Sunday Spotlight is a feature we’re running in 2016. Each week, we will spotlight a release we’re excited about. We’ll be posting excerpts and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂
I have read and enjoyed a few of Liora Blake’s books so I’m really looking forward to digging into my eARC of this book. First Step Forward is the first book in Blake’s new Grand Valley series. I’m thrilled to be featuring this book on this week’s Sunday Spotlight. It promises to be another good one from Blake. 🙂
First Step Forward by Liora Blake
Series: Grand Valley #1
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Release Date: November 29, 2016
Publisher: Simon Schuster, Pocket Books
Pro-football player Cooper Lowry is off the field and into some trouble—in the form of a very alluring, very free-spirited apple orchard owner named Whitney Reed—in the first installment in Liora Blake’s all new Grand Valley series.
After eight seasons playing pro-football, Cooper Lowry knows all the right answers.
Is he stubborn, short-tempered, and impatient? Yes. Are jersey chasers more trouble than they’re worth? Absolutely. Has he ever imagined a life beyond the game? Nope.
Cooper has built an enviable career—the result of staying focused, working hard, and keeping his head on straight—even as his body takes the brunt. So when a hard hit during a Sunday home game leaves him in a dazed heap on the field, it’s nothing more than another day at the office. The only thing that’s different about this Sunday is a chance encounter with a certain fascinating, beautiful free-spirited woman. And some sternly-worded instructions from his coach to take a little time off and give his body the TLC it craves—before he does lasting damage.
Whitney Reed is a few months away from losing the organic fruit orchard she bought three years ago in the tiny town of Hotchkiss, Colorado. At the time, she was just looking for a place to get lost. Instead, she found a home, somewhere she could finally put down roots. Now foreclosure is knocking on her door—along with a grumpy, gorgeous football player who might be just what she never knew she needed.
A charming love story for romance and sports fans alike, First Step Forward is a sexy, heartwarming romp perfect for readers of Jennifer Probst, Kristan Higgins, and Julie James.
Pre-Order the Book:
AMAZON || BARNES AND NOBLE || KOBO
In Whitney’s bedroom, the space feels claustrophobic. Between my keyed-up state and the actual small dimensions of the room, a nervy energy permeates the air.
A dark, hulking, ornately carved bureau is pushed against one wall and a matching dressing table is along the opposite wall, both of them crowding the space. A queen bed sits in the middle and it’s the only thing that doesn’t look ten decades old; it’s just a box spring and mattress set on a flimsy metal frame, covered by a light blue comforter—the kind of setup your parents send you off to college with, cheap and basic. Le’s hope that the stark contrast between this economy bed and the rest of the furniture means we aren’t sleeping on the dead old lady’s bed.
Whitney is sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, facing me, her hands clasped loosely as she toys with her fingers. The sight of her, looking just the smallest bit nervous but still self-assured, adds to the sensation that the walls are slowly collapsing the room in on us. Closer and closer, until we inevitably land on top of each other.
I make it to the edge of the bed and stop. She draws back the comforter on one side of the bed, a wordless encouragement for me to take that spot. I take a deep breath.
“I can’t sleep in my clothes.”
“I won’t be able to sleep.”
“OK.” Whitney stretches her arms out behind her and leans back, lazily. “Naked? Is that what you’re driving at?”
When her expression becomes a playful mix of goading and hopeful, my entire body turns toward high alert.
“Not naked. Just boxers.”
She nods and continues to sit there, waiting for the show, it seems. My heart lurches into my throat because I suddenly feel like it’s my first day on the job as a male stripper and I’ve just realized I’m going to suck at this job. Even if I spend every Sunday on national television, this display, in front of this woman, is entirely nerve-racking. If we were going at it, stripping and tugging and wrestling each other’s clothes off, Id be in my comfort zone. But Whitney’s scrutiny, the odd self-consciousness it brings on, is new to me.
She wets her lips with a dart and sweep of her tongue. Instinct takes over, and I yank the button on my jeans open, pull the zipper down, and manage to tug my socks off at the same time that I shuck the jeans. I latch on to the back of my shirt, grasping the neckline to pull it off.
Then it’s just me, standing here in my dark gray boxer briefs, waiting for what’s next. All I can think about is this line from a movie my high school girlfriend insisted we watch on repeat.
I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.
Fucking Hugh Grant movies. They’re like the earworms of romantic comedies. I’m stuck in place, half-hard, and all I can think is: I’m just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking her to do something, anything, to make his cock stop hurting.
Seriously. Fuck off, Hugh Grant.
I suck in a deep breath and hold it for a moment. Whitney lazes her head to one side as she runs her gaze over me.
“Huh.” Her brow furrows, perplexed.
That’s not the reaction I usually get when I strip down. I mean, let’s be honest, I work out for a living. I consume thirty-fie hundred quality, clean, lean calories a day and have eight percent body fat. I’ve made the pages of the ESPN The magazine’s Body Issue three times. I’m definitely not a couch potato and Whitney sounding disappointed isn’t the response I was hoping for.
She rights her head and rises up on her knees, then starts toward me, shuffling forward until she’s at the edge of the bed and resting back on her heels.One of her hands starts to trace a meandering pattern across my abs, using just the pads of her fingers. My cock reacts, going thick and heavy, until I’m fully erect so quickly it’s embarrassing. She has to have noticed, unless she somehow happens to be hopelessly farsighted— but I’m guessing there’s not much luck of that. Probably looked like some lame nature documentary, those time lapse sequences of flowers and caterpillars growing to full size in five seconds.
Her fingers dip low enough to tick the top edge of my boxers and if she isn’t careful, she’s going to end up sweeping across the tip of my dick, because I’m nearly escaping the upper band. She stops tracing and looks up, then taps a spot in the center of my stomach with her index finger.
“I was convinced that when you took your shirt off, I’d find a little blue thundercloud with raindrops,” she taps again, “right here.”
I let out a grunt. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Like Grumpy Bear. The grouchy Care Bear.” She sighs and presses her open hand to my stomach. “I guess these abs will have to do.”
My pelvis tips forward, almost unconsciously, because I want her to start using her fingers again.
“I’m not always grouchy.”
Probably doesn’t help my argument that my tone is closer to a snarl than necessary. Her hand barely moves, heating the spot where she’s letting her palm rest.
She laughs softly. “Of course not. Sometimes you’re a little ray of sunshine, I bet.”
I push my hips out again and ball my hands into fists at my sides. She begins grazing each individual ab, using both hands and all her fingers now, snaking a lazy trail to what currently feels like the center of the entire fricking universe.
“Tell me one thing that makes you happy, Cooper. Turns you inside out from liking it so much. Always makes you smile like a little kid. And you can’t say football—that’s too eas—”
I grab her hands, because she just mentioned football and she’s a hairsbreadth away from my cock and I have to stop her before she closes the gap. Should have slept in my goddam truck. I knew this would happen, that the two of us in this house together would lead to wandering hands—but the restless, greedy parts of my mind wanted it too much to let rational reasoning win out.
But on Friday, I have to show up at team headquarters and prove to Hunt that I’m ready. I need a decent night’s sleep and a safe drive home tomorrow. Anything that might derail those objectives is off the table. Right now, no matter how much I want her, the big picture of my career takes priority.
Whitney takes a long breath in and I realize that her body has gone rigid, so edgy that I can feel the tension radiating from her hands. She’s nervous or scared, I can’t tell which, but if I don’t explain myself, I’m bound to make it worse.
“I have a concussion,” I blurt out, a hell of a lot louder than the acoustics of this tiny room require.
Her hands flex in mine for a moment, then go so limp that I have to tighten my grip to keep ahold of her.
She moves to pull away and I let her go, even when I hate the way she creeps back just enough that it’s clear she wants more space between us and all I want is less of it. I push out a short, gusting breath.
“A guy named Stinger knocked me on my ass in Sun-day’s game and I ended up with a concussion from it. That call I got earlier was my team trainer, checking in. He told me to get out of town and take it easy because if I don’t get some rest and prove that my stupid brain is healed, I’ll have to sit out the next game.”
Whitney’s body slumps and her mouth drops open like she’s not sure what to say. I have to add one more piece of information, just in case she thinks taking it “easy”’ is my way of setting up a slow round of sex, all lovemaking style with a light jazz soundtrack to suit, a little Kenny G to set the right mood.
“So, I can’t—I can’t do anything . . . vigorous.”
That sounded stupid. Vigorous. Straightforward probably would have been a better approach.
Look, you can clearly see that my dick is so hard I could fell one of your apple trees with it. I want you. But I think that you and I aren’t going to be very good at keeping it mellow and gentle. We’re bound to break some furniture, bruise each other in some amazing ways, and turn my concussion into a full-blown aneurysm. Can’t risk it. Please put some pants on. I’ll just go sleep in the root cellar.
“I can’t fucking believe you.” Whitney drops the weakest, most pathetic punch ever, to my stomach.
“What don’t you understand about ‘I have a concussion’? Then ou go and punch me?”
“Exactly. You should have said something about that—oh, I don’t know—eight flipping hours ago! Instead, you spend all this time giving me a bunch of hot, smoldering looks while manspreading your way around my house, and I’m thinking there’s going to be some wocka-wocka action between us. But the whole time you knew nothing could happen.”
She lands another gnat-like swing. “Which makes you a tease, Cooper Lowry.” She gives a side-glance at nothing in particular, merely a moment for her to regroup, it seems, because she starts in again.
“And I let you carry in a bunch of heavy boxes when you shouldn’t be doing anything vigorous. We walked around in the cold for an hour, a teenage boy was this close to injuring you with a wily handsaw, you didn’t eat any-thing but an apple until an hour ago, and I don’t think I saw you drink any water today. Now you’re probably de-hydrated, and that’s just peachy for a head injury. You’re a bullheaded, stupid pain in the ass.”
She has to take a deep breath to recover. I wait for her to calm down, lest I risk another pitiful punch from her.
“No. Who is this ‘Stinger’ person? I’m pretty sure I hate him. I’ll give him a concussion.”
Her expression is the best combination of pissed off, indignant, sad, and worried. Even if I’m still hard and doing this might make it worse, I just want to lie on top of her and see if I can get her entire body wrapped up in mine, close enough to hold her in a full-body bear grip. Because hating on Stinger is her gut-check reaction to my revelation, not caring if I can’t play, not worrying that the pro ball player standing in front of her is on the receding edge of his career. I’m not a meal ticket or a bankroll; I’m not my contract or my jersey. She just thinks I’m a pain in the ass. God, she’s fucking fantastic.
“I’m not a big fan of him, either. But I love that you’re getting all wound up to defend my honor. Good thing the big bruise he left on my back is almost gone.”
She scrunches up her face and leaps off the bed to inspect my back. A gasp is followed by a snarl, when she finds the remaining evidence of where Stinger’s knee nearly burst my appendix. Then her hands are on my ass, but not in a particularly good way, because she’s primarily just shoving on me. I lurch forward a bit, taken off guard for a second, but find my balance enough to shoot a look over my shoulder.
“If you aren’t in that bed, under the covers with your eyes closed, in the next fie seconds, Cooper, I’m going to put you there.”
I let out a huge laugh. “I’d love to see you try.”
“Five, four, three . . .” She stops when I pull back the top sheet and slip under the covers. Hands on her hips, she gives a short nod. “Good boy.”
That shit would normally find her flat on her back, me on top and wrestling her hands above her head so I can prove that I’m no boy. I settle for reaching out and grabbing a fistful of her pj top and giving it a yank. She half-stumbles onto the mattress and lands in an awkward straddle over me.
Her face is right next to mine and I can tell that her top is shoved up enough to leave her uncovered in the best places. I put both of my hands to work, one snaked up through her hair to rest at her neck, the other sliding across her hip until I’ve got my fingers tucked under the top edge of her panties.
Text copyright © 2016 by Liora Blake. Published by Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Well alrighty then. This sounds like my kind of story. I’m so definitely in for this one.
Giveaway: We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!
About the Author
WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | PINTEREST | GOODREADS
Liora Blake is a contemporary romance author living in Colorado. When she isn’t writing, she’s likely baking cookies she shouldn’t eat, inventing elaborate excuses to avoid going for a run, or asking the nice barista to sell her another quad-shot Americano.