Part of the Guthrie Brothers Series
Part of the Guthrie Brothers Series
His first love is back—with a secret—in this sizzling new Guthrie Brothers novella.
Colt Guthrie’s high school sweetheart left town six years ago without a backward look. Charish almost broke him then, and he doesn’t plan to let her finish the job now that she’s suddenly back in Clearbrook. The only thing he wants from Charish is closure. But grown-up Charish is tempting as hell, and with her compassion for an injured stray dog, there’s no denying the way she still gets under Colt’s skin.
Letting Colt go was the hardest thing Charish ever did. Keeping him at arm’s length now runs a close second. Their chemistry is explosive, despite his wariness. But when Colt learns the real reason she’s back, will he be the one to walk away—or can this sizzling summer be the start of something entirely new?
Reviews of Colt
is Part of the Guthrie Brothers Series
The full series reading order is as follows:
Read An Excerpt
Early afternoon sunshine streamed in through the open drapes of Heidi’s bedroom. After a long, lust-filled night with her, Colt Guthrie had slept the morning away. As he stretched out atop her rumpled sheets, his mind should have been blessedly blank, as replete as his body.
Unfortunately, the house next door, visible through the window, seemed to taunt him—since that’s where Charish used to live.
It annoyed him to wake with one beautiful woman, a woman who’d wrung him out, only to dwell on another.
Back in high school and early college, he and Charish had found so many ways to spend time together, until six years ago when her parents moved to Georgia to be closer to her ailing paternal grandmother…and she’d gone with them.
He didn’t want to think about that, though, so he looked away from the window and instead watched Heidi dress.
Tall, slim, with black hair and bright blue eyes, Heidi should have held all his attention. When they were both naked, while he drove into her, pushing her toward a climax, she did. Now, with sunlight showing the house next door? Not so much.
In bed, they were compatible. Out of bed, they were only friends. His laid-back attitude clashed with her always-on-the-go motivation. Didn’t matter. Brief sexual relationships were the only type he indulged these days.
Heidi glanced over her shoulder at him. “Thanks for agreeing to come by last night.”
Colt gave her a slow, sensual smile. “That was my pleasure.”
With a dramatic sigh, she murmured, “It’s unfair for you to wake looking so scrumptious when you know I need to get to work.”
“Actually, I need to get going, too. Diesel is going to wonder where I am.” His dog, Diesel, had camped out at his dad’s house overnight, something he did often as the mood struck him, but his father and stepmom had likely already left for the diner where they worked. After spending some time with the dog, Colt planned to grab lunch with them.
Again, his gaze went to the window. The house looked different now with new paint and modernized landscaping from the last owner.
Didn’t matter; he would always think of it as Charish’s home, regardless of who lived there.
Since it had been empty for two months, he asked Heidi, “You sell it yet?”
“I did.” Arms up, she twisted her inky-dark hair behind her head and secured it with a big clip. “Already closed on it. New neighbor could be here any day.”
Colt sat up and stretched. “Good for you.” Not that he really cared if it sat empty or strangers moved in.
Turning, Heidi let her gaze track over him, lingering on his chest, then down to his stomach…and lower. “You are a beautiful man.”
Distracted by that outrageous compliment, Colt grinned. “Beautiful, huh?”
“Very. It’s a shame we’re so ill suited.” Shrugging that off, she hooked the strap of her designer purse over her shoulder. “Lock up when you leave, okay?”
Without another word, she pecked his cheek and hurried out, leaving the bedroom door open. As a Realtor always looking for the next big commission, Heidi was one of the most driven people he knew.
Maybe because of his mellow mood, he envisioned Charish as he’d last seen her. Petite, cute in her cutoffs, and wearing a shy smile. As easygoing and relaxed as him. The way her dark eyes used to stare at him whenever he was near…
Those had been good times. Healing times. After the turmoil his mother had created with her affairs, then her death, he and his dad had finally found peace here.
Colt still loved the area, still called it home, but the serenity of those early years in Clearbrook were long gone.
Hearing the chatter of squirrels, he went to the window to see them chasing each other before shooting up the biggest oak. August in Clearbrook meant kids playing in the street, birds singing in all the mature trees, neighbors mowing their lawns and sitting on their front porches to chat.
It used to mean him and Charish walking hand in hand, swimming in the creek together, stealing moments to make love.
Love. He hadn’t related sex to love since she’d left. From the ages of seventeen to nineteen, they’d been an item. When he’d been young and idealistic, he’d thought they’d be together always.
Young love, Uncle Jason called it, saying it was a powerful thing.
Colt could agree with that. Except that for him, he’d known it was the real deal. He’d loved her, and she’d left anyway.
