Thursday

Spotlight, Excerpt & Newsletter Giveaway: The Rancher's Baby Bargain by Leslie North and Mary Sue Jackson





Book Blurb & Info


Former class nerd, Lucy Carr, comes home with a tantalizing offer for hometown hottie Aiden Harper: she’s developed a natural pesticide that will kill off the spider mites eating his crops, and she’ll give it to him for free…if he agrees to father a child for her. Time is running out to go the traditional route for finding a man, and Lucy wants her baby to be smart AND good in gym class.

Aiden has put everything he has into his fields of hops, and the award-winning beer he brews with them. But one more year of mites eating half his crops and his family’s farm and legacy—as well as his dreams for his brewery—are going to go under. When Lucy shows up looking hot, and being hailed for her scientific achievements, Aiden is more than a little jealous. He remembers how fun science class was the year they’d been lab partners and how much more enticing Lucy had been than the cheerleaders on the football field. He’d never had the guts to admit his crush in high school—after all, jocks and nerds didn’t mix. Now Lucy has everything, and he’s on the verge of losing it all.

But what starts as a trade of necessity to achieve their goals turns into a tangled jumble of emotions when they realize they might have found more than bugs and babies: they may have found the person who completes their lives.

Buy Link - Amazon

Book Excerpt

The crops were a disaster.
Aiden didn’t like to be dramatic. Slipping into hyperbole never helped anyone. It was best to assess things accurately, with a clear head.
And his head was clear enough to see that he had a real problem.
“It’s not good.” Jonas Mills, the man who flew his Rockwell Thrush Commander over Harpers’ Ranch every two weeks, walked beside Aiden between the neat rows. The hops themselves rustled in the breeze, green and tall, but the height was only a distraction. A closer look revealed a slow-motion devastation. Aiden let the statement hang in the air, half-hoping that Jonas would tell him it wasn’t as bad as he thought.
“It’s real bad,” Jonas said, lifting one of the leaves up to examine it.
Wonderful.
Harper’s Ranch should have been idyllic for a man like Aiden. It was everything his soul wanted—wide open under a great big sky, with a view of the mountains and enough room to roam. When he took over ownership after his dad died, he’d expected that its natural beauty would be paid for with hard work. He hadn’t expected it to become an ongoing battle with the land. Clearly, they were at odds. He wanted the hops he’d planted to grow, and the earth wanted to teach him a lesson about perseverance. So far, they were both winning. The earth kept knocking him down. Aiden kept persevering. Though this was not great news.
“Three years in, and these are looking worse.” Jonas let go of the leaf and shook his head. “Those hop spider mites are doing a number on you.”
Aiden inspected the plant to his left, swallowing his frustration as best he could. It was still early in the season, and if things were this bad already, they weren’t going to get any better. And with two years of this already behind him, he didn’t have much wiggle room left. He’d leveraged everything, including his small herd of cattle, to get the hops going. And they were not going well.
“We can think of a solution,” he said, willing them both to believe it. Harder. “Got any new ideas?”
“Glad you asked.” Jonas turned to Aiden and rubbed his hands together, and it was all Aiden could do not to roll his eyes. The man was an ace pilot. He flew lower and more accurately than anyone else Aiden had ever met in his years on the ranch, but he couldn’t resist a good sell. Aiden sensed it coming in the air before Jonas opened his mouth again. And—here it came. “I’m bringing in an expert. There’s a new treatment that just might save your bacon.”
“New treatment?” That was hopeful.
“Something meant for hop mites in particular.”
“Great.” Aiden looked down the row of hops. This was supposed to have been a good investment. He’d taken a risk, planting this many acres of hops, and these days it felt like he was fighting a losing battle. But Aiden hated to lose battles. He’d rather cling to that last shred of hope than give in entirely.
Jonas looked in the same direction, crossing his arms over his chest. “It is great,” he said. “Some expert consulting could turn things around for you.”
“I’ll think on what they have to offer.”
It would mean a lot more than thinking on Aiden’s part. Any expert Jonas wanted to hire would cost more than he had. “Expert,” after all, was only code for “expensive.” How was he supposed to swing that? The hard truth was that he couldn’t—not today, anyway. There was no way he could pay for a hop spider mite professional to visit his ranch and give him a private consultation. Maybe by next season…
No. There was no way he could pass it up. Not if he wanted the ranch to succeed and be here the next season.
