She lives by the book—and is still searching for her happily ever after.
Darcy Wilde has tried hard not to live up to her last name. As a librarian in Atlanta she lives a fine life far away from the football-obsessed town of her childhood. But when her beloved Grandmother needs help, Darcy takes a leave of absence and heads back to the home and past she left behind.
He knows how to play the field—and is in no rush to settle down.
Robbie Dalton knows a thing or two about painful pasts. After bouncing around in foster care and the Army for years he is finally ready to move on and make a home for himself in Falcon, Alabama as the newest high school football coach. Sparks fly when the sexy new coach and the sharp-tongued librarian meet, but neither of them is looking to make ties.
But when it comes to love, sometimes you've gotta throw away the rule book to cross the finish line…
Everything changes when Darcy falls in love, not only with the gruff, protective, and smoking hot man who's sharing her days and nights, but also with the complex tapestry of people who weave Falcon together. Could this be where she belongs - and who she belongs with?
About the Author
An award-winning author, Laura Trentham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. Although, she loved English and reading in high school, she was convinced an English degree equated to starvation. She chose the next most logical major—Chemical Engineering—and worked in a hard hat and steel toed boots for several years.
She writes sexy, small town contemporaries and smoking hot Regency historicals. The first two books of her Falcon Football series were named Top Picks by RT Book Reviews magazine. Then He Kissed Me, a Cottonbloom novel, was named as one of Amazon’s best romances of 2016. When not lost in a cozy Southern town or Regency England, she's shuttling kids to soccer, helping with homework, and avoiding the Mt. Everest-sized pile of laundry that is almost as big as the to-be-read pile of books on her nightstand.
Read an Excerpt
Slow and Steady Rush
By Laura Trentham
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Laura Trentham
All rights reserved.
Falcon, Alabama, July
"Abandon all hope ye who enter here," Darcy Wilde intoned with the city limits sign in sight. Tenacious kudzu vines wove up the metal poles and partly obscured the lettering. She gave it the finger. Childish? Yes, but infinitely satisfying.
Blue and white lights whirled from the shadow of the trees lining the two-lane road. She dropped her head to the seat back and eased to a stop on the shoulder. The leather seat squeaked against her legs, and an asphalt-seared breeze ruffled her hair. A car door slammed, prodding her heart and bottoming out her stomach. She stole a peek in her mirror. The cop sauntered up with the gait of a former athlete, his football-sized paunch protruding over the strap of his gun belt.
"Hot little ride, ma'am. Do you know why I pulled you over?" His words melded into a self-satisfied, over-confident drawl.
"Not a clue." She pasted on an innocent smile.
"Going a little fast, and did I see you shoot me the bird, ma'am?"
Her sigh wiped the smile away. Of course this was how her blazing reentry into Falcon would go. "Not you. The sign. How've you been, Rick?"
The man settled one hand on the door, one on the front window joint, and loomed over the open convertible roof. His shadow offered a smidgen of relief from the early afternoon sun. Mirrored sunglasses disguised the roam of his gaze, but by the tilt of his head, he was checking out her legs, exposed by well-worn cutoffs.
"Dar-cee Wilde. Well, I'll be. Where you been hiding? Atlanta?"
"Yep," she replied, popping the word between her lips.
His neck craned to inspect the small backseat. Bags that wouldn't fit in the convertible's toaster-sized trunk crammed every nook. "Planning to stay awhile, are you?"
She answered the obvious with a one-shouldered shrug. Rick had graduated a few years ahead of her, and had been the starting quarterback his senior year. But he hadn't been recruited to play college ball and stayed in Falcon, his once good looks marred by extra weight and dissatisfaction.
Rick didn't attempt gentlemanly eye contact, his gaze fixed somewhere south of Darcy's face. Lips pursed in a no-woman-can-resist-this smirk, he said, "How about we meet up for a drink tonight?"
His attention fired an embarrassed heat, and sweat trickled down her neck to her chest. Nothing, save being cuffed, could stop her hand from tugging the scooped-necked T-shirt north of her collarbone. "Are you going to write me a ticket or not?"
"I'll let you slide with a warning. Just this once. You in for that drink?"
"Thank you kindly, but no."
"Really?" Honest surprise drawled the word. "Another time, then. I'll be seeing you around, girl." He rapped her door with a fist before pointing his finger in either promise or threat and disappearing into a black-and-tan police car.
