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TEXAS HEIRS

Brothers of Whiskey River, Book 1

Where There's  A Will...

Sexy lawyer Ryder Ford always knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. But Addison Wells, his gorgeous legal assistant, is one woman he wants but can’t have. Or can he? One scorching, unforgettable kiss under the mistletoe is all that either have allowed. Addison is focused on her studies and becoming a lawyer herself and she plans to leave the dust of Whiskey River behind. Unless . . .

There’s A Way…

Addison does a good job of ignoring her feelings for her hotter than sin boss until one stormy day when a threatening tornado forces them to find shelter from the storm. Despite the fact that Addison is weeks from moving to another city, she finds herself breaking her own “no office romance” rule. She’s not meant to settle down—but how can she resist someone as persuasive and tempting as Ryder? She’s determined that he should be her going away present but will Ryder let her go that easily?

Excerpt

Boots Kelly died as he had lived. Bigger than life, going out in a spectacular fiery car crash, driving his brand new McLaren with a twenty-one-year-old runway model rumored to be his newest mistress beside him.

Now Ryder Ford, cousin and attorney for the Kelly clan, had the unenviable task of reading Boots Kelly’s will to his heirs. All of his heirs.

Four brothers, two legitimate, two illegitimate and neither set knowing anything about the other. Squeezing the bridge of his nose, Ryder wished, not for the first time, that he’d never agreed to become the Kelly family lawyer. But his mom would have stopped speaking to him if he’d refused, so in the interest of keeping the family peace he’d agreed.

Ryder had tried like hell to convince Boots to come clean, but his uncle’s response had been clear, and typical of him. “Mind your own business, son. Just because you’re kinfolk doesn’t mean I won’t fire you. They’ll all find out in due time. Once I’m dead,” he’d said with a chuckle. “I’d sure as hell like to be around to see it, though.”

Boots wouldn't be there but his ex-wife, Paloma, would be. Ryder supressed a shudder. Divorced years ago, Paloma and Boots had split their assets at the time of the divorce. Both had done nothing but grow wealthier since. Boots had included Paloma in the will, however, because, Ryder knew, he wanted to stick it to her. Ryder could well imagine Paloma’s reaction to this bombshell—an explosion to make Mt. St. Helens look like a firecracker.

As for Nicholas and Xander Blue, Boots had claimed his twin sons knew nothing about their biological father. In fact, he maintained he’d never met them. Their mother, Lorna Blue, had forbidden all contact, and much to Ryder’s surprise, Boots had apparently respected her wishes. But, and it was a big one, Boots would have the last word when Ryder had to read the damn will to his unsuspecting family.

Ryder's law firm was housed in a beautiful, older home in a now commercialized part of Whiskey River, a town on a tributary of the Pedernales River in the Texas hill country. His partners, Fiona Lannigan and Johnny Gamble, weren’t in today. Fiona had a family emergency in Austin and God only knew where Johnny was, as this was his day off. Only Ryder and his legal secretary, Addison Wells, were there working today. He wondered if Addison had reached the Blues yet. Since Ryder couldn’t tell them their father had named them in his will, he had Addison call. Addison was great with people and if anyone could get the two men to show up with very little information about why they should agree to come, it was Addison.

He punched a button for the speakerphone. “Addison, did you reach the Blues?”

“Yes. I set up a meeting. They couldn’t do it right away, so”— She broke off and said in a different tone, “Oh, my God” and hung up abruptly.

Puzzled, Ryder glanced out his office window, noting that the sky was even darker than it had been a few minutes ago.

Seconds later, Addison entered his office. “Have you heard the weather? We’re under a tornado watch.” She crossed to the window and looked out. Even with her back to him, he could tell she was worried.

His gaze took in the soft, flowing red dress that hit just above her knees, slipped down those beautiful legs to the siren red high heels she wore that made him just a little crazy. Which, he supposed, was what high heels were designed to do.

Damn it, he’d never looked at her legs in the past. Or not much. But he hadn’t been able to look at her the same since the office Christmas party. He should never have kissed her.

