He’s Mr. Wrong, she’s Miss Independent. When the two come together, sparks fly! Don’t miss Along Came Us, a sexy and heartwarming romance from Nicole McLaughlin.
National Guardsman Tyler Cavallo knows all too well what it feels like to be a volatile teenager. There was a time when it seemed like everyone—be it his father, a rival gang member, or his opponent in the MMA cage—was out to get him. These days he focuses that fight into his gym where he mentors at-risk youths. But one particular teen has Tyler more concerned than usual, and if he’s learned one thing in life, it’s to trust his instincts, and right now those instincts are telling him that this boy isn’t safe.
Lia Hanson is a woman on a mission. With bills to pay, and a younger brother to raise, and two full time jobs, she’s working her ass off and doing the best she can. But in a few months she will finally graduate from college and be able to put most of that behind her for good. Or so she thinks, until a certain overbearing and stupidly good looking gym owner acts like he knows what’s best for her brother. A man is the last thing she wants, and this man is certainly not who she pictured as a stable role model. Lia thought she had a plan, but Tyler’s support, strength and passion have her realizing that sometimes the best things in life come when they’re least expected.
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Along Came Us
By Nicole McLaughlin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Nicole McLaughlin
All rights reserved.
Lia Hanson slipped a fingernail under the back of her blonde wig and scratched at her scalp as she headed out on the service floor with a handful of napkins from the supply room. Not even two hours into her day and it was already itching. She hated wearing the thing, but for some reason a bit of make-believe made it easier to strut around like a two-dollar whore while telling a creep of a man he was "so naughty," as she giggled at his raunchy jokes and innuendoes. She laid the napkins on a side station and then let her eyes wander the expansive, dimly lit room.
Exquisite Private Club was already filling up, and it wasn't even four in the afternoon. In normal service establishments, the hours between three and six were slow. A strip club, however, was far from a normal service establishment. For Lia, and her fellow employees at Exquisite, that magical time of day was a moneymaker. It stood to reason that a nine-to-five man — blue collar or white, didn't matter — could end his day early, indulge in some well-earned personal pleasure time, and still make it home for dinner with his oblivious wife. Since money was the number-one reason a woman worked at such a place, they all appreciated these deceitful Johns just fine.
Today was Wednesday, half-price lap-dance day, and Lia's favorite. She wasn't giving any. Not her level of expertise. But the discount drew a crowd and that meant more men to drink watered-down whiskey along with plenty of other opportunities to con them. And she didn't feel guilty about seeing it that way, because most everyone who came to a place like this knew the game. The girls were hustlers, their affections as false as many of their breasts. The patrons of Exquisite knew that. They didn't care, because it was all a fantasy. One that gave them what they wanted. And although it would surprise most people who assumed all a man wanted out of a strip club was to see a naked woman, the truth was more complicated than that. Ask any stripper and she would tell you that what brought the money out of their pockets was making the men feel desired.
Lia agreed with that, but she had her own style of parting men from their money. For one, she stuck to serving. She'd considered stripping, many times. That was where the big bucks were. But the thought of standing naked in front of strangers was frightening enough. Having to dance and be sexy at the same time? Out of the question.
And she did okay as a server. In fact, she was the best. To the point that it annoyed most of the other women, including some of the dancers. The best part? She'd never even flashed a nipple. That didn't mean she wasn't showing way too much skin. But she knew her success wasn't really about her body. Well, not completely. It was more about the persona she adopted when the blonde wig went on. Her coworkers nicknamed her Sugar Bitch, which Lia thought was humorously accurate.
Funny thing was, her signature persona of sweet and flirty, mixed with ball-busting bitch, had come naturally. The result of a confused young woman trying to win over customers for money, but then turning on them when they got too friendly. For whatever crazy reason, the men seemed to love it. Maybe they liked the idea that she was hard to get, which would be one hundred percent true. Or maybe they thought it was a hint into her personality in bed, naughty and nice. Not even Lia knew the answer to that, but she suspected if she ever found out, it would turn out to be a false assumption.
Back to work. Turning, she plastered on a saucy smile as her customer held up his nearly empty beer bottle.
"I got you, babe," she said with a wink.
Heading to the bar, she tried not to feel bitter, because after many years, her days at this gig were so numbered. She'd set the goal a year ago, and she was sticking to it. In December, she would graduate from Kansas State University with a degree in Business Marketing and a minor in Leadership. At almost twenty-eight she was a little past ripe for a college student — and for a strip club employee. But she'd persevered through both male-interest-driven worlds because she had goals in life. The main one was making sure her younger brother Caleb had a roof over his head and food in his mouth. Once she graduated she'd ditch the wig and turn it in for a power suit. But until then ...
"Lia," her boss Becker growled from behind the bar. His eyes roamed over her breasts. "You gonna serve up some T&A or what?"
