Today I am so pleased to welcome Rachel Ember to Joyfully Jay. Rachel has come to talk to us about her latest release, As the Tallgrass Grows. She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Rachel a big welcome!

 

Excerpt

Johnny wasn’t sure what had changed between their day of working together on the fence and now, but something had shifted. Sure, he’d felt Owen start to warm up to him a little as the day wore on yesterday, but if someone had asked him if he’d score a beach invite the next day, he would have said hell no. All he could think was that Owen was a big beachgoer and felt he had no choice but to invite Johnny along. 

Johnny had never fully gotten over the thrall of the ocean, which he’d never seen before he moved to California four years ago. Going to the beach had quickly become the thing he did when he was crawling out of his skin and couldn’t find a horse to distract him. So that meant fairly often, considering LA provided much more access to the beach than to horses.

Owen drove them there in his car, a simple-looking but luxurious thing with buttery leather seats, and a make so rare, Johnny didn’t even recognize the emblem.

The beach was just a few minutes’ drive away, a mile or two of distance. 

“Wow, it’s close. We could have ridden here,” Johnny said as he got out of the car and stretched. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt for the first time since he’d gotten to the ranch. The lightweight clothes felt good, though he’d have preferred sandals to the worn pair of sneakers that had been the only option besides boots in his meager luggage.

“I thought of that, but I don’t have a helmet.”

Though he’d never worn a helmet in his life, Johnny nodded in what he hoped was an understanding way. They always made kids ride with them back at the ranch. Maybe Owen wasn’t a very confident rider.

They trailed down the board steps to the sand. The beach was a little scraggly compared to the places Johnny had gone around LA. Those crowded beaches were heaped with pearly sand, while this one was grayer and studded with rocks, but Johnny still felt a wave of tension roll off his shoulders at the sight of the shifting water.

“Thanks,” he breathed, pausing to pull off his shoes. “This is awesome.”

“Sure.” Owen slipped on his sunglasses. “I thought you might like it.”

Johnny began to jog, deliberately brushing past Owen and giving him a gentle shoulder-check. “You thought right.”

For a moment Owen’s body was close and warm, his eyes wide and startled. Then the next stride carried Johnny away. He ran past the edge of the surf, far enough that a wave broke against his knees, spitting warm foam and tangling a strand of seagrass around his ankles.

He waded around for a few minutes, the sand squelching between his toes, the sound of waves blurring all his other thoughts pleasantly. Then he let himself look around for Owen. Which took a while, because Owen hadn’t followed him into the water. Nor was he anywhere along the shoreline to Johnny’s left or right.

Finally, Johnny found him by turning fully around and looking back at the board steps where they emerged from the scrubby brush that hemmed in the beach. Owen was sitting in the short grass there, his knees drawn up and his arms crossed over them. When he saw Johnny looking, he turned his head away.

Johnny jogged through the sand back to him, then slowed to a walk when he had to dodge more rocks.

“Everything okay?” he asked, frowning, when he reached Owen.

“Yeah,” Owen said, his shoulders stiff and his face mostly hidden by the huge lenses of his sunglasses. “Why?”

“You wanted to come to the beach,” Johnny said slowly. “Didn’t you?”

Owen wrinkled his nose, which pushed his sunglasses up his forehead a little. He sighed and took them off but kept his eyes slanted away from Johnny. “I thought you would want to,” he corrected. “You don’t even have a car. You’ve been kind of cooped up.”

Johnny wasn’t sure if he was flattered or offended. “You make me sound like a dog that needed a run,” he said with a short laugh. Owen just shrugged and fidgeted, so he tried again, earnestly. “Thanks. That was really nice of you.”

Owen darted him a tentative glance. “You’re welcome.”

“Do you want to go down to the water?”

He felt like he was tugging at Lassie’s lead all over again while he waited for Owen’s answer.

After a long moment, Owen said, “Sure,” and pushed himself to his feet. His version of beachwear included slim-fitting jeans and a dark-gray long-sleeved shirt. He was always so covered up. But his clothes also quietly emphasized his shape, and the elegant length of every bone. Johnny cleared his throat and turned to start walking, Owen falling into step with him as gracefully as a shadow.

“So, wait, you don’t like the beach?” Johnny pulled a face of exaggerated shock, and his heart lurched victoriously when the corners of Owen’s mouth twitched in one of his reluctant smiles. “Is that even possible?”

