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Excerpt! He's Hotter Than Her Habaneros!

Updated: Feb 2




Jillian Parks doesn’t need her hybrid scorpion pepper to set her pulse racing. Wildly charismatic rancher, Jack Reed, does that all on his own in this scorcher from Gigi Templeton.


"Don’t ever think I didn’t want more time with you, darlin’." 


Those were her college boyfriend’s last words to her after a phone call summoned him home to Texas. In the ten years since, Jack Reed has taken over his family’s ranch, and Jillian Parks has experienced devastating losses with traumatic repercussions.


Now a reclusive insomniac, she podcasts about the specialty hybrid chili peppers she grows in her Seattle greenhouse, keeping a closed door between her and the past. But when Jillian’s producer coaxes her to make a surprise call-in to Jack’s YouTube BBQ channel, their chemistry still sizzles!


An invite to the ranch for a follow-up collab is a scary proposal for Jillian. But forward movement is key to her recovery, and it’s time to take the bull by the horns. With Jack’s commanding yet soothing presence, maybe this charismatic cowboy is just the right ingredient to help her heal—while adding a different kind of spice to her life!


EXCERPT # 1 (from Chapter 2):


“If you were a soccer shoe, where would you be?” asked eleven-year-old Hunter the following morning.


Jack glanced up from the baker’s rack sitting on the enormous kitchen island, where his chorizo-and-cheese corn bread biscuits were cooling. He squeezed a dollop of his cilantro-lime crema on their tops as his nephew hobbled farther into the room, wearing only the one cleat.


“Preferably on your other foot?”


“Right?” Hunter quipped, his hands in the air to accompany a shrug.


Jack took advantage and placed the rack on a sheet pan that he balanced on the boy’s upturned palms. “Take these to the table,” he instructed. “Be careful.”


Hunter’s fraternal twin, Alejandro, raced in a heartbeat later, nearly slamming into his brother, who called out, “Hey, watch it!” Hunter kept his eye on the prize, though, and made it to his destination, not dropping a single biscuit.


Maintaining his own trajectory, Alejandro declared, “Uncle Jack, you have to see this comment about your last show!”


For the moment, Jack ignored the mini tablet he waved in the air and said, “No running in the house, junior. Your nana catches you—or you knock over one of her vases—there’s gonna be hell to pay.”


“I know, I know!” Alejandro took a breath, then proclaimed on the exhale, “Uncle Jack, you’re not supposed to swear, but look!” He shook his hand to indicate the electronic device he clutched.


“Hold it still, or I can’t read it, Ale,” Jack told him as he reached for a plate lined with paper towels to drain the hash browns once removed from the skillets. The thinly sliced potatoes, edges perfectly golden and crisp, snapped in the oil.


With notable exasperation, Ale twisted his wrist so the screen faced him, and he announced, “‘Texas rancher and award-winning grill master Jack Reed should be nominated for a YouTube award in a new category, Most Charismatic.’” He stumbled over the last word. But he eagerly resumed. “‘Can’t stop watching him! Totally addictive!’” Alejandro, whose dark hair and deep blue eyes ran in the family, said, “She writes for BBQ Weekly magazine, Uncle Jack! BBQ Weekly!”


“Lemme see that.” Jack’s curiosity soared. He was secretly devouring reviews of his and Jillian’s unexpected mash-up. So far, responses were positive because they’d sparked from the get-go.


He took the tablet from his nephew and finished the statement. Almost. “‘Displaying his wit and wisdom every week on his YouTube channel, Rub It In, Rancher Reed is the ultimate in BBQ mastery and visual stimula—’ Oh, good grief.” He rolled his eyes. So. Not about Jillian.


He passed the device back to his nephew. Who rounded out the online post with, “‘PS, ladies, he’s single!’”


“How on earth would she know that?” Jack asked as he started huevos rancheros in a few cast irons already heating up on the combination stove/griddle/grill.


“I included it in your bio on your website.” Wyatt Martinez, Jack’s eldest sister, flashed him a sassy look as she breezed in and went straight to the refrigerator to collect the pitchers of orange juice and milk. She gave them to Ale to take to the breakfast table that sat twelve, then began brewing coffee for the freestanding urn.


“I have a website?” Jack inquired with a crooked brow.


“You do now. Ale and I developed the pages that went live last week,” she informed him. “Your inaugural Memorial Day Weekend BBQ Bash will put you on the map, Jack. Push you beyond grassroots fame, even more so than your two-minute cooking segment every week on the local network.”


“Do I want to be on the map?” he countered as he cracked eggs.

“You want more viewers and subscribers, right? That equates to greater monetization.”


“True fact,” he conceded. “Though . . .” Glancing at Wyatt over his shoulder, Jack further questioned, “What does my marital status have to do with . . . anything?”


“Oh, please.” Wyatt gave a feisty sigh.


She and Hunter were the blonds of the family. Wyatt was thirty-one, two years older than Jack. She possessed enough energy to account for rambunctious twins, a husband who spent time on the road for auctions and other ranch business, a part-time marketing career, co-coaching Hunter’s team, and helping to manage the organized chaos around the house. Which exhausted Jack, just thinking about it all.


Before she could answer, their mother, Brett Reed, marched into the room. A full head shorter than Wyatt but also a dynamo.


“Never hurts to advertise the goods,” she told Jack with a mischievous smile. She tousled Ale’s thick strands, though Jack was certain his nephew had no clue as to his nana’s insinuation.


