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EXCERPT REVEAL – The Marriage Pact by Winter Renshaw

I was sixteen when I vowed I would never marry him.We shook on it. Pinky swore. Even put it in writing and all but signed our names in blood.

It was the one and only thing we ever agreed on.

To the world, he’s Prince Ian, Duke of Montcroix, second in line to the Chamont throne. Panty-melting accent. Royal charm. Hypnotic presence. Blindingly gorgeous. Laundry list of women all over the world who would give their first born for the chance to marry him. Most eligible bachelor in the free world …But to me, he’s nothing more than the son of my father’s best friend—the pesky blue-eyed boy who made it his mission to annoy the ever-loving hell out of me summer after summer as our families vacationed together, our parents oblivious to our mutual disdain as they joked about our “betrothal.”

He was also my first kiss.

And my first taste of heartbreak so cataclysmic it almost broke me.

I meant it with every fiber of my soul when I swore I’d never marry him.

But on the eve of my 24th birthday, His Royal Highness has the audacity to show up at my door after years of silence and make a demand will forever change the trajectory of our lives: “We have to break our pact.”


Chapter 1

Emelie

“Em? There’s a guy here to see you …” My best friend Gillian stands in the doorway of my bathroom as I hover over the sink, scrubbing tonight’s makeup from my face.

My feet ache from hours spent dancing in the most beautiful crystal-encrusted heels known to man, and my head has finally stopped spinning from the too-many-to-count top shelf cocktails. My body is in the process of thanking me for changing out of a skintight bandage dress and into jersey pajama pants and a cotton tank sans bra. I’m two point five seconds from crawling under the cool covers in my dark room and succumbing to a long, hard sleep.

After the year I’ve had, I needed tonight, but I have a feeling I’m going to be paying for it all day tomorrow.

“He probably has the wrong address.” I press a dry washcloth against my skin before moving for my moisturizer.

“Look, I admire your dedication to your skincare routine after a night on the town, but I’m serious. There’s a guy at your door and he asked for you.” Gillian bites her lip before continuing. “And, um, he’s insanely, ridiculously hot.”

I roll my eyes. Earlier tonight, a few of my friends were trying to hook me up with a dark-eyed stranger sitting at the end of the bar. It was every bit as awkward and embarrassing as it sounds, and he was clearly not having his best night. He just wanted to be alone in a room full of strangers. I get it. I’ve been there.

“Did Stacia tell him where I live?” I ask. “The guy from the bar?”

Gillian laughs through her nose. “No, no, no. The guy at your door is definitely not the guy from the bar.”

I shoot her a look. I don’t know what she’s trying to pull, but I feel like I’m being set up.

“Did Hadley make a fake Tinder account in my name again?” I ask, one hand cocked on my hip.

Just because it’s the eve of my twenty-fourth birthday and I’ve been going through a rough patch and a dry spell doesn’t mean I’m in the mood to hook up with some random guy hand-selected by the most well-meaning yet least discerning friend in my group.

Gillian’s hands lift to the air and she shrugs. “I don’t know who this guy is, but he looks official.”

“Official?”

“He’s wearing a nice suit and he’s got a security-looking guy with him.”

“I’m so confused.”

“You and me both.” Gillian yanks me by the crook of my elbow and leads me down the hall and toward the front door. “So why don’t you just see who he is and what he wants?”

“You realize how sketchy this sounds,” I say.

“I do. That’s why I’ll have my phone out in case we need to call 9-1-1 …”

“Reassuring.” I sweep my hair off my neck and pile it onto the top of my head, securing it with a hair tie from my wrist, and then I take a deep breath before opening the door.

And then I hold that breath, deep in my lungs, until they burn.

“Hello, Emelie.” A familiar sparkling blue gaze and signature half-smirk greets me. I’m tempted to slam the door in his face until I remind myself that he’d probably enjoy that too much.

“Julian,” I say, hand gripping the edge of the door so hard my palm throbs. “What are you doing here?”

A man dressed in all black stands a couple of steps behind him, hands folded at his waist as he scans the area then returns his attention to his charge.

“I realize it’s late,” he says, an air of uncharacteristic remorse in his panty-melting voice. There are a million things I despise about this obnoxiously gorgeous specimen of a man, but his accent has never been one of them. Too casual to be the Queen’s English. Too posh to be middle-American.

“Extremely,” I say.

“But I’m afraid my matter is rather urgent.”

I maintain my poise and poker face, keeping my vision trained on him despite the fact that the myriad of cocktails I enjoyed tonight are still working their way through my system.

“Would you mind if I came in and we chatted for a few moments?” he asks. His politeness is jarring, as is the pressed and tailored suit that covers his filled-in physique.

I run a quick calculation and determine that it’s been almost eight years since I saw him last.

That’s right.

It was the summer after I turned sixteen—a summer I’d do anything to forget.

I glance behind me and shoot Gillian a “help me out here” sort of look. She shoots me a quizzical look in return. She doesn’t get it. And she wouldn’t. I’ve never told her about him before.

“I have someone over,” I begin to say. “Now’s not really a good—”

“Hi, I’m Gillian.” The door swings open wider, and Gillian takes the spot beside me, drinking in the handsome vision before us with zero shame. “We met a second ago when I answered the door.”

She’s drunker than I thought …

“Em, you going to introduce me to your friend?” Gillian asks. “I find it odd that we’ve been best friends since our freshman year at Tulane and not once did you ever mention knowing … this gentleman.”

I study Julian’s stunning physique from head to toe, noting the way he’s filled out over the years. His jawline is sharper than before, his sandy brown hair perfectly coiffed, thick and windswept yet formal enough that he could waltz into a meeting at the United States embassy or grace a billboard in Times Square and no one would think twice.

“This is Julian,” I say. “An old family friend.”

“Right. From long ago. It’s been ages, hasn’t it, Em?” he asks. “Though sometimes it feels like it was yesterday.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t feel that way for me,” I say. “Anyway, thanks for stopping by. We’ll have to catch up another time.”

“Emelie …” Gillian whispers under her breath.

I realize I’m being rude, but was it not rude for him to show up unannounced at one o’clock in the morning after eight years of silence?

“Please, Emelie.” Julian’s rich accent fills my ears and makes my knees buckle ever so slightly. “A few moments of your time is all I’m asking for, then I’ll be on my way.”

I fold my arms across my chest as the cool night air wraps around me, sending a chill across my bare flesh, and I remember now that I’m standing in a white tank top, no bra, and sheer pajama pants—but it’s the strangest thing: his eyes haven’t once left mine.

He’s being a perfect gentleman: charming, non-abrasive, and well-mannered.

But of course he is.

He wants something.

Giving into my piqued curiosity, I let him in.

“You have two minutes,” I say as he and his man-in-black step across the threshold and into the small entryway of my townhome.

Gillian lingers for a second, fingers twitching at her sides, and then she mutters something before disappearing down the hall.

“Rafa, if you could excuse us for a moment?” Julian says to his bodyguard. At least, I assume it’s his bodyguard. The man wears an intimidating straight face, not to mention he makes Julian look slight, and Julian is far from slight.

“There’s a patio through there,” I point to my left and Rafa heads to the sliding doors off my living room.

