My Giveaway is a $10 Amazon gift card My latest release is Snowbound. To enter the giveaway, answer the question, What did Lacey find in her tip jar. The answer can be found by reading the first chapter (Hint-highlighted in Pink)
After two failed marriages, blues singer Lacey Pine took to living a vagabond musician’s existence until she inherited her grandmother’s lodge in Crystal River, Wyoming, where Dane Richardson and a fateful snowstorm are about to show her the best reason to settle down.
Blues singer Lacey Pine is unlucky in love and has the emotional battle scars to prove it. Men have become transient dalliances, untrustworthy for more than a night or two, so when she inherits her grandmother’s rundown lodge in the hills of Crystal River, Wyoming, Lacey considers renovating and staying…or selling. Either way, she’s in this alone and means to stay that way.
TURNING UP THE HEAT
Dane Richardson had it all, a successful military career and the woman of his dreams, until the ravages of war nearly cost him his leg. Discharged and disabled, abandoned by his girl, Dane finds himself adrift on the sea of life—until he takes a wintry trip to Crystal River, Wyoming, where a foolish moment of self-pity and a fierce snowstorm turn trying to keep warm into the best thing that ever happened to him. Now he just has to convince Lacey Pine that he’s worth risking her heart.
“Make me a miracle, push back the night, free me to love again. Make it all right.”
In the dimly lit dining room of the Mountain Pass Tavern, Lacey Pine stood in front of a microphone, center stage, within the circle of a spotlight. She was grateful she couldn’t see the audience staring at her, freeing her to pour her heart and soul into her newly penned blues song.
When her voice, heavy with emotion, faltered slightly, she leaned over her electric guitar and the instrument took over—wailing its sensual response. Playing guitar was like making love. She became one with the music. The small, but enthusiastic, audience cheered wildly.
The sound filled her soul with warmth she only felt while performing. Music transported her to a different consciousness. Where would she be without her songs?
For the grand finale, she pulled out all the stops, flipping her long hair over her shoulder, she started an intricate blues riff. Her fingers moved freely over the frets.
“Another beer,” a loud male voice boomed from the bar.
The disruption caused her to hesitate. She jerked her head in the direction of the voice but couldn’t decipher which customer was the culprit. For an instant, she lost the rhythm of the melody. She closed her eyes, blocking out the disturbance, and refocused. Within seconds, she was back on track, back in the zone.
When her set ended, she scanned the audience, making eye contact with everyone who’d braved the snowstorm to come to the club. She wanted them to know how much their attendance was appreciated. Relatively new in town, she managed to spot a few familiar faces, which made her smile.
She’d moved to Crystal River, Wyoming because she’d inherited a run-down lodge from her grandmother. And since arriving, Lacey had spent most of her time renovating the beast. Once the work was complete, she planned to sell it and move on. “Thank you. I hope you liked the show,” she said.
The audience shouted their congratulations for delivering another top-notch performance. A shiver ran over her skin. God, she loved her job.
“Before saying good night, I’d like to acknowledge the house band. The best musicians I’ve ever worked with.” And she meant it. “Most of you grew up with these guys, but for the folks that might not know them…” She pointed to the bearded drummer. “On drums, Jimmy Burns. Todd Taylor on bass. On keyboard, his twin brother, Damon, who also sings harmony.” The thirty-something twins, covered in tattoos, drew a round of catcalls. “Sorry, ladies, but they’re taken.” The musicians waved and took exaggerated bows.
She, along with the audience, applauded.
“Be safe driving home. Take special care on the highways. If you had a good time tonight, you won’t want to miss the New Year’s Eve show. I’ve been invited back, and we’re planning a special evening with lots of surprises.” She thrust out her chest to show off her brand new Sammy West T-shirt. “Can’t mention any names,” she said, pointing to Sammy’s likeness on the front of her shirt, “but we’re expecting a big crowd-pleaser. If you want a table, you’d better come early. Thanks, everyone. Love you all.”
“‘Jingle Bells’,” a woman shouted. “I want to hear ‘Jingle Bells’.”
Why not end the show on a high note? Everyone was having a good time. Lacey glanced at the band. Damon pounded out the opening notes on his keyboard and, along with Lacey, started a raucous rendition of the popular holiday song.
The customers stormed the stage. After a dozen too many choruses, she held up her hand, signaling Damon to stop playing.
“Aw, come on,” a man said. Others joined his protest.
