Stefan Dalca is beautiful, brooding, and bossy.
The Front Runner, an all-new enemies-to-lovers standalone romance from Elsie Silver is available now!
Stefan Dalca is beautiful, brooding, and bossy. He’s also public enemy number one in this small town, with a murky past that’s hard to overlook. And I just agreed to three fake dates with him.
I may be a renowned veterinarian, but when I find myself in a sticky situation, Stefan is my last hope. I need his help to save a sick foal and what he wants in return is me.
Our time together starts out as a simple transaction, but the more time I spend with him, the more I wonder if he’s not quite the villain they’ve made him out to be. With every intimate conversation and lingering look, the tension between us builds. I’ve been drawn to Stefan since the first day I laid eyes on him. And now he’s downright irresistible.
I know sleeping with the enemy is playing with fire. But like a moth to a flame, I’m attracted to the mysterious man in a way I can’t explain—in a way those closest to me wouldn’t approve of or understand.
And the more he softens for me, the harder I fall.
But as his mysteries unravel, so do hidden truths. Truths that are bound to leave someone burned.
I just didn’t expect that someone to be me.
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“Don’t be such a baby.”
Stefan has his arms wrapped around Loki’s neck and is looking down at the foal like he’s a stuffed animal, not a future athlete and animal that needs space to frolic and run.
“Are you serious right now?” I prod him. “I thought you were a big, tough man, but you’re too chicken to let this little guy romp around outside?”
“Mira. I’m not a big, tough man. I’m just a dick. Remember?”
“Yeah, yeah.” I wave my hand at him dismissively. Stefan is a lot of things, but the more I get to know him, the less I think a dick is one of them. “Let’s go. Outside. Fresh air is good for everyone.” I slip the leather halter onto Farrah’s head and buckle it near her ear. She looks excited. Ready to get out of the barn.
“What if he hurts himself?”
“Can’t live life that way, Stefan. Bad things happen all the time. Buck up. Let’s go.”
With a firm cluck, I walk Farrah out into the barn alleyway and head toward the big, wide-open sliding door. Today was beautiful and sunny and dry. And now, under the quiet charm of the evening, it’s the perfect time to let them take their maiden voyage outside with no tractors, no staff milling about, just calm and privacy for this colt and the mare who’s taken him under her wing.
Within a few moments, I hear the clopping of Loki’s hooves against the concrete and the scuff of Stefan’s boots. I smile to myself. The big bad wolf has certainly developed quite the soft spot for Loki.
Out under the setting sun, we head toward the paddock that’s already waiting and open. It’s a big grass field on the opposite side of the lake from the willow tree where Stefan and I buried the other foal a few weeks ago. I pull Farrah’s halter off, and she’s through the gate. Loki follows her, like the sweet little colt that he is.
Until Stefan lets him go.
Beneath the pink and orange sky, the sweet little colt blows a gasket. He’s got his head down between his knees and is trying to buck. Mile-long legs fly out all over the place while Farrah takes off for a leisurely trot down the fence line. Loki goes with her but doesn’t stop his antics. I shut the gate quickly and lean against the fence, chuckling.
Stefan steps up beside me and presses his elbows against the railing. “He looks like Elaine doing that godawful dance on Seinfeld.”
I straight up cackle. That is exactly what he looks like. “He looks happy,” I reply.
Stefan nods. “He does.”
“You’ve done a great job with him, Stefan.” I want him to understand what a huge difference he’s made for this small horse. That even if everyone sees him one way, I see that they’re all wrong. It feels like something he should know. This man is still clearly so broken up about his mother and trying so hard for the only family he has left.
His eyes flit to the side. “This is all you. I probably just made your job harder.”
“Oh, you mean by using me as a pawn in your pointless war with my friends?” I joke.
Now his head turns to me. Slowly, but sharply. Like a predator that’s heard his prey fumbling through the forest. “Pawn?”
