by Sarah Balance
Chase Brothers, #3
Publication Date: April 4, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Entangled Lovestruck
Synopsis: Ethan Chase isn’t interested in dating. After losing the woman he loved more than life itself, he’d much rather ride solo, but his family is dead set on fixing him up. To get them off his back, he hooks up with ultra-adventurous, ultra-temporary adventure photographer, Rue Campbell. All he has to do is survive three weeks in her orbit and he’ll be single again, only without the pitying looks and pressure to move on.
Rue is literally counting the days until her plane leaves New York City. The last thing she wants is a relationship, but being Ethan’s pretend girlfriend can’t hurt, right? Wrong. With Ethan, there’s no faking anything—in or out of the bedroom. With the sheets burning hot and the clock ticking on their arrangement, Rue realizes she’s falling for a man guaranteed to derail her goals…and break her heart.
***** EXCERPT #1 *****
Rue's brow furrowed. “This isn’t easy for you, is it?”
Against all odds, the knot in Ethan's chest loosened. “No. But it shouldn’t be this hard. Especially considering this isn’t personal.”
She blinked. “I saw you in your underwear. It’s personal.”
He cringed. “I need a do-over on that moment. And that’s not what I meant.” He withdrew one of his business cards from his wallet, which had fortunately been sheltered from the brunt of the spray that afternoon, and handed it to her. “I’ll run interference with Boyd, and I won’t sell your underwear. You try to keep a straight face when I introduce you to my family as my girlfriend, and don’t hold whatever my brothers say against me.”
She studied the card for a moment. When she looked up, her expression was serious. “Are you going to freak out next time I touch you?”
“I freaked out?” Hell yes, he had, though he’d merely frozen. She couldn’t know that his arm still tingled—even more so now that she’d actually said she was going to touch him again. He hadn’t expected that, but he should have. There was no way they’d pull off dating if he avoided physical contact.
“You sure you want to do this?”
The question had him thinking she could read him a little too well for his own good, but it wasn’t a stretch to think he’d have trouble with this step. If it was easy, he wouldn’t be negotiating with her.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m sure.” The words hurt to utter, but he’d get over it. He couldn’t begin to explain what seeing his parents’ joy had done for him. But he wouldn’t have to, because if Rue wanted to keep Boyd Von Whatever out of her hair, she needed him as much as he needed her. Once his family realized he was capable of moving on, they’d back off and let him do things his way, and with Rue leaving the city in just three weeks, he had the perfect out to this non-relationship. “I’m sure if you’re sure.”
“I think I can handle hanging out with you if it means getting Boyd off my back.”
“I’m glad it won’t be torture,” he said dryly.
“Oh, I didn’t say that.” Her gaze, intentionally or otherwise, took a slow tour south and lingered before she remembered where his face was. “It’ll be torture all right,” she said, blue eyes dancing. “The very best kind of torture, but if it means you’ll take me to the gala, you’re on.”
“Then it’s a date.” The words were harder than Ethan expected. He forced a smile as he let himself out of her house, but it fell as soon as the door shut behind him. He stared down the street, in the direction his life had once been and couldn’t help but wonder.
What the hell had he done?
***** EXCERPT #2 *****
Ethan studied the picture. It was him, smiling. An unfamiliar sight, he realized with a pang. Shaggy, who was so ugly she was almost cute, had her chin resting on his shoulder, her eyes rolled toward him in a plaintive, pleading expressing that was somehow as funny as it was pitiful. He gave Shaggy’s leathery skin a pat. Upon closer inspection, he found the dog did have a sparse patch of hair on her side, and he scratched it lightly. Her tail thumped a fast tempo.
“You guys are ganging up on me,” Ethan said. As he spoke, two of the puppies tumbled simultaneously from the basket. He and Rue made a grab for them at the same time, both of them missing. They bumped shoulders, and when Rue tipped to the side, he made a grab for her, only for them both to end up in a heap. In the immediate aftermath, no one moved, and he became blissfully, painfully aware of her warm curves pressed and nestled against him. It had been years since he’d felt that kind of body contact; and while guilt wasn’t the first emotion that hit him, it quickly followed, extinguishing all the warmth that preceded it.
Then the puppy assault began.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one lope, then tumble, landing in a tail-wagging, tongue-lapping ball of fur against Rue’s chin. She squealed and curled against Ethan, and he had little time to react before he felt a similar attack against his own cheek.
Until that moment, he’d forgotten just how ticklish he was.
Or how it felt to laugh. Really laugh.
By the time they extricated themselves from the ball of puppies, his face and stomach hurt in long-forgotten ways. He hadn’t felt so light in ages…at least not until his eyes met Rue’s, and an emotion he couldn’t identify socked him in the gut.
