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cover for Ever After at Sweetheart Ranch

Valentine Valley #6
May 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-232342-2

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Ever After at Sweetheart Ranch
by Emma Cane

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A teacher and her cowboy crush kindle sparks—and something more—
in the town that lives up to its name.
. .  

Math teacher Lyndsay De Luca never surprised anyone—least of all herself—until this summer. First, she secretly published her debut romance novel. Then she started dating Will Sweet, the cowboy of her dreams. And now Lyndsay's scrambling to hide the juiciest tidbit of all: that the hazel-eyed hero of her steamy fiction is the same guy whose kisses have become her mind-blowing reality.

Ever since Will’s high school sweetheart died in a tragic accident, he hasn’t been able to commit to a long-term relationship. Lyndsay is the first woman in years who's been able to catch—and keep—his attention. When they team up to teach Valentine’s teens about ranch life, Will discovers it’s not just her sexy-as-hell smile that has him hooked. Will she be the one to finally break down the walls around his guarded heart?

~~~~~

Reviews!

"A thoroughly charming tale of secret loves, hidden scars and new beginnings. Her heroine’s strength and personal resolve are admirable, and Cane plumbs her hero’s psyche expertly, making his loss and fear visceral and sympathetic, rather than part of a trope. A few humorous secondary plots, and some fascinating insights into the writing process, keep things moving, but this story doesn’t shy away from tough issues, making the stakes feel much higher and the resolutions more significant."
RT Book Reviews Magazine

"Romance readers will love the town, the people, and the story of
Lyndsay and Will."

Library Journal

"If you haven't yet read a book by Emma Cane you just don't know what you're missing."
Romancing the Reader

"Ever After At Sweetheart Ranch is a delectable romance that will have you bursting out with giggles, and have you in tears the next moment... A SPLENDID ROMANCE!!"
Addicted to Romance

"Emma Cane’s stories are comfy and cozy, like curling up in the best ever comfy chair with cocoa, cookies and a good book. You can’t beat that ever."
I Am, Indeed

"A captivating story that will warm your heart.
Romance at Random

"A fantastic addition to the Valentine Valley series."
Crystal Blogs Books

"Emma Cane's small town stories feel like home."
The Many Faces of Romance

"Cute, funny, and sexy."
Jen's Reading Obsession

"A feel good story that makes the reader smile and believe in true love."
Cat's Reviews 

"I absolutely loved this book. I loved the small town feel, the chemistry between Lyndsay and Will and Emma Cane’s writing style."
Books Like Breathing

"This book will make you laugh cry and sigh..."
Romance Junkies

~~~~~

Excerpt 1, Excerpt 2

Chapter 1

Lyndsay De Luca stood near the picture window in her living room, staring down at the paperback book in her hands, her eyes stinging with tears of joy. The sun glimmered across the cover, a picture of a distant ranch and mountains with a lone cowboy riding his horse in the distance. She let her trembling fingers trace the title, A Cowboy in Montana, and then her own name up above, embossed, with letters as large as the title. This was her book, a book that would be on store shelves across the country in just a month. Soon, readers would be swept away into a story she’d created. She could make them laugh and maybe cry, and escape into a world of happily-ever-afters...

She’d also finally have to tell her friends and family about the secret she’d been keeping. Her day job as a middle school math teacher was very public, and she’d always liked having her writing as something private she did for herself. If her family had known, they’d have constantly asked when she was going to start submitting her work, or if she’d heard back from an editor. She had enough pressure at school and hadn’t wanted any more, interested and supportive though her family might be.

There was another reason she was leery about her revelation, and that reason was now playing catch on Mabel Street, outside her window, with her fourteen-year-old nephew, Ethan.

Will Sweet.

She heard a sharp rapping, and, startled, she glanced up to see him in the center of her picture window as if he’d been framed there, sunlight burnishing his hair. She felt her breath catch and her mouth go dry. 

Grinning at her, his eyes narrowed from the sun, Will spoke through the window with a muffled voice. “You still coming with us to the game?”

She nodded and called, “I’ll grab my purse and meet you out front.”

After pulling on a sweater and sticking a Windbreaker in her purse, she stepped through the door and paused to watch Will throw the ball back to Ethan. If Will caught her staring, he wouldn’t think much of it. He was used to being the center of attention every time he entered a room, with his easygoing charm and killer good looks. He had sandy blond hair that lightened in the sun, and since he made his living as a cowboy on the Sweetheart Ranch, owned by his family, he was outdoors all the time, that tall, lean body honed and chiseled from years of outdoor work. His eyes were a changeable hazel, fringed with thick lashes and full of merriment. The cleft in his chin might as well have winked at each woman he passed, and he had a model’s hollow cheeks. Occasionally those cheeks bore the scruff of a day-old beard, as if he couldn’t be bothered shaving that morning.

“Think fast!”

She flinched as Ethan jumped in front of her, pretending to throw the ball.

“Aunt Lynds, you fall for that every time,” he said, shaking his head.