His dad thought he’d moved on. So did everyone else. That’s how he wanted it.
But had he really?
If looking at an empty house caused so much introspection, then likely, no, he hadn’t.
Yes, he’d loved her, but he hadn’t asked to marry her. College, then a good job, and independence—those had all been uppermost on his mind. He’d figured he and Charish would work a long-distance relationship, and once he’d graduated, she’d move back to be with him.
They’d stayed in touch for quite a while, but college and work kept him busy. Family responsibilities kept her busy, too. Eventually her interest had waned…until it faded away.
Disgusted with himself, Colt put an abrupt halt to the trip down memory lane. After pulling on jeans, he cleaned his teeth, finger-combed his hair, but decided to wait until he got home to shower and shave.
Finding coffee in the kitchen, he poured a cup…and heard a car door close. Going to the side door in the kitchen, curious about possibly spying the new neighbors, he peered out.
A woman leaned through the open back door of a minivan.
Nice ass, he thought, while sipping his coffee. Pretty legs, too. She straightened with a high stack of boxes in her arms that mostly hid her from view. A sloppy topknot listed to the side over one ear.
So that she could see where she stepped, she kept her face averted and headed for the front door.
Knowing she was overloaded, Colt set aside the coffee and went out the door. Barefoot, he jogged across the lawn. “Hold up.”
The woman froze, then quickly twisted around—and dropped her load. He watched as one box spilled clothes, another shoes. A few books and magazines. Towels…
His gaze shot up, and everything in him went still, even his heartbeat. “Charish?”
It took her a second to find her voice. “Hello.”
More slowly now, he approached, visually devouring her. From her simple flip-flops to those legs he knew so well, the short shorts and the fitted T-shirt…even the tremulous smile—she was different, and yet she was the same.
Her hair seemed a little lighter, maybe something from a salon? She’d put on weight, too, enough to take her from a kid to a woman.
Eyes narrowing with a mix of elation and anger, he folded his arms. “You didn’t tell me you were back in town.”
Her nervous tongue darted out to skim her lips. “No, I didn’t really tell anyone…”
He wasn’t just anyone…or maybe he was. Fuck.
Drawing in a shaky breath, she asked, “How have you been?”
At his clipped response, one slender shoulder lifted. “All right.”
Merely all right? Suddenly it hit him like a ton of bricks: she was moving in. Surely not alone.
Tension ramping up, he looked beyond her. “Did you bring your family?”
His tone, which even to him sounded on the verge of snide, had her pulling away. Not physically, but he felt her emotional withdrawal all the same.
She tucked back some flyaway hairs. “It’s just me. My grandma passed away. Dad, too.”
“Your dad?” Hell. “I’m sorry,” he said automatically. He remembered her father as a nice guy, friendly, hardworking, and very dedicated to his family.
“Mom actually remarried, so…” Another slight shrug.
So many changes—but did that mean she was or wasn’t married?
She looked away, only to land her gaze right back on him. “We lost Grandma three years ago. Alzheimer’s. A year later Dad found out he had pancreatic cancer, and from there, everything happened so fast. My mom…”
Again, she didn’t finish, and it occurred to Colt that they were standing in the yard, too much space between them because she could feel his animosity. Damn it, he had no reason to be angry. He had a full life—and likely she did as well.
Pasting on a smile, he moved closer. “Your mom?”
She absently waved a hand. “I didn’t mean to lay out the past few years like that. Sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Closer now, he shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching for her. “Your mom is okay?”
“Now, yes.” Charish’s gaze kept going to his bare chest, then away. “She had a rough time after everything with Dad.”
Sounded like Charish had really had her hands full. He couldn’t imagine something like that happening with his dad. “I really am sorry.”
She gave a slight nod. “Pancreatic cancer is a terrible thing. He wasted away right before our eyes. For a little while there, I thought I’d lose Mom, too.”
“She’s doing better now?”
“Much. About ten months ago, her friend Sheri introduced her to her brother-in-law and they hit it off.” Charish shared a secret smile. “Mom had no interest in dating, definitely not in remarrying, but Hank was relentless in his attentions, and finally she allowed herself to fall in love again. He’s been really good to her.”
He liked seeing her smiles far more than those shadows in her eyes. “And you?”
“We get along great. You’d like Hank.” Glancing around the yard, Charish inhaled deeply. “He reminds me of Clearbrook. Very down-home and comfortable, easy and friendly.”
Taking another step toward her, Colt studied her face. She no longer had a tan, and she didn’t wear a speck of makeup. Little wisps of hair had fallen from the loose knot to cling to her temples and along her neck. The afternoon heat flushed her cheeks.
All in all, she looked incredibly pretty. “What about you?”
Confused, she asked, “What about me?”
