by Liz Crowe
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions
by Liz Crowe
Genre: Contemporary Romance (novella)
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions
Every family has one—the black sheep, the problem child, the prodigal. But Dominic Sean Love could teach all of those guys a lesson or two. Stuck in the middle of a boisterous group of siblings, he’s given “acting out” a new meaning from the day he drew his first breath.
While he’s the one son who follows his strict father’s footsteps into the Love family business, he’s also the one who butts heads with him the hardest. Their epic clashes are the stuff of family legend. But they have made peace and work side by side to take Love Brewing to the next level of success.
Until Dominic does the one thing his father can never forgive.
Diana Brantley has been Dominic’s friend, girlfriend and ex-girlfriend so many times she’s lost count. When he shows up at the farm she’s slowly transforming into a wildly popular farm-to-table resource for restaurants all over the U.S. her first impulse is to shoot first and ask questions later. But she doesn’t. And their lives entwine once more, for good, bad and ugly.
Antony Ian Love has a lot on his ample shoulders. He owns and runs a small business, is estranged from his teenaged daughter AliceLynn, his beloved mother is dying of cancer, and he’s come face to face with his youngest brother Aiden’s sudden reappearance into the Love family circle. Years of sublimating his true self in deep mourning for his long dead wife have hardened the surly, emotional shell he’s nurtured, but one woman seems to have broken through. Rosalee Norris is the young widow of Antony’s best friend Paul and their mutual sorrow and close friendship has slowly morphed into something more.
Family therapist and recent divorcee Margot Hamilton is dropped into the close-knit Love family by necessity but fate has a real design twist in mind. With her heart and mind closed to anything resembling an emotional connection, Margot is shocked to discover something about Antony the very first time they meet–something she tries, and fails, to resist.
SAFE LOVE, The Love Brothers novella is a tale of love’s realistic complications within the saga of family devotion that runs as wide and deep as the Ohio River–except on Sundays when brothers Antony, Kieran, Dominic and Aiden work out their frustrations on the basketball court, Love brother style.
Diana patted Pepper’s flank as she released him into the paddock then leaned against the barn door, relishing the soreness in her muscles. The sun burned a white hole in the light-blue late summer sky. Smells of her childhood filled her nose, smoothing her edges.
A bit of coolness in the air, heralding the coming seasonal transition sent a shiver of anticipation down her spine. Masie, the pregnant cow, uttered a low moo, snapping Diana out of daydreaming about her favorite season—the hunting kind. It brought her long to-do list flashing across her brain, reminding her she still had to finish mucking out the rest of the barn. The garden was in desperate need of weeding, too. The last of her tomatoes were due in and her sister had already sent three texts that morning about the chicken salad Diana still had to make and get over to the shop.
With a heavy sigh, she let the light wind cool her skin. Her arms burned and her thighs shook in a wholly welcome, familiar way, post long ride. She dropped onto the overturned bucket from the horse’s cool-and-wash.
“Go on, get out there, ya big baby.”
She smiled when the huge animal nuzzled her shoulder before he trotted away obediently, sticking his nose into the water trough, tail flicking lazily, indicating satisfaction with the morning’s proceedings. Bees buzzed, the cow made another lowing sound, late season locusts hummed, and the sun heated her skin. Drifting, her mind calm and free of Jen’s endless demands and catering menus she let the sweet sounds and distinct odors of her family’s farm soothe her.
When the horse whinnied and snorted, Diana ignored it and stretched her legs out. One of the dogs let out a loud bark then the other two joined in. They sounded delighted, so Diana figured that her sister must have arrived in the catering van to pick up the chicken salad—the one Diana hadn’t even started yet.
Deciding to pretend she was alone a minute longer and enjoy the peace and quiet she always found in the barn, Diana closed her eyes.
“Hey.” A distressingly familiar male voice hit her ears. “Um…Diana?”
She blew out a breath, unwilling to acknowledge how much she would have given at one point in her life to hear that voice say her name again.
“What do you want?”
“Just a place to crash. Hide a bit, I don’t know.”
“Why now? I thought you and your folks were gettin’ on like a house afire.” She tried to keep the anger out of her words, but it was nearly impossible.
She opened her eyes and observed the man she’d loved as long as she could recall. Dominic Love stood in front of her dressed in, of all things, a pair of dress pants and crumpled, long-sleeved shirt. A red tie hung loose around his neck. He had his blond hair scraped back and tied at his nape so she could see he’d added more body art. He stood still, hands tucked in his trouser pockets, his expression scarily blank.
She rose and smacked the dust off her ass then stood, arms crossed, willing him not to be there, not to tempt her, because God help her still loved the man, despite how badly he’d treated her.
“I am not letting you back in my bed, Dom.”
When the corner of his full lips lifted in a smirk, she imagined how satisfying it would feel to smack it off his face—with a blunt instrument.
“Not asking for that…yet.”
“Go to hell.” She brushed by him, forcing him out of her brain. He snagged her arm and held on tight.
“I’m already there, babe, trust me. I swear I just need a friend right now and someplace to lay low. I’ll help around the place, you know that.”