I roll my eyes. “Don’t play stupid, Stefan. It’s not cute. Making them keep Loki here rather than at Gold Rush Ranch. The three dates. I’m sure you’re just desperately hoping Billie finds out about those so you can sow discord between us. I know it’s all part of your plot to cut them down at the knees.”
He unfolds his fingers slowly as he regards me. Turning his body to face me. And mine follows like the opposite end of a magnet, matching his movement so we stand facing each other under the golden glow of the evening sky. “You think that you’re the pawn in my game?”
I scoff and roll my eyes in response. How dumb does he think I am?
He moves swiftly now, surely. One hand shoots out and slides between my coat and thin shirt. He palms my ribs there as he presses me back against the fence. We’re supposed to be watching the horses. But suddenly, all we’re watching is each other. My hands come up to push him away, but as soon as I feel the hard lines of his pecs beneath his shirt, my resolve withers.
“I’m going to tell you something, Mira.” I can feel the rumble of his voice through my palms. I can’t take my eyes off the sight of my hands on his chest. I’m not supposed to be touching Stefan Dalca, but my body must have missed the memo. Because my nipples rasp against my bra, and with each breath I draw, an ache coils just behind my hip bones.
“And I want you to listen very carefully.” With his free hand, Stefan reaches up and drags the pad of his pointer finger over my collar bone.
My breath turns to stone in my lungs. I’m too shocked to move. And too far gone to stop him. He’s standing so close I can smell his laundry detergent and the hint of pine that must be in his cologne.
“Because you are very confused.”
He starts at the center of my chest, his eyes following his finger, watching goosebumps fan out across my skin in his wake. When his finger gets close to my shoulder and the neckline of my shirt, he slips it just inside. Just under the strap of my bra. And with one flick, that strap is pushed right off my shoulder. His grip pulses on my ribs and he steps even closer, forcing me to look up and hold his gaze.
A quiet gasp escapes me when I catch sight of the expression on his face. What I see there is primal. He’s not just looking at me appreciatively… he’s looking at me like he wants to devour me.
I’m positive no man has ever looked at me like this before.
A sinful smile touches his mouth as he leans in close. His free hand cups the back of my skull so his thumb can brush across the sensitive part of my neck, almost at my throat.
His whisper is warm and silky. “Do I have your attention now?”
I swallow and nod, feeling chills break out over my skin. There is not a single part of my mind or body that is not entirely focused on the man who has pushed me up against the fence.
“Good. Because I want to make myself abundantly clear.” We’re so close. I can feel the entire length of his body covering mine. He teases me with the lightest brush of his lips against my ear as he drops his voice and holds me captive. “You are not the pawn, Mira. You are the prize.”
I reel, and I feel the burn of his lips against my skin as he presses a featherlight kiss to the spot his thumb had been rubbing. My pulse hammers, and I swear all I can hear is my blood rushing through my veins. The air crackles between us. No man has ever spoken to me like this.
I should put a stop to our interaction. And yet, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. My body comes to life for him in a way it shouldn’t.
He steps away, and I feel alarmingly bereft, like I want to yank him back toward me. Like I want more. I’m the biggest traitor I know because I want him to continue. I want him to whisper more forbidden secrets against my body.
His tongue darts out over his bottom lip, followed by his teeth, in a very intentional way as his eyes peruse my body. His gaze lands on the hand I now have slung over my chest in an attempt to slow my racing heart. The other one grips the fence post behind me, possibly the only thing that’s keeping me upright at this moment.
“And I love to win,” he finishes with a stupidly sexy smirk, then turns around and walks away.
Leaving me with the perfect view of his firm ass and a jumbled mess of confused feelings.
Elsie Silver is a Canadian author of sassy, sexy, small town romance who loves a good book boyfriend and the strong heroines who bring them to their knees. She lives just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband, son, and three dogs and has been voraciously reading romance books since before she was probably supposed to.
She loves cooking and trying new foods, traveling, and spending time with her boys–especially outdoors. Elsie has also become a big fan of her quiet five am mornings, which is when most of her writing happens. It’s during this time that she can sip a cup of hot coffee and dream up a fictional world full of romantic stories to share with her readers.