Mon
Aug 21 2017 11:00am

Gena Showalter Excerpt: Can’t Hardly Breathe

Can't Hardly Breathe by Gena Showalter

Bullied in high school, Dorothea Mathis's past is full of memories she'd rather forget. But there's one she can't seem to shake—her long-standing crush on former army ranger Daniel Porter. Now that the sexy bad boy has started using her inn as his personal playground, she should kick him out…but his every heated glance makes her want to join him instead.

Daniel returned to Strawberry Valley, Oklahoma, to care for his ailing father and burn off a little steam with no strings attached. Though he craves the curvy Dorothea night and day, he's as marred by his past as she is by hers. The more he desires her, the more he fears losing her.

But every sizzling encounter leaves him desperate for more, and soon Daniel must make a choice: take a chance on love or walk away forever.

Get a sneak peek at Gena Showalter's Can't Hardly Breathe (available August 21, 2017) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

Daniel held a large bouquet of dew-kissed roses. One of every color, with the exception of pink, which had two buds.

The moisture in Dorothea’s mouth dried, and she shook her head. The roses couldn’t be for her. He couldn’t know what that particular flower meant to her.

And according to Lyndie and Ryanne, flowers were cliché, a generic gift given without much thought for the recipient.

“Hello, Dorothea.”

“Hi.” To mask her sudden cascade of tremors, she ripped the sheets from the bed. Cooter Bowright had checked in last night and, though he didn’t know it, he’d competed with Daniel for the title of Worst Guest Ever, wrecking the room. “Holly mentioned you wanted to speak with me.”

“Among other things.” The huskiness of his voice proved to be a weapon as powerful as any touch. “These are for you. I thought your favorite color might be pink, because of your tattoo, but decided to cover all the bases, just in case, because of your fingernails.” He walked around her, placed the flowers on the nightstand and helped her fit the clean sheet around the edges of the mattress. and her fingers ached to comb through the strands. His beard stubble had grown thicker, making him look rough, tough and bad to the bone.

He looked so danged good, like a sexy outlaw who The roses are for me. And he noticed my tattoo and my nails. Goose bumps spread from head to toe.

Dang him! “They’re beautiful.” Like my curves? “Thank you,” she muttered. She gathered the supplies she needed and headed to the bathroom. A hint for him to leave.

Hinges squeaked. Then a soft snick sounded. Then an ominous click. She sucked in a breath. He’d just shut and locked the front door, hadn’t he?

He appeared in the bathroom doorway and crossed his arms over his chest. Before she could protest, he said, “You smell amazing, like lavender and…what’s the other scent?”

“Scents. Sweet marjoram and ylang-ylang. I like blending essential oils.” Those particular scents hap­pened to be known for relieving stress…and stoking desire. Which had nothing to do with her choice to ba­sically soak herself in them. Of course.

“I like you. I want to start over with you, Dorothea. I want to go on a date with you, get to know you better.”

Her heart leaped with excitement… “What about your dad?”

“We’ll have dinner in the city. He’ll never know.”

…only to fall into her ankles.

There was no denying the truth any longer. She still wanted Daniel. Actually, she wanted him more than ever. He hadn’t just called her curves beautiful; he’d backed up his words with actions; he’d chased her, bringing her a gift. Something Jazz had never done. And she under­stood Daniel’s reasons for wanting to hide their associa­tion from his dad. She really did. But that understanding failed to soothe the fears and hurt his answer had sparked. What if, deep down, he was simply ashamed of her?

What if he only liked the challenge she represented?

For a moment, only a moment, Dorothea allowed her­self to ponder what things would be like if Daniel were proud of her. They’d go to dinner, but not in the city. No, he would surprise her with a picnic in the middle of Strawberry Valley. Then they would go hiking. Oh! Bowling. They would trash talk, of course, and decide the winner would receive a bone-melting kiss…in the location of his or her choosing.

“One date,” he said. “Give me a chance.”

“No, thanks,” she croaked. “I’m not interested.” The words resounded inside her head, shaming her. Lies were Jazz’s thing, not hers. “Fine. I’m interested, but what I want isn’t what I need. I won’t date you.”

He listened to her without reaction, seeming to pon­der her words. “Tell me why.”

“Why?” she parroted like a fool.

“Are you afraid I’ll hurt you?”

“I know you’ll hurt me.” As soon as he finished with her, her hard-won self-esteem—if she had any left—would take yet another beating.

His gaze hardened, pinning her in place. “If we dis­cuss the terms of our relationship up front, the chances of either of us getting hurt diminish significantly.”

Please! As if she would ever be able to hurt him. “We wouldn’t have a relationship, not really. And I can al­ready guess your terms. One, we’ll sleep together and never speak again. Two, see term number one.” And oh, wow. The bitterness in her tone astounded her. She had once demanded he have a one-night stand with her, zero strings. Now she hated him for offering the same to her?

