Kiss Me Hello
Book 3 in the Sweetest Kisses series
Her Knightley in shining armor…
MacKenzie Knightley is the best criminal trial attorney in Damson County, but he has no defense against petite, peppery Sidonie Lindstrom, a foster mom who’s moved into the farmhouse where Mac and his brothers grew up.
… he most assuredly is not!
Sid is grieving the loss of her brother, worried she’s about to lose her foster care license, and in no mood for romantic nonsense when Mac drives up the lane. And yet, he’s good with her horses, good with her foster son, and just the sort of solid, trustworthy, guy she might fall for—until she learns that he’s not at all what he appears to be.
NOTE: The Sweetest Kisses series was originally published in 2015, and went on hiatus in 2022. The republished versions are slightly revised and sporting spiffy new covers!
Enjoy An Excerpt
Sidonie Lindstrom has just moved into her first rural property, hoping the change of scene will benefit her foster son, and help her move on with her own life. To her dismay, she finds some livestock in her pasture that absolutely should not be on her land. Fortunately, help is on the way!
They were not horses, they were equine barges, munching grass and twitching their tails in a slow progress across the field where Sid had discovered them. They sidled along, one foot, a pause to munch grass, then the other foot, all with the ominous inexorability of equine glaciers, leaving Sid to wonder how in the hell anybody controlled them.
If anybody could control them.
What would it feel like if one of those massive horse feet descended on a human toe? How many hours would elapse before the beast would deign to shuffle its foot off the bloody remains, to lip grass on some other blighted part of the earth?
How did animals that large mate, for God’s sake? Surely the earth would shake, and the female’s back would break, and giving birth to even the smallest member of the species would be excruciating.
This litany of horror was interrupted by a shout from back over the rise in the direction of the house and barn. The voice was mature male, which meant it wasn’t Luis.
Help, then, from the therapeutic riding program. “Over here!” Sid yelled back.
The animals twitched their ears, which had Sid grabbing for the only weapon the house had had to offer, useless though it likely was. Something as big as these horses could run over anything in its path and not notice an obstacle as insignificant as a human.
“You planning on sweeping them out of your pasture?”
A man stood a few yards away, a man built on the same scale as the damned horses, but leaner—meaner?
“Hello, mister. I’m Sidonie Lindstrom,” she said, clambering down off the granite outcropping she’d been perched on. “You’re from the therapeutic riding place?”
“I’m their farrier.” His voice was peat smoke and island single malt, and his eyes were sky blue beneath long, dark lashes. Which was absolutely irrelevant, as was the arrestingly masculine cast of his features.
“What’s a farrier?” Sid asked.
“Horseshoer.” He wasn’t smiling, but something in his blue eyes suggested she amused him.
“Blacksmith? Like Vulcan or Saturn?”
“Close enough. You say you didn’t notice these two were on the property when you took possession?”
“I didn’t say.” Sid took a minute to study her guest— she supposed he was a guest of some sort—while his gaze went to the two big red horses yards away. Enormous, huge, flatulent horses.
“Do they do that a lot?” she asked, wincing as a sulfurous breeze came by. God above, was this how the cavalry mowed down its enemies?
“When they’re on good grass, yes.” Absolutely dead-pan. “Daisy!”
The nearest beast lifted its great head and eyed the man.
“You two are acquainted?”
“There aren’t many pairs like this around anymore,” he replied. “Buttercup!” The second animal lifted its head, and worse, shuffled a foot in the direction of the humans.
“What are you doing, mister?” Sid scrambled up on the rocks, shamelessly using the blacksmith’s meaty shoulder for leverage.
“You’re afraid of them?” he asked, not budging an inch.
“Anybody in their right damned mind would be afraid of them,” Sid shot back. “They could sit on you and not even notice.”
“They’d notice. They notice a single fly landing on them. They’d notice even a little thing like you. Come here, ladies.” He took a box of sugar cubes from his jacket pocket and shook it, which caused both animals to incrementally speed up in their approach. They were walking, but walking quickly, and Sid could swear she felt seismic vibrations.
“You’re supposed to help here, you know, not provoke them.” Her voice didn’t shake, but her body was beginning to send out the flight-or-flight signals.
She’d gotten mighty good at the flight response.
“Calm down,” Mr. Sugar Cubes said. “If you’re upset, they’ll pick up on it.”
“Smart ladies, then, because I’m beyond upset. These are not fixtures, and they should not convey with the property. A washing machine or a dryer I could overlook, but these—crap on a croissant, they could bite you, mister.”
