Before: December

Her workday over, Tuesday Eastwood turned the display lights up before locking her front doors. That’s when she realized how cold it was and flipped her collar against the wind with one hand while hurrying to where she’d parked her car.

As she paused to cross at the corner and look both ways, she caught sight of Ezra Hurley. It wasn’t one of those moments when you caught sight of a person and then realized who it was once they got closer.

No, she knew it was Ezra because for some befuddling reason, she was hyperaware of him. He looked good as he waited for traffic, a grin on his face.

In the entirety of her life no one had ever made her belly feel the same quivery, excited swoop when she looked at him. At the rugged, masculine lines of his features. Like his brothers, yes, he was attractive. But he wore it differently than the other three brothers did.

Ezra Hurley was a Capital M Man. In that riding horses, baling hay, hands in the dirt, well-worn jeans way. Well-worn jeans that currently cradled a rear end that a sculptor would drool over. The kind of being who seemed to emanate utter capability.

How or why that was so hot to her Tuesday didn’t know. But it was.

Even in a wool cap and a peacoat he radiated that something special he tossed around like catnip. In addition to being a rancher, he was a rock star. A onetime hard-living, jet-setting, arena-filling rock star fallen to earth, crashing and burning.

The flames had left him imperfect. But no less compelling.

“Hey, Tuesday.” He reached the spot where she’d been rooted as she thought about him naked.

“Ezra. What brings you out tonight?”

“Errands. I was just planning to grab some dinner and head back home.” He paused for just a moment. “What are you up to right now? Want to have dinner with me?”

She nodded even though she knew it was a bad idea. Ezra wasn’t just a gorgeous rancher–hugely successful musician with a butt any sane woman would want to take a bite of.

He was also the oldest brother of Tuesday’s best friend Natalie’s boyfriend. It sounded convoluted, sure, but it meant trouble if anything bad happened between Natalie and Paddy, Ezra’s brother.

Tuesday told herself it was just dinner. No big deal. She and Natalie were close as sisters anyway. She was supposed to be getting to know the people in Nat’s life now.

She slipped her hand around the crook of his arm and didn’t make good choices at all. “I’m starving.”

He led her just up the block to one of her favorite cafés.

The hostess nearly walked into a post showing them to their table because she couldn’t tear her gaze from Ezra.

“You were very sweet to her,” Tuesday murmured when the poor girl stumbled away after he’d thanked her.

He ducked his head a moment before he stepped close. “Let me help you.”

The backs of his fingers slid against the skin of her neck as he pulled her collar away and took the coat off.

She closed her eyes a moment as a full-body shiver of delight rolled through her.

“Thank you.”

He hung hers up and got rid of his as she settled at the table. Flashing her a smile, he sat across from her as he unwound his scarf.

“I like the beard,” she managed to say and surprised herself by not sounding breathy or wheezy even though he seemed to suck all the oxygen from the air around her.

There was a spot she couldn’t seem to stop glancing at. Just below his ear at the curve of his jaw. She licked her lips rather than get up and kiss him there.

She gripped the table instead; grateful it kept her out of licking distance.

Then he stroked fingertips over the beard—a nervous habit—and she might have lost consciousness for just a brief moment.

“Yeah? I’ve had one on and off. Wintertime is good for it.”

Tuesday felt much the same way about her legs.

“It suits you.” And framed his mouth. He had a great mouth.

She deliberately looked away from him, down at her menu even though she knew exactly what she was going to order.

She’d met Ezra Hurley back in September. Her best friend’s boyfriend had three brothers, all gorgeous and successful with immense personal charisma. Ezra was the last of the four she’d met but once he’d walked into the room he was all she’d seen.

She’d seen him several times since as Natalie had got closer to Paddy and they’d been pulled into the Hurley family.

Each time it had been that same shock of connection between them.

They made small talk that wasn’t uncomfortable or awkward in any way until their food came.

“Did you have a good Christmas?”

“I did, actually. Got my fill of nieces and nephews. Played a lot of video games. Kids are a great way to avoid shopping trips.”

