Only three more days until the first book in the Fox Family series goes live! I am unbelievably excited to share Finley and Archer’s story and I can’t wait for people to read and fall in love with the Fox siblings ❤
Download at your favorite retailer here: Between a Fox and a Hard Place
She’s determined to keep her family home. He won’t let his friend down. Will conflicting interests shatter their chances of happily ever after?
Finley Fox refuses to give up her life’s work. With her family’s cabin rental business at risk of going under, the eldest of five has been laboring for years to care for the property, not to mention her now grown siblings. But when a New York billionaire makes a play for the ailing resort, Finley struggles to resist her attraction to the handsome man sent to secure the deal.
Archer Weston craves stability. With his best buddy since childhood in need of a favor, the lonely businessman heads to the mountains to convince the owner to sell. But his mission hits a hurdle when his heart melts in the presence of the hardworking, beautiful woman.
With debt and sibling drama piling high, Finley fears that leaning on her irresistible guest for support could end in her own heartbreak. But as their relationship grows and intensifies, Archer is caught between his long-term loyalty and his one shot at finding his forever…
Can this unexpected couple keep both their dreams alive?
Happy hour. The unhappiest of all the hours.
“Where is he?” I stop on the other side of the bar, across from Veronica.
The restaurant is nearly empty. There are only a half dozen patrons in the whole place.
Jimmy and Paul are at the opposite end of the bar, grumbling at the hockey game on the flat-screen TV and sipping pints of amber liquid. Reed sits in a corner booth with Stacey. They both work in the county tax assessor’s office—a number I have memorized at this point. He nods in my direction, and Stacey waves. I manage a distracted smile.
At a table near the front entrance, an unfamiliar man is nursing a half-full beer.
My eyes linger for a second on the stranger, mostly because it’s odd to see an unfamiliar face mid-March, which is not anywhere near tourist season but also because damn. He has broad shoulders covered in a thick woolen blue flannel. His jawline is stubbled as if it hasn’t seen a razor in three days. I’ve only caught a quick glimpse of his strong features and dark hair, but I liked what I saw. His nose is slightly too big for his face, and a small scar bisects one eyebrow, but the imperfections only make the whole package more compelling and also slightly dangerous. He’s like a lumberjack: strong, beefy, possibly able to lift me with a single arm or exact vengeance on all my enemies.
If I wasn’t exhausted, teeming with frustration, and ready to murder my little brother, I might be tempted to introduce myself. Except I’m currently wearing dirty overalls, muddy boots, and probably resting bitch face.
Might not be the best idea.
“Hey, Finley. He’s out back. Rough week, huh?” Veronica winces in sympathy.
“Every week,” I murmur.
“Thanks for coming so quick. I don’t want to leave him out there to freeze his bits off when the sun sets.” She shakes her head, her long silvery-gray hair swinging with the motion. Veronica went to high school with my dad. I often hoped he would date her, since she’s a pretty sixtysomething woman, and she’s single. But it wasn’t meant to be.
I put my elbows on the scuffed wooden bar top and clasp my hands together tight, resisting the urge to bang my head against the solid surface. “The bathtub again?”
She picks up a rag, wiping off the counter to my left. “It’s his favorite resting place.”
It’s where he goes to pass out when he’s next-level drunk.
I didn’t want to deal with this today. Raccoons digging through our trash woke me up last night because Jacob didn’t close the bin all the way. I spent my morning cleaning up the mess and then the afternoon digging drainage routes through freezing dirt—which is what I was doing when Veronica called. I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and we have a few guests checked in today. I don’t have time for any of this.
When I remain silent, she adds, “Do you need help getting him out?”
I blow out a breath. “No. I’ll get him. You have customers. I just need a minute to prepare myself.”
She grimaces and leans closer, lowering her voice. “This might be a bad time, but I’m not sure there will ever be a good one.” She pauses, her gaze dipping to where my hands are still clenched before she meets my eyes. “Bernie was in here earlier with Estelle. They’re selling.”
My stomach drops. All the air is sucked out of the room. The world tilts. “No.” My mouth forms the word, but no sound emerges.
She nods, tossing the bar rag out of sight below the bar. “They want to retire next year, and they got an offer they couldn’t refuse.”
My back teeth clench. Dammit.
Bernie and Estelle have been our neighbors for as long as I’ve been alive—all thirty-two years.
If they’ve sold, this means every parcel around Fox Cottages, my family’s property, has now been acquired by the evil overlord of doom.
My fists clench against the bar. “Damn him.”
Veronica nods and clucks in sympathy. Everyone knows who he is—Oliver Nichols—some rich prick who’s been flinging his lackeys in my direction every other month to pressure me into selling my land. Lord knows why he wants to buy rural property in East Bumfuck, New York, but I will fight it to the bitter end. I have to. My home is all I have left.
A familiar surge of fury and indignation flows through me along with a healthy dose of despair.
I might not have a choice soon. Especially if my damn brother keeps drinking our nonexistent profits.
Misery leaks into the air around me, and Veronica taps my hand with a gentle finger. “You need a little something?”