He was holding out his hand—and a sizable paw it was too—with one sugar cube balanced on his palm. The first horse to reach him stuck out its big nose and wiggled its horsey lips over his hand, and then the sugar cube was gone.
“You too, Buttercup.” He put a second sugar cube on his hand, and the other horse repeated the disappearing act. “Good girls.” He moved to stand between the horses, letting one sniff his pocket while he scratched the neck of the other. “You need some good tucker, ladies, and your feet are a disgrace. But, my, it is good to see you.”
Red hair was falling like a fine blizzard from where he scratched the horse’s shoulders, and the mare was craning her neck as the man talked and scratched some more.
“Not to interrupt your class reunion, but what am I supposed to do with your girlfriends?” Sid asked.
“They aren’t mine, though they might well be yours. Come meet them.”
He turned, and in a lithe, one-armed move, scooped Sid from the safety of her rocky perch and set her on her feet between him and the horses.
“Mister, if you ever handle me like that again—”
“You’ll do what?”
“You won’t like where it hurts. How do you tell them apart?”
They were peering at her, the big, hairy pair of them, probably thinking of having a Sidonie Salad, and Sid took a step back, only to bump into a hard wall of muscular male chest.
“Look at their faces,” he said. “Buttercup has a blaze, and Daisy has a snip and a star.”
Sid was pressed so tightly against him she could feel him speak. She could also feel he wasn’t in the least tense or worried, which suggested the man was in want of brains.
What he called faces were noses about a yard long, with big, pointed hairy ears at one end, nostrils and teeth at the other, and eyes high up in between. Still, those eyes were regarding Sid with something like intelligence, with a patient curiosity, the way old people or small children viewed newcomers.
“How do you know them?” she asked, hands at her sides.
“Thirteen years ago, they were the state champs. They’re elderly now, for their breed, and it looks to me like they wintered none too well. You going to pet them or stare them into submission?”
Before she could rephrase what had come out as a squeak, Vulcan had taken her hand in his much larger one and laid it on the neck of the nearest horse.
“Scratch. They thrive on a little special treatment, same as the rest of us.”
Sid had no choice but to oblige him, because his hand covered hers as it rested on the horse’s neck. Over the scent of horse and chilly spring day, Sid got a whiff of cloves and cinnamon underlaid with notes that suggested not a bakery, but a faraway meadow where the sunshine fell differently and clothes would be superfluous.
The hand that wasn’t covering Sid’s rested on her shoulder, preventing her from ducking and running.
“Talk to them,” he said. “They’re working draft animals, and they’re used to people communicating with them.”
“What do I say?”
“Introduce yourself. Compliment them, welcome them. The words don’t matter so much as the tone of the voice.” He seemed serious, and the horse was lowering its head closer to the ground the longer Sid scratched her neck.
“Like that, don’t you, girl? I’m Sid, and don’t get too comfortable here, because I am no kind of farmer, and neither is Luis.”
The horse let loose another sibilant, odoriferous fart. “Pleased to meet you too. There, I talked to her, and she responded. Can I call the SPCA now?”
“No, you may not. Daisy will get jealous if you neglect her.”
“And bitch slap me with her tail?”
Sid could see that happening, so she dropped her hand, then held it out to the other horse.
“You too? I’m changing your names to Subzero and Kenmore, because you’re the size of industrial freezers.” The horse sighed as Sid began scratching the second hairy neck, and Sid hid a smile. “Where’s your dignity, horse? There’s a man present, of sorts.”
“You want me to leave?”
“Yes, particularly if you’re going to take these two with you.”
“Smaller draft horses than these won’t fit in a conventional horse trailer. The halters I brought with me won’t fit them either, though I’ll be happy to clear out if you’re—”
“No! That’s not what I—” Sid fell silent. What did she expect him to do, if he didn’t plan to take the horses with him? “Will the SPCA come get them, or animal control?”
“You want them put down?” he asked.
That deep voice held a chill, one that had Sid twisting around to peer at him over her shoulder. “Put down to what?”
“Euthanized, put to sleep. Killed for your convenience.” His tone was positively arctic, though he was standing so close to Sid she could feel his body heat through her clothes.
“Don’t be an ass. They’ve wandered off from somebody’s property. They’re merely strays, and need to be taken home.”
“I’m not so sure of that, but let’s find them somewhere to put up overnight, and we can argue the details where Daisy and Buttercup can’t hear us. Come along.”
He took Sid by the wrist, and began leading her away from the horses.
Sid trundled along with him—beside him seemed the safest place to be—but glanced warily over her shoulder.
“We’re being followed.”
He dropped her wrist and turned so quickly Sid barely had time to step back.