She smiled, and when his gaze tracked to her lips, he realized how close they were. Only inches separated them, and so few of those that he thought he felt her breath brush his face. Old feelings stumbled back from hidden corners of his heart. Like what it felt like for someone to look at him like that across a shared pillow, or to wake tangled in someone’s arms. But to his surprise, his mind’s eye hadn’t taken him back to Amy. Instead he saw Rue, blue eyes electric with laughter, mouth so perfect he couldn’t help but be drawn to it. Or her. He’d never met anyone like her. So much life. She made the somewhat smelly, decidedly unpolished back room of an animal shelter beautiful—not just because of how she looked, but for what she did.
“We should get back to work,” she said, breaking the moment. Not that it was a moment.
He’d probably freaked her out, staring at her like he had, but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t help wanting that absolute zest she had for everything in life. He thought of her sharks and volcanoes and penguins. Definitely everything.
Not the kind of woman any man could hold.
***** EXCERPT #3 *****
Ethan wanted to turn Rue around, to fold her into him and feel her heart beat against his chest, but that wouldn’t do anything to simplify matters. He couldn’t afford to feel this way about a woman who wasn’t going to stick around. He wasn’t sure he wanted to feel this way at all, but he was too intoxicated to care. Later he could blame it on the lack of oxygen.
Hell, who was he kidding? He’d blame himself. He always did.
So why don’t you own it?
He lowered his mouth to her ear. “Turn around.”
She looked over her shoulder at him. “What?”
He responded with his hands, drawing her in a tight circle until they faced one another. A dozen questions filled her eyes, and he ignored every one. He ignored everything but the woman who’d managed in a few short days to change his life. He ignored everything, for once, but what he wanted.
And he kissed her.
He nearly hit his knees when he felt the pleasure of those soft, sweet lips, but it was the way she fisted his shirt and held on that was his undoing. There they were, who knew how many feet above the ground, floating, and it was she who was the miracle. And he wanted more. So damned much more.
But he didn’t take it. He just held her, knowing all too soon she’d be gone. He didn’t miss the fact that she held him, too.
Or that in a matter of days, she’d be the one letting go. Hell, he needed that reminder he didn’t have to worry about good-bye.
That particular good-bye was a guarantee.
In that moment, however, it didn’t matter.
That moment was theirs.
The view had been stunning before, but now, looking into her eyes, he didn’t think he’d ever take a full breath again. His heart didn’t race. It held onto a slow, steady beat that told him he was grounded in a woman, in a moment, to which he had no right. But that didn’t stop him from wanting.
This time, it didn’t stop anything.
He threaded his fingers through her hair and cupped her head, then leaned down to kiss her again, and this time there wasn’t any hesitation. She responded with parted lips, inviting him to deepen the kiss before he had a chance to run from it. But he didn’t run. He lost himself in the seduction of her mouth, in the dizzying sensation of her warmth, of having her cling to him. It was all so foreign, like he’d never known passion or hunger or the all-consuming need to become a part of someone, to lose himself in a world made for two.
The truth was, he’d just never known Rue.
***** EXCERPT #4 *****
“You’re leaving,” he said softly. “The lines are there, and they’re nonnegotiable. Neither of us has to worry about falling…not when there’s nowhere to go.”
He said the words so matter-of-factly, like he hadn’t made her world turn and spin and dip and twist off its axis. It didn’t matter that he was denying anything between them because within that denial lived an admittance.
She hadn’t imagined this thing between them.
She was too dazed to resist when he pulled her close, not that she would have. Nope, that ship had long sailed, and by her estimate, it was headed straight for an iceberg...as if an iceberg stood a chance against the utter hotness that was Ethan Chase.
She barely heard the music, even though it was one of her favorite songs. She was too intoxicated by the sweet torture of his body as he held her. There was no way that kind of distance—or lack thereof—was mandatory for a public event. Hell, it wasn’t even appropriate for public. But it was so wholly, sweetly him. He really did pour his heart into everything he did, and she hoped one day he’d find a way to move on. He deserved that happiness more than anyone she knew.
Even if it would never be hers. Maybe especially so.
And he didn’t step on her feet. Not once.
“You clearly haven’t forgotten a thing,” she said, looking up at him.
“Actually, I’ve never gotten through a single dance without some sort of assault to a foot.”
“Maybe you just needed a break.”
“Maybe I just needed the right dance partner.”
Idiot. Wisely, she didn’t say the word out loud, but damn it all to hell. She took a step back, slipping from his arms. Gulping for air. “Look, while I absolutely love that you’re getting the hang of this woman in vicinity thing, you’re killing me. You’re making me ache in spots I didn’t know I had, and you’re setting fires I don’t know how to put out.” Ethan opened his mouth, but she cut him off before he could speak. “And trust me when I say I’m really enjoying it, but you don’t want pity, Ethan, so I’m not giving it to you. I’m not going to stand here and fall apart for the greater good because when the week is up, I’m going to have to find a way to pull myself together and get on a plane and leave all this behind.”
