Tuesday, March 31, 2015

OUT OF BOUNDS by Erin Nicholas

OUT OF BOUNDS by Erin Nicholas
The Boys of Fall Series

In a town where football is the main religion and the boys on the field each fall are the deities, Jackson Brady had a charmed life. As the star running back on the sure-to-be Championship team, Jackson was living the dream. Until he pushed his luck just a little too far. And got suspended from the team just before the big game.

All because goody-two-shoes Annabelle Hartington had to stick her nose where it didn’t belong. Watching his team win the title from the bench was hell and if it wasn’t for Coach Carr’s influence, Jackson would have spiraled completely out of control. Instead, he just spiraled enough to lose his college football scholarship. From there, he took on the bad boy moniker with a passion akin to his passion on the field.

Now, twelve years later, it’s a no-brainer for Jackson when he’s asked to return to Quinn to help his Coach after his heart attack. Jackson’s grown up and gotten over the mistakes of the past. This is his opportunity to make up for everything. But they have to give him a chance.

And when he runs into Annabelle and sees how nicely Dr. AJ Hartington has grown up, he realizes that she is his key to getting back into everyone’s good graces. If the beloved and respected town veterinarian is willing to take a chance on him, then everyone will see that he’s a new man.

All he needs is to show her it’s a win-win situation. And winning is something he takes very seriously.



“Hi, Jackson.”

Annabelle’s soft voice behind him felt as if she’d stroked her hand down his arm. Every muscle in his arm and his stomach tightened. And maybe a couple a little lower.
From a simple “hi”?

That reaction definitely drew Jackson’s attention from the conversation at the bar. It had been mostly small talk, a few questions about Coach, and him trying to nonchalantly feel people out about any land for sale. Not to mention trying, unsuccessfully, to work his desire to bring some of the city teens to Quinn into the conversation. He needed to know if Tom was the only one who was against the idea or if that was going to rile up everyone.

But the moment Annabelle said, “Hi, Jackson”, he forgot about everything but wanting to know how her hair smelled. Again.

He turned to face her fully.

Damn, she looked good.

That was the thought that first hit him. And it was strange. She was wearing one of those full skirts again that didn’t show a thing. But the image of her in yoga pants was branded on his brain and he could easily conjure it.

The memory made him grin. “Hey, Annabelle.”

She took a deep breath and looked, if he wasn’t mistaken, a little shy. “I was wondering if you’d dance with me.”

Dance with her? Oh, really?

“I’ve never ever turned down the chance to have a beautiful woman in my arms,” he said.

She flushed and Jackson almost grinned in satisfaction. He did so love making women blush and with Annabelle it seemed so easy. But he couldn’t quite grin. He was working too hard on not giving away how much he wanted to have her up against him.

What the hell was going on?

She smiled and the feeling got stronger.

“Great.” She started for the dance floor without waiting for him.

Jackson took a second to watch her go and changed his mind about not liking the flowing skirts. They weren’t as good as yoga pants or nothing at all, of course, but there was something about the way the silky material draped over her hips, and swung against then away from the curve of her ass, that made a man’s heart rate pick up.

It was kind of like the difference between flirting and outright telling a guy “I want you”.

The blatant “I want you” was very, very nice. But a good flirtation was equally compelling once in a while.

Jackson glanced at the other men at the bar. None were watching Annabelle walk away.

That was good.

He thought he might want to keep the secret of Annabelle’s cute butt to himself.

Jesus. Cute butt?

Jackson started after her. When she got the edge of the dance floor, she swung to face him and the skirt swirled around her.
Jackson noticed her boots immediately. Annabelle might have spent her teen years in tennis shoes but she was still a Texas girl and eventually they all wore cowboy boots. These were red. Blood red. That did surprise him a bit.

“Damn. Was hoping to catch a glimpse of that music thing again.” He stepped close and held out his arms, palms up, ready to two-step her around to some George Strait.

“Music thing?”

“Your tattoo.”

“The one on my foot?”

He lifted an eyebrow. “Is there another one?” Oh, damn, please let there be another one.

“There is. In fact, there are several more.”

Yes. Now to convince her to show him where. “Several?”

She grinned. “Yes.”

She still wasn’t getting closer. He wiggled his fingers. “I’m not used to women taking so much time to get up against me,” he told her. “I feel like a dumbass here, Annabelle. Come on.”

She blinked, then seemed to register what he was talking about. She laughed, said, “Sorry,” and stepped into his arms.

His hand settled on her lower back, hers on his shoulder as he took her other hand in his. They began moving in the steps that every kid in Quinn knew from the time they could walk. A country two-step was right up there with learning the Pledge of Allegiance and their bedtime prayers.

They began swaying and he just looked at her. Annabelle Hartington smelled like cupcakes.

Finally she asked, “What?”

“Shh,” he told her. “I’m imagining your other tattoos.”

She looked startled for a moment, then her face relaxed into a knowing smile that women have been giving men since the Garden of Eden. It was a mix of fake innocence and I’ve-got-you-right-where-I-want-you.

Which made something hot throb deep inside Jackson. He was right where she wanted him? She wanted him anywhere?

“What about them?” she asked sweetly.

But he was starting to suspect there was a spicy side to Annabelle.

He tightened the arm around her, pulling her closer. “What they are. Where they are.”

She licked her bottom lip. “Why don’t you just ask me?”

“My imagination is a lot of fun.”

He was flirting with her. That wasn’t exactly a shock. Jackson usually had to try not to flirt when he was dancing with women in bars. No, the surprising thing was that Annabelle seemed to realize it.

She certainly didn’t strike him as the flirtatious party-girl type. Yet there was a recognition in her eyes that said she knew exactly what was going on.

And didn’t mind a bit.

Annabelle tipped her head to one side, her lips curled in a soft smile and her body moved closer to his as the song switched to Brad Paisley’s soft ballad She’s Everything.

“I can almost guarantee,” she said softly, “that you will never guess what the others are. And you will probably only guess where about half of them are.”

Flirting had just ratcheted up to seduction. He was pretty sure. That’s how this felt, anyway. The only thing making him wonder was the fact that this was Annabelle.

“How many are we talking?”

He knew his eyes went wide. “You have eight tattoos?”

She nodded. “Seven besides the one you’ve seen.”

Of course they could be tiny. Little daisies didn’t need to take up a lot of skin. But eight?

He’d dated women with tattoos before. Lots of them, in some cases. They were gorgeous and sexy and he loved them.

But there was something very sweetly sexy about Annabelle having seven other hidden tattoos that he really, really liked. Maybe it was because it was unexpected. But he thought maybe it was more that these tattoos were obviously only for her. She hadn’t done it to be sexy—especially if the majority were hidden. She’d done it because she wanted to. They would say something about her.

He liked that most of all. And he really wanted to know what they were now.

His grip on her hand tightened and he dropped his voice to a husky growl. “I think instead of guessing, I’d rather go on a treasure hunt.”

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