I’m afraid I don’t have anywhere else for him to go. My townhouse is the definition of cozy and all the rooms sort of blur into one another—the entry blurs into the living room which blurs into a small dining area that becomes part of the kitchen. When I bought the place, the realtor called it “open concept.” It sounded nice at the time, but after living here for a couple of years, I realize I forked over my entire life savings for a down payment on a glorified two-bedroom, one-bath shoebox. That farmhouse sink though …

I’m pretty sure my entire home could fit into one of Julian’s palatial bathrooms.

And his bathrooms are palatial … given the fact that he lives in a literal palace.

Not that I’ve ever visited.

Our fathers were best friends who met as young boys at a private New England boarding school. After graduation, they kept in touch, and when they both married and started families, a tradition was born. Every summer, Julian and his parents would spend twelve weeks with us at our country home in Briar Cove, North Carolina. One big happy family …

Despite the fact that Julian’s father was a reigning king of a developed nation, he never acted like it around us. His one and only request was that we “treat him like anyone else.” He didn’t want to feel special. He wanted to feel like a regular guy with his regular wife and regular son enjoying a regular summer and spending time with their regular friends.

The last time I saw King Leo and Queen Marguerite was at my dad’s funeral last year. The king was beside himself. The queen could barely utter more than a few condolences to my mother.

I busied myself with my younger sisters and wallowed in my own grief, though it didn’t stop me from glancing around the funeral parlor every so often, half expecting to see Julian waltz in the door, but he never showed.

I was relieved.

I also hated him for it.

“Emelie.” Julian narrows his gaze at me, my name melting off his tongue with finesse. “Why don’t we have a seat?”

Rubbing my lips together, I glance at my humble living room with my used sofa and unfluffed pillows, the messy stack of glossy magazines, the half-burnt peony candle, and this morning’s coffee mug, and I resist the urge to begin straightening up.

It’s not that I care what Julian thinks, but I’d hate for anyone to get the impression that this is how I live, that my life is in shambles.

Today was a busy day, that’s all. And when you live alone, sometimes you have better things to do than make sure your gossip magazines are stacked neatly and stowed away properly …

“Still reading this rubbish, I see.” He swipes an Us Weekly from the top of the stack.

“Still sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, I see.” I take it from his supple, unworked hands and return it to the pile.

“Do they ever write about me here? In the States?” he asks. I don’t know why he’s playing coy. With an ego that size, I guarantee he knows exactly who writes about him and what they’re saying. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps an entire library of archived gossip articles in the Knightborne Palace library.

“Rarely,” I lie. Two can play this game.

There’s one magazine, Starwood, that writes about him incessantly. I’m pretty sure their editor-in-chief has a personal obsession with Julian. Last year I counted his chiseled likeness on no less than twenty-six covers, and I swear the story was the same recycled garbage about his on-again, off-again love, Princess Dayanara of Spain.

As much as I try to flip past those stories and convince myself that I couldn’t care less what he’s up to these days, I never can resist. It’s like reading about an old high school nemesis, someone who bullied you, hoping they finally got their comeuppance.

Only as far as I can tell, he’s yet to have his date with karma.

In fact, from what I’ve read, his life is pretty magical.

Trips to the Maldives, parties in Ibiza, private planes, a fleet of royal yachts at his leisure, women lined up everywhere he goes, throwing themselves at him.

Screaming.

Crying.

Professing their love.

If they only knew the real Prince Julian.

“Anyway, what is it you needed to talk to me about?” I ask, checking my watch and ignoring a text from Gillian that flashes across the screen. She’s probably pacing my room, wondering what the hell is going on. And in all fairness, I never told any of my friends that I knew royalty.

That my first kiss was a prince.

That I gave my virginity to the future King of Chamont (more like he stole it).

After my sixteenth summer, it seemed irrelevant, and Julian wasn’t anyone I wanted to bring up ever again.

“Do you remember that pact we made?” he asks. “The marriage pact?”

My stomach heaves and my blood runs cold.

Of all the things I expected him to bring up tonight, that was the last.

“If you’re talking about the pact we made where we promised never to marry each other, then yes. I remember it. Clearly. In fact, it’s the one thing from that summer that stands out most.”

I’ve never told a single soul about our promise. I never wanted to have to explain it. I never wanted to explain him. Without the facts and details to accompany such a pact, it wouldn’t make sense anyway.

I’ve had friends who’ve made marriage pacts of the mainstream variety—if we’re not married by thirty, we’ll marry each other, that sort of thing—but ours was … unique.

And also necessary.

Our fathers were absolutely convinced that we were going to end up together one day, and our mothers used to throw around the word “betrothed” like candy at a parade with smiles on their faces as they were intoxicated off pricey white wine (and oblivious to our mutual disdain for one another that started long before either of us had so much as reached junior high).

After Prince Julian so callously and carelessly shattered my naive little teenage heart into a thousand-billion pieces, I had to make it clear in front of both of our families that a marriage between the two of us would never happen.

It was funny how quickly the word “betrothed” left our mothers’ vocabularies after that.

“Good,” Julian says. “I’m glad you remember it … because we have to break it.”

I start to reply but choke on my words, barely coughing out a simple, “What?!”

He can’t be serious.

Julian smiles a devilish smile for all of two seconds before regaining his composure. He always did love getting reactions out of me.

“No,” I say. “Absolutely not. Please tell me you didn’t fly all the way to North Carolina to ask me to marry you.”

“What if I did?”

“Then I’d say you’re ….”

“What? I’m what?”

“Delusional?” I half-chuckle. “Insane? Arrogant? Mistaken? I would never marry you.”

My hands fly through the air as I speak. I’m pretty sure I’m the one looking insane right now, but I’m too worked up to care.

Julian rakes his hand along his sharp jaw, exhaling. The tiniest bit of five o’clock shadow darkens his sun-kissed skin. I imagine he’s been traveling all day and he’s exhausted, but that isn’t my problem.

I’m not the idiot who thought he could walk back into someone’s life and expect her to say yes to his sorry excuse for a marriage proposal.

“I realize I’m asking the world of you, Emelie,” he says, and I wish he’d stop saying my name. It’s distracting coming from those full lips and soaked in that rich accent with his smooth cadence. “But I wouldn’t come all this way and ask this of you if I weren’t in dire straits.”

“You’re twenty-six.” And the world’s most eligible bachelor … but I don’t tell him that because he can’t know that I’ve kept up on him all these years. “Why would you want to get married now? And to me? I don’t even like you, Julian. What makes you think I’d even consider marrying you?”

My words are harsh, but the audacity of his request has me all kinds of stirred up and confused. I swear I’m feeling emotions I never knew existed before, and it’s making my mind run a million miles per hour with contradicting thoughts.

I don’t know what it is about first loves, but even the briefest ones leave their marks and the tiniest, most microscopic part of you can’t un-love them, even if you can’t stand them.

“You have every reason to feel the way you do, but please. Hear me out,” he says.

I realize now that we’ve yet to take a seat. We’re standing opposite each other, nothing but my cluttered coffee table separating us. I fold my arms over my chest, wishing I’d have thrown a cardigan over myself when I had the chance because how is he ever going to take me seriously when I’m standing here braless and indecent and barking at him like a crazy person who’s been tossing back Belvederes all night?