Owen looked out over the water. “I like it.” He shrugged. “It’s…the beach.”

“You sound like you’re describing a dentist’s office.”

“Shut up,” Owen said, almost smiling again, and shoved Johnny with surprising strength, sending him stumbling into the wetter sand and laughing. “Maybe I take it for granted,” Owen went on when Johnny was walking beside him again. “My parents have a couple of houses on the water.”

Johnny resisted the urge to make a joke about people who could afford more than one beach house. When they’d brushed up against this subject yesterday, it had been obvious that Owen’s relationship with his parents was strained.

“Doesn’t sound like a bad way to grow up,” was the comment he settled for.

Owen wrinkled his nose. The tip was starting to go pink from the sun. “I guess not.” He shot Johnny a sidelong glance. “It had to be hard, your parents dying when you were just a kid.”

“Yeah,” Johnny answered distractedly, wondering if they should get out of the sun. Ahead of them was a restaurant with a covered patio stretching halfway down the beach, but he didn’t have any money to buy Owen so much as a glass of coke as an excuse to sit in the shade. “We would have had it a lot worse if I didn’t have the most mature teenaged brother in the world. Robbie took really good care of us.”

“You and your younger brother?”

“Danny, yeah.” Johnny nodded, slowing his steps as subtly as he could and turning back the way they’d come. 

Owen drifted along without seeming to notice they’d changed course. “Well, you won the jackpot with Bo and Dylan.”

Johnny wasn’t sure why Owen suddenly looked like the wrong word could make him cry, but it roused a desperate urge in Johnny to get him smiling again. 

Before he could think of anything, though, Owen seemed to slip out of his melancholy on his own and notice they were nearing the set of stairs leading to the parking lot. “Are you hungry? There’s a really good taco place in town.”

Johnny hesitated. “I’m not. But I’ll sit with you if you want.”

Owen gave him an odd look. “We can eat something else if you don’t like tacos. Although, who doesn’t like tacos?”

It was Johnny’s turn to give him a friendly shove. “Says the weirdo who thinks the beach is just okay.” His palm burned a little where it had briefly cupped Owen’s lean shoulder to push him. 

Owen flashed him a heart-stopping grin, then put his sunglasses back on. “Come on. Let me buy you a taco.”

Johnny still hesitated, but his resistance was wearing thin. He wanted to keep Owen smiling and easy and at his side. If that meant bumming lunch off him, so be it. Besides, tacos sounded like heaven. 

He tried for a nonchalant shrug. “Okay, sure.”

They walked back to the car, shaking the sand off themselves. When Johnny looked at the luxury interior, uncertain, Owen leaned over the console, slipping his sunglasses down his nose. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m all sandy. I don’t want to mess up your car.”

Owen snorted. “It’s a car. Cars get dirty.”

Johnny gave his feet a final, thorough brush-off, then reluctantly slid inside. “You have an awfully nice car for a guy who doesn’t care about cars.”

“It was one of my mom’s. She always has the best of everything, which means she gets something new every couple of years.” He shot Johnny a humorless smile. “I know it’s kind of excessive. But it was basically free. Well, to me.” 

Johnny smiled wanly. “I’ve never owned anything but a pickup truck. My last one got me most of the way down here before it quit, and I never got around to replacing it.”

“How do you manage in LA without a car?”

“It’s not so bad. I couldn’t do it back home, but the big city has buses and stuff. And Uber,” he added. “Uber is amazing.” 

Owen shuddered. “Uber is a murder mystery waiting to happen.”

Laughing, Johnny leaned back in the ridiculously comfortable, creaky leather seat. “I’ve never been afraid for my life, but I’ve sat in a couple that smelled like puke.”

Owen looked more horrified at that than he had when he was musing about getting murdered. “And you still use them?”

Johnny shrugged, cocking his head. “Are you saying you haven’t?”

“Never.”

“Really?” Johnny was incredulous. “Not even once?”

“Nope.”

“I feel like you’re missing out on a key experience for our generation,” Johnny told him solemnly. The remark earned him a sidelong look, brow raised, that had him grinning again. Owen was so much more fun than he wanted to be, which made it even better—he was so buttoned-up, and every button Johnny teased open was satisfyingly hard-won. 

