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What if all you want is the one thing you can’t have?
First grade teacher Emily Towson always does the right thing. The sensible thing. But in her dreams, she does bad, bad things with the town’s baddest boy: Tanner O’Connor. But when he sells her grandmother a Harley, fantasy is about to meet a dose of reality.
And then he goes and calls her “sensible”…
Tanner can’t believe sweet Emily is standing in his shop. Yelling and waving her hands and looking so god damn sexy he’s having trouble focusing. He’d spent two hard years in prison, with only the thought of this “good girl” to keep him sane.
He really should send her away…
Before either one thinks though, they’re naked and making memories on his tool bench with apparently the oldest condom in history. Now Tanner’s managed to knock-up the town’s “good girl” and she’s going to lose her job over some stupid “morality clause” if he doesn’t step up.
But can this bad boy teach his good girl they’re perfect for each other in time?
HANDLE WITH CARE is available on audio.
Just click on the links…
“I’m sad that this is my first time reading Nina Croft’s words, because she is too good not to have been on my TBR before now. Handle with Care is somewhat emotional –I cried— romantic and just utterly splendid.” –Up All night With Books Blog
“I absolutely loved this book and was honored to have been able to read and review. It was such a phenomenal read and had amazing characters as well as an amazing story line. I just couldn’t get enough of it and once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend that you read it.” –Anne C., Goodreads
“OMG…..talk about Hot ! Hot! Hot! Who doesn’t love a bad boy and the girl next door type of character. I fell in love with Tanner and Emily from the first chapter and all I can say is ‘Thank you” Nina for getting me out of my reading rut. I devoured this book in 8 straight hours and one sleepless night…” – Tamara W., NetGAlley
“What a beautiful heartbreaking story. It’s well written and keeps you on your toes. With twists and secrets that you won’t see coming that will have you wanting more. I cannot wait to see what happens next.” –Heather D., Goodreads
“A heartbreakingly beautiful romance that left me swooning.” –Erika C., NetGalley
Emily pulled over to the side of the road and jabbed her foot on the brake. Her hands were tight on the wheel. In the ten-minute drive back into town, she’d managed to work herself up into a temper.
Which was just as well, because without the temper she was pretty sure she wouldn’t have the nerve to face down Tanner O’Connor and tell him exactly what she thought of a man who would sell a seventy-year-old woman, with zero experience on a bike, what was the next best thing to a coffin on wheels.
Despite living in the same small town all their lives, she had never actually had a conversation with Tanner. Usually, she just gazed pathetically at him from afar. And the one time he’d actually said words to her, she’d clammed up and turned puce.
It didn’t help that any face-to-face meeting with Tanner was always going to be colored by the fact that she had seen him naked. Of course, only in her dreams, but all the same, it was bound to make the meeting a little uncomfortable. She’d never admit to anyone that she fantasized about sex with Tanner O’Connor. Hot sex. Hot, dirty sex, and lots of it. And maybe if she was entirely honest with herself, her response to Ryan’s proposal tonight was probably due in a large part to the fact that Ryan wasn’t Tanner O’Connor. Not that she wanted to marry Tanner or anything. Certainly not. He wasn’t marriage material. He was hot, greasy—no doubt kinky—sex material. And she’d known that if she married Ryan, then she really could not in good conscience go on fantasizing about sex with another man. It was almost adultery. And the sad thing was she wasn’t ready to give up her dream lover.
And then Ryan had called her sensible. And she’d felt stupid, because she was being as far from sensible as it was possible to be. She was saying no to a man who was perfect marriage material, so she could go on fantasizing about sex with a man who didn’t even know she was alive.
She’d never slept with Ryan. He hadn’t pushed the issue, and the one time she’d gotten up her nerve to ask him if he wanted to, he’d said he respected her too much. Ugh. She banged her forehead against the steering wheel. She’d bet Tanner wouldn’t respect her. At all.
