Ashlyn has loved Rowan since she was sixteen and he rushed in like her knight in shining football pads to save her from a bully. Now that she’s back in Winter Falls after graduating college, she’s ready to start a full-court press to make Rowan hers.
Too bad Rowan sees Ashlyn as his little sister who needs protecting and not as a woman. But Ashlyn’s convinced there’s no problem too big she can’t overcome it. Even if it comes in the form of a stubborn six-foot-five former NFL quarterback.
Ready to read if Ashlyn can convince Rowan she’s his?
Not convinced? No worries. Read the first chapter below.
Foul Play – forcing a woman who you know has a crush on you to be in your presence and then ignoring her crush on you
“Are you cheating on me, Ash?”
At the sound of Rowan’s deep voice, every single nerve ending in my body lights up until I’m a bomb of feelings in danger of exploding any second now. Don’t turn around, Ashlyn. Don’t turn around. Do. Not. Turn. Around. And…of course, I turn around. I never was any good at following orders even when I’m the one giving them.
When my gaze lands on Rowan, my body begins to vibrate with the desire to throw myself at him. It’s a desire I’ve been wrestling with since I was a freshman in high school when my crush on the six-foot-five-inch football player became a burning desire. And who can blame me?
Rowan’s body should be splashed across the cover of every men’s fitness magazine. Preferably while he’s wearing as little clothing as possible. His shoulders are broad, and his hips are narrow. And I know the former professional athlete is hiding miles upon miles of muscles under those clothes. Muscles my tongue would love to explore.
But it isn’t his body my fifteen-year-old self fell for. Nor is it the kind face or the sparkling brown eyes. It isn’t even the lips always kicked up in a half smile.
No, my idiot teenage self fell for him when he rescued me. With my birthday falling in October, I was the youngest kid in my class. Everyone in my freshmen class loved to remind me of the fact by teasing me with the nickname ‘baby’. Needless to say, I hate the word baby.
One day I decided I was done with the teasing. I was going to show that bitch Meadow I wasn’t a baby. And I was going to show her with my fists. I managed to get one shot in before she pinned me to the ground and began scratching my arms and pulling on my hair.
Rowan arrived on the scene – my shining knight in football pads. He hauled Meadow off of me and dragged me to the nearest restroom where he proceeded to clean up the cuts on my arms with more gentleness than a man his size should have. I’ve been devoted to him ever since.
“I asked if you’re cheating on me, Ash,” Rowan says and brings me out of my daydream of sliding my fingers through his hair.
I narrow my eyes at him. “My name is Ashlyn. No one calls me Ash.”
The left side of his lips kicks up in a smirk. “I do.”
And him calling me a name no one else uses caused me to think he was finally noticing me as someone other than his friend’s little sister. But Rowan made it perfectly clear he doesn’t consider me as more than a sister he needs to protect at the parade last week.
Which is when I initiated Project Ashlyn Will Get Her Ass Over Rowan Now. How’s it going thus far? Well, I’m standing on the sidewalk outside of Clove’s Coffee Corner drooling over the object of my every desire. In other words, week one of the plan is a failure. Me and plans aren’t the best of friends.
“Not anymore you don’t,” I insist. “The name is Ashlyn. Learn it. Use it. Or don’t use it. Whatever.”
I go for nonchalance. Considering how my voice is growling, I don’t think I succeed.
Rowan raises his hands in surrender. “Sorry, Ashlyn.” He emphasizes the second syllable and I want to smack him. “But you haven’t answered my question.”
Question. He asked a question? When? I cock my hip and place my hand on it.
“Why are you cheating on me?”
Cheating on him? I’ve never had Rowan. How could I possibly cheat on him? What idiot would dare to cheat on this man? Not this girl. I’d covet and cherish him and ensure he knew how special he is.
He nods toward Clove’s Coffee Corner. Oh.
For the past year since I’ve been home after graduating from college, I’ve gone to Bake Me Happy, Rowan’s bakery, pretty much every day. His donuts are to die for. To. Die. For. As my more than generous behind can attest to.
But step one of the get over Rowan plan was to stop dropping by his bakery every day hoping he’ll notice I’m no longer a little girl in need of saving from some bully named Meadow. Thus, my coffee from Clove’s place today.
“Her coffee’s better,” I claim and watch as every single muscle in Rowan’s body tenses. I think I hit a nerve. I bite my lip to stop the smile from escaping and stretching across my face.
“What did you say?”
“You heard me. Clove makes the best dang coffee in Winter Falls,” I say much louder than necessary.
“Prove it. In front of me and everyone else.”
Everyone else? I scan the area and realize the nosy citizens of Winter Falls are surrounding us while eavesdropping on our conversation. They don’t bother pretending they weren’t listening. Not in Winter Falls. You have to pass a test to prove you’re a busy body before you can live in this town. I wish I were joking.