“By the way,” Jonas said, his tone shifting toward hope. “I want to get on your list early this year.”
“My list?”
Jonas nudged him with his knuckles. “You know which list I’m talking about. The list everyone wants to be on.”
In fact, Aiden did not know. “You’re going to have to help me out.”
Jonas scoffed. “It’s annoying how humble you are. I’m talking about your beer. I want to be first in line for a case the minute you’re done brewing it.”
Aiden felt a wash of pride. So his beer was good. He’d thought it was top notch two years ago when he’d started brewing small batches in the little brewery he’d set up in the auxiliary barn, and he’d gotten even better at it. But he wasn’t about to brag.
“Don’t worry about it, Jonas. There’ll be plenty.”
“Not this time. People are waiting.”
“Like you?”
“Like me…” Jonas shrugged. “And a few of my friends. They also want to reserve a case. I guess four cases. On reserve.” He looked at Aiden like he expected a receipt or a ticket.
Aiden patted his pockets. “Sorry, bud. I left the list at home.”
Jonas shook his head. “Well, when you get there, add us up top.”
“Will do.”
He kept his laugh to himself. There was no list, for god’s sake, and Aiden hardly had the time to worry about whether he’d get to brew his own beer this year. Jonas changed the subject, switching to his flyover plans for the upcoming month and reassuring Aiden that he would consult with the expert to make sure they were getting the best results. Aiden heard about every other word of what Jonas said. He nodded in what he thought were the right places, but his mind felt like a hurricane.
He was going to get it done, but it was going to be a bit of a fight. The mortgage payment to the bank was enormous as it was. He’d have no way to pay it if he couldn’t sell the hops. Which meant that if Jonas’s expert didn’t come through, then he was going to be mightily screwed. The best possible outcome was also the least likely. If the expert wasn’t some con man with a heart-attack-inducing sticker price, and if he could bring Aiden’s crops back from the brink, it still didn’t guarantee Jonas—or anyone else—a case of beer from Aiden’s brewery. He’d have to sell most of his crop to make a dent in the mortgage. Most…or all of it. He gritted his teeth. He’d think of something. Even if Jonas’s expert didn’t work out.
Things were never really as dire as they seemed. Aiden had saved back some of last year’s crop, and he had a row of them planted in his garden, but these—this hundred acres of premium product—these were the ones that had to succeed. They had to. Otherwise, the bank would do what banks always did: repossess the equity he’d put up for the loan. That equity was the ranch itself.
Aiden shoved down the shame he felt over that mortgage. The fact of the papers he’d signed weighed on him every second of the day and most nights, too. It had all seemed so hopeful three years ago. A guaranteed success. He’d talked himself into believing it. And it should have been all right. Maybe it still could be. Once they worked out all the kinks, things would be back to normal.
If he didn’t lose the ranch in the process of working out those kinks.
“—meet with them today,” Jonas was saying.
“Sorry. Meet with who today?” They were far from the edge of the field. Aiden had kept walking farther than was absolutely necessary, hoping against hope that he’d reach the edge of the hop spider mite infestation and find rows of perfect plants waiting for him.
But that had been a fantasy. A lovely dream. The entire field was at risk, and that was simply reality. No way around it.
“The expert,” Jonas said, looking at him like this should have been obvious. Who knew? Maybe Jonas had repeated the information six times while Aiden was wallowing over his precarious position. “Should be ready to meet us in…” He checked his watch. “Half an hour.”
“Half an hour? That’s not enough time.” Aiden’s heart picked up the pace. It was a warm morning, and he was wearing his work clothes. His worry had made his shirt damp against his skin. This was no time to be meeting with any kind of expert. Yes, Aiden was a rancher—more cowboy than anything else—but a person should always enter any negotiation on equal terms. He was pretty sure the expert wouldn’t show up wearing dusty clothes and carrying sweat from the morning’s work. He spun on his heel and started off toward the farmhouse.
“Not enough time?” Jonas called after him, then shuffled quickly to catch up. “Time for what? It’s not going to take us half an hour to walk back. Fifteen minutes. Twenty, maybe. We’ve got plenty of time.”
“For a shower. And to change my clothes.”
Jonas laughed. “I don’t think they’re going to care.”
I care.” He didn’t want to go into the details with Jonas, so he walked faster. Aiden’s long legs easily outpaced Jonas. His knee only protested slightly, and he pushed the pace.
