Logging manager Matthew Shaw is wary when Kayla Edwards, the owner of Mountain Specialty Spices, hires his firm to harvest timber on her Appalachian property. It’s a place he knows better than the back of his calloused hand—it’s his family’s old homestead, lost years ago in a painful foreclosure. He’s hauled himself up from dirt-floor poor since then, and resolves to stay professional…but Kayla’s vivacious beauty makes it hard to focus on his job.
Home. That’s how army-brat-turned-foodie Kayla feels about her new mountain hideaway. What’s more, the hottest lumberjack ever to swing an axe has agreed to manage her timber crop and get the old maple syrup operations back on tap. Matt’s ruggedly sexy ways and passion for the land have her falling hard.
The heat between them grows wild…until Kayla discovers that Matt hasn’t been up front with her. She feels devastated and, worst of all, used. How can Matt prove it’s her he wants and not her land?
Take Me Home – Country Roads Book 1
Nearly 75 percent of West Virginia is covered by forests.
The state tree is the sugar maple.
Suck my dick, you twisted fuck.
No love, Matt
Matt closed his eyes, cursing under his breath. He wasn’t supposed to be here. His job was logging manager, not forester, although he was qualified to do either. He wouldn’t be here now, if Alvarez’s wife hadn’t gone into premature labor. Matt’d glanced at the name and address Alvarez sent him and left it at that. The county had readdressed everything two years ago, so the road name and numbers had meant nothing to him, were just random coordinates on his GPS. But staring at this modern interpretation of a farmhouse filled his mouth with acid.
There used to be a real farmhouse on the grounds, with peeling white paint and a sagging wraparound porch. The windows used to rattle when the wind blew too hard, and the coal furnace had to be coaxed into working right if it got below zero. There used to be a closet in the upper west bedroom that had his name carved inside the door.
That door, along with everything else, was long gone. He sat for a minute, letting the motor idle and his thoughts drift back. Ghostly images swam from somewhere in his mind: the cold floor of the hallway on his bare feet, the crickets singing in the grass on a summer night, the softness of well-washed sheets wrapping around him. Painful memories intruded. Utilities being regularly shut off, bank calls that led to letters on official-looking paper, sheriff deputies standing guard while they carried out only personal belongings.
He looked up into the mountains, the raw rocks peeking from the tree line and stretching toward the blindingly blue sky. Those mountains were ancient. He just felt old. He squeezed the steering wheel. “I can’t do this.”
Three taps got him into his phone’s email program where he scoured the schedule Alvarez had forwarded. There had to be someone else available, anyone. Resignation dredged up a sour churn in his gut. There wasn’t another forester available for two weeks. It was him or nothing.
He glared at the shiny white clapboard. “Fuck a buzzard.”
Grabbing his compartment clipboard and phone, he climbed from the cab. He could do this. He would do this. Besides, it was ancient history. This all belonged to someone else now.
Early September heat baked the back of his neck as he headed up the gravel drive. He ran a hand through his hair then smoothed it back into place. At least he was wearing a company-logo polo and new jeans. His hiking boots were expensive waterproof leather and not the stained steel-toes he normally wore. He wasn’t the same poor little boy who’d walked away choking back tears.
The house wasn’t the same either. The porch had a deep-red-painted floor instead of unpainted wood. There was a huge picture window where a row of four should have been. The upper level boasted three gables, not two.
He started to knock but spied a doorbell beside the fancy red metal door with its oval beveled-glass window. Something so small cemented how foreign this new house was. He wasn’t coming home. Home didn’t exist anymore. Losing this place had killed his father but no ghosts haunted this new place. None except the ones in his head.
He jammed the button a tick too hard and braced for coming face-to-face with whoever owned his childhood.
Think of something else, anything else—production reports…grocery list…building the deck…
The door opened. A woman offered him a welcome smile.
Sex works. Yeah, thinking about sex now.
Wide gold-flecked brown eyes dominated her makeup-free face, her cheeks and lips boasting a natural pink. Dark blond waves escaped her ponytail, and a smudge of some brown powder dusted the front of her yellow tee right along the peak of one breast. That faint shadow drew his eyes like a magnet.
You’re not a dog in heat. Stop it. Some dark, ugly part of him wanted to hate her on sight, to blame her. He knew it was wrong but couldn’t help it. And it wasn’t hatred that had his dick suddenly knocking on his zipper like a Jehovah’s Witness.
He forced his gaze up to her face. “Ms. Edwards? I’m Matthew Shaw from Hawkins Hardwoods.”
Kayla Edwards dusted her hand on her jeans before offering it to him. Her grip was soft but firm and slightly gritty. “How’s Mrs. Alvarez?”
“Fine, as far as I know. No baby yet.”
“Hope everything goes okay for them.” She looked over her shoulder. “I’m sorry. Time got away from me. Can you give me a few minutes to finish up?”
“Sure.” He took a step back. “I’ll just wait out by the—”
“Oh, no, come on in. This won’t take long. You can talk while I finish bagging.”
He dipped his head and followed her into an entry hall. The scent of spices hit him so strongly he blinked. She disappeared through a doorway and he trailed behind, absently noting the floor was laminate, not hardwood. A patterned rug’s bright design pulled the pale butter-color from the wall and made the living room seem cheery. There was no hearth, no fireplace, no memory lingering in wait.
The dining room was missing but the kitchen was huge, done in muted reds and golds with professional-grade stainless appliances more suited to a restaurant than a family kitchen. A butcher-block island held two dozen small bags, all with the same printed logo. No notches marked children’s growth over the years on the door frame. There was no mud porch and the back door wasn’t even in the same place.