Don’t think about it, he ordered himself for the hundredth time. That was months ago. “It’s just a tornado watch. We have those all the time. It doesn’t mean there’s an actual sighting.” He knew she didn’t like bad weather, but he’d always sensed there was a little more to it than simple dislike. She’d never told him, though.

Addison was very much all business . . . except that one time at the office Christmas party. Under the mistletoe.

She turned around and looked at him. “This one’s different. I can feel it.”

“So, what, you want to go hide in the closet?” He said it flippantly because he could think of few things more tempting than being alone in a small, enclosed space with Addison Wells.

“You bet I do. The minute I hear the sirens I’m there. Turn on the TV and see what the local channels say.”

Ryder shook his head but did as she asked. She came to stand beside him and look at the TV on the opposite wall.

“It looks nasty,” he said, watching the greens, yellows, oranges and reds of the map. Such pretty colors for such potentially destructive phenomena.

“They’ve upgraded to a warning. One was sighted near Kerr,” she said, her voice betraying her anxiety.

“Kerr isn’t even in the same county as we are. Gillespie is under a watch, not a warning,” he said, speaking of the county where Whiskey River was located. Not yet, anyway.

“Kerr is the next county over! Look at the storm cells. They’re headed right for us.”

Even as he opened his mouth to say something soothing, the weather station upgraded Gillespie County to a tornado warning as well.

“I told you so,” Addison said grimly. “What’s the matter with you? You know how dangerous tornadoes are.”

“Calm down, Addison.” He knew as soon as he said it that he’d made a mistake. Her eyes, a deep, jade green like he’d rarely seen, flashed fire. For a moment he thought she was going to slug him.

Instead she whirled and started toward the door. Ryder stood up and managed to grab her arm before she could reach it. “I simply meant we could go sit in the closet. There’s no need to panic.”

He winced, wondering what made him say exactly the wrong thing. Again.

“I am not panicked,” she said through clenched teeth, pulling her arm loose. “Are you coming?”

Her tone implied she’d just as soon he didn’t. He ignored that. “Right behind you.”

There was a small closet under the stairs that he and his partners had designated the official tornado shelter. It had been used before, though not often. Ryder had never had to retreat there. They kept it stocked with a radio, extra batteries, water, a few non-perishable foods, a battery-operated electric lantern, and blankets. They even kept a twin mattress inside, in case the tornado came really close. Of course, when the closet wasn’t being used as a shelter, it doubled as a storeroom. Which meant he was going to have to drag boxes out before it would be functional.

Addison yanked open the door. “Damn it! What’s the matter with you people? It’s supposed to be a storm shelter, not a junk room. I can’t wedge my shoe in there.”

She had a point, even though that was an exaggeration. “Move out of the way, and I’ll clear it.”

Ignoring him, she bent down and dragged out the first box she saw. Ryder groaned inwardly, thinking totally inappropriate thoughts.

He managed to elbow her aside and remove the bulkiest items. Besides boxes, there was an assortment of other items. Including a bike, of all things. Before long they had it cleaned out enough to be able to use it.

“After you,” he said, motioning her inside. Ducking his head, he followed her in.

The closet light was still on and he checked his cell phone, noting that it still had bars. Addison rustled around, arranging the lantern, a flashlight, and the battery operated radio, which she tuned to local weather.

“Cozy, isn’t it?” Too cozy. How was he supposed to keep his hands to himself in a situation like this?

Addison said nothing, removing her shoes and sitting cross-legged on the mattress, arranging her dress to cover her legs. Oh, man, why did she have to look so pretty today? Her long dark hair was down around her shoulders instead of pulled back or piled on top of her head as she often wore it. As if she felt him staring at her, she raised her eyes to his. She ran her tongue over her lips, unpainted because she’d nibbled all her lipstick off. Her mouth didn’t need lipstick anyway. Her lips were full and rosy, with the hint of a pout. The rest of her face, classic nose, high cheekbones, beautiful skin, wasn’t bad either. Those green eyes stared at him unwaveringly.

He wanted to kiss her. To be completely honest, he wanted to do a hell of a lot more than kiss her. But she’d never acted interested in starting anything with him.

