Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Once a cowboy, always a cowboy

Ten years ago, Jack Everett left his family's ranch without a backward glance. Now, what was supposed to be a quick trip home for his father's funeral has suddenly become more complicated. The ranch Jack can handle---he might be a lawyer, but he still remembers how to work with his hands. But turning around the failing vineyard he's also inherited? That requires working with the one woman he never expected to see again.

Ava Ellis broke her own heart the night she let Jack go. She was young and scared---and secretly pregnant with Jack's baby. Now that he's back and asking for her help, Ava sees her opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. But how will he feel about the son he's never known? Could this be their second chance---or their final heartbreak?

“Cross my heart, this sexy, sweet romance gives a cowboy-at-heart lawyer a second chance at first love and readers a fantastic ride.”
Jennifer Ryan – New York Times bestselling author

There was something about this book.  The chemistry between Jack and Ava was scorching.  There's a lot more to this book that is worth mentioning, but it isn't very often that the chemistry between characters sparks this strongly from their first meeting (well, the one 10 years later) and continue throughout the title.

This is my first book by A. J. Pine, and I absolutely loved it.  I thought Jack was authentic, and my heart broke for him and all of the things he was denying himself because he was afraid he was like his father.  I loved all of the moments he had to prove to himself, and those around him, that he was nothing like the man and the past that he was running from.

I liked Ava, a lot.  I thought she was strong, and I respected the reasons for the decisions she made, even though I am not sure I fully agreed with them.  Choosing to keep from someone that he is going to be a father is a big secret to keep, and she knows this.  And, she owns that she did it without really making excuses.  She gives explanations, but not excuses.  Did I totally agree with her?  No...although I see her logic.

But, it doesn't matter if I agree with the choices of the characters as much as it matters that I believe they do...and, I believed in the characters.

The best thing about a second chance, and it worked so well here, is that there is a history between the characters that heightens not only the first meeting, but the subsequent interactions.  It was done so well in this title that you felt the tension between Jack and Ava, the longing, the desire to reconnect and the fear that them not making it this time would destroy them both.

This is also the first book in a new series yet it doesn't fall into the trap of being too much about the secondary characters in order to build the story (which is a pet peeve of mine).  I think this worked so well because the secondary characters are his brothers, and other members of his family, so their inclusion in the story feels more natural than other first in the series titles.

This was an emotional read with amazing sexual chemistry.  I loved it, I recommend it, and I can't wait for the next in the series!

Buy This Book!

