Here’s a snippet from chapter 1 of By The Book. Releasing March 23rd!
Preorder now on Amazon
Tara let her fingertips slide over the glossy spines of the paperbacks on the shelf, her eyes skimming over the titles as she slowly ambled down the aisle. The scent of espresso and sugar cookies permeated the Books & Beans Coffee Shop and she could just faintly hear the soft conversation from the café area of the store beyond the bookcases.
Part of her felt as if she were committing adultery against the piles and piles of unread books back at her little apartment on the south side of town. She shouldn’t have been looking for a new read when there were so many others waiting at home. It would have taken her more time to run home, make lunch, grab a new book, and hurry back to work. Instead she walked to the little coffee shop-slash-bookstore across the street from her work, for a quick sandwich and a few moments of peace on her lunch break.
Besides, one more book to join her precious family of novels wouldn’t hurt. Right? Rachel, the owner of the shop and senior barista, was busy making Tara’s usual chai tea latte with a spritz of cinnamon. It was a sweet and spicy pick-me-up to get her through the rest of her day while being stuck behind the counter at the modest dentist office. She loved her job, but sometimes she wished her boss would let them read during the long, slow periods between appointments so she wouldn’t be bored. Her escape to the coffee shop was often the highlight of her day, besides going home after five o’clock, of course.
Tara’s life wasn’t all pathetic. She had her friends, her family, and, of course, her books. Who could ever be bored when there are so many stories to read, so many worlds to immerse in? Romance, mystery, horror, paranormal, fantasy, historical. She loved it all. Which is why picking out a new book could be so hard at times.
The best thing she could do was pick one and just go with it.
Her hand brushed over a spine and she found it wasn’t so smooth and pristine as the others. Her gaze trailed back to the worn trade paperback. Thin crease lines cut through the cursive title so much that she could barely read what it said.
Curiosity got the best of her and Tara slipped the book down from its resting place. She found the top edge covered in a thin layer of dust as if it had been sitting there undisturbed for months.
It certainly was old. The cover art reminded her of the trashy romance novels her mother used to read. The kind that looked as if it were painted or drawn, rather than photographed and spritzed up with Photoshop. She gazed upon the image of a man, his button-down shirt undone to reveal his rock-hard chest and abs beneath. His piercing blue eyes stared back at her, his slightly wavy black hair tucked underneath a dashing cowboy hat.
With a lasso in one hand and a cattle brand in the other, he looked the part of a rough and tumble ranch hand. In the distance, a brilliant golden sunset blazed across the sky with a girl riding a white horse on the horizon. With her long, dark hair flowing in the fictional breeze, no one would second guess that she was the one the cowboy was going to claim through the course of the story.
The title scrawled out in an elegant font read, “Texas Bounty”. Tara tried to hold in a laugh as she tossed her dark hair over her shoulder. She had never heard of the title or the author before. A quick peek at the back description, however, set her heart racing. Packed with romance, intrigue, and danger, it looked like just her kind of book.
Oddly enough, there was no price on the cover. Rachel normally kept her shelves stocked with the newest best sellers and some titles from local authors, but she had never seen a used book like this floating around. Maybe someone came and dropped it off without thinking.
“Tara! Your tea’s ready!” Rachel called from the coffee counter near the front of the store.
She hurried to the café section of the shop with her intended purchase. On the counter sat her cup of steaming tea and the turkey bacon sandwich she had also ordered. Rachel grinned when she saw Tara walk up with the book.
“Don’t you have enough?” she teased.
Tara only smiled. “One can never have enough books,” she said as she slid the novel across the counter. “I don’t see a price on this one, though.”
Rachel’s dark eyes took in the cover and then picked it up to check the inside. “I don’t either. I don’t recognize it. There isn’t even a barcode on the back.”
“That means it’s free then, right?” Tara asked before taking the first sip of her tea. Perfection.
Rachel shrugged her slender shoulders and brush back a strand of blonde hair that escaped from her messy bun. “I guess so. Happy early birthday.”
She laughed as the owner handed the book back to her. “Four months early. Fantastic!”
The girls giggled to one another and Tara balanced her sandwich plate on top of the book as she made her way to one of the little round tables just big enough for her and maybe one other person. With the way her long legs occupied most of the space beneath the table, it would have been a tight fit.
