This month, I’m sharing a chapter excerpt from my contemporary western romance, Protecting Jess.
Protecting Jess is a crime drama in one way, and a fast and furious love story in another. This story came from my desire to write a book about a strong, independent woman who worked with horses, her connection to family, and how love can happen anywhere.
I wanted to branch out into sexier scenes, and this was the first book I wrote with sex scenes that were more about connection and emotion, rather than erotic and action-oriented.
The original idea came from a scene I wrote just for fun, of a woman riding her horse up on some high land in the Fall. I set it in Alberta, in the foothills of the Rockies, and her horse sees another horse and rider, and stops. The scene evolved into an officer coming to get her and her thoughts on that. The question was “why is the officer coming to get her? What has happened?”.
The book evolved from there.
It wasn’t until after I wrote Western Heat that I realized that Protecting Jess was in the same universe as my West Brothers series. So Shaun King, the hero in this book makes a cameo or two in Western Connection, and he will again in Western Flame.
I want to rewrite portions of this book, and do a complete and utter gut-edit on it. My writing has improved drastically since I wrote it, and I feel the story has so much to give. A good rewrite might allow the book to shine even more!
Headstrong and independent, Jess Nichols doesn't need anyone's pity over the murder of her estranged father, least of all from the cop assigned to protect her family. As the investigation goes deeper, she turns to him to help her make sense of the family secrets it reveals.
He proves to be exactly what she needs, but can she trust the feelings she has for him aren't fueled by the danger they are facing?
Lieutenant Shaun King was just doing his job, part of the investigation into the mass shooting at the plastics plant. Now he's in deep, trying his best not to let love get in the way of protecting Jess and her family from danger.
I’m going to share Chapter 12 - Impulse Control today, which is a pivotal chapter, and one every romance reader looks forward to... the first kiss!
I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 12 - Impulse Control
He found her where Gertie said she’d be, lazily looping the ring on a horse. Not the same one she’d been riding yesterday, but a compact dark bay with no white on him save his face. She asked him to pivot, and he was doing a typical baby move of pushing through the shoulder, evading the bit, and rushing.
“Put your outside leg on more, let go the rein, you’re letting him lean on the outside bit shank too much,” he called, and propped on the fence, watching her frustration build. Not likely the best thing she could be doing. Training horses took patience, and hers was likely sliver thin at the moment.
She flicked a glance out towards him, nodded, and applied her leg on a little further back, easing the rein contact. The horse shook his head and lunged forward, but she sat back, and he slowed. Then she halted him.
“I should not be up here,” she said, and hung her head. “I just needed to—”
“Do something other than fuss?” Shaun offered, and climbed through the fence boards over to her. “I get it.”
She hopped off on the far side from him, and walked around, rubbing the horse’s nose softly. She wasn’t looking at him.
“Your aunt says dinner soon, you’re to come up and eat,” he said. “You hungry?”
He put a hand out to the horse, the warmth greeting his skin achingly familiar. This was a nice little horse, his legs well put under him, his hindquarters powerful. Jess didn’t answer.
“What’s your plan for him?” He prodded further, running his hand up the mane, coming around to where Jess was. She rubbed the gelding’s forehead, the horse putting his muzzle up to her face and nibbling at her.
“Barrels, or maybe reining. He’s quick, and he’s smart. He’ll pivot on a dime. But he’s also a bit of a hothead. Good qualities, if I can get him to settle into work. Hot I can handle. Out of control I can’t.”
“He’ll do I think. Needs more time maybe,” Shaun offered.
“So I talked to someone,” she blurted out then, and he swivelled his gaze back to her. Her cheeks were pink from the ride, but he sensed she felt embarrassed by her admission and it was partly to blame for the blush. He put a hand out to her shoulder on impulse, and she looked up at him then. There was pain in her eyes and it caught his breath.
“Yeah?” he wavered, trying his best to maintain control. “Good. Glad you took my advice.”
She smirked and fiddled with the reins. “Don’t let it get to your ego, officer. I figured I should call a friend and let them spread the news I am okay. I turned my phone back on and there were about a thousand texts and voice messages.”
“So? What now?”
“So apparently tonight there is a vigil at the factory for all the—” she stopped and shrugged. “I keep forgetting there are thirteen other victims and hurting families. Not just me, my Dad. I’ve been in this bubble since I found out.”
“Do you want to go?” Shaun asked.
It would likely be fine, she could pay her respects, people could see she was okay, her friends could comfort her. He could only imagine how frantic some of them likely were. They weren’t letting anyone onto the property, so even if folks had come by, there was no way they could visit. Baked pies and sandwich platters had started arriving a few hours ago, with Gertie turning half of it away to feed the people at the gate. A community rallied, and the notion to ensure everyone was cared for was as old-fashioned as Gertie seemed to be. She had told the officers to share the baking with the news people, of all things.
“Is it safe?” she asked quietly. He still had his hand on her shoulder. She wasn’t backing away from him again, and he felt the connection hit him square in the chest. Their eyes hadn’t left one another, and he reacted, pulling her in, wrapping his arms around her, letting her bury her head in the crook of his shoulder.
“I’ll be with you. Yes,” he ground out as they held one another. He felt the gelding nudge at his side and he took the reins from her hands, letting her burrow into him further. She needed this hug more than she’d let on.
It felt right. He felt strong, like he could conquer anything because she was right there, letting him be her comfort. He couldn’t describe it other than that. He closed his eyes for a moment, listening to the birds in the big tree, the soft breeze through his hair, revelling in how damned good it felt. He took a shuddering breath and she broke from him.
