Rescued: A Collection of Contemporary Romances with Heart, Heat, and Dog Treats - Melissa Schroeder

Rescued: A Collection of Contemporary Romances with Heart, Heat, and Dog Treats

Book 3 in the Juniper Springs Series

Part of the Camos and Cupcakes World

Includes Last Love, Juniper Springs Book 3

A single mom tries to avoid her one-night stand, but her dog, Houdini, keeps leading her to his door.

Also includes:

From Cynthia D’Alba – Hot Assets  A Dallas socialite must team up with a cop to save her rescued dog from a determined dognapper

From Donna Alward – Doggie on her DoorstepWhen Emily’s flighty cousin leaves her dog on Em’s doorstep, she enlists the help of the sexy grouch next door.

From Jenna Bayley-Burke – The Guy Next DoorFourth grade teacher has the naughtiest dog, the punniest jokes, and perfect washboard abs…and now an angry neighbor with a busted fence thanks to his dog.

From Mandy Harbin– Rescuing Orion – When undercover FBI agents foster a dog to investigate a money launderer, ignoring their attraction becomes difficult with playing house with a cute pooch.

From Cindy Kirk – For the Love of Ivy – A city girl and the dog she rescues turns a sexy rancher’s life upside down

From Lexxie Couper – Who’s A Good Boy? – After meeting a feisty dog trainer and a 3-legged dog, the future PM of Australia questions his future and his life.

From Shana Gray – Dogs on A Plane  A heavy snow strands a bush pilot and socialite with a pack of love hungry pups. Who saves who?

From Laura Trentham –Nobody’s Hero – An ex-con tries to persuade an abandoned puppy and an innocent romance author he’s nobody’s hero.

From Tamlyn Black  Nobody But You A grumpy cowboy has his world upended by his sister’s new BFF and the stray dog she brings to his door


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Rescued: A Collection of Contemporary Romances with Heart, Heat, and Dog Treats

Rescued: A Collection of Contemporary Romances with Heart, Heat, and Dog Treats

Book 3 in the Juniper Springs Series
Part of the Camos and Cupcakes World

reader interests in this series...

  • Book 1

  • Book 2

  • Book 3

Rescued: A Collection of Contemporary Romances with Heart, Heat, and Dog Treats

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Chapter One

Mason

When did Vegas get so boring?

The sounds of bells and people celebrating filled the air around me as I walk through the casino to the bank of elevators. I should be enjoying my time here, but all I can think of is getting back to my room. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m ready to back to Texas. Being a few months shy of thirty and I’m acting like an old man. Of course, I’ve been running my restaurant since I was only nineteen. My older brother Wyatt helped me start, but I’ve been responsible for running things for a decade. 

Fuck, I feel old. 

I pass a tall blonde who smiles at me, the invitation is there in her big, blue eyes, but there’s no interest on my part past the fact that she’s beautiful. I’m not even in the mood for a one-night stand. That’s something that’s been happening a lot lately. It should alarm me more, but there’s something about becoming an uncle for the first time. It’s also weird seeing my friends pair off. 

I step onto the elevator, and I’m happy to find myself alone when the doors start to close. Unfortunately, a hand slips through the opening and forces the doors to open at the last moment. 

“Come on, Mrs. Abernathy-Hawthorne.

Unbelievably, I know the woman. Dr. Piper Abernathy is standing in front of me wearing a sash that proclaims her to be just married. Her bright red hair is a mess of curls, and she’s wearing a green sundress. The man behind her is none other than billionaire—and her finance—Carter Hawthorne. 

“Doc?”

She blinks, then her eyes widen. “Mason?”

“What are you doing here?” Carter asks, looking entirely out of sorts. He hasn’t been my biggest fan since the LOLs back home, aka the Little Old Ladies, tried to get me to flirt with Piper to make Carter jealous. We usually get along since we share a niece, but since that debacle, he’s given me the stink eye. 

Their romance was fast, from a picture in the tabloids to engaged before most of Juniper Springs knew they were seriously dating. But that’s how things happen in Juniper sometimes.

“Restaurant convention. Did I hear right? You’re married?” 

I look down at their hands. They’re both wearing wedding bands. My gaze rises to meet theirs.

There is a long beat of silence as the tinny elevator music fills the small lift. Carter glances at his bride, then back at me. 

“How about you forget that you heard we were married?”

My gaze ping pongs back and forth between the two of them. “Still having me cater the wedding?”

“Yes. Of course,” Piper says. “I would never cancel that.”

I rock back on my heels, thankful that she will honor our agreement. “Then your secret is safe with me. Besides, I kind of helped you two get together.”

“What are you talking about?” Carter cocks his head and studies me in his way. It always makes me feel like he’s trying to figure out my deepest, darkest secrets.