She rolled her eyes, but went ahead and undid one more button on her top. Could she really be offended at his comment when T&A was her job?
"I need a light bottle." She leaned on the bar, pushing her breasts out and shooting a smile as an older man pulled up the stool next to her and sat down.
She had seen him come in and immediately lay his eyes on Katy on stage, but that was no problem. Lia was good at working hard to get her share of the bills no doubt stuffed in his wallet for the occasion.
"Hey, sweetie. You should go grab a table up close." Her voice was light and cheery and she nodded to her section while simultaneously angling her upper body in his direction. "I can bring you a cold one."
The man's weathered skin made her think he might be a farmer. There were a lot of those around here out in western Kansas. He was wearing a wedding ring — no surprise — probably went to church once a week, and likely had several adorable grandchildren.
"You can bring me whatever you're willing to give." His raspy voice hinted at a decades-old nicotine habit, and his obvious perusal of Lia's cleavage didn't faze her.
"Well." Lia cocked her head to the side coyly. "That's tempting, but I'm going to guess that a cold beer is the only thing you deserve from me just yet."
His eyes went wide for a fraction of a moment before sliding into creases as he grinned. She returned the expression. "Coors?" She guessed, as it was the farmer favorite around here.
"Coors will do it," he said, slipping her a ten. He stood up from the bar stool, no doubt to head toward the stage for a close-up view. "Keep the change."
And so it began.
When she turned back to Beck, he was shaking his head.
"Just think how much you could get out of that geezer if you were on stage."
Lia sighed. "Don't start. I'm not in the mood, and I do just fine."
In the past few weeks Beck had been on her case harder than ever to dance. He'd lost a couple of girls to a newer club a county over. While the idea of more money held serious appeal, Lia stuck to her timeline. Why entertain the thought when she had an exit strategy?
"You're crazy for not trying, Lia. You could leave with a grand a night. Easy."
She glared at her boss. "Just give me the Coors."
After delivering the drinks and making another round, Lia felt her phone buzzing in her pocket. She glanced around the room. Becker had a hard-and-fast rule that they don't have personal devices on their person, but she didn't care. In fact, several of the girls who had children refused to follow the rule, and considering Caleb was not an adult and was under her care, he counted as her child. However, she couldn't pull the phone out and answer it in plain sight so she sneaked into the hallway and then pulled it out. She grimaced when she saw she'd just missed a call from Caleb. Before she could return it, her voice mail chimed. Putting it to her ear, she listened to his message.
"Please don't freak out, Lia." She immediately began to freak out, her heart instantly racing. "I got in a bit of a fight. I'm okay ... a little beat up. I'm at Resolute Gym. That one on the corner in Aggieville. Uhh, the owner made me call you. It's a long story, I know you're gonna be mad ... but ... can you maybe come here? I'm so sorry."
"Shit," she whispered. What the hell had happened? Caleb was not a fighter. And what was he doing at a gym? Feeling nauseous, she immediately turned around, headed to the dressing room, grabbed her bag, and walked back toward the bar. She'd likely miss out on a couple hundred dollars this evening, but there was nothing to be done. She had to go.
"The hell are you doin'?" Becker asked, his face squinted in annoyance.
"I gotta go, Beck. It's my brother. He's been in a fight."
"How's that my problem?" he asked in protest. When she ignored him, he sighed, shaking his head in obvious irritation. "Who the hell is gonna cover these tables until Shayla gets here?"
He looked affronted. "I'm not a goddamn server and these men don't come here for a dude to hand them their beer."
"I don't really care what they come here for right now. I'm not even officially scheduled until four. You've just gotten used to me showing up early. Guess you need to stop letting the day shift go so soon."
His head jerked back. "That was your idea!"
Lia sighed. She had started talking him into that months ago, because she liked making the extra money. Sometimes Sonya the day-shift server stuck around, but many days, like today, she took advantage and skated out early to pick her kids up from daycare. "You're right, and I'm sorry. Don't stop doing that, but unfortunately today I have to skip out."
"This is bullshit, Lia." He snarled, slapping his towel down on the wooden bar.
"Sorry, Beck. You know I wouldn't leave you high and dry if it wasn't an emergency." She glanced at him, hoping he'd show her a little understanding.
Instead he just cursed under his breath and then leveled her with a hard glare. "Friday night you can scrub the urinals. Or dance. Take your pick."
Her eyes narrowed. She wanted to tell him where he could shove those urinals, but she wasn't in the position to push her luck. Sure, she didn't think he'd ever let her go, but sometimes Beck was hotheaded enough to cut off his nose to spite his face. She couldn't afford to be his nose. Not until she graduated. "I'll bring my scrub brush."
