Josie understood grief. She could navigate the fog that descended when the bad news bears arrived and delivered their doom and gloom message.
Your brother has been injured.
Your brother needs surgery.
She had heard those words and the haze had swallowed her. There was no way out. She knew that. The bears stood guard, keeping her locked in fear and anguish.
Until Noah kissed her.
One kiss from a man who was fighting the same fears didn’t change a thing. But oh God, it felt so good. The touch of his lips, the feel of his hands pulling at her shirt as if he needed to touch the skin beneath . . .
Her body responded, demanding more, needing to feel more. She ran her hands over the smooth skin of his broad back, down to his waist and around to his chiseled abs. Her tongue touched his as she traced her fingers over his six-pack. So much strength.
Gliding her hands upward, she pressed her palms flat against his chest, dimly aware of his fingers toying with the button on her pants. He tugged at her zipper, but didn’t bothering pushing her pants down over her hips. He simply slipped his hands inside and drew her to him, keeping a firm hold on her ass.
Groaning, she broke away from his kiss and tipped her head back. His mouth trailed kisses over her jaw, down her throat, as if he needed to taste every inch of her.
More. I need more.
She wanted to keep the fog of grief locked outside his bedroom. She didn’t want to think. She just wanted to feel. She needed him right now because she couldn’t step into that place where the world felt like it was falling apart, spiraling out of control. Not yet.
“It’s not fair,” she murmured, her eyes open and staring at the ceiling.
His lips hovered over her the swell of her breasts peaking out over the top of her shirt. “Not much is.”
Oh no, don’t go there.
“You’re naked and I’m not,” she said, drawing him back to this place where physical desire dominated.
He let out a low laugh as his tongue glided over her skin, licking just about the edge of her t-shirt. “Not fair at all.”
She broke away from him and stripped off her clothes. Her movements were rushed and she nearly fell over trying to get out of her pants. But she wasn’t looking to seduce him. She wanted to take him, fighting her way to a mutual pleasure that would block out everything else.
His brow knitted together as he watched her. “Are you sure—”
“Shhh.” She placed her index finger over her lips. “I need you, Noah. I’m not calling, sending a letter, or a pigeon. I’m right here and I need—”
His lips captured hers, his hands on her hips, drawing her close and then guiding her back. Her legs touched the bed and she lowered down, sitting on the edge. She took him with her.
I won’t let go.
Noah dropped to one knee, his hands moving to her breasts. She leaned back and he followed, moving over her.
Wrapping her legs around his hips, she held him close. He didn’t pull away, or try to second-guess her. He just slid inside.
“More,” she whispered.
He stared down at her, his cheeks still damp from his tears. But he wasn’t crying now, he was looking at her as if she was everything he needed. And he was pumping into her hard and fast. There was nothing gentle or careful about his movements. It was as if he needed to take as much as he could, as if he was depending on her . . .
I can’t be strong enough for both of us.
She closed her eyes and let her hands roam. He had to meet her halfway, rescue her just a little . . .
His hips slammed into her. His right elbow pressed into the bed beside her shoulder and his upper body hovered over her. But his other hand wandered, gliding over her torso, reaching between them. His thumb brushed over the spot guaranteed to send her spiraling into pleasure. But then he stopped.
She opened her eyes and looked up at him. I promise I won’t turn into a idiot, calling out professions of love.
“Ready?” he demanded. “Because I can’t hold back.”
“Yes,” she gasped.
He thrust into her again, his thumb offering one more teasing touch as plain old missionary pushed her over the edge. She took the sweet relief, holding tight to the pleasure. She did not love this man. She refused to hand over her heart.
But she loved everything about this orgasm.
“Noah, oh Noah.” She chanted his name as if it would prolong the escape.
But one more thrust and he groaned, his face contorting as he came. His lips curled back and he looked as if was growling, a pure animalistic reaction to taking her, claiming her, and oh God—
“We didn’t . . .,” she said, her hand pushing at her chest, trying to get him off her. It was too late. She knew it was too late. “Oh, God, Noah.”
“Hmm,” he murmured, obeying her frantic scrambling to get him off her. He withdrew from her body and collapsed on his back, his legs dangling over the edge of the bed. They’d been in such a rush to feel something other than pain, to push away the tears, that they fallen sideways across the full-size bed. And they’d forgotten the most important thing.
