Between Hope and the Highway by Charissa Stastny
Sometimes things get so messed up you have to pick up and get the heck out of Dodge. That’s what Liz Ruthersford does. Memories can be weapons, and hers have become incoming missiles. Fleeing home and her parents’ pity, she seeks refuge on a remote ranch in Montana where no one knows her tragic past. When she meets Bentley and Rawson Law, brothers with wounds of their own, life veers off course from her plans. Embers of hope and love flicker to life, but will Liz let them burn bright enough to warm her heart? Or will she hit the highway and run once again? A clean, heart-pounding romance and redemption story.
Praise for Between Hope and the Highway
“Stastny has weaved an endearing tale with Between Hope and the Highway. It is a beautiful story about love, loss, redemption, and forgiveness of not only others, but most importantly, ourselves. This is more than a love story, it is a story of family and coming together.” –Jennifer Peel, author
“…an epic tale of romance, unconditional love, redemption, and the power of the human spirit to survive and transform amidst adversity. The metamorphosis of the hero makes this a highly gratifying read. He grows with each flip of the page, leaving behind a trail of optimism. This book will make you smile as you witness a true change of heart.” – Taylor Dean, author
As I finished loading the last horse, Rawson materialized and wrapped his arms around me again. I jumped as he nestled his stubbled chin into my neck. The tingling sensation he evoked sent delightful shivers clear down to my toes.
“You ready to go, babycakes?”
Goosebumps erupted as he rubbed his chin against my neck. I tried to escape, but Blondie stood nearby and Rawson acted for all he was worth. Twisting me, he pulled me close and leaned in to kiss me. I threw my hand over my mouth just before his lips made contact. At this angle, the bimbo couldn’t tell he kissed the back of my hand quite passionately. Thank goodness for small mercies. I might have passed out if he’d gone at my lips with such gusto.
When he paused to wink at me, I whispered, “I hate your guts.”
His blue-green eyes crinkled. “I know.” He grabbed my slobbery hand and said over his shoulder, “It was a pleasure meeting you, Kelsey.” He doffed his hat and closed the trailer. Opening my door, he helped me inside his flashy truck. “There you go, sweetheart.”
When he climbed in the driver’s side, I hauled off and punched his leg. “I can’t believe you kissed my hand like that.”
“I was going for your lips.”
He laughed. Glancing out the window and catching Kelsey watching us like lab rats, he leaned over to peck my cheek.
“Kiss me again and I’ll deck you,” I said between clenched teeth.
“It might be worth it, especially if you move your hand.”
He waved as we pulled away from the arena. “I owe you big time for saving me from that blond nightmare. Thanks for playing along.”
“You kind of forced me to,” I grumped.
His grin caused havoc in my heart. “Did you see her face when you said all that garbage about what thing implied? It was difficult to keep a straight face.”
I stuck my tongue out, making him chortle.
“Ah, Lizzie, you’re all right.”
“And you’re an idiot.”
“Hey, wait,” Rawson called after me.
I turned and smiled. Since he’d given me that flashy watch, he hadn’t been such a pill. “What do you need?”
He fidgeted. “Do you think you could maybe back off on this whole church thing? Benny’s getting too into it, and I don’t want to keep losing sleep every Sunday to drive you guys there.”
I narrowed my eyes. “No one’s forcing you to come.”
“Benny’s too easily swayed. I have to go to keep his head on straight.”
I winced at his poor choice of words. They sounded terrible in connection to his brother’s crooked neck.
“That came out wrong. I didn’t—”
“I’m sorry if worshiping God offends you. I’ll make sure to offer your brother drugs or some sleazy porn in the future instead.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “That’s not what I—”
“Just go back to bed. And when you wake up, get out on the right side so you’re not such a grump. I’ll call Mackay for a ride.” I pushed past him.
He hissed. “You don’t need to call Mack-y. I’ll take you.”
“Don’t bother. I don’t want to risk filling your head with rubbish like how God loves you and can save you from hell and horrible ideas like that.” I marched down the hall.
He caught my arm and turned me to face him. “Stop getting your feathers ruffled.”
Electricity seemed to shoot up my arms where he held my wrists. My heart beat like a tom-tom, making me choke on air as I stared up into his captivating eyes. Light green flecks burst from his pupils like rays into the startling blue of his irises.
“Let me go,” I said, but didn’t try to break his grip.
“Stop being so sensitive.”
“I’m not being…”
He backed me up against the wall.
“…sensitive,” I squeaked. His body pressed against mine, making it impossible to form words. I’d lied. Right then, I was the very definition of sensitive. Warmth flooded my body and the sensory receptors in my skin exploded where our bodies touched. As his cool breath caressed my cheek, I feared I might faint.
“I’m taking you to church.” His eyes didn’t leave mine.
“Okay?” It came out as a question because my body was busy putting out internal fires.
His lips twitched. “All righty then.” He released my wrists and stepped back. “I need to get ready for church…and you need to spruce up.”
His snarky words shattered the evil spell I’d fallen under.
“Yeah, I’m sure you need to change at least six more times.” It was a lame barb, but my brain wasn’t operating at optimal performance. He’d thrown me off my game. Shoot! He’d thrown me out of the dang ballpark.
As I climbed onto Sidekick Shooter, Rawson winked at me.
“Stop staring.” I urged Shooter into a trot and headed for the foothills.
“Why? The view’s nice.”
“You’re such a liar.”
He caught up to me on his horse and grabbed my reins. “Hold up. Why do you always accuse me of lying when I’m only telling the !@#$%&*!”
I covered my ears as he used the Lord’s name in vain. “Please don’t use His name that way.”
“I hate how dirty I feel every time you open your mouth, especially when you use God’s name as if it was worth less than an inflated Mexican peso.”
“Fine. I won’t swear around you if you stop thinking you’re plain and deficient around me.”
“I don’t think I’m deficient. And who uses words like that anyway?”
He chuckled. “I have to put my college education to use. And you do think that. You gave me a whole list of deficiencies on the drive to Bozeman that one time, and just now you accused me of lying when I said you looked nice.”
I squirmed in my saddle. “Give me my reins.”
“Not until you make the deal.” He switched them to his left hand and stuck out his right. “Shake on it.”
I rolled my eyes, but gave him my hand. A pleasant, sizzling sensation rattled me as we made contact. The horses bit at each other as Rawson squeezed my fingers, shooting fiery pulses up my arms.
“Tell me three traits you love about yourself.”
“We made a deal. The Love Triangle game is how I’ll know you’re keeping your end of it. You can hear whether I’m keeping mine, but I won’t know if you’re listing deficiencies in your head. So tell me three things you love about yourself. You have ten seconds. If you can’t do it, I’ll pull out the big guns and let you hear the names I call the cattle.”
“That’s stupid.” I pulled my hand from his to regain equilibrium.
“All right. Shush. I can’t concentrate if you’re counting.”
He held out his hand and dropped a silent finger for each number. As he lowered the second to last one, I pushed his hand down.
“I like my hands.”
“Your hands?” He grabbed mine again. “Me too. They’re graceful and soft…very soft.”
I yanked it from his grip. “They’re calloused and scratched up more than a cat tower.”
“Damn it, Lizzie. You’re not supposed to tell me deficiencies.”
I puckered my lips. “Okay. I like my hands because they’re calloused and scabbed. Are you satisfied?”
He grinned. “That’s one. Give me two more.”
“You cussed. The deal’s done.”
“I cussed because you lashed out at yourself. Fair’s fair. You tell me a negative, I’ll throw out an ear scorcher. Now hurry before I lose my patience. You’re as infuriating as a heifer.”
“Did you just call me a cow?”
He had the gall to laugh. “No. I likened you to a heifer. Big difference. A cow has had calves. A heifer has not. Therefore, as a single adolescent female, you would not be a cow…unless you had a teen pregnancy and gave up a child for adoption I don’t know about; in that case, you’d be a first-calf heifer.”
I scowled. “Don’t ever call a woman a cow or a heifer…or you would be a first-class idiot.”
Author Charissa Stastny
Charissa Stastny is married to her high school sweetheart and has four children who are the light of her life. She’s an avid reader, happy writer, BYU graduate, and lover of irises, clouds, chocolate, sushi, and nature. Though born and raised in Las Vegas, she has never pulled a handle of a slot machine and can’t shuffle cards to save her life. She shuffles kids, laundry, and church responsibilities rather well though. She currently lives in Utah with her family, where shuffling cards isn’t required.
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