“Don’t say that. You needed it.”
He wanted to hold her again. Kiss her, make love to her. This was far beyond what he could shut off now. He threw away propriety. He was supposed to be on duty, but right then, he couldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything except the woman in front of him.
“I—” he started and ran a hand through his hair. “I have to be up front with you. I—”
“I know. Me too,” she replied, reading him like a book. Damn. She’d bitten her lower lip, her eyes searching his.
“God Dammit I want to kiss you right now, but this isn’t the time. With all this going on—” he rasped out.
“Fuck that,” she interrupted, grabbed the collar on his coat, and pulled him into her, crashing her mouth to his.
He dropped the reins, both hands going to her face, holding her, slowing her down, opening the kiss up. If he was going to kiss this woman, he was going to make it right. She went soft, and he moved one hand down her body, pulling her to him again while they explored each other. He eased back, breaking the kiss, bumping noses, planting small soft kisses on her, his thumb slowly caressing her jaw. Their breath was steaming in the air around them, the sunset getting closer.
It was damned near perfect. But it needed to stop there.
“Well now,” he breathed.
Jess’s toes curled when he grabbed her face, and all thoughts other than him left her brain altogether. She wanted to feel something other than anger or grief. She wanted to turn off for awhile and that had been damned near a perfect start. He feathered kisses on her, slowly bringing the heat down, at least physically. Her heart and her brain were running pell-mell down the hill of ‘get his clothes off’.
She let go of his coat, but he held her close to him still, looking down at her, a mixture of surprise and animal lust in his eyes. It was obvious that there was mutual attraction here. This shouldn’t happen, but she had done what she always seemed to do, be the ballsy girl and make the first move.
“So. Tonight,” she said when she cleared her throat, wanting to break the intimacy, needing some space. “Can you find out if I… err, we can go? I would like to.”
He looked up to the sky, let out a deep breath and nodded, finally releasing her. He looked disappointed to be without her in his arms, and she felt the cold of the evening seeping in as he did.
Time to inject some reality. Thankfully, Hooper hadn’t moved, his ground tying skills much improved from even a couple of months ago.
She scooped the reins up, and he perked his ears at her. “Good boy,” she murmured.
As she turned to walk him back to the barn, Shaun put his arm around her, walking with her.
“Yes, I will see if we can go. There will be police there likely because mass shooter M.O. sometimes means they come back to the scene of the crime when the outpouring of grief happens. This is good or bad, really. But if we put you in a pack of friends, or you stick to crowded parts of the gathering, you’ll be fine. And of course, I’ll be right there.”
“You’d do that?” she asked, looking up at him. “I didn’t think you would want to go back there, having seen the… Well, all that stuff.”
He opened the barn door as they reached it, and she walked through with Hooper. He closed it behind them, and followed her to the stall. The officer assigned to guard the stables looked up, waved, and went back to his phone, and Jess realized belatedly that he’d risked being seen, out there, kissing her. She’d forgotten that he was on-duty.
“Yes, of course, I’m assigned to you. I’ll have Jenkins come out to stay with your aunt and
uncle while we go. I’ll process in my own way.”
The smell of fresh shavings and hay punctuated the silence that followed. She wondered if he had seen her Dad. For the first time, she realized he might have seen it all, and stopped untacking for a moment to really look at him.
“I’m sorry, I just assume you’re the big baddie cop, able to wade through fire and mayhem to get the crook. This has to be hard on you too. Seeing things like that.”
His face stayed stoic, his eyes taking that hard quality she’d seen yesterday when she’d met him, but his body posture said otherwise. He leaned on the open stall door, nodding, looking away.
“It was not easy, no. I was first on scene with the tactical squad. We responded to the 911’s. By the time we got there, with some other cruisers in tow, she had already left the building,” he took a big breath. “We entered the building, while the special ops followed a track to secure the property. I could hear screaming, and wailing—”
He stopped, and she saw him swallow and close his eyes.
“Jesus, Shaun. Do YOU need to talk to someone?”
“I will. Mandatory session with a force counsellor. Standard in this kind of situation.”
She hefted the saddle off and onto the saddle rack on the wall, and went to him, touching his chest. He opened his eyes to her, and she saw the flash of pain before he masked it.
“That sounds horrific. Is this why they sent you out here to us, instead of victim statements and all that?” she asked quietly.
He shook his head. “No. They thought I would be able to talk to you, since I grew up on a ranch, could likely relate better.”
She reached for him then, wanting to comfort him, feel him near her again. He was like some sort of drug, and she wanted another hit. That, and the pain she had seen made her heart twist, reminding her again that this wasn’t just about her family. Others were hurt by this monstrous thing, too.
He shook his head, stepping back, eyes flitting to the officer further down the barn. “We can’t,” he whispered.
“Oh. Right,” she said, crestfallen. She turned and finished untacking her horse, throwing a flake of hay to him from the pile by the door, and closed it while he stood back, hands in his pockets. She was so aware of him now, hyper sensitive to where he was. When she turned, he was scratching Wally’s jaw, the chestnut closing his eyes and grunting at the pleasure.
“Oh dude, I know,” she whispered to herself, watching Shaun’s smile light up, his cares forgotten for a moment. She walked away towards the tack room, thinking about all that had happened, and all she had yet to go through.
What surprised her, and she stopped, her hands resting atop her saddle as she placed it up on the tack room rack, was that she had included Shaun in that thought.