The cruiser slid onto the pot-holed road, spitting gravel and fishtailing like a peacock flashing its feathers. In contrast, she pulled out slow and sedate, even used her signal. The buzzards lazily circling overhead were the only ones to appreciate her conscientious effort.
One thing was certain. Word of her arrival would be around town by supper. A mile from the first traffic light, she turned onto a nearly invisible gravel road between a thick growth of trees. The car crawled through washed-out holes, jostling her side to side, until her grandmother's house came into sight around a tight bend. The closer she drew, the more her anxiety rose.
She had been raised in the house, for the most part. Occasionally her mother, cleaned up and ready to try again, would sweep into town and whisk her off to an apartment somewhere. Darcy was never there long enough to determine where she had landed. The tall buildings, endless sidewalks, and foreign smells made her imagine she'd rocketed to a different planet. Her only friends had resided in the books her grandmother pressed into her arms whenever she left.
Soon enough, her mother would dump her back in Falcon, full of apologies and excuses. Ada would give her hugs, some cookies and milk, and her life would resume as if the jaunts had been weird little vacations.
Darcy parked on the backside of an old metal shed in a small rectangle of shadow. She got out slowly and stretched, not quite ready to leave the safety of her car. The grass had been mowed recently, the clippings green and the wild onions pungent. Bugs, frogs, and the caw of a pair of crows having a conversation broke the silence, but nothing rustled the trees. Everything was static, waiting.
Leaving her bags, she rapped softly on the front door. No answer. Where was her cousin Logan? She let herself inside—the door never stayed locked—and called out softly, "Ada?"
No answer. She called out again, her voice rising, "Ada."
Her heart tapped a quickened rhythm, and she rushed down the hall, checking each room. She found her grandmother asleep on a portable hospital bed in the den. Darcy sighed with a relief that was short-lived.
A white sheet was tucked under Ada's arms, and her hands were crossed as if positioned by an undertaker. Veins and tendons stood in stark relief under thin, age-spotted skin. Ada looked ... old.
That spring, they had gone to a Braves game and had cleared the vegetable garden for planting. Work had gotten busy, and Darcy hadn't made it back to Falcon in a couple of months, but Ada had sounded like her strong and sassy self on the phone.
Her grandmother stirred. She brushed a hand through her fluffy, white hair and heaved a yawn. Her eyes fluttered. Seeing Darcy, she startled into the pillows before her lips curled into a welcoming smile.
"Darlin', you're here. Thank God. I've got to take a piss, and I refused to ask Logan to help me. He's off getting my pills filled." Ada's familiar sleep-dampened drawl made Darcy huff.
"What's your poison, bedpan or toilet?" Darcy forced a bright, unworried tone. Her grandmother's usually rosy cheeks lacked color and were drawn tight.
"As much as it pains me ... bedpan."
As Darcy helped Ada, they both ignored the stark reality of the situation.
"What did the muckity-mucks at Emory have to say?" Ada asked.
"They'll hold my job until the end of November. After that, it's fair game." At least two women were eyeing her job as head research librarian, and the thought of them jockeying for her position while she was on leave added to her already heightened anxiety.
"I know how much you love Atlanta and your job. I'm sorry about this." Ada waved a hand that seemed too heavy for her delicate wrist.
A lump of emotion turned in Darcy's stomach until she felt nauseous. She turned away to fold a fraying multicolored afghan blanket that had been around since her memories began. Sun and age had faded its once vibrant yarn.
"I kept my apartment, and we can see how things stand at Thanksgiving. I'm glad to be away from the bustle for a while," she finally replied. The little lie added to the lump in her stomach.
"I'll be up and chopping wood by the holidays."
"Last I checked you have central heat and air. Why on earth were you out chopping wood in July?"
"It keeps me in shape—"
"You broke both hips. You are eighty-five. Next time take a Jazzercise class. Don't go swinging an ax nearly as big as you are," Darcy said as she rubbed two fingers over the throb in her temple.
Ada settled her arms across her chest. "I refuse to prance around at the Senior Center with a bunch of old ladies. Anyway, I save a fortune during the winter with my stockpile."
Darcy shook her head and saved her breath.
Ada continued, "I'll have nursing help, and Logan got me a fancy new phone. I'll not expect you at my bedside all the time, you know. I plan to catch up on my reading."
"Wouldn't it be easier to move—just for a week or two—into the rehab center? I would be there every day." Darcy held her hands up to deflect Ada's glare.
