BY: J A SMITH

Jackson Carter has loved the same woman for most all of his life. After years of being stuck as nothing more than Cassie Wilkinson’s best friend, Jackson accepts that he may never get her love. When he’s given a rare opportunity to know her intimately for one night, however, he can’t help but accept the small break from the friend zone that she’s offering him. Of course, when Cassie finds out she’s pregnant, their situation becomes a bit…complicated. Stubborn as a guy can be, Jackson is determined to win Cassie’s heart once and for all.

Samantha Owens lost everything when her lover left her for another man. She knew it was Karma. After all, she’d done the same thing to her ex-husband, Chris Stevenson. She knows she doesn’t deserve a second chance, but she desperately wants to stand on her own two feet, for once in her life, and be there for the son she abandoned years ago. When the only work she can get is on Mustang Ranch working for Colt Richards, Samantha decides to do the best she can for him. With Colt’s cousin harassing her, horses trying to kill her, and her high heels breaking, working on the ranch challenges her in ways she would never have imagined. Through sheer stubbornness, Samantha is determined to make this new life work so she can have a second chance at a life with her son—and, maybe, love.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Stubborn Hearts by J. A. Smith, we are treated to a return of the characters from her first book, Reluctant Hearts. This time, Cassie and Jackson are the main focus. The two have a tryst at Tessa and Chris’s wedding, and Cassie later discovers she is pregnant. She is terrified of being a wife and mother, so she pushes Jackson away. But Jackson is determined to win her, and she is just as determined not to let him. Then there is Samantha and Colt. Chris’s ex-wife Samantha moves to town to make up for lost time with their son Jake. She wants to stand on her own feet for a change, so Chris helps her get a job at a local ranch where she meets and falls for Colt, her new boss. But he is just as stubborn as Cassie, and just as terrified of love, pushing Samantha away as well. It’s amazing the messes stubborn hearts can make of their lives.

Sweet, charming, and sexy, this is an excellent addition to the series. Very well done for this new author.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Stubborn Hearts by J A Smith is the story of people who are terrified of being in love. Cassie Wilkinson is known around town as a girl who won’t say no, but that is just a front for a broken heart. Her best friend, Jackson Carter, has loved her for years. When the two finally get together at a friend’s wedding, Cassie ends up pregnant. Jackson is thrilled and Cassie is panicked. She doesn’t think she has it in her to be a wife and mother. But Jackson disagrees, and he is determined to win over her stubborn heart before the baby is born. In the meantime, Samantha Owens has come to town, seeking her ex-husband and seven-year-old son. Her ex-husband, Chris, has remarried, and his wife, Tessa, befriends Samantha. Having made a mess of her life so far by cheating on her husband and then abandoning him and their son, Samantha wants to make up for her past mistakes. When the only job she can get is at the Mustang Ranch working as a secretary for Colt Richards, Samantha takes it reluctantly. Sparks fly between her and Colt, but he is as scared of relationships as Cassie, and it doesn’t take long before he pushing Samantha away.

Like the first book, Reluctant Hearts, Stubborn Hearts combines wonderful character development with real-life drama in a spicy love story that pulls you in from the very first page.

Prologue

Present Day:

No—No! You have got to be freaking kidding me!” Cassie glared at the evil little stick that sat on her bathroom counter. She willed the plus sign to change and, with a groan of utter misery, admitted defeat. Jedi, she was not. “This cannot be happening.”

She threw the stupid lying piece of plastic in the trashcan before heading back to the drug store a couple of towns over. She’d heard of false positives before. Obviously, this was one of those times. The one she had was defective.

Or not.

Cassie glared at the thin stick of doom as she tried to steady her breathing. After all, hyperventilating would be bad. Pee sticks and their boxes filled her waste basket and after drinking four bottles of water to pee on the seventeen different brands of sticks she had bought, she had to admit the truth. She, Cassie Wilkinson, was in fact pregnant.

What. The. Hell.

She knew who the father was, at least, thank goodness. It just didn’t make sense, though. How? Technically, she knew the science of how it happened. She just didn’t know why. After all, they had used protection. She’d made sure of it. So why was she staring at a collection of plastic sticks littering her counter, waste basket, and floor that said otherwise?

Now what the hell was she supposed to do?

***

Six Weeks Earlier:

“You’re drunk!” Cassie yelled at Joe. He had seemed like such a promising date, too. “Just go home, Joe.”

She shoved his coat into his arms and pushed him toward the door. She wasn’t going to let him ruin her best friend’s happiest day.

