Opposites don’t merely attract. They explode in this brand new romantic comedy

Meet Hate is live. SQUEAL! Finally! I’m beyond excited to share Olivia and Peace’s story with you.

Ever since Peace made a super quick appearance in Forever For You, his love story has been simmering in my head pushing for a chance to get out. I made him wait his turn, but it was worth it in the end. Because I seriously love Peace and Olivia in Meet Hate.

Opposites don’t merely attract. They explode in this romantic comedy about a stickler cop who thinks he can run the troublemaker out of his town and how his plan goes marvelously awry.🤭

✔️ A super hot cop who’s a stickler for the rules

✔️ A women who’s never met a rule she likes

✔️ A man who can’t resist a woman in a yoga outfit

✔️ A trainwreck of a woman who’s trying to be a better person

✔️ A man who hates outsiders. He thinks.

✔️ A gang of elderly matchmakers determined to push the two together

✔️ A final twist you won’t see coming!

✔️ Quirky small town romance

Chapter 1

Olivia – a woman who’s trying to do better but don’t push her

I glimpse the sign for Winter Falls as I approach the small town and slow down to read it. The population has been crossed off and replaced with a smiley face smoking a joint. All right then. This town might be my kind of place after all.  

My sisters – or, rather, two of my sisters – have been bragging to me about this small town in Colorado since they discovered it a year ago. Until Mr. Smiley showed up, the thirty-minute drive from civilization hadn’t impressed me much. But now? Things are looking up.  

Sirens blare behind me and I swear underneath my breath. So much for things looking up. My foot automatically presses on the acceleration to speed up. Stop it. I am not that woman anymore. I will not run away from the consequences of my actions any longer.


I ignore the voice in my head. I’m trying to be better. I am.

I slow down and pull off to the side of the road. The police car stops behind me. The sirens switch off but not the lights. Is this small town police officer trying to intimidate me? How cute.

The car door opens and I watch as the cop steps out. Judging by how long those legs are, he’s a tall one. Awesome. I do love a tall man since I’m five-eight. All of us Dempsey girls are tall. Except Gabrielle. She’s a midget.

The cop saunters toward my car, his long legs eating up the distance in no time. Confidence looks good on this man. As does his lush, brown hair. Hair perfect for threading through my fingers as his mouth devours mine. At the thought, tingles erupt throughout my middle.

Phew. My libido is back. I was worried my desire to have sex would never return. I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong in my life. And I hate being wrong.

He arrives at the car and scowls at me while motioning for me to lower the window. Oops. I guess not all of my rebel tendencies have been squashed. What can I say? I’m a work in progress.

I hit the button to lower the window and flash him a flirty smile.

“Hi, Officer. Was I doing something wrong?”

Feigning innocence is step one of the ‘How Olivia Handles Police’ manual. I consider batting my eyelashes, but small town police don’t need the full ‘Olivia Effect’.

“License and registration,” he grumbles.

My hands tighten on the steering wheel. Has he never heard of the word please before? I clench my teeth before any sarcasm can spill out. I’m a law-abiding citizen now. I don’t mouth off to the police. I inhale a cleansing breath before making certain my smile is firmly affixed to my face.

“Of course, Officer.”

I dig the registration out of the glove compartment. As I hand it to him, I bat my eyelashes – guess he’s getting the full ‘Olivia Effect’ after all – and repeat my earlier question. “Was I doing something wrong?”

My innocent display isn’t entirely an act. I’m pretty certain I wasn’t committing a crime. Unless gawking at the town sign counts as a crime. Don’t worry. It doesn’t. I know the law books as well as, if not better than, the police.

I shove those thoughts away. That’s Past Olivia speaking. I’ve mostly tamed her, but she enjoys sticking her nose in my business from time to time.  

The officer flips his sunglasses on top of his head and smiles at me. I swallow my gasp. His sexy long legs and lush hair have nothing on his handsome face.

His eyes are the color of dark chocolate and when he smiles a dimple pops out on each side of his face. I want to stick my tongue in those dips and taste his skin. Best of all? He’s clean shaven. I know beards are all the rage, but I enjoy scraping my fingernails over a man’s jaw while I kiss him senseless.

I lose his eyes when his gaze dips to check the registration. “Beckett Dempsey. You don’t look like a Beckett.”