Color deepened in her face and she looked away. “No. You?”
He gave an abrupt “No.” Before the simmering annoyance could break free, he bent to gather up the stuff she’d dropped.
“I can get it.” She knelt down, too.
As if she hadn’t been away at all, he breathed in the stirring scent of her skin and hair. Still the same.
With the same effect.
Fuck that. Ignoring her protest, he got everything back in the boxes, then handed her the lightest one. He gathered up the others himself. “Lead the way.”
Nonplussed, she stared at him, swiveled her gaze to the front door, then back to his face. “Really, my whole van is full. I can handle—”
Nudging his way around her, Colt went to the front steps and up to the porch. Seemed to him that was answer enough.
She wanted to dismiss him.
He wouldn’t let her.
Whether she wanted to acknowledge it or not, they were old friends. She knew him well enough to know he’d have offered a helping hand to anyone, but to someone he’d once loved? He’d never walk away.
Besides, it was his fault she’d dropped everything.
They stared at each other, him waiting and resolute, her hesitant…until she shook her head and laughed. Giving in, she joined him and unlocked the door.
He glanced around at the empty interior. “Where do you want these?”
“You can just set them anywhere.”
Clothes, shoes… He guessed, “Bedroom?” Knowing the way, he headed there before she answered. Many times he’d been in her house. Her folks had liked him. Hell, everyone liked him.
And she’d cut him loose anyway.
He tried not to resent that as he set the boxes on the floor of the room that had been hers.
Used to be, furniture crowded it, every surface filled with girlie things like brushes and makeup, jewelry and stuff she’d saved: a dried flower from the woods, a small photo of them together.
Any gift he’d ever given her.
Now it was empty and freshly painted, with no sign of the past they’d shared.
Charish came in behind him. “Thanks. I can—”
Stepping around her, pushed by feelings he didn’t want to dissect, he headed back out.
“Damn it, Colt.” Hustling after him, she all but chased him to the open van.
Hearing her curse was kind of funny, making his mouth twitch as he fought a smile. “Damn it, Charish,” he mocked.
Hands on her hips, she frowned.
That was funny, too. “I don’t recall you having such a temper.” At least not with him.
“I don’t recall you being this pushy,” she shot right back.
Age had given her some gumption. Grudging respect brought a grin. Already knowing the answer, but willing to call her on it, he asked, “Problem?”
She deflated. “What are you doing here, Colt?”
Deliberately misunderstanding, he asked, “In Clearbrook?”
“No, I mean here. At my house.”
Without meaning to, he glanced back at Heidi’s, where the kitchen door remained ajar. Rubbing a hand over his messy hair, he debated how much to tell her.
Apparently, he didn’t need to tell her anything at all.
Eyes widening, Charish slowly looked at the other house, too. “Heidi Ellard lives there.”
Leaning on her van, Colt folded his arms. “Yeah, she does.”
Still looking away, she stiffened her shoulders. “The two of you are…?”
Friends with benefits. Nope, not something he’d say. “Friends.”
Locking her fingers together, she faced him with skepticism. “Heidi is very nice.”
Her attention dipped to his bare chest, then down to his bare feet.
Yeah, it didn’t need a lot of explanation.
He heard himself say anyway, “She was my Realtor when I bought my place.”
Colt saw the wrong conclusions drifting over her expression, but damned if he’d enlighten her on the facts. For one thing, it’d be an insult to Heidi to toss out that they enjoyed casual, uncommitted sex.
For another, it wasn’t any of Charish’s business. Not anymore.
“So…you have your own house now, too?”
“I’m twenty-five. Did you think I’d still live at home?”
Flushing, then frowning, she said, “Not really, though I did until recently.”
Shit. Yeah, she’d been helping with her family. Softening just a bit, Colt explained, “After I graduated, I found a great job locally. Clearbrook is home, you know? Heidi kept an eye out on property for me, and when she found a place on the same street with Dad and Uncle Jason, I took it.”
Grabbing for a change in topic, she said, “How nice that you still live close to them,” as she walked around the other side of the van.
Frustration propelled him forward. Every box she lifted, he took from her. “Diesel likes being close to them.”
A genuine smile curved her mouth. “I’ve missed Diesel. How is he? He still likes to pick and choose where to sleep?”
She’d missed his dog, but not him? Colt shook his head. “He’s older now, a little slower, and yeah, he still spreads around his affection between my house, Dad’s, and Uncle Jason’s.”
“He’s with one of them now?”
Was that censure because he’d spent the night with Heidi? His brows pinched together. “Diesel stayed with Dad, but he and Violet have already gone to work. My backyard is fenced, and there’s a doggy door, but I don’t know if Dad dropped him off at home or let him go to Uncle Jason’s. Our houses are close enough together, it’s no problem for him to go wherever he chooses.”
