BLURB: Nate Hunter is a small-town bartender who suddenly discovers a daughter he never knew existed. Librarian Maxine Abbott agrees to help him raise her, but only if he’ll pretend to be her boyfriend. This relationship of convenience works perfectly at first, until very real feelings begin to chip away at their fake romance. Will their budding love end in heartbreak before the last leaves fall?
CHAPTER 1 (*unedited)
“Leave the lights off.”
Even with sunglasses and a baseball cap pulled over his forehead, the August sunlight stabbed through Nate Hunter’s eyelids and set his brain on fire. He buried his face in his arms. The cool wood of the bar eased the pounding inside his skull. A little. Not enough.
“Late night?” Nicki Rodriguez, the other full-time bartender at Jimmy’s Watering Hole, scraped a barstool along the floor.
“You go to the Kincaides’ lake party?”
He grunted again. Mistake. Actually, the party hadn’t been a mistake. Mellow scene, lots of booze and weed and good-looking girls home from college. Pine Point Lake was the perfect place for summer parties, with all the homes strung along both sides of the water. Swimming and water skiing during the day turned to bonfires and barbecues at night. No, the only mistake last night had been his fourth (or tenth?) tequila shot. Shit.
He sat up, opened one eye, and scrubbed his face with his hand. “I think I might be gettin’ too old for this.”
Nicki laughed. “Used to be even a hangover wouldn’t keep you from opening this place at noon.” She straightened a few liquor bottles and began slicing limes and lemons for garnishes. “So yeah, maybe you are.”
“Can you do that quieter?”
Nicki raised one eyebrow, pierced with a silver ring, and sliced louder.
She dumped the fruit into containers along the bar. “You look like shit, by the way.”
“You’re welcome. No offense, of course.” She opened bags of chips and peanuts next and began filling small bowls. The bar’s front door opened, and Mac Herbert and Damian Knight walked inside.
“None taken. Of course.” Nate pulled off his sunglasses to greet his friends. The sunlight, even filtered through the windows, continued to slice into his skull and set off miniature explosions. “You guys are in early.” Through slitted eyes, he checked the clock behind the bar. Quarter to four.
“Finished the job at the Randall house earlier than we thought.” The two men pulled up stools and rested beefy, tanned arms on the bar. “Got anyone in the kitchen?”
They nodded and ordered burgers and fries. Nate poured them each a beer. He flipped on one overhead light but left the rest off.
“You look like hell,” Mac observed.
“So I’ve been told.”
Nicki looked over from rolling silverware in napkins for the dinner crowd. Despite its afternoon emptiness, the place would be filled to capacity and beyond by nine o’clock. All summer long, The Davis Donaldson Band had been playing what they liked to call hillbilly rock every Saturday night, and it seemed like the three-guy group brought out everyone in Pine Point.
“Were you at Kincaides’?” Damian asked.
Nate popped two aspirin and nodded.
“Heard that party didn’t break up until dawn.”
Nate grinned and readjusted his baseball cap. “It didn’t.”
“Shit.” Mac whistled through the gap in his front teeth. “I hit twenty-five and slowed down, man. Looks like you’re just getting started. Misty bring her sorority sisters to the party?”
Nate lifted one shoulder and let it drop noncommittally.
“Don’t tell me. You went home with at least one of ‘em. Maybe two.”
Nate checked the taps and his stock of bottled beer. “Didn’t go home at all.”
Mac guffawed. Damian smiled. “Good for you. Keep it up while you can. You’ll get old and settle down one of these days, and then you’ll wonder where all those late nights went.”
“Nate Hunter is never settling down,” Nicki said as she took her place at the other end of the bar. “I can’t picture it. Picking just one woman? Working a regular nine-to-five job? No way.”
“Hey.” Nate poured himself a giant mug of black coffee. He’d need two of these, at least, to get through the next few hours. His second wind would hit him around ten, and then he’d sail through his shift until the place closed at two. “I went to college,” he reminded them. “Business degree. Took all that boring shit. I could get a regular job. Just don’t know why I’d want to.”
The door opened before he could add that they all just envied him. He tossed a towel over his shoulder and peered across the bar. He didn’t recognize the woman who’d stepped inside, which was saying something, because Nate knew all the locals. He’d grown up in this town of five thousand people, give or take. He knew everyone who lived in Pine Point, everyone who lived in the hills between here and Silver Valley, and most of the students who lived in the community college dorms a couple miles south of town. Recalling names and faces had always been one of his talents, and it didn’t go to waste as a bartender.
She was an outsider, he knew that at once. She walked with a stiff gait, as if she’d been sitting for a long time, or as if every step hurt. She wore jeans and a sweater, even though it had to be about eighty degrees outside, and a scarf wrapped around her head. No eyebrows. Chapped lips. Her eyes, a beautiful blue, stood out above high, sharp cheekbones.
She was pretty -- or had been pretty, Nate amended, before chemo ravaged her. Shit. She couldn’t have been more than thirty years old. He shoved back his baseball cap. “Hi there. What can I get you?”
She didn’t sit down. Her fingers fiddled with something inside the pockets of her sweater. “You look exactly the same.”
Nate blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“You don’t recognize me. Do you? Of course not. You wouldn’t.”
He looked closer. Something about the eyes looked vaguely familiar, but the rest of her? No. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
She nodded with a small, sad smile. “I didn’t think you would.” She looked down. “I don’t even recognize myself sometimes.”
He leaned forward and rested his arms on the bar. “Don’t hold it against me. I’m an ass when it comes to women. But don’t keep me in suspense, beautiful.”
A blush touched her cheeks. “Okay. Daytona Beach, spring break, five years ago.”
Yes, I will be posting more excerpts here as I count down to the September 15 release date. If you want to preorder Autumn Allure early, though, it's available at the sale price of $2.99 over at iBooks, or you can get it everywhere on September 1st!
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