“The monarchy is currently in jeopardy,” he says. “In my father’s age … his beliefs are … shifting, if you will. He’s growing a bit extreme in his ways. Wanting to change things. The Chamontians, as you know, are a very outspoken people. They’re not having it and quite frankly, neither am I. It’s getting to the point where the media is making a mockery out of him and our country is becoming late-night talk show fodder.”

“What does any of that have to do with you?” I ask. I vaguely recall reading a few articles here or there claiming King Lionel of Chamont is going senile in his old age, but beyond that I never gave them that much thought, writing them off like I do most gossip articles—as fictionalized entertainment.

“Our Parliament wants to do away with the monarchy completely,” he says. “They feel it’s a relic. A costly relic. And with my father acting out … they feel the monarchy is a liability as well.”

“Why don’t you talk to him? Have him step aside?”

“Believe me, Emelie, I’ve tried that. It only makes things worse. He flies into these rages …” his voice tempers into nothing. “We can’t even have him examined by the royal physician. He’s uncooperative and hostile toward everyone who comes into his path, my mother included.”

A vision of King Leo at my dad’s funeral last year comes to mind. Normally a stoic man with a round belly and a boisterous boom in his voice you can hear halfway across town, he was thinner, frailer, and quieter. Less hair. Lackluster blue eyes that had almost turned grey. I thought it was the loss of his best friend that was doing a number on him. Now I wonder if it was something more …

“Our Parliament has the power to overthrow the monarchy and they’re on the cusp of doing so, however, I’ve spoken with our prime minister, and she is willing to make an exception,” he says. “She’s willing to remove my father from power and replace him with a successor. However, the royal order, which spans back hundreds of years and dozens of generations, states that the successor must be married.”

I roll my eyes. I can’t help it. “If Parliament can overthrow your father, I’m sure they can change an outdated rule.”

“I agree with you wholeheartedly,” he says. “Unfortunately, I’ve had that conversation with our prime minister as well. Chamontian culture is steeped in tradition. This was a non-negotiable for them.”

“Don’t you have a cousin or something? An uncle?” I ask. I can’t count how many times he confessed to me when we were younger that he had no interest in being king or running a country. He thought his father’s job was boring and said he’d “sooner gouge my eyes out with a sterling silver caviar spoon.”

“My father was an only child,” he says. “I’m the only successor. I’m all they have.”

“Your mother can’t take over?”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“It should.”

“Right. It should. But it doesn’t. And she wouldn’t want to.” He exhales, nostrils flaring. “Anyway, getting back to business, you’re—”

“Wait.” I lift a flattened palm. “Let me make sure I understand this. You need a wife, and the first person you think to ask is me?”

“Yes, Emelie,” he says, jaw setting as he exhales through his perfect, straight nose. “I was just about to explain my rationale to you.”

I silence my commentary and give him my full attention, but only because I’m dying of curiosity.

“My country, as you might know, has a rather complicated relationship with yours.”

Fitting.

And also true.

“And I believe this could be a step in bridging that divide and changing … perspectives. Public and personal.” He pauses before locking eyes with me again. “To put it frankly, Emelie, Chamontians despise Americans, and from what I understand, the feeling is mutual.”

“I don’t think we should be generalizing, but I understand what you’re getting at,” I say. “That said, you’re wasting your time. I’m ninety-nine percent sure you could walk up to any random American girl on the street and propose to her and she’ll say yes. I mean, there’s this whole Meghan Markle phenomenon now and there are a lot of girls dreaming of having royal weddings of their own, so … lucky you.”

“I don’t want some random girl from the street, Emelie. I want you.”

His words suck the air from my lungs, but not for long. “Do you hear yourself right now? How crazy you sound? You’re not even making sense. I can’t stand you, Julian. I would never marry you. And that’s a promise I intend to keep.”

I check my watch again before heading to the patio slider to let Rafa back inside.

“Our conversation is over,” I say to them both before turning to Julian and escorting them to the door. “You came to ask a question. You got your answer. Good luck.”

They leave, quiet. Dumfounded, probably. And I lock the door behind them, refusing to let myself watch through the peephole.

The instant they’re gone, Gillian rushes down the hall, throwing questions at me faster than I can think to answer them, but I still have one of my own: why does he want me?

The man didn’t just shatter my heart that summer, he obliterated it. It took me years to piece it back together and even then, it was never fully right after that. Never quite whole.

I meant it with every fiber in my soul when I swore I would never marry him.

I meant it then.

And I mean it now.



Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

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RELEAS BLITZ – The Marriage Pact by Winter Renshaw

I was sixteen when I vowed I would never marry him.

We shook on it. Pinky swore. Even put it in writing and all but signed our names in blood.

It was the one and only thing we ever agreed on.

To the world, he’s Prince Ian, Duke of Montcroix, second in line to the Chamont throne. Panty-melting accent. Royal charm. Hypnotic presence. Blindingly gorgeous. Laundry list of women all over the world who would give their first born for the chance to marry him. Most eligible bachelor in the free world …

But to me, he’s nothing more than the son of my father’s best friend—the pesky blue-eyed boy who made it his mission to annoy the ever-loving hell out of me summer after summer as our families vacationed together, our parents oblivious to our mutual disdain as they joked about our “betrothal.”

He was also my first kiss.

And my first taste of heartbreak so cataclysmic it almost broke me.

I meant it with every fiber of my soul when I swore I’d never marry him.

But on the eve of my 24th birthday, His Royal Highness has the audacity to show up at my door after years of silence and make a demand will forever change the trajectory of our lives: “We have to break our pact.”



Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

Author Links

RELEASE BLITZ ~ PS I Hate You by Winter Renshaw

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Isaiah,

Eight months ago, you were just a soldier about to be deployed and I was just a waitress, sneaking you free pancakes and hoping you wouldn’t notice that my gaze was lingering a little too long.

But you did notice.

We spent a “week of Saturdays” together before you left, and we said goodbye on day eight, exchanging addresses at the last minute.

I saved every letter you ever sent, your words quickly becoming my religion.

But you went radio silent on me months ago, and then you had the audacity to walk into my diner yesterday and act like you’d never seen me in your life.

To think … I almost loved you and your beautifully complicated soul.

Almost.

Whatever your reason is—I hope it’s a good one.

Maritza the Waitress

PS – I hate you, and this time … I mean it.


