Excerpt & Review: Healing a Heart by Amy Lillard

Author: Amy Lillard
Series: Cattle Creek #2
Release Date: February 7, 2017
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Net Galley
Pages: 293
Reviewer: Elizabeth
Rating: 5 Stars
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The author of Loving a Lawman invites you back to the ranch...

As cowboys, the Langston brothers of Cattle Creek, Texas, know it’s easy to mend a fence. Mending a broken heart, however, takes time...

Rancher Jake Langston prides himself on being the sensible type. But five years after the loss of his wife left him to raise their daughter alone, he indulges in a one-night stand with a sexy stranger. He thought he’d never see the woman again. Four months later, though, she’s standing in his drive with a big surprise.

Bryn Talbot wants nothing from the hunky cowboy who got her pregnant, but her Southern nature demands she at least tell him about it. When Jake’s family persuades her to stay for a while, she’s soon won over by their charms—and by Jake. But with the losses the two of them have suffered in the past, neither is sure if they’re ready to take the leap to forever...

“What do you want to know?” He slid back onto the desk, but she remained standing, so close all he had to do was reach out and he could easily tug her into his arms again.
“Have you always wanted to run the ranch?”
“There was a time when I thought Mav would run it. He’s the oldest. But . . .” He shook his head.
“What happened?”
“No one really knows. Or they’re not saying.” He knew his mother had her secrets. “I was away at college when he left. Then right after that, Dad had a heart attack and I came home and took over everything.”
“Did you ever finish school?”
“I did. I managed to take correspondence courses and the like. I majored in business, which was easy to do online, and here we are.”
“Business?” She seemed surprised.
“That’s what we have here, a living, breathing business.”
“I know but . . .” She shrugged. “It seems different somehow. Like . . .”
“Like being a cowboy isn’t an occupation?”
“More like ranching is a way of life.”
Now she had surprised him. “It is, but it’s a business too.”
“And would you be happy running a McDonald’s on the interstate? That’s a business.”
“No,” he said simply. He couldn’t imagine doing anything other than what he was doing now. And that had been the problem between him and Cecelia. She had thought he could be different. “I’m a cowboy. And that’s all I’ll ever be.” And it was one of the reasons why he needed Bryn close. Leaving Texas wasn’t an option for him.
“You say that like it’s a simple thing.”
“It’s simple enough for me.”
But then simple turned complicated, more than complicated as something shifted between them. She took a step closer to him. She bumped into one of his knees and he moved his legs a little farther apart. He was still sitting on the desk, but now she could move in. It was an invitation and a challenge. A dare and a hope to have her come near enough to kiss.
But after last night, she would have to be the one.
“What are we doing?” she asked.
“Getting to know each other better.”
“Is that all we’re doing?” she asked. “Getting to know each other better?”
“It’s supposed to be.” Why were those words so hard to say?
She inched closer still. He wanted to pull her the rest of the way to him, but he managed to keep his hands on his thighs. He wouldn’t be accused again. This one was all on her.
“Why does it feel like more than that?”
“Maybe because it is.” It was the only answer he had. He’d known from the first time he saw her that Bryn was different. Special. Even through the dull senses and haze of alcohol, he’d known.
“I’m getting mixed signals from you,” she whispered, still so close and yet so far away.
“How’s that?” he asked in return. His fingers twitched to entwine themselves in her hair but somehow he refrained.
“Your eyes say you want to kiss me, but you seem distant.”
“This one’s on you, sweetness.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means if you want a kiss, you have to come get it.”
Did she want a kiss? Could she explain this force that seemed to pull them together no matter how hard they resisted? Or would she talk it away?
A mischievous light sparked in her eyes. Or maybe it was desire. “Are you saying I can come kiss you and you aren’t going to hold me?”
“That’s right.”
“Take over the kiss?”
“No, ma’am.”
“Try to make more of it than just a kiss?”
He swallowed hard. He’d like nothing better than to make it more than a kiss. “Nuh-uh.”
“Are you serious?”
“Just trying to be fair.”
All of a sudden he felt like he’d thrown down a gauntlet.
