When this review site was started Erin Nicholas was one of the first authors to throw her support our way. She has never hesitated to share her stories with us, so I’m super excited to share the last book in her Sapphire Falls series. I do have to admit this one is probably one of my favorite books by her just because the hero and heroine are sooooo much fun. The scene I’m sharing is one of my absolute favorites, Travis and Lauren have joined all the other people their age at the river and Travis is determined to resist Lauren’s charms.
Then she started dancing. And singing. To Brad Paisley.
And she knew every word.
That song was new enough that it told Travis that Dr. Davis listened to country music. At least some of the time.
He didn’t want to have things in common with her. He especially didn’t want to have country music in common with her. That was big stuff. Important stuff. Like religion.
Music said a lot about a person, and he had a hard time not liking someone who loved country.
If she could sing along to Kip Moore, he was going to have to be nice to her. If she could sing Johnny Cash he might have to call her ma’am instead of darlin’. A woman who knew Johnny deserved more respect than he’d been showing Lauren so far.
On top of all of that, she looked damned good moving that long, tight body to fiddle music next to a campfire.
He wasn’t sure she was exactly moving to the beat, but his body didn’t care. She was moving. Apparently, that was all it took to make every inch of him want every inch of her. Sure, singing to Brad didn’t hurt. Well, that and the denim cut off nice and short. But the way she moved made him think about a little secluded spot just up the river.
He knew he should sit back and let someone else approach her, dance with her, share the secret mosquito repellent. But as she swatted at another bite on her shoulder, he found himself across the sand and practically on top of her, a T-shirt in one hand and a palmful of bug repellent in the other.
“You’re going to get eaten alive.”
She stopped moving and looked at him. And licked her lips.
God, he hadn’t meant by him, but suddenly that seemed like a hell of an idea.
“Here. You need to cover some of that skin up.” He pulled the T-shirt she’d returned to him over her head. Maybe that would help the mosquitos and him leave her alone.
She looked down and recognized it. “You really want me to have this shirt.” She put her arms through the sleeves and tied the bottom again so it hugged her flat stomach just above the curve of her hips.
“As much as I like the bikini top look, it’s gettin’ dark and you’re gonna be one big bug bite tomorrow if you’re not careful.”
All of the other women who partied with them at the river knew this and had not only brought clothes to pull on after the sun went down, but each had a jar of the magic mosquito repellent—the recipe for which was a Sapphire Falls secret, passed down in the Bennett family from generation to generation—in with their stuff.
“Well, thanks for your concern,” she said. She hesitated just a second before trying to turn away.
It was that hesitation that made him react. That hesitation that said she couldn’t dismiss him quite as quickly and easily as she’d like him to believe.
Travis reached out and took her arm. “There’s more.”
Head-to-toe itching the next day might keep her away from their parties in the future, which could be a good thing. He honestly didn’t give her much thought when she wasn’t around. She wasn’t his type. She wasn’t a friend or a relative. They had nothing in common. There was no reason to think about her.
But when she was around, he seemed unable to think about anything else. He’d been distracted all night. Not that he needed to pay close attention to keep up with most of the conversation around the fire. It was the same stuff—baseball, the town festival, a few new calves, some new truck tires. But Lauren had occupied most of his attention since she’d shown up with Phoebe. She’d taken two long draws on his bottle of Booze before she’d let Phoebe drag her around the party site and introduce her to the gang.
He’d been watching, cataloguing the ways she didn’t fit in, taking note of the things she did and said differently from the country girls he was used to—the girls like the one he expected to end up with one of these days. She didn’t know anything about NASCAR, she admitted she didn’t watch cooking shows and she didn’t read romance novels. It was like she was blaspheming right to their faces.
But the women didn’t cast her out. They didn’t laugh at her or give her any attitude.
Instead, they were fascinated to hear about the tree-nut oil she’d discovered on a trip to the Middle East that worked wonders on hair, skin and nails. She’d promised to send some bottles from Chicago when she went home next. And they were a rapt audience when she told them about a lunch she’d had in LA with the head of Outreach America—the group she worked with on her trips to Haiti—and Angelina Jolie.
Lauren was still staring up at him and he kept the eye contact as he held up the hand where he’d poured some of the bug repellent.
Okay, so lunch with Angelina Jolie was kind of cool.