When had she become such a hypocrite?

“We’ll sleep together once…twice…a dozen times.”

He hiked a shoulder in a shrug. “The number is nego­tiable as long as we both accept where the relationship—because yes, we’d have one—is headed. But why must we never speak again?”

“A dozen times?” She struggled to breathe. And she understood where the “relationship” would be headed, all right. Nowhere.

“Or more,” he said. “Like I told you, I’m flexible. I’m also waiting for an answer to my question. Why must we never speak after we have sex? I happen to like speak­ing with you.”

He did?

Thou shalt compliment when merited.

Red alert! Danger, danger.

She cleared her throat. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, Daniel, but I don’t like speaking with you.” Truth. Conversations with him tended to end disastrously for her.

Again he gave no reaction, as if he’d expected resis­tance and had come prepared to forge ahead regardless. “I’m happy to do all the talking, then.” He held out his arms, the last sane man in the universe. “See how easy I am to get along with?”

Double dang him! He was too charming for his own good. No, he was too charming for her good.

He tapped two fingers against the stubble on his chin. “I have a brilliant idea. Which happens to be the only kind of idea I ever have. Why don’t we focus on getting to know each other today, and speak about sex tomorrow?”

I’m not delighted by his persistence. And his ego is absolutely, positively not charming.

She grabbed the glass cleaner and a new rag. See Dorothea fake nonchalance. “No way, no how.”

She nearly choked on her tongue as she faced the mir­ror. Her reflection had enormous green eyes and bright pink cheeks. Soft, open lips, ready to be kissed…

Spray, spray, spray. Wipe, wipe, wipe.

“I don’t know about you,” he said, the husky note back in his voice, “but I’m imagining you seated on that counter…naked.”

This. This was the tone he would use in bed. The one he would use to whisper into a woman’s ear, driving her wild with raw, primitive passion.

“Your legs are spread, and I’m—”

“Fine!” she blurted out. “You can get to know me today. Okay? All right?” Anything to shut him up. If he continued to weave such an intoxicating picture, her resistance would shatter. She would end up in his arms, the consequences an afterthought. “What would you like to know?”

His eyelids were heavy, almost drowsy. “For starters, what’s your favorite color?”

Spray, spray. Wipe, wipe. Could he see how fervently she trembled? “I like pink in the morning, blue in the afternoon and gold in the evening.”

The corners of his lips quirked up, as if a smile was attempting to sneak past his usual frown. “That’s pretty specific. I would have guessed red, the color of your fingernails.”

“Well, my color favorites change according to the position of the sun. And the nail colors aren’t based on what I like but on my mood.”

One of his brows winged up. “Please tell me red is for passion.”

She fought a smile of her own. “Nope. Red is anger.

I don’t actually have a color for—” She pressed her lips together. Crap! She’d basically admitted passion had no identifier and therefore no place in her life.

He could have teased her. Or come on to her, flirting more obviously. Instead, he quieted, different emotions whirling behind his eyes. Intrigue. Desire. Confusion.

“What do yellow and orange mean?” he finally asked. “Actually, tell me all the colors.”

Why not? “Yellow is hopeful, orange nervousness. Green is irritated, pink happy. Blue is sad, purple de­termined.” She stopped, pressed her lips together. Shar­ing these details made her feel exposed. Wanting the spotlight taken off herself, she said, “What’s your fa­vorite color?”

“Yellow. No matter the time of day.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s bright? Mellow?”

“You don’t know?” To her, yellow represented the rise of the sun. The start of a new day. A clean slate.

“Never really thought about why. I like what I like.” He crossed his arms, his biceps straining the tee. “How’d you get the nickname Dottie? Those adorable freckles?”

“Adorable? As if! But yes, that’s exactly why, and I hate it. I’ve always hated it.”

“I think it’s endearing. More than that, Dorothea doesn’t fit you. It’s the name of a ninety-year-old crazy cat lady. So why have you stuck with it?”

“Never really thought about why,” she said, mimick­ing him. “I like what I like.”

His grin bloomed full force, causing her hormones to sing and dance with bliss. “Well, I’m a rebel, so I’m gonna mix things up and call you…Thea. Yeah. Thea. Short and incredibly sweet.”

She gulped. He was incredibly sweet. Feigning non­chalance, she said, “All right. I’ll call you Danny.”

He laughed with delight. “Look at us. We’ve got pet names for each other already.” Then his amusement died a swift death, his smile fading.

Why the change?

“Did you always want to run the inn?” he asked, switching gears.

“No,” she replied, and cringed. Her mother would be devastated if she found out Dorothea saw the job as, well, a job rather than a passion. “I wanted to be a meteorologist.”