There’s no denying something’s there, something that makes my heart trot when he looks at me, something that makes me slick on an extra coat of lip balm or an extra spritz of perfume before dashing out the door to meet him.
And while I’m the one who made the rules—no romance and only honesty at all times—I’m the one who can’t stop thinking about what would happen if we broke one of them.
Only problem is, I have zero idea if he’s thinking what I’m thinking. He’s so even-keeled and emotionally guarded, but they say actions speak louder than words and the fact that he’s here, spending time with me doing stupid shit has to count for something … right?
“Why are you staring like that?” Isaiah asks when he turns around.
My cheeks warm. I’d been spacing off. “No reason.”
“Bullshit. You can’t lie, remember? Tell me what you were thinking about.” His lips draw into a playful smirk, and I can’t decide if I like his mysterious side or his spirited side best. It’s like trying to choose between white chocolate and milk chocolate, which are both delicious in their own ways.
“You don’t want to know.”
And I’m serious. He doesn’t want to know that I’m thinking about him in a way that I was determined not to. Besides, he’s leaving in a few days. There’s no point in ruining the rest of our time together by making this situation unnecessarily complicated.
“Try me,” he says, his stare boring into me. Something tells me he’s not going to let this go.
Giving myself a moment, I gather my thoughts and nibble on my lower lip. “I was just thinking about connections.”
“Connections?” His hands rest on his hips, his shoulders parallel with mine. I have his full, undivided attention.
“I was just thinking about how I hardly know you, but I feel connected to you,” I say, cringing on the inside but fully embracing the discomfiture of this conversation.
He says nothing, which doesn’t make this moment any less awkward for the both of us.
“You asked!” I remind him, throwing my hands up.
Another moment passes, the two of us lingering next to some hairy elephant-looking creature with a long-as-hell scientific name as a group of children runs past us.
“Now I want to know what you’re thinking about.” I nudge his arm. “It’s only fair.”
He smirks, then it fades, and he gazes into the distance. It’s like there’s something on the tip of his tongue, but if I push or prod too much, he’ll never share it.
“Nothing, Maritza. I was thinking about nothing.”
I don’t buy it, but I don’t press any further. I want to burn this awkward moment into a pile of ash and move on.
“Are you going to remember me after this week?” I ask after a bout of silence.
His golden irises glint as his eyes narrow in my direction. “What kind of question is that?”
“A legit one,” I say. “Will you remember me? Or am I always just going to be that waitress girl that you hung out with for a week?”
“Don’t think I could forget you if I tried.” He speaks in such a way that I’m not sure if what he’s saying is a good thing or a bad thing. “Can I be honest right now?”
“You must. It’s a requirement.”
Isaiah’s tongue grazes his full lips for a quick second and he holds my gaze for what feels like forever. “I don’t want to make this any more confusing for either of us, but I feel like kissing you right now.”
I fight a smile. I don’t want to smile. I want to scoff at him and tell him to stop being such a hypocrite.
But that’s only half of me.
The other half of me wants him to kiss me, wants his hands in my hair and his taste on my tongue just one more time because we’ll never have this moment again and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.


 


Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here

Author Links


 

RELEASE DAY BLITZ ~ The Rebound by Winter Renshaw

 

 

 

The last time I saw Nevada Kane, I was seventeen and he was loading his things into the back of his truck, about to embark on a fourteen-hour drive to the only college that offered him a full ride to play basketball.

I told him I’d wait for him. He promised to do the same.

But life happened. I broke my promise long before he ever broke his. And not because I wanted to.

We never saw each other again …

Until ten years later when Nevada unexpectedly returned to our hometown after an abrupt retirement from his professional basketball career.

Suddenly he was everywhere, always staring through me with that brooding gaze, never returning my smiles or “hellos.”

Over the years, I’d heard that he’d changed. And that despite his multi-million dollar contracts and rampant success, life hadn’t been so kind to him.

He was a widower.

And a single father.

And rumor had it, he’d spent his last ten years trying to forget me, refusing to so much as breathe my name … hating me.

But just like a rebound, he’s back.

And I have to believe everything happens for a reason.


 


Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here 

 

Author Links



 

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ The Rebound by Winter Renshaw

 

 

The last time I saw Nevada Kane, I was seventeen and he was loading his things into the back of his truck, about to embark on a fourteen-hour drive to the only college that offered him a full ride to play basketball.

I told him I’d wait for him. He promised to do the same.

But life happened. I broke my promise long before he ever broke his. And not because I wanted to.

We never saw each other again …

Until ten years later when Nevada unexpectedly returned to our hometown after an abrupt retirement from his professional basketball career.

Suddenly he was everywhere, always staring through me with that brooding gaze, never returning my smiles or “hellos.”

Over the years, I’d heard that he’d changed. And that despite his multi-million dollar contracts and rampant success, life hadn’t been so kind to him.

He was a widower.

And a single father.

And rumor had it, he’d spent his last ten years trying to forget me, refusing to so much as breathe my name … hating me.

But just like a rebound, he’s back.

And I have to believe everything happens for a reason.

 

Prologue


Yardley Devereaux {Ten Years Ago}

He sent my letter back.
I re-read my words, imagining the way they must have made him feel.
Nevada,
I’m writing because you haven’t been taking my calls or answering my texts. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors, so I thought you should hear it straight from me…
I’ve broken my promise.
But you should know that I never wanted to hurt you, none of this was planned, and I still love you more than anything I’ve ever loved in this world.
This is something I had to do. And I think if you’ll let me, I can explain in a way that makes sense and doesn’t completely obliterate the beauty of what we had.
Please don’t hate me, Nevada.
Please let me explain.
Please answer your phone.
I love you. So much.
Your dove,
Yardley
The paper is torn at the top, as if he was about to rip it to shreds but changed his mind, and on the back of my letter, in bold, black marker, is a message of his own.
NEVER CONTACT ME AGAIN.