She wasn’t a virgin. She’d had a boyfriend in college, but no one since she’d moved back to Saddler Cove and started work. Maybe she was just frustrated. Maybe tomorrow she’d go see Ryan and suggest they have sex.
First, she needed to confront the man who had sold her grandmother a hog. Tell him what she thought about him—well, not everything she thought about him. Certainly not the naked thing. But she would make him tear up Mimi’s check.
She’d parked outside the O’Connors’ showroom with its big plate glass window. Now she forced herself to get out and head to the door. It had a closed notice on it. Maybe she should take that as a sign that this was not meant to be and go home. Instead, she peered through the glass. The showroom was large, painted black and red, and only had one bike on show. A huge black monster on a podium in the center. She wouldn’t have thought Saddler Cove was the sort of place to sell many motorcycles, but maybe they got customers from other places.
The business was owned by the three O’Connor brothers, Reese, Tanner, and Aiden. And they all appeared prosperous enough, so she presumed they must be making some money. Reese’s daughter was in her class, a sweet girl, and she’d met Reese at the parents evening. He was a single dad, and an ex-Navy SEAL, and as gorgeous as Tanner in his own way. So was Aiden, the younger brother. But neither of them did funny things to her insides the way Tanner did. Something about all that brooding bad-boyness just did it for her.
She couldn’t see anyone around, and when she rattled on the door it was definitely locked. Was this a reprieve? But she didn’t want a reprieve. She wanted this out and done with. She knew, deep down, that approaching Tanner O’Connor like this was not the most sensible of moves—she should come back when the shop was open and there would be other people around. But the frustration and anger had been building inside her since Ryan’s comment. She didn’t want to be sensible. Maybe she should let Mimi buy the bike and they could ride together, start up a motorcycle club, sell some drugs or some guns. She’d watched Sons of Anarchy. She’d swap her white sweater sets for black leather and…
She was prevaricating.
Don’t be a wimp.
She banged on the door. When absolutely nothing happened, she stepped back and considered her next move. She looked up at the second floor, searching for any sign of life, but nothing moved. She was aware that Tanner lived above the shop, while his brothers still lived in the old family house across town. She couldn’t see any sign of life up there. Could she shimmy up the drainpipe, peer in the window? Throw stones?
There had to be a way in. An alley ran alongside the building, and she headed down there, her feet slowing. Did she really want to show up on Tanner’s doorstep? Maybe she should wait until morning and visit the shop. Keep everything official.
She’d just take a quick look.
At the end of the alley, there was a gate, which led into a yard. She counted five bikes. She knew they ran a garage, did repairs and customizing jobs as well as sales. This must be the workshop. She tried the gate, expecting—maybe hoping—it to be locked, but it swung open. She licked her lips.
There was probably no one here.
She stepped inside, and the gate swung shut behind her with a loud clang that would surely alert someone to her presence—if there was anyone here. Across the yard was an open garage door. A sound from inside made her jump. She stiffened her shoulders and marched forward. Then slowed as she got to the door.
There was still time to back out of this.
If half of the things they said about Tanner were true, then meeting him alone, at night, was not a sensible thing to do. The thought was enough to send her forward the last few steps.
It took a second for her eyes to adjust to the dimmer light, and she stood breathing in the pungent odor of oil and petrol. Not unpleasant. The place was big, maybe thirty feet by thirty feet. The walls were blocks and the floor concrete, as though no effort had been made to pretty the place up. She took another few steps in—picking her way across the oil-spotted floor. For a moment, she thought there was no one there. Then something clattered off to the left, and she went totally still. Someone was humming under their breath, something classical, the tune vaguely familiar, but her mind wasn’t functioning sufficiently to identify it. Instead, she inched closer.
There he was. Tanner O’Connor. At the sight of him, everything inside her clenched up tight. He had his back to her and seemed unaware of her presence. Probably something to do with the earbuds he wore, which gave her the chance to stare. She’d never been this close—or at least she couldn’t remember being this close.
