MOST OF ALL YOU
by Mia Sheridan
A broken woman . . .
Crystal learned long ago that love brings only pain. Feeling nothing at all is far better than being hurt again. She guards her wounded heart behind a hard exterior and carries within her a deep mistrust of men, who, in her experience, have only ever used and taken.
A man in need of help . . .
Then Gabriel Dalton walks into her life. Despite the terrible darkness of his past, there’s an undeniable goodness in him. And even though she knows the cost, Crystal finds herself drawn to Gabriel. His quiet strength is wearing down her defenses and his gentle patience is causing her to question everything she thought she knew.
Only love can mend a shattered heart . . .
Crystal and Gabriel never imagined that the world, which had stolen everything from them, would bring them a deep love like this. Except fate will only take them so far, and now the choice is theirs: Harden their hearts once again or find the courage to shed their painful pasts.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mia Sheridan is a New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestselling author. Her passion is weaving true love stories about people destined to be together. Mia lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband. They have four children here on earth and one in heaven.
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Beard in Mind, an all new standalone in the bestselling, romantic comedy Winston Brothers Series by Penny Reid, is available NOW!
All is fair in love and auto maintenance.
Beau Winston is the nicest, most accommodating guy in the world. Usually.
Handsome as the devil and twice as charismatic, Beau lives a charmed life as everyone’s favorite Winston Brother. But since his twin decided to leave town, and his other brother hired a stunning human-porcupine hybrid as a replacement mechanic for their auto shop, Beau Winston’s charmed life has gone to hell in a handbasket.
Shelly Sullivan is not nice and is never accommodating. Ever.
She mumbles to herself, but won’t respond when asked a question. She glares at everyone, especially babies. She won’t shake hands with or touch another person, but has no problems cuddling with a dog. And her damn parrot speaks only in curse words.
Beau wants her gone. He wants her out of his auto shop, out of Tennessee, and out of his life.
The only problem is, learning why this porcupine wears her coat of spikes opens a Pandora’s box of complexity—exquisite, tempting, heartbreaking complexity—and Beau Winston soon discovers being nice and accommodating might mean losing what matters most.
She’d taken the sofa, in her own house, and given me the bed. That didn’t make a lick of sense.
I crouched next to her, threading my fingers into the silky hair at her temples. “Honey.”
I bent to whisper, “Shelly.”
“I’m going to carry you to your bed. I’ll take the sofa.”
I grinned at her soft noises, at the untroubled expression on her face, and how her brow—even in sleep—still looked regal and stern.
Sliding my arms under her legs and shoulder, I picked her up. And, unfortunately, that woke her up.
She jerked in my arms. “What are you doing?”
“I’m taking you to the bed.”
“Don’t do that.”
“I don’t mind, I’ll take the sofa.” Our mouths were just inches apart, and hers was distracting.
She squirmed. “Put me down.”
Sighing unhappily, I did. I set her on her feet next to the couch. The blanket pooled at her feet and I stepped back to give her some space. It was dark, but I could see her just fine, and that meant I had to force my eyes to remain above her neck. The woman was wearing two pathetic scraps of fabric as pajamas. A thin little tank top and shorts. That’s it.
I set my jaw and turned to the side, waiting for her to walk past.
“Where are you?”
I glanced at her and realized she couldn’t see at all. She didn’t have a hand out, but the way her eyes were moving about the room gave away her blindness.
“I’m here.” I didn’t touch her, because if I did, I wouldn’t want to stop.
Shelly turned her head in my direction and took a deep breath. Still she didn’t reach for me. I didn’t know the specifics of what to expect after her Friday session, but I recalled Dr. West saying something about Shelly doing self-guided ERP exercises over this week.
“Can you see?” She licked her lips, her voice sandpapery. “Because I can’t see at all. It’s so dark.”
“I can see.” Unbidden, my eyes dropped to her body, to the swell of her breasts, the panel of bare stomach, the curve of her hips. Pinpricks of heat raised over my skin and I curled my hands into fists.
She shuffled forward and I caught her before she bumped into me, setting my hands gently at her waist.
“Let me take you to your room.” My voice was rough, for obvious reasons.
Saying nothing, she brought her hand to my forearm, her body gently colliding with mine. And then her hand on my arm slid up my bicep to my shoulder.
“Shelly.” I was running out of breath.
“I like this.”
I held still and endured her hands moving over my body, down the front of my shirt, stopping at the hem, then pushing it up.
“Take this off.”
I did. I pulled the T-shirt over my head and let it drop to the floor.
We stood there, facing each other in the dark, not touching. Despite the session on Friday and the progress that had been made, I realized she wasn’t quite there yet. Dr. West was right, Friday was just a step, the first step. Shelly wasn’t able to initiate contact. Not yet.