“Scat!” He waved his hands and charged at the nearest horse, who shied and then stood her ground a few feet off. “Scram, Daisy! Shoo!”
The horse stood very tall, then lowered her head, and ponderously scampered a few feet before standing very tall again. The second horse gave a big shrug of her neck and hopped sideways.
“You get them all wound up,” Sid said, edging toward the gate, “I am burying you where you fall, mister, and the grave will be shallow, because there’s a lot of you to bury.”
“They want to play. Head for the barn. This won’t take long.”
Sid did not need to be told twice. She shamelessly hustled for the gate, stopping to watch what happened in the field behind her only when she’d climbed to the highest fence board.
A two-ton version of tag-you’re-it seemed to be going on, with the horses galumphing up to the man, then veering away only to stop, wheel, and charge him again. He dodged easily, and swatted at them on the neck and shoulders and rump when they went by. When they were a few steps past him, the horses would kick up their back legs or buck, and by God, the ground did shake.
The guy was grinning now, his face transformed from forbiddingly handsome to stunningly attractive. He called to each horse, good-naturedly taunting first one then the other, until by some unspoken consent, both mares approached him with their heads down.
Sid couldn’t hear what he said to them, but she saw the way he touched them, the way he fiddled with those big ears, and gave each horse one last scratch. The mares watched him walk back toward the barn, and Sid could have sworn their expressions were forlorn.
“You’re old friends with them,” she said as he climbed over the fence. She tried to turn on the top board, only to find herself plucked straight up into the air, then set gently on her feet. “For the love of meadow muffins, mister, are you trying to get your face slapped?”
His lips quirked, but he did not smile. “No.”
“What am I supposed to do about your lady friends?”
“Nothing for right now. Who’s the kid?”
“What kid?” Sid followed the blacksmith’s gaze to the front porch of their new house. Their new old house. “The kid who’s going to tear me into little bitty pieces if you don’t let him know I’m your new best friend.”
“Never had a best friend before,” Sid said, but the man had a point. Luis was looking daggers at the blacksmith, the boy’s shirt luffing against his skinny body, showing tension in every bone and sinew. “Come on, I’ll introduce you. Or I would if you’d told me your name.”
“Everybody calls me Mac.”
She eyed him up and down as they started for the house. “Like the truck? Don’t they have a plant around here somewhere?”
“Hagerstown, but it’s Volvo now, and no, not like the truck. Like MacKenzie.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. MacKenzie. I’d be more pleased if you’d take those free-to-good-homes along with you.”
“No, it’s MacKenzie, as in MacKenzie Knightley. I’m fairly certain the horses are yours.”
“You’ve said that twice now, and while I’m a woman slow to anger”—he snorted beside her—“it’s only fair to warn you the notion of me owning those mastodons will sour my mood considerably. Luis!” Sid’s voice caught the boy as he was slouching away from the porch post to duck into the house. “He’s shy.”
“He is, and you’d be too if you’d been in eight foster homes in less than three years. Be nice, Mr. Knightley.”
“Or you’ll beat me up?”
“I’ll tell your horses on you, and they will be very disappointed in you.”
They reached the porch, and Luis was back to holding up a porch post, his hands tucked into his armpits, because at almost sixteen, he was too macho to wear a damned jacket.
“Luis, this is Mac. He’s come to tell us what to do with the horses.”
“Luis.” Mac surprised her by holding out one of those big hands, and Sid said a quick prayer her son would not embarrass her. “Pleased to meet you.”
Her foster son, to those obsessed with insignificant details.
Luis looked at Mac’s hand, which the man continued to hold out, while his gaze held the boy’s. Slowly, Luis offered his hand.
“MacKenzie Knightley. My friends call me Mac.”
“You know anything about horses, Luis?”
“Only what I’ve learned from Neils and Adelia,” Luis said. “Horses are to be respected.”
The slight emphasis on the last word had Sid’s heart catching. Luis had taken to his riding lessons like nothing else she’d thrown at him, likely because of the people as much as the horses.
“They are to be respected,” Mac said, “and cared for. Those two mares are in the beginning stages of neglect, and somebody will have to look after them.”
Sid took up a lean on another porch post. “I wish you all the luck in the world with that, Mr. Knightley, because that somebody will not be me or Luis. Now, having settled that, may I offer you a cup of coffee?”
“I’m a tea drinker, actually.”
“You’re in luck,” she said, heading for the door. “The only room we’ve unpacked is the kitchen, and the only thing we’ve stocked is the fridge.”
Order your copy of Kiss Me Hello!
End of Excerpt
Kiss Me Hello is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
March 18, 2023