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Painted Petals (MF)

JMS Books LLC

Heat Rating: SWEET
Word Count: 31,776
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It’s February, and that means Valentine’s Day -- the day of lovers. It might seem like the perfect holiday for Clara Dickens and Asher Barlow, a couple of lovebirds. But they’ve only been dating for two months ... is it too early to celebrate? As a distraction, Clara throws herself into helping the local animal shelter find perfect matches for all the homeless critters. Still, past heartache plagues her.

Meanwhile, Asher spends his time helping his best friend Bowie, who was injured by a bull on his ranch. Unfortunately, Asher’s ex-girlfriend picks now to return to Sugarbush Creek, further complicating matters.

With Clara letting her past jade her present and Asher keeping secrets, there’s a good chance Valentine’s Day will pass unnoticed. But will it also bring heartbreak?

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Excerpt

"What are you thinking about?" Asher whispered in her ear.

Heat flushed her cheeks. Why did he possess the power to make her blush effortlessly? "Nothing."

Asher chuckled, turning her so they stood face to face. "I bet." Light danced in his eyes. He tweaked her nose. "You should see how red your cheeks are and something tells me it ain't the wind's fault."

She curled her fingers into his flannel jacket, wanting to be as close to him as possible. Was she ready to take that step in their relationship? How? Mere moments ago, she was contemplating the depth of her love for Asher. And if I keep letting my mind wander along this avenue, I'll be as red as a firetruck. Clara cleared her throat, acutely aware of how close his hips were, and considering how he looked in his jeans, oh boy.

"What are you doing here?"

"I was on my way to see Bowie when I spied your SUV parked along the curb." He slipped one of his hands lower, briefly cupping her right butt cheek. "Thought I might stop and see if it's my lucky; which it turns out to be."

"Is it?"

"I think so," he murmured, leaning down to kiss her.

When his lips touched hers, Clara felt her toes curl, an ache for him to brush his fingers along other locations. Sensual, delicate, intimate places. Then she recalled that they were out in public and regretfully pulled away, licking her swollen lips. Perhaps it's a good thing we're here.

"I find, Miss Dickens, that I quite thoroughly enjoy kissing you."

"Do you now?"

"I imagine I'll relish doing other things to you."

"Asher."

Another chuckle, his chest rumbling. "There's a time and a place." He winked.

Sadly, Clara untangled herself from Asher, letting the cold air rush in between them. "So, on other topics. You said you were on your way to see Bowie?"

"I can be persuaded to skip."

"No, don't let me hold you up. I hope everything fine."

"I don't mind being held up by you, my dear. In fact, we should find a way to make it happen more often."

He drew her back to him and Clara went willingly, flushed from head to toe. Her conversation with Miss Maggie, still fresh in her mind, mixing with this moment made her wonder if it a little Valentine's celebration might be fine. If they loved each other what did it matter if they chose to mark the date during their fledgling relationship? It was their business, their decision. Clara was about to ask Asher his opinion on the whole affair, when a new idea occurred to her. Well, it was actually part of a conversation she had years ago with high school chums. Oh, those days seemed like a lifetime ago. Her bestie at the time assured her that men usually got cold feet at the mention of commitment, wanting to sow their wild oats in a care free nature.

And look at how your attempt of wedded bliss worked out. Train wreck is a perfect word to describe that situation. Do you want to risk losing Asher over a silly holiday? Is this one day even all that important to me?

"What's going on in that head of yours, and does it include me?" Asher's grin was impish.