He was doing something with a wrench and a big black bike, leaning over the engine so his faded jeans were pulled tight across his ass. She wasn’t the sort of girl to stare at men’s asses, but she couldn’t drag her gaze away. Maybe she’d start. Get some pin-ups for the teachers’ staff room. Tanner’s was perfect, tight, with lean hips and long legs.
Her skin heated up, and inside her tan dress, her nipples tightened, warmth settling in her belly.
She might have made a small noise, because he straightened and turned quickly. He still had the wrench in his hand, and his eyes widened as he took a step toward her. She instinctively took a step back, slipped on something, her feet going out from under her, her arms spiraling as she fought to stay upright. Wasn’t happening. She hit the concrete floor with a crash, the air whooshing from her lungs.
She lay with her eyes closed. Way to go. How To Make An Entrance by Emily Towson.
She finally opened her eyes and then closed them again.
Holy freaking moly.
She peeked again. He was standing beside her, like really close—if I reach out my hand I can touch him—close. Her fingers curled in a fist at her side. From this angle, he appeared huge, like a giant towering over her. His jean-clad legs braced. She peered a little higher, her gaze snagging on the bulge at his groin, lovingly covered by the soft denim.
Look away, Emily, you’re a pervert.
By force of will, she managed to drag her gaze away. The wrench was still held loosely in his hand, and she stared at that instead.
“Well, if it isn’t little Emily Towson,” he murmured.
She hated that. She wasn’t so little. She would have stood up taller, if she’d been standing at all and not sprawled on the floor in an undignified heap at his feet. She pushed herself onto her elbows, then sat up, took stock. She wasn’t hurt. Just her dignity was a little wounded. It occurred to her then that he actually recognized her. She’d thought he didn’t know she existed.
At the realization—Tanner O’Connor actually knew her name—her heart, already thudding against her rib cage, double timed.
She risked another glance, found him staring down at her, eyes narrowed. He didn’t look pleased to see her.
“What’s the matter, Ms. Towson. You think I’m going to beat you to death with my wrench?”
She opened her mouth but couldn’t make a sound come out.
“You’ve been listening to too much town gossip. I’m not likely to commit murder. At least not until I’ve had my evil way with you.”
He was toying with her. She hoped. She cleared her throat. “Of course I don’t think you’re going to beat me to death.” She scowled. “You could help me up.”
“You think it’s safe for a man like me to touch you?”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, for goodness, sake.” She made to push herself up on her own, but at the last moment, he reached out with his free hand. She hesitated briefly, but then slid her palm into his and allowed him to tug her to her feet. After she was up, she pulled at her hand, and he tightened his grip. She was actually holding hands with Tanner O’Connor.
“You okay?” he asked. “What the hell happened?”
She risked a glance at his face and really shouldn’t have because he was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. And that could only be a distraction from her mission. Still she couldn’t look away. His dark blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail, showing off his perfect bone structure; high cheekbones, and a big, straight nose. His eyes were blue-gray, and his lips were…moving again.
She shook herself. “Sorry? What?”
“I said are you okay? Did you have some sort of…fit?”
“Of course not. You surprised me, and I slipped on something.” She peered behind her, and there was a puddle of grease on the floor, a skid mark through it where she’d lost her footing. She twisted around so she could see the back of her dress, and yup, a big black oil stain covered her bottom. She’d never really liked this dress anyway.
“I surprised you?” He sounded incredulous. “I’m busy working in my own garage when some woman creeps up on me from behind, with God knows what intentions, and yet I’m the one who surprised you?”
He had a valid point. So she decided to ignore it.