Matt blew out a silent breath.
“Would you like some lemonade, Mr. Shaw?”
“Matt, please, and no, thanks, I’m fine.”
She pointed to a tall bar stool and he took a seat, watching her move in quick efficient moves. Using some weird, tiny long-handled spoon, she took yellow powder from a plastic container and added one scoop to each of a dozen bags.
“What are you doing?”
He never expected her to laugh. And he didn’t expect that laugh to be like rich red wine, full bodied and robust. The sound captured him so completely, he nearly missed the empty bag she tossed at him.
“Mountain Specialty Spices?”
“That’s me.” She tied each bag with a short length of cording. “All-natural, organic spice packs, alternative allergen-free mixes and optional recipes. Things are growing so fast, I want to hire an assistant and expand my inventory. That’s where you come in. You buy trees and I have over a hundred acres of trees doing nothing but standing.”
Standing he could do. Maybe bend her over that island and…
His jaw clenched. He was not going to lust after the woman who owned everything he’d lost. It seemed almost sacrilegious. “Then hopefully we can do some business.”
He thumbed open his clipboard top and took out the standard brochures along with the surveyor’s map. The County Assessor’s map unfolded with a loud crinkle. Kayla Edwards owned the mountainside and most of a small valley. He’d roamed those woods for years, building forts, playing hide-and-seek, chopping firewood. His eyes flicked to the ownership dates.
Damn it, she was the one.
When it was up for sale four years ago, he’d swallowed his pride, cashed out his 401K, pooled his savings and placed a bid on this property. The out-of-state bank’s asking price had been outrageous, but the land had sat unoccupied for so long, he’d thought for sure his offer would be accepted. But someone else topped him. He’d raised his offer but was countered twice more until finally he was tapped. He couldn’t afford to bid any higher so he’d walked away.
Kayla Edwards had outbid him for his own family’s land.
Paper rustled as he leafed through various forms. She’d bought it but ignored it for three years. It was only in the past sixteen months that she’d torn down the old place and applied for building permits and business licensing.
“Tell me how this works.” Kayla’s voice shattered his concentration and he looked up to find one tawny eyebrow quirked in question.
First, we get naked. Then I start at your ankles and lick my way up…
Jesus, what was he doing? Sweat popped along his upper lip. Nothing seemed real. He was staggering from being here. His mind tried to slam the square peg of now into the round hole of the past. In defense, his brain must have latched on to the roundness of her breasts and the sway of her hair, pumping a numbing flood of hormones into his blood. All he could think of was sex.
“I changed my mind. Can I have that lemonade now?”
She opened the fridge and he gave his libido a swift smack. She was a potential client and she owned his family legacy, two major reasons to keep his distance. His gaze drifted over her butt once more. Damn, she was pretty. His balls took over his brain, tossing out excuses. Looking never hurt anyone. Even picturing that ass bare and bouncing on his lap was okay as long as he didn’t act on it.
By the time she put a tall ice-filled glass in front of him, he was back to Mr. Professional on the Outside Picturing You Naked on the Inside. Familiar words he’d said a couple hundred times flowed without thought as he explained what he’d be looking for. She washed her hands at the kitchen sink and his focus drifted down. She wore no rings or polish and her nails were cut short. The scrubbing swayed her body and his gaze fell once more to that sprinkling of spice on her breast. It had smeared to a small streak, an arrow that might as well be screaming Your Mouth Goes Here.
Cinnamon? Brown sugar? He had no idea but it was damn fun trying to guess.
He sipped tart lemonade and watched her unobtrusively until she bent down to tie her shoes. Her ass was prime—heart-shaped and filling out every inch of the faded denim. It would fill his hands perfectly.
“Are you ready to start today?”
Lady, you have no idea how ready I am.
Sudden nausea surged from his belly and wilted his semi-erection. He had to walk the land. The land. The lemonade turned rancid and burned his throat. His hand shook as he pulled a business card from the clipboard and laid it on the brochures. “It’s already after noon. I’ll head back to the office and—”
“It’s not that late.” She whirled to a tall cabinet and started stacking the plastic containers.
Panic tightened his belly. He didn’t want to do this. He couldn’t do it. She couldn’t be with him. She couldn’t know this was once his home. Shame ripped the words from his tongue. “You don’t have to cruise with me.”
She stretched high on her toes, shoving one tall container onto the upper shelf, and her shirt pulled tight across her breasts. “You call it a cruise?”
“Yeah, a walk through the land to evaluate the estimated stumpage.”
Kayla frowned over her shoulder. “Stumpage?”
“How many trees will be cut, and an educated guess on what the board footage will be, giving me a current market value price to offer you.” The explanation fell from his lips automatically as his brain screamed that there had to be a way out of this. “Cruising is tedious, boring stuff. And it rained last night. The land’s bound to be muddy.”
The cabinet clicked shut. A shrug lifted her shoulder. “Mud washes off.”
The freshest panic faded beneath a blanket of resignation. Once again, he was powerless on this land. She called the shots. If she wanted to start today and cruise beside him, he had no choice.
You are hereby ordered to quit, vacate and deliver possession of the above stated property to the undersigned on or before October 8th, 1993.
He forced a wooden smile to his mouth. “You’re the boss.”
Bio: INEZ KELLEY was born and bred in the mountains of West Virginia. Although you can never take the hillbilly out of the girl, her knight in shining armor transplanted her to the Midwest along with their teenage drama queen, Spawnetta, and the Demolition Duo – Damien and his twin, the Omen.
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