“This will save all that sweet skin.” He rubbed his hands together, spreading the oil out and warming it. The scent of vanilla, the key ingredient, floated up.
Lauren didn’t move back as he reached out and slid a hand under each of the shirt sleeves. He dragged his hands from her shoulders to her hands and then up again.
“It smells sweet. How will this help?” she asked.
Was her voice a little husky?
“Mosquitos don’t like vanilla,” he said with a shrug. “You should put some on your legs too.” And he’d happily help. But that was a bad idea, and he somehow kept from saying that out loud.
Yes, her voice was definitely a little husky.
He tamped down the surge of pleasure at that realization and turned back for his truck.
Lauren followed. She hoisted herself up onto the tailgate and reached for the bottle of alcohol he’d let her sample before. She took two long drinks of the strawberry-flavored liquid.
He should probably warn her about the kick the stuff had. It was a carefully guarded—though surely not complicated—recipe of alcohol and local fruits. They simply called it Booze and you couldn’t find it anywhere outside of Sapphire Falls.
It was good. And it was strong.
So he should warn her.
In a minute.
Seeing Lauren Davis tipsy was already interesting—and that was the only explanation for her singing and dancing and being nice to everyone. Seeing her flat out drunk would be…very interesting.
“This is so good,” she said after swallowing.
It really was. It also cleared the sinuses and could burn the lining right out of your stomach.
“You like it?”
“I do. It makes me feel…warm,” she told him. “And it makes the conversation about truck tires more tolerable.”
At that her eyes went wide and she thrust the bottle at him.
“Here, I can’t drink anymore.”
Travis took the bottle. “Why’s that?”
“This is not about things being more tolerable. I need to be irritated by all of this.”
Travis chuckled and tipped the bottle back for a drink of his own. He swallowed, letting the booze burn its familiar trail down his throat. “Girl, you seem perpetually irritated.”
“Well, yeah, when you’re around. Because you irritate me.”
“No kidding,” he muttered. She irritated the hell out of him too. At least usually. When she wasn’t giving advice to one of his friends on women or sharing her miraculous skin-care secrets with the girls in Sapphire Falls like they were BFFs.
She’d rolled her eyes twice that evening—that he’d noticed—and that was a little annoying. She’d snorted in derision at least once. But she’d also laughed. And danced and sang—to country music.
Maybe she was human after all.
Maybe the Booze was the key.
He needed to pour more into her if that was the case, because it looked like she was staying for the duration of the party.
If the talk about the dead rats Marcus had found in his barn and the conversation about the guy they all knew from Pierce, a town just up the road, chopping off three fingers on his left hand hadn’t done her in, she was probably staying.
Travis handed her the vanilla oil for her legs and then got busy studying the fire instead of watching her apply it. At least, he was mostly studying the fire. Problem was, his peripheral vision worked just fine.
She pulled her foot up and rubbed oil into the long expanse of skin between the hem of her shorts and her crimson-red-tipped toes. “Do you know what’s going on in Ukraine right now?”
He resisted looking over at her. Her leg pulled up like that demonstrated that she was pretty flexible. And she was now going to smell like vanilla. Neither were real turn-offs. “Huh?”
“Ukraine. The country. It’s in Eastern Europe.”
Okay, now he had to be careful. That was also irritating about having her at the party tonight. He had to keep up the dumb-farmer thing he had going. He’d gotten some strange looks from his friends over the course of the evening.
“What about it?” he asked.
“Do you know what’s going on over there? Between them and Russia?”
Travis shifted on the tailgate. He did know. At least the basics. But was world politics common campfire conversation? No. Definitely not.
“We can Google it on my phone if you want,” he offered, digging his phone out of his pocket.
Lauren seemed to sigh in relief. She switched legs, rubbing the oil along the second long, silky expanse of skin that Travis refused to notice.
Just like he refused to notice the tiny pink butterfly tattoo on her ankle.
“No, that’s okay,” Lauren said. “I was just wondering what you knew off the top of your head.”
“Is it important that I know about what’s going on in Ukraine?” he asked, finally letting himself glance at her fully.
What was going through her pretty, brilliant head?
She looked at him with a big smile. “As a matter of fact, it’s important that you not know.”
“Well, then I’d say we’re just fine.” It was definitely safe to say that the things he didn’t know about Ukraine outnumbered the things he did know.