Chapter OneYardley Devereaux, age 16

I don’t belong here.
I realize being the new kid makes people give you a second look, but I don’t think it should give them permission to stare at you like you have a second head growing out of your nose. Or a monstrous zit on your chin. Or a period stain on your pants.
At this point it’s all the same.
Not to mention, I don’t think anyone can prepare you for what it feels like to eat lunch alone, like some social reject.
The smell of burnt tater tots makes my stomach churn, and the milk on my tray expires today. I’m pretty sure the “chicken patty on a bun” they gave me is nothing more than pink slime baked to a rock-hard consistency. I’m unwilling to risk chipping a tooth, so I refuse to try it.
Checking my watch for the millionth time, I calculate approximately 3 1/2 hours left until I can go home and tell my parents what an amazing first day I had. That’s what they want to hear anyway. Dad moved us here from California with the promise that we were going to be richer than sin, whatever that means. But if Missouri is such a gold mine then why doesn’t the rest of the world move here? So far, Lambs Grove looks like the kind of place you’d see in some independent film about a mother trying to solve her son’s murder with the help of a crooked police department, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, JK Simmons, and Frances McDormand.
Okay, I’m probably being dramatic.
But this place is pretty lame. I miss the ocean. I miss the constant sunshine and the steady stream of seventy-five degree days. I miss the swaying palm trees.
I miss my friends.
Forcing your kid to move away from the town they’ve grown up in their entire life—in the middle of their sophomore—year is cruel. I don’t care how rich dad says we’re going to get, I’d have rather stayed in Del Mar, driven a rusting Honda, and paid my own way through a technical college if it had meant we didn’t have to move.
And can we talk about my name for a second? Yardley. Everyone here has normal names. Alyssa. Monica. Taylor. Heather. Courtney. If I have to spell my name for someone one more time I’m going to scream. My mom wanted my name to be special and different because apparently she thinks I’m special and different, but naming your daughter Yardley doesn’t make her special. It just makes it so she’ll never find her name on a souvenir license plate.
I’d go by my middle name if it weren’t equally as bad, but choosing between Yardley and Dove is akin to picking your own poison.
Yardley Dove Devereaux.
My parents are cruel.
I rest my case.
I pop a cold tater tot into my mouth and force myself to chew. I’ll be damned if I’m that girl sitting in third block with a stomach growling so loud it drowns out the teacher. I don’t need more people staring.
Pulling my notebook from my messenger bag, I pretend to focus on homework despite the fact that it’s the first day of spring semester and none of my teachers have assigned anything yet, but it’s better than sitting here staring at the block walls of the cafeteria like some loser.
Pressing my pen into the paper, I begin to write:
Monday, January 7, 2008
This day sucks.
The school sucks.
This town sucks.
These people suck.
After a minute, I toss my pen aside and exhale.
“What about me? Do I suck?” A pastel peach lunch tray plops down beside me followed by a raven-haired boy with eyes like honey and a heartbreaker’s smile. My heart flutters in my chest. He’s gorgeous. And I have no idea why he’s sitting next to me. “Nevada.”
“No. California. I’m from Del Mar,” I say, clearing my throat and sitting up straight.
The boy laughs through his perfectly straight nose.
I can’t take my eyes off his dimpled smirk. He can’t take his eyes off me.
“My name,” he says. “It’s Nevada. Like the state. And you are?”
“New,” I say.
He laughs at me again, eyes rolling. “Obviously. What’s your name?”
My cheeks warm. Apparently, I can’t human today. “Yardley.”
“Yardley from California.” He says my name like he’s trying to memorize it as he studies me. I squirm, wanting to know what he’s thinking and why he’s gazing at me like I’m some kind of magnificent creature and not some circus sideshow new girl freak. “What brings you here?”
He pops one of my tator tots between his full lips, grinning while he chews.
Nevada doesn’t look like the boys where I’m from. He doesn’t sound like them either. He isn’t sun kissed with windswept surfer hair. His features are darker, more mysterious. One look at this tall drink of water and I know he’s wise beyond his years. Mischievous and charismatic but also personable.
He’s … everything.
And he’s everything I never expected to come across in a town like this.
A group of girls at the table behind us gape and gawk, whispering and nudging each other. It occurs to me then that this might be a set-up, that this beautiful boy might be talking to this awkward new girl as a dare.
“Ignore them,” he says when he follows my gaze toward the plastic cheerleader squad sitting a few feet away. “They’re just jealous.”
I lift a brow. “Of what?”
He smirks, laughing at me like I’m supposed to ‘get it.’
“What?” I ask. If this is a joke, I want to be in on it. I refuse to add butt-of-the-joke to the list of reasons why this day can go to hell.
“They’re jealous because they think I’m about to ask you out,” he says, licking his lips. Nevada hasn’t taken his eyes off me since the moment he sat down.
“Should I go inform them that they have absolutely no reason to shoot daggers our way?”
His expression fades. “Why would you say that?”
“Because …” I laugh. “You’re not about to ask me out.”
“I’m not?”
I peel my gaze off of him and glance down at my untouched lunch. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why am I doing what? Talking to you? Trying to get the courage to ask you on a date?”
I glance up, studying his golden gaze and trying to determine if he’s being completely serious right now.
“You’ve never seen me before in your life and then you just … plop down next to me and ask me on a date?” I shake my head before rising. If I have to dump my tray and hide in the bathroom until the bell rings, then so be it.
“Where are you going?”
My lips part. “I … I don’t know. I …”
Nevada reaches for me, wrapping his hand around my wrist in a silent plea for me to stay. “Do you have a boyfriend back in California? Is that what this is about?”
“What? No.” This guy is relentless.
“Then go on a date with me,” he says, rising. “Friday.”
“Why?”
His expression fades. “Why?”
The bell rings. Thank God.
“I was new once. So I get it,” he says, fighting another dimpled smirk. God, I could never get tired of looking at a face like his. “And, uh … I think you’re, like, really fucking hot.”
Biting my lower lip and trying my damnedest to keep a straight face, I decide I won’t be won over that easily. It takes a lot more than a sexy smile, some kind words, and a curious glint in his sunset eyes. If he truly wants me … if this isn’t a joke and he honestly thinks I’m “really fucking hot,” he’s going to have to prove it.
“Bye, Nevada,” I say, gathering my things and disappearing into a crowd of students veering toward two giant trash cans.
I don’t wait for him to respond and I don’t turn around, but I feel him watching me—if that’s even possible. There’s this electric energy pulsing through me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I’m not sure if it’s excitement or anticipation or the promise of hope … but I can’t deny that it’s real and it’s there.
Making my way to the second floor of Lambs Grove High, I find my English Lit classroom and settle into a seat in the back.
For the tiniest sliver of a second, I imagine the two of us together. We’re laughing and happy and so in love that it physically hurts—the kind of thing I’ve never had with anyone else.
The tardy bell rings and a few more students shuffle in. My teacher takes roll call before beginning his lecture, but I don’t hear any of it.
I can’t stop thinking about that beautiful boy.


Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here

 

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Dark Promises by Winter Renshaw

 

 

I have a secret …

I don’t care if you like me or not.

Insatiable lust for power and control runs thick in my veins. My father served as president of the United States of America—and his father before him. Montgomeries are born to lead and rule, to fear nothing and cower to no one, to make allegiances not friends.

But I digress.

With a senate campaign about to launch and presidential aspirations at fever pitch intensity, imagine my dismay when my strategist tells me I need to “settle down” with a “nice girl” in order to appeal to my constituents.

Enter Rowan Aldridge, a head-turning stunner with a charm school walk, Jackie O. refinement, and a well-connected family.

She’s perfect.

So I’ll do what I have to do, make her believe what I need her to believe, and as soon as the campaign’s over and I’ve secured my senatorial seat, I’ll release my pretty little butterfly back into the wild.

But this isn’t about all of that.

This is what happens a villain falls in love.

 


“Run into an old friend?” I ask when she returns, handing her flute back.
“There was a girl crying in the restroom,” she says. “I had to console her.”
Mary Kate.
“Let’s make rounds, shall we?” I ask, downing the rest of my champagne before leaning into her ear. “I’d like to get out of here while the night’s still young. You slinking around here in that dress and knowing I can’t touch you the way I want to is driving me fucking insane.”
Her chin tucks and her mouth slips into a smirk.
Rowan slips her hand into the bend of my elbow, and I lead her into the crowd. The ballroom is filling by the minute, guests still arriving, and the jazz band in the corner is playing some Frank Sinatra tune.
Everywhere we go, people stare, and I don’t blame them.
We look incredible together, but it isn’t just our outward appearance. It’s everything. We just mesh. We fit. She gets me. I get her.
“I want to introduce you to someone,” I tell her, squeezing her hand as we approach a bald man in a dark gray suit. “Senator Harvey.”
The senator turns, his eyes landing on Rowan first then lifting to me, and when he recognizes me, he extends his hand, grinning wide.
“Keir,” he says. “It’s been a long time. Look at you.”
“Rowan, I’d like you to meet Senator Bill Harvey,” I say. “He was one of my most influential professors at Dartmouth. Now he’s influencing millions. Congratulations on passing that reform bill last year. I know what a labor of love that was for you.”
He rolls back on his heels, nodding. “Almost lost hope for a second, but it pulled through at the last minute. How have you been? How are things going for you?”
I glance at Rowan before answering. “Never better.”
And I mean it.
Rising on the balls of his feet, he makes eye contact with someone in the distance. “Looks like my wife is trying to flag me down, Keir. It was nice talking to you. And great meeting you, Rowan.”
Moving on, I take her from senator to representative to ambassador to billionaire benefactor, all of this serving two purposes.
Primarily, I want these people to feel comfortable supporting me once I announce my candidacy, and in order for them to feel comfortable, I want them to see that I’m getting settled, calming my wild ways. And second, I want Rowan to feel at ease in this world. I want her to feel like a part of it, a part of me. If she stays with me, she’ll need to schmooze and smile and socialize while I get my career off the ground.
When we’ve spent a solid two hours making our rounds, I call the car around.
I want to get her home and I want her all to myself.
I’m done sharing her.
And tomorrow, when she makes her decision, it better be me. And if it isn’t, I’m going to do everything in my power to change her mind.
I can’t lose her. I can’t let her go. Not now, not ever.
I realize tonight, with complete certainty, that I’m falling madly in love with this woman.