She settled herself in the seat, crossed her legs and checked her phone to make sure she had enough time to spare on her lunch break. Twenty-five minutes to go. Plenty of time to find out if she would like her new book.
It even smelled like a new book, despite the obvious evidence of dog-eared corners and slightly wrinkled edges of the old style cover. A quick peek to the inside told her that it was published on her birth year, twenty-five years ago. Suddenly, the book seemed a little more special.
She took another sip of her tea and with the book propped open in one hand, she began eating her sandwich in the other. Minutes ticked by as she stepped into the world of a contemporary small town in Texas. For the most part, it sounded just like her hometown of Brooksdale. One main thoroughfare, one big shopping center, and dozens of mom-and-pop stores that lined the main street of the town. She was born and raised in Brooksdale, just a few hours southwest of Houston and nestled in the heart of prime Texas ranchland that was alternatively used for raising cattle or oil drilling. The people were friendly, though perhaps a little old fashioned.
Then, she was introduced to the heroine. Independent and slightly awkward, Tara immediately identified with her. Just from the little interactions that were described between Trish and some of the other characters, she seemed smart, funny, and a lover of books just like Tara. She wondered if her boss would buy the lie that she had lost track of time on her lunch break. Already hooked, she knew she could get lost between these covers all too easily.
Within the first two chapters, the hero appeared, the man showcased so spectacularly on the cover. Tara held the sandwich over her plate, the juices from the meat dripping into a puddle on the Styrofoam as she felt completely enraptured. The hero and heroine were about to meet in a little coffee shop, just like the one she was currently sitting in.
She hardly noticed when the front door dinged and slowly swung open to admit a new customer. Tara glanced up briefly as the tall man walked past her toward the counter, but she didn’t bother to take a good look. His heavy boots tapped against the tile floor and faded jeans hung loose around his hips. She did a double-take when his scent wafted to her, following just a second and a half after he had already passed by. He smelled just like the great outdoors, but there was a subtle hint of a strong cologne that made her mouth water.
Tara turned in her chair and let her hazel eyes roam over his broad shoulders and the way his short-sleeve shirt hugged his thick, powerful muscles. The bottom hem of his jeans were speckled with dry mud so she knew he must have been a blue-collar worker. They were a dime a dozen in this town, not too uncommon, but nothing about this guy looked ordinary.
His arms were tanned, more tan than hers anyway, as well as the back of his neck. Black, slightly wavy hair crowned his head, but was cut short, probably so it wouldn’t be too hard to tame back in the morning.
Her eyes wandered down his back, not feeling the least bit shameful for the way she checked him out. She could only hope that his face was just as pretty as his body. Now she was kicking herself for not having paid closer attention when he first walked in. She could see the way Rachel appraised him in a not-so-subtle way that told Tara all she needed to know.
Even his voice was sexy. Deep, rumbling, the kind that Tara imagined when reading a steamy romance. To hear the voice in real life gave her pleasant shivers.
He paid for his drink and stood off to the side to wait. Tara was dumbstruck by the face that briefly turned in her direction. She quickly swiveled back around and tried to act like she hadn’t just been staring. Yet, she couldn’t get his piercing blue eyes or scruffy, handsome features out of her mind.
Slowly, she flipped over the cover on her book and saw that same face looking back at her with such hungry, lustful intent. Her heart hammered in her throat. There was no way this guy was the model for the book cover. It was published twenty-five years ago and this guy looked to be just about as old as her. If the style of the cover wasn’t so dated, she might have suspected that this was a newer edition with a new cover.
It had to be a coincidence. Either way, Tara lowered her book a little closer to the tabletop so he wouldn’t catch a glimpse of his cowboy lookalike. The only thing this stranger was missing was the lasso, the brand, and the sexy female with a horse in the background.
Tara went back to reading, though every fiber of her being wanted to turn around and ogle at him a little more before he left with his coffee. A few paragraphs further, though, she noticed a few more coincidences.
In the scene where Trish meets her intended lover, the cowboy’s pant legs were also muddied, and he ordered black coffee. Not only that, but Trish, the heroine, was doing exactly what Tara was doing, right down to hiding the cover and eating a turkey bacon sandwich. What was going on?
Her hands began to tremble and she placed her half-eaten sandwich on the plate to risk flipping a few pages ahead.
They were blank.
