Cass never imagined she would be attracted to someone thirty years older than she was. But when Captain Raymond Jackson entered her backyard, she felt as if a lightning bolt struck her. With the face of Sam Elliot and the body of the Rock, how could she not be attracted? They decided to get to know each other better, and Cass soon learns there are a few secrets Ray is keeping from her. Will their relationship be strong enough to survive?
Below are the first two chapters as well as the link to pre-order your copy today!
When he first entered my yard, my heart slammed into my chest. The sight of him scared me more than the rattler that was slithering underneath my barbecue grill. My nerves were rattled enough as it was, but the sight of him scared the bejesus out of me. I estimated his height to be at least six feet four inches, and he was all man. He wore a navy-blue Palm Hills Fire Department T-shirt, jeans that molded against his massive thighs, and tan hiking boots. His wavy hair was thick and full of gray. He wore a thick mustache. I knew he must be in his sixties, but damn the man was hot! His light-brown eyes sparkled for a moment when he glanced my way.
“Ma’am, we’re here about a rattler?”
“Oh, right.” I blinked for a moment, then my skin crawled from the realization of why I had called 9-1-1 in the first place. I pointed toward the barbecue grill that was against the side of my house. The tail of the rattler was in plain sight and was moving back and forth slowly. I wanted to throw up. “See… see, I wasn’t lying. Please. . . do something.”
The man nodded, then gestured to one of the two younger firemen who accompanied him. They were younger than me. I was thirty-two years old.
“Well,” one of the firemen said as he lifted the cover from the grill. “Holy crap! Captain, take a look at this!”
Captain Hottie walked closer to the other men, then exclaimed, “Holy shit!” He echoed the others but in a deeper, more mature voice.
“What you have here is a king snake eating a rattler,” one of the younger men said.
I clenched my stomach. I felt bile rise in my throat. “Ew,” I said.
“It’s a good thing,” the captain explained. “You want to keep the king snake in your yard. It will keep the bad snakes out.”
I shook my head adamantly. “No!”
“Do you have kids?” the captain asked.
“Then, you’re keeping the king snake back here. Trust me,” the captain commanded.
“But—” I started, but the captain shook his head, his eyes steady on mine.
“Trust me,” he said again.
My shoulders sagged in defeat, and I whispered, “Okay.” Never mind that I feared all snakes.
The two young firemen had reached into their pockets for their phones and started taking photos of the red-and-black-striped king snake eating the rattler.
“I had no idea there were two snakes under there,” I cried. I started to jump up and down like an overly caffeinated spaz. I was waving my hands back and forth, unable to control my anxiety. In some ways I should have been proud of myself for keeping it together for as long as I had. But, at the moment, I wanted to pee in my pants, barf, and crawl into a ball all at the same time.
I had just come home from my son’s basketball practice, and I was outside disposing of some trash when I noticed the tip of the rattlesnake underneath the barbecue grill. I was just thankful the kids hadn’t followed me outside. Knowing my son, he would have tried to reach for the snake without believing it could kill him.
The captain noticed the panicked state I was in and approached me. Now I wanted to pee for an entirely different reason. Damn, why does he have to be so sexy? He placed a strong, manly hand on my left shoulder. My nipples immediately peaked at his touch. Thank goodness I was wearing an overly padded bra so none of the men could see the effect the captain had on me.
“Ma’am, are you okay?”
I shook my head no.
“Do you need me to call someone to stay with you? Are your kids here?”
“I… no… I mean, no, you don’t need to call anyone. Yes, my children are here.”
As if on cue, Max slid open the back sliding door and stuck his head out. “Mom, can we come out now?”
I glanced at the captain. He nodded.
“Yes, you guys can come out now,” I responded.
Max and Kyra walked out. Max was ten and was still wearing his basketball jersey. Kyra was thirteen and in shorts, a pink tank top, and flip-flops. “So was there really a snake out here this time?” Kyra asked.
