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Authors: Desiree Holt

Hard Lovin'

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Hard Lovin’

Desiree Holt

Erin Braddock, daughter of wealthy and powerful rancher Rance Braddock, has been to hell and back. So has wandering cowboy minstrel Grady Sinclair. But the moment they meet, chemistry ignites, erasing everything else. The sex is scorching, explosive, addictive. They can’t get enough of each other. The same talented fingers that coax seductive music from Grady’s guitar coax powerful orgasms from Erin’s body.

Seduced by his music as well as the sinfully sexy man himself, Erin runs away with Grady. Each night she sits in the bar listening as his come-to-me voice promises erotic delights he more than delivers on when they’re back in their room. But one day soon the past will catch up with them.

Ellora’s Cave Publishing

www.ellorascave.com

Hard Lovin’

ISBN 9781419933936

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Hard Lovin’ Copyright © 2011 Desiree Holt Edited by Helen Woodall Cover art by Syneca Electronic book publication May 2011

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.

HARD LOVIN’

Desiree Holt

Dedication

To my very own personal hero, who dared me to be myself.

Acknowledgments

The Gypsy Rover: a traditional Irish folk song dating back to the 1600s.

Trademarks Acknowledgement

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:

National Guard: Army National Guard agency of the United States government Texas Rangers: State of Texas Department of Public Safety Walmart: Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Chapter One

Gypsy rover came over the hill, down through the valley so shady

He whistled and he sang ’til the greenwoods rang and he won the heart of a lady

Erin Braddock slipped into the dark bar through the back door, squinted against the darkness and found her way to a tiny booth in the corner. The area was so small a second person would be hard pressed to find room in the space but that suited her just fine. She hadn’t come here looking for company. Unless it was the cowboy up on the postage-stamp-sized stage, alone in the spotlight with his guitar and his smoky voice.

Ebony black hair curled down to the nape of his neck and a work shirt and worn jeans clung to his lean body like a second skin. The muscles in his arm flexed as he picked at the strings of the guitar, coaxing a tune from it.

The lights were dim in the smoky club, a sea of black with only himself in the searing white glow of the spotlight. The air was heavy with expectation as he strummed the melody of a love song that whipped its sound over the crowd only to slow like the stroke of a lover’s caress.

You are so out of your mind for doing this.

So what else was new?

She’d just had to get out of the house. Away from the ranch. Away from…everyone.

Away from the houseful of people all gathered to celebrate a wedding tomorrow.

Hers.

A wedding she didn’t want.

The memories of the nightmare with Cal hadn’t yet faded and her father, the far- too-wealthy Rance Braddock was, if nothing else, like a tidal wave that swallowed people up. He was suffocating her with his protective kindness. And then there was T.J.

Elliott, her father’s choice for a “safe” and well-connected husband. A way to guarantee her future. No danger there.

Not like Cal, the worst mistake she’d ever made. And she’d wanted safe. Needed it.

Her father and T.J. treated her like some child too fragile to be let out on her own. Well, maybe she was. Look what she’d gotten herself into. And didn’t want to get out of, until she’d had no other choice. Now, at thirty, she suddenly didn’t seem to be able to put one foot in front of the other anymore.

Until now.

The bad part about being rescued from a situation like the one she’d been in was people were afraid to take their eyes off you. She didn’t even seem to have the strength to tell them they could look away. She went along to get along, letting herself be swept up in a courtship she didn’t want and a wedding suddenly bearing down on her like a tornado.

She’d come to the bar a few nights ago with her girlfriends who had practically dragged her out of the house.

“Have fun,” her father said.

“You’ll be fine with the girls,” T.J. told her. He’d kissed her on the cheek and teased, “Last night out before becoming Mrs. Elliott.”

She was safe with her friends. Girl’s night out was okay. Both her father and T.J. had relaxed.

But her friend Lili had whispered in her ear, “Wait until you see Grady Sinclair.

He’s hot, hot, hot. And his music!” Lili rolled her eyes. “Just listening to him makes your pussy get wet and your nipples poke like diamonds.”

Erin had shivered, skeptical but hopeful. She didn’t think she’d ever have that reaction again. Or want it. The best thing about T.J. was he was nonthreatening. She could always fake orgasms. She’d become a very good actress living with Cal.

So she’d let them coax her out and come to Smoky’s with them and damn but Lili was right. Wrapped in the almost mystical cloak of the music that drifted to her from the stage she’d felt stirrings that she’d thought long dead. Responses she didn’t think she was capable of anymore. And then she’d come back with them. Again and again, to hear the troubadour with eyes an incredible blue and a rugged face, drawn by the clear, mesmerizing notes of his songs and the sadness in his voice.