As if on cue, the horse bumped Dom’s shoulder, shoving the man forward. The grip on her arm tightened and Dom leaned in close. She yanked away from him, keeping her gaze on the far horizon and her mind on the fact that if she went with her gut right then, she’d pull him back into her life, no questions asked.
“You can sleep out here.”
He let go. “Thanks, babe.”
She clenched her jaw. “Stop calling me babe, you shit-heel, motherfucking, selfish, cheating asshole.”
“Okay,” he muttered, but his eyes were bright in a way she knew well.
She walked away, letting the memory of their last, and she believed final, fight fill her mind, fueling her fury as she put one boot in front of the other, placing as much distance as she could between them.
The dogs circled her legs, escorting her en masse to the door. It slammed, cutting off their nervous whines and snuffling, leaving her standing in the middle of her outdated, overworked kitchen. Usually being in this room helped her forget all the crap going on in the real world while she transformed the various vegetables from her large garden and the meats she’d either hunted or raised herself into meals fit for a five-star restaurant.
She shook her head. There were no five-star-restaurants in her universe and there never had been. Even thinking those three words in that order caused heat to rise up her neck and into her face at the memory of her ex-husband—the man who’d swooped in right after Dominic’s last rejection of her and convinced her that he would open the restaurant of her dreams, using the inheritance money she’d saved.
Yeah, that had worked out not-so-well.
Stupid, lying, cheating men.
Stupid me and my stupid need to have one nearby all the stupid time.
Her hand landed on something substantial and her fingers curled around it. She picked up the cast iron pan slowly, contemplating it for a split second, recalling she’d left it out to use for frying bacon. With a noise between a grunt and a yell, she put every bit of long-forgotten frustration into the effort to fling the pan at the door. At the last second she worried she might hit one of the dogs.
But there was no canine yip of pain. They’d vacated her immediate area, likely sensing the temper eruption on her horizon before she did. It did bust a satisfying hole through the screen at the top of the door and hit the back porch railing with a musical clang that echoed back to her still burning ears.
She blew her hair out of her eyes, ready to tackle the next thing on her long to-do list—this time free of any memory of her last disaster of a relationship. That loser—now officially her ex-husband—had been floating through, setting up some chain restaurant over in Lexington. Memories of his handsome face and lying mouth rolled through her head even as she tried to halt them.
A real five-star restaurant, Di, he’d liked to say, usually when they were naked. That and, You should try it, and, I could use thirty thousand of your dollars to make it work, plus, let’s get married!
And they were naked a lot.
Diana groaned and leaned over the sink for a few seconds then straightened. She had too much to do. There was no time for that kind of useless reminiscing. Damn Dominic Love to hell and back for showing up and sending her into this tailspin.
She grabbed her mother’s soup pot, slammed it into the sink and starting filling it from the leaky tap. A breeze lifted the lace curtains at the window, stirring the hair around her face. She smelled the rain a few seconds before it let loose, pounding onto the grass between the kitchen window and the barn. Squinting through the sheeting water she spotted Dominic standing in the middle of the paddock, seemingly impervious to the deluge.
Pepper trotted over to see what could possibly make the tall, yellow-haired male human stand in the rain like an idiot. When Dom didn’t respond to nudging, the animal gave every appearance of shrugging and glancing in her direction with a whattayagonnado look before getting under cover in the barn.
Within a very few minutes, Dom’s drenched dress shirt clung to him. She watched, gape-jawed and shivering as he yanked his hair from its tie and shook it free, turning his face to take the full force of the increasing downpour, arms outstretched as if preparing for crucifixion. Then he seemed to disappear in the space of a blink. She turned off the tap, which was overflowing the pot by then anyway, and ran out the door.
Heart pounding, ears ringing with well-remembered panic over what she might find, she took the expanse of grass between house and paddock in a few long strides. In her fury at how casually he’d sauntered back into her life that morning, she hadn’t thought to study his eyes very closely. Diana had memorized long ago how Dominic’s deep-brown gaze took a particular edge, a kind of sharp, distinctive sparkle, when he hovered on the verge of a breakdown.
The rain soaked all the way to her skin by the time she rounded the post at the paddock. At a burst of lightening, she flinched and started counting, only getting to three seconds before the ear-splitting thunderclap. She squinted, seeking a prone, muddy Dominic. But the paddock was empty.
Cursing, she glanced back at the house. It was pretty well futile to run back now that she’d gotten drenched. She mirrored Dom’s earlier stance, letting the rain pound against her cheeks, forehead, and lips. Lightning flashed. Thunder followed. Laughter bubbled up from her throat, only getting louder as she realized what an utter whack job she must be, out there, cackling and drinking rain.
“I’m going to try a little experiment with you.” She came around the side of the desk and headed to him, just as he jumped to his feet. “Sit down, Antony,” she said, using her best ‘take no shit’ voice as she invaded his personal space with the blindfold in one hand. “It will be all right, I promise.”
