Jonah Alcott found his true calling as the PR Director of Hawkins Hardwood. He’s a master of mediation, but the Black Cherry Canyon project has pushed him to his limit—beautiful but obstinate park manager Zury Castellano crossed a line when she enlisted the help of known eco-terrorists to protect “her” land.
For Zury, the unspoiled, scenic Black Cherry Falls State Park is more than a job, it’s the only place she’s ever considered home. And she’ll stop at nothing to ensure Hawkins Hardwood doesn’t touch a single twig in it, even if that means agreeing to spend the weekend with cocky Corporate Hottie Jonah. He might think they’re working toward a compromise, but Zury has no intention of backing down.
Infuriating but irresistible, Zury teaches Jonah that the beauty of the mountains can’t be bought. But Jonah will need to prove he’s on her side—in life and in love—and show her who the real bad guys are, before it’s too late…
Zury Castellano was going nowhere. Before he could climb from his seat, she stomped toward him, spitting Hispanic insults. Huge, dark Cuban eyes crackled with annoyance and the slender lines along her neck stood out. Jonah did a double take. He’d never seen her in anything but business attire, and his brain stuttered at the sight of long shapely legs pouring from beneath a casual pair of shorts. The faded tank top exposed a delicate collarbone and a shadowed valley of cleavage. Small firm breasts bounced as her hands gestured wildly.
“¡Estúpido! You crazy bastard. ¿Tú estás loco? You could’ve killed anybody on this road.”
Pulling himself together, he leaned lazily on the side panel. “You started it, darlin’. Should’ve answered your phone. I just want to talk.”
“Don’t call me darling.” Zury propped one hand on her cocked hip. “Phone the office for an appointment on Monday.”
“Two words.” He kicked away from the vehicle and pulled to his full six foot three, taking far too much pleasure in invading her personal space. “Protest rally.”
“Peaceful assembly is every American’s constitutional right.” Her nails were unpainted but had bright white tips. One jammed into his sternum through his tie. “I’ll do whatever I have to do to keep your sorry-assed, money-grubbing, tree-cutting excuse for a company from destroying my canyon.”
Jonah bit back the urge to snarl. “Give it up, Zury. It’s not your canyon. The land is bought and paid for. The logging has started. It’s a done deal. You squawking isn’t doing anything but giving people a headache.”
“Take an aspirin because I’m not backing down. I won’t let you destroy the park’s views.” A sudden bright sheen filled her eyes as her lips thinned. Her gaze raked over him with disgust. “Why am I talking to you? You’re nothing more than Webb Hawkins’s lapdog.”
He bared his teeth. “Better be careful. I bite.”
Zury went to her tiptoes and brought her face close to his. “So do I.”
Inexplicably, his dick hardened in his pants. Apparently not only were the professional gloves off, but the PC barriers had been stripped away as well, leaving him with a serious case of lust. There was no denying she was gorgeous. He’d realized that six months ago. But she’d always been cool, aloof and disdaining. In this stripped-down casual setting, with fury enlivening her face, her pixie-cut hair tumbled by the wind and passion flushing her cheeks, she was positively radiant. But he still had a job to do.
“Let me show you that Hawkins isn’t out to destroy anything.”
White flashed as she rolled her eyes before spinning on her heel. “I outgrew show-and-tell in kindergarten.”
“Afraid I might prove you wrong?” Zury froze at his challenge, one hand on the back of her seat, one foot inside the jeep.
Jonah cupped her elbow, ignoring the warm, soft skin that filled his hand. “We can spend the next few years sniping at each other or you can grow up, act like an adult and listen.”
She whirled. “Why? You can’t.You’re brainwashed. You have no idea what these mountains are worth. They can’t be bought. They don’t belong to the state or to Webb Hawkins or anyone else. They belong to everyone. You don’t see beauty, you see dollar signs.”
Old Deke Hawkins had once claimed Jonah could make the trip to hell sound so appealing the damned would fight for a window seat. He drew on that talent now and sent her his best “I dare you” smile. “So make me see it. Give me the weekend.”
She crossed her arms, the motion lifting those pert boobs a tick higher, and he had to force his eyes to remain locked on her face. “Can’t. I’m off and already booked myself into a cabin out near Blazer Peak.”
Blazer Peak sat at the edge of the one hundred acres the Department of Tourism had retained for Black Cherry Falls State Park. She’d feel in control and on her own turf but his turf lay only a few hundred yards away. It was perfect. He shrugged. “I’ll join you.”
“It’s a one-room cabin.”
“I own a sleeping bag.”
Amusement twitched along her lips as she flicked the shoulder of his suit jacket. “There’s no cappuccino maker or fine dining available. No internet access, no Netflix, no cell service. It’s just you and the mountains. Sure you can handle that?”
An ironic snort burst out before he could catch it. “You have no idea what I’m capable of handling.”
“Just don’t think you can handle me, Slick.” Her chin raised a notch.
“I wouldn’t dare try. You’d hand me my ass on a platter.”
