Title: Love Me Tender by Susan Fox
Caribou Crossing Series Book Five
Publisher: Zebra Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 359 pages
Pay a visit to Caribou Crossing, the rustic, inviting Western town where broken hearts mend and new love takes root…
Dave Cousins, owner of the Wild Rose Inn, is known throughout Caribou Crossing as the nicest–and loneliest–guy in town. He’s had his heart broken more than once, and he’s determined not to let it happen again. So it’s no wonder he’s wary when a free-spirited drifter leaves him longing for more than just a steamy fling…
Like the wild goose tattooed on her shoulder, Cassidy Esperanza goes wherever the wind takes her. For her, a new day means a fresh start. And yet something about her days in Caribou Crossing–and nights with its handsome hotel owner–makes her think about staying a while. But when life takes an unexpected turn, her first instinct is to take flight once more. Is Dave strong enough to help them both face their fears, come to terms with the past, and believe that sometimes love truly can last a lifetime?
Around eleven, Dave was at the front desk relieving Deepta, the receptionist who worked weekdays from six-thirty to two-thirty. He was trying to book opera tickets in Vancouver for guests who were heading there tomorrow, but the online system kept glitching. Frustrated he took a deep breath, unsnapped the cuffs of his Western shirt and rolled them up his forearms, and gave the system another go. It stalled again.
“Hi there,” a cheerful female voice said. “Anywhere around here I can get a good cappoch?”
“He looked up and his eyes widened with appreciation This had to be the guest in twenty-two, and yeah, she sure was pretty. Medium height, slim, nice curves shown off by shorts and a purple tank worn over something that had pink straps. He saw the Latina in her olive-toned skin and the shiny black hair cut short in a elfin-cap. Her black-lashed eyes were blue-gray and sparking, matching her white smile. She was the picture of health, he was relieved to see.
And that smile was irresistible. He smiled back. “That translate to cappuccino?”
Humor warmed her eyes. “What else?”
“Thought maybe you were talking about some weird mixed-breed dog, “ he drawled.
Her buble of laughter was musical and infectious. “No, it’s caffeine I need right now.” She yawned widely without covering her mouth.
It should have been unattractive but he had trouble imagining that anything this woman did would be unattractive. Something stirred inside him, a warm ripple through is blood. “Caffeine does come in handy now and then.”
“A double-shot capooch sure would.” She stuck a hand out. “I’m Cassidy. Cassidy Esperanza.”
With guests, he aimed for the personal touch, so he came out from behind the desk and extended his hand. ‘Dave Cousins.”
He spotted a tattoo on the cap of her right shoulder: a Canada goose flying across the moon. Striking, almost haunting.
Cassidy’s hand was like the rest of her: light brown, slender, attractive. Her shake was full of vitality. He shook a lot of hands in the course of a day, but this one felt particularly good in his – and now the ripple in his veins was a tingle of awareness. No, more than awareness; he was aware of lots of appealing women. This was attraction.
His heart – the part of it that could fall in love – had died three years ago. His body hadn’t, but he had zero desire to follow up on any hormonal stirrings.
So why was it so difficult to free his hand from his guest’s? “Best coffee in town’s right here.” A couple of the coffee shops did a fine job too, but for some reason he wanted to keep Cassidy Esperanza at the Wild Rose. “Good food too, if you’re hungry.”
“Cool.” She gave another of those huge yawns, stretched her arms up, and raked her fingers through that cap of hair, ruffling it. Normally, he preferred long hair on women, but that pixie cap suited Cassidy’s slightly exotic face.
“I’m awake,” she said with a quick laugh, eyes dancing as she studied his face. “I swear I am. Got a good sleep too. Don’t know why I’m yawning.” Her face sobered. “Before I do anything, I need to talk with the manager.”
“Let me guess, you’re twenty-two.”
“Twenty-two?” She shook her head slightly, looking confused. “No, I’m twenty-seven. What a weird question.”
“Sorry I mean room twenty-two. The woman who came in last night and…” He paused, curious to see what she’d say.
“Did a face-plant?” She raised her brows ruefully. “You heard about that? Yeah, that’s me. Totally embarrassing. But the guy on the desk was great. Only problem is…” She pressed her full, pink lips together, then released them. “Can I confide in you? Maybe you can give me some advice.”
He dragged his gaze from her lips. “Uh, sure.”
“The nice guy gave me a room last night, and food, but the thing is, I don’t have money to pay. I came in to get warm and see if someone could point me towards a hostel, and next thing I knew I was on the floor and this guy was” – she broke off and grinned with the memory – “waking me up with a wiff of whisky. Which tasted delicious, and I guess I owe for that too, now that I think of it.”
“Look – “
“No, I realize I owe for the room and everything, and this is a classy place so it won’t be cheap. But the thing is, I’m pretty much broke.”
He opened his mouth, but she rushed on again. “I swear I won’t cut out on you. I was going to look for a job in Caribou Crossing anyway, and as soon as I get one and have some money, I’ll pay up. But it might take a few days and I’d sure understand if the manager was mad. So if you could give me any tips on how to deal with him, I’d really appreciate it.”
As best he could tell, she was sincere. “Tell him the truth. And you did. I’m the owner of the Wild Rose.”
“Oh! My gosh, I didn’t realize. Wow. You don’t look old enough.”
He’d heard that before. “Just turned thirty.”
She studied him again, lips curving. “Gotta love a hotel where the owner wears jeans and cowboy boots.”
“It’s part of our ambience.”
She glanced around the lobby. “Yeah, it’s kind of a cool blend of Old West and Santa Fe. That room – twenty-two – is awesome. That four-poster canopy bead with all the ruffles and flounces, the stool to climb up into it. I was worried when I saw the chamber pot, but then I realized it was for decoration and there was a real bathroom. Claw-foot tub and all.”
Canopy bed. Claw-foot tub. Slim, vibrant, Sext Cassidy. Physical stirrings below the belt had him giving a mental head-shake. He would never fool around with an inn guest. In the past three years, he’d pretty much figured he’d never fool around again. If he wanted female companionship, he had platonic friends. Casual sex wasn’t his thing, and love wasn’t going to happen. Anita had been the love of his life. His heart belonged to her, and always would.
And there he went thinking of her again. The familiar sense of desolation threatened, but somehow the grin Cassidy tilted towards him countered it.
“So, Dave Cousins, Mr. Owner, want to have breakfast with me? I’ll run my tab even higher and you can tell me where I might find work.”
Though he liked being friendly and informal with guests, he kept it professional. Occasionally, he joined them for a drink or a coffee, but not often. This time he was tempted – against his better judgment. There was something about Cassidy that made him feel…lighter.
Award-winning, international best-selling author Susan Fox (who also writes as Savanna Fox and Susan Lyons) is a Pacific Northwester with homes in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. She has degrees in law and psychology, and has had a variety of careers, including perennial student, computer consultant, and legal editor. Fiction writer is by far her favorite, giving her an outlet to demonstrate her belief in the power of love, friendship, and a sense of humor. Visit her at her website.
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