“So why aren’t you a meteorologist?”

Let me count the ways… “It’s a long story.” Her guts churned as years of bad memories whisked through her mind.

“No worries. I’ve got time.”

“Too bad. I’ve got no inclination.”

He thought for a moment, nodded. “That’s fair. There are things I never share with others.”

“Never?” Not with anyone?

“Never.” Did he realize his gaze had glazed over, the color seeping from his cheeks? Did he know he was rub­bing a small scar on his cheek?

That scar…she thought she remembered his dad talk­ing about Daniel’s face being lacerated by shrapnel.

Did his secrets have anything to do with his many missions overseas?

She ran the rag over the faucet, the inside of the sink. “Did you always want to be in the military?” Wait. She had to stop asking him such personal questions. No­where in her Make Daniel Go Bye-Bye plan did she get to know him better.

“As a little boy, I ruthlessly and relentlessly led my toys into war. Stuffed animals against action figures. I’d be working my way to general if my dad’s health hadn’t deteriorated.”

Her heart melted as she pictured little Daniel com­manding his furry or plastic troops. She’d played with Barbies, sending them into rainstorms and tornadoes—the washing machine and the dryer.

Red alert! Softening toward him…

Okay, time to move the conversation along. “Now you run a security firm?” She exchanged the glass cleaner for bleach, a toilet brush and a pair of latex gloves.

“Yes. With my friends Jude and Brock—have you met them? Good guys. They’ve been in town for a while.”

“I’ve heard of them but haven’t officially met them.” She spent most of her time here. When she did get out, she tended to keep her head down.

“We do security for companies and individuals, set­ting up cameras, running background checks, offering cyber and even physical protection. We’re full-service. We have offices in Oklahoma City as well, headed by former army rangers.”

So young, so successful. Like the women he preferred to date. “You guys are providing security for the spring festival, I hear. Though you probably should have de­clined. Half the women in town will end up catfighting just to get your attention.” And she wasn’t jealous about that. Nope. Not even a little.

He snorted. “You have more faith in my appeal than I do.”

“Yes, well, I’m most excited about the food trucks.” Everything from fried ice cream to fried butter. “I al­ways allow myself a treat.”

Now he frowned. “Only one?”

How had he locked on the singular? She soooo did not want to discuss her weight, but he’d asked a question and she needed to reply. “I’m on a diet,” she muttered, and offered no more. She’d been on a diet for over a decade.

Some days she dreamed of being trapped inside a candy store and never coming out. Oh, to die buried in a pile of M&Ms.

“Why?” His gaze slid down, down her body and heated with…awareness and admiration? Her kryp­tonite. “I believe I mentioned the beauty of your curves.”

Maybe he believed those words. Maybe she was at­tractive in his eyes. But he would never be proud to date her. He would never want anything more than a lay or two.

“I think we’ve gotten to know each other well enough to prove our incompatibility.” With all the dignity she could muster, she pulled on the gloves and knelt in front of the toilet. “Please leave.”

***
Copyright © 2017 by Gena Showalter.
***
Learn more about or order a copy of Can't Hardly Breathe by Gena Showalter, available August 21, 2017:

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Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of over fifty books, including the acclaimed Lords of the Underworld and Angels of the Dark series, and the White Rabbit Chronicles. She writes sizzling paranormal romance, heartwarming contemporary romance, and unputdownable young adult novels, and lives in Oklahoma City with her family and menagerie of dogs.

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2 comments
nihcki
1. nihcki
I was curious about the new genre and new work by Ms. Showalter, and this excerpt gave me a good opportunity for a glimpse. However, the editing seems off in the beginning of this excerpt. A big red flag. Shouldn't an excerpt chosen to promote a book be carefully proofread by the author? Or her editor? And the repeated use of the word "dang" is a bit too obviously, "I'm not going to curse, even in my characters' voices", and reminds me of why I decided to not start the long-running PNR series by Ms. Showalter that was so popular, until the author became a "born-again" Christian. Based on reviews and fan discussions of those books, the series abruptly and obviously changed, and not for the better. So I decided to trim my TBR mountain and not begin a series I'd clearly not finish.

Apparently Can't Hardly Breathe is going to be rated PG-13 and CR, and I'm not really a fan of a heroine who can't even say "damn" in her thoughts. It also seems like there won't be any real smexy times in this book until the very end, once the MCs are engaged to be married at least, and then it will probably be a fade-to-black sort of thing. Not my cuppa, as I'm more of an erotic PNR reader, but I'm glad that Ms. Showalter is still writing at least. Thanks for the opportunity to check out this new book.
Jennifer Proffitt
2. JenniferProffitt
@nihcki, I've read the other books in the series and they're pretty good! A little hotter than this one seems to be!
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