A Photo Finish, an all-new emotional and angst-filled standalone romance from Elsie Silver, is available now!
I’ve seen every square inch of Violet Eaton’s delectable body and she has no idea who I am.
What happened between us online, in our chats, was meant to stay anonymous and in the past.
Until it didn’t.
It’s a small world, but Ruby Creek is even smaller. When I move to the tiny town, the grumpy facade I’ve created slips when we’re forced to live under the same roof.
Every flush of her cheeks, every time her eyes flare with heat, every time she begs me not to stop, the ice I’ve encased myself in melts. She has me wanting things I can’t want. Things I’ve been dreaming about since I first laid eyes on her two years ago—things I don’t deserve.
But my invisible wounds have the power to ruin us both. As a former soldier, I should have the discipline to walk away, but the more I open up to Violet, the more I want to keep her.
I came back from the war a different man, but my scars are older and deeper than anyone knows—and I planned to keep it that way. I planned to keep my secrets hidden.
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Shaking my head as I march back into the barn, I head down the long hall of offices toward the laundry room at the end. I live in a small apartment above the barn so I just do my laundry down here. I grew up on a proper ranch, in the dirt and snow, usually with hay in my hair, so the thought of washing all my clothes in the same machines used for the hairy horse laundry doesn’t bother me at all. I’m almost to the door when I hear it. “Violet.” That voice. The low rumble of it. The threat woven into it. The man behind it. I swear my feet grow roots that shoot out and bind me to the ground. My heart knocks violently in my chest like it’s trying to get out and run away. And quite frankly, I don’t blame it. I want to get out of here too. He wasn’t supposed to be here yet. I was supposed to be gone down the highway by the time he showed up. He was supposed to be out of my life. I was supposed to have left him behind. Forgotten him. But I haven’t. I’ve warred with myself, wrestled and fought. Been with other men to prove to myself that I’m fine. But one word out of his mouth, and I seriously wonder if I am. I could run and hide, but that’s not how the new me handles this. The new Violet isn’t a shrinking Violet. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway. Maybe one day it will feel true. So I suck in as much oxygen as I can and hold my head up high. I refuse to let this man make me feel small or embarrassed. We have a shared past, but we’re both adults. This will be fine. Spinning on one heel, I turn and march back to the office I just passed. The one that has sat empty for years. I stop just inside the doorway, partly because I don’t want to go any further and partly because I’m reeling. All it takes is one look at Cole Harding, sitting behind a desk in a dark suit, spinning the cufflinks on his shirt, for me to lose all the bravado I just puffed myself up with. I literally feel it roll right off me like someone has doused me with a bucket of cold water. My body’s reaction to him has never been normal, and today is no exception. The inky hair, the gray eyes, the square shoulders, the sad tilt to his mouth. He crosses his arms under my gaze, and I roll my lips together at the sight. Just the way he moves, so sure and so calculated, drives me to distraction. There’s so much power coiled in every inch of his body. A soldier’s body. His biceps are where my eyes land, and where they stay. They’re incredible. I wonder how they’d look completely bare, how they’d feel wrapped around me. I hate myself for even going there. But I keep my eyes trained on them, because it’s less unnerving than looking him in those soulful eyes. Silvery pools, deep and haunted and swirling with so much. The ones full of anger, and pain, and sorrow. Those are a much bigger problem for me. And for my heart. “Violet.” He says my name like it’s a sentence, a full thought. Like I should know exactly what he means when he says it. But I don’t know anything where Cole Harding is concerned. I think I actually know less than anything. Other than the hair on my arms is standing up like there’s an electrical current running over me, and my stomach is flipping like I just shot down off the high point of a roller coaster. Which is apt, because my history with Cole is nothing if not a roller coaster. “Everyone calls me Vi.” I hate how quiet my voice comes out. I hate the way my name sounds on his lips, too formal and too familiar all at once. His eyes rove my body, but he doesn’t smile. It’s not appreciative. It’s more like he’s assessing me, like I’m a mess that needs cleaning up and he’s trying to figure out how. Shame lurches in my gut, flashes of the way he talked to me once and how it warmed me to my bones pop up in my head, but I do my best to will it away. I’ve worked too hard at moving on to go down that rabbit hole again. “I’m not everyone,” he says plainly. I hiss as I suck air in, trying not to sound like I’m gasping for it. Trying not to give away the fact that he’s just winded me with his words. Blood rushes in my ears and pools in my cheeks—like it always does. You look so pretty in pink. He’d told me that once, and now it takes every ounce of my strength not to let my mind and body wander back to that day. “What do you want, Cole?” His eyes flash, and his body goes rigid right as his jaw ticks. Like somehow I’m the one who’s annoying him when he’s the one who called me in here. He could have kept his mouth shut, and I’d have been none the wiser. We could have avoided this entire encounter. “I just want to make sure that we’re on the same page. That we can continue to stay out of each other’s way while I work out here. That you can keep things . . .” his eyes slide down my body and then back up, “professional.” Professional. Nothing between us has ever been professional. He’s seen me naked, trampled my heart, and then showed back up out of nowhere with nothing but cool looks and mocking words and now expects me to keep things professional? Indignation flares up in me over the fact that he feels entitled to dictate how I should conduct myself. Like I don’t come up against enough of that in this industry as it is. It’s a sore spot, and he should know. I spent long nights telling him about my childhood. About how I struck out on my own. And now he’s going to waltz in here and talk to me like that? No way. “Let me be clear, Cole.” This time I don’t let my voice waver, and I don’t stare at his biceps. I stare right into his steely eyes. “This is my place of work, and I am nothing if not professional. The way you’re talking to me right now? It isn’t professional. So, I’m going to continue doing exactly what I have been for the past year and you can stay out of my way. Think you can manage?” His body snaps back slightly, and his eyes go wide. Like he didn’t see that coming. Didn’t see me coming. And he lashes out at me for it. I see the flash of insecurity on his face right before he spews his words back at me. And it’s that hint of sorrow that takes the bite out of them. “Pretty in Purple was so sweet. What happened?” I shake my head at him sadly. Because when it comes down to it, that’s what I feel when I see him, when I think of him. Sad. “Seems like you mistook Pretty in Purple for a doormat.” I look at him just long enough to see the forlorn look on his face, the crack in his cold exterior, before I turn and walk away. The spear to my damn heart. Golddigger85 is just as lost as he was before, just as complicated. Just as broken. And I’ve already decided I won’t tolerate the way he lashes out. We all make choices. That’s what he told me once, and he wasn’t wrong. It’s why I moved on. It’s why I disappeared without a word. It’s why this awkwardness between us now is on him, not me. My head knows exactly what choices to make where Cole Harding is concerned. But my heart? It’s not so sure.
About Elsie Elsie Silver is a Canadian author of sassy, sexy, small town romance who loves a good book boyfriend and the strong heroines who bring them to their knees. She lives just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband, son, and three dogs and has been voraciously reading romance books since before she was probably supposed to.
She loves cooking and trying new foods, traveling, and spending time with her boys–especially outdoors. Elsie has also become a big fan of her quiet five am mornings, which is when most of her writing happens. It’s during this time that she can sip a cup of hot coffee and dream up a fictional world full of romantic stories to share with her readers.
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