My face immediately flushed from embarrassment. In the past few weeks, since moving to Palm Hills from San Francisco, I had seen way too many snakes in the backyard. I was really starting to regret moving because of creepy, crawling creatures. The last two times I called 9-1-1 turned out to be false alarms. The first time I thought I had a rattler, but it turned out to be a garter snake. The last time, I was pretty sure there was a rattler, but it moved too fast and disappeared in the hill behind my yard. The two younger firemen were the ones who’d arrived the other two times.
One of the men chuckled. “We asked Captain to come with us this time. He wanted to meet the lady who cries snake.”
My shoulders sagged farther. I didn’t think they could sag any more than they already had.
“James, that was uncalled for. Apologize to the beautiful lady,” the captain said. Did he really sound like Sam Elliott, or was that all in my head?
“Yes, sir. Sorry, ma’am, but you do understand my joke, right?”
“Yes, I get it. Like the boy who cries wolf, I’m the lady who cries snake. But now you know I wasn’t lying, right?”
“Right,” the young man said, then turned his attention to Max. “Hey, you wanna see something cool?” He pointed to the king snake eating the rattler.
“Cool!” Max exclaimed.
Kyra scrunched up her nose and said, “That’s disgusting. Ew! I’m going back inside.” That’s my princess. I would go inside with her, but I didn’t want to be rude. Oh, who was I kidding? I wanted to be next to the captain for a little bit longer.
“Did you call your husband as well?” the captain asked.
“Oh, my dad moved away a long time ago. We never see him. We e-mail every day and talk on the phone once a week, but…” Max answered. For some reason he wanted to divulge all our family drama.
“Max!” I tried to interrupt.
“So you’re alone here?” the captain asked.
Before I could come up with a dignified answer, Max replied again, “No, we aren’t alone. We have one other. I’m the man of the house.” Max puffed up his chest.
Could this get any worse? I wanted to run inside and bury my head under the covers.
“Good to know,” the captain mumbled.
Did I really just see the edges of his mouth lift a little bit into a smile?
“Mind if I take a stroll around your property? I already see at a glance some brush that needs to be cleared.” He didn’t wait for me to answer but instead gestured for me to follow him. He pointed to the hill behind my yard. It was really an open field with lots of hills. It belonged to the city but was my responsibility to clear. I knew this, but I didn’t have the funds or man power to remove it—yet. He gestured to a bush that was actually in my yard. “I suggest you remove that pepper tree. Not only is it a fire hazard—it can go up in flames like that”—he snapped his fingers for dramatic effect—“but also your kids could get just a little bit of the brush on their hands and wipe their eyes. Talk about severe eye pain.”
I nodded. I had intended to have it chopped down since I’d inherited the property from my aunt.
“You want to get all of this cleared up by next week. The commissioner will have us fly over brush areas next weekend. If it’s not removed, unfortunately, you will get fined.” He said it with sincere regret in his voice and his hands on his hips. They were huge hands. My stomach flip-flopped. At least I knew I was still alive. My hormones had been dormant for a few years since my husband left.
“Do you have someone who can help you clear it?” the captain asked.
“I…” I wanted to lie, but it wouldn’t come out. “I…”
“Tell you what. Me and some of the guys will come by this weekend and clear it for you. Just don’t mention it to anyone else. We will do it on our own time, not the city’s.”
My mouth fell open.
He gently touched my chin to close it.
“We don’t want any bugs to fly into that beautiful mouth of yours.”
Zing, zing, zing. The sparks were flying from his touch. Control yourself. Geez!
His eyes did that sparkling thing again, but the glimmer immediately vanished when one of the other firemen approached.
“Oh, yeah, you have a lot to clear back here.”
“Yep, we are gonna help her out this weekend. You okay with that, Pete?”
“Oh.” Pete whispered a curse word under his breath, then sighed and said, “Okay.”
“We’ll get a few guys with weed trimmers and knock it all out in no time. We’ll see you on Saturday, bright and early.”
“It dawned on me this morning that we didn’t introduce ourselves the other day,” the captain said to me as soon as I opened my front door on Saturday morning. It was six in the morning, and I had a lavender satin scarf wrapped around my head to protect my natural curls. My vision had not yet cleared, and I definitely had not had my coffee yet.