I know there is a good chance those gossipy old women will get pissed if they find out I told on them. But sometimes, it’s fun to live on the dangerous side. 

“Well, the LOLs asked me to be flirty with Piper that day when both of you came into the restaurant.”

“The fuck?” Carter shakes his head. “Those crazy old women knew I wanted her.” 

I laugh as I remember that day. “Yeah, they said something about getting you drunk one night, and all you did was talk about Piper.”

They want to keep the younger generation in town, especially a popular doctor like Piper. In their mind, if someone finds love in Juniper, they’ll stay in town. I hate to admit that that’s a reasonable assumption. And that proved to me that I should avoid drinking with those crafty women. 

Piper laughs. “You’re so easy.”

“Why did you help?” Carter asks. 

I shrug. “Keeps them off my back.”

The cabal of LOLs rule that town with an iron fist, and they know everything going on. It’s best to divert their attention. At least I still have my brother in my back pocket. I won’t hesitate to throw him at the LOLs to save myself. Now that these two are together, they might start pushing women at me. It hasn’t happened yet, but they might just be biding their time.

Piper leans forward and kisses me on the cheek. 

“Thanks for keeping our secret and helping the LOLs. I know it must be strange that we got married here.”

It is, but when you grow up in Juniper, you get used to weird. “Weird? Carter’s brother and my sister didn’t know each other’s last names until they ran into each other months after starting their relationship. Oh, and they already were pregnant with Esme. Now that’s weird.”

The elevator dings, and the doors slide open. 

“This is my floor. Have a good time,” I say, stepping off the lift. I find myself smiling. The two of them seemed so happy. I’m not ready to settle down, but it’s nice to see when two people find happiness together. 

As I make my way to my room, I think about how I’ve never had that particular issue, and I’ve been thankful for that. I’ve had relationships, but my main focus has been building my restaurant and my reputation. In South Texas, that isn’t easy. My forte is barbeque, and while that’s popular in Texas, I live in Juniper Springs, less than an hour outside of Austin, where Aaron Franklin lives and works. The competition is tough, and it definitely isn’t for the weak-hearted.

I had a lot of help. My brother Wyatt has run his own bar and grill for almost two decades, and a family friend, Jason Gold, invested in my dream—just like he helped Wyatt. Even with that assistance, it wasn’t a sure thing, but making it to the top of the list in Texas Monthly helped me even more. 

Once I’m in my room, I find myself out of sorts. I spent all day thinking that all I wanted was to get away from the crowds, but now I don’t know what to do. Maybe it’s Vegas. There’s an energy here, or perhaps it’s the oxygenated air in the casino. It make it hard to settle down. 

My phone buzzes with a call, and there’s only one person who actually calls me, and that’s my older brother Wyatt. 

“Hey, loser,” he says as soon as I click to accept the call. I roll my eyes.

“What do you want?”

“How did your day go? Did you learn all the secrets of the restaurant biz?” 

Wyatt doesn’t like going to these things, so I tend to handle all this kind of work. 

We both run different places. The Mason Jar specializes in lunch and dinner featuring exceptional barbeque and fried chicken. Wyatt’s—and yes, that’s what he named his place because he’s Wyatt—is a bar and grill featuring live music on the weekends and traditional bar food. We both need supplies, though.

“I knew that shit before I came here. I did make a few contacts with distributors. I figured knowing a few of them would help.”

“Good to know.” 

There is a beat of silence, and I look over at the time. “Shouldn’t you be at work?”

He grunts. “Billy is handling the shift tonight. He’s a godsend.”

“So, you were lonely and called me. I’m touched. I love you too, Wyatt.”

“Fuck off. I was checking to make sure you didn’t do something stupid like get married.”

I’m not offended at all. Wyatt practically raised our sister Everly and me. Also, I have one of those personalities where I would get married. Or I was. Now, I’m in my room on my last night in Vegas talking to my brother, who is spending a weekend night calling his younger brother. 

“I have not and will not. I have the same aversion to marriage that you and Everly have.”

Everly is in a committed relationship, but Quinn had a heck of a time pinning her down even after she ended up pregnant. Still, hanging in my room is kind of stupid. A few beautiful women I met through the conference let me know they were single. 

“But I’m going down to the casino.”

“Down?”

“Yeah, I came upstairs to change. Been in my work clothes all day.”

Yep, that’s a lie, and I know that Wyatt will see through it. He doesn’t call me out on it, though.

“No marriages. And if you get any more piercings, do them where I can’t see them.”

One nose piercing, and he thinks I’ve lost my mind. Okay, I got my nipple pierced too, but he doesn’t know that.

I roll my eyes again. “No problem. Are you picking me up tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Everly said she was a mother and didn’t have time for you.”

“She sucks.”

