Country music star Laci McCall is on the run. Away from her punishing tour schedule and her pushy manager. Away from the exhaustion. All she wants is to escape to her home-away-from-home in Woodsville, Kentucky. But there's a small problemher bed at the Bradford Ranch is occupied by a damnably hot country boy her first love.
Kane Dalton is overwhelmed by the fierce lust he'd long thought gone, and feelings he's tried to forget. He walked away from Laci oncea second time would damn near kill him. Now they have only a small, stolen moment together. Enough to surrender to that lightning-hot electricity once more. Enough to shake them to their cores before reality crashes in and reminds them that their two worlds were never meant to collide.
About the Author
Kimberly and her three children make their home in the Central Valley of California.
Read an Excerpt
Laci McCall wasn't raised to crynot even when it seemed the whole world was falling down
like this very moment.
"Get Laci some lemon water, now!" Trent Black-stone, her manager barked to a roadie when she wavered on her feet for just a blink of an eye. "You feeling good, honey? Sold-out crowd again. Memphis loves you, baby!"
That's right, they were in Memphis. Two days ago, it was Charleston. Next week, it would be Atlanta. A brutal tour schedule was the mark of a successful artist, so she must be on top of the world, right? Yeah, sure. Top of the world.
"You all right, Laci?" Audrey, her makeup artist asked, pausing with her powder brush in midsweep. "You don't look so good."
"Last I checked, you're not a doctor, Audrey," Trent said, gesturing for Audrey to scoot. "She's fine. It's just prestage jitters, ain't it, honey? The minute you hit that stage, you're gonna shine, just like you always do. That's why people come to a Laci McCall show they all wanna hear that golden angel sing." He looked sharply at the costume designer, who was fiddling with one of the million hand-sewn sequins on Laci's costume and said, "Make sure it's good and tight. The last time, she looked like she was dancing around in a burlap sack it was so loose."
"It's as tight as it's gonna get," Simone retorted, glaring at Trent. "If it were any tighter I'd have to pin it to her skin!"
Laci ignored the back-and-forth between Trent and Simone, secretly grateful that Simone wasn't about to cinch her outfit another millimeter no matter how much Trent threatened to replace her with someone else.
"You sure you're okay, Laci-girl?" Simone asked, worry lines creasing her expression. "I can let it out a hair if it's too tight."
"I'm good," Laci assured her as she tried to take a deep breath but found it difficult. She forced a smile. "It's fine. Beautiful, as always," she assured Simone about the glittering costume that had left Simone's fingers in tatters after hand sewing every single little twinkling piece of hardware onto the fine fabric. "Thank you."
"See? She's fine," Trent said, and Simone, satisfied her masterpiece was going to withstand a full concert, sent a final glare Trent's way and left. Trent didn't like Simone and vice versa, but he recognized her talent, at the very least. Trent returned to Laci with an instant smile. "Honey, you're a vision. There ain't nobody out there in this world that can take the shine off you. That's a fact. Now, get out there and give the people what they crave, darlin'!"
"Yes, sir," Laci murmured with a brief smile as she mentally prepared for a grueling two-hour set. She was just tired. No, she was exhausted. She'd tried to ask Trent to slow the schedule, but every sold-out show seemed to propel him to a more ambitious schedule. Her head pounded with the jarring force of a hammer hitting an anvil, but she gritted her teeth and trained her gaze forward, gearing up for another show. Her people were out there. Her fans made her who she was and she couldn't disappoint them. Without them, she was just a poor Southern girl with impossible dreams and a thirst for something bigger than anyone else in her world.
Buck up, little filly, you got this. The memory of her daddy's voice lifted her spirits and gave her the boost she needed to forget the pain in her head, the exhaustion weighing down her limbs and the fact that her costume did indeed feel pinned onto her skin. Everything was beautiful; everything was right. This was where she belonged and by damn, she would give Memphis the show they'd never forget.
"Helllllooooo, Memphis!" she cried into her microphone headset, her arms stretched wide in welcome. The minute she stepped onto the stage, the crowd swelled with adoration as the resounding chant of her name filled her with momentary joy and she launched into her current number one hit, "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere." Her voice, the one thing about her that made her more than a pretty face, carried the sassy song and for a heartbeat, everything was fine. But then as she hit the high note, belting out her signature raspy growl, the edges of her vision clouded. The stage lights blazed like jet fuel on fire through her brain and the roar of the crowd overwhelmed her eardrums as the sensation that she was falling choked off her voice midset. Noooooo!
The last thing she heard before she slipped into blissful unawareness was the faint din of complete and utter pandemonium.
Kane Dalton, co-owner of Elite Protection Services, just finished hitting Send on a few important emails when his younger brother, Rian, blew into the office with a perplexed expression. "You're going where?" he asked, gesturing to his phone. "Is this an April Fool's thing, 'cause it ain't funny. And if you are going where you say you're going, who are you and where is my brother?"
"I see you got my text," Kane said, sighing. "I'm catching a plane to Kentucky in about three hours. I'm just tying up loose ends. You good to hold down the fort for a few weeks?"
"No and hell no. You know I'm not the business guy in this operationthat's your gig. Now, tell me why you're heading to Kentucky, of all places?"