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

 

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here

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BLOG TOUR ~ Absinthe by Winter Renshaw

 


 

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The name on the screen was “Absinthe.”

I knew her as the sultry voice blowing up my phone for late night chats about Proust and Hemingway interspersed between the best phone sex I never knew I could have.

We’d never met.

Until the day she walked into my office, her cherry lips wrapped around a candy apple sucker and an all too familiar voice that said, “They said you wanted to see me, Principal Hawthorne?”



The last block of the day is taking for-ev-er, so I ask for a hall pass and make my way around the school, loitering at every drinking fountain and bulletin board. The teacher’s probably wondering where the hell I am, but I’m not afraid to tell him I got my period. That usually shuts them up.
Rounding the corner by the front office, I’m making a beeline for drinking fountain number six when the door swings open and out walks Kerouac.
Or rather, Principal Hawthorne.
We both stop so as not to bump into each other, though he’d be so lucky.
I saw the way he looked at me in his office this morning, the way his body responded to my voice. I knew the instant he started talking that it was him, though it took all the strength I had to ignore his chiseled jaw, dimpled chin, thick, dark hair, and hooded, honey-brown eyes.
Principals are supposed to be old with gray hair, glasses, and dad bods.
They’re not supposed to look like fucking supermodels.
Our eyes lock, and I smirk. To think, all those times I was talking to this.
This is what was on the other end. That stock photo doesn’t even hold a candle to the striking Adonis standing before me. No wonder he doesn’t want to commit. For a man like that, the world is one giant, all-you-can-eat buffet of beautiful women.
“Excuse me,” he says, stepping out of my way like a gentleman.
God, that voice. That gentle, low rasp of a voice. I about creamed my pants when he did the overhead announcements earlier. Almost had to excuse myself from class so I could finish the job in an empty bathroom stall.
It doesn’t help that all anyone can talk about lately is how fucking hot the new principal is. I overheard a group of senior girls earlier making a wager to see who could sleep with him before they went off to college. The winner was to get a thousand bucks.
Ha. Stupid girls.
If they only knew who they were dealing with.
But I’m no better than they are. I know the man that lies beyond the carefully crafted exterior, behind those dark, hooded eyes and that confident stride. The man on the inside is a million times sexier than any of them could begin to imagine.
“You’re excused.” I make my way to the fountain, press the button, and lower my mouth to the jet stream of fresh water. His stare is heavy, weighted, and I’d give anything to know what he thinks when he looks at me.
The halls are empty and quiet. It’s just the two of us.
Across the way a male teacher drones on about World War I and the Lusitania, and when I glance into the classroom, I spot Bree sitting in the front row, gnawing on the tip of her pen as her eyes wander in our direction.
I move out of her line of sight. Ford follows.
“I’d like to talk to you sometime,” he says. “About—”
I rise, turning to him. “About what? Nothing happened.”
He squints, studying me. He must think I’m planning to blackmail him, but he’d be mistaken. While his rejection stung at the time, I’m over it and I’ve got bigger fish to fry—specifically a bottom-feeder by the name of Bree.
“I tried to reach out to you after we last spoke,” he says, keeping his voice down. “I wanted to make sure you were okay. Couldn’t find you on the app.”
“I deleted it.”
His lips press, and he nods. All those long phone calls and messaging sessions this summer, and the man can’t find more than a handful of things to say to me now. He must still be in shock. I can’t say that I blame him. He’d have a hell of a lot more to lose than I would. The stakes are higher for him. I might be legal and an adult, but there isn’t a single red-blooded soul in this entire school district who’d be okay with a principal striking up a sexual relationship with one of his students.
On paper, it would seem atrocious. Scandalous. Disgusting.
But it doesn’t keep me from wishing we could’ve made it work, as insane as that is.
“You know, we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other around here, so let’s do ourselves a favor and get the fuck over what happened,” I say, arms folded as I maintain my icy demeanor. My ego may be bruised, my heart may be longing for him, but I’ll be damned if I run away with my tail tucked like some rejected schoolgirl. “If you’re going to look at me like that every time you see me—”
“I’m sorry.” He won’t stop staring. “I just … I can’t believe it’s you.”
“Believe it.” I begin to walk backwards, distancing myself from him.
He may have closed the door a few weeks ago, but I’m the one who locked it.


 

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Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

Author Links


 

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Absinthe by Winter Renshaw.

 

IMG_3452.PNG
The name on the screen was “Absinthe.”

I knew her as the sultry voice blowing up my phone for late night chats about Proust and Hemingway interspersed between the best phone sex I never knew I could have.

We’d never met.

Until the day she walked into my office, her cherry lips wrapped around a candy apple sucker and an all too familiar voice that said, “They said you wanted to see me, Principal Hawthorne?”

 