“Sorry, everyone. But that’s it for tonight. Mick needs to close the dining room, and the band has families waiting for them at home. Have a great holiday week and come back for the big New Year’s Eve party.”
She turned off her mic, unplugged her guitar, and set it on the stand next to the drum set before heading over to pick up her tip jar from the front of the stage.
The jar was nearly full; a welcome surprise, considering the heavy snowstorm brewing outside. The band was anxious to get on the road, but she couldn’t let them leave without doling out their portion of the tips. While they packed up their gear, she set the tip jar on top of a waist-high speaker and turned her back to the empty room. She counted the bills and handed each musician their share. She set the jar on the floor.
“Here you go.” Damon handed her a bottle of water.
“Thanks.” After she took a healthy pull, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Can you keep an eye on my tips while I go to the ladies’ room?”
When she returned to the stage, the musicians were in their ski jackets, ready to take off. She gave them each a hug and thanked them once more.
As she watched them leave, she couldn’t help but smile at her good fortune when she’d stumbled upon the Mountain Pass Tavern. It was a place that offered good food, good booze, and better friends. Standing center stage, she glanced at the tip jar tucked away in the corner. She smiled. The tavern was also a place of good tips.
As she made her way to the jar, something caught her eye. Beneath a blanket of dollar bills sat a black box. A small velvet box. She scanned the near-empty dining area and the crowded bar, wondering who’d left it. Were they watching her to see her reaction? But no one looked her way or even appeared interested.
Holding the jar close to her chest, she raced back into the restroom—away from prying gazes—to take a look at what was inside the small box. To ensure privacy, she slipped into a stall and secured the door behind her. She closed the lid on the commode, sat down, and held the jar on her lap. After drawing in a steadying breath, she dug into the jar, swiped the bills aside and scooped out the velvet box.
She opened the lid. “Holy shit,” she said in a hoarse whisper. An engagement ring. Emerald cut, half caret—at least. Lacey’s heart raced. What the hell was she supposed to do with a ring? No way could she keep it. She snapped the box shut and stuffed it into the front pocket of her jeans, grabbed up the jar then stepped out of the stall and made a hasty exit before anyone walked in.
Her entire singing career, she’d had some good nights and some bad, but she’d never received an engagement ring. Who would have left such an expensive ring as a tip? Or was dropping it in the jar a joke?
Either way, she had to return it. But first, she needed to find out which customer had left such a costly piece of jewelry. Most of the customers were regulars and she knew that none of them would have left such a gorgeous ring, or could even afford it.
After transferring her tips to a pouch, she zipped and dropped it next to her makeup in a large canvas tote. If she didn’t hurry, the tipper might escape without her finding out who’d gifted the pretty sparkler.
She left the empty jar onstage, and with the tote slung over her shoulder, she sashayed to the bar. “I’d like to thank the person who left me the generous tip.” Three couples and a half-dozen single men occupied the bar stools. Their blank gazes left the wall-mounted TV and moved to her. “Any suggestions on how I’m supposed to split such a gratuity with the band?”
No one answered. One person shrugged. Getting no further reaction, she said, “Never mind.”
Without a flicker of interest, the customers turned on their stools to refocus their attention on the news.
A man about thirty sat at a small table in the back of the room. Rugged-looking. Unshaven, with unruly blond hair framing his alluring face. A solitary empty beer mug sat in the middle of the table.
She caught a raised eyebrow on the stranger’s face. Could he be the big tipper? Their gazes locked, and he turned to stare out the window. Suddenly, the snowfall seemed like the most interesting thing going on.
Intrigued, and being a neighborly sort, she ambled over. Stopping opposite him, she rested her palms on the table. “You’re new around here, aren’t you?”
He looked up, his dark eyes sparkling with interest. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Just passing through,” he slurred slightly. Not blitzed, but not entirely sober either.
“On your way to…?” His bleary gaze swept from her eyes to her breasts and remained there.
Assessing her? Hair stood up on the back of her neck. The fellow obviously had had too much to drink. Not appreciating him staring at her chest, she crossed her arms to obstruct his view. “What brings you to our fair city?”
He narrowed his eyes and licked his lips. “You.”
She snorted. “Ha. You don’t even know me.” A player, she decided. A sexy one. The most dangerous kind. Just what she didn’t need. But somehow, she couldn’t tear herself away.
