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Second Shot #1
Sara Jane Stone
Releasing March 8th, 2016
Five years ago, Josie Fairmore left timber country in search of a bright future. Now she’s back home with a mountain of debt and reeling from a loss that haunts her. Desperate for a job, she turns to the one man she wishes she could avoid. The man who rocked her world one wild night and then walked right out of it.
Former Marine Noah Tager is managing his dad’s bar and holding tight to the feeling that his time overseas led to failure. The members of his small town think he’s a war hero, but after everything he’s witnessed, Noah doesn’t want a pat on the back. The only thing he desires is a second chance with his best friend’s little sister.
Josie’s determined to hold onto her heart and not repeat her mistakes, but when danger arrives on Noah’s doorstep and takes aim at Josie, they just might discover that sometimes love is worth the risk.
“I drove to the wrong bar.”
Josie Fairmore stared up at the unlit sign towering above the nearly vacant parking lot, her cell phone pressed to her ear. Nothing changed in Forever, Oregon. Everything from the people to the names of the bars remained the same. The triplets, who had to be over a hundred now, still owned The Three Sisters Café downtown. Every car and truck she’d sped past had the high school football team’s flag mounted on the roof or featured on the bumper. And her father was still the chief of police.
Nothing changed. That was why she’d left for college and never looked back.
She’d blown past the Forever town line ten minutes ago. She’d driven straight to the place that promised a rescue from her current hell. And she’d parked under the sign, which appeared determined to prove her wrong.
“Josephine Fairmore, it is ten-thirty in the morning,” Daphne said, her tone oddly stern for the owner of a strip club situated outside the town limits. “The fact that you’re at a bar might be your first mistake.”
Damn. If the owner of The Lost Kitten was her voice of reason, Josie was screwed.
“When did they take the “country” out of Big Buck’s Country Bar?” Josie stared at the letters above the entrance to the town’s oldest bar. She twirled the key to her red Mini that looked out of place beside the lone monster truck in the lot. She should probably take the car back to the city. The Mini didn’t belong in the land of four wheelers, pick-ups, and logging trucks. The red car would miss the parking garage.
But I can’t afford the parking garage anymore. I can’t even pay my rent. Or my bills . . .
“Big Buck gave in three years ago,” Daphne explained, drawing Josie’s attention back to the bar parking lot. “He decided to take Noah’s advice and get rid of the mechanical bull. He wanted to attract the college crowd.”
“He got rid of the bull before I went to college.” And before his son left to join the United States Marine Corps. She should know. She’d ridden the bull at his going away party.
And then she’d ridden Noah.
“Well, Buck made a few more changes,” Daphne said. “He added a new sound system and—”
“He changed the name. I guess that explains why Noah came home.” She glanced at the dark, quiet bar. The hours posted by the door read Open from noon until the cows come home (or 3am, whichever comes first!).
“He served for five years and did two tours in Afghanistan. Stop by The Three Sisters and you’ll get an earful about his heroics,” Daphne said. “But from what I’ve heard, Noah didn’t want to sign up for another five. Not after his grandmother died last year.”
“You’ve seen him?” Josie looked down at her cowboy boots. She hadn’t worn them since that night in Noah’s barn. She’d thought they’d help her land the job at the “country” bar. But now she wished she’d worn her converse, maybe a pair of heels.
“At The Lost Kitten?” Why, after all this time, after she never responded to his apologetic letter, would she care if Noah spent his free time watching women strip off their clothes? One wild, stupid, naked night cut short by her big brother didn’t offer a reason for jealousy.
But the fact that I told him I love him? That might.
“No. I bumped into him at the café.” Daphne hesitated. “He didn’t smile. Not once.”
“PTSD?” she asked quietly. She couldn’t imagine walking into a war zone and leaving without long, lasting trauma. The things he probably saw . . .
“Maybe,” Daphne said. “But he’s not jumpy. He just seems pissed off at the world. Elvira was behind the counter that day. She tried to thank him for serving our country after he ordered a burger. He set a ten on the counter and walked out before his food arrived.”
“He left his manners in the middle east.” Josie stared at the door to Big Buck’s. “Might hurt my chances for getting a job.”
“I think your lack of waitressing or bartending experience will be the nail in the coffin. But if Noah turns you down, you can work here.”
“I’d rather keep my shirt on while I work,” Josie said dryly.
And he won’t turn me down. He promised to help me.
But that was before he turned into a surly former marine.
“You’d make more without it,” Daphne said. “Or you can tell the hospital, the collection agency—whoever’s coming after you—the truth. You’re broke.”