“We didn’t use a condom,” she said.
He rolled onto his side and propped his head against his hand, his elbow pressing into the rumpled bedding. “Shit, I’m sorry,” he said his voice hoarse. Concern shown in his blue eyes. “I wasn’t thinking straight, sweetheart. I can promise you I’m clean. I wasn’t a saint these past five years, but I didn’t screw around like some of the other guys.”
She shook her head, not wanting to picture him screwing anyone else. Not right now while she was lying naked beside him, after he’d come inside her.
“I stopped taking the pill,” she said, her voice hollow. How could she let this happen? “I figured I wasn’t great at remembering it anyway seeing as I got pregnant. I meant to get an IUD. But I looked up the cost . . .”
“It’s going to be okay.” Noah drew her into his arms and she went, resting her head against his chest. He felt so strong, the muscles in his arms taut as they laid on the bed. “The changes are slim—”
“I can’t loose another baby,” she whispered.
“You won’t.” His hold tightened as if he could physical force the possibility away. “You could always take a morning after pill before you leave for Germany.”
“I could.” But despite the bubbling fear, she couldn’t bring herself to go to a doctor and ask to wipe away the possibility of a child. She couldn’t loose another baby, not to a pill or an early delivery.
Of course, she wasn’t in a position to have child. But still, after fighting so hard for her baby to live, she couldn’t erase another before he even had a chance . . .
“But,” she began.
“You don’t have to take anything, Josie. Whatever happens, we’ll get through it. And you don’t need to send a pigeon this time. I’m not going anywhere. And I’ll be here when you get back from Germany.”
She nodded, the fear she’d pushed away for a few blissful—and potentially disastrous—minutes, returned. Her brother might be dying. She might never get to hear him laugh, or give her shit for well, just about anything. And she might never get to see his expression when she told him she’d gotten naked with his best friend.
“It’s going to be okay, Josie,” he said as if he could make everything—Dominic, her potential pregnancy—A-Okay through sheer willpower.
She closed her eyes. You can do this. You can face anything.
She might be lying to herself. But she didn’t have a choice. She needed to be strong because Noah couldn’t rush in a play the hero this time. She’d found him reduced to tears, his emotions raw when she entered his room. He was in this with her.
With her head still resting against his chest, she wrapped her arm around him and held tight.
I’ll be your anchor if you’ll be mine because if we send out a pigeon, I don’t think anyone will rush to our rescue.
This is book # 1 in the Second Shot series. (There is a prequel so this is technically book # 2) They should be read in order. This will give the reader the background and understanding to make the books more enjoyable.
Noah and Josie go way back. He is her brother’s best friend. This makes her unreachable and a relationship they might have taboo. Her brother does not want her to have feelings for him. Too late.
Josie has been in love with Noah almost from the beginning. They got one special night together before he went away to boot camp. Now, years later, it is awkward between them. Josie needs a job, though, and she is sticking to her guns.
Such a sweet and powerful story! A real page turner. I was absorbing each page and could not wait to finish. The character development is right on and the pace is just quick enough to make you second guess.
***This ARC copy was given in exchange for an honest review.
Q&A for Sara Jane Stone:
The Second Shot series is your second with Avon Books, what is your favorite part about starting a new series? (The character development? World Building? Etc.)
SJS: First, let me just say that I love writing sexy stories set in timber country. And I’m so thankful that Avon allows me to follow the characters and find the story. The first book in a new series always sets the tone for the series. And it never leads where I initially expected. That certainly held true for the Second Shot series. I didn’t anticipate the suspense element until Caroline walked into the story.
To be honest, I don’t develop my characters. They just walk into my imagination and start talking. And the story unfolds around them. I’ve tried following strict outlines. But in general, I prefer to follow the characters. They show me their world.
(And wow, reading over that, it sounds a little crazy. As if I’m sitting at home talking to imaginary people all day . . .)
You have written romances in small towns and in large cities, do you have a favorite setting for a series? Do you find one easier to write, or more fun?
SJS: I love writing series set in Oregon Timber country. Both the Independence Falls books and the Second Shot stories are set in small towns that share many similarities with where my husband grew up. This part of this country is completely different from where I was raised in southern Florida. The first time I visited Oregon I walked away in awe of the land’s natural beauty. I’m also fascinated by the timber industry.