Until the Christmas party when she’d kissed him beneath the mistletoe. She had kissed him. After his initial surprise, he’d put his arms around her and pulled her close. And totally forgotten it was just a mistletoe kiss. But so had Addison.

Damn it. He wanted to kiss her again. Just as he had every day since then. Wanted her to the point that he hadn't spared a thought for another woman since that night.

They stared at each other. Was she remembering the kiss? Had it driven her crazy, like it had him? “Addison?”

“What?” she breathed.“Why are you so afraid of tornadoes?”

#

It was a fair enough question and since she’d been freaking out on him and losing her cool since she’d first seen the darkening sky she guessed that shrugging it off wasn’t an option.

But in for a penny in for a pound her mom used to say. So she tipped her head to the side and batted her lashes at her very handsome, very sexy, very much not-available-to-her boss. “What makes you think I’m afraid of tornadoes?”

He threw his head back and laughed. A big full-throated sound that filled this depressing little storm shelter and made her almost forget about the storm raging outside. His hair was thick and sandy brown, his face chiselled with a square jaw. And he was too strong to be termed pretty or just handsome, Ryder had the face of a man who lived life and loved it.

He was wickedly smart and had a reputation for being a man who played as hard as he worked. All things that pushed him even further off limits to her. She was so close to getting out of the cycle of poverty that had dogged her family for generations. Finish this last semester at law school and then the bar and then a nice high-paying job with a firm in San Antonio or Austin.

So kissing him at the Christmas party hadn’t been her smartest idea. But to be fair, who would have guessed that he could pack so much punch into one little kiss? She stared at his mouth. She’d watched him argue several cases in court and felt a secret thrill listening to the mellow tones with the hint of a drawl in his voice and the slow methodical way he could tear a witness down.

One thing she knew about Ryder was he didn’t suffer fools or liars easily.

“Addison, I’ve known you for a long time and I’ve never seen you so flustered. Even that time old man Coogan came into the office brandishing his Colt .45 automatic and threatening to shoot me if I didn’t make his wife come back to him,” Ryder said.

“Poor Coogan. His heart was in the right place and his hands were shaking. He wouldn’t have followed through.” At least, she didn’t think he would have. She’d talked to the older man, convinced him to put down his gun and diffused the situation, but then her older brother was a cop and she’d grown up in a rough neighborhood. She knew how to handle touchy situations.

“My point exactly. What’s the deal with you and tornadoes?”

“Dammit.”

He didn’t say anything just sat there waiting. And she’d seen him use this tactic with clients before. He called it the truth silence. Said that the longer it grew the more antsy people became and soon they’d confess everything. And it worked.

She’d used it herself last summer during one of her mock trials at school.

“I just don’t like them….they are unpredictable—

“If you are going to lie to me, at least make it sound believable,” he said.

She nibbled on her lower lip and reached for the charm of her necklace. It was a small gold cross that had been given to her when she’d been baptized as a baby. She traced the cross with her finger and remembered the sound of howling wind and the wooden frame on their tiny house shaking. She remembered her big brother hunkered down beside her, both of them unsure if they’d live or not. And given that their mom was passed out in the kitchen after one of her drunken binges, they’d known all they had was each other.

“I just don’t like them,” she repeated.

She had worked diligently and carefully to maintain an image of herself to Ryder as a hard-working law student. She didn’t want to admit she’d grown up in The Barrels, the poor side of town that many pretended didn’t exist. She didn’t want him to look at her and see the poverty that she’d worked so hard to scrub from her image.

“Tell me, Addison. Your secrets are safe with me,” he said.

She knew that. She’d trusted him almost from the moment they’d met, but she didn’t want to rely on him. She’d been attracted to him but she’d learned early on that she couldn’t do a relationship and not lose herself in it. And she had goals so she’d ignored Ryder and his bedroom eyes. There was only one person who hadn’t let her down and that was her brother, Adam.

She liked Ryder. He was her boss, her late night fantasy and that was fine because she had no intention of ever acting on anything. But telling him about her fear—her biggest one. Even she knew that wasn’t wise.

