to take me out to that new barrel bar downtown and buy me a twenty dollar scotch.”
“I would’ve held out for bottle service.”
“The day’s young, Dr. Burnside.”
“I look forward to it Farmer Paz.” He was surprised to realize that he was, looking forward it. Her eyes had softened at the corners. Her skin was golden and flushed. Her hair was dark and curled up in the sweat all along her forehead and cheeks.
“You have freckles, too,” He heard himself say, helpless again. They were the smallest nevi across the bridge of her nose, just a shade deeper than her skin.
“Yeah.” He smiled, feeling something give way in his shoulders, his neck. Warmth filled in where all the tight places unsnapped.
He loosened his grip to turn her hand into a different kind of hold. To search out her wrist, her arm, with his fingers. Her eyelids drifted, just a little bit, and he watched his fingertips start a first stroke along her inner wrist with his thumb.
Then he suddenly lost her gaze to the ground, and she stepped back, pulling her hand with her.
He watched her look over into her plants, and he fisted his hands to keep from fidgeting, from finding something to worry on his clothes, from patting his pocket for his phone.
She looked back at him.
“You ready to work? How’s your back? Or are those shoulders just for show?”
He studied her face, and it was serene. But there was color, up high, under those big brown eyes, and he didn’t think it was from the sun.
“I’m sorry.” He said.
“No you’re not.” She grinned, but with no laugher behind the grin.
“No.” He wasn’t sorry. Being sorry didn’t work.
“Don’t ever say you are, if you aren’t.”
“It seems like the thing to do, when I’m a jackass. What people need to hear.”
“You should have it printed on a card.”
“Maybe I should. One of my sisters works at a letterpress. I could get a deal.”
“If I was your sister, I’d charge you double for I’m Sorry cards.”
He laughed, and Nina Paz smirked at him—dirt on her forehead, sweat in a V between her beautiful breasts, the sun glossed in her braids. “You’re right, she should. Her, most of all.”
She looked down at the ground again. But he could see her smile. “You ever picked tomatoes before, Opie?”
“Nope. City boy, through and through.”
“Grab a crate and one of those bales of straw. Watch and learn.”
He kicked his flowers to the side and followed her to the stack of crates, enjoying the view of her thoroughbred legs bending and lifting and crouching.
A fine way to spend the morning—sun at your back and by the side of a beautiful woman who really knew how to laugh.
He closed his eyes.
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***Note: sneak peek content may vary slightly from finished book***