And no, one is not easier or more fun to write. The easiest story is always the one I’m revising. And that one tends to be the most fun too. Until the next one hits that phase of the process
Noah and Josie have quite the abrupt ending to their secret rendezvous in RUNNING WILD, the free novella which kicks off the Second Shot series. Did you know ahead of time that they were going to be former lovers or did that “event” take shape after you began writing SERVING TROUBLE?
SJS: I knew from the beginning that this couple would be former lovers. I’ve wanted to write Josie Fairmore’s story the past four years. She’s a character who walked into my imagination before I sold my first book and never left. But it took a while to find her perfect hero.
Most of my stories feature military heroes or heroines. With the Second Shot series, I wanted to write about couples that met before the hero joined the armed forces and continued when he returned. I truly believe that time and life experiences change people. And sometimes it allows for a second chance at love
Did you have to do any special research on the “Mechanical Bull Ride Scene”? (hee hee)
The short answer—no. But there are two funny stories about this scene.
First, I was writing the early draft of Serving Trouble and realized that the story was a little different from my original pitch to my agent and editor. So I reached out to my agent and let her know. My agent read the first few chapters. She liked some of the “cowboy” elements and the bar setting. But somehow the follow-up phone conversation led to an I-need-an-X-rated-mechanical-bull scene. Fast forward a few months and I was on the phone with my agent again. We were talking about the mechanical bull scenes. (Yes, plural. They continue in Serving Trouble) I told her something she said gave me the idea. There was a moment of silence followed by: “what did I say?”
Then there was the time a close friend at Avon wrote and asked if my husband inspired the mechanical bull scene. I jokingly told him that he should ask my husband the next time he saw him. I then explained to my confused love, who does not read my books, that he might receive a few questions about sex on the back of a mechanical bull
How did the Second Shot Series come about?
Four years ago this March, before I sold my first book, I was pacing my apartment in Brooklyn. My daughter, who was born premature and very little, was only a few months old. And she cried every night from about 8pm until midnight. So I would put my son to bed and then walk laps around my bedroom with the screaming baby. The walking seemed to help a bit even though she still cried. At some point during my paced, Josie Fairmore (she had a different name at the time, but the same character) walked into my imagination.
A few weeks later, I stared writing. I sat down at my computer whenever the kids napped. I wrote the first hundred pages of Josie’s story and sent it to my agent. She pointed out all of the problems. I kept working on it. Eventually, I sold another book. Then I another and another. But Josie was still there, waiting for her hero. It wasn’t until I met Noah while writing the Independence Falls series that I thought maybe—maybe he’s just right for Josie.
So I wrote up a proposal for a new series and sent it off to my agent and editor. Avon accepted and I proceeded to write Josie’s story. Once I went back and looked at the old pages that I initially sent my agent, but I started Serving Trouble from scratch and followed Josie’s lead.
Who’s head do you more enjoy being in, your hero or heroines? Does it change with each story?
Both honestly. It depends on where I am in the story. I can generally feel when I should shift. If I’m having trouble writing a scene from one perspective, then I switch. I’ve found if I trust my instinct it usually works out.
Do you have a favorite book of all you have written? Do you have a favorite couple?
No. I love the book I’m revising at the moment. Never the first draft. That always feels horrible. But once I’m taking it apart and putting it back together, tinkering until it feels just right—that’s my favorite. Until I reach that stage with the next one.
I don’t have a favorite couple. But Josie is my favorite heroine. I’ve spent the most time with her. And Chad Summers from Hero By Night will always be my favorite hero. He was so much fun to write. And oh so hot
What’s next in the Second Shot Series or from you in general?
In April, I’m releasing the third installment in my Sin City SEAL series. And in June, STIRRING ATTRACTION will come out. I’m super excited to share Dominic and Lily’s story. (I’m revising this one now, so it is my favorite at the moment) This story starts in a different place than my previous stories. It opens with a bang in more ways than one. There is also more suspense to the plot. And Dominic has some of my favorite lines. Even his thoughts blew me away. He returns battered and broken from his time with the Army Rangers. And he’s gone this bearded, long haired look . . .sigh. I hope readers are ready to fall in love with Dominic too