He shook his head but sat, leaving her standing over him, which gave her a shiver of anticipation that she promptly quelled. His strong arms hung loose at his sides, his jeans clad legs sprawled out, too long for the chair. She stood behind him and placed the black silk blindfold over his eyes. After tying it in a way she knew would be nearly impossible to release, she placed her palms on his broad shoulders. As she had hoped, his thrumming, nervous energy calmed under her touch.
Too easy, she thought.
Not good, she also thought, tamping down the extreme urge to lean over him and lick her way up his neck.
Instead, she spoke into the air over his head. “Now, tell me one thing you miss about Crystal.”
“Uh…” he said, clenching and unclenching his fingers. “It’s…um… been such a long time and I…”
“One thing Antony, quick, without thinking too hard.”
He took a long, shuddering breath. “Her lips.”
“Okay, now another thing.” She kept her hands pressed on his shoulders, willing him to be calm and to open up to her.
“Her ass,” he ground out. She smiled.
“Now we’re getting somewhere. One more thing please.”
“Her…” He sucked in a breath. “The way she’d be in charge.”
“Hmm…” Margot said, willing herself to stay put, to not place herself in front of him and do what she really wanted. “And what do you mean by that? She balanced the checkbook?”
“No,” he whispered.
“Okay then. Where was she in charge?” She caught herself even as she said it, implying that Antony’s wife had been “in charge” in a specific place. It cut to the chase, so why not?
“I’m, um…not really comfortable with this.” His leg was jittering up and down as tension rose in him again. Margot took a deep breath, cursing her body for betraying her. She squared her shoulders.
“I know. That’s why we’re not looking at each other.” Unable to stop herself, she leaned down and put her lips near his ear, sucking in a huge breath of leather, a hint of smoke, cotton and a clean, soapiness that made her want to weep. “It’s all right. I’m in charge in this room so you can just…relax.”
She saw him grit his teeth and knew he was trying hard to do the exact opposite of what she was telling him to, so she tightened her grip on his shoulders, not an easy feat considering how firm they were. A point had to be made and she knew her options for making it were limited, since she’d promised herself that this would be nothing more than a therapy method.
“The bedroom,” he said, so low she barely heard him. “Crystal was in charge in our bedroom, in private. It was…something we…liked.” Margot straightened, smiling but shaking at the same time, even more confused about how to proceed. Keeping her hands on him, knowing he required at least that much from her, she got herself under some modicum of control and plowed forward.
“How was she in charge?”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure you know,” he said, surprising her with the sudden strength in his voice. “And I’m also pretty sure I’ve told you enough.” He jumped up, ripped off her un-rip-able blindfold, sending it fluttering to the floor in two strips of black fabric and kicked the chair out of the way. She stumbled, blinking fast, brain spinning and body going into overdrive at the look on his face. He was begging her now, using his unconscious body language, but she could not—she would not—give into the urge to shove him to his knees.
Her butt hit the bookshelf, making her stumble and curse. Antony stopped, looming over her and sending out the sort of obvious vibe she’d spent years coming to terms with and assuming she understood—until recently.
“Step away from me,” she said. “This isn’t what you think.”
He frowned and got even closer, pissing her off and making her inner self rise up and take over. She put her hands on his impossibly firm chest and shoved, forcing him to move out of her personal space so she could breathe and process how quickly she’d lost control of the situation. Typical, she thought with a shudder of disgust. No wonder Gavin left you. You’ve gotten weak.
Antony bent down and picked up the pieces of the blindfold. When he held them in his outstretched hands, his expression did nothing to dispel her dismay. “Sorry about this,” he said.
She grabbed them, her heart pounding way too fast. “Get out,” she whispered. “Just go. I’m sorry. I can’t…do this.”
“You’re the only one I’ve ever told…about Crystal and me and what we…you know, liked.”
She willed away the girlie tears. “I know,” she said. “It’s not something you’d share with your brothers.”
Antony chuckled and ran a hand around the back of his neck, breaking the tension in the room enough for her to breathe again. “I, um, I’m engaged. And I love her, Rosie, and her boy.” He dropped his gaze to the carpet. Without thinking, Margot tilted his face up, ignoring that strange electrical charge that snapped between them. “It took me nearly four years to even kiss her, Rosie. And we only just… um…” A charming blush rose from his neck to his face, making Margot faint with lust. “I don’t know why in the hell I’m telling you this.”
Amazon best-selling author, beer blogger, brewery marketing expert, mom of three, and soccer fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales and fund raising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse.
Her early forays into the publishing world led to a groundbreaking fiction subgenre, “Romance for Real Life,” which has gained thousands of fans and followers interested less in the “HEA” and more in the “WHA” (“What Happens After?”). More recently she is garnering even more fans across genres with her latest novels, which are more character-driven fiction, while remaining very much “real life.”
With stories set in the not-so-common worlds of breweries, on the soccer pitch, in successful real estate offices and at times in exotic locales like Istanbul, Turkey, her books are unique and told with a fresh voice. The Liz Crowe backlist has something for any reader seeking complex storylines with humor and complete casts of characters that will delight, frustrate and linger in the imagination long after the book is finished.
Don’t ever ask her for anything “like a Budweiser” or risk bodily injury.