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Excerpt: Welcome to Paradise

Excerpt: Welcome to Paradise

Book 1: The Kincaids

“We are in the middle of friggin’ nowhere.”

Gabe looked across at his brother in amusement. Alec had one hand on the steering wheel, the fingers of the other drumming on the leg of his Levi’s as he gazed disgustedly through the windshield at the rolling hills that extended into the distance, the long stalks of green— grass?—wheat?—Well, some kind of crops, anyway, undulating in the wind like waves across a limitless sea.

“That’s the idea,” Gabe said mildly. “It’s the Palouse. It’s not supposed to be Silicon Valley.”

His twin grabbed for the water bottle in the cupholder between them and took a long swig. “At least find another radio station,” he complained. “I swear, this is the same song we just heard.”

“The trouble with you,” Gabe said with a grin, “is that you aren’t sufficiently open to new experiences. And that you don’t pay attention. This guy is leaving his tears on the jukebox. The last guy was falling in love.”

“Well, it all sounds the same to me,” Alec grumbled. “And I thought there were supposed to be cows in the country. I haven’t seen another living thing for an hour.”

“The change is going to do you good,” Gabe promised. “And pay attention. We’re about to get into Pullman.”

“Thanks for warning me. I might have gotten all flustered by the traffic lights. We could have ended up in Canada.”

Gabe laughed. “You need to learn to focus on one thing at a time. This is a perfect chance to start.”

“I focus just fine.” Alec slowed as they entered the small university town, took the turns that led him past Washington State University and onto the highway that led to the neighboring town of Moscow. “Nobody who’s spent as many hours in front of a computer screen and drunk as much Dr. Pepper as I have in my life can be accused of not being able to focus.”

“You need to focus on what matters,” Gabe said quietly, serious now. “Your inner life.”

“Thank you, Deepak Chopra,” Alec said tersely. “I don’t have a whole lot of desire right now to look at my inner life.”

“Which is why you need to do it.” Gabe knew that, for all his brother’s protests, on some level he recognized the truth of what Gabe was saying. In fact, they both needed a break, a chance to take the deep breath they’d been unable to find time for amidst the hectic pace of their lives.

“Stop it,” Alec said now.

“What?”

“Your Spidey Sense. Knock it off. Quit looking inside me. I’m fine. I said I’d do this with you, and I’m doing it. And we just crossed the state line. Welcome to Idaho.”

 ***

“That’s it ahead,” Gabe pointed out a few minutes later, as Alec pulled to a stop at yet another red light in the sparse evening traffic. “The University Inn.”

“Right across from the field full of cows. The booming metropolis.”

Gabe smiled, then ran his tongue across his teeth. “Well, I’ll be glad to get there, myself. This bonding road trip has got me stiff. And I need to brush my teeth.”

“Damn.”

“What?” Gabe asked in alarm.

“I left my toothbrush back at the motel.”

“Well, you’re not borrowing mine.”

“Right. We’re going to the mall.” Alec belatedly put on his left blinker, waited for the two oncoming cars to proceed through the intersection. Heard a loud blast on the horn from the car behind him before the driver swerved around and passed on the right with a screech of tires and a parting one-fingered salute out the driver’s window.

“Asshole,” Alec muttered as he turned into the lot. “So much for country values.”

Ten minutes later, toothbrush duly purchased, they pulled into the University Inn parking lot and gratefully emerged from the car. Driving all day was never going to feel good, not even in a Mercedes. Alec went inside for the keycard, while Gabe began to haul out suitcases, then stopped in his tracks.

A couple spaces beyond, a young woman stood next to a glossy black BMW with its door open, her gaze turned up to the eastern skyline. Gabe could see why. The view was tinted  with a rose pink that lay softly over the mountains, giving them an almost ethereal glow.

She sensed his presence behind him, turned with a warm smile that was a perfect complement to the light bathing the landscape behind her. “Alpenglow,” she told him happily.

“What?” he asked stupidly.

“That’s what they call that pink thing. Alpenglow. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Yeah,” he smiled slowly. “It sure is.”

She nodded, looked back at the mountains with a sigh, leaving Gabe free to take in the view that interested him most. She wasn’t especially slim—in fact, she was downright . . . rounded. Arms, breasts, hips, it was all there, all the good stuff. A nicely defined waist, too, in a slightly crumpled short-sleeved summer dress that flared out at the hem. Long, shiny brown hair caught on the side of her head in a simple braid that reached nearly to her hips, ended in a curly tail. All right, she was attractive. A pretty face, nice hair, a beautiful smile, but she certainly wasn’t gorgeous. So why was he staring at her?

“Cute,” Alec said quietly beside him.

“Yeah.” Gabe gave himself a shake and began to turn away.

“Hey.” The man was striding quickly across the parking lot. Light brown hair, parted neatly. Slim and tall, somewhere between Gabe’s six foot and Alec’s six-two. And, Gabe realized, the same asshole who’d flipped them off earlier, at the light. Frowning, now, as he came to join the woman. “What are you doing? I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Sorry,” she said. “I was just looking at the view.”

“Did you get the car cleaned out?”

“Not yet.”

He sighed impatiently. “I’ve got all our stuff inside already, and unpacked, while you’ve been standing here.  Could you get a move on, please? I want to go to dinner.”

“Sorry,” she said again. “It’s just so beautiful.”

The man smiled tightly, still not acknowledging Gabe or Alec, who had come up to stand beside his brother and watch the pair. “All I’m asking for is a bit of focus here, sweetie. Eyes on the prize, remember? Can you do that for me?”

“Of course,” she said. Gabe could see the flush spreading up her cheeks, her embarrassment at the reproof in front of strangers. Not his business, he reminded himself. None of his business at all.

 ***

“Love her, hate him,” Alec said a few minutes later as they watched the young woman head into the motel, loaded down with a trash bag and various odds and ends.

“Yeah.”

Alec shot a look at him. “You OK?”

“Anger management issues.” Gabe looked at his brother wryly. “I was ready to take him out for a minute there. Haven’t felt like that in a long time.”

“You probably just need to get laid,” Alec said practically, pulling his bag across the lot. “How long has it been?”

Gabe smiled. “Too long.”

“Anyone since Crystal?”

“Nope.” Gabe stood back as Alec used the keycard on the motel door, then humped his suitcase and pack inside. “Too busy.”

“Bro, you’re never too busy for sex.”

“All right. Not in the mood, then. Tired of all the drama. I don’t have the energy for it anymore.”

“That’s why I don’t do the drama,” Alec lifted his suitcase onto the bed, eyeing the dark green, quilted synthetic spread with distaste. “Keep it light. You don’t have to get involved, you know. As long as you’re upfront about what you want, where’s the harm?”

“Maybe I’m just not a damn rabbit, like some people. And by the way,” Gabe said seriously, pulling a luggage rack from the closet and lifting his own suitcase onto it before unzipping it. “Be careful, while we’re here. These are close quarters we’re going to be in. Strings are most definitely going to be attached. You do your player stuff, and we’re going to find ourselves out on our asses.”

Alec laid a hand over his heart. His mouth was solemn, but his dark blue eyes, the only feature identical to Gabe’s, laughed at his twin. “I solemnly swear that I will keep it in my pants for the duration. Now all we have to worry about is your Sir Galahad impulses.”

“No problem. I’m tired of rescuing,” Gabe assured him. “I’ve lost the desire to solve anybody else’s problems. I’m not even all that confident anymore that I have the solutions. I just want someone . . . happy, I guess. Happy and fun, to hang out with. Are there any women like that?”

“Not for an ugly bastard like you,” Alec said cheerfully.

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