Tara had seen printing accidents where a page or two were left completely empty, but this wasn’t the same thing. The rest of the chapter was just gone. In fact, the further she skimmed, she found the rest of the book to be completely blank too. But this wasn’t a printing mistake. The author’s name, page number, and page title were still featured on the top page. It was as if the rest of the story just wasn’t there for her to read.
If it weren’t so quiet and peaceful in the café, she would have let out a loud expletive that would certainly get everyone’s attention.
Tara closed the book and sat back in her chair, staring at the back cover with her brows pinched together. Something wasn’t right here, but once again, the same curiosity that got her to pull the book down from the shelf in the first place, prompted her to open it up once more. The story was too good to pass up, no matter how eerily similar it was to what was going on in this very moment.
She found where she had left off and turned the page to continue. This time, the page wasn’t blank. It was filled with text and from what she briefly saw, there was a ton of dialogue. The two characters were about to meet for sure, but Tara was more interested in testing the book again. She flipped a few more pages, but they were blank just as before. The text was filling itself in the more she read.
It was like the book knew what she had read so far. Or maybe, it wasn’t following her as much as it was following the natural flow of time. Tara swallowed hard and looked back to the guy waiting at the counter. He wasn’t talking with Rachel, or anyone else for that matter. Instead of his eyes being glued to a smart phone, they wandered around the café and bookstore, as if memorizing every detail, just as the book said he was.
This was crazy. A book couldn’t predict the future and neither could Tara. This guy couldn’t be the cowboy on the front cover and there was no way she was Trish from the story. It wasn’t possible. But she kept reading and watching, looking over her shoulder until the man’s eyes fell on her table and lingered there a little too long.
Tara slunk in her chair and uncrossed her legs to squeeze her knees together, trying to make herself as small and inconspicuous as possible. She turned her attention solely on the book. In the story, the main hero walked up to the heroine’s table and she accidentally spilled her drink all over his jeans. Tara wasn’t clumsy, another strike against the possibility that she was Trish.
“Hey,” the deep voice rumbled beside her.
Tara jerked and just like in the story, her arm knocked straight into her chai latte and it went tumbling over the edge of the table. The lid popped off as it crashed to the floor. Hot tea poured onto the tile and a good portion of it darkened the fabric on the stranger’s jeans.
She gasped and grabbed for the stack of napkins Rachel had given with the sandwich. The book dropped closed and she lost her spot, but that was the farthest thing from Tara’s mind.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” she cried. Rachel and the few other people who were in the café turned to watch her begin frantically patting up the hot tea that had spilled on the surface of the table.
The stranger only laughed and took a few napkins to help mop up the mess on the floor. “It’s all right,” he said. “These are my work jeans anyway. They’ve gotten dirtier.”
That was exactly what the cowboy in the story said, right down to the laugh and everything.
Tara’s cheeks blushed a deep red. “I’m normally not a klutz, I swear.”
Her gaze finally lifted and she wondered if she would ever breathe again. Up close, this guy wasn’t just a hottie. He might have been the sexiest man she had ever seen, and that was saying something since she had stared at tons of romance novel covers in her time. None of them could compare to him. Even the guy on the mysterious fortune-telling book in front of her couldn’t do the real-life thing justice.
He gave her a gorgeous smile and she took a breath. “It’s fine, really,” he assured, then pointed to something on her table. Oh god, what if he saw the book cover and was about to ask her questions that she couldn’t answer? “I was just looking at that little table tent and wanted to get a better look.”
Tara looked and saw the tiny, folded advertisement. She remembered when Rachel set them out almost a week ago to help promote the carnival that was coming to town. Tonight was the opening night according to the information on the card.
She quickly reached out and handed the table tent to the stranger as she wiped up the rest of the spilled tea.
“The carnival’s pretty fun,” she said as she set her to-go cup upright. “I used to go a lot as a kid when my parents took me.”
She looked up and saw the guy nod in approval. “I’m looking for something for me and my niece to do. Her dad’s going to be busy with work so I’m taking her out.”
Tara wanted to swoon. Sexy and a family man. “Does she like to go to the carnival?” she asked, feeling a bit silly for the question. What kid didn’t love to go on rides, pet the goats, and get sick off of cotton candy?
“I’m not sure. I know her and her mother used to go out and do fun things like this.”
Used to. Tara wanted to pry, but she didn’t even know his name. Asking personal family information would have been a little creepy.