Originally published Sep 30, 2014
This is a rewrite of my second excerpt from Blame The Mistletoe. That dog, technology, ate my first one.
Tomorrow I'll have the third excerpt, but I wanted to be sure this one existed, since I've linked to it from a few different places.
Note: If you like to read books in order, you'll want to read Hometown Hero (available now on Amazon) before Blame The Mistletoe, (pre-order here). You can read the #SampleSundays from Hometown Hero here. Keep scrolling after the excerpt for a list of all the books in the Homecoming series.
If you enjoy free excerpts, please also check out on my #SampleSunday for The Russian's Acquisition series, which started this week.
In the first pages of Blame The Mistletoe, Liz arrives at a cocktail party in full swing. (It's hosted by Skye and Chase from Hometown Hero). Liz is feeling shy, especially when a sexy rancher seems to be staring. When he approaches, she realizes she knows him. He was married to the sister of Liz's ex-husband.
Fun Fact - I saw a recent review that said Liz was married to Blake's ex-wife. No. (lol). She was married to the brother of Blake's ex-wife.
~ * ~
“Have you two introduced yourselves?” Skye asked, appearing next to Blake with a hostess’s eye for matchmaking. “Liz, this is Blake Canon. His ranch is next to my family’s place out on Timberline. Blake, Liz is house-sitting for the Flowers at the bottom of the road—”
“Seriously?” He sent her a look that Liz ducked by switching her attention to Skye.
“We actually know each other.” His judgment shouldn’t matter, but she didn’t like him thinking she’d let the Flowers turn her into a doormat. She had, for years, but that was in the past. Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. “Blake’s ex-wife and my ex-husband are brother and sister,” she explained to Skye, something she might have expanded on when first chatting to Skye, but it hadn’t seemed important then.
Or maybe she’d feared judgment from a stranger, too.
“Oh. When you said your last name was Flowers, I assumed you were a niece or something,” Skye said with a breezy smile, then reassessed them with speculative lift of her brows. “Well, you two have plenty to catch up on, I’m sure. I’ll leave you to it.” She walked away.
“I didn’t put it together that you lived here,” Liz said. “Or that I’d run into you. Or that you’d remember me,” she added with an echo of surprise. “Did we even see each other after your wedding? All I ever heard at the family gatherings was that you couldn’t leave the ranch.”
That’s why most of her ex-husband’s family had moved from California to Montana. Blake’s wife—ex-wife—had begged her parents and siblings to join her in Marietta, only to divorce Blake as soon as everyone settled here. Liz had been separating from Dean at that point and hadn’t even considered the move.
Maybe that had been closed-minded of her.
She could say with fresh eyes and emotional distance that Marietta wasn’t a bad place, but at the time she’d only seen that her family was in California. If Dean had wanted to move to be with his, that was his business. Fortunately, he hadn’t and they’d had plenty of fuel for their fights without bringing geography into it. From what Liz had heard of Blake and Crystal’s break up, it had been even more contentious and bloody than hers.
Blake took a pull off his beer, eyelids lowered circumspectly, not saying anything about being tied to his ranch.
“That wasn’t meant to sound like I was taking their side,” Liz said. “I know ranching isn’t something you just take a week off from because you want to.” She bit into a tangy olive, enjoying the way it burst with flavor in her mouth. “For what it’s worth, Dean never understood the demands of the salons either. That’s one of the reasons he made me quit doing nails.” That and how it had looked when his wife gave manicures to the wives of his colleagues.
Blake’s dark eyes sharpened as they flashed to connect with hers. It almost looked like he took umbrage at Dean’s heavy-handed control—as she had. Maybe it was just another thing they had in common: letting the Flowers talk them into things they didn’t really want to do.
Then his gaze warmed with amusement. “Are you saying your clients demand attention every day? I just envisioned a herd of women with broken nails bawling in a meadow.”
She chuckled, realigning her vision of Blake from an overwhelmed young man wiping his brow as he spoke his vows to this mature, confident man with a wry sense of humor.
“They’re not much better this time of year,” she said ruefully, “Habitual nail-chewers suddenly stampede to look pretty for Christmas.”
“And yet you’re here rather than polishing.”
She heard the question in his tone and shrugged. “I’m in management now. I fill in sometimes if I have to. It’s flu season, so techs call in sick and the phones never stop, so I often man those, but . . . ” She shrugged, debating how much to tell him about why she was staying here. They were strangers really, having only met the once. But their kids had remained connected as cousins. She heard things. Their shared sister-in-law, Stella, was very talkative when she had a glass of wine in her. Blake might not be entirely comfortable with how much Liz knew of his personal business, actually.
For the first time in nearly a week of being in Marietta, however, she felt like she had a friend. She nibbled the tip of a gherkin, edging around revealing her motives by asking, “What do you think of the big family wedding and tropical Christmas?”