Lia headed for the front door, her eyes darting around for either Tim or Elliott to walk her to her car. The girls here knew better than to leave the premises alone. Ever. Even in the light of day. Too many customers with a hard-core crush. A few took the game to heart.
Finally, she caught sight of Elliott across the room near stage one. The minute their eyes met he looked concerned and quickly moved toward the front. Without a word, he pushed the door open and led her into the sun.
"Everything okay, Lia?" He said quietly, his voice full of concern as he followed her to the black Honda at the corner of the lot.
Lia liked Elliott. He was a clean-cut guy. Handsome and built for the role of bouncer. His family owned acreage about an hour south, and she knew he stood to inherit his father's farmland. He was a good guy, and she'd had the feeling a time or two that he'd wanted to ask her out. And while she'd toyed with the idea of liking him as more than a friend, she knew that she'd never say yes if he asked. She wanted nothing to do with a man who was willing to darken the doors of Exquisite. Even as an employee. She knew it was beyond hypocritical, but she couldn't help it. The place symbolized seedy, embarrassing things for her, and if it wasn't for the money she'd never return.
"Apparently, my little brother was in a fight. He says he's okay ... but I don't know." Lia opened the driver's side door of her car.
"Shit. I'm sorry. Maybe I should drive you."
She wasn't terribly shocked that he offered, but her already racing heart skipped. Why did a man's genuine interest always unsettle her? "Oh no, I couldn't have you leave work. Beck would freak out."
"Beck can go to hell. You're more important."
Lia's head jerked up, their eyes meeting. Did he really feel that way?
Elliott was sweet, and good-looking. Sometimes when she was alone, she imagined his handsome face and strong arms. It was so tempting to let him get close. Allow him to be the one who showed her what she was missing, because she was certain that intimacy with Elliott would be gentle and safe. But as appealing as that sounded, she couldn't bring herself to use him in that way.
Lia tried to shoot him a reassuring smile, but figured it looked more strained than convincing. "Thank you, Elliott. But I'm okay. I promise. I'll see you Friday?"
Her refusal seemed to snap the spell between them. He nodded. "Yeah. I'll be here."
As she went to put one leg into her car, she felt the blonde wig gently slide off her scalp. Turning, she found Elliott holding it. Her hand instinctively went to her head, shaking out some of her own brunette locks. She recalled another time when Elliott had seen her take it off after closing. He'd mentioned how much he liked her natural hair.
"Better not wear this to see your brother." He held the wig out to her.
"Good thinking." She took it from his hand before quickly leaning up on her toes and planting a small kiss on his jaw. "You're a good guy, E."
His brow furrowed, and she guessed those weren't the words he was looking for. He was too kind to mention it. "Text me and let me know how he is."
"I will." She probably wouldn't but she could hardly admit it.
Once she was on Interstate 70 she reached over and stuffed the wig in to her bag and then fumbled with her phone to try Caleb once more. She cursed when it went to voice mail. Why hadn't he gone to a hospital? Did the fight happen at the gym? She had so many questions and it pissed her off that he didn't answer. She tried once more.
"Caleb! What's going on?" Her voice was frantic.
Her brother sighed. "I'm okay, Lia. I just ... some shit went down today."
"What do you mean 'some shit'? I don't understand. Do you need to see a doctor?"
"Tyler said I'll be okay. He had a doctor friend look me over. But he insisted I get a hold of you."
"Who is Tyler? I'm so confused."
"He's the owner at the gym. Listen, can we talk about it when you get here?"
She scoffed. "I guess so. But tell me this. Did you hurt anyone?"
"I wish I did."
That stunned her. Caleb was always so mild mannered. Wouldn't hurt a fly unless it was in a video game. "Caleb ..." she whispered. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
They disconnected, and she tried to focus on driving. Exquisite was on the west side of Junction City, about two miles off the interstate. It was prime location for a strip club because truckers drove by all day, and it was close — yet just far enough away — from Fort Riley to pull in soldiers looking for a little R&R. The best part for Lia was that it was also far enough from Manhattan that no one she knew — save her best friend Abbie — was aware she worked there.
Forty-five minutes later, and amazed she hadn't been pulled over, she was driving through Aggieville — the commercial area near the campus of Kansas State full of bars, boutique shops, restaurants, and more bars, that drew in the local college crowd. She headed down Moro Street and took the first parking spot she found. Once out of her car, Lia realized she'd never changed from her short skirt and sleeveless top. Tugging her skirt hem down as best as she could, she dug through her trunk for one of her favorite flannels, and thankfully found a pair of old flip-flops to trade out for her high-heeled boots. Once she was more presentable, she raced down the sidewalk, dodging parked cars, tripping over a curb, and clutching her bag to her side.
Resolute was on a corner, and while she worked at a coffee shop — Liquid Wisdom — down the street, she'd never been inside. Young women trying to make ends meet did not go to the gym. Flinging open the front door, she was met with cool air, and the stench of sweat. Her nose wrinkled.