She tugged her hand, and this time he let her go. He was too close, so she took a careful step back and still had to crick her neck to look into his face. He’d taken off the headphones, and they hung around his neck. He had a nice neck and broad shoulders. The edge of a black and red tattoo could be seen peering out of the neckline of his vest top, and another ran down his left arm. She stared a little closer, trying to make out what the pattern was. Ryan didn’t have tattoos. Neither had her boyfriend in college, and her hands itched to touch them, trace the intricate patterns.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” he asked. She started at the words, and he shook his head. “Christ, you’re jumpy. You don’t have to worry. I’m not really going to have my evil way with you.”
She drew herself up tall, or as tall as she could, which was actually a pathetically inadequate five-feet-two. “I know that, Mr. O’Connor. I’m hardly your type.”
His eyes narrowed at that. “And what do you think my type to be, Ms. Towson? Lap dancers and strippers?” His tone was definitely snarky. Had she hit a chord there somehow?
He didn’t wait for an answer but crossed over to a bench, tossed down his wrench, picked up a rag, and wiped the oil from his hands.
“There’s a smudge on your cheek as well,” she pointed out.
“Don’t you like a bit of dirt, Ms. Towson?”
Actually, in her fantasies he was usually dirty as all hell. Greasy and sweaty and…
Don’t go there.
He leaned back against the counter and folded his arms across his chest and considered her, his head cocked to one side. She had to fight the urge to squirm. He licked his lower lip with the tip of his tongue, and she almost groaned. He wasn’t to know of all the other things he’d done with that tongue over the years. A little pulse started between her thighs, and she clamped them together and crossed her own arms over her chest just in case her traitorous nipples were showing.
His lips twitched; he was finding this amusing.
Was she so obvious?
“You know,” he said. “I spent two years in a prison cell fantasizing about you. Every night, I’d lie in my bunk, close my eyes, shut out that fucking place, and I’d jerk myself off to the image of sexy little Emily Towson skinny-dipping in the creek. Sweetest pair of tits I have ever seen, then or since.” His gaze dropped to her chest, and her breasts responded, swelling, aching. He licked his lips again and grinned. “So I guess that makes you my type after all.”
She was speechless. Her mind a complete blank as she tried—and failed—to make any sense of his words.
“Not going to say anything?” he asked.
Finally, she came up with something. “I so was not skinny-dipping.” She would never have had the nerve.
He gave a casual shrug. “Okay. That was a bit of poetic license. You were actually wearing this white cotton underwear. It was totally see-through and clung to your hard, little nipples. Probably sexier than being naked.”
His tone was so matter-of-fact that for a second the words refused to make sense. She couldn’t believe he was saying this. Was he lying? Did it matter?
“You never said anything.”
“You were only sixteen. I put you on my to-do list for a later date.” His to-do list? Was she supposed to be impressed? “Then you could say life got in the way.”
He’d killed his best friend and gone to prison for it. Except, unlike the rest of the town, she’d never believed he’d been responsible for Dwain Forrester’s death.
“Anyway, just wanted to clear up the whole ‘not my type’ thing. But despite that, you’re safe with me.”
Was that supposed to make her feel better? “What? You’ve thrown away your to-do list?” She tried for sarcasm, but it had never been her strong point.
“No, I’ve just written another one.”
And she was clearly no longer on it. That was good. She didn’t believe it, anyway. He was making fun of her. Tanner had always had a harem of beautiful girls after him. And she wasn’t beautiful.
“So now that’s cleared up,” he said, “could we get back to what the hell you’re doing here?” He straightened and came toward her again.
She took a few deep breaths, determined not to let him see her complete loss of composure. Time to get to the business of the night. His totally conscienceless sale of a totally inappropriate motorcycle to her grandmother.
“You sold my grandmother a motorcycle.”
“Ah? Is that all you’ve got to say for yourself? She’s seventy.”
A smile tugged at his lips. “Not quite. She told me it was her birthday in a couple of weeks.”
He was still playing with her, and her temper roared back to life. Good, because she’d really been feeling a little weird.
“She’s never even been on a bike in her life. You know there’s absolutely no way she can drive one of those things. She’ll kill herself. You really are as bad as they say you are.”
And the smile vanished.