Saturday Excerpt: Can’t Let Go by Gena Showalter

Kick off the weekend with a story that will definitely heat things up. Here is an excerpt of the latest from Gena Showalter, Can’t Let Go.

New York Times bestselling author Gena Showalter is back with a sizzling Original Heartbreakers tale about an icy war vet and the only woman capable of melting him…

With trust issues a mile long, Ryanne Wade has sworn off men. Then Jude Laurent walks into her bar, and all bets are off. The former army ranger has suffered unimaginably, first being maimed in battle then losing his wife and daughters to a drunk driver. Making the brooding widower smile is priority one. Resisting him? Impossible.

For Jude, Ryanne is off-limits. And yet the beautiful bartender who serves alcohol to potential motorists tempts him like no other. When a rival bar threatens her livelihood—and her life—he can’t turn away. She triggers something in him he thought long buried, and he’s determined to protect her, whatever the cost.

As their already scorching attraction continues to heat, the damaged soldier knows he must let go of his past to hold on to his future…or risk losing the second chance he desperately needs.

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***

 

He was back.

Ryanne Wade poured her world-famous fruit cocktail moonshine—affectionately known as CockaMoon— into a small mason jar and, as discreetly as possible, watched as Jude Laurent prowled through her bar. And okay, the moonshine wasn’t exactly world famous but regionally famous. Okay, almost regionally famous; made from her personal recipe, it was distilled at a local brewery and sold exclusively at the Scratching Post.

Jude had once called the drink Downfall in a Glass. Or DIG. Like, you’re digging your own grave, Wade. Just to get a rise out of her, she was sure.

The former army ranger was a new resident in her hometown, and one of three co-owners of LPH Protection, a security firm. Sometimes he looked like a brawler from the maddest, baddest streets, yet other times he looked like a businessman fresh from a boardroom negotiation—and he’d won. Tonight, he was a bona fide brawler, ready to throw down and heat women up. He wore a black T-shirt, ripped jeans and combat boots. Leather cuffs circled his wrists, and three silver rings glinted on his fingers. His version of brass knuckles?

No matter his persona du jour, he was always as gorgeous and tempting as sin—and an all-around pain in Ryanne’s backside.

He really churned her butter.

Usually he only blessed the Scratching Post with his exalted presence when one of his two friends required a designated driver. He never ordered anything but water, and never spent a dime or even left a tip for the wait- ress unlucky enough to serve him. Namely Ryanne. Not even the insulting kind of tip: a note on a napkin. Fetch my drinks faster next time, and you’ll get cash.

The worst thing about him? He liked to stand at the jukebox and intimidate patrons with a death-ray glare. Oh, and let’s not forget how he sometimes attempted to police the door, commanding people to sit and stay as if they were dogs, simply because they’d had a sip of something—anything—alcoholic.

The nerve of the man. And the body on him… Ryanne fanned her flushed cheeks. Time to crank

up the air conditioner. Because no, her boiling blood had nothing to do with Jude’s sexy, muscled, delicious, sexy, mouthwatering, sexy good looks.

Not too long ago—okay, okay, soon after meeting Jude—Ryanne had decided to nix her ban on roman- tic relationships and pick someone to date. The timing was purely coincidental, of course, but her hormones had been out of whack ever since.

Besides, even if she did want Jude, she wouldn’t go after him. Despite his surly attitude, females young and old continued to approach him in droves, stealthily or not so stealthily dangling their bait, but he never even nibbled. He might as well have Off Limits tattooed on his forehead.

Was tonight the night he relaxed and had a little fun? Shivers rained over her as he cast a dark, brooding glance in her direction. He had collar-length blond hair with the slightest wave, eyes bluer than a morning sky, and the body of a surfer: lean, muscled and bronzed. But he also had a perma-frown. To her knowledge, he’d never smiled, joked or laughed, and he’d always radiated scary-hot menace and aggression.

If he ever smiled…goodness gracious, her hormones might explode from lust overload!

Of course, he had a good reason for his bad attitude. A few years ago, he lost his entire family in a terrible car accident; his wife and twin daughters were gone in the blink of an eye. Talk about the ultimate heart- ache. Ryanne reckoned guilt and grief ate at him on a daily—hourly—basis. And she absolutely 100 percent empathized.