“He’s my brother.”

He scowls. “Beckett is your brother?”

“Do you know Beckett?”

“Answer the question.”

There’s no sign of those adorable dimples now.

“Yes, Beckett is my brother. I’m his sister.”

He holds out his hand. I reach forward to shake his but he grunts, “License,” before our hands can meet.

I feel my cheeks warm but I’ve never let a little embarrassment stop me before. New and Improved Olivia will not be embarrassed by a slight misunderstanding. I remove my license from my wallet and offer it to him.

His nose wrinkles as he studies the Missouri license. I think I hear him mutter stupid out of towners but I’m not about to ask him to clarify. I know when to keep my big mouth shut.

“Olivia Lucy Dempsey.”

“That’s my name. Don’t wear it out.”

He glowers at me. Someone lost his sense of humor. Considering those dimples, I’d ask him if he needs my help locating it, but the police uniform has me holding my tongue. There’s a time to flirt with a police officer, but this isn’t it.

“From Missouri.”

I widen my eyes to stop myself from rolling them. I also manage to somehow keep the duh I want to speak from slipping out. Go New and Improved Olivia!

“Yes, I recently relocated to Colorado.”

“You’ll need to get a Colorado license if you’re staying.”

I’ll add ‘brave DMV hell’ to my never-ending to-do list.

“How come I’ve never heard of you before?”

“Because I’m not famous,” I quip. Notorious maybe. But famous? Nope. Not interested either. You can’t get away with shit when the paparazzi follow you around everywhere.

He rolls his eyes. “I know you’re not famous.”

Gee. Way to make a girl feel special.

“But if you’re Beckett’s sister, why don’t I know your name?”

“I assure you I am Beckett’s sister. Trust me. I know who my brother is.”

This is quickly becoming the most confusing conversation I’ve ever had with a police officer. And I’ve had some interesting conversations with law enforcement before. They ask the strangest questions. Such as ‘Why are you wearing a bikini in a snow storm?’ As if the answer isn’t obvious.

“I’ve never heard you mentioned before.”

Ouch! Why don’t you go ahead and shoot me in the chest with your gun? The pain wouldn’t be nearly as bad as being reminded of all the problems I’m having with my family. Like I don’t already know.

I ignore the pain – I should be used to it by now – and dial up the innocent level on my smile.

“I’m sorry, Officer. I don’t know what to tell you except Beckett is definitely my brother and Gabrielle, Elizabeth, and Cassandra are most certainly my sisters.”

He studies me for a moment before offering me my license and registration.

“Aren’t you going to write me a ticket?” The question pops out of my mouth before I can stop it.

“Since Beckett’s your brother, I’m sure you know the rules.”

What in the world is he blathering about?

“The rules?”

He frowns. “About driving a gasoline engine in Winter Falls.”

My nose wrinkles. “Gasoline engine?”

He sighs. “You do know a car has an engine?”

I open my mouth to snark at him, but I snap it shut before the words rush out. I clear my throat. I am New and Improved Olivia. I no longer rant at police officers. Even when they deserve it.

“I’m aware, but I don’t understand why we’re discussing driving a gasoline engine in town.”

“I guess your family didn’t tell you about Winter Falls after all.”

The way he says family makes me think he doesn’t believe I’m Beckett’s sister. Why would I claim to be the sister of a man if I’m not? Does he think I’m some sort of con artist? I wish. But I’m not a good enough actor to pull off a con. Plus, my mouth often has a mind of its own.  

“They didn’t mention gasoline engines.”

Huh. My comment comes out snark free. Maybe I could be a con artist after all. Too bad New and Improved Olivia promised to walk on the right side of the law.

He motions to the front of the car. “This car has a gasoline engine.” He cocks an eyebrow at me and I nod. “Gasoline engines are forbidden in Winter Falls.”

My eyes widen. “As in no one in town has a car?”

I can’t believe neither Gabrielle nor Elizabeth mentioned this in all their raving about the town. Then again, we don’t exactly engage in long gabbing sessions. Our conversations usually involve a whole lot of me claiming to be fine before hanging up.

“Most people drive golf carts or use bikes.”

“But how do they get to town?”

“Tourists,” he spits the word out, “are allowed to drive to the Inn on Main. There’s a public parking area there.”