After pulling her door shut, she punched her nephew playfully in the upper arm, because she was no longer tall enough to wrap an arm around his neck. Ethan was almost as tall as his dad, and his hair had slowly been darkening over the years until now it was a light brown. He had the De Luca brown eyes and his dad’s laid-back manner.

Laughing, Ethan led them down the street toward the rec league softball game, tossing his ball and catching it. Lyndsay fell in beside Will. He smiled at her, then inhaled deeply of the spring air, exhaling with a sigh of satisfaction. You didn’t live in Valentine Valley, Colorado, without loving the outdoors.

She studied him surreptitiously, admiring the fit of his baseball t-shirt, which sported the logo Tony’s Tavern—her brother’s place. There’d been a time in high school when she’d harbored a secret crush on Will. But he’d dated her girlfriend Brittany, and Lyndsay would never have intruded on that. Then Will had gone and done something so nice that it had struck her heart. It had been Valentine’s Day—a big deal in Valentine Valley—and Lyndsay’s boyfriend had just dumped her. She’d been wrapped up in her problems and accidentally spilled her books from her locker into a heap on the floor. Will had stopped to help her pick them up, and couldn’t have missed her bad mood. At lunch, there had been carnations on sale, red for romance, pink for flirting, white for friendship, and he’d gone and bought her a white one, just to cheer her up. And it had worked, but it had also made her notice how kind he was, how good-hearted—and hunky. Soon she’d battled a brief and guilty crush on him. That crush had been forgotten when Brittany had died in a terrible accident.

Lyndsay had long ago put him out of her mind—

And onto paper. She winced, then smoothed over her expression when Will glanced at her. Ethan lobbed the ball to Will, who caught it and tossed it back, along with some good-natured jibes.

Somehow, without noticing it at all, she’d made the hero of A Cowboy in Montana a lot like Will. She’d created Cody by taking the characteristics of some of her favorite celebrities and “randomly” picking sandy blond hair and hazel eyes. She hadn’t thought anything of it until last week, when a blogger had asked who she’d based her hero on. At first, Lyndsay had answered that Cody was her own creation, but then the blogger had mentioned a scene that Lyndsay had previously written in revisions after her editor had asked for a “grand romantic gesture” by the hero. And the realization of what she’d done had slammed hard into Lyndsay—that scene was a version of something Will had done for Brittany. Cody…was a lot like Will.

She didn’t want to believe it at first—couldn’t let herself accept that she’d made such a foolish mistake. She’d long since moved past what she’d thought of as a schoolgirl crush. Over the years her heart might have given an occasional kick when Will had been around, but she’d put that down to admiration for the man he’d become.

Now, watching him amuse her nephew, aware of that soft spot she’d always felt for him rising right up through her chest into her throat, she had to face facts. It was really true—she’d made Will Sweet the star of her romance novel.

Maybe he’d never realize it. What were the odds he’d read a romance? No one else would guess either. Different name, different state—although her hero was a cowboy….

Excerpt 2

First Kiss!

(Set-up: Math teacher Lyndsay De Luca’s dreams are coming true—her first romance novel is about to be published. But she’s keeping it a secret for a while, because she “accidentally” based her hero on cowboy Will Sweet, her brother’s best friend. It’s obvious she wasn’t as over her a high school crush as she’d thought. To get him out of her system, she’s determined to ask him out on a date.)


Lyndsay stood in the doorway of her classroom, turning off the lights, when she happened to look up—and see Will Sweet. He was walking slowly down the hall, glancing from room to room, his cream-colored Stetson shadowing his eyes, emphasizing the cleft deep in his square jaw. His sandy blond hair curled a bit behind his ears. Her mouth went dry, and she saw other women doing a double take as he strode past. His long arms swung loosely, veins from hard work meandering up them, the same faded rodeo t-shirt tight over his biceps. His jeans were faded, too, low on his hips, tight across his thighs. He controlled a horse with those thighs, she thought with a shiver. His cowboy boots made a distinct, clipped sound on the wood floor.

When Will saw Lyndsay, his smile widened, his dimple deepened, and his eyes twinkled at her from beneath the shadow of his brim. “Just who I’m looking for,” he called, raising a hand.

“Hi, Will,” she said, a bit more weakly than she’d hoped. “What can I help you with?”

He stopped right in front of her, and she had to angle her head back to see his face. She was too close to the tanned hollow at the base of his throat, and she could see the raindrops moistening the shoulders of his t-shirt.

“Can we talk?” he asked, glancing past her to nod pleasantly at someone.

“Sure.” She turned the lights back on in her room and led the way to her desk. She seated herself behind it as if for protection—from herself, of course—and gestured to the chair beside it.

Instead, he sat on the edge of the nearest desk. “Tony told me about the 4-H club needing a project leader. Will I do?”

She wasn’t sure what she’d expected him to say, but it hadn’t been that. “Sure. That’s really generous of you to offer.”

He leaned back on both hands and grinned, his head cocked. “You don’t sound all that enthused.”