“You’ve got that right.” Indecision flitted across her face. “It’s Friday night. Don’t you have a date or something?”
Actually, he did, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember the woman’s name right now. “Nothing important.”
“I don’t want to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your enemy.”
A tense minute passed. She scrutinized him, looking for something on his face. Either she found whatever she’d been looking for or she gave up, but she gave a terse nod. “Fine. But I’m not refriending you on Facebook, and nothing is going to change my mind.”
“Challenge accepted.” God, fighting with her was fun. He took a step back and tucked his hands into his pants pockets. “You never know, maybe we’ll both survive the weekend.”
Zury shook her head, laughing at him. “Tú no sabes en lo que te estás metiendo. Meet me at the main lodge at seven. I’m driving. Bring your gear, your supplies and your ego. I’m in the mood to crush things.”
He gave her a jaunty salute then headed back to his SUV. He’d made more than one business conquest on working retreats, and this was just more of the same. Plus, the cabin on Blazer Peak was isolated. That would come in handy if he needed a place to bury her body. He looked back over his shoulder as she climbed in the jeep. And damn, what a body it was.
“Tell me what you want from me. I can’t stop the harvesting, wouldn’t if I could. But what do you want us to do?”
“Just look. Really look, Jonah.”
For a long minute, he didn’t move. He stared at her, his eyes tapered and his mouth thinned. Then his shoulders drew back and he faced out across the canyon. “I’m looking.”
She stepped beside him. “What do you see?”
“I get it, okay? I’m not blind. I see how beautiful it is.”
“No.” Gentling her voice, she inched closer, until she could feel the heat of his skin against her arm. Some undefined force lifted her hand and rested it on his biceps. Smooth lines sculpted valleys and swells in his arm, nature of a different kind at work in his body. Her fingers glided along the hard expanse that was more fitting for a lumberjack in bygone days than a suit-wearing public relations guy of today.
Inch by inch, his head turned. His eyes landed on her hand curled around his arm, then slowly rose until they captured hers. So pristine blue, his gaze stirred something buried deep in her chest. Her throat tightened. “It’s not just beautiful, it’s a priceless gift. This view and hundreds like it are what make this place special.”
His palm cupped her face and she sucked in a swift breath. His hands were rough and warm but so tender. She had to fight to keep her eyes from closing, to stop from nuzzling at his hand. Why did he have so much power over her with a simple touch?
His thumb stroked her cheek. “What do you want me to do?”
Kiss me. Hold me. Let me feel your mouth. Make me forget that we’re on opposite sides of this fight.
Slicking her lips with her tongue drew his focus to her mouth, and his pupils dilated. She was aware of every breath that lifted his chest, every strand of hair that fluttered in the wind, every lash that rimmed his eyes. He had a tiny scar no bigger than a pencil eraser under his chin. The sudden need to know where that tiny imperfection had come from gripped her. Had he fallen off his bike as a boy? Caught it shaving the first time he used a razor? Got it in a scuffle with a teenage rival?
She struggled to whisper. “Don’t cut roads into the hills. Don’t bring backhoes and bulldozers and eighteen-wheelers in here. Don’t change the land that has stood for generations. This is beautiful and untamed. The state slogan is ‘Wild and Wonderful.’ Leave it alone.”
“I can’t do that.”
Tears stung her eyes and her chin quivered. “Please?”
Zury closed her eyes. It made the first brush of his mouth twice as sweet. It wasn’t a kiss. It was too soft, too light, too gentle. But she opened her lips and it became a kiss. A kiss that seared into her bones with a raw, aching need that surged from her belly.
He nibbled at her mouth, tasting each curve and corner, before letting his tongue slide inside. The rough skin of his palm skimmed along her neck as his hand sank into the back of her hair. Her slight inhale breathed his scent deep into her lungs. A shudder tickled at her spine, the temptation to melt into him nearly overwhelming.
She pulled back a half centimeter. “Jonah—”
“Don’t,” he said against her lips. “Don’t fight this.”
All they did was fight. They fought over land usage and coffee. They fought over moral rights and potatoes. They fought over trees and popcorn. But beneath all the fight was passion, a passion that had simmered for weeks and now threatened to burn them.
But only a fool touched a flame.
Library Journal – Verdict: The Place I Belong has well-developed characters, an interesting and timely plot, and a good pace to keep readers on edge throughout.
Sugarbeats Books – Holy Cow – I want to give this book a 7 or an 8 stars! Loved it! One of the best stories I’ve read in quite a while. Run, don’t walk to you closest retailer and buy a copy of this book and then don’t plan on sleeping until you are finished.
Slick, Guilty Pleasures- A TRUE GEM! The Place I Belong is another well rounded, full, and entertaining book by an author I grow more enamored with each time I read her.
Maldivian Book Reviews – Inez Kelley whips a tornado through your emotions with The Place I Belong, leaving no part of your heart untouched.
Straight Shootin’ Book Reviews – Good Lord..the man knows how to WOO. Yes, Jonah, gives good Woo. He woos with a freaking fluffy dandelion. Dude, you can do that to me anytime you want.