“It’s not a dating app, Mom,” Jack grumbled, not even wanting to go in that direction, in theory or in reality. He also had way too much on his hands. The TRIPLE R was his coveted legacy and always a top priority—as was his family.


“You joined a dating app?” asked Garrett as he entered from the garage door on the far side of the room, two boxes stacked in his arms.


He was a lifelong family friend, and the younger boys considered him an uncle. He met up with everyone at the island as Jack transferred pancakes to a platter.


“Don’t we wish,” Wyatt teased as she set the table with an eclectic assortment of mismatched dishes. She’d leave extras on the counter, along with to-go containers, for those who came and went in the morning, like Chance Reed, their cousin and the foreman of the ranch. Chance could smell a home-cooked meal from a thousand paces.


“Who signed up for a dating app?” He kept the inquisition going as he came through the opened doors off the courtyard and patio. “Aunt Brett?”


She swatted Chance’s arm. “Never, ever would I.”


Despite her levity, they all knew that answer was set in stone. She’d given her heart to one man and one man only. Unfortunately, that man’s heart had given out on him.


The very reason Jack had left college after his first year and returned to the ranch.


Tragically ironic. He’d gone to Seattle Pacific University on a football scholarship, dreaming of playing pro for a few years to build a nest egg for the ranch and relieve some of the fiscal burden on his dad.

In that vein, he’d also wanted a degree in economics, knowing the TRIPLE R would be his responsibility someday. That day came much quicker than anticipated, and he’d fumbled through the early years until he’d discovered that his YouTube channel, other multimedia platforms, and the associated affiliate programs rapidly filled in gaps better than any drawn-out “budget reforecasting.”


So . . . yeah. Maybe he did want to be on the map.


“I’m not claimin’ you’re a lonesome dove,” his sister told him. “But ya kinda are.”


He smirked. “How can I be a lonesome anything with all these mouths to feed?”


Though there was no denying his love life was lackluster—and speaking of the lust part, there’d not been much of that going on either. He was more focused on finances than flirting.


With the exception of . . .


“I don’t suppose anybody’s gonna mention the fire in Jack’s eyes when Miss Jillian Parks called into his show,” Garrett said.


“We don’t know she’s a Miss,” Jack retorted. Though in every steamy thought he’d had of her last night, she was. “Y’all get this food on the table before it goes cold.” He plated the huevos rancheros and bacon, then dumped his crown jewel, roasted southwestern potatoes with sautéed red onions and bell peppers, into a serving bowl.


Garrett hefted his boxes once more and carted them over, propping them on an empty chair, then pulling one out for Brett and one for Wyatt. The seat at the head of the table was never occupied. That had belonged to Jack’s dad. And always would.


“What’d you bring us, Garrett?” he asked.


“Overnight delivery, compliments of Jillian.”


Shit.


Jack would never escape this woman he couldn’t have.


“Another batch of her dry rubs and sauces,” Garrett announced, “since you plowed through them yesterday.”


“Holy hotness.” Wyatt fanned her face with a hand. “Where is my husband at a time like this?”


“Cup not running over with this brood?” Jack inclined his head at Ale. Jutted his chin toward Hunt. Again, both boys oblivious to the context.


“Just sayin’,” she mocked.


Garrett passed a box of products to Chance. “Take these to Avery. The bunkhouse cowboys’ll get a kick out of the heat level.”


“Literally,” Chance quipped.


While everyone gushed over Jillian’s spicy hybrids, Jack had to force more fiery thoughts of her from his mind. No easy feat. Even before she’d dropped into his feed, she’d drifted through his subconscious from time to time. Okay, more than that.


“This woman is a true connoisseur,” Garrett continued. “And you scored big time with that collaboration, Jack.”


Ale showed his Reels and pics. Wyatt went crazy over the analytics she’d gathered. Brett kept shooting Jack sly smiles, like she knew his mind wasn’t on data and social media responses but on Jillian Parks—and his mom was right.


He didn’t have to be face to face with Jillian, didn’t have to be in the same room with her, to feel a sucker punch to his gut. Just hearing her voice and the smile in it, picking up on the exuberance in her tone, had him recalling dozens of conversations and so many moments when he’d just wanted everyone in the study group or the library or their class to fade into the background.


Granted, it’d been painful not to see her when they’d been talking. A deep-seated longing had gripped him fiercely from the second she’d joined the show, and he’d craved a visual interaction.


At the same time, he’d been even more attuned to the hitches of her breaths, her soft sighs, and her delicate laughs when he was just listening to her, not being distracted by how damn pretty she was.

If Wyatt and his mother and the rest of his family were wondering why he didn’t have his mind on settling down with a woman, Jack could assert it had less to do with him not having time for a social life and more to do with the fact that an intense yearning in his core was more powerful than “settling.” It had to be appeased. Or left alone.


He couldn’t ignore the particular longing he’d had for Jillian, couldn’t manufacture it with someone else. So maybe that was the answer to his own question about the importance of his marital status.


Being in a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship was not what Jack Reed was about.


“She’s also just put out a cookbook.” Garrett grabbed a hardback from the other package he’d brought with him.


Brett snatched the book and said, “That cover is gorgeous. Wyatt, look at this spectacular table setting.”


“Good grief, all of her dishes match!” She studied the photo, then glimpsed at her brother. “Gee, Jack. She’s awful strikin’.” Wyatt turned the cover toward him.


There was that physical jarring deep within him again.


This time, it spawned a new idea for Jack...


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