“Okay. Thank you for the information, Officer.”

He nods before putting on his sunglasses and strutting back to his car. I wish I could say I didn’t watch him walk away, but I’d be lying. This man’s ass is epic and worth all the ogling in the world. I’d love to squeeze it, but it’s pretty obvious he’s not a fan of mine. He didn’t even bother telling me his name. Rude.  

I frown as I switch the engine on and drive away. I don’t understand why my sisters are gaga about this town. Although, if all the men are as good-looking as the grumpy police officer, I can understand the appeal. I’ll put up with a buttload of grump for a sexy man.

Police officers are off limits, Past Olivia reminds me. As if I need the reminder.

All it takes to change everything is an enraged woman and a dare…

Cassandra Dempsey is not looking for love. She doesn’t deserve a happily ever after so she sticks to meaningless hook-ups. Until Cedar walks into her life. Friends with benefits is the perfect solution. She doesn’t want forever and he’s not sticking around anyway. Until she dares him to stay in Winter Falls for six months. Game on.

Meet Dare is out now! Read the first chapter below.

Chapter 1

Cassandra – a woman who can rescue herself thank you very much



“But nothing. No.”

“You should—”

Come ons are seriously my least favorite thing about bartending at the White Stag. Except the name, of course. How cliché can you get?

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good flirtation as much as the next woman. But there’s a difference between flirting and leering. And this guy passed the line to leering when he lunged over the bar and grabbed for my ass. He’s lucky his hand is still attached to his arm.  

Plus, I’m working here. My sisters may not take my job as a bartender seriously, but I do. I ignore creepy dude to walk to the other side of the bar.

“What can I get you?” I ask the patron patiently waiting his turn.

Before he can answer, Mr. I Get Whatever I Want Whenever I Want pushes him out of the way.

“I was talking to you.”

“And I told you. We’re done talking.”

“We’re done talking when I say we are.”

I roll my eyes to the ceiling. Why do men think whatever they say goes? A woman who’s this demanding is labeled a bitch and promptly ignored. But a man demanding whatever he wants? No problem. Totally fine.

“Excuse me. Is this guy bothering you?”

I open my mouth to tell the man to mind his own damn business, but the words get caught in my throat when I catch sight of him. Yowzah! Mr. Hottie has entered the building.

Lush brown hair, square jaw hidden by a sexy beard my hands want to dig into, smoldering hazel eyes. Yes, yes, yes! If he asks me what I’m doing after I get off work, I’ll answer. Especially since he’s tall with broad shoulders. I do love a pair of broad shoulders I can hang onto. And tall is a basic requirement since I’m five-eight.

“Ahem.” He clears his throat. “Do you want me to handle this guy for you?”

Oops. I might have gotten lost in those hazel eyes for a minute.  

“I got this,” I tell him before focusing my attention on Mr. Handsy. “You need to step away from the bar before I have you removed from the premises.”

“You can’t have me—”

The rest of his words are cut off when one of his colleagues clutches his shoulder and steers him toward their table. I eye the group. With their suits and ties, they’re obviously businessmen enjoying a drink after a day of work. Except for Handsy, they’re drinking beer and watching the basketball game on the television. They’ve got him.

I wipe my hands on my jeans. Time to get back to work.

“What can I get you?” I ask Mr. Hottie.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine,” I grit out. I don’t like anyone questioning my ability to perform my job even if the questioner is a fine specimen of manhood.

He studies me for a long moment before nodding. “I’ll have a beer. Whatever IPA you have on tap.”

After I hand him his drink, a group of women arrive and push their way to the front of the line demanding daiquiris and margaritas. While I make their drinks, I keep an eye on Mr. Hottie. He’s sitting at a high table in the corner by himself nursing his beer.

I wonder what his story is. I haven’t seen him in here before. With a face and body like his, I wouldn’t forget.

Once the group of women have their drinks, I decide it’s time for my break. I pick up a case of empty bottles and carry them to the storage room. After I set the case down in its proper place, I lean against the wall for a breather.

I’m feeling restless and jumpy. I don’t know what my problem is. I love my life here in Colorado. I may have fought moving here from St. Louis last year – what thirty-three-year-old wants to relocate across the country with her brother and two of her sisters? – but I was wrong.