"Hi there!" a cheery feminine voice said.
Lia glanced over to find a cute blonde standing behind the reception desk. After hiking her bag up on her shoulder, Lia stepped up to the counter. She wasn't even sure what to say so she just went for the basics. "Hi, my brother Caleb is here?"
"Oh yeah. He's in Ty's office. Poor thing." The blonde's lip pouted. "Just head through the gym and it's the door on the left just past the drinking fountains."
"Thank you," Lia said. She exited the lobby area and made her way into the main gym. It wasn't packed, but at least a dozen patrons were scattered about the room using various weight and cardio machines. The whir of activity and the clanking of metal filled the air. It had been years since Lia had been in a place like this, and suddenly she felt self-conscious, especially since all the mirrored walls reflected her unmuscular thighs and hot-mess of an outfit.
She tugged at her tiny skirt and rushed through the room. When she got to the drinking fountains she slowed down. This Tyler person's office appeared to be open, so she stepped around the corner, and her heart skipped.
Excerpted from Along Came Us by Nicole McLaughlin. Copyright © 2017 Nicole McLaughlin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is second book in series and we get reunited with Tyler, who is also in the national guard, and now owns a gym to help young kids keep out of trouble. He ends up meeting Lia, whose little brother Caleb is going to his gym without her knowledge. Lia has a difficult life, her mother is in a home, and Lia is working as a waitress in a strip bar to help pay the bills, and still assist her mother even though, her mother neglected taking care of them. There are problem with Caleb, and he does not want to tell her, Lia is an angry girl, and does have a chip on her shoulder, sometimes you want to knock her out, but as you continue to read, you feel for her. Tyler is instantly attracted to Lia, and he tries to get close to her, but when he finds out her job, he flips, and then the issues arise. I loved Tyler, and loved reading about Reeve and Emily.
Along Came Us by Nicole McLaughlin Man Enough #2 Lia Hanson and Tyler Cavallo meet in his gym when she goes to pick up her injured brother. They do not hit it off at first sight with Lia jumping to conclusions and Tyler realizing his preconceptions were totally incorrect. The two have some trust issues to deal with before they get their HEA. This was a well written story with great characters and real issues to be dealt with. I liked the H/h dynamics and the interaction of Caleb, the brother, with both of them. I enjoyed the first book in this series and look forward to finding out who will have his story told next. Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press-Swerve for the ARC – this is my honest review. 4.5 Stars
lia hanson has a plan. finish up her studies. quit her terrible job. get a good job she can be proud of. one good enough that will allow her to quit her second decent job. all while supporting her infirm mother and her teenage brother. along came us opens when her brother gets involved in a series of fights she realizes that maybe she doesn't have things as in control as she thought. first she discovers that he's been taking lessons on how to defend himself at a local mma gym. she's definitely not pleased when she meets tyler cavallo and learns of past involvement with gangs in la and the military. but he has a connection with her brother she can't deny. and she is attracted to him in a way she can't deny either. tyler is so interested in lia. and the fact that she wants nothing to do with him kills him. and with her brother putting him in the middle of things his loyalty and ability to keep promises are in question. because he hates lying to lia. she barely trusts him as it is, and all he wants is her trust. there's a push and pull between them throughout the book that works because they are so good at talking about their problems. they still fight and get their wires crossed. but nothing ever feels insurmountable, you have faith that they'll figure it out. that what they feel for each other is love. and that love is strong enough to withstand all the hurt and pain they cause one another without meaning to. because their biggest problem is trust. lia has been hurt so badly before. her father, her stepfather, previous boyfriends, not one of them have stepped up and treated her the way a woman should be treated. and so with tyler everything feels too good to be true. and when he doesn't act or react the way she wants him to, it's painful. but the truth is, he's human. he's entitled to feel conflicted and angry. he's hurt by her lack of confidence in him more than anything else. but once they really decide to go for it. to trust each other. to trust in their love. what they get is something wonderful. something that might not have been planned for, but is exactly what lia needs in order to achieve happiness. **along came us will publish on june 27, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/st. martin's press (swerve) in exchange for my honest review.
Fantastic book! Tyler and Lia are both strong passionate characters and they work perfectly together. He's a good guy that had a rough start in life but turned himself around. Now he just wants to give back and help other kids out of tough situations. That's how he meets Lia's brother Caleb. Lia is working 2 jobs, finishing school, and raising her brother. She thinks she has everything under control until Caleb starts getting into trouble and the rough and rugged gym owner thinks he knows whats best for Caleb. These two clash, argue and love hard. The characters in this one are very well developed and I enjoyed them all. The story itself is fresh with a nice pace to the story. Definitely a book I recommend.