Exclusive Excerpt: Karen Erickson’s Smolder

SMOLDER by Karen EricksonHappy hump day, everyone! The forbidden always has a certain allure, and your ex-boyfriend’s brother, well, that’s pretty off limits! Karen Erickson tackles this super sexy trope in Smolder, available next week. We absolutely cannot wait to get our hands on a copy, and this excerpt is the perfect way to whet our appetite.

Sheriff’s Deputy Lane Gallagher has harbored a crush on sweet dance teacher Delilah for years. The feeling is mutual, and Delilah is determined to make Lane see how good they can be together. There’s just one problem — Lane’s brother is Delilah’s ex. 

Delilah didn’t think dinner had gone particularly well, considering how quiet Lane had become beyond the occasional grunt of approval when he tore into another piece of chicken. She’d watched him in fascination, taking in every little detail. He ate like a real man, not like the men she’d dated in the past. If that was even a thing, eating like a real man. But to her, it was true. The way he tore into his food, chasing it down with a sip of water or multiple swallows of wine. He’d given up on the wine after polishing off his first glass, going to the kitchen to grab a beer instead.

She’d watched not so discreetly every time he brought that brown bottle to his lips, his fingers curved around the long neck. Admiring how he tilted his head back, she had dropped her gaze to the strong column of his neck, how his Adam’s apple had bobbed with every swallow. Her skin grew warmer with every single swallow. Her head had spun dizzily. All from watching Lane drink.

Clearly, she had major issues.

Once dinner was finished she’d corralled him into the kitchen, asking for his help with the sweetest tone she could muster. He’d protested at first, saying he could clean up, but she insisted until he reluctantly agreed, mumbling something about needing her to leave as soon as they were done so he could get some rest. She’d ignored the additional mumbling about him being exhausted, until he’d mumbled something about talking to his mom in the morning and how he wasn’t looking forward to it.

That got her attention, filling her with immediate sympathy.

“Cleaning up will help take your mind off your troubles, don’t you think?” She smiled brightly and nodded toward the full sink. She’d made a mess of his kitchen and really, the man shouldn’t have to pick up after her, but she wasn’t about to let him usher her out of his house yet either. She knew how he operated. First chance he got, he was shoving her out the front door, without even a swat on the ass to give her a temporary thrill. Any other guy would smack her butt. She had a good butt. A fantastic butt that was toned and firm and gave her something to show off since she was pretty flat-chested. And she should have a good butt, what with all the hours she danced and danced and danced . . .

“Dee.” Lane snapped his fingers in front of her face, making her blink. “You want to clear the table, or should I?” He said it like a man who’d asked the question multiple times.

His tone of voice made her stand at attention and practically bristle with good intentions. She needed to focus, not get lost in a haze that took over every time she was in his presence. “If you could, that would be great,” she said. “I’ll start cleaning up in here.” The kitchen was definitely the harder job.

So they went to work, Lane bringing in dirty dishes and the half-empty platter of chicken. They worked well together, with a quiet efficiency that she could appreciate and he probably didn’t even notice. Clueless was Lane Gallagher’s middle name. And, if it wasn’t, it should’ve been because the man had no clue. None. He couldn’t pick up on a hint, no matter how hard she tried.

Well, maybe you should smack him over the head with it. Make your feelings for him so obvious he can’t escape them.

She scraped off plates over the garbage can, then stacked the remaining dishes in the sink. Hadn’t she just told him the ball was in his court? Wasn’t he the one who needed to make the next move? Yet here she was making him dinner because she felt sorry for him and was worried about his mom, about his entire family. But more than anything, she was worried about him. About Lane.

Who took care of Lane anyway? He was so busy taking care of his brothers and sister, his parents . . . Hell, the entire damn town depended on Lane to take care of them. He watched over them, making sure they were all safe and sound.

But who made sure Lane was safe and sound? He had needs too. And she wasn’t just talking sexually, though she could satisfy those if he’d just let her.

Her thoughts drifted to earlier, when he’d barged into the kitchen with his gun drawn wearing just his boxer briefs. The gun had terrified her, she couldn’t lie, but she’d been more distracted by the mostly naked Lane. He was built perfectly. She could imagine winding herself around him, her fingers clutched in his hair, his hands on her waist, sliding down, down, down . . .

“Are you trying to scrape the color off that plate too?” Lane’s amused voice brought her back and she glanced down, surprised to find herself still scraping a fork across a now-bare plate.

Clearing her throat, she set the plate and fork into the sink and then turned on the water so she could start rinsing everything off. “You cleared the entire table already?” she asked when she realized that pretty much everything was now either lined up on the counter or filling the sink.

“Yep.” He opened the fridge and set the salad dressing bottle in the side door shelf. “What else do you need done?”

They loaded the dishwasher together before she filled the sink with hot soapy water and stuck in the pan she’d used to fry the chicken so it could soak. Then she sent Lane back into the dining room to wipe down the table while she wiped the kitchen counters clean with a damp rag. By the time she was finished, the kitchen shone, and she plunged her hands into the hot water, scrubbing the pan furiously to get the remaining chicken bits and grease off.