“When I was about fourteen,” Ryder said, “there was a big storm. Not sure if you remember it. You'd have been awfully young.”

She nodded. Yeah, she remembered it. In fact thinking about that storm made the top of her lip sweat.

“Well, you know I grew up on the outskirts of town just past the fork of Whiskey River," he said, speaking of the tributary of the Pedernales the town took its name from. "The siren sounded but the wind was stirring the chimes my mother had hanging in the big Live Oak in our front yard. The sound was melodic and I just stood there, tipping my head back toward the sky as the wind buffeted around me. It was so strong. Powerful. I wanted to be a part of the storm.”

She could see that. Picture a teenaged Ryder trying to own the storm and bend it to his will. So different from her eight-year-old self cowering in a corner.

“My mother yanked me inside, dragged me into the laundry room which doubled as a tornado shelter, and yelled at me for scaring her, but I never felt in danger from the storm.”

“That’s because you’re crazy,” she said.

“Nah,” he said with a lazy wink. “The storm missed us and headed toward town. That was the storm that tore through The Barrels section on the other side of the tracks. Took out a lot of homes.”

She nodded. She remembered. The broken glass, wooden slates everywhere. Houses randomly destroyed. Random. Like fate, that tornado had decided who lived and who died. It had spared her and Adam but not their next-door neighbors. That scared her too. The randomness of it.

“Tell me,” he said again.

The wind whipped around the building. The sound lonely and plaintive and so damned scary. She knew it was just the wind and that this building might look old and historic but Ryder and his partners had rehabbed it to withstand the tornadoes and gusts they got here in Texas.

As much as she didn’t want to talk about her past the sound of the wind and the fear inside her mind made that impossible.

“I grew up in The Barrels,” she said.

“Oh, I didn’t know that. So you got hit with the storm?”

“Yes. My brother and I were trapped in our house during that tornado. We didn’t have a storm shelter,” she said. “We didn't even know we were supposed to get in a closet, or the bathtub. The house shook all around us, the wind sounded like a freight train that was going to tear everything apart. It was—is—my worst nightmare. I just…I know we’re safe most of the time but every time those sirens go off I want to hide and forget. But I never can.”

He shifted around in the closet and came over to sit next to her. He wrapped his arms around her, tipping her chin up so that she could see he had a small scar on the underside of his own chin. He made her feel safe. She didn’t want safety to be a person. She needed safety to be something she carried inside of herself.

But for right now safety was Ryder. His spicy aftershave and his deep, soothing voice.

“You don’t have to forget, Addison, that storm made you stronger. Made you into the woman you are today.”

She stared at him for a long moment and realized that the storm had changed her. That night she and Adam had realized they couldn’t depend on their mom and had finally admitted it. The both of them had looked out for each other and made a solid plan to change their lives.

And that change had brought her here to Ryder and this moment in a storm shelter. Her entire life she’d been running from that storm that had shaken her world and finally she was in a place where she could slow down, breathe, take what she wanted. She didn’t have to keep running.

She looked up into his dark blue eyes, shoving all thoughts of the tornado to the back of her mind. “I have a question for you.”

“What is it?”

She hesitated. But she wasn’t a meek person. And the stuff that she wanted the most, her law degree, a well-paying job and a house of her own—those were things she found it the easiest to go after. But a kiss from the one man she knew she shouldn’t have kissed and the one man she hadn’t been able to forget, frightened her.

She lifted her hand and stroked her finger down his jaw to that tiny scar and shifted back just a little bit so she could see his face more clearly. “Why haven’t you tried to kiss me again since the Christmas party?”

She could tell she’d shocked him. His pupils dilated and his arm around her shoulder tightened and then he lowered his head and she felt the brush of his breath over her lips before he kissed her again.

 

 

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“I loved this whole series…I am so impressed with how the authors have collaborated to bring the characters, events and scenarios to life in each book yet each author brings their own voice to their own story. This is definitely a fantastic Christmas series…”

                                   Splashes Into Books, Netgalley