Owen squirmed in the wooden booth next to her. “Mo-om. I’m so hungry I think I’m going to die.”
Ava laughed, hoping her son couldn’t see through the reaction to the nerves that lay beneath. Normally she’d give him a snack in the car—a bag of goldfish crackers or one of those squeezie applesauce pouches—but she hadn’t wanted him to be full once they got to the restaurant. He needed the food to keep him from getting bored. And to keep him from being idle enough to scrutinize anything about Jack he might not want scrutinized.
“In a few minutes, bud. Promise.”
But it was five minutes to one, and Jack wasn’t here. Yet. Because of course he was coming. She hadn’t spent the whole hour mentally reassuring herself only for him not to show.
Oh shit. What if he didn’t show?
She’d chosen to sit with their backs to the door. Otherwise her eagerness to see Jack enter would get the best of her. But this only made things worse. More than once she’d attempted to casually look over her shoulder only to meet the curious eyes of several BBQ on the Bluff patrons.
“Are you two ready to order, or are you waiting on someone else?”
Ava startled as a young woman with a blond pixie bounced a pen against a pad of paper. “It’s cool if you’re still waiting. I’ve got a couple of nephews, though, probably around your little guy’s age, and all they ever do is eat. Figured he might be hungry.”
Ava smiled and turned to Owen, who gave her a pleading look.
“We are waiting for someone, but I guess it couldn’t hurt to—”
“Lily Green, since when do they let the cook out of the kitchen?”
At the sound of Jack’s voice, a warmth spread through Ava’s veins like chocolate fondue, hot and sweet and delicious. She shook her head. This was not the place to let his smooth baritone start—doing things to her.
“Since I’m short two servers this afternoon,” the other woman said with a grin. “And how about you tell me why I’ve already seen you twice in the span of four days? Luke told Tucker you’d be hightailing it out of Oak Bluff first chance you got.” She turned her attention to Ava. “My husband and Jack’s little brother, Luke, are good friends. Best friends, actually. But me and Luke? We butt heads like you wouldn’t believe. Wonder if big brother here is as difficult as the other.” She winked at Jack.
He smiled and slid into the booth across from Ava and Owen.
“Am I late?” he asked, and Ava shook her head. He glanced back at the woman with the notepad—Lily. And Ava couldn’t help the surge of relief she’d felt when the woman said husband.
“Start us off with that cornbread you sent over the other night, will ya?” Jack added. “I’ve been craving it ever since.”
Lily shoved her pen behind her ear and dropped the pad into her apron pocket. “You got it. I’ll get the rest of your order when I deliver the goods.”
Only after Lily was gone did Jack give Ava his full attention, and she had to remind herself to breathe when he looked right past her and let his eyes fall on Owen.
“Hey, bud,” he said. “You like cornbread?”
Owen narrowed his eyes at Jack—at his father—and Ava watched as the boy studied the man. Finally, her son nodded.
“Yeah, I like it,” he said, then looked back and forth between his parents. “My mom calls me that, by the way. Bud.
She held her breath, and Jack cleared his throat. He was nervous, and Owen was already giving him the third degree. But then Jack crossed his arms and smiled. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but he seemed ready to take whatever Owen had to dish out.
“What should I call you, then?” Jack asked him, and Owen crossed his arms as well.
“You’re a friend of my mom’s?”
“I am,” Jack said.
“A good friend? Because if you were a good friend I think I would have heard of you before.”
Jack let out a nervous laugh while Ava seemed to ignore her earlier directive reminding herself to breathe.
“Truth is,” Jack started, “your mom and I used to be real good friends. Then I left town, and we lost touch for a while.” He turned his attention to her, his blue-eyed gaze steady and intent. And Ava’s heart stuttered like it had the first time she saw him in high school. “But I think I’d like for us to be friends again.”
Owen tilted his head toward her so that both of their gazes were fixed on hers.
“Do you wanna be friends with him again?” Owen asked.
Ava cleared her throat. “Yeah, bud. I think I do.”
Because friendship she could admit to wanting. Friendship was a start. What she wouldn’t do was hope—this early on—that it would lead to more.
Owen nodded and faced Jack again. “One more question.”
“I’m all ears,” Jack said, his lips hinting at a grin.
“Marvel or DC?”
Jack’s brows raised, and Ava bit her lip.
“And here I thought I was going to get a hard question,” Jack said. “Because the only right answer is Marvel, and the top Avenger, of course, is the first Avenger, Captain Steve Rogers.”
Owen pumped his fist in the air and shouted, “Yes! Okay, Mom. This guy’s cool. I think you two should be friends again.”
Ava’s breathing finally steadied, but she had a rising tide of emotion. Because Jack and Owen had connected. Her son had just given his own father the seal of approval. And she—well, she’d never expected this day to happen, let alone have it be a success.
“Cornbread for all my friends!” Lily said, placing a basket on the table.
The spell was broken, but a new one took hold as Owen devoured a piece before Lily even had time to leave the table. They all watched as he sank into the booth as he swallowed—satiated for the moment.
“Did he even chew that?” Lily asked.
Owen grinned and rubbed a hand over his belly. “Whatever I did, I’m gonna do it again.” He reached for piece number two, but Ava’s hand landed on his wrist before he could swipe another golden square.
“Drink something, bud. You’re gonna choke or make yourself sick if you don’t slow down.”
Jack scratched the back of his neck and squinted at Lily. “I remember my brothers saying this place had the best strawberry lemonade. You still got that?”
She shook her head, and Ava watched as Owen deflated.
“I change the menu monthly. But I’ve got a frozen strawberry limeade that’ll knock your socks off. What do you say?”
Owen perked up again. Ava smiled and lifted her shoulders. Jack slapped a palm down on the table.
“I guess that settles it,” he said. “Three strawberry limeades, and judging by this guy’s appetite, I think we’re ready to order.”

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