“I don’t have a problem with it,” he said with a small flicker of surprise that she hadn’t really answered his question. He motioned for her to come into a corner with him as people crowded near the table, squeezing them out. “Ethan’s coming home early since it’s my year to have him. Is Petra staying the whole time?”
“She is.” A pinch near her heart made her face his lingering curiosity and the decision she’d made with all its cloudy facets. It was okay that it hurt, she reminded herself. Generosity was something that might sting when it was extended, but it had to be exercised or it would stiffen up and atrophy. “I was upset when they first started planning it, but it’s her Dad’s wedding. And she genuinely loves being around her cousins. I couldn’t fight it. It’s the sort of thing they’ll remember forever.”
“Which is why I said Ethan could go for two weeks, but not all of December.”
Liz still privately agonized at allowing Petra to be gone so long. She’d been furious and aggrieved, dreading the whole thing from the time it was proposed, and then she’d arrived here to a fresh pie in the face. She tried to smile past the tightness straining her expression.
“I’ve been bitter for a long time,” she confessed. “Always gearing up for a battle. I knew it wasn’t healthy and I’m sure it looks from the outside like I’m the biggest dupe in America. I mean, who gets suckered into watching their ex-mother-in-law’s chirpy little dog, alone through Christmas, while her ex-husband’s family has a month in the sun? Right? But it is Christmas. When I got here and they told me Nola’s dog sitter had fallen through and Nola just assumed I had nothing else to do and could take him . . . ” She shook her head, hating how the ball of mistreated energy had come to life with a vengeance, throbbing and pulsing and threatening to tear up her insides.
“I’m tired of giving them the power to make me unhappy,” she said. “I asked myself if I would do it for a neighbor in a pinch, or a client, and I would. The only reason I would refuse Nola was animosity and I’m tired of it. So, I decided to embrace the spirit of the season. I don’t care if Dean appreciates the gesture, or whether the Flowers think kindly of me, or even if karma repays me. I’m not trying to be bigger than them, I just don’t want to be angry anymore. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it?”
Her mother and sister had certainly thought so when she’d called to tell them she was staying here while Petra was gone. Her sister had said it was a recipe for a fresh batch of resentment. But even though Liz was facing a lonely Christmas, even though this ‘favor’ was actually putting her out and taking her away from her family in California, she felt like she was doing the right thing. Christmas had always been a bit of a let down for her anyway. Her family wasn’t the warmest and half the time her father had missed it altogether. This way her expectations were rock bottom, so she couldn’t be disappointed.
“I say no to Crystal all the time,” Blake said reflectively, mouth going flat.
“Your situation is completely different from mine,” she assured him with an instinctive touch on his arm.
He glanced at her hand and she pulled it away, curling her fingers into her palm and licking her lips in a sudden attack of nerves that had nothing to do with social anxiety. That had felt—he had felt good. Muscly hard. Masculine. And there’d been a little zing of sexual something that she would completely ignore, because it was silly to even imagine it had been there.
She cleared her throat.
“I know what you’re up against with Crystal. If you give her an inch, you’ll never see your son again, so you’re better to stick hard and fast to your custody agreement. I wasn’t trying to sound pious or tell you what to do.”
He absorbed that with a cant of his head. “You are setting a precedent, though. They’ll expect things from you going forward,” he warned.
She shrugged, trying to be philosophical. “Maybe. I’ll deal with that as it comes, but I didn’t want to go home indignant that they’d had the nerve to ask. I didn’t want to carry guilt if I said no. Instead, I took control, decided I wanted to do this, and I feel okay about it.”
He stared at her.
He thinks I’m nuts, she thought.
“Are you still bitter?” she asked.
“As snake venom,” he replied conversationally, making a surprised laugh burst out of her.
He had a right to be, she supposed, thinking of what she knew about his marriage and divorce, then letting her lashes sweep down so he wouldn’t know she knew.
Did he even know?
~ * ~
Yes, a big (huge) family secret comes out!
As I said above, if you like to read in order, you'll want to read Hometown Hero first. If you want to read the Homecoming series in order, here are all the authors and their release dates:
- Sept 22 - Sing Me Back Home, by Eve Gaddy
- Sept 25 - Finding Home, by Roxanne Snopek
- Sept 29 - Hometown Hero, by Dani Collins
- Oct 2 - Long Way Home, by Kathleen O’Brien
- Oct 6 - Home For Good, by Terri Reed
Please keep checking back over the next few weeks. I have lots going on for all my fall books:
Winner of the Hometown Hero Prize Package was Tonya from Texas.
Now Open! - A Fall Love Affair $500 Visa Gift Card Giveaway
Open 'til Oct 23rd:
You can preorder The Russian's Acquisition from Amazon now, wait until it hits stores November 1st, or buy it now from Mills & Boon UK now.
Want to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest...etc? Click here for Dani's Social Media links and take your pick.
Tomorrow I'll have the next #TeaserTuesday for Blame The Mistletoe. Not sure what Thursday will look like, but I'll definitely have another #SampleSunday on the weekend.
Have a great week,