Colorado rocks. I’ve made a ton of friends. I’ve got a good job as the night manager here at the White Stag. The nature is beautiful. And there are no ex-lovers to bump into. What’s not to love? Except I’m feeling edgy.

I check my watch. I need to get back to work. The mystery of why Cassandra is feeling edgy will remain unanswered for today.

I fix my ponytail and straighten my t-shirt before opening the door to the hallway.

“Hello, beautiful.”

Seriously? Someone can’t get a clue if they were giving them away.

I cross my arms over my chest and his gaze drops to my cleavage. Creeper. I don’t drop my arms, though. Nope. I refuse to change who I am for a man. Especially this one.

“What do you want?”

Mr. Handsy steps closer and draws a finger up my arm. “Like I said, I want to know what you’re doing tonight after you get off work.”

I grab his finger to stop him before he reaches my shoulder.

“What the hell is going on here?”

I glance behind me to discover Mr. Hottie standing there.

“I got this,” I tell him.

He motions his hand forward. “Get on with it.”

“I don’t need your permission to handle Mr. Handsy.”

“Didn’t say you did,” he grumbles before crossing his arms over his chest causing his biceps to bulge and I nearly forget why we’re standing here talking.

Mr. Handsy tries to yank his finger from my grasp. Ah, yes. Now I remember what I was doing.  

“It is not okay to touch a woman without her permission,” I tell him as I bend his finger backwards until he squeaks and wrenches his hand away.

“You bitch! You broke my finger.”

I chuckle. “Don’t be a crybaby. It’s not broken. Although, I could have broken it if I wanted to.”

“Who do you think you are? I’m going to sue you!”

“Okay.” I shrug. “I guess I’ll be phoning the police to file a report on you then.”

“You, you, you,” he sputters. “How dare you?”

“Did you or did you not touch me without permission?”

“The permission was implicit.”

“Implicit?” I snort. “There was nothing about my behavior to suggest I gave you permission to touch me. In fact, I have about fifty witnesses who heard me tell you no twice.”

I reach for the phone in my back pocket.

“No.” He slaps at my arm, but I retreat a step before he can touch me.

“No? All of a sudden you understand what the word no means? Huh. Interesting.”

“Come on, Freddy,” his colleague calls from the end of the hallway. “We’re going.”

Freddy glares at me for a few seconds before marching off.

“Have fun at the strip joint,” I holler after him.

“Am I allowed to ask if you’re alright or are you going to bite my head off if I do?” Mr. Hottie asks.

“I don’t bite.” I waggle my eyebrows. “Unless I’m asked to.”

He smirks. “Good to know.”

“What’s your name?” Because I can’t continue to refer to him as Mr. Hottie forever.

He pauses for a second. “Archer.”

I extend my hand. “Cassandra.”

As we shake hands, I can’t help but notice how large his are. They’re also calloused as if he works with them. I do love a man who knows how to use his hands.

“You handled Freddy well,” he says as his thumb rubs circles into my hand.

My skin tingles from his ministrations, and I want to climb him like a pole. Ding. Ding. Ding. I believe we’ve uncovered the reason why I’m feeling restless and jumpy.

“Thank you.” I clear my throat. “I should probably get back to work.”

“Do you work until closing?”

“Why?” I sass. “Are you going to escort me to my car if I do?”

“And what if I do?”

I’ll probably shove him into my vehicle and kidnap him to my apartment to have my wicked way with him all night long.

“It might be dangerous. You never know what’ll happen in the middle of the night.”

“For you, I’m willing to risk it.” He winks.

“I’m working until close.”

“I’ll see you then.” He lifts my hand and kisses it.

His lips feel soft and warm against my skin. I want to feel those lips touching other parts of my body. My naked body. I tremble and Archer’s eyes flare. Good to know we’re on the same page.


Dammit. “Duty calls.” I hurry away before I change my mind and say to hell with work and leave this minute with Archer. Later, I promise myself.

What happens when the new girl in town sets her sights on the player?

River Atlas Alston is NOT the man for Elizabeth Dempsey. She’s searching for love, and he’s a player who’ll never settle down. Too bad he’s doing a darn good job of showing her how wonderful the two of us could be together in the meantime.

