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  Dear Reader

  Special Excerpt from Animal Magnetism


  Kate Evans would’ve sold her soul for a stress-free morning, but either her soul wasn’t worth much or whoever was in charge of granting wishes was taking a nap. With her phone vibrating from incoming texts—which she was doing her best to ignore—she shoved her car into park and ran across the lot and into the convenience store. “Duct tape?” she called out to Meg, the clerk behind the counter.

  Meg had pink and purple tie-dyed hair, had enough piercings to ensure certain drowning if she ever went swimming, and was in the middle of a heated debate on the latest The Voice knock-out rounds with another customer. But she stabbed a finger in the direction of aisle three.

  Kate snatched a roll of duct tape, some twine, and then, because she was also weak, a rack of chocolate mini donuts for later. Halfway to the checkout, a bin of fruit tugged at her good sense so she grabbed an apple. Dumping everything on the counter, she fumbled through her pockets for cash.

  Meg rang her up and bagged her order. “You’re not going to murder someone, are you?”

  Kate choked out a laugh. “What?”

  “Well . . .” Meg took in Kate’s appearance. “Librarian outfit. Duct tape. Twine. I know you’re the math whiz around here, but it all adds up to a Criminal Minds episode to me.”

  Kate was wearing a cardigan, skirt, leggings, and—because she’d been in a hurry and they’d been by the front door—snow boots. She supposed with her glasses and hair piled up on her head she might resemble the second-grade teacher that she was, and okay, maybe the snow boots in May were a little suspect. “You watch too much TV,” Kate said. “It’s going to fry your brain.”

  “You know what fries your brain? Not enough sex.” Meg pointed to her phone. “Got that little tidbit right off the Internet on my last break.”

  “Well, then it must be true,” Kate said.

  Meg laughed. “That’s all I’m saying.”

  Kate laughed along with her, grabbed her change and her bag, and hurried to the door. She was late. As the grease that ran her family’s wheel, she needed to get to her dad’s house to help get her little brother, Tommy, ready for school and then to coax the Evil Teen into even going to school. The duct tape run wasn’t to facilitate that, or to kill anyone, but to make a camel, of all things, for an afterschool drama project Tommy had forgotten to mention was due today.

  Kate stepped outside and got slapped around by the wind. The month of May had burst onto the scene like a PMSing Mother Nature, leaving the beautiful, rugged Bitterroot Mountains, which loomied high overhead, dusted with last week’s surprise snow.

  Spring in Sunshine, Idaho, was MIA.

  Watching her step on the wet, slippery asphalt, she pulled out her once again vibrating phone just to make sure no one was dying. It was a text from her dad and read: Hurry, it’s awake.

  It being her sister. The other texts were from Ashley herself. She was upset because she couldn’t find her cheerleading top, and also, did Kate know that Tommy was talking to his invisible friend in the bathroom again?

  Kate sighed and closed her eyes for a brief second, which was all it took for her snow boots to slip. She went down like a sack of cement, her phone flying one way, her bag the other as she hit the ground butt first with teeth-jarring impact.

  “Dammit!” She took a second for inventory—no massive injuries. That this was in thanks to not having lost those five pounds of winter brownie blues didn’t make her feel any better. The cold seeped through her tights and the sidewalk abraded the bare skin of her palms. Rolling to her hands and knees, she reached for her keys just as a set of denim-clad legs came into her field of vision.

  The owner of the legs crouched down, easily balancing on the balls of his feet. A hand appeared, her keys centered in the big palm. Tilting her head up, she froze.

  Her polite stranger wore a baseball cap low over his eyes, shadowing most of his face and dark hair, but she’d know those gunmetal gray eyes anywhere. And then there was the rest of him. Six foot two and built for trouble in army camo cargoes, a black sweatshirt, and his usual badass attitude, the one that tended to have men backing off and women checking for drool; there was no mistaking Griffin Reid, the first guy she’d ever fallen for. Of course she’d been ten at the time . . .

  “That was a pretty spectacular fall,” he said, blocking her from standing up. “Make sure you’re okay.”

  Keep your cool, she told herself. Don’t speak, just nod. But her mouth didn’t get the memo. “No worries, a man’s forty-seven percent more likely to die from a fall than a woman.” The minute the words escaped, she bit her tongue, but of course it was too late. When she got nervous, she spouted inane science facts.

  And Griffin Reid made her very nervous.

  “I’m going to ask you again,” he said, moving his tall, linebacker body nary an inch as he pinned her in place with nothing more than his steady gaze. “Are you okay?”

  Actually, no, she wasn’t. Not even close. Her pride was cracked, and quite possibly her butt as well, but that wasn’t what had her kneeling there on the ground in stunned shock. “You’re . . . home.”

  He smiled grimly. “I was ordered back by threat of bodily harm if I was late to the wedding.”

  He was kidding. No one ordered the tough, stoic badass Griffin to do anything, except maybe Uncle Sam since he was some secret army demolitions expert who’d been in Afghanistan for three straight tours. But his sister, Holly, was getting married this weekend. And if there was anyone more bossy or determined than Griffin, it was his baby sister. Only Holly could get her reticent brother halfway around the world for her vows.

  Kate had told herself that as Holly’s best friend and maid of honor, she would absolutely not drool over Griffin if he showed up. And she would especially not make a fool of herself.

  Too late, on both counts.

  Again she attempted to get up, but Griffin put a big, tanned, work-roughened hand on her thigh, and she felt herself tingle.

  Well, damn. Meg was right—too little sex fried the brain.

  Clearly misunderstanding her body’s response, Griffin squeezed gently as if trying to soothe, which of course had the opposite effect, making things worse. Embarrassed, she tried to pull free, but still effortlessly holding her, Griffin’s steely gray eyes remained steady on hers.

  “Take stock first,” he said, voice low but commanding. “What hurts? Let me see.”

  Since the only thing that hurt besides her pride was a part of her anatomy that she considered No Man’s Land, hell would freeze over before she’d “let him see.” “I’m fine. Really,” she added.

  Griffin took her hand and easily hoisted her up, studying her in that assessing way of his. Then he started to turn her around, presumably to get a three-hundred-and-sixty degree view, but she stood firm. “Seriously,” she said, backing away, “I’m good.” And if she weren’t, if she’d actually broken her butt, she’d die before admitting it, so it didn’t matter. Bending to gather up her belongings, she carefully sucked in her grimace of pain.

  “I’ve got it,” Griffin said, and scooped up the duct tape and donuts. He looked like maybe he was going to say something about the donuts, but at the odd vibrating noise behind them, he turned. “Your phone’s having a seizure,” he said.

  Panicked siblings, no doubt. After all, there was a camel to create out of thin air and a cheerleading top to locate, and God only knew what disaster her father was coming up with for breakfast.

  Griffin offered the cell phone, and Kate stared down at it thinking how much easier her day would go if it had smashed to pieces when it hit the ground.

  “Want me to step on it a few times?” h