We’re really lucky to have an exclusive from Vanessa North’s new release Hard Chrome. It’s out now (ebook) – the print version will be out on 29 October. If you love small town romance – you’ll want to check this one out!
He’s tough. But she’s tougher.
Tanner Ellis left American Heavy Metal in her rearview mirror. She didn’t see the beauty behind the grease stains and the polished chrome until it was too late. Now she’s back, determined to save her father’s legacy —and bring the South’s premier classic-car shop into the new century. Nothing is going to stop her—especially not the sexy tech who refuses to follow her lead.
American Heavy Metal is the only home Duke Wilson’s ever known, and no high-heeled, sharp-tongued princess is going to take it away. He tolerates Tanner’s advice, and it’s fun to push her buttons, but she doesn’t belong in the shop—never has, never will. The sooner she realizes that, the sooner he can find his new normal.
When Tanner falters, revealing the pain beneath her bravado, Duke comforts her the only way he knows how. And when violence from his past threatens their future, she’ll be there for him, offering him the one thing he’s always wanted—a shot at a real family. He just has to convince himself to take it.
About Vanessa North:
Vanessa North is a romance novelist, a short fiction geek, and a knitter of strange and wonderful things. Her works have been shortlisted for both the Lambda Literary Award and the RITA© Award, and have garnered praise from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Publisher’s Weekly. She lives in Northwest Georgia with her family: a Viking, twin boy-children, and two large dogs.
Note from the author: It’s hard to pick a favorite scene from something I wrote — I like and need them all in the book for different reasons, but this one is definitely one of my favorites, because it’s early in the book, and it’s one of the first scenes where Tanner acknowledges to herself her attraction to Duke. –VN
“Well, hey there, princess.” The gruff voice, drawled out in amusement, stiffens my spine.
“Is this seat taken?” He parks himself on Mac’s barstool.
“Yes,” I hiss. “Get lost.”
“Oooh, are you on a date?” He peers around the room, and then his shoulders drop. “Nah, nobody in this place is fancy enough for Tanner fuckin’ Ellis.” He juts his chin out and smirks at me, and while it should make me want to smack him, I can’t help but notice how his scruffy jaw is thrown into prominence, and the effect is rough and virile in a way that sends heat racing down my spine.
“Except that guy,” he continues, standing up again to stage whisper, “But he’s gay. Hey, Alfie. I was just keeping your seat warm.”
“Join us.” Mac drops on the barstool and slides a basket of food across the table to me. Before I can protest the impromptu invitation, Duke pulls another barstool over and sits next to me. Despite his rough appearance, he smells more like soap than motor oil, and as his arm brushes mine, his smirk turns into a genuine smile.
Of course that smile is for Mac, not me. “Any luck with the kid?” Duke jerks his head toward the bar.
Mac shrugs. “We’re keeping it casual. He’s sweet but still hung up on his ex.”
Brendan returns with the flight of beer and an extra glass, which he places in front of Duke. “Golden Monkey for the biggest tool in the shed.”
Duke laughs. “Thanks.”
“And for the lady…” Brendan places the flight in front of me. “Left to right is fifteen to eighteen. The tap ran out on seventeen, so I’m not going to charge you for that one, but if you like it, number ten is fairly similar. I’ll be back to check on y’all in a few.”
“Cheers.” Duke holds up his glass, and I pick up the beer at the far right of the flight and clink it against his.
“Cheers.” I tip back my glass and take the first sip. A funk of sour explodes over my tongue and I almost choke on it, but manage to swallow. “What the fuck is that?”
Duke and Mac laugh, and Mac plucks the glass from my hand. “I’ll be drinking this one, I guess.”
“I don’t like sour beers either.” Duke glances sideways at me, a soft smile tilting his lips up, so different from his usual cocky smirk. “I think I had the same reaction the first time I tasted one.”
And I can’t help myself. I smile back at him. “That shit was nasty.”
“Amen.” He takes another swig of his beer. “You’ll probably like that one, though.” He points at the darkest beer in the flight. “It tastes like coconut and chocolate. A Mounds bar in a glass.”
I sniff it warily, and it does smell chocolate-y. I take a sip, more cautious this time. Sweetness rolls over my tongue. “Oh my god.”
He bites his lip, eyes sparkling. “Those words look awful nice coming out of that pretty mouth.”
Heat flashes over me — am I turned on? Insulted? Both? And how fucked up is that?
“Leave her alone, asshole.” Mac slaps his arm. “She’s your boss.”
Duke rolls his eyes. “Yeah. Of course she is.”
“That’s right. I am.” I straighten in my seat, trying to will away the flush on my cheeks.
I half expect him to rise to my challenge. I put it out there, eager as sin. I could feel it melting down my spine, singing through my blood. Pick up that motherfucking gauntlet, Duke.
But he grins instead and takes a deep swallow of his beer.
I watch his Adam’s apple bob in his throat, stubble halfway down his neck. What would it feel like under my fingers? The flush in my cheeks deepens.
His gaze meets mine, like he can see straight into those squirmy, hungry, angry parts of me I don’t like to admit exist. His grin falls, and it bottoms out in my bones. He does see.
Before I can say anything to turn it into a joke, or to cover that hunger with some kind of power game, he turns his attention to Mac.
“How’d you two meet?” He gestures at me like a painting on the wall.
Mac reaches across the table and places the sour beer glass back in the holder. “First day of kindergarten. I was scared out of my mind. Remember, T?”
I smile at him, forced into my part. How often had we told this story? “He was wearing a purple cape, and he was the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen. I knew he was going to be my best friend, so I told him so.”
“Bossy, bossy.” Mac grins at me. “It turns out, though, she needed a superhero in a purple cape because she was just as scared as I was.”
“Your dad let you wear a purple cape to school?” Duke stares back and forth between the two of us until Mac’s grin falls away and he gives a half shrug.
“Yeah, well. My dad was never big on telling me no. Neither is Mom.”
“Mac’s parents had him late in life,” I explain. “He was their miracle—I think they were afraid if they told him no, he’d vanish into thin air. Lucky for them, he doesn’t have the temperament to spoil. He wants everyone to be happy.”
Mac blushes. “She’s mostly exaggerating.”
Grinning at Mac, Duke picks up one of my neglected beers and drinks it down. “Sounds about right, though.” He reaches out and claps Mac on the shoulder. “I got the beers. Y’all heading to the show?”
“Show?” I look at Mac.
“There’s a free concert in the bowl.”
The bowl. It has an official name now—something or other bank amphitheater—but the little angled-lawn park across the street was still the bowl. And God only knows what kind of Brooks and Dunn tribute or Kiss cover group they’re hosting tonight.
“Do we have to?”
“C’mon, princess, save me a dance.” Duke leans over and rubs his stubble along my chin, a weird, intimate gesture—like he knew I’d been itching to feel it—but friendly, because a hug would send me running. And somehow, the beers gone straight to my head, I nod.
And that’s how I find myself howling along to, of all things, a Bon Jovi cover band, the feel of his stubble still tingling along my jaw, the last of the coconut and chocolate beer dancing on my tongue. Duke and Mac stand behind me, bouncing shoulder to shoulder in that camaraderie that still doesn’t make sense to me, until the music changes and Duke spins me into his arms.
I settle against him, hip to hip, as the strains of “I’ll Be There For You” swell through the bowl.
“You remember this song? My ma used to sing it a lot.” His left hand clasps my right and pulls it in close to our chests.
“Hardly. Maybe I was conceived to it.”
He throws his head back and laughs, and it might be the first unguarded laugh I’ve ever seen out of him, because it pulls a grin from me too. I relax into the dance, his body moving mine effortlessly in a small circle on the angled lawn, like he was taking care to shift our weight so I never stumbled into the downhill.
“I don’t get you,” I say into his chest.
“I don’t get you either,” he rumbles, his words too soft and close to carry out into crowd to Mac.