"Easier for whom?"
"You wouldn't be stuck waiting for someone to help you go to the bathroom. Logan's busy doing whatever it is he does all day, and I'm not sure how best to help you. I'm a librarian, not a nurse," Darcy said.
"Speaking of, I hoped you might pop around to the library and see how they're managing without me. Those women will argue with an ear of corn. Nothing will get done."
Darcy wanted to steer them back on the topic of rehabilitation, not that a logical argument would help. Her grandmother had dug her heels in, and there would be no changing her mind.
"I'll swing by the library, but you know as well as I do no one can tell those ladies what to do."
Ada harrumphed and settled into her cocoon of pillows.
"Did Logan mow?" Darcy flicked the drapes open to the vegetable garden and the woods beyond.
"No, Dalt took care of it. Weeded the garden too. Such a nice boy. He checks in every day on his way home. He's after me to sell him the old Wilson home place—the land included."
Darcy chewed on her lip as she glanced from Ada to the tall pines in the backyard. She considered the land, Ada, and the town timeless. In her less charitable moods, she might say stagnant. But, always, undeniably, securely there.
Darcy's voice dropped with disbelief and dread. "Tell me you're not considering selling."
"I am indeed. That house has sat empty for too long. Anyway, I like him, and it's not as if you'll move back and need a place to live, right?" Ada's eyebrows arched.
Darcy couldn't lie again. She stared out the window and shrugged.
Ada said, "Anyway, he may not be staying long. Depends on how the football season goes. Those old farts at the American Legion will run him out of town with pitchforks if he doesn't turn the team around. The poor boy only got hired on after spring practices. They're asking for a goddang miracle."
"Have they offered up a sacrifice to Bear Bryant on the fifty-yard line yet?" Darcy asked dryly.
"Don't let Preacher Higgs hear you talk such nonsense." Ada wagged a finger in Darcy's direction, but laughter lurked. "Could you brew some tea, darlin'? I'm parched."
Darcy toed off her sneakers and padded into the kitchen, the wood planks cold on her bare feet. The house was old and smelled it. Not in a bad way, but in a lived-in, ingrained-in-the-walls kind of way.
As she waited for the water to boil, she worried over the new football coach. Considering Ada considered any male under fifty a 'boy,' Darcy pictured a fortysomething man with a comb over and spit cup wearing the standard coaching uniform—gray polyester shorts with lots of elastic.
Checking on Ada, mowing the yard, weeding the garden ... what did he want? Certainly not a supply of summer squash. Wildes had owned the land on this side of the river since before the Civil War. Surely, Ada wouldn't sell it to a stranger.
She plopped tea bags into the water to steep. The crunch of wheels on gravel drew her to the curtained window. A middle-aged woman in blue scrubs took several minutes to gather her gear and maneuver up the porch.
Backing an ample rear through the door without a knock, the woman said, "You must be Darcy. Ada told me you were coming home from the big city to help."
"I'm Evelyn, her nurse. I'll be here quite a lot so you'd best get used to me." The woman tittered a girlish laugh at odds with her moon-pie face.
"Your grandmother is quite the character around town. It's a shame what happened, but I'll get her back on her feet, never fear." She hauled her equipment toward the den on squeaky white nursing clogs.
An oration on all of the metal parts holding her grandmother's hips together, and the possible complications, had Darcy wiping damp palms down her shorts. "Infection," "blood clot," "stroke" ... the words stamped on her consciousness. Evelyn's voice buzzed like white noise. Unable to tolerate any more, Darcy backed toward the kitchen. "Is there anything you—"
"Not a thing. I'll be awhile changing sheets and such, and we have our exercises, don't we, Miss Ada? I'll leave my schedule, but I'll be available for extra afternoons and evenings if needed."
"That's great. I'll finish up the tea—"
"I'd love some tea. Light on the sugar, if you don't mind," Evelyn said.
"And then I'm going for a walk to the river," Darcy said in a rush of words. Ada's puppyish pleading eyes only hastened her escape to the kitchen to ice the tea.
The approach of squeaky shoes was as telling as a cat's bell, and Darcy darted outside as quick as a hunted sparrow. She didn't want to hear about the difficulties Ada faced, didn't want to work out a schedule, didn't want to make polite conversation. She needed time to process the changes. Barefoot, she sprinted into the woods. The soft pine needles underfoot and leafy branches overhead worked their usual magic, soothing her unrest.CHAPTER 2
Robbie Dalton steered his black pick-up truck down the narrow washed-out lane. He'd have to talk Miss Ada into either laying more gravel or, better yet, paving the road. If he could convince her to sell him the farmhouse, he'd pay for it himself. A state forest, open fields, and the river enfolded the house. The absolute privacy appealed to him.
Honestly, he'd be doing the woman a favor. The house needed thousands of dollars in repairs and would require months of labor. But memories of past generations were steeped into the walls like a strong tea, flavoring the feel of the place. Robbie loved it. Miss Ada had told him to wait and see how the football season went, because if he couldn't coach the team to a winning record, he might not be around long enough to unpack.
Trees crowding over the narrow lane ended in a stark line, and the harsh Alabama sun blazed after the relatively cool shadows. Fields once farmed in cotton had been left fallow. Tall grasses, newly sprouted pines, and hardwoods encroached.
He slowly bumped by the old woman's house. The nurse's huge SUV sat out front. A shudder passed through his body at the thought of getting trapped into a conversation with Ms. Evelyn. He'd stop by later.
Avery barked softly, and Robbie put an arm around the dog, steadying him. For the most part, Avery had adapted to losing his front leg. He still loved to run and jump and play, but there were times he whined as if he missed it, licking and nipping at the stump.
The rutted lane wove close to the river. The truck windows were down and the radio off. After four tours in Afghanistan, Robbie craved the silence, needed to know bone-deep that mortars, the beat of helicopter blades, or the zing of bullets wouldn't break the serenity.
A sound broke through the silence. He killed the truck's engine, his senses heightened by a pulse of adrenaline. The noise cut to him again. Close to the river. Human or animal? Maybe a hunter or maybe one of the wild pigs that had been wreaking havoc in the river bottoms.
Grabbing his pistol from the glove box, he said, "You stay here, buddy."
Avery whined and hopped down the seat as if to follow.
"No, the bank's too steep. I'll be fine. Stay." He took the time to rub the Belgian Malinois behind the ears. Avery seemed to prefer Robbie never leave his line of sight.
Ingrained training had him crouching low and moving across the short open field as if a sniper had him in his sights. He squatted at the edge of the bank and parted low-hanging willow branches. Leaning forward, he hung onto a ropey, pliable limb, his fisted hand stripping a row of leaves. His heart nearly stopped but then galloped out of his chest to match his bulging eyes.
Holy shit. It was a naked woman. A fine, naked woman.
She stood hip deep in a slow-moving eddy with her back to him. Her face tilted to the sky, she shook wet hair and squeezed out the water. The feminine, graceful movements dried his mouth. Rivulets raced from her shoulders to the hollow of her lower back. Water bobbed around her ass, framing perfection. The beauty of the scene went beyond the erotic.
He was intruding on a private moment and needed to leave. He squeezed his eyes shut. Nothing but the whisper of the wind in the trees and the flow of the river filled the quiet.
He took a step back, cracking a dead branch under his boot, and froze. He'd be fired from the team if he were accused of voyeurism. Had she heard him? One eye opened and went straight to woman in the river. He tried his damnedest to look away, but hell, he was only human.
Another intruder captured his attention. The water lapping the far bank rippled. Wide body, flat head. He mouthed a curse. Cottonmouth. Big one, too. A bite might not kill her, but it would cause excruciating pain. The snake swam straight toward his fine, naked woman.
He stood, thumbed the safety, and cupped the gun in both hands. He had one shot to get the job done. Not the first time he'd been in that position. His finger caressed the trigger. The gun's report and the woman's scream trampled the seductive beauty of the scene.
The woman fell and stirred up enough silt to darken the usually clear water. Bits of snake floated down the river. "My God!" she repeated as a litany, giving the snake remnants wide berth.
Shallow, fast-moving water eddied around her shoulders and concealed her curves as she scrambled backward on her hands and feet. Dark hair streamed into her face. She brushed it aside only to have the water push it back in front of her eyes.
He couldn't let her panic and drown. Pushing willow branches aside, he called out, "You're welcome." He'd aimed for nonthreatening, but had landed closer to surly. Wincing, he rubbed his nape. Jesus, he was an idiot.
Excerpted from Slow and Steady Rush by Laura Trentham. Copyright © 2015 Laura Trentham. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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