I glance over at the hottie lumberjack. Yes. Yes, I do need something.
But I’ll settle for what’s realistic.
She grabs a glass from under the bar and pours a couple fingers of good bourbon into it. “This one’s on the house. You enjoy that before you have to deal with that man out there. He was on one today.” She chuckles.
He’s on one every day. “Thanks, Veronica.”
I’m grateful she called me. Even though I wish she would refuse Jacob service, I can’t put her in that kind of awkward position.
I take a little sip of my drink, enjoying the burn.
After a minute, Veronica walks out from behind the bar, talking to the lumberjack in a murmur, giving him his check. I strain my ears to interpret his rumbling response, but it’s too low for me to catch.
She heads back to the bar, and he tosses some bills on the table, leaving without so much as a glance in my direction.
I’m not sure if I should be disappointed that I’m invisible or relieved, considering my current appearance. There is no way I could snag a man that lickable without a few more hours of sleep and, at the very least, a half-hearted attempt at making myself presentable.
It’s been a long time. I need to get laid.
Shoving the inconvenient thoughts of my neglected libido aside, I fling back the rest of the bourbon. I have bigger fish to fry. A brother to carry home. Or at least to the truck.
Once the heat from the drink has warmed my insides, and I feel less murdery, I gird my loins and head out the back door.
The air bites at my cheeks. The sun is descending, and the trees lining the property cast gloomy silhouettes.
About thirty feet away, resting in the corner of the property under a bony maple, sits an abandoned bathtub. Jacob’s tawny-brown hair flicks in the breeze just above the lip of the tub.
I pick my way over the gravel and dead grass, skirting patches of snow lingering in the shadows, refusing to melt.
Perching on an old stump next to him, I wait.
He’s been worse since his birthday—he just turned twenty-five. I wish it was your typical quarter-life crisis, but it’s more than that.
His face is serene in slumber, not at all like that of a man who lost his twin sister at fifteen and hasn’t fully recovered. He looks so young and so much like Aria it nearly takes my breath away. He has the same stubborn chin, aquiline nose, and thin lips they inherited from Dad.
A loud snore rips out of him, echoing around us.
Time to wake up Sleeping Beauty.
I push on his shoulder.
The snore cuts off, and his eyes blink open. A sleepy grin takes over his face. “Hey, Fin.”
His smile droops, his glazed eyes shuttering.
And then he’s snoring again.
I smack his cheek. “Jacob. Wake up. We need to get to the truck, and I can’t carry your heavy ass.”
I stand, lean over him, grab both of his hands, and yank him upward. He barely shifts. “C’mon.”
He glares up at me. “I’m tired, Finley.”
“Stop whining and get up. You can sleep when we get home.”
“I don’t want to go home.” It’s like he’s five. All the thoughts about how sweet he looked as he slept die a quick and painful death.
“You can’t sleep here.”
“Uh, because it’s cold and uncomfortable and because I said so.”
He moans again but at least makes a half-hearted effort to stand. It takes a few minutes of tugging and cajoling, but eventually, I’ve got him out of the tub and on his feet—wobbly feet—but progress is progress.
We shuffle around the side of the squat wood building, Jacob’s arm around my neck.
I keep my gaze focused on our faded-green pickup truck while he drags his feet, his weight heavy across my back, his boots running into mine as he stumbles next to me.
We’re crossing the entrance from the main road when he comes to an abrupt halt.
“Wait.” The word slurs out of his mouth. Then he bends over, dragging me down with him, and throws up all over both our shoes. He sinks the rest of the way to the ground.
“Shit.” This is not happening. I tug on him, holding my breath. “Jacob, get up.”
He doesn’t move, lying on the asphalt, a boneless lump of stank.
I glance around. At least there aren’t any witnesses to this humiliation.
I grab his arm again and yank. “Come on, we have to move out of the way. We’re blocking the entrance.”
“It’s fine.” He relaxes even more against the hard ground. “Comfy here.”
“It’s not fine. Jacob. If you don’t move your ass, I’m going to kick it.”
“I’ll tell the whole town about that time you microwaved your pee.”
“No, you won’t,” he murmurs, eyes still shut.
I don’t know whether to cry, scream, stomp him with my vomit-covered shoe, or all three.
A car pulls halfway into the lot, coming to a halt a few feet away—the tail end of the vehicle sticking out onto the main road.
“Just perfect,” I mutter. “Jake, get up!” I yell directly into his ear.
He doesn’t even flinch.
Standing, I turn toward the driver of the vehicle and lift my arms in the universal symbol for “I don’t know.”
I lift my arms again. “You want to come out here and help me?” I call out, but their windows are rolled up, so I’m not sure if they can hear me or if they care.
They honk again.
Nope. They don’t care.
Why me? Why can’t I have a normal life where things go right once in a while instead of everything always going from bad to worse to absolute hell?
I’m so sick of the constant anxiety and tension and stress—I don’t think I can take it anymore.
As if summoned by my defeatist thoughts, another car pulls up behind the first, and they both start honking, one after the other, a chorus of impatience.
Hysterical laughter gurgles up and bursts out of me.