Desperate to distance herself from her previous life, and her high-powered ex, Jo Montgomery moves to a tiny slice of Georgia, an impetuous decision if ever there was one. Though not nearly as impetuous as throwing herself into an intimate relationship with her new neighbor. Hawk Stephens, a horse breeder and local celebrity, is sex personified, a man built for dark deeds in dark places. But he wants far more from Jo.
Every instinct tells Silent Hawk that Jo is The One, and despite her obvious uncertainty, his Apache beliefs give him faith. The signs are unmistakable. His skittish little filly requires a strong hand, patience…and passion that leaves no doubt to his feelings and intentions.
But before their love affair has barely begun, the reemergence of Jo’s ex, coupled with a potentially tragic event, forces Jo to make decisions that not only damage Hawk’s beliefs, but could also shatter their tender romance beyond repair.
— Chapter One —
Jo Montgomery blinked dust from her eyes, asking herself not for the first time what in the hell she’d gone and done. She’d never been the impulsive type. But desperate times called for desperate measures, and she was nothing if not desperate.
“Where you want this, lady?”
“Um…” Jo eyed the sofa as if it were an unwelcome guest, its shiny red fabric mocking her. The movers sighed as she stalled, balancing the load precariously between the two of them. “Over by the window, I guess.”
“You want the plastic off all this stuff?”
She took in the dust bunnies larger than many dogs she’d owned and shook her head. “Better leave it on. I’ve got some cleaning to do.”
One of the men snorted, muttering something under his breath as he and the other mover lugged the sofa across the room, plopping it down in front of the large bay window, which boasted a clear view of her weed-infested front yard. Sun pushed through the grime on the windows, dappling the cushions and urging optimism she wasn’t on board with yet. Somewhere between passing over the Texas border and entering the western edge of Alabama, her cranberry-colored Cadillac CTS began to feel more like a sealed coffin than a luxury to toodle around in. Visions of her sister’s disapproving expression as Jo had pulled out of the driveway in front of the moving van had taunted her with each passing mile.
What had she been thinking, buying this dilapidated farmhouse—sight unseen from an ad on the internet, no less—in the middle of nowhere? She hadn’t been thinking clearly, that’s what. A real “do-me-over”, the ad had boasted. Being a licensed real estate agent, Jo knew that statement left open a large area for interpretation. Upon her arrival, she’d discovered “plow-me-over” was a more accurate description.
Still, she was a very motivated buyer. Fresh start, that’s what she wanted. A new beginning, as far away from her ex and her role as a senator’s wife as possible.
Jo’s attention snapped to the movers as they wrestled the large Oriental rug her dad had given her when she’d graduated from college through the front door. They dropped the rolled wool on the floor, dust rushing up to encircle them. Jo coughed, clearing the air with a wave of her hand. She blinked her eyes rapidly, certain more dust would irritate her new contact lenses. Her vision was clear, though, giving her a crisp view of her investment.
Man, this place is a dump.
Renovations had seemed like just the thing to help bolster her shaky confidence. The fixer-upper tease had sold Jo on the house, if only to prove to herself she could handle something, anything, on her own. And it afforded her a chance to get lost in a project, keeping her mind far away from her past. Glancing around at the worn floorboards, the sconces hanging by their wiring and the peeling wallpaper, she realized she might have bitten off more than she could chew. As a matter of fact, the entire picture was already leaving a bad taste in her mouth.
Jo whirled at the sound of a Southern drawl echoing in the nearly empty room. A tall man was leaning against the doorjamb, a smile on his lips, a cowboy hat twirling idly atop his hand.
“You the new owner?”
Her gaze followed the movement of his wrist as he rotated the hat in slow circles. When the motion stilled, her attention darted to his face. He stepped aside as the movers pressed through the front door with a pair of floor lamps.
“Yes,” Jo said, walking toward him with her hand extended. “I’m Jo Dan—” She shook her head slightly. “Montgomery. Jo Montgomery.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled with his smile. ”It’s nice to meet you, Jo Montgomery.” His hand was calloused and warm as it enveloped hers. “I’m Hawk Stephens. That’s my place over there,” he said, motioning to the left with a quick jerk of his head.
Jo nodded, taking in the sight of him. Dust-coated boots began the long ascent of his legs, covered in work-worn denim. His trim waist led to a broad chest and shoulders. Ebony hair reached the middle of his back, its rich hue a shocking contrast to the ice-blue of his eyes.
Eyes that were dancing with humor at her perusal, she realized a fraction of a second too late. Jo took an immediate interest in the hangnail on her index finger.
He strolled to a section of peeling paper, thumbing the age-tattered edge. “I’m glad someone bought this place. It’s been vacant for a long time.”
“The price was hard to pass on,” she replied. Jo lifted her blonde hair from her neck. The prim bun she was so accustomed to wearing would be a relief right about now.
“Where’re you from?” he asked, approaching her. He towered over her petite frame and she stepped back, wary of the unfamiliar skittering of her heartbeat.
“Tucson.” She diverted her nervous energy by focusing on the movers and pointed to the sofa as they entered the house with a coffee table.
Hawk leaned closer. “That’s a long ways off.” His irises were peppered with flecks of gray, as if an artistic afterthought by the Creator Himself. Jo stared into them, mesmerized by the way his pupils widened, swallowing up the little flecks in the process.
“Um, yes. Yes it is.” She took another step back, wiping her palms against her denim-clad thighs.
The corners of his lips curled upward. “Why Georgia?”
Telling this tall drink of water she had foolishly bought this pile of rubble simply because it got her as far away from her ex as possible while still staying in the same country didn’t seem like an appropriate response. For once she was quick on her feet. “I hear the pollen is outstanding here in the spring and fall.”