But come on! His troubled past didn’t give him the right to accuse her of duplicitous flirting practices in order to boost return visits, and oversalting snacks to ensure patrons remained thirsty. First, she wasn’t a plain, ordinary flirt; she was flirtish, and there was a difference. She wasn’t after conquests but smiles. Second, how would Jude know anything about the food? He hadn’t tasted a single dish she served.

For some reason, he’d pegged Ryanne as a villain- ess at their first meeting, and his opinion of her hadn’t changed.

Dang him. I’m as sweet as sugar, and probably tastier to boot!

When he turned on his heel and headed her way, a frisson of electricity raced through her. Their gazes locked once again, and his step hitched—so did her breath. The sight of him, drawing nearer while fully focused on her…

Keep your cool, mi querida.

Impossible! Her heart thudded against her ribs, and sweat glazed her hands.

Attraction gave way to irritation, but irritation gave way to compassion when she noticed his limp. Poor guy. It was more pronounced than usual.

On a mission overseas, he’d lost the bottom half of his left leg. Now he wore a prosthesis.

Fingers snapped in front of her face, and she blinked. Cooter Bowright, one of her regulars, stared at her with concern. “You all right, Miss Ryanne? You’ve been spacing while I’ve been foaming at the mouth. Dehydration is deadly, don’t you know.”

Ugh. Caught ogling a man who despised her. Feigning nonchalance, she topped Coot’s CockaMoon with a sprig of mint and slid the jar in his direction. Since she’d begun selling the fruity specialty, her nightly revenue had increased over 20 percent. Maybe because the cock- tail consisted of strawberries, blueberries and grapes, a tribute to the three Oklahoma towns that surrounded the bar: her childhood home Strawberry Valley, Blueberry Hill, where the Scratching Post was located, and Grape- vine. Or maybe because the cocktail utterly rocked.

“I’m all right enough to know this is your last moon- shine of the night,” she said. “If you get to feeling dehydrated again, I’ll pour you a sweet tea.”

Coot took a long swig, draining half the glass, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Come on, Miss Ryanne.” He sometimes drew out the syllables in her name when trying to make a point. “Don’t cut me off just yet. The night’s barely even started.”

“You know the rules. Three CockaMoons, no exceptions.” No one got blackout drunk on her watch. Actually, if anyone slurred their words or staggered while walking, regardless of the limits, she pulled a Jude and stole keys. One, it was illegal to sell alcohol to anyone who appeared intoxicated and two, no, just no.

Safety first, sales second.

The difference between her and Jude? She called a cab afterward and never judged.

“I’d say you suck rotten eggs, but I love you too gosh dern much,” Coot muttered, only to brighten. “Hey, you gonna be singing tonight?”

Sometimes she enjoyed performing a couple sets with the band, but she couldn’t sing, mix drinks and make snacks. “Not tonight. I—”

Jude reached the bar, and the rest of her response died in her mouth. Sex made flesh. He leaned against the polished wood and—shocker—glared at Coot. “Public intoxication is a crime.”

Coot withered. “You’re right, Jude. I’ll be more care- ful next time. Honest.”

Hoping to lighten the mood, Ryanne winked at Coot and said to Jude, “Your shirt is a crime.” The black cotton was far too tight and likely to cause riots. She wiggled her brows. “How about you do us all a favor and take it off?”

See? Flirtish.

He frowned at her and, right on cue, she withered just like Coot.

The old man patted her hand in a show of camara- derie. “I ever tell you two about the night I let the wife use zip ties in the bedroom?”

Yeah, he’d told her about a dozen times. Mrs. Bow- right had tied him up all right, only to fall off the bed and knock her head on a side table. Cooter had to crawl bare-butt naked across the floor to get to the phone stuffed in the pocket of his discarded jeans. He’d ended up using Google to find a way to free himself from the ties before the paramedics arrived—something about spreading your elbows, raising your arms and slamming your joined hands into your torso—but not before he’d mistyped and found himself on a zit-popping site. Ryanne listened, anyway. She loved the old man.

For once, Jude refused to be ignored. He stepped into her line of vision, their gazes tangling together. Blood fizzed in her veins as her stomach performed a series of flips.

How did he affect her so quickly and intensely? Easy: her romantic past was basically a blank slate.

She had no experience, so she had no means of fighting her attraction to this—any man.

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