She sighed again. Undeniably, a happy sound. “That’s what I thought.”
She finished applying the oil, lifted her hands to her nose and breathed in. “Wow, wonder if my boutique in Chicago would have something like this.”
Travis didn’t say anything, but the word boutique made him tense for some reason. People here didn’t talk about—or go to—boutiques. They went to stores.
Lauren sat facing the fire, her legs swinging off the end of his tailgate, smelling like vanilla, and Travis really wished she’d go…somewhere else. Back to Chicago would be great. But even to the other side of the campfire would be helpful.
Why’d he have to save her from the mosquitos?
“I can’t believe you all do this every weekend,” she said after a few blissfully quiet seconds.
He glanced at her. “People in Chicago don’t have a good time with their friends on the weekends?”
She smiled. “I mean this. The same spot, the same beer, the same people. The same conversations, I’ll bet.”
Travis didn’t say anything.
“Seriously.” She turned partially toward him. “How many times have you heard that story about the time Drew rescued the three-legged dog from the drainage ditch?”
Travis shrugged. “I was there when it happened.”
She rolled her eyes. Again. “And how tall has that tale gotten over the years?”
Well, the dog had had four legs as far as Travis could remember. “What’s your point, Doc? You don’t like it? I’ll take you home right now.”
“My point,” Lauren said, “is that there is a great big wide world out there. It’s full of new people to meet, new things to eat and drink, new stories and traditions to hear, new things to learn.”
Travis reigned in the urge to snap at her. “I guess I’m just lucky that I found the corner of the world I like best at an early age.”
She didn’t reply right away, and when he glanced at her, she was staring at him with wide eyes. “You really believe that this is the best place on earth?”
He really, really did. But he didn’t expect her to understand. “I really hate when you talk,” he told her bluntly.
She looked intrigued by that. “About what?”
“Pretty much everything you talk about, honestly.”
His mom had raised him to be nice to women. To be respectful. To be polite. But she’d also raised him to love this land and these people and this way of life. He knew that if she was here right now talking to Lauren, she’d be defending all of it too.
Rather than look offended, Lauren nodded. “I feel the same way about you.”
Yeah, he wasn’t shocked to hear that. “We have something in common then.”
“Yep. That and wanting to sleep together.”
He arched an eyebrow. The doctor was full of herself.
She grinned. “Come on. You do too.”
He took a casual swig of beer from the can he held. “You’re so sure?”
“You sure didn’t like your brother hitting on me earlier.”
He hadn’t. But he hated that it bugged him. And that she knew it.
“Just because I don’t want to watch him drool over you, doesn’t mean anything about how I feel about you.”
She just looked at him as she tipped the Booze bottle again.
“What?” he finally asked.
“Just wondering if you have any dumb dog stories.”
“Stories about dumb dogs? Or dumb stories about dogs?” he asked.
Probably. “Why do you ask?”
“’Cause,” she said, emphasizing the word with a fake drawl. “When yer talkin’, I don’t wanna kiss ya’.”
Her country twang was sad. And he had to work not to smile.
“And when I’m just sittin’ here, mindin’ my own business?” he asked, putting extra emphasis on his drawl as well.
“I have the urge to risk some bug bites in some very uncomfortable places.”
Travis Bennett is exactly the kind of guy Lauren Davis has been avoiding for the past nine years. Religiously. Stubbornly. Successfully. She knows too well how easy it is to let lust ruin perfectly laid plans. And a small town farmer with no ambitions beyond the borders of his own cornfield is not going to change her mind. She’s got important stuff to do. Her company is literally working to stop world hunger. Her plans are much bigger than Sapphire Falls. No matter how hot those farmers might be.
The problem is—Lauren is falling in love. With Sapphire Falls. To kick her sudden desire to buy a welcome mat and start baking pies, she asks Travis to help her get over her crush. She wants him to show her what life in the small town is really like behind all the sweetness and sunshine and remind her that there’s no place for French manicures and Gucci heels on the farm.
Travis has everything he wants or needs—a quiet, simple life in his hometown, a successful farm and his friends and family all around. A hoity-toity city chick who looks down on everything from the local coffee to his favorite music is the last girl he wants sticking around. So he agrees to her crazy plan. He can definitely show her the less-than-glitzy, rough-around-the-edges side of Sapphire Falls. In fact, things just might get downright dirty.