“I’m telling you, man, you don’t have anything to worry about. We’re all wearing work clothes.” Jonas sounded slightly out of breath, but Aiden didn’t turn to look at him.
Aiden gritted his teeth and willed himself to relax. He couldn’t. A cold, stark fear made his throat feel tight. It wasn’t Jonas’s finest moment, springing this “expert” on Aiden in the middle of the morning with no warning. And it wasn’t Aiden’s finest moment, worrying like this over a shower and a clean outfit. Maybe it wouldn’t help, anyway. He felt his own desperation crawling under his skin and shoved it down deep where he wouldn’t have to feel it.
He hustled through the rows of hops, the wide-open sky peeking in from above. It was a gorgeous Montana morning, with wispy clouds running across the sky without a care in the world. They only served to set off the vibrant blue. Normally, Aiden took solace in the expanse of the sky—it reminded him of how small his life was, relatively, and how tiny his problems must seem in comparison—but today it seemed like it was closing in on him. He went up on his toes for the next step and looked above the hops to the mountains in the distance. They were a deeper blue than the sky, and it centered him, just a little, to see them.
Aiden walked faster, his knee protesting loudly now. He ignored the pain. The pain was a part of his life, ever-present, just like that mortgage he’d taken out. Only the mortgage hurt more. It was only his knee that hated walking this kind of distance at this kind of speed. His lungs were more than a match for it.
Even with a bum knee, he could still run laps around Jonas. Not that he’d ever bring it up to his face.
He cleared the rows of hops and stepped onto the grass at the edge of his yard. It had only taken fifteen minutes of walking, and that meant he had time for a shower. And that would only take him three minutes. Aiden had it down to a science. He made a beeline for the farmhouse, unbuttoning the top button of his shirt, and then the second.
“Hey,” Jonas said raggedly from somewhere behind him. “They’re here.”
Oh, no.
Aiden hadn’t noticed the sleek black car sitting in the middle of the driveway, but he sure saw it now. And he definitely noticed the sleek silhouette of the person inside. They leaned this way and that, and then the driver’s door opened.
A woman climbed out.
That makes sense, thought Aiden. Look at her.
She wore a skirt suit that fit her curves so closely that it had to have been made personally for her. Her sandy hair was swept up behind her in an elegant twist. To top it off, she wore a pair of dark sunglasses. Aiden didn’t know much about the fashion of sunglasses, but they seemed to him to be the perfect size. Not too big. Not too small.
He swallowed hard when she leaned back into the car to retrieve her purse, also black. The curve of her ass was perfect. Almost…too perfect. And somehow it seemed familiar.
She straightened up, her proud posture serving to emphasize a pair of gorgeous breasts. This woman had been blessed. It almost made him forget his troubles.
Almost.
“Aiden. It’s been a long time.” She gave him a confident wave.
Wait.
Then she lifted the sunglasses.
“Recognize me now?” She laughed out loud at Aiden’s expression. “I wasn’t kidding. It has been a long time.”
“Who—you’re—” She was the expert? She was wearing that city-slicker suit, with her hair done up as if she’d just walked out of a fashion magazine?
“You’ve got that right.” She winked at him.
Unreal.
It was just unreal.
The woman standing in his driveway—the lauded expert—was Lucy Carr, his high school lab partner.
Only she’d traded her nerdy getups for expensive shoes and a job in the city.
And now she was standing here…in those shoes…in his driveway.



Author Info



Leslie North is the USA Today Bestselling pen name for a critically-acclaimed author of women's contemporary romance and fiction. The anonymity gives her the perfect opportunity to paint with her full artistic palette, especially in the romance and erotic fantasy genres.

The truth of the matter is she loves her fictional persona, Leslie North, more than her normal, day-to-day persona! Her bestselling books focus on strong characters and particularly women who aren't afraid to challenge an alpha male. Inspired after years of travel, her stories are set all over the world, from the tough streets of Russia to the beautiful beaches of the middle east.

Leslie fell in love with romance when she first picked up a scrappy, dog-eared romance book from her local library. She began writing soon after and the rest, as they say, was history. She now lives in a cozy cottage on the British coast and enjoys taking long walks with her two Dalmatians, George and Fergie.

Discover her full book list at www.LeslieNorthBooks.com.

Leslie LOVES reader feedback, and if you have any comments, don't hesitate to contact her.
Twitter: @leslienorthbook
Facebook: www.facebook.com/leslienorthbooks


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