Her hands balled into fists and she swayed forward, her breath struggling little puffs.
If anything was going to happen tonight, I had to initiate it. I had to be the one to touch first.
God, how I wanted her. How I wanted her above me, beneath me, surrounding me. But how could I?
“I know why I hesitate,” her voice was breathless, “but why do you hesitate?”
“Lots of reasons.”
“Give me one.”
“I don’t want to you use you.”
“I wish you would.”
That pulled a laugh from me, just a small relief from the mounting tension. My eyes moved over her body, an undeniable impulse to devour the sight of her, her legs, stomach, chest, then up her neck to her lips.
“You asked me on Saturday if sex was a big deal for me, or if it was you. The answer is both.”
She held very still, and I got the sense she was holding her breath, straining to listen.
“You are a big deal to me. I don’t want a fling. I don’t want a flirtation. I want promises.”
“What can I promise you?”
That you’ll love me. That I’ll be your priority.
She shifted her weight from foot to foot. A spike of anxiety that she might leave me like this had me acting without forethought. I lifted my hands to her waist again and immediately, her fingertips skimmed over skin of my lower stomach in response, making my muscles tense in hot anticipation. She grew more assertive as she caressed my sides, abdomen, ribs, chest, shoulders, and then back down.
Shelly stepped closer, a hint of thrilling contact between her breasts and my torso, and all the words and worries melted from my mind, died on my tongue, suffocated by the feel of her body, and the possibility of this moment.
Her finger hooked in the waistband of my jeans. “Take these off.” Her hand turned, her fingers and palm cupping me over my zipper.
Instinctively, I pressed myself into her touch even as I grabbed her wrist.
“Beau, I promise—”
She didn’t get to speak, because I kissed her, hard and wild, unbuttoning and unzipping my fly with one hand and bringing her palm inside my boxers with the other.
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Meet Penny Reid:
Penny Reid is the USA Today Bestselling Author of the Winston Brothers and Knitting in the City series. When she’s not immersed in penning smart romances, Penny works in the biotech industry as a researcher. She’s also a full time mom to three diminutive adults, wife, daughter, knitter, crocheter, sewer, general crafter, and thought ninja.
Connect with Penny:
must find a way to convince Maggie
needed to make her big-city dreams a reality. But then Brawley Odell swaggers
back into Maverick Junction, looking hotter than ever in his dusty cowboy boots
and well-worn jeans. He’s the guy she still dreams of at night. The guy who
broke her heart when he left her behind.
vet’s practice—and get back to the smart, sassy woman he’s never been able
forget. He couldn’t be prouder of Maggie’s new wedding-dress business . . .
until he realizes it may mean losing her all over again. Determined to win her
back, Brawley must find a way to convince Maggie that their one true home is
with each other.
recovering middle school teacher, loves long rides with the top down and the
music cranked up, the Gulf of Mexico when a storm is brewing, chocolate frozen
custard, anything by Blake Shelton, Chris Young, and Thomas Rhett, and sitting
in her local coffee shop reading and enjoying an iced coffee. She and her
husband divide their time between Southwest Florida’s beaches and Georgia’s
Blue Ridge Mountains. Having grown up in a small town, that’s where her heart
takes her—to those quirky small towns where everybody knows everybody…and all
their business, for better or worse. Writing for Grand Central and Sourcebooks,
she’s published twelve novels and is at work on a new series.
“Do you know how to get to the rose garden?”
graces of a wealthy benefactor who is willing to give Shaw a job at his mansion
in order to pay off his mother’s debts. Suddenly finding himself surrounded by
lavish riches, he has no idea what his duties truly entail until he’s sent to
the rose garden and meets the tragically mutilated Isobel.
element of fantasy and dragging it into present day reality. Shaw and Isobel
are ready to let you climb into their four-wheel-drive pickup and take a ride
with them into their version of happily ever after, but only if you first dare
to gaze upon the monster among the roses.
Great. I was lost. Shading my hand over my eyes, I decided the far right should take me in the general direction I wanted to go. So I went that way, only to end up at the edge of the house, but not where I’d started, and not close enough to the rose garden to get me inside.
Strangely enough, however, a boy played outside, using sidewalk chalk to color a picture of…what the hell was he drawing? Maybe some kind of dying animal with blood gushing from its side and an arrow sticking out of its back.
It didn’t look right, whatever it was.
I shook my head and jerked my gaze from the disturbingly morbid sketch. “Hey, kid.”
The boy jumped and looked up, hopping to his feet and backing away from me as I were the scary one.
No idea who he was; he looked too young to be Mr. Nash’s son from the photos I’d seen, plus he had white blond hair, the complete opposite shade of the young man in all the pictures in Mr. Nash’s office. But he was here, so he’d have to do.