“I know we had an arrangement,” she ranted, “but this isn’t Broadway. We don’t throw down our scripts at the end of the week and just walk away. At least not me because I—”
He silenced her. He silenced the hell out of her with a kiss that went way past sweet and had them heading straight to the bedroom.
And then he shut the door.
The Three-Week Arrangement Playlist (Sarah Balance)
You Should Be Here – Cole Swindell
Confession – Florida Georgia Line
Kill the Lights – Luke Bryan
Too Fast – Jason Aldean
Staring at the Sun – Jason Aldean
***** EXCERPT #5 *****
The instant Rue hit the mattress, Ethan was there with her. Allowing enough distance to remove clothing nearly broke him, but none so much as the sight of her lying there, moonlight filtering through the open blinds, body open and receptive to him. A distant warning sounded, but he tossed it to the floor with his jeans and nudged between her legs.
“In the drawer by the bed,” she said. “Any day now.”
He laughed, and it hit him how happy he really was. Happy. Fucking hell, why did it have to be with her? With the woman he knew he’d never have? And shouldn’t. He squashed the thought, grabbed the condom, and was buried between her thighs before the second thoughts hit. He rolled into her, feeling raw and wild as he surged deep inside her while she tore at the sheets, fisting them again and again. His name was a plea on her lips, her body a torrent of surrender when he planted his hands on either side of her head and drove hard, rocking the bed against the wall while she begged for more. Begged for harder. He didn’t know anything like it. Never had. And when she shuddered and seized beneath him, she took him with her, pleasure exploding into bright points of light that left him dizzy and lost.
Lost. Yeah, there was a word for it.
He managed to fall to the side, sweat drenched, chest heaving, world turned upside down. Again. His lips stung with her kisses, and his blood ran like hell through his veins.
He could chase that feeling every day for the rest of his life.
“I get it,” he said. “I get why you’re leaving.”
She turned her head and, looking at him across the pillow, smiled, so soft and sweet he ached inside. Then she curled her fingers around his and ripped out his heart.
“My mother?” she asked with a grin.
“No. The rush. The freedom. I envy you, you know. The world is yours, and I don’t think you’re afraid of anything.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m not afraid.”
“But you know you’ll be okay.” And wasn’t that the damned difference? He squeezed her hand, then extricated himself from her touch and then her bed. She stared openly while he dressed, never once asking him to stay. That was who she was, though, and whether or not he appreciated it, he got it.
Not that it mattered.
She had a flight to catch.
He’d be better off to stop worrying about her and start figuring out how to get through the gala. Once that was over, he could go back to his safe, normal life. The one without the quirky, car-kicking brunette with the scary clown pajamas.
He’d be able to breathe again.
Whatever that was worth.
CHECK OUT THE OTHER BOOKS IN THE CHASE BROTHERS SERIES...
Synopsis: California landscape artist Estelle Donovan hates big cities. Between the grime, the smell, all the drab concrete, and the suffocating summer heat, how can anyone breathe? Housesitting her brother's New York apartment, complete with broken elevator and smoking air conditioner, is her kind of hell. It's only for two weeks, though. What could possibly go wrong?
Dumping a jar of pickles on the hot girl at the grocery store wasn't Crosby Chase's finest hour, nor was getting bitten in the butt by the demonic cat on her fire escape. But he is going to change her mind about his beloved city, damn it. In fact, if they could just make it five minutes without falling into bed, he bets Estelle he can find five things she'll love about New York.
Falling in love wasn't part of his plan. And with an entire country between them, Crosby realizes he doesn't need five reasons to make Estelle love New York.
He needs one big reason to make her stay...
Each book in the Chase Brothers series is a standalone, full-length story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Synopsis: Kelsie Reed is over bad luck and bad men. Newly dumped, she’s now the pathetically single maid of honor in her sister's wedding—and her ex is the best man. Her bad luck continues when a plumbing meltdown in her apartment sends her sexy neighbor running to her rescue. He’s got "serial dater" written all over him, which is unfortunate because the man is hot.
Sawyer Chase loves women, but settling down? He’ll leave that to his brothers. But when Kelsie confesses she’s a dating disaster and is about to become the laughing stock of her family wedding, Sawyer takes control. He's got one week to teach her how to land the man of her dreams, and he’ll do it on her terms: no touching, no kissing, and definitely nothing more.
But some rules need to be broken, especially when, for once, there’s something on the line worth fighting for…
ABOUT SARAH BALLANCE
Sarah and her husband of what he calls “many long, long years” live on the mid-Atlantic coast with their six young children, all of whom are perfectly adorable when they’re asleep. She never dreamed of becoming an author, but as a homeschooling mom, she often jokes she writes fiction because if she wants anyone to listen to her, she has to make them up. As it turns out, her characters aren’t much better than the kids, but nevertheless, you’ll find her writing sexy contemporary romance for Entangled Publishing until they throw her out. To learn more, visit http://sarahballance.com.