God bless the rugged mountain men in the Men of Gold Mountain series. They’re strong, independent, and always coming up with creative ways to spice up the outdoors. And yes, they’re all about the sexy scruff!

Isn’t it great to have a question where all the answers are right? I love asking readers “Scruff or clean?” Everyone has an opinion, but you can’t go wrong with either option! I’m always surprised by how overwhelmingly the majority of the votes are for scruff, though. I like the feel of a silky cheek, and watching a man shave is incredibly sexy. It’s insight into an intimate moment that no one else sees, like getting dressed or taking that first sip of coffee in the morning.

But in fantasies about a strong, rugged man who lives in the mountains, it’s a different story. A guy who’s hitting the slopes or hiking trail wouldn’t worry about a little stubble. The look is masculine, raw, and inevitably makes me the right kind of weak in the knees. So when I came up with the idea for Connor Branding, a sexy, rugged chef in the Pacific Northwest, I immediately pictured him sporting a beard. It just seemed chef-y, and I knew it suited him in and out of the kitchen.

The smart, stubborn bartender who works alongside him, Mackenzie Ellinsworth, can’t help wondering how it would feel against her thigh—even though he’s a total player and she’s not supposed to think about him that way!

In my newest release, MAKE ME BEG, Connor and Mack are given the chance to redesign their dream bar/restaurant. They can’t agree on anything, but that doesn’t stop them from giving in to their desires. When Mack finally has the chance to feel Connor’s scruff against her skin, it’s everything she’d hoped for, and more. Read below for an excerpt, and don’t miss this scorching hot frenemies-to-lovers #1 New York Times Bestselling author Lauren Blakely says is “intensely sexy and packs an emotional punch!”

Let me know in the comments what you think: scruff or clean? 🙂

He’ll bring her to her knees.

Bartender Mackenzie Ellinsworth has always gone it alone. So when she has a chance to open her own bar and restaurant, she’s got a plan for how it should go. Not in that plan: a ripped and rugged playboy stepping in to take over. Mack doesn’t do players, and she doesn’t do one-night stands. If Connor wants to work with Mack, he’s going to have to keep his strong, sexy hands to himself.

Connor Branding is determined to prove he’s not the directionless playboy Mack thinks. But opening a place together causes more problems than it solves. The two of them can’t agree on anything—except how scorching hot their chemistry is. Connor may be ready to indulge every desire Mack’s been denying herself…but turning business into pleasure is likely to get him burned.

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They listened to rain whip against the building, and the wind, and the strange stillness underneath it as darkness prickled their skin. Mack walked back toward the bar where it was warmer. She felt around in the darkness for the drawer where they kept candles for emergencies. Thankfully not everything had been cleared out for the renovation yet.

Because this definitely counted as an emergency. An emergency requiring not only light, but extra vodka.

Connor followed her to the bar, still texting.

“Better tell her you won’t be over any time soon,” Mack said as she dripped wax onto the bar to hold the candles upright.

“Good thing there’s always tomorrow.”

“You think she’ll actually wait around after the way you ditched her tonight?”

“I didn’t mean tomorrow has to be her.”

Mack gagged as she poured them both shots.

“Don’t be jealous,” Connor said, putting his phone away. “Just because you’re not getting any doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be celibate.”

“That’s not jealousy—it’s pity.” She stuck out her lower lip in a pretend pouty face. “I feel bad for you, sweetheart.”

He laughed, a big roaring sound that bounced off the empty walls and made the candles flicker.

“I’m serious,” she said. “Every time I turn around you’re going home with someone else. From the cheap seats, it looks like after one night with you, nobody wants to come back for more. Kinda starts to make a girl wonder.”

“Wow, Mack. That really stings. Guess I’m going to go reevaluate my life now.”

“If you need any pointers, I’m here to help.”

She was joking. Completely. She didn’t even mean it like that—she was just getting back at him for his obnoxious comments about her dating profile.

But Connor tipped his shot back, never taking his eyes off her. He’d been on the other side of the bar, but when he put his glass down he slowly stepped around so he was in the narrow workspace with her, invading what had always felt like her domain.

“What are you doing?”

“You think I’m a lousy lay?” His eyes flashed in the candlelight as though she could say whatever she wanted about his cooking, his crappy business plan, his inability to commit to anyone or anything that mattered—but how dare she insult his precious dick.

She raised an eyebrow with a calm she definitely didn’t feel. “I don’t know, Connor. Are you?”

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