Coming August 8th

Prologue


Ford


“You wanted to see me, Principal Hawthorne?”
I know that voice. I’d know it anywhere.
Glancing up from my desk, I find a girl in skintight athletic leggings and a low-cut tank top standing in my office doorway, her full lips wrapped around a shiny sucker and a familiar electric jade gaze trained on me.
It’s her.
The woman I spent most of all summer chatting with under the anonymous veil of a dating app—one in specifically meant for adults seeking connections but not commitment. I purchased a stock photo for seven dollars, chose a pseudonym, Kerouac, and messaged a woman by the name of Absinthe who quoted Hemingway in her bio when everyone else quoted Nickelback and John Legend.
Fuck.
Me.
“You must be Halston.” My skin is on fire. I stand, smooth my tie, and point to the seat across from me. I never knew her name, but I’d know that voice anywhere. I can’t even count how many times I came to the sound of her breathy rasp describing all the wicked things she’d do to me if we ever met, reading me excerpts from Rebecca. “Take a seat.”
She takes her time pulling the sucker from her mouth before strutting to my guest chair, lowering herself, cleavage first, and crossing her long legs. The tiniest hint of a smirk claims her mouth, but if she knows it’s me, she’s sure as hell not acting like it.
“You want to tell me what happened with Mrs. Rossi?” I ask, returning to my seat and folding my hands on my desk.
I may be a lot of things; overconfident prick, allergic to commitment, red-blooded American man …
But I’m a professional first.
“Mrs. Rossi and I had an argument,” Halston says. “We were discussing the theme of The Great Gatsby, and she was trying to say that it was about chasing the elusive American dream. I told her she missed the entire fucking point of one of the greatest pieces of literature in existence.” She takes another suck of her candy before continuing, then points it in my direction. “The real theme has to do with manipulation and dishonesty, Principal Hawthorne. Everyone in that book was a fucking liar, most of all Jay, and in the end, he got what he deserved. They all did.”
My cock strains against the fabric of my pants. It’s her voice. It’s her goddamned sex-on-fire voice that’s doing this to me. That and her on point dissection of classic American literature. Sexy, intelligent, outspoken. Three elusive qualities I’ve yet to find in another human being. Until her. And knowing that now, I couldn’t even have her if I wanted her, isn’t doing me any favors. If I don’t compose myself, I’m going to be hard as a fucking rock.
“Language,” I say. The room is growing hotter now, but I keep a stern, undeterred presence.
She rolls her eyes. “I’m an adult, Principal Hawthorne. I can say words like fuck.”
“Not in my office, you can’t.” I exhale. “And not in class either. That’s why Mrs. Rossi sent you here.”
“The jackass behind me was drawing swastikas on his notebook, but I get sent down here for saying ‘fuck.’” Her head shakes.
“I’ll discuss that with Mrs. Rossi privately.” I scribble a note to myself and shove it aside.
“You’re really young for a principal.” Her charged gaze drags the length of me. “Did you just graduate from college or something?”
Six years of school and two years of teaching place me in the budding stages of a career shaping and educating the minds of tomorrow’s leaders, but I refuse to dignify her question with a response.
“My age is irrelevant,” I say.
“Age is everything.” She twirls a strand of pale hair around her finger, her lips curling up in the corners. The cute-and-coy shtick must work on everyone else, but it’s not going to work on me. Not here anyway. And not anymore.
“I said my age is irrelevant.”
“Am I the first student you’ve ever had to discipline?” She sits up, crossing and uncrossing her legs with the provocative charm of a 1940s pin up. “Wait, are you going to discipline me?”
I take mental notes for her file.
–       Challenges authority
–       Difficulty conducting herself appropriately
–       Possible boundary issues
“I’m not going to punish you, Halston. Consider this a verbal warning.” I release a hard breath through my nose as I study her, refusing to allow my eyes to drift to the soft swell of her breasts casually peeking out of her top. Knowing her so intimately over the phone, and being in her presence knowing she’s completely off limits, makes it difficult to maintain my unshaken demeanor. “From now on, I’d like you to refrain from using curse words while on school grounds. It’s disruptive to the other students who are here to actually glean something from their high school education.”
“I don’t know.” Her lips bunch at the corner, and she fights a devilish grin. “I mean, I can try, but ‘fuck’ is one of my favorite words in the English language. What if I can’t stop saying it? Then what?”
“Then we’ll worry about that when the time comes,” I say.
“You could always bend me over your knee and spank me.” She rises, wrapping her lips around the sucker before plucking it out of her mouth with a wet pop. “Or maybe you could fuck my brains out and break my heart.”
“Excuse me?” My skin heats, but I refuse to let her see that she’s having any kind of effect on me.
“You’re him,” she says, as if it’s some ace she’s been keeping up her sleeve this entire time. “You’re Kerouac.”
I’m at an extraordinary loss for words, trying to wrap my head around all the ways this could go very fucking wrong for me.




Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

 

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here 

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RELEASE BLITZ ~ Country Nights by Winter Renshaw

 

 

 

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Sixty country days and sixty country nights—that’s all I wanted.

I needed to get away from the city, away from the hot mess that had become my life.

When I stumbled upon my childhood home on RentBnB.com, I took it as a sign, cleaned out my life savings, and hightailed it to the only place that ever meant something to me, a place I hadn’t seen since a lifetime ago.

Only when I arrived to the familiar South Dakotan farmhouse, I was met by a brooding, we-don’t-take-kindly-to-strangers cowboy by the name of River McCray, who insisted this was his house and most definitely not a rental property.

I’d been internet scammed.

And that cocky, smart-mouthed stranger had the nerve to make me a humiliating offer: I could stay in his house for the next two months rent-free, but I had to work for him.

He’d be my boss. And my roommate.

With no money and nowhere else to go, I agreed. But nothing could have prepared me for the tension, the attraction, and the bombshell revelation that changed … everything.




Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

 

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list 

Author Links



 

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Country Nights by Winter Renshaw

 

 
 
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Sixty country days and sixty country nights—that’s all I wanted.

I needed to get away from the city, away from the hot mess that had become my life.

When I stumbled upon my childhood home on RentBnB.com, I took it as a sign, cleaned out my life savings, and hightailed it to the only place that ever meant something to me, a place I hadn’t seen since a lifetime ago.

Only when I arrived to the familiar South Dakotan farmhouse, I was met by a brooding, we-don’t-take-kindly-to-strangers cowboy by the name of River McCray, who insisted this was his house and most definitely not a rental property.

I’d been internet scammed.

And that cocky, smart-mouthed stranger had the nerve to make me a humiliating offer: I could stay in his house for the next two months rent-free, but I had to work for him.

He’d be my boss. And my roommate.

With no money and nowhere else to go, I agreed. But nothing could have prepared me for the tension, the attraction, and the bombshell revelation that changed … everything.
 
Coming June 27th
 
 

 