Wanting to appear as non-threatening as possible, I smile and waved. “Hey. Sorry for bothering you, but do you know how to get to the rose garden?”
That must’ve been the wrong question to ask. His face drained of color. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “You can’t go there.”
What? “Why not?”
“A monster lives in there. Half her face is melted off. She eats the thorns from the roses so she can spit them at people, stabbing them in the neck to slice their throat open until they bleed out and die.”
Somehow, I’d stumbled across one of the children of the corn. Nice.
Lifting my eyebrows, I drew my own step in reverse. Time to retreat. “Dude, that’s gruesome.”
Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me.
He gave a serious nod. “It’s true. My mom’ll tell you she’s real too.”
“Oh yeah?” Relieved he wasn’t claiming he’d sprouted from Satan’s cabbage patch but actually had a mother, I glanced around for this wise, all-knowing parent of his. Maybe she could tell me how to get to the conservatory. “Who’s your mom?”
“The cook,” he said, puffing up his chest as if that were the most important title in the house. “She’s worked here for fifteen years. She knows everything about this place there is to know. So…don’t go into the roses. You won’t come out alive. Lewis, the groundskeeper, doesn’t even go in there.”
Aha! So this place did have a gardener. I knew it.
I took a second to ponder why I was being sent to garden then, when Mr. Nash already paid someone to maintain the place. But if Lewis refused to go into the roses, as the kid had said, maybe it was rumored to be haunted or something, and that was where I came in. Then again, why wouldn’t Mr. Nash just hire a new groundskeeper who wasn’t so scared and superstitious? Then I stopped pondering the whys. It wasn’t my place to question strange, rich people and their strange, oddball orders. I was just here to do what I was told and save my mom.
Nodding gravely to the boy, I said, “Thanks for the warning, kid. But I think I’ll take my chances. Which way?”
He looked at me as if he’d never see me again because I was headed forth to my death, then he lifted his hand and quietly pointed toward another opening in the path of bushes.
“Thanks.” I nodded and got out of there before some of his creepiness started rubbing off.
Fortunately, he’d steered me in the right direction. I landed right at the outdoor entrance into the glass gazebo. Propping the door open, I carted my supplies inside and then paused to breathe deeply.
But fuck me, it smelled good in here. You didn’t have to be a flower enthusiast for this garden to amaze you. It was like the holy shrine of roses. A hallowed kind of reverence filled my chest. Haunted or not, I liked it. It felt peaceful and yet revitalizing.
Suddenly intimidated because I didn’t want to mess anything up in such a perfect place, my hands shook as I flipped back to the pages about rose care. The more I skimmed, however, the more confused I became.
These roses didn’t need a lick of my attention. They were all in excellent condition as if someone already tended to them. Maybe creepy kid had been wrong, and Lewis the groundskeeper came in here hourly to care for them.
Still…What the hell?
I frowned and slid my finger along the silken petals of a blood red rose. Perfectly pruned, weeded, and watered. It was as flawless as a thing could get.
But I couldn’t go tell Mr. Nash they didn’t need anything, could I? What if he fired me for lack of work to do, or because he thought I was lazy and lying about the roses not needing care?
I looked around again, searching for anything to water, or clip, or re-soil. It was crazy how thriving every single flower looked.
Maybe this was some kind of test, and Mr. Nash wanted me to fail. What if he’d never intended for me to work for him and the contract I’d signed to save my mom was being burned in the fireplace in this office as I stood here like a dumbass with nothing to weed.
Confused and worried, and growing a little angry, I scowled at a wall full of pink vine roses growing to my right. But they were honestly too pretty to be glared at, so my mood settled.
I bet Mom would love them. She was a fan of pink. And flowers. Plus, these were the good-smelling kind. I’d be a good son if I brought home such a flower to her. And it seemed as if they grew in abundance, not as if they were one of the rare breeds Mr. Nash had spoken of. So I reached for a bloom to pluck it from the vine without even thinking beyond how much it’d make my mother smile.
Behind me, a voice growled, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Jumping half out of my skin because I’d been certain no one had been in here with me, I whirled around only to gasp, “Shit!”
The creepy cook’s son hadn’t been lying.
In front of me stood an irate woman with half her face melted off.
Kansas with my husband, two daughters, nine cuckoo clocks, and a cat named
Holly. My life’s been blessed with lots of people to learn from and love.
Writing’s always been a major part my world, and I’m so happy to finally share
some of my stories with other romance lovers.
I’m a member of Romance Writers of America, and I’ve been through a writing
correspondence class in children’s literature from The Institute of Children’s
Literarture, and then I continued my writing lessons by majoring in English
with an emphasis in creative fiction writing from Pittsburg State