Tonight when the reality of what was happening in her life crashed in on her, when she’d felt herself squeezed by the juggernaut rolling over her, she suddenly had to get out, get away. For once no one’s eyes were on her. Her father and T.J. were both busy in the mob of guests with their pre-wedding celebration. How easy it had been to slip into the kitchen and out the back door. With all the vehicles coming and going no one paid attention to another tuck pulling out of the driveway.

And she’d headed straight here like a homing pigeon, to the cowboy minstrel whose music gave her the first real pleasure she’d ever known. A pleasure all her own.

So now here she sat, listening to him sing about love lost, a heart broken. Cruelty. Well, she certainly knew about that.

The waitress came by and she ordered a soft drink. She didn’t drink alcohol anymore. Not since…

Don’t go there. Do. Not. Go. There.

The song ended and he moved right into the next one. This was about loving and being free, about giving and being given, and something in the words unlocked a part of her she’d kept stored away. Freed the emotional cage she’d been keeping herself in.

Free. That’s what she needed to be. And the ranch and T.J. would never give her that.

She saw it so clearly now. It had been eight months since she’d come home to the ranch.

Eight months away from Cal. Eight months of counseling and pampering and dealing with her own responsibilities for what happened.

Tonight she’d run because she didn’t want to exchange one kind of prison for another. And she’d come here because just maybe she saw Grady Sinclair as that first step on the road to freedom.

Applause broke her concentration, and she realized the song had ended. The sound of clapping filled the space left by the absence of music, but the heat of his voice still filled her ears. Yes, she’d done the right thing coming here. She closed her eyes to recapture the feeling the song had given her, the melody playing again in her mind.

“Okay if I sit here? Or are you waiting for someone?”

For a moment she thought she’d imagined him speaking to her she was still so focused on the song. But a warm hand touched her wrist lightly, she looked up, and those dark eyes were fastened directly on her. She was stunned that she didn’t feel the least bit of fear with him. Especially after…

Don’t go there.

She realized he was waiting for an answer and she tried a tentative smile, amazingly soothed by his touch.

“No. I mean, yes.” She wet her lips. “No, I’m not waiting for someone and yes, you can sit here.”

“I saw you when you came in with your friends the past few nights.” The waitress brought him a bottle of beer, ice-cold drops still sliding down the side of the glass. “I thought how beautiful you looked. How I wished you’d come back by yourself.” He smiled, a crooked grin that made every pulse in her body pound with sudden fierceness. “And here you are.”

Yes, here she was. Shaky and calm at the same time.

For one brief moment panic coursed through her but it disappeared as quickly as it came. His scent, a mixture of earth and musk, drifted tantalizingly across her nostrils.

And his eyes. A deep blue, like the shifting colors of a stormy sea. Eyes that ate her up, but also held shadows of sorrow and pain.

“I…like your music.”
It helps me find escape. And calls to me
.

“I’m glad.” He took a long pull at the bottle, the muscles of his throat working as he swallowed the liquid.

“I love your whole show, in fact. You’re very good.”

“Thanks.”

“Have you been doing this a long time?”

He shrugged. “Some might say.”

“Where are you from?” she wanted to know. His drawl was definitely Texas.

He shrugged. “Here and there.”

“No, I mean originally,” she persisted.

“Just a place.”

Someplace he obviously didn’t want to talk about. Erin could certainly relate to that.

“You just wander from place to place?”

It must be nice to have no one to answer to, nothing to tie you down. Able to make your own decisions.

For a moment she was seized with a fit of jealousy but she smothered it. What she should be feeling guilty about was sitting here talking to the first man she felt comfortable with since that day in the hospital, instead of being back at the ranch getting ready for her wedding.

“That’s right. Wherever there’s a gig. I can walk away any time I want.” He drank some more of the beer.

Must be nice. I’m thirty years old—almost thirty one—and I don’t think I’ve ever really
been able to do that.

“You look so sad and lonely sitting here,” he commented, his gaze a caress on her skin. “Are you okay?”

Was she? Not by a long shot. But somehow, sitting in this bar, listening to Grady Sinclair, everything else fell away and this became her only reality. She’d thought never to trust a man again, not one who made her body respond in any way. Never put herself in danger that way. But something about Grady Sinclair said, “You can trust me.” It was the damndest thing, but she had a feeling she could. Either he was a rare find or she was losing her mind.

“Hey.” His voice was soft, cutting through her fog.

She realized he’d asked her a question. Was she all right?

She shrugged and fiddled with her glass, wondering how long it would be before she was missed at the house. Before her father and T.J. began cross-examining everyone. Her bridesmaids, especially Lili. Mounting an all-out search for her.

BOOK: Hard Lovin'
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