“I did. They gave me a payment plan and I need to stick to it.” She headed for the door. “I ignored those bills for months. Besides what kind of mother doesn’t pay her child’s medical bills?”
The kind who buried her son twenty-seven days after he was born.
Daphne didn’t say the words, but Josie knew she was thinking them. Her best friend was the only person in Forever who knew the truth about why she was desperate for a paycheck. If only Daphne had inherited a restaurant or a bookstore—a place with fully clothed employees.
“He has to agree,” Josie added. “I need that money.”
“I know.” Daphne sighed. “And I need to get to work. I have a staff of topless waitresses and dancers who depend on me for their paycheck. Good luck, Josie.”
“Thanks.” She ended the call and slipped her phone into the bag slung over her shoulder alongside her wallet and resume.
She drew a deep breath. But a churning feeling started in her belly, foreboding, threatening. She knew this feeling and she didn’t like it. Something bad always followed.
Her boyfriend headed for the door convinced he was too young for a baby . . . Her water broke too early . . .
She tried the door. Locked, dammit.
Ignoring the warning bells in her head telling her to run to her best friend’s club and offer to serve a topless breakfast, she raised her hand and knocked.
“Hang on a sec,” a deep voice called from the other side. She remembered that sound and could hear the echo of his words from five long years ago, before he’d joined the marines and before she’d gone to college hoping for a brighter future—and found more heartache.
Call, email, or send a letter. Hell, send a carrier pigeon. I don’t care how you get in touch, or where I am, if you need me, I’ll find a way to help.
He’d meant every word. But people changed. They hardened. They took hits and got back up leaving their heart beaten and wrecked on the ground.
She glanced down as if the bloody pieces of her broken heart would appear at her feet. Nope. Nothing but cement and her boots. She’d left her heart behind in Portland, dead and buried thank you very much.
The door opened. She looked up and . . .
Oh my . . .wow . . .
She’d gained five pounds—well, more than that, but she’d lost the rest. She’d cried for weeks, tears running down her cheeks while she slept, and flooding her eyes when she woke. And it had aged her. There were lines on her face that made her look a lot older than twenty-three.
But Noah . . .
He’d gained five pounds of pure muscle. His tight black t-shirt clung to his biceps. Dark green cargo pants hung low on his hips. And his face . . .
On the drive, she’d tried to trick herself into believing he was just a friend she’d slept with one wild night. She’d made a fool of herself, losing her heart to him that night.
She’d made a promise to her broken, battered heart and she planned to keep it. She would not fall for Noah this time.
But oh the temptation . . .
His short blond hair still looked as if he’d just run his hands through it. Stubble, the same color as his hair, covered his jaw. He’d forgotten to shave, or just didn’t give a damn. But his familiar blue eyes left her ready to pass out at his feet from lack of oxygen.
He stared at her, wariness radiating from those blue depths. Five years ago, he’d smiled at her and it had touched his eyes. Not now.
“Josie?” His brow knitted as if he’d had to search his memory for her name. His grip tightened on the door. Was he debating whether to slam it in her face and pretend his mind had been playing tricks on him?
“Hi Noah.” She placed her right boot in the doorway, determined to follow him inside if he tried to shut her out.
“You’re back,” he said as if putting together the pieces of a puzzle. But still no hint of the warm, welcoming smile he’d worn with an easy-going grace five years ago.
“I guess you didn’t get the carrier pigeon,” she said, forcing a smile. Please let him remember. “But I need your help.”
The Second Shot series is your second with Avon Books, what is your favorite part about starting a new series? (The character development? World Building? Etc.)
SJS: First, let me just say that I love writing sexy stories set in timber country. And I’m so thankful that Avon allows me to follow the characters and find the story. The first book in a new series always sets the tone for the series. And it never leads where I initially expected. That certainly held true for the Second Shot series. I didn’t anticipate the suspense element until Caroline walked into the story.
To be honest, I don’t develop my characters. They just walk into my imagination and start talking. And the story unfolds around them. I’ve tried following strict outlines. But in general, I prefer to follow the characters. They show me their world.
(And wow, reading over that, it sounds a little crazy. As if I’m sitting at home talking to imaginary people all day . . .)
You have written romances in small towns and in large cities, do you have a favorite setting for a series? Do you find one easier to write, or more fun?
SJS: I love writing series set in Oregon Timber country. Both the Independence Falls books and the Second Shot stories are set in small towns that share many similarities with where my husband grew up. This part of this country is completely different from where I was raised in southern Florida. The first time I visited Oregon I walked away in awe of the land’s natural beauty. I’m also fascinated by the timber industry.