“I’m sorry, but what?” I asked with a yawn. I was in my fuzzy bright-pink slippers and wrapped in my magenta terry-cloth robe. As I spoke, I caught a strong whiff of my morning breath and winced.
He stuck out his right hand—his enormous, masculine right hand—and said, “I’m Captain Raymond Jackson Sr. You can call me Ray. We’re here to remove your brush, remember?”
“Oh.” I tightened the grip of my robe with my left hand and straightened my posture. I wanted to cover my mouth to hide the stench of my breath but instead extended my hand to accept his. I tried to calm my hormones. I was definitely wide awake now. Would the sparks that flew when he touched me ever cool off? Was I the only one who felt it? I looked into his eyes and saw that little sparkle again. “I’m Cassandra Wilson. You can call my Cassie or Cass.” I noticed the sparkle in his eyes lingered for a little bit longer this time.
“I’m sorry we woke you. We wanted to get a head start on clearing the brush before it gets hot. Also, some of the guys want to hang out with their families. This should take only a couple of hours.” He glanced from the top of my head down to my feet. He had that little smile again. “We can go around through the back gate. Does your son want to help out?”
Before I could answer, Max yelled from his room, “Yes!”
“Huh?” I was surprised. “He’s usually not up until nine or ten on the weekends.”
“Put on some jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, socks, and tennis shoes. We’ll meet you out back!” Ray called out to him. Ray turned around and stepped off the front porch. As he walked away, he slipped on sunglasses. Nice butt, I observed with a slight tilt of my head.
“Okay!” Max shouted excitedly.
Moments later I heard the hum of weed trimmers, which sounded too much like a bunch of rattlesnakes for my nerves. My son was out the back door before I could kiss or hug him. I decided to take a quick shower and brush my teeth while I had the chance.
Fifteen minutes later I was refreshed and fully dressed. I opened my bathroom door to find Kyra staring up at me with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face, tapping her foot. She looked so much like my ex at that moment, but she was adorable. She had her father’s caramel complexion and full lips. Both of my kids were darker than me. Honestly, many Caucasians are darker than me. I am a pasty shade of black with a culture of Creole.
“What?” I asked.
“Why? Why do they have to make all that noise near my bedroom window while I’m trying to sleep?”
“Would you rather do what they are doing with only me and your brother? And not with weed trimmers but with those giant scissor-shear thingamajigs?”
She stopped tapping her foot and thought for a second. “Fine.” She rolled her hazel eyes. “I’m going to watch cartoons in your room, though.”
I put my hands on my hips, smirked, and said, “Try asking me first.”
She sighed. “Okay.” Her teen attitude shining through. “Mom, mind if I watch cartoons in your room while those men and my dorky brother work up a sweat?”
I grinned. “Much better, but stop calling your brother a dork.”
“He calls me worse things!”
“Fine, you can watch cartoons in here. But eat breakfast first and brush your teeth.”
“Okay,” Kyra compromised.
I followed Kyra into the kitchen. She was still in her oversize pajama shirt, which was really one of my ex-husband's red T-shirts. She was barefoot and had a black satin scarf on her head. I normally got on her case about being barefoot in the house, but since she had been so rudely awakened I let it slide. “Toaster waffles?” I asked.
She sat at the breakfast bar while I popped a few waffles in the toaster oven for us. While we waited for our waffles, I glanced out back to see how far the guys had gotten. I was impressed. They had already cleared a five-foot perimeter. I watched Max. He was mimicking the men surrounding him and fluidly swishing the weed trimmer from side to side. I could tell that he was beginning to struggle a bit. The weed trimmer appeared to be almost as tall as he was. Captain Ray must have noticed, too. He walked over to Ray and seemed to ask him something, but Max stubbornly shook his head and continued to work. I was grateful to the firemen. Except for his basketball coach, Max didn’t have too many men to look up to. I tried to suppress the usual bitterness and anger I usually felt toward my ex-husband, but it bubbled to the surface. I growled and clenched my teeth.
“Mom, stop thinking about Dad.”
How does she know I was thinking about him?
As if reading my mind, Kyra added, “You do that heavy sigh and grind your teeth whenever you think or talk about him.”
She shook her head and stopped my denial before I could finish it.