Feeling uncomfortable, and surprisingly aroused, her mind scrambled for a new topic before it turned to “let’s-go-to-bed.” Maybe if she kept him talking, he’d admit that he’d left the ring. “How did you like the show?”
Leaning back in his chair, he nodded. “Very…very…much.”
“This may seem like an odd question, but I need to ask you something.” She pulled the ring box from her pocket but kept it concealed in her hand. “Did you leave an item of value in the tip jar?”
“Define…‘item of value’.” She opened her hand and revealed the ring box.
“I’d like to buy you a drink,” he said without batting an eye.
“All you had to do is ask. I can’t accept this.” She dropped the ring box on the table. Had he just broken off an engagement? Was his proposal refused? Either way, she didn’t want the ring. “I don’t know you. I don’t even know your name.”
“That’s irrelevant. I like your singing.” He pointed at the box. “Consider it a tip.”
“A much-too-generous tip.” She shoved the ring box at him. “It’s beautiful. But I’m sorry. I can’t accept it.”
He pushed it back. “Keep it.” A twinge of hostility sounded in his voice.
“It looks like it’s worth a lot of money,” she said. “If you don’t want to keep it, hock it. Or sell it on eBay. Get something for it. Don’t just give it away.”
“If you don’t accept it as…appreciation…for your fine voice, I’ll give it…to someone else.”
She stifled a gasp. “If you don’t mind me asking—”
“I do mind.” He pulled out the chair next to his and patted the seat. “Sit. I wanna buy you a drink.”
Reluctantly, she grabbed the chair and moved it farther away. Since her divorces, she’d surprised herself by her boldness—and bravery. Or stupidity. She eased herself into the chair and set her tote on the floor. Why was she always picking up strays? Always being a Good Samaritan? Would she ever learn to walk away?
“Back to your question,” he said.
“What question?” She’d forgotten she’d asked him one.
“You wanted to…ask me something.”
She searched her memory. “Ah. Where are you from?”
“L.A. You’ve heard of it?”
She rolled her eyes and ignored his comment. If she was ever going to get any information out of him, she needed to switch subjects—again. “I’m Lacinda Pine. But everyone calls me Lacey.”
“Hello, Lacey.” Why did she have to drag answers out of him? She blew out a frustrated breath. “I told you my name, now you tell me yours.”
He wiggled an eyebrow. “Is that something like…if I show you mine, you’ll show me yours?”
Heat rose in her face. Brassy. She kind of liked it.
“Dane. Dane Richardson.” He hesitated. “But everyone calls me Dane.”
She grinned and her smile caused him to return the favor. A nice smile, she decided. He should smile more.
“As long as we’re engaged,” he said, making air quotes, “I figure we should get more acquainted. You know…like the way engaged couples are acquainted. How about it?”
Ah, so that was his plan. “I told you I’m not accepting the ring.”
He shrugged. “Your loss. What are you drinking?”
“Rum and Coke.” She slid the ring toward him. “Please take it back. If things didn’t work out between the two of you, save it for that special someone in your future. Consider yourself lucky to have found out she was wrong for you before it was too late. Before you walked down the aisle.” Yeah, like she’d discovered after five years of hell. Twice.
He motioned for Pauline, the blonde, buxom waitress, who nodded an acknowledgment.
“I told you I don’t want the…damn ring. What part of…‘I don’t want it’ don’t you…understand?”
Smart ass. “In that case, I’ll take the ring, but I’ll also take out an announcement in the local paper. Tell everyone in town that we’re engaged. It would stop you from meeting anyone else. Would you like that?”
He reared back and laughed. “Go ahead. You play dirty.” He lowered his eyelids to half-mast. “I can do that, too, if you’d like.” He leaned closer. “I’d like that very much.”
Something about this man was haunting. His eyes pulled her in. And his voice—deep and sensual. Damn, he was hot. “I don’t doubt that one bit.” She jammed the ring box back in her front pocket. “Okay, you’ve got yourself a deal. Tell you what. I’ll hold on to the ring for now. But I’m not keeping it.”
The waitress strolled over.
“A rum and Coke for the lady.” He shoved the empty beer mug toward the waitress. “A refill for me.”
“Sorry, but you’re cut off. How about a cup of coffee instead?”
When Dane started to protest, Lacey placed a hand on his arm. “Sounds good. Bring us each a cup. And make ’em strong.”
The next person in the hop is Diana Cosby (http://www.dianacosby.com/).