What would it be like, if she and Lane were in a real relationship? Would they be completely domesticated, sharing moments like this every evening? Sometimes she worked late and Lane seemed to work all hours of the day and night, so maybe it wouldn’t be quite like this but it was close enough. She could fix him meals and he could help her clean the kitchen. Then they could go settle in on the couch and watch TV. Play wandering hands for a bit before they became too overcome and started to kiss. Then she’d make him pick her up—because she would bet a million dollars he could lift her, no problem—and carry her into the bedroom. Where he’d strip her naked and proceed to take her straight to heaven.

The wistful sigh that escaped her was loud. So loud that Lane heard it.

“You all right?”

Whoops.

He stopped just behind her, so close she could feel the heat emanating from him. Goose bumps rose on her skin from his proximity, and she sunk her teeth into her bottom lip to keep in the shuddery breath that wanted to fall from her lips.

“I’m fine.” She shook her head, going completely still when his large hand settled on her shoulder. Oh, God, he was touching her. She wanted to melt. Or faint. Or turn around and throw herself at him. Whatever reaction took over first.

“Water too hot?” His voice was a low, rumbly murmur. “You can just let that pan soak if you want. I’ll take care of it in the morning.”

“No, no. I’ll wash it.” She sounded high-pitched, like Minnie Mouse after sucking on a balloon full of helium. His nearness made her nervous. Worse, she was afraid he’d let go of her and step away and she’d miss her opportunity. Opportunity for what, she wasn’t sure.

“You don’t have to—”

She cut him off. “I made the mess, so I’ll clean up after myself. I don’t mind.”

He was silent for a moment, though his hand didn’t move. Shockingly enough, he stepped closer, so close his body brushed hers, and she braced her hand on the bottom of the sink so she wouldn’t lean back into him. She was sorely tempted to do exactly that.

But she remained upright with his hand on her shoulder, his breath stirring the wild hairs near her ear as he murmured, “Thank you for dinner, Dee. It means a lot to me that you did this.”

She left her hands submerged in the water. It was either that or end up groping him. “I figured you were feeling stressed.”

“I’m still feeling stressed.” He hesitated, then squeezed her shoulder gently. “But this helped. You’re a good friend, Delilah.”

His words were like a cold dose of reality. A reality she didn’t want to face. A reality she didn’t have to face if the ignorant man would just give in to the attraction that had been simmering between them for weeks, months, freaking years.

Removing her hands from the water, she turned to face him. His hand dropped away from her shoulder, his expression one of open shock. She went on pure instinct, grabbing hold of the front of his shirt, her wet fingers curling into the thin cotton, drenching it completely.

“I’m more than a friend and you know it.” Her voice was surprisingly firm.

He said nothing, his gaze dropping to her mouth, lingering there. She parted her lips, a shocked noise escaping her when he bent his head and his mouth hovered above hers for the briefest, most tantalizing second of her entire life.

“You’d like it if I kissed you, wouldn’t you?” His voice was a harsh whisper, his lips nearly moving against hers as he spoke.

A squeak wheezed out of her, and she tried to suck in a mouthful of air but it was no use. He’d claimed all the oxygen with his nearness, with his words, with the tease of his mouth so damn close to hers. She tightened her hold on his shirt, tugging on him, frustration rendering her mute.

“You know how long I’ve thought about this?” He slipped an arm around her waist, hauling her into him, and she swore he groaned low in his throat when their bodies made full contact. “Dreamed about it? Every time we’re together, it’s all I can think about. Kissing you. Touching you.”

Oh. My. She couldn’t believe what he was saying. Was it the beer? He’d had two plus the glass of wine. Well, tipsy Lane or sober Lane, whoever he was, as long as he was touching her, she wasn’t protesting.

“I shouldn’t do this,” he muttered, his arm loosening around her waist as he started to pull away from her. She reached for the back of his neck, her fingers curling in the hair at his nape, trapping him. He struggled but not too hard and his eyes blazed as he stared down at her. “You don’t want to start with me.”

“Why?” The word rasped from her throat, her voice full of all the bewilderment and confusion coursing through her veins. “Aren’t you tired of fighting it? We’ve been working toward this moment for a long time.”

“I’m not the right man for you,” he said through tight lips.

She barely restrained the urge to roll her eyes at his statement. How many times had she heard a similar response from him? Always protesting, always claiming he wasn’t good enough, wasn’t right for her, that the two of them together would cause each other nothing but heartache and trouble.

“Let me be the judge of that,” she said as she pressed on the back of his neck, her nails lightly scraping his warm, smooth skin. He drew closer, as if he couldn’t help himself, and triumph rang through her, setting off a vibration deep in her bones. “I’m a big girl, Lane,” she whispered as his mouth once again hovered above hers. “I’m not scared of you.”

“You should be,” he muttered.

Just before he kissed her.

Smolder will be available in digital and print on June 21. Grab your copy: Amazon | BN | Google Play | Kobo | iBooks | IndieBound. And if more hump day excerpts is what you crave, we’ve got you covered.

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