And no, one is not easier or more fun to write. The easiest story is always the one I’m revising. And that one tends to be the most fun too. Until the next one hits that phase of the processJ
Noah and Josie have quite the abrupt ending to their secret rendezvous in RUNNING WILD, the free novella which kicks off the Second Shot series. Did you know ahead of time that they were going to be former lovers or did that "event" take shape after you began writing SERVING TROUBLE?
SJS: I knew from the beginning that this couple would be former lovers. I’ve wanted to write Josie Fairmore’s story the past four years. She’s a character who walked into my imagination before I sold my first book and never left. But it took a while to find her perfect hero.
Most of my stories feature military heroes or heroines. With the Second Shot series, I wanted to write about couples that met before the hero joined the armed forces and continued when he returned. I truly believe that time and life experiences change people. And sometimes it allows for a second chance at loveJ
Did you have to do any special research on the "Mechanical Bull Ride Scene"? (hee hee)
The short answer—no. But there are two funny stories about this scene.
First, I was writing the early draft of Serving Trouble and realized that the story was a little different from my original pitch to my agent and editor. So I reached out to my agent and let her know. My agent read the first few chapters. She liked some of the “cowboy” elements and the bar setting. But somehow the follow-up phone conversation led to an I-need-an-X-rated-mechanical-bull scene. Fast forward a few months and I was on the phone with my agent again. We were talking about the mechanical bull scenes. (Yes, plural. They continue in Serving TroubleJ) I told her something she said gave me the idea. There was a moment of silence followed by: “what did I say?”
Then there was the time a close friend at Avon wrote and asked if my husband inspired the mechanical bull scene. I jokingly told him that he should ask my husband the next time he saw him. I then explained to my confused love, who does not read my books, that he might receive a few questions about sex on the back of a mechanical bullJ
How did the Second Shot Series come about?
Four years ago this March, before I sold my first book, I was pacing my apartment in Brooklyn. My daughter, who was born premature and very little, was only a few months old. And she cried every night from about 8pm until midnight. So I would put my son to bed and then walk laps around my bedroom with the screaming baby. The walking seemed to help a bit even though she still cried. At some point during my paced, Josie Fairmore (she had a different name at the time, but the same character) walked into my imagination.
A few weeks later, I stared writing. I sat down at my computer whenever the kids napped. I wrote the first hundred pages of Josie’s story and sent it to my agent. She pointed out all of the problems. I kept working on it. Eventually, I sold another book. Then I another and another. But Josie was still there, waiting for her hero. It wasn’t until I met Noah while writing the Independence Falls series that I thought maybe—maybe he’s just right for Josie.
So I wrote up a proposal for a new series and sent it off to my agent and editor. Avon accepted and I proceeded to write Josie’s story. Once I went back and looked at the old pages that I initially sent my agent, but I started Serving Trouble from scratch and followed Josie’s lead.
Who's head do you more enjoy being in, your hero or heroines? Does it change with each story?
Both honestly. It depends on where I am in the story. I can generally feel when I should shift. If I’m having trouble writing a scene from one perspective, then I switch. I’ve found if I trust my instinct it usually works out.
Do you have a favorite book of all you have written? Do you have a favorite couple?
No. I love the book I’m revising at the moment. Never the first draft. That always feels horrible. But once I’m taking it apart and putting it back together, tinkering until it feels just right—that’s my favorite. Until I reach that stage with the next one.
I don’t have a favorite couple. But Josie is my favorite heroine. I’ve spent the most time with her. And Chad Summers from Hero By Night will always be my favorite hero. He was so much fun to write. And oh so hotJ
What's next in the Second Shot Series or from you in general?
In April, I’m releasing the third installment in my Sin City SEAL series. And in June, STIRRING ATTRACTION will come out. I’m super excited to share Dominic and Lily’s story. (I’m revising this one now, so it is my favorite at the momentJ) This story starts in a different place than my previous stories. It opens with a bang in more ways than one. There is also more suspense to the plot. And Dominic has some of my favorite lines. Even his thoughts blew me away. He returns battered and broken from his time with the Army Rangers. And he’s gone this bearded, long haired look . . .sigh. I hope readers are ready to fall in love with Dominic tooJ
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After several years on the other side of the publishing industry, Sara Jane Stone bid goodbye to her sales career to pursue her dream-writing romance novels. Sara Jane currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her very supportive real-life hero, two lively young children and a lazy Burmese cat. Join Sara Jane’s newsletter to receive new release information, news about contests, giveaways, and more! Visit www.sarajanestone.com and look for her newsletter entry form.
Make sure to pick up RUNNING WILD,
the FREE Prequel Novella