Leighton

“Babe, I’m not done yet.” My fingers press into the back of his arms as his naked body unsticks from mine. My lips, parted and breathless, wait for his to return, craving the heat of his tongue as I bask in the early Arizona sunrise peeking through our curtains.
Grant pushes himself away from me, rolling to the cold side of the bed. The contents of his climax spill from the unsatisfied ache between my thighs.
“Thought I told you.” He offers a two-second apologetic smile. “I’m meeting a client at eight. Have to go in early.”
I glance at the vintage alarm clock on his nightstand. There’s more than enough time.
“Five more minutes?” I roll to my side, my swollen lips curling into a slow grin as I trace my fingertips along the crumpled sheets between us. “Please? That’s all I need.”
He smirks, like he thinks I’m being cute, and then he walks around to my side of the bed. Bending to kiss my forehead, he drags his thumb along my lower lip and exhales through his nose.
“Here,” he says, reaching toward my bedside table. Pulling the top drawer open, he fishes through the contents before retrieving my purple vibrator, a relic from the early days of our relationship when I was still trying to be the girl I thought he wanted me to be. A plan that backfired and then some. “This ought to help.”
If there were more light in our bedroom this morning, he’d probably be able to see the color draining from my face.
“You don’t want it?” he asks, pausing for a beat before placing it on the bed to my left.
I can’t answer.
I’m speechless.
Ever since Grant finished law school at NYU and made partner at his uncle’s prestigious law firm in Scottsdale, he’s become self-involved, self-obsessed, and disgustingly self-centered. It’s all about him, all of the time.
I didn’t want to see it.
I didn’t want to believe it.
All this time, I made excuses for him, convincing myself it was a phase. Convincing myself one of these days I’ll get the old Grant back …
… the one with the charming smile who couldn’t keep his hands off me …
… the one I fell in love with fresh out of college …
…the one who was obsessed with me, seeing to it personally that my happiness was above all else …
… the one who almost made me forget about the ones before him and not think twice that there might ever be one after him …
Grant strides toward the en-suite bathroom, his tight ass flexing as he moves, and I listen as he flushes the toilet a moment later. The shower begins to spray. My eyes move to the vibrator. I refuse to touch it.
And besides, my mood has miraculously vanished.
Twisting the diamond engagement ring on my left finger, I run my fingertip along the sharp edges of the glimmering brilliant-cut stone.
It was supposed to symbolize his commitment to me. Hope for the future. Infinite love that never ends.
Peeling myself out of bed, I wrap the percale sheets around my body. Suddenly the idea of standing naked before him feels awkward and vulnerable in a way I’ve never felt around him before. As I make my way to the bathroom, I clear my throat and feel the creep of nervous heat as it blooms up my neck.
He turns to me, rinsing suds from his eyes as his fingertips massage his thick, sandy blond hair. “You want to get in?”
“I don’t want to be with you anymore.” I didn’t rehearse the line. I didn’t ponder the decision longer than the time it took me to walk from the bed to the en-suite. Sliding the diamond ring from my finger, I place it gently next to the sink.
Grant scoffs, pressing the glass shower door open and sticking his head out. “Leighton.”
I shrug before tucking a messy strand of dark hair behind one ear, unable to meet his gaze because although my head knows the man standing before me is different from the one I once knew, my heart knows no difference. As soon as he leaves for work, I’ll clean myself up and pack my things.
I’m not sure where I’ll go, but I’ll figure it out. Anyplace would be better than sticking around here like Grant’s personal doormat.
“All because I didn’t give you an orgasm?” He laughs. He isn’t taking me seriously.
Shaking my head, I say, “It’s not that.”
He rinses the soft white suds from his body, steps onto the mat, and wraps a white towel around his waist, tucking it at his hip. The scent of cedar wood shower gel permeates the muggy air, suffocating my senses as his hands circle my waist.
Spinning me to face him, he cups my chin in his right hand.
“Talk to me,” he says, focused. “What’s this about? What’s going on here?”
“You’ve changed.”
He rolls his eyes, still smiling. “Of course I’ve changed. I’m building the life we’ve always dreamed of. The long hours? The Maserati? The wardrobe? It’s all part of an image I have to project. Nobody wants to hire a lawyer who rolls up in a rusty sedan in an off-the-rack suit. Come on. You know that.”
“I’m not talking about that.”
His brows meet. “Then how have I changed?”
“You’re selfish,” I say, “And you never used to be. We used to be in this together. You and me. We used to fit together so easily, and now … now it’s like we don’t even line up anymore.”
“Christ, Leighton. You know I love you. You know you’re the center of my world.” He drags a hand through his damp hair. “I’m sorry my career is overshadowing what we have right now, but I promise it’s not forever.”
My mind replays a moment from last weekend, when we attended a charity gala in downtown Phoenix. I counted at least eight women who couldn’t take their eyes off Grant all night, and the man was well aware. He strutted around, peacock proud, introducing himself to anyone who so much as met his cunning emerald gaze. Never once introducing me as I stood in his shadow like a forgotten afterthought.
There’s a difference between networking and schmoozing.
The old Grant would’ve worn me proudly on his arm, kissed my forehead every chance he got, and introduced me like a true gentleman.
Instead he left me alone by the open bar, at one point spending twenty-five minutes chatting up a leggy redhead in head-to-toe Givenchy. She couldn’t stop smiling in his presence, touching his arm as she laughed at everything he said, and he stood unusually close to her.
I’m not a jealous woman, and I never have been, but seeing how Grant looked at every other woman that night with the same gaze he used to lovingly reserve for me filled me with doubt and made me question our relationship for the first time since we met.
“You scheduled a client dinner on our anniversary last month,” I say. “And you forgot my birthday this year.”
Grant places a hand over his perfect, chiseled chest. “And I apologized for those incidences, did I not?”
“The old you—”
“—the old me?” His brows lift, incredulous. “There is no old me. Stop being dramatic. I’m going to work before you make me late with all of … this.”
A little piece of me dies every time he takes that tone with me, which lately has been more frequent than ever.
He shakes his head, disgusted, and heads to the closet. When he returns with a red gingham tie in hand, he releases a quick breath.
“We’ll finish this when I get home tonight.” He places the tie on a robe hook, and his tone is softer than it was a second ago.
For a splintered moment, I second guess my decision.
Am I being rash?
Do other people spend almost eight years with someone and then wake up one morning and decide it’s over? That it’s not worth trying to salvage? That it’s suddenly come to this?
I watch Grant as he stands over the sink, lathering shaving cream onto his chiseled cheek bones, humming a Rolling Stones song to himself like it’s any other day. I don’t think this man has ever worried for a single second that he might lose me, and maybe that’s why he’s pushed me to the back burner over the last couple of years.
“I love you, Leighton.” He stares into the mirror, our eyes meeting in his reflection. “I’ll fix this. Whatever’s bothering you, we’ll figure it out tonight. I’ll make it right, I promise.”
That’s Grant: cold and cutting one moment, sweet and tender the next.
He never used to be this way.
Grant’s razor drags along his cheek, leaving a track of smooth, tanned skin in its place, and he flashes his trademark disarming smile that makes me think the old him might still be in there somewhere, waiting for me to breathe him back to life.
I pause before stepping out of the bathroom and heading back to bed. Mondays are my late day, and I don’t have to be at work for another three hours, which will give me more time to think this through.
Passing his nightstand, I catch his lit phone screen from the corner of my eye.
Normally I wouldn’t look, but there’s a nagging sensation in the pit of my stomach, a jarring feeling that tells me something isn’t right.
Peering into the bathroom, I don’t see Grant. He must be in the closet, changing into his suit. Sucking in a deep breath, I steal a look at the text message taking up half of the screen.
And then my heart drops to the floor.

I’M READY FOR MY CROSS EXAMINATION THIS MORNING, COUNSELOR, BUT I HAD A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS BEFORE WE PROCEED. LACE OR SILK? MY OFFICE OR YOURS? XO

A million questions swarm my mind, all of them circling at once.
Who is she?
How long has this been going on?
Is she the first?
How could I not know?!
Why would he initiate sex this morning?
Why would he tell me he loves me and then run off to fuck someone else?
“Leighton?” Grant’s voice brings me back, and my frozen stare moves from his phone to the bathroom doorway where he stands. His hands adjust the Windsor knot of his tie, though right now I’m wishing they were my hands, pulling it tighter and tighter still. If I can’t breathe right now, why should he get the privilege? “What’s wrong?”
My vision drowns in warm tears.
It was different earlier. There was a sense of pride in knowing I could make the decision to end things based on principle.
But now …
It seems the decision has been made for me.
There’s no recovering from this.
There’s no bouncing back.
This is the bottom dropping out.
“Leighton, talk to me.” Grant moves closer, lowering to his knees and taking my limp hands in his. I want to recoil at his touch, but I don’t have the energy. “Did something happen? Is it your grandmother?”
He doesn’t get it, at least not right away.
But when his eyes move toward the phone, his breath catches. And then he lets me go, his hands sliding off of mine, slow and careful.
Grant stands, straightening his posture before slipping his phone into his pocket and studying my face.
The weight of his stare is heavy, but the silence between us is heavier.
The man who has argued hundreds of cases over his budding career is officially speechless, unable to defend his reprehensible actions.
And how could he?
The evidence is damning, and his lack of words may as well be a guilty plea.
He leaves.
I stay.
But not for long.
  


 
 
Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.
 
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j
 
 
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