“No, no, really, I am,” she said, wishing she could kick herself. “I guess I was thinking it would be someone’s dad or uncle or—”

“Nate and Em are doing their best to make me an uncle,” he answered.

She briefly closed her eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m not making any sense. You’ll do a great job with the 4-H. I really appreciate your help.”

She’d been waiting for some time alone to ask him out, but hadn’t imagined it being at school. She stared at him, and he was studying her just as intently.

She took a deep breath. “Will, would you like to get a drink with me some evening? And I don’t mean to talk about 4-H.”

His smile faded, then something changed in his eyes. All that heavy-lidded smolder she’d seen directed at other girls switched on. His gaze moved down her body, leisurely, intently, and she felt it like a physical caress, her nipples hardening, her belly clenching, her thighs tightening, and between them—no, she wasn’t letting herself go there, not now.

“I’ve found myself thinking the same thing lately,” he said in a husky voice.

The sound alone made her trembling increase. My God, she was in her middle school classroom, and she was worried about losing control.

“I think we could have some fun,” she said. “I know we usually orbit around Tony, you and me, as friends.”

“What’s changed?”

He straightened then, leaning forward, forearms braced on his thighs. His hands were loosely clasped together, and she studied them, wondering how it would feel to be touched intimately by him.

She shivered. “I—I don’t know.” That was a lie. But how could she tell him that her recent realization that she’d based Cody on him made her want to bring her feelings out in the open and put it behind her? “Maybe I just need to start taking chances, have some fun, even if I risk being hurt.”

“You think I’d hurt you?”

“Not deliberately. Maybe I’d hurt you,” she teased. “Not deliberately, of course.”

His faint smile deepened again. “I’m only hesitating because of your brother.”

“We’re not in high school anymore.”

Suddenly he rose to his feet and came toward her almost nonchalantly, removing his hat and setting it on her desk. Her mouth went dry, her neck arched and arched, and then she couldn’t take it anymore and had to stand up, too, though she felt as if her legs would buckle.

“I’m not sure we have any chemistry at all,” he said softly. “We should check.”

He kept coming, and she would have fallen over the chair if she’d backed up that way. The door was wide open; anyone passing could see them, but she didn’t make that protest. Instead she found her back up against the whiteboard.

His body didn’t touch hers at all, although it was a bare inch away. The heat of him was almost more than she could take, from her breasts to her hips down her legs. And then he touched her chin with his fingers, tilting her head until her wide eyes met his heavy-lidded ones.

“I think…this will do the trick,” he whispered.

And then his mouth covered hers in a hot, passionate kiss. He explored her lips with his, and she met that exploration gladly with her own. He braced both hands on the board on either side of her head, yet still didn’t let their bodies touch. She slanted her head and boldly thrust her tongue between his lips, lost in the taste of Will. His kiss was everything she’d imagined, forceful, knowledgeable, yet restrained, as if he had even more to give but couldn’t show her unless they were naked.

And then he lifted his head and looked down at her with eyes that betrayed passion, yes, but…something else, something he was keeping hidden. It gave her a moment of uneasiness, but she pushed it away. She let her hand cup his face, felt the faint coarseness of stubble, the lean hollows of his cheeks. For just a moment, she let her thumb dip to the corner of his damp mouth.

“So do we have chemistry?” she whispered.

He let his forehead rest against hers, and their noses brushed. “Tell me what you think, darlin’.”

“That’s not fair. I asked you out. You know what I think.”

His chuckle rumbled deep in his chest, and she wished she dared put her hands there—but not yet. He paused a long time, so long that that hidden…something in his eyes played tricks on her mind.

“I think we need to have a drink some evening,” he finally said.

The relief and elation she thought she’d feel was tempered by this awareness of faint reluctance in him. But who could blame him? He’d been honest about the complications.

“You should probably hold back your wild emotions,” she said dryly, “or it could turn a girl’s head.”

He laughed in an easier manner, then stepped away from her. She missed his touch already.

“Sorry,” he said, picking up his hat and settling it on his head. “This still feels a little…strange to me.”

“Me, too. Let’s just think of it as having fun.”

“So after dating different kinds of guys, you’ve finally decided to try a cowboy on for size.”

She eyed him with amusement. “Guess so.”

“And Tony won’t show up at my door with a shotgun?”

It was her turn to laugh. “I can’t guarantee my dad won’t take offense.”

“Guess we’ll have to take a chance. How about tomorrow? I have to work through the early evening, but then I’m free.” He looked right at her mouth, as if he was already anticipating repeating the kiss.

And she was all for that. “Okay. How about if I come pick you up? I did ask you out, after all.”

That good-old-boy grin came back. “All right. See you around seven?”

“Sure.”

He started to turn, but he paused, and for a moment, she ached to be kissed again.

Instead he simply nodded. “Have a good evenin’, darlin’.”

And then he walked away, and she was treated to the sight of his ass in those tight jeans, and his broad, broad shoulders beneath the Stetson.

When he was gone, she sank slowly back into her chair, almost tempted to touch her mouth, as if the kiss hadn’t been real.



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