"Warren called. Cora needs some special medical treatment out of state and he doesn't trust anyone else to watch the ranch while he's gone. He said something about not liking the sheriffcalling him a no-good, rotten son of a bitch who'd probably put his own mama in the clink for jaywalking." Rian arched his brow and Kane nodded as he continued, "Yeah, anyway, how could I refuse the guy? He's like a grandfather to us. Besides, you've been telling me to take a vacation for months. Guess I'm cashing that chip in."
"Aw, hell, Kane, I didn't mean hightail it back to the worst place on the planet," he grumbled. "If you look up Woodsville in the dictionary, it's synonymous with hellnot exactly what I'd call a premier vacation spot for either one of us."
"No argument there, but I'm not heading into town. I'm just gonna hold down the ranch, take care of the cattle and make sure no one comes around to mess with things."
"And what am I supposed to do about that job you took on with that senator on his little vote-gathering tour?"
"I guess you'll have to cover for me." He grinned, knowing his brother hated gigs involving pampered, fat politicians who were more often than not leering at young interns and playing into the stereotype rather than doing anything of value with their lives. "Listen, I know it's not supermodels and celebrities, but it's a fairly straightforward gig. Watch the senator's back while he goes on a handshaking, baby-hugging tour and it'll be over before you know it."
"Sounds like a real party," Rian said sourly, then exhaled because he knew there was no getting out of it for either of them. "How's Cora doin'?" he asked with appropriate concern. The old gal was special to both their hearts and even if it had been a while since they'd managed a visit, if she needed something, there was nothing they wouldn't do to make it happen.
Kane didn't have too much in the way of details, but his gut was singing off tune. "Must be pretty bad if Warren's leaving the ranch to take her to this special place. He'd do anything for the old girl."
Rian nodded in grim agreement. "Yeah, true enough. I feel like shit that we didn't see them at Christmas last year."
"Or the year before that," Kane said, suffering a pinch of conscience, but Warren and Cora both knew the business kept them running ragged, which is why Kane knew he had to say yes. Warren never would've asked if it hadn't been the only option.
"Hey, guess who I saw in the news last night," Rian said, switching tracks, his expression turning serious. He didn't wait for Kane to guess. "Laci."
An iron gate swung shut inside his heart and he gave his brother a hard look. "Yeah? And? That matters to me why?"
"Stop acting like a hard-ass. I know you're still carrying a torch for her. Shut up for a minute and I'll tell you what I heard."
"Yeah? So tell me."
"She collapsed onstage last night at a concert in Memphis."
Immediate alarm spiked and his muscles tensed even as he kept very still. "Is she okay?" he asked quietly, not sure he wanted to know. Laci was his Achilles' heel, a weakness he had always done his best to protect by staying far away from her and her world.
"I don't know. TMZ reported she collapsed in the middle of her number one single, and her PR machine is saying she suffered from food poisoning, but I don't buy it."
"Yeah? Why not?"
"Certain circles travel together, you know how that goes. People are saying that she's flat-out exhausted. Have you seen her tour schedule? It's insane."
"Is she okay, or not?" he growled, fighting the impulse to drive straight to Memphis to deliver a fist sandwich to whomever wasn't doing their job and looking out for her.
"Yeah, I'm sure if she gets some rest she'll be okay," Rian answered, watching him with open speculation. Suddenly a knowing smirk curved his lips and Kane swore under his breath. Here it comes "When you gonna admit that you still care for her?"
"When you gonna drop it? We were kids a long time ago. Neither one of us are kids now. Got it?"
"Yeah, I get ityou're in denial and have been since the day you cut her loose. But whatever. It's your life, bro. I just thought you might like to know."
Kane forced a chuckle, if only to get past the awful pinch in his chest, and said, "Aw, Ri, I never knew you were such a softie at your core."
Rian scowled at Kane's thinly veiled sarcasm and flipped him off. "I hope your plane goes down," he shot over his shoulder as he headed out of the office, leaving Kane to deal with the burden of knowing that Laci was lying in some Memphis hospital bed.
Kane shook his head, hating that time hadn't healed that particular wound or erased the bone-deep need to feel Laci shuddering in his arms, or hear her breathy sighs in his ear as he took total control of her body. Time was supposed to dull that edge, right? Yeah, so someone ought to let his brain in on that little fact. Maybe if his fantasies didn't feature Laci, he'd get over her. Maybe. But it didn't matter who he was with or even if he was alone, Laci was there.
Irritated at himself, Kane finished his to-do list, then closed up the office to pack for a trip he didn't want to make. Woodsville, Kentuckyhome of his miserable childhood and the keeper of his most private dreams. If it hadn't been for summers at the Bradford ranch. he didn't know where he and Rian might've ended up. Probably nowhere good.
Of all the things the Bradford ranch reminded him offresh corn bread and hot beans simmering in a cast-iron pot, corn on the cob and steaks big enough to satisfy the appetites of two growing young menthere was only one thing that ever jumped to mind when he thought of those blistering summer days and time hadn't dulled those memories.
Sweet as seasonal rain and with curves for days, there were still times she invaded his dreams, leaving him rock hard, aching and reaching for a woman who was never meant to be his.
Kane physically shook himself from his reverie, appalled at his own mopey melancholy. When did he become such a sap? Apparently, Woodsville brought out the worst in him.
Well, one thing was for certain, no matter where Laci was leaving her behind had been the best thing he could've ever done for herand for himself.
So what if the scar remained tender to the touch. Everyone had scars. Some people just hid them better than others.