“Bring it.” I’ve never backed down from a dare and I’m not about to now either.
“Blind taste test!” someone hollers.
Rowan grabs my upper arm and drags me down the street. I try to wrestle free, but my efforts are half-hearted at best. Why would I fight his hold when my biggest desire for the past eight years has been to feel his hands on me?
We gather quite the following as we march. I notice my sisters, Aspen, Ellery, Lilac, and Juniper, in the crowd. Shouldn’t they be at work on Monday morning? Ellery and Lilac wave while Juniper gives me a thumbs-up and Aspen winks at me. Naturally, my sisters know about my ‘Rowan obsession’ as they refer to it.
When we enter Bake Me Happy, a table is already set up in the middle of the bakery. Of course, it is. The grapevine in this town is faster than a goat rushing off when you’ve accidentally left the fence open. It was an accident. I’m not my animal-loving sister, Juniper, who thinks animals should be free to roam wherever they want.
Rowan presses me into a chair, and Aspen steps forward with a blindfold.
“Where did you get a blindfold from?”
She waggles her eyebrows. “Do you really want to know?”
No, I don’t. Aspen recently reunited with her childhood love and she’s all rainbows and butterflies. And I’m not jealous at all. Not. At. All.
She fits the blindfold on me and ties it behind my head before primping my hair.
“What are you doing?” I mumble to her.
“Making you pretty.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve joined the matchmaking committee.”
There isn’t really a matchmaking committee. It’s actually a bunch of old women who enjoy sticking their noses in other people’s love lives. I assumed being the youngest West sister at twenty-three would save me from their matchmaking schemes for a few years. But I have the feeling I was wrong.
“I’ve got ten dollars on Rowan’s coffee,” Aspen exclaims as she steps away from me.
Ah, yes. The other favorite past time of the people in Winter Falls. Betting on any and everything.
I cross my arms over my chest. “Are we going to do this thing or what? I’ve got things to do, places to be.”
“Because you have five-hundred jobs. I wish you’d settle down,” my mom grumbles.
Great. Here we go again. The ‘pick on Ashlyn’s life plans’-hour has arrived.
“Let her be, Ruby. You didn’t exactly stick to your life plan,” Radiance, Mom’s best friend, says.
Radiance is also Lyric’s mother. Lyric as in Aspen’s fiancé. I wouldn’t be surprised if Radiance and Mom planned for Aspen and Lyric to fall in love from the moment they both conceived their bundles of joy.
“Love conquers all,” Mom sings. She probably has the goofy expression she always gets when she’s thinking about Dad on her face, too.
My parents have been married for thirty-three years and are still sickening in love. I blame them for all my romantic notions. Couldn’t they be similar to my college friends’ parents and fight and bicker all the time? No, they have to be best friends and lovey-dovey all the time. What kind of an example are they?
“Here we go,” Clove says before I hear the sound of a coffee cup being placed on the table. “No peeking.”
“Peeking? I couldn’t peek even if I tried. I seriously don’t want to know what my sister uses this blindfold for.”
“I assume it’s for romantic liaisons,” my other sister, Lilac, says. Lilac is Ms. Scientist. Until recently, I didn’t think she knew what sex was. She proved me wrong there.
“Quiet down everyone.” Rowan whistles and the crowd immediately shuts up. “Ashlyn has agreed to prove once and for all how my coffee is better than Clove’s.”
“Wait a minute! I didn’t agree to anything of the sort.”
“Yes, you did.” I can hear the smirk in his voice. Jerk.
“Let’s do this.” The sooner this is over, the sooner I can escape from Mr. You’re Like a Sister To Me’s presence.
I pat the table until I find a cup of coffee. I lift it to my face and inhale the scent of sweet, sweet caffeine. And coffee beans and whatever else they put in coffee. I take a sip and sigh. This is good. Really, really good.
I set the cup down and search the table until my hands land on the other cup. I repeat the smelling and tasting. This cup is amazing as well.
“Do I have to pick one or the other?”
Juniper makes chicken sounds. She’s probably flapping her arms and pretending they’re wings, too. I wasn’t kidding about her being an animal freak. I genuinely think she likes animals more than people, which makes her job at the Wildlife Refuge outside of town a perfect fit.
I try both of the coffees again. They’re both delicious, but one has a slight caramel taste to it. And I do love me some caramel.
“This one.” I raise the cup and cheers erupt in the crowd.
Rowan whips the blindfold off of my face. He beams down at me. “I’ll expect you at the bakery tomorrow.”
Damn him to decaf hell and back. I must have chosen his coffee.
Without saying another word, I stand and walk away. How in the world am I supposed to get over the man when he performs stunts to force me to be near him every day?