“You don’t like to shop?”

“With my mother and sister and all my sisters-in-law? At Christmas? No. I stayed back, drank mulled wine and played video games until the kids got sick of me and then I watched movies and enjoyed the silence.”

“I have nieces, both under ten so I know the feeling.”

Ezra was like a cat. Tuesday wanted his attention, but she was sort of a cat, too. Each of them brushed up against the other, naturally sort of aloof but totally digging on what the other had.

“I can’t imagine what you must be thinking right now.” His mouth quirked up and she swallowed hard.

“Do you really want to know?”

He nodded.

“I was just thinking about how you and I are like cats.”

He cocked his head, thinking. “Aloof yet demanding?”

She grinned. “Someone has cats.”

“I’m not sure if they have me or if I have them.”

“That’s a yes.”

He tore apart a piece of bread and she had to bite the inside of her lip to pry her gaze away from his hands.

She had a thing about hands and his were gorgeous and strong. Rough. Big

“How’s business? I imagine things are pretty busy during this time of year.”

Tuesday owned and ran a custom framing business in downtown Hood River, Oregon. It wasn’t where she’d expected to end up but after her life had gone off the rails, it was this town on the Columbia River and her best friend Natalie, who’d finally given her a place to land.

“The holidays are a good time. It’s also great for my custom jewelry.” Which was good because she had a huge family and birthdays alone killed her budget. “How goes ranching?”

He looked across the table at her as the server took their food away. “I was thinking of dessert. You in?”

She nodded. “Definitely. They have poached pears here that I love.”

He grinned. “That so? Those are Hurley pears—did you know that?”

Sweet Hollow Ranch wasn’t only the name of the band Ezra had founded with his brothers when they were still in their teens. It was the place the Hurleys lived. The land they worked.

And apparently the source of the dessert she was about to order.

“I didn’t know. That’s pretty nifty.”

“I think so, too. If you order the pears, I’ll order the cheese plate. We can share. If that’s okay with you.”

“More than okay. Sounds perfect.”

They lingered over their coffee until most people had cleared out and the café got near closing time. He paid up and they gathered their things to clear out.

“I hadn’t realized we’d been here so long.”

He stood and helped her into her coat. “That’s the sign of a good dinner. When you have a great conversation and time gets away from you.”

He opened the door for her and even though it was freezing, she got to look at him some more.

His work boots crunched ice as they headed back to her car along the slippery sidewalk.

She couldn’t recall any time in recent memory where she’d whiled away three hours over dinner and with someone she’d only met a few times.

Something in him called to her. The shape of his eyes, the history in them, she supposed, a little dark and twisty. His lips, well, the bottom one had to be pillow soft. She’d thought about that issue in great detail. He had the hottest mouth she’d laid eyes on in a long time.

.Because she’d been thinking about his mouth she might have been distracted enough that she missed the dip in the sidewalk and started to slip. Not that any such thing needed to be admitted. It was cold and icy after all. Anyone could slip. Who could be expected not to think about Ezra’s bottom lip?

“Whoa.” He wrapped an arm around her waist and helped her back to her feet, standing very close to her as he did. He was so strong. The energy seemed to hum from him, bringing a shiver she couldn’t blame on the cold.

“Are you okay?”

His voice did things to her. A little sandpapery, but wrapped in caramel. It shouldn’t have even been possible to be both at the same time but it was. Every once in a while there’d be a burr and it snagged her attention—the pull—which was disconcerting and yet, it was really delicious, too.

He did things to her head. He looked good and he oozed so much raw sensuality it made her tingly. He was handsome, yes, but there was something about him, something elemental that she found herself fascinated by.

And now that she’d had him all to herself like this, she had to admit she wanted more.

“That was close. Thanks for the save.”

He paused, still standing near enough that she could smell him. He had really good cologne. Spicy and sexy.

Don’t sniff him. Don’t sniff him. Don’t sniff him.

The moment stretched between them like a physical thing until he finally stepped back and turned, resuming their walk to her car.