His smile widened, exposing straight white teeth—a stare-worthy contrast to his deeply tanned skin. “Ah, Georgia pollen. I guess you haven’t lived until you’ve been nearly asphyxiated by Mother Nature.”
Laughing, Jo nodded. “I guess not.”
Hawk wandered around the room, taking in what Jo knew was painfully obvious—a sad state of disrepair. He twined his fingers together behind his back, glancing over his shoulder at her. “If you need any recommendations for contractors, I can give you a few names. Good guys who stand behind their work.”
She pushed her hands into her pockets, the stiff texture of the new denim scraping her delicate skin. “Oh, thanks, but I’m planning on doing the work myself.” Even as the words left her mouth, she knew how ridiculous they must sound. Hawk’s left eyebrow disappeared into his hairline and he began to survey her projectagain.
Jo joined him in his regard of the carcass that slightly resembled what must have been a house of some sort at one time. He stepped over to a sconce hanging off the wall to the side of the crumbling brick fireplace, running the exposed wire between his fingers. He smiled then, a beautiful smile, she had to admit, even though she suspected it was birthed in mockery.
“Okay,” Jo said, conceding to his unspoken but clear take on the situation. “I could use the name of an electrician.”
Hawk rubbed his chin, twirling his hat again. “You know…” He drew out the two words. “I would almost be willing to bet the farm the plumbing in this place is nearing its golden anniversary.” He winked at her.
Biting her lip, she attempted to refuse his game, as amusing for him as it was proving to be. Jo placed her hands on her hips, narrowing her eyes at him playfully. “Mr. Stephens, what makes you so sure I’m not a…a…” Good Lord. Was she flirting with him?
His strides ate up the floor as he closed the distance between them, forcing her to peer up nearly a foot to meet an expression that looked suspiciously like it was courting mischief. “A what, Miss Montgomery?”
Jo couldn’t help herself. A smile broke through. And it felt good. “A…handyman. Or handywoman, as the case may be.”
Hawk plopped his cowboy hat atop his gorgeous head of hair and leaned close. Very close. “So, are you?”
He smelled of leather, spice and some other scent she couldn’t place, but all of it combined marked him as unmistakably male. Undeniably sexy. His question forgotten, she inhaled deeply, attempting to place the familiar scent.
Hawk tipped the brim of his hat back with a long finger. “You trying to dance your way out of this one?” He didn’t smile, but humor sparkled in his eyes.
“What?” Jo asked, trying to decipher what she had missed while breathing him in like a free sample at the perfume counter.
A slow, wicked smile crawled across his lips. Reaching toward her, he tucked a stray wisp of hair behind her ear. “Why, Miss Montgomery, I do believe I’ve gotten you discombobulated.”
Jo’s mouth went dry, along with her capability to speak. Welcome to Humiliationville. Population: Jo.
Hawk ran a fingertip down the length of her nose. “I’ll take it by your silence that you are not, in fact, a handywoman.”
She shook her head, trying not to dwell on the fact her tongue felt as if it were firmly wedged down her throat.
“Pop by my place later and I’ll give you a list of those contractors.”
“A-all right,” she mumbled. As she watched him walk to the door, she realized with alarming clarity her road to starting over was going to be riddled with potholes. Being married for more than a decade to a man with more passion for position than for her hadn’t exactly armed her with skills to interact with the opposite sex. And Hawk? She’d never stumbled upon a man like him before—a man who could kick up chaos with a glance alone. Just what was a woman to do with all that male real estate? She wasn’t too proud to admit she hadn’t a clue.
Hawk paused at the door. “Oh, and welcome to the neighborhood.” A wink. “Such as it is.”
He disappeared across the porch, loud, creaking pops announcing each footfall he made down the steps. She added their replacement to her mental punch list.
“Where you want this, lady?”
Jo looked at the loveseat she used to sit on in her old bedroom, reading, as hours ticked by while she waited for Thomas to return home. It was the only piece of furniture they’d purchased together that she had requested. Now she couldn’t even remember why. The movers implored her with their impatient expressions.
“Put it on the street for garbage pickup.” They stared at her blankly, their mouths falling open. “Do they have large-item garbage pickup in rural Georgia?”
They shook their heads, eyeing the expensive sofa as if it were the last drunk woman at closing time.
“Do what you want with it, just don’t bring it in here.” Jo turned on her heel and headed toward the kitchen to investigate the plumbing that would likely be on its last leg, if not completely crippled already. Leaning on the counter by the sink, she pulled aside the frayed gingham curtain and glanced to the neighboring property.
Hawk Stephens. If they had placed a picture of himwith the ad for this hellhole of a house, it would have been off the market ages ago.
* * * * *
Hawk grinned as he walked back to his farm after leaving Jo standing in her living room, nervously scratching her neck, her cheeks passing through every shade of pink known to man. He really should have behaved himself better. But he couldn’t resist teasing her. Not when she was so…adorable. The top of her head barely cleared his shoulder, her stature such that a man’s instinct would be to wrap her in the protection of his arms. And when he had her there…
Hawk had been shocked by the speed of his attraction as he’d stood so close to Jo, breathing in her enticing scent. She had a shy beauty he found alluring, and when she had thrust her chin up, playfully calling him on his audacity to assume she wasn’t a handywoman,he didn’t know whether to laugh at her wit or kiss her senseless. His painfully hard state gave him the answer.
Hawk turned and looked over the tree line at the pitch of her roof with its missing shingles. A sight that, until half an hour ago, had irritated him—so much so he had planned to buy the heap and tear it down, just to improve the view from his place.
A view that wasn’t so troublesome anymore.
Shaking his head, Hawk resumed his walk. Jo Montgomery. She was going to get under his skin, he could feel it. But what a lovely itch to scratch.