Meet Not is out now! Read the first chapter below!  

Chapter 1

Hard – difficult, complex, or – if you’re lucky – stiff

“Holy hippie cow!”

My mouth gapes open as I survey the bar. Did a hippie puke in here? Wait. No. Puke makes it sound bad, and it isn’t bad. It’s freaking cool.

The walls are covered in peace signs, daisies, and musical posters from folk singers. None of the chairs in the place match. And, to top it off, there are colored lights on the walls and ceiling giving the place a purplish haze. I can’t imagine how out of this world it would be to end up drunk here with those lights, but I’m willing to give it a try.

Aspen hip checks me. “Awesome, isn’t it?”


Cassandra snorts next to me. “Weird is more like it.”

I refuse to get annoyed. I will not bicker with my sister today, but, man, she gets on my last nerve. Since we moved to Colorado a year ago, all she does is complain. I want to tell her to go back to Saint Louis if she’s not happy, but I don’t since I’d miss her grumpy butt. I must be a glutton for punishment.

Gabrielle clears her throat. “Should we sit down?”

I frown at how my baby sister practically whispers the question. Don’t get me wrong. She’s always been shy, but she turned into a meek, scared woman over a year ago and I don’t know why. I’m kind of afraid to learn what happened since I’m pretty sure it’s going to be heartbreaking.

“Oh, hey, Forest,” Aspen greets, and I turn to meet the man.

My eyes bug out of my head when I realize he isn’t wearing any pants. No underwear either. Nope, he’s completely bottomless. He is wearing a top and shoes, though, which confuses me.

Cassandra elbows me. “Don’t stare.”

“I’m trying not to, but it’s hard. Really hard.”

“It’s not hard,” Forest says as he glances down at himself, and I realize what I said.

I slap a hand over my mouth as I’m finally able to drag my eyes away from the man’s private parts. “Sorry.”

Cassandra giggles. “She’s the queen of saying awkward shit.”

“It’s not nice to call someone awkward,” Aspen scolds.  

Cassandra shrugs. She doesn’t apologize for her behavior – ever.

“And you, Forest,” Aspen waves toward his nether regions, “put on some pants.”

“Do I have to?” He pouts. He sticks out his bottom lip and everything.

I giggle at the sight of the gray-haired elderly man wearing no pants pouting like a two-year-old.

“Do it or I’ll tell Lilac.”

Mentioning my brother’s girlfriend does it. He pulls in his lip and marches off.

“Lilac isn’t coming tonight,” Gabrielle points out.

Aspen shrugs. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” She motions us toward a booth. “Come on. Let’s get our drink on.”

“Whoo-hoo!” Cassandra throws her arms in the air and shouts. The woman should never be encouraged. She doesn’t understand what the word moderation means.

I start to follow them, but I’m stopped when an arm circles my waist, and someone leans close to whisper in my ear.

“Hey, babe. I can’t wait to find out if the carpet matches the drapes.”

I groan. Typical. It’s always the same when you have red hair. Men think it’s hilarious to make jokes about whether the color is natural or not. Why in the world would I fake having a curly mop of ginger colored hair?

I grab the man’s hand and twist his wrist until he’s forced to let me go. When I turn around to confront him, he blanches.

“Shit. Sorry. I thought you were someone else.”

I wish I could say I lash out at him for being a jerk, but I don’t. Why not? Because I’m staring at an honest-to-goodness fashion model. Well, not an actual fashion model since we’re in the small town of Winter Falls, Colorado, but he could totally be a model if he wanted to be.

He’s tall. Since I’m five-seven and have to tilt my head way back to look at him, I’m guessing he’s over six-foot. And, judging by the way his t-shirt strains to contain his muscles, he’s hiding a spectacular body underneath his clothes.

His body may be hot, but his face is absolutely gorgeous. He has a short beard trimmed to perfection, which hits all my sexy man buttons since I’m a beautician and have seen way too many unruly beards in my life. You don’t want to know some of the stuff I’ve found in a man’s beard. Gross. To complete the picture, he has bright green eyes and a slightly lopsided smile.

His beard and hair are auburn. I never thought I’d find someone with red hair attractive, but this man breaks all my rules. Hell, he fed me some atrocious pick-up line two seconds ago and it did nothing to stop me from drooling over him.  

“Elizabeth! Aren’t you coming?” Cassandra shouts, and the spell is broken.

“See ya around, Green Eyes.” I wave and rush off before I decide to break my rule about one-night stands.

“I can’t believe we lived in White Bridge for a year and never discovered Winter Falls,” Cassandra says as I sit down.

We recently ‘discovered’ the small town when our brother, Beckett, fell in love with Lilac who grew up here. Lilac is actually Aspen’s sister. She has four sisters in total. I feel sorry for her. I have three, one of whom, Olivia, doesn’t deign to be considered part of our family, and it’s more than enough. I don’t know what I’d do with another sibling to handle.

“I’m jealous you live here,” Cassandra tells Gabrielle.

For once, I agree with Cassandra. Winter Falls is the bomb. I’d love to live here. The town is full of quirky people. I refer to exhibit number one – a pantless man walking into a bar. I don’t think most people would notice my tendency to spout sexual innuendos at the most inopportune of times here.

Gabrielle tucks her chin into her chest and allows her blonde hair to form a curtain in front of her face. Sigh. She never used to hide from us. I need to get over my fear of learning what happened to her.

“Where’s Aspen?” I ask instead.

I search the area and spot her sitting on her fiancé’s lap. She and Lyric are staring at each other like they’re alone, but they’re not. Lyric’s brother, Phoenix, a goat farmer we met at a pagan festival a while back – told you this town is cool – is there along with Green Eyes.

Of course, Green Eyes isn’t alone. He’s surrounded by women. Judging by the grin on his face, he’s loving it. Ah, he’s a player. I should have known. Anyone as sexy and handsome as he is isn’t going to be attracted to me, aka Ms. Awkward.

Phoenix glances over and his gaze catches on Gabrielle. Hmm… Intriguing. Is the goat farmer interested in my baby sister? I know she has a major crush on him. She can’t hide from me. It’s cute she thinks she can.

Aspen jumps to her feet and grabs Phoenix’s hand before she drags him across the room toward us. Interesting. Is Aspen playing matchmaker? I’m all for it. I scoot out of the booth where I was sitting next to Gabrielle to make room for Phoenix.

Aspen shoves him into the booth next to my shy sister, and I cover my face to hide my smile. This is going to be fun.

“Hi, Phoenix,” Gabrielle murmurs, and Phoenix’s eyes flare. It appears someone’s crush isn’t unrequited. Awesome.

“I’m Cassandra. Gabrielle’s big sister.” Cassandra narrows her eyes on Phoenix. “And gatekeeper.”

Before I can correct her, Gabrielle huffs as her cheeks darken. “You are no one’s gatekeeper,” she mumbles in a soft voice.

“Yeah,” I agree. “You can’t guard the gate when you’re always sneaking out of it.” I wave to Phoenix. “I’m Elizabeth by the way.”

“I’m River,” Green Eyes says and winks at me. “I’m the favorite son.”

I should have guessed he’s related to Lyric and Phoenix since they all have the same tall, rugged appearance.

Lyric shoves him. “You wish.”

“We should get some margaritas.”

No sooner are the words out of Aspen’s mouth than the bartender is setting a pitcher of strawberry margaritas down on the table.

“It’s been a bit boring around here. Have at it.”

Aspen giggles. “I guess he forgot about how you and your brothers enjoy skinny dipping in the falls.”

Cassandra whips out her phone. “When does this happen? I need to make a note in my calendar.”

I knock the phone out of her hands. “You are not going to play peeping Tom.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t be playing. It’ll be real.” Her eyes sweep over the men, and she licks her lips.

“No one sees my fiancé naked except me,” Aspen declares.

“No worries. He has two scrumptious brothers I can feast my eyes on.”

She’s not wrong. Phoenix isn’t as gorgeous as Green Eyes…er… River, but he’s awful easy on the eyes, nonetheless.

“What else do you do for fun around here in this Podunk town?”

At Cassandra’s question, the music screeches to a halt, and quiet descends on the bar. “I believe Ms. Cassandra of the big city of Saint Louis has thrown down,” Forest announces from the small stage.

“Holy crappolo, do you have listening devices planted all over the bar?” Cassandra claps and squeals. “Awesome. How does this throw down work?”

She doesn’t wait for an answer before jumping to her feet and lifting her arms in the air. “I accept your challenge.”

River stands. “I’m in.” He smirks.

Cassandra rushes off, and River chases her. I frown as I watch them leave.

Typical. Cassandra always steals the men I’m interested in. She’s been doing it since the second my boobs appeared when I was thirteen. Why would River be any different?

What happens when the shy new girl in town and the antisocial goat farmer pretend to date?

Gabrielle Dempsey is the newest resident of Winter Falls. She’s excited to move to the eccentric small town and not only because her crush, Phoenix, lives there. No, she’s ready for a clean slate.

Too bad her ex-boyfriend doesn’t agree. When her ex starts looking for her, the town decides the best course of action is for Gabrielle and Phoenix to live together and pretend to date.

Is this a disaster in the making? Or will Gabrielle manage to convince the goat farmer to give the shy girl a chance?

Read the first chapter below!  

Chapter 1

Disaster – the meaning of my life

An elderly woman wearing a bright pink t-shirt with the words Gossip Gal Party Helper printed on itmarches my way and halts smack dab in front of me.

“You’re next,” she declares and the group of elderly ladies with her – all wearing matching bright pink t-shirts – nod at her declaration.  

Next? For what? She can’t possibly be talking to me. I have no idea who this woman is. I look behind me but no one’s there except my sisters, Cassandra and Elizabeth. None of the other attendees at this petting zoo engagement party – yep, you read those words correctly – are around. 

“E-e-excuse me?” I pause and take a deep breath to stop my stuttering. “Who are you?”

She gestures toward the group of women standing with her. “We’re the women who are going to make all your wishes come true.”

All my wishes? Can she rid me of my shyness? Can she erase all the mistakes I’ve made over the past two years? Trust me. I made some doozies.

“Are you a genie? I don’t see your bottle.” Elizabeth pretends to search the ground for a bottle.

“We’re not genies,” says another woman. “We’re the best dang matchmakers the town of Winter Falls has ever seen.”

Winter Falls put the Q in quirky. Its claim to fame is being the first carbon neutral town in the world, but it should be famous for being crazy pants. Don’t believe me? They had an honest to goodness pagan festival for Midsummer’s Day. If goats running around Main Street isn’t proof enough, there was a limbo contest, too. It was awesome.

I would love to live here, instead of being stuck in a house with two of my sisters who think bickering is a national sport. It’s not. What it is, is annoying. Sigh. Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to move out on my own again.

“I have a list of possible matches here for Gabrielle.”

For me? I don’t know who this woman is. How could she possibly have a list for me? How does she even know my name?

“Matches?” Cassandra asks. “As in love?” She feigns gagging as if saying the word love is poisonous.

“What other kind of matches are there?” the woman asks.

“Better you than me,” Cassandra claims as she rubs her knuckles over my head. Ah, the time-honored tradition of the noogie. Don’t you just freaking hate it?

“Leave her alone.” Elizabeth shoves Cassandra off of me.

Sisters. Can’t live with them, not willing to do the prison time for their disappearance. And sister number three isn’t even here today.

“I wish Olivia was here,” I say.

Olivia is the ‘missing’ sister. She’s not missing as in no one knows where she is, although she is the queen of ‘hey, guess where I am?’-middle of the night phone calls. No, she’s missing as in she didn’t re-locate to Colorado from Saint Louis with Cassandra, Elizabeth, and me when we followed our brother, Beckett, here after he landed the CEO position at Clean Mountain Environment.  

Cassandra rolls her eyes. “Why, Gabrielle? So, she can ruin Beckett’s day?”

It’s technically not Beckett’s day. The petting zoo engagement party – yeah, I never thought I’d say those words either – is to celebrate a friend’s engagement, but my brother stole the show when he did this grand gesture to get his girlfriend Lilac back. It was super romantic.

I frown at Cassandra. She never has a nice word to say about Olivia. Does my oldest sister have problems? Yes, she does. But who doesn’t? They need to cut her some slack.  

“She doesn’t ruin things on purpose.”

Cassandra snorts. “And you’re not naïve,” she says before she pats the top of my head like I’m a child and walks off.

Elizabeth wraps her arm around my shoulder. “Don’t listen to her. She’s just jealous of Beckett and Lilac.”

She’s lying. Cassandra isn’t jealous of anyone or anything. Why would she be? She does what she wants, when she wants and has no interest in a long-term relationship.

No, Cassandra is doing what she always does – making me feel like an idiot because I’m the youngest sister and she knows I won’t call her out in public. Being shy sucks ninety-five percent of the time.

“The older sisters are going to be a challenge,” one of the elderly women says and I startle. I’d kind of forgotten they were standing here in front of us.

“Which is why we’re beginning with the young one,” another woman answers her. “Are you ready to listen to us, Gabrielle?”

Am I ready? Um, no. But I’m not the sort of person who can be assertive and walk away from people the way Cassandra did. I nod.

“First off, Phoenix.”

At the name Phoenix, my pulse quickens and my belly dips. The goat farmer is gorgeous with a capital G. He has thick brown hair I want to run my hands through to discover whether it’s as soft as it appears, light brown eyes always sparkling with humor, and a square jaw with two dimples on his right cheek. Dimples I want to explore with my tongue. Like I said – gorgeous.

But his looks aren’t the best thing about Phoenix. No, his best character trait is how gentle he is with his animals. Trust me, I know. One of his goats, Pan, decided to eat my skirt at the pagan festival, but Phoenix didn’t berate the animal. He gently but firmly removed the goat’s teeth from the material.

Afterwards, he grinned up at me with his dimples showing as he apologized for his goat’s behavior and – bam! – my crush was born. It’s possible I even did some research about goat farming, although you’ll never hear me admit to such out loud. No way.  

“Phoenix doesn’t want to be matched,” I tell the group.

I might have accidentally overheard his brother say Phoenix is terrified of being matched. What? Eavesdropping isn’t a crime. It’s not my fault people forget about the shy girl.

I didn’t understand the comment at the time. Matched? Who uses a matchmaker anymore? Apparently, I should have paid better attention. In my defense, who would think there’s an honest to goodness group of women running around matchmaking the people in their town?  

“Which is why we should match him first.”

“He should know better than to think he can tell us what to do.”

While the women bicker amongst themselves, Elizabeth pushes me behind her. “Go,” she whispers. “Escape. I’ll hold them off.” I don’t hesitate to rush off before the ladies realize I’m fleeing.

I glance at the different enclosures with various animals – including fennec foxes and llamas – but my feet carry me to the fenced in area where the goats are. I wonder if Pan is here, although I don’t know how I’d recognize her. All goats kind of look the same to me.  

I’m not fooling myself. I know I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of Phoenix while I’m here. There’s no harm in looking.

I open the gate and step into the grassy area. A goat immediately rushes to me and bleats before chomping down on my skirt. This has to be Pan. At least, I hope not all of Phoenix’s goats enjoy eating my skirts.

“And here I thought I wouldn’t recognize you. How are you, Pan?”

I pet her for a few seconds before I decide I better free my skirt or I’ll end up walking home in my panties. Gosh, no. I can embarrass myself just fine without walking around in my undies, thank you very much.

I tug on the fabric, but the goat isn’t relinquishing her hold.

“Come on, Pan. Let go. You don’t want me to go home naked, do you?”

Guessing by the way the goat continues to munch on my skirt, she isn’t moved by my pleas. I scan the enclosure for anyone who can help and spot Phoenix. I pause to watch as he stalks through the grass. He’s wearing a white t-shirt molded to his chest and a pair of faded jeans. His butt was made for wearing those jeans. It fills out the worn fabric to perfection.

Pan tugs on my skirt and I come out of my Phoenix-induced stupor. Oh right, I need help before a goat eats my skirt.

“Phoenix,” I holler, but he doesn’t hear me.

Shoot. I search the area but no one else is in the vicinity as most of the crowd has now migrated to the picnic tables near the barbeque. I contemplate my options. Stand here and wait until Pan has had her fill of my skirt or drag her across the field to Phoenix? Not much of a choice.   

“We’re going for a walk, Pan,” I say as I start across the field.

I hope the goat will let go of my skirt as we proceed, but she has no problem munching away on my skirt and walking at the same time. Figures.

“Hey,” I yell as I approach Phoenix, but he still doesn’t hear me as he rounds the pen out of my sight.

“Hi, Lyric