SHE’S A SMALL-TOWN GIRL WITH BIG DREAMS.
Nine years ago, Neve McKay fled her small Southern town and disapproving family to seek a career in the big city. Now she’s finally coming home-and hoping for a fresh start. But the relationship that shattered her world still haunts her. And even among her nearest and dearest, she doesn’t feel safe. . .
CAN THIS BAD BOY BE THE ANSWER TO HER PRAYERS?
Ian Campbell is a pure Scottish muscle-as hard and handsome as they come. But when Neve walks into his bar, his heart melts. . .and he vows to have this gorgeous and somewhat vulnerable woman in his life-for better or for worse. What is Neve’s tragic secret? And how can Neve expect Ian to protect her, when doing so could put his own life at risk? The only thing Ian knows for sure is that he will do whatever it takes to keep her out of harm’s way-and in his loving arms. . .
Ian Campbell had left Scotland for a couple of small reasons, and one rather big one. The small reasons were varied—he liked to try new things, he’d always wanted to run his own pub, and he’d never been one to turn down a chance at an adventure. Living in America for a time could definitely be that.
The rather big reason was simple.
He’d been offered a fat sum to come across the pond and run this pub, and if all went well, then he could even buy it. It had been a hard choice to make, he wouldn’t lie.
More than once—once a week even—he wondered if he’d done the right thing, and considered going home. He could. He’d have to start over, but he wasn’t afraid of hard work and he wasn’t afraid to start over, either. He’d had to do that more than once in his life, that was certain.
But then he’d crawl out of bed, get himself a cup of coffee—or better yet, three. Ian Campbell wasn’t a pleasant man without his first cup of coffee in the morning. Once he was awake, he’d go to his balcony and stare out over the river.
This place was thousands of miles from Braemar, the small village in Scotland where he’d lived for the first thirteen years of his life and just as different from the house where he’d lived after his mother died and he moved to Aviemore to live with his grandparents. He’d lived there from the time he was thirteen until he was eighteen, in a house where raised voices and flying fists had him desperate to leave, and even more desperate never to return.
Nobody here looked at him and whispered as he walked past.
True, it had been a long time since people had done that back home.
But he didn’t see the looks in their eyes, and if he lifted a pint at the end of the day, he didn’t have to wonder what they might think.
A clean slate, that was what he had here, and he couldn’t help but appreciate it.
Perhaps he didn’t like the heat that hit you like a sweaty fist for too much of the year, but any circumstance would have its drawbacks now, wouldn’t it?
And . . . there were the benefits.
He found himself studying one now and felt a stir of interest he hadn’t felt in more time than he cared to think about.
She stood in the doorway, oddly apart from everybody else even as she studied them, eyes moving to linger on a group here, then there. After a couple of moments she moved away, and he found himself tracking her progress.
Don’t be here to meet somebody, he thought, and immediately, he wanted to kick himself. What did it matter if she was?
He told himself it didn’t and glanced up as Gary Harnett settled down and ordered his usual. Ian started to build the Guinness as they chatted, but the entire time he watched her from the corner of his eye.
She moved like a dancer, with effortless grace and easy elegance. He could imagine those legs, long and slim, wrapped around his waist, could picture that torso, just as long and slim, bent back as he leaned over to press his mouth to pale, soft skin.
Gary said, “They say it’s going to break a hundred again tomorrow.”
“Imagine it will,” Ian murmured, the easy chatter second nature, while in his mind, he continued to mentally undress the redhead.
She slid onto a vacant stool tucked up against the wall just as he finished Gary’s Guinness, and Ian took a moment to appreciate the fact that he had a heavy, solid bar between the two of them, because, thanks to his wandering mind, his bloody cock was hard as iron and pulsing.
She looked at him then, her mouth unsmiling, but wide and soft and lush.
He rested his hands on the bar and smiled. You’ve a job to do, so do it.
He opened his mouth.
You’re the sexiest fucking thing I’ve seen in ages—maybe forever. He could feel those words hovering on the tip of his tongue.
Biting them back, he fell back on the job he’d been doing for ages.
“Well, ’allo. What can I get you?”
A faint smile flirted around her lips, and a hot ball of lust twisted inside, settling down low in his balls. Mad. He’d gone mad—that’s all there was to it.
She nodded toward the Guinness he’d just finished and said, “I’ll have one of those.”
He nodded. Self-preservation told him to move his arse and get to work.
He told self-preservation to get fucked as he got to work on her Guinness. As he did, four more orders came in, and he filled three of them before her Guinness was ready. By the time he had another minute to breathe, she had folded her hands around her glass and was studying everything around her, almost mesmerized.
She blinked, a startled look in her eyes. Her gaze slid away. “Depends on your point of view.” Then she flashed him a wide smile.
It was disarming, that smile, bright and wicked, the kind of smile a temptress would give a saint to lure him into all manner of sins.
Ian was many things—a saint had never been one of them. As she propped her elbows on the bar, he found himself easing closer. “I’m here for . . . personal things, but that’s for later,” she said, lifting her shoulder in a shrug. “Tonight . . . ? Tonight I’m just trying to not think.”
I can help you with that.
The words popped into his brain and they almost escaped his lips.
He managed to keep them trapped inside, but one thing he couldn’t do was keep his eyes off that mouth.
She noticed, too. He could tell by the hitch in her breathing, the way her pulse slammed against the fragile wall of her throat. Curious, he reached out and pressed a finger against it.
He could very well be doing the stupidest thing he’d ever done.
Her lids drooped and her head slumped, angling slightly to the side. He skimmed his finger down lower, tracing the elegant line of her collarbone. “I’ve had days like that,” he said softly. “Days where the last place I want to be is inside my own head.”
He lowered his hand.
She lifted her head and met his gaze dead-on.
He started to turn away.
“How late do you work?”
Neve couldn’t have been more appalled with herself if she’d climbed up on the bar and stripped naked.
Blood rushed up to scald her cheeks, and she was already trying to mentally calculate how much her drink would be. She had a twenty dollar bill tucked inside her pocket. She’d just leave the whole thing—
His hand closed over hers, and then he bent over the bar.
He was big.
She’d already noticed that.
Big and almost brutally beautiful. If she had guessed right, he was close to six five, and his shoulders strained the snug fit of his T-shirt. His hair was dark, possibly black, but it was hard to tell in the dim light of the pub. His eyes were arresting—a deep, dark rich brown.
They gleamed against the warm gold of his skin and seemed to glow now. Then there was the beard.
Neve had never been attracted to a beard man. At least not until that very moment.
But this man with his short beard and that beautiful mouth—she suspected he could make her go for just about anything.
That beautiful mouth, framed by his dark beard, parted on his harsh intake of breath.
Her heart knocked hard against her ribs.
She had to drag her gaze away, but as she went to fumble the cash out of her pocket, his hand slid up her arm, leaving a hot, burning trail. “Another thirty minutes . . . if you’re up to waiting for me.”
The logical part of her mind screamed at her.
Instead, she found herself meeting his gaze once more. As he turned away, she reached for her drink and downed a healthy swallow. Maybe it was for courage.
Or maybe it was to cool the suddenly blistering heat that had washed over her.
She’d done gone and lost her mind, Neve was sure of it.