“Yeah. Also, I’m telling her you said that.”

Everly is scary. It couldn’t have been easy growing up sandwiched between two guys, but even Wyatt fears the middle child in the family. 

“Get bent. Bye.”

I hang up before he can say anything else. I need to prove that my upcoming thirtieth birthday isn’t something to be afraid of. 

With that thought, I head out into the Vegas night.

 


Chapter Two

Liv

The sound of dinging slot machines and the scent of alcohol surround me as I wonder if I have made a massive mistake coming on this girls’ trip. It’s the same thought I’ve had since we landed here.

Sure, the extra oxygen in the air makes me feel better, but other than that, the last two days haven’t been so fun for me. 

I look across the table at my sisters and feel a twinge of envy. They’re having an excellent time. I know I should be enjoying myself. The O’Bryan sisters in Vegas should be a celebration. We’ve been here a couple of days, but I never got into the groove of our long weekend getaway. My heart isn’t in it. Instead, it’s back in Texas even though my former in-law promised me my children are having a fantastic time. They have sent me pictures and videos because everyone knows I have separation anxiety. This is our last night, and I feel like a failure because I haven’t even been able to capture my youthful exuberance for drinking.

“Uh-oh, she’s thinking,” Avery says in what she calls her doom voice. I glance over at my youngest sister. The baby of the family is just that, a bit of a brat, but we love her. She had it a lot easier since she was the surprise baby, and my parents were tired after four other kids. 

“Thinking is a good thing,” Gerry says. Gerry is the smartest out of all of us. Strike that. She’s the most book smart. A doctor who lives in New York City, she rarely gets to spend time with us. This is a treat, and I’m bringing everyone down.

“I need another drink.” This comes from Cora, the oldest sibling, who says that every time her drink gets less than half full. She has a busy life at home with her kids, and she said she was drinking enough for six months while we were here.

“What’s on your mind, Livvy?” Avery asks. They all know. I haven’t dealt well with being a single mother since my husband died while serving.

“Nothing. I’m having fun.” And I feel guilty because I’m not really having fun. This trip was for me. I just signed a contract for a new job in Juniper Springs. My kids and I will make our first significant move in years in less than two months. A new, fresh start. Avery and Cora thought it imperative that we come to Vegas to celebrate, and they somehow convinced our workaholic sister to come. I couldn’t say no when they wanted to celebrate my good fortune. And it makes me feel horrible that I can’t party like I used to. Age and parenting two children on my own sort of wiped that out of me. 

I glance at Cora, who is older than me. Maybe it is only the single-parent thing. 

Avery crosses her arms and squints at me like she’s trying to read my thoughts. Knowing her, she can. 

“You need to get laid.” Don’t we all, but I’m not about to admit that.

“Probably,” Cora says. 

My cheeks are burning because of my last thoughts. “Hey!”

“Sex is good for you, Liv. You know that. When did you last have a man touch you?” Gerry asks. I don’t care if she is a doctor. I refuse to talk about it with these drunkards. It is not out of the realm of possibility that they would do something embarrassing like asking able-bodied men to relieve my very dry spell. I haven’t been with a man since my husband died. 

“Maybe you’re ashking the wrong question,” Avery says as she tries to capture her straw with her mouth but fails because she’s so stinking drunk. 

“What question should we be asking?” Gerry asks. 

“Maybe, we should be asking if she’s, you know, changed her tastes.”

For a moment, I have no idea what she’s talking about. Then, in one blinding instant, it hits me. 

“Are you wondering if I’m a lesbian now?”

Avery blinks and tries her best to look innocent. She fails. Oh, other people think she looks innocent, but I know her. There’s a very devious mind behind those big, brown eyes. 

“She’s not asking that,” Gerry says at the same time Avery says, “Maybe.”

Gerry whips her head around and frowns at Avery. Cora ignores all of this as she tries to flag down a waitress. I look around and realize we have gained some attention. Of course, we have. We always do. We’re loud and a bit obnoxious on the best of days, but it gets out of control when we add alcohol to any situation. 

And I’ve had enough. “I’m going to bed.”

“Noooooo!” all three of them yell out. 

“Yes. We have to leave in the morning, and I’m getting a migraine.”

It’s a lie, but they’re so drunk, they won’t call me on it. They all nod, even though Avery is giving me her worst frown. I escape as fast as I can. They’ll be back to our suite and loud as hell, but I’m getting in that massive tub. I love a good bath, and I haven’t had enough downtime since I arrived for it. 

As I make my way through the casino to where the rooms are, I still regret they turned down my idea for the girls’ weekend. I wanted to go to a beach somewhere and sleep. Just sleep. I think they all thought they would come here and get me laid. I wouldn’t put it past my sisters to have come up with this entire trip because they think I need to get out of my funk. 