“Now that we’ve stoked our appetites with this awesome topic,” Owen muttered as he pulled into a parking lot and slid into a stall, “here we are. Tacos.”

No appetite could have resisted the smell emanating from the tiny, brightly colored stucco building with a hand-painted sign. Owen led the way inside and to a cramped booth in the back with toucans peering down from the light fixture.

“This place is cool,” Johnny said, trying to figure out where to put his knees and elbows in the booth. Owen turned slightly sideways and propped one foot on the bench, lounging there with his arm around his bent knee. Johnny found himself staring at the long, long length of his thigh inside those black jeans, the inseam dusted with sand.

“…menu?” Owen finished asking, and Johnny blinked at him and refocused on his face.

“Sorry, what?”

Owen seemed to have no idea what might have distracted him, and calmly repeated himself. “Do you want a menu?”

Johnny blinked over to find a server smiling at them, two laminated menus in hand. He might have asked for one if he were less flustered. “Um, no. We’re getting tacos, right?”

Narrowing his eyes like he couldn’t quite figure Johnny out, Owen studied him a moment, then sighed, turned to the server, and said a few phrases in slow, melodic Spanish. The only words Johnny recognized were queso and tacos.

“What now?” Owen asked as the server left and Johnny continued staring at him. He unfolded his silverware from the paper napkin and arranged them in front of him. “Are you having a stroke?”

“You speak Spanish. I didn’t know that.”

“Well,” Owen said, rolling his eyes, “we just met, so presumably there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

Abashed, Johnny looked down, tearing the sticker off his own napkin. “I guess.”

“This is California. Speaking conversational Spanish is a civic responsibility.” Owen had been fussing with his fork, arranging it carefully, and he seemed to deliberately pause his hands and look up at Johnny again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a dick about it. I’m not great with…” He gestured back and forth between them. “Interpersonal skills.”

Johnny cocked his head. He had the feeling that general reassurances wouldn’t get him far with Owen. “What makes you say that?”

Owen snorted. “A lifetime of experience.”

“Isn’t a lifetime like, eighty years?” Johnny asked, smiling up at the server when she set a basket of chips and a dish of salsa between them.

A dark chuckle was his only answer, and then Owen snagged a chip with his long fingers. After he’d chewed and swallowed, he said, “Okay, how about the fact that I only have three friends, two of whom are in their seventies, while the other is Parker?”

“I’d say you have discerning taste.” He shrugged. “And I think you’re fun.” He stared Owen straight in the eye, daring him to argue.

Owen instantly drew himself up in apparent outrage. “Fun?”

Johnny nodded calmly. “Yeah. Fun.” He popped a chip in his mouth. 

“That’s really inspiring stuff,” Owen grumbled, but Johnny thought he was trying not to smile. “Exactly what my Grindr profile has been missing.”

Johnny’s stomach got tight for a second at the mention of Grindr. It’s just a joke, he admonished himself, swallowing hard before finding an easy smile again. “I highly recommend promising people a walk on the beach—and tacos.” He swiped another chip through the salsa and winked. “It’s a classic combination for a reason.”


Blurb

No matter how many times Johnny starts over, things eventually fall apart. Like they did when he left the family ranch he loves in Nebraska, or in his fledgling acting career in L.A., or with his arguably perfect ex-boyfriend. Then he meets pretty, prickly, captivating Owen Galeo. A man who loves fiercely and protectively. A man Johnny is helplessly drawn to, and who inspires him to finally build a life that he won’t burn down. But every idyllic summer comes to an end, and Johnny has never been able to resist his urge to run when things get hard.

Owen’s safe haven has always been his godfathers’ farm. When they need help, he drops everything and moves in for the summer. To his surprise, they already have one house guest—Johnny, their long-lost nephew. Johnny’s beautiful, charismatic, and worst of all, famous…everything Owen’s celebrity parents taught him to hate. Owen resists their instant chemistry, but as the summer works its magic, he falls for Johnny anyway. Even though he can practically hear the clock ticking until Johnny takes off with no regard for who his leaving will hurt.

As the Tallgrass Grows is a stand alone novel in the Wild Ones series.

Buy Link: Amazon


Giveaway

Rachel has brought a choice of backlist ebook to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Wednesday, February 2nd at 11:59 pm ET.


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