She took that one last step to bring her as far as she could come into the V of his thighs. The sides of her growing belly brushed against him as she came closer. He shouldn’t have thought it sexy but it was. They were having a baby together and heaven help him, he found it extremely—
She cupped his face in her hands, and then her lips were on his. Her sweet, sweet lips.
Her kiss was tentative and explosive all at the same time. Suddenly he realized that maybe she hadn’t had many dates in high school or even many more after. She hadn’t been a virgin when they were together, but there was an innocence in her kiss that he had never tasted before.
His hands jerked, but he managed to keep them in place. He fisted his fingers, fighting the urge to pull her even closer, lift her onto his lap and . . .
She seemed to enjoy being in control, taking the kiss one step further. Her tongue slipped between his lips exploring, rediscovering.
They had more than kissed that night in Austin and he remembered it in sweet fuzzy sections. Yes, he’d had too much to drink. Hell, she had too. And he’d always believed that what the two of them had shared was a trick of the lighting, misplaced emotions tacked onto a time that didn’t deserve them. But this . . . this kiss told another tale.
It took every ounce of willpower he had to not snatch her to him. He’d made a promise, and a cowboy always kept his word. No matter how much it killed him.
Sadly . . . No, it was thankfully. Thankfully, she got her fill and stepped back.
She licked her lips as if tasting him again. Then shook her head like she was having trouble collating her memories with the present.
“I’m not sure what just happened here.” She took another step away from him and he let her. He was pretty sure he was as confused by the kiss as she was.
“You kissed me.”
“Thanks, Jake.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t think we should do that again.”
“What, let you be in control? I thought you did all right.”
“Kissing. We shouldn’t be kissing.” She turned away but not before he heard her say under her breath, “It’s too confusing.” She started for the door, then whirled back around. “I mean, the last thing I need to be doing is going around kissing cowboys.”
Jake shifted, trying to get into a more comfortable position to watch her leave, but that kiss had just been so . . . “Just for the record, sweetness, since you’re carrying my baby. I’d better be the only cowboy you’re kissing these days.”
Bryn looked out over the pool to the ranch beyond. The buildings and other fenced areas created an L around the property, and she wondered what they were all used for. She had no idea the ranch would be this . . . sprawling. But it seemed as if that was the measure of Texas. Sprawling.
Even the table they had eaten at was a huge entity that seemed to go on for miles.
But it had been fun. She had worried about sitting at a table with a bunch of strangers. That was what they were to her, strangers. Even Jake.
And that was the weirdest part of all. They were having a baby and they didn’t know the first thing about each other. But come tomorrow, that was one thing they were going to have to work on. Just how did one go about getting to know the father of their child?
She moved a little further out onto the patio, staring up at the billion stars in the sky. Maybe it was because the land was so flat or maybe things really were bigger in Texas, but it seemed that there were twice the number of stars here than in Georgia.
She heard a clicking noise and looked to see Kota padding across the patio. She didn’t know a lot about dogs, but he seemed friendly enough. What was it Jake had said? As long as she didn’t break from the herd. She wasn’t exactly sure what that meant but she could guess.
“Come here, doggy.” She lowered her voice and stooped over a bit, holding her hand out toward the pooch. He really was the craziest-colored dog she had ever seen. Mostly black, white, and gray with rusty patches thrown in for good measure. Kind of like a German shepherd that had been liberally flecked with bleach. She supposed he was some sort of herding dog, though she had no idea of the exact breed. Wait, weren’t they just called cow dogs?
Kota came closer, slowing and finally coming to a stop right in front of her. He sat on his haunches and stared up at her expectantly.
“You’re a good dog, right?” She hesitantly scratched him behind one ear.
He tilted his head to the side and she took that as a good sign.
“Yes, you are,” she said, gaining more confidence where he was concerned.
“Nice night.”
She nearly jumped out of her skin. Dog forgotten, she whirled around, hand pressed to her pounding heart. “Jake! You scared me!”
“I didn’t mean to.”
She lurched to the side and apparently Kota considered her breaking from the herd. He nipped at her heel, effectively keeping her in place.