I get to the bank of elevators and press the button and then wait. It’s still early by Vegas standards, only ten in the evening, but my mornings start early with two kids and an office to run. When I was an Army wife, I was up before dawn most days, and it’s a hard habit to break, especially with so many plates spinning in the air.

The elevator door opens, and a bunch of rowdy frat boy types comes pouring out of it. Wherever they were, they’ve been drinking…a lot. A wave of beer aroma slaps me before one of them stumbles into me. I lose my balance and fall backward. Unable to gain my balance, I topple over. I close my eyes, thinking the hard marble floor will hurt like a bitch when I hit it, but I never land. 

Instead, a pair of hands are there to catch me. 

“Whoa,” a deep male voice says. 

I open my eyes and find my rescuer is possibly the most beautiful man I have ever seen. Well, upside down because of our positions, but he’s got to be attractive right-side up. Instantly, my heartbeat increases, and my brain loses all thought. It’s an odd sensation and one I haven’t experienced for a really long time. Other than the times I give in to the secret pint of Blue Bell Mint Chocolate Chip I keep at the back of the freezer. 

He’s looking down at me, his full lips curving up or down, you know what I mean. It’s one of those sexy quirk of the lips that men probably practice in the mirror, but I have a feeling this dude doesn’t have to do that. 

He helps me up, and I look at him. Good god, he could be a movie star. He’s even more attractive right side up and probably about a decade younger. 

He towers over me, which isn’t easy. I’m five-eight, and I’m also wearing heels. He has dark brown eyes and the most beautiful dark hair. It’s thick, has a little wave, and it’s just a tad bit too long like he usually keeps it shorter, but he’s let it go. It curls over the collar of his red button-down shirt. 

“Thank you.”

“No problem. All part of the service.” There’s a twang to his voice I didn’t pick up on before. Definitely Texan, like me.

“And what service would that be?” As soon as I ask it, I realize how flirty I sound. Yeah, this hot, younger man is flirting with me. I want to roll my eyes at myself.

I barely notice that the elevator doors have shut. 

“Well, for a goddess like you, just about anythin’ you like.”

My heart does a little dance, as do my lady bits. It’s been a long time since a man has paid attention to me. I get some guys who might flirt, but they all know the story in my small town. Single mom, widow, lots of baggage with a crazy extended family. 

“That’s sweet of you to say.” I pat his hand and try not to pay attention to the zing that hits me. It’s like a crazy spark of energy.

He twitches like he felt it too. “For some reason, I get the idea that you don’t think I’m serious.”

I smile and reach over to push the button again. This man looks like a good time. Closer in age to Avery and probably more her type. He might be a Texan, but I’m going to say he’s more of a free spirit kind of guy. He has a nose piercing, which usually wouldn’t turn me on, but, damn, if it doesn’t. His arms are filled with tats, and I get this feeling from him. This is a guy who has no problem with loving and leaving a woman.

“I think you’re very nice in saying that.”

He frowns and cocks his head while he studies me. “That sounded patronizing.”

“Well,” I say, leaning closer and breathing in his scent. Good god, he smells like seduction with a hint of whisky. “I’m a little too old for you, but it was sweet of you to say.”

“What if I tell you that I caught you so easily because I couldn’t take my gaze off your fantastic ass?”

If my brain was blank when I first saw him, it is now gelatin mush. 

“Uh…”

His smile widens. “I was trying to figure out what kind of panties you’re wearing.”

I blink and almost tell him they are cheeky panties, but I catch myself just in time. I’ve never had a man be so blatant with me, especially a stranger. 

He holds out his hand, and I stare down at it. “I won’t bite unless you ask me.”

My gaze shoots up to his, and I see the amusement there, but I also see the seriousness. This beautiful man is coming on to me. I don’t do things like this. Ever. Not even before I was married, but I tend to play it safe since I’ve been widowed. I have two very important people who need me. 

“My name’s Mason.”

I should run away. But I don’t. Instead, I take his hand. It’s warm and callused. “Liv.”

“Liv…I like that. How about we get a drink together?” He lets go of my hand, and I instantly feel bereft. Silly, I know. “One drink. If you still think I’m too young for you, I’ll be on my merry way.”

This isn’t what I should be doing. I should be marching up to my room and taking that bath. 

Instead, I smile, letting go of my worries, of everything that has me freaking out like I’m too old for him and a man hasn’t seen me naked since my old OBGYN delivered my son. For the first time in over five years, I decide to take a chance. 

“Okay, but just one drink.”

End of Excerpt

Rescued: A Collection of Contemporary Romances with Heart, Heat, and Dog Treats

May 17, 2022
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Rescued: A Collection of Contemporary Romances with Heart, Heat, and Dog Treats