I went back to watching the firemen, specifically Captain Ray. Damn, he has a nice ass, and his shoulders are so broad. That tiny waist… mmm. I could wrap my legs around him and… I grinned and this time breathed a horny, happy sigh. Nothing like manly eye candy in the wee hours of the morning.
“Omigosh, Mom! Really? Wipe off the drool already. You’re embarrassing me.” She threw a few napkins at me for additional emphasis. “He’s way too old for you anyway.”
My eyes widened. I felt flushed and foolish. Why does my daughter have to be so in tune with me? Damn.
“I…” I stammered again.
“Mom, just don’t. You can’t cover that up. Your eyes were glazed over like Nana’s when she walks into a casino.”
Geez. Was I really that bad? “Wait, when did you go to a casino with Nana?”
“Remember the family reunion in Vegas last summer? Nana was supposed to take Max and me to the pool, but she kept stopping at the slot machines.”
“Oh,” I said. I thought about my mom. She did look ridiculous whenever she caught sight of a slot machine.
The toaster oven finally dinged, announcing the waffles were ready. I served Kyra’s waffles and handed her a fork. I sat next to her at the breakfast bar. She doused her waffles with a ton of maple syrup and I sprinkled a little bit on mine. “So, don’t forget, we have to go shopping for my recital costume this weekend,” Kyra announced before she put a huge serving of waffles in her mouth and chewed.
“Glad you reminded me, because I completely forgot. We can go after Max takes a shower.” I peered through the kitchen window and watched the men. There were five, plus Max. They had now cleared approximately ten feet of brush. I thought that was all that was needed, but I wasn’t going to stop them if they wanted to clear more. Besides, who was I to question firemen removing brush? “Hmm. Do you think I should offer the guys lunch?” I gestured to the firemen with my fork.
“I think that would be nice,” Kyra said with a nod.
Max turned off his weed trimmer and shook his right hand. Captain Ray stopped working and walked over to Max. A few seconds later, they were both heading toward the house and soon appeared at the back door.
I rushed over to open the door. “What happened?”
Max wore a scowl on his face and explained, “I got a blister, and it popped.” He showed me his right hand, and sure enough between his thumb and index finger there was puss oozing out of what was once a blister.
“You'll be all right, Max,” Captain Ray said. “You did great out there. You're just not used to yard work. You’ll get the hang of it. I think you should stop for now.”
“Ah, man!” Max whined. “Come on, I can still help. It’s just a blister.”
“No, you’re done for the day. Thank you for helping.”
“Max,” I warned. “That’s enough. Go take a shower. Wash off the blister while you’re in there. It’s going to hurt, but I need you to wash it with warm soapy water and rinse it off good. Okay?”
He pouted and continued to scowl at the same time. He stomped his way into the bathroom and slammed the door shut.
“He did great,” the captain said.
“Thank you,” I said, “for clearing the brush and for including him. It means a lot.”
“Well, I’d hate to see anything bad happen to your home or family. Not a problem.”
“Would you guys like to stay for lunch? I can run to the store and pick up stuff to make hamburgers or hot dogs. Chips? Beer?” My heart was racing. He was still standing out on the patio, and I was still inside. I felt my entire body tighten from being so close to him. Was it my imagination, or was he leaning toward me? I inhaled the scent of him. He was sweating, but I could smell soap on him and… just… mmm… man.
“Seriously, Mom. Think Nana and casino,” Kyra mumbled from the breakfast bar, loud enough so that I could hear.
But Captain Ray had a sparkle in his eye. It can’t just be me and my I-haven’t-had-sex-in-two-years self. Geez, has it really been two years?
“I’d love to stay for lunch, and I’m sure the guys would, too, but we all have other commitments today. We should be done within the hour. We are going to remove fifty feet. Is that okay with you?”
“Oh, yes. Thanks again.”
“You’re welcome. We will go out the same way we came in through your side gate here.”
He took a few steps back, then said, “If I don’t talk to you before we leave, have a nice weekend.”
“You, too,” I said. I felt rejected and disappointed. I wanted to get to know him better, but there was no reason for him to stay longer.