Joe, stupid little prick that he was, used her momentum against her, pulling her into him as he slammed his mouth down on hers—Cassie was fairly certain she threw up in her mouth a little at that moment—groping her ass in an unskilled and rough hand. She shoved against him, but she wasn’t strong enough. Panic began to fill her as her eyes began to water. It was going to happen again—

“I believe the lady just told you she wasn’t interested, fella.”

She had never been so happy for her lug-head of a friend, Jackson, in all her life.

“She’s no lady,” Joe slurred at Jackson as he gripped her ass harder, squeezing painfully and making Cassie flinch. Boy did she ever choose a winner with this idiot. “And this ain’t none of your damn business, asshole, so back off!”

Cassie—still trying, unsuccessfully, to pull out of the guy’s viper hold—shot Jackson a look that clearly said, “Can you believe this asshole?”

“Watch your mouth. I’m only going to say this once. Let the lady go and get the hell out of here, or I’ll arrest you for being drunk and under the influence of drugs in public. Maybe assault as well.”

Holy crap.

Jackson was pissed—On her behalf—

Weird.

Then again, maybe he was pissed because Joe was being a douche bag to him and not doing as he was told. Yeah, that explanation was a lot more plausible. Not that Jackson wouldn’t defend her. He was her best friend, so of course he would. But this felt…different.

Cassie had never seen Jackson act all macho on her behalf before. It was actually kinda hot.

“The hell you are! You ain’t on duty, Sheriff. You can’t do jack.” Joe’s sneering voice had Cassie wanting to deck him.

“You shouldn’t have said that, Joe,” Cassie said with a shake of her head in pity for the guy.

Jackson grabbed Joe’s wrist and twisted hard enough to inflict serious pain, but at least he didn’t break it. She hoped. Joe, with a yelp of pain, released Cassie as he swore loudly at the unexpected position. Jackson placed himself between Joe and Cassie before releasing the jerk.

Joe, however, was too stupid to realize that Jackson was going easy on him. He made an attempt to swing at Jackson with his free hand, but Jackson caught Joe’s fist easily in his own.

Jackson whipped Joe around, pulling both Joe’s arms roughly behind his back. Jackson held Joe’s wrists with one hand and, after searching Joe’s pockets and taking his keys and a knife with his other, shoved Joe out the door hard enough to send him sprawling face first into the—thankfully—loose gravel outside.

“You can come pick your keys up at the station tomorrow after noon.” Jackson slammed the door shut as Joe started sputtering and cursing at both Cassie and Jackson.

“You okay,” Jackson asked her.

Was she okay? Not by a long shot. When Joe had forced himself on her, she hadn’t been able to breathe. Flashbacks had slammed into her so hard and fast that she was still seeing stars.

This was exactly why she had abstained since that night. She wrapped her arms around herself and glared at him, annoyed that her eyes were still a little damp. “Fine.”

“Sure.”

He arched one thick eyebrow at her mockingly—the bastard. He must have noticed the moisture in her eyes, though, because he suddenly softened and wrapped one of his muscled arms around her to pull her against his chest into a hug.

“I didn’t need your help, Jackson,” she mumbled against him. “I’m not some dainty damsel in distress for you to rescue.”

“Obviously.”

“Whatever.”

“So why didn’t you go home with him, Cass? You’re been complaining you need to get laid, and you aren’t really known to say no.”

“Screw you, Jackson.”

What the hell was with guys tonight? Was that really how Jackson saw her? She thought he knew her better than that. She knew her reputation. The fact that people thought that way about her never actually bothered her, but the idea that Jackson thought it too bothered her a lot. A lot more than it should.

She refused to let him know that, though.

“That’s quite an offer,” he responded with a rueful smile.

“What the hell,” she muttered to herself. “I went sans lingerie and everything. Now the end of the night doesn’t seem quite as interesting.”

“See, now you’re just teasing a guy. Tell you what, Cass, if you’re really set on showing off, well, I have no plans tonight. You could always show me,” Jackson said as he leaned against the door.

She couldn’t have been more shocked if he had slapped her. Was Jackson actually propositioning her? “Don’t joke with me, Jackson. I just might take you up on it.”

“Cassie,” he growled at her.

She hadn’t even seen him move. One moment he was looking at her, the next moment her body was pulled tight against his, and he was feeding at her mouth with his own as he pushed her against the door.

Her eyes went wide at the assault, and she felt the now familiar flash of panic. It was different, though. Jackson would never hurt her. She knew that. His movements weren’t forceful, but hungry. She could feel the need building in her as he fed from her lips. She felt her body humming to life when Jackson took a few steps back, shaking his head, and closing his eyes.

He was stopping?

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I—”

He didn’t get anything else out. She wouldn’t let him. Cassie slammed into him, kissing him senseless as she flipped them around and slammed him against the door. By the time she finally pulled back, they were both breathing hard and shaking from the hunger they felt.

“My place?” Cassie asked breathlessly. She was aching for him, and they hadn’t even done anything yet.

“I’ll drive,” he answered.

He took her hand and, grabbing both their coats, drove them both to her apartment. She was fairly certain that he might have been speeding. It was a good thing the sheriff was off for the night.

“Cass.”

Jackson’s deep voice went straight through her. She could feel herself going damp in expectation even as she thought of how crazy it all was.

This was her best friend. The one and only man she trusted. How could she go through with this? What if it ruined their friendship?

His hands were big and sure as they palmed her ass, making her forget, momentarily, her argument. He gave her a tight squeeze as he picked her up effortlessly and used her keys to open her door. She wrapped her legs around his waist, thrilled at the friction his pants made against her bare flesh beneath her dress.

Since when was Jackson so strong? Since when had he gotten so muscular? Cassie tightened her legs around his waist as he carried her, still kissing him, inside her apartment. He kicked her door shut with one of his big feet. She had her hands shoved in his hair, holding him to her as she ravaged his mouth with her own. The growl he gave in response to her nipping his lips just about put her over the edge alone.

She expected Jackson to go straight to the bed. So when he pushed her against the door he had just closed, she let out a soft squeal that he promptly swallowed as his lips claimed hers in another scorching kiss that left her head reeling.

With sure hands, he had her dress pulled down to expose her small, but perky, breasts to his hungry gaze. She wasn’t wearing a bra—Why bother with her perky breasts?—or panties. She had been hoping to get laid, after all, even if it had been with another man. Jackson worked each of her breasts over with the same confident skills that he had used as he kissed her senseless.

Cassie squirmed in his strong arms. She was wet and oh so ready, and he was taking his damned sweet-ass time. She could feel the rigid length of him straining against the part of her that wanted him most. The thin material of his dress slacks was the only thing preventing him from impaling her like she so desperately wanted.

Cassie, shaking with the need he was igniting in her with the ease of taking a breath of air, managed to get his tie undone at last. He nipped at her collar bone lightly before making his way up the thin column of her neck. She moaned from the pleasure of it all.

“Jackson,” she cried out as his fingers found her throbbing center. “Oh, God, Jackson. If you—I’m going to—”

“Come for me, Cass,” his deep voice commanded.

Her body obeyed almost instantly as she cried out with her release. She felt, more than heard, his growl of masculine appreciation.

Cassie’s head was still spinning as she realized he was still supporting her with his body against the door. He was also still fully dressed other than the tie she had managed to get off of him before her unexpectedly quick release.

Cassie grabbed a fist full of his shirt in both hands and ripped. The buttons clicked as they hit her floor all around them.

“Damn, woman.” His voice was thick with his own need.

“Now,” she begged as her hands went to work on his belt. He grabbed her hands in his, effectively stopping her. “Jackson. Please.”

“Slow down, Cass. Let’s enjoy it this time. We can go fast next time.”

“There won’t be a next time, Jackson.”

“The hell there won’t,” he said as he raised her hands above her head and pinned both of them there with one of his own.

Panic kicked in her chest for one brief moment before she managed to push it down, but he saw it, she could tell. Concern filled his eyes, but she quickly distracted him by wiggling against him again. “Cass,” he growled. “I’m going to spend all night making you come, screaming my name until you can’t think anymore.”

“Big claims for a man who still has his pants on.”

His eyes narrowed at her challenge and, for a moment, she feared that she’d pissed him off. Then one corner of his mouth kicked up, and she bit her bottom lip in anticipation. He released her hands and, as she undid his belt and pants, he kicked off his shoes. Once he was standing in his full naked glory—And heaven above, it was glorious!—he carried her, stepping easily out of the pants pooled at his feet, to her bed with a look that promised to make good on that challenge.

And he had made good on it.

Again and again.

It had been around five in the morning when they’d used the last of Cassie’s box of condoms, and the only two Jackson had carried in his wallet. That was also when Cassie had kicked Jackson out of her apartment.

© 2018 by J. A. Smith