She unlocked her passenger door, using that time to get herself in order before she leaped on him.

She turned back to face him. “Thanks again for dinner. Oh, and for preventing a broken bone when I nearly slipped.”

His mouth did a thing and it was impossible to look away.

Mainly because it was perfection. Fringed by a minky pelt of a beard she wanted to get all up in. It was messing with her thinking. Like a magical item. Beard of confusion, ha!

But the thing? She’d noticed over dinner that sometimes as she talked, he’d look at her mouth and then he’d lick over his bottom lip as if he was thinking about tasting her. That sweep of his tongue was like a physical stroke against her skin.

Yes, she liked the thing a lot.

She shivered, this time from the cold. He popped open the three buttons lining the front of his wool peacoat and opened it, inviting her.

There was nothing else to be done but take those steps into the warm circle of his embrace, sliding her arms around his waist.

Tuesday tipped her head back to see him better, stilling as their gazes locked a moment before his attention shifted to her mouth. And he did that thing again.

She sucked in a breath this time.

He heard. She knew it because his pupils got very big.

Everything got very far off. Sounds all around them died away until only Ezra and Tuesday remained.

And then his mouth was on hers, the arms holding the coat around her tightened as he pulled her to him.


Body to body until there was no mistaking how interested he was in her.

Musician wasn’t the only word Ezra could apply gifted to.

Oh. Well. Yes, please.

A breathy groan of appreciation came from her and he seemed to lick it from her lips.

It was too much. So much her heart pounded and she fought the desire to run from him.

She hadn’t felt anything this powerful with a man since Eric died.

Maybe not even then.

She shoved that far away.

Despite it being too much she wanted more. Throbbed with an overwhelming need to roll around in everything Ezra brought to the table.

Her teeth grazed his bottom lip and she loved the way his beard felt as she did it. She licked over it, squirming to get a little closer.

“Fuckyeah,” he muttered right before his tongue slid into her mouth and his taste burst over her.

Vanilla and burned sugar from the flan they’d shared after dinner. A little hint of coffee and whatever superendorphin he made with all that hotness.

He kept on, his weight holding her in place against the car.

Inside his coat, the heat of him burned her. But she wasn’t sweating from that.

Her heart thundered in her head.

Finally he pulled back a little, sucking in a breath. His gaze was on hers, open. There was pain there with desire and appreciation. Vulnerability.

Please don’t apologize or say I should forget it.

After long moments of silence, no apologies or panicked expectation management issued from him and she breathed a little easier even as his taste still lived on her mouth.

Those deep brown eyes shifted his attention to her lips and then back to her gaze.

A smile hinted at the corners of his mouth. “Was that my bounty for saving you from a fall?”

She pursed her lips a moment, enjoying the flirting, and then smiled back. “Maybe.”

“I’m always willing to take payment for services or goods via your mouth.”

She swallowed. Excited and nervous. Flattered. Turned on. “So I guess I’m rooting for a long, icy winter then, huh?”

He snorted a laugh, letting go and stepping back. The cold reasserted itself with a slap, which made it a little easier to think again.

“Thanks for making my day a hell of a lot better, Tuesday Eastwood.” He opened her door.

“Yes. What you said.”

He kissed her again quickly. “I’ll be seeing you around. You coming to the shows next week?”

Sweet Hollow Ranch, the band Ezra and his brothers created, was set to drop an album and do a short winter and spring tour.

Ezra still wrote, recorded and produced the band’s material, but he’d left touring behind once he’d got out of rehab and taken stock of his life.

And now, for the first time in years, Ezra was set to be back on stage with them at a few small fan club secret shows to try out new material before they left for the full tour.

She imagined he was probably excited and nervous about it at the same time. He seemed so capable though; she bet he wasn’t too worried about it.

“We’ll definitely be at the shows. Nat and I are driving in together so I’ll see you then.” She got in her car and he closed the door. Two knuckle raps on the roof and he moved away so she could pull the car out and head home.

He watched her until she turned the corner but she felt his mouth on her skin for hours.

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