“Sounds like a nice setup.”
“He’ll probably enjoy seeing you.” Yeah, that got her gaze glued to his, and even put a touch of panic in her expression. Colt pretended not to notice. “You’re here for good?”
She grabbed up a laundry basket filled with more clothes. “Like you said, it’s home.”
“You bought back your family’s place?”
Since that was as obvious as where he’d spent the night, she only shot him an insincere smile. “Yes.” Holding that overflowing basket, she walked past him.
Disgruntled, Colt hefted one of the heavier boxes and followed.
Apparently choosing to ignore him, Charish carried in load after load alongside him without saying a word other than to direct him on where to put them.
When the van was empty, she said, “That’s all of it. Thank you for the help.”
Far as Colt could see, two big things were missing: food and furniture. To be sure, he opened the fridge, but yeah, not even a condiment.
“Sorry, I’d offer you a drink if I had one.”
Would she? Or did she say it because she couldn’t? “I’m fine.” He managed a tight smile. “Heidi has drinks next door.”
Her shoulders stiffened. As if to hurry him on his way, she pulled out her phone to check the time.
Too bad. He wasn’t ready to budge yet. Hell, he had a million questions still. “Got an appointment?”
“Movers should be here soon.”
At least now he understood why she’d wanted all the boxes stacked out of the way. “They have your furniture?”
“Mom moved in with Hank, so I got a lot of her stuff, plus since they remodeled, I got things from him, too.” Hand to her forehead, she looked around. “By the end of the day, I’ll at least have a place to sit.”
“And a bed to sleep on?”
Her gaze collided with his, locking there as color warmed her cheeks.
Pretty. He’d always liked the way she blushed. The longer he stared at her, the pinker she got.
Letting her off the hook, Colt rubbed a hand over his unshaven cheek and asked, “When are they due?”
Amused, he said, “The movers?”
“Oh. Right.” She tried a smile that wasn’t at all how he remembered it. “Within the hour, as long as they didn’t run into any problems.”
“Doesn’t matter. They’ll unload it all.” Giving him her back, she strode to the sink and peered out the window. “Thank you so much for the help. I can handle it from here.”
The more she tried to push him away, the more determined he was to stay. “You’re different.”
“Six years will do that to a person.”
He accepted that with a nod. “You have a job lined up?”
“I’m a primary care nurse now.” She turned back to him. “I’ll be working with Dr. Fleming at his practice.”
Did he detect a note of pride? She deserved it. “I remember you talking about medicine. So you made it happen, huh?”
Now that was the smile he remembered.
Dropping the reserve, she relaxed her stance. “It wasn’t easy, not with helping to care for Grandma and then Dad, but yeah, I finally got it done.”
“Good for you.” The urge to embrace her throbbed inside him, but he resisted. “Look, I need to run—”
“Of course.” Immediately she was back to mere politeness. “Again, thanks for the help. Take care.”
Colt stared at her. Did she really want to get rid of hum that badly, or did she have something to hide? “I need to run,” he said again, “but I’ll be back shortly. How about I grab lunch from the diner?”
Her eyes widened at the offer. “It’s not even two yet.”
“Dad and Violet open a little earlier now.”
Already shaking her head, Charish denied his offer. “That’s okay. I’ll need to hit up the grocery store anyway.”
“Which you can’t do until the movers are done, right? Until then, you’ll need something to eat.”
Those sinfully dark eyes of hers narrowed. “I know I’m heavier, but I can go a few hours without starving.”
Heavier? Knowing women as he did, he detected the defensive note of defiance. Because she’d gained weight? Of all the…
Allowing himself a slow perusal of her body, he appreciated every enhanced curve, from her more voluptuous breasts to her rounder ass and her shapely thighs. Incredible—every inch of her.
“Don’t tell me you’ve turned into one of those women who frets over every pound.”
Teeth locked, she said, “When there are enough pounds, yes.”
“News flash, Charish. You’re even sexier now than you were as a kid.” With a quicker temper and more independence.
Her mouth literally dropped open.
With a fingertip, Colt tapped it closed. “I’ll be back shortly with lunch, okay?” After she gave a reluctant nod, he smiled. “Great. Until then, don’t do too much until I’m here to help.”
He was halfway out the front door before she came storming after him, dogging him across the lawn. “I am a grown woman—”
“Believe me, I noticed.”
“Stop trying to take me off guard.”
Colt grinned as he continued on his way.
At Heidi’s door, he paused. His blood pumped with new excitement, the kind he hadn’t felt in too many years. He’d get to know her again, and this time he wouldn’t be blinded by love.