“Ow,” she exclaimed more from surprise than pain.
Concern immediately took over Jake’s expression. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
She shook her head. “He just scared me a bit.”
Jake nodded, though he let out a high-pitched whistle. Kota immediately left Bryn to stand at his side, though she could tell Kota really wanted to make sure she behaved. Well, according to a cow dog’s standards anyway.
“What are you doing out here?” she asked.
“Same thing as you, I guess. Enjoying the evening.”
“Wesley in bed?”
“Finally.” He chuckled “She was pretty wound up at supper.”
“She’s a wonderful little girl.”
A silence fell between them, broken only by the sound of the night. There were no cars or horns. No sirens out here, just the low of the cows and the occasional bark as one of the other dogs heard something it didn’t like.
Kota’s ears stood up and he let out a small whine, but he never left Jake’s side.
“Go on,” Jake commanded.
The dog took off into the night.
She could hear the dogs barking, then things grew quiet once more.
“What are we going to do?” she quietly asked.
“Get married.”
She shook her head. “I can’t marry you.” Though her heart leapt at the prospect. Down, girl. He might be one of the most handsome men she had ever met and the fifteenth most eligible bachelor in the entire state, but she didn’t belong here. And he surely wouldn’t pick up and move to Georgia. So where did that leave them? “I guess we should talk about visitation and that sort of thing.” It sounded cold, like they were talking about something other than a living, breathing child. Something less.
“Why not? I have a good job, enough money to take care of you and the baby, and all my own teeth.”
“This is not why I told you about the baby.”
He took a step toward her. A menacing step, or was that a trick of the shadows where he stood? “Then why did you tell me, Bryn? You obviously don’t want money or a ring. So why come here and tell me when you have no intentions of letting me be a major part of the child’s life?”
“Maybe this was a mistake.”
“You think?” He took another step, this one bringing him close enough that she had to crane her head back to meet his cold green gaze.
“Not the baby.” She waved a hand around as if to dismiss that idea. “Coming here.”
“That’s what I’m talking about as well.”
She swallowed hard as he continued to tower over her.
“So why did you?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered in return.
Something changed between them, shifted, until the night seemed to hold something each one had been searching for but had never managed to find.
“Could it be you want to know if what we shared that night was real?”
“Of—of course it was real,” she sputtered. Deliberately obtuse was not her best look.
“You know what I mean.” He reached up a hand and brushed her hair back from her face. “I don’t remember the purple,” he murmured.
“Rick—my friend I was with that night—he thought it would be fun.”
“Does he always advise you?”
“Sometimes.” When had he gotten this close to her, and why had she only noticed now? It would take only a breath and he could swoop in and capture her lips with his own. Or maybe she should raise up on her toes and see if his kisses were as hot and sweet as she remembered.
And if they were? What then?
She wrenched herself from his embrace, only then realizing that somehow his arms had gotten wrapped around her.
“No.” The one word was breathless with anticipation and disappointment. “You can’t manipulate me this way. It’s not fair.” She backed away from him and fled to her room.
She could not fall under his spell again.

This was an emotionally tough book for me. Jake has been through so much. He lost his first wife in childbirth and he’s experiencing total recall in this new situation with Bryn and her pregnancy. Jake thinks that getting married is the only way to solve this “problem” but Bryn is definitely NOT on board with that plan. She doesn’t want to marry a man who doesn’t love her. But her desire for family is tugging her head—and her heart—in all kinds of directions.

The story is so good. I laughed, I loved and I wept right alongside Jake, Bryn and the rest of the Langston family. Many curveballs are thrown and this family keeps on fighting. It’s a beautiful story you don’t want to miss. Make sure you’ve got your tissues handy!

HEALING A HEART is exactly that. It’s a journey of healing with all the good, the bad and the ugly that comes along with life. I am honored to have read such a powerful and amazing story. I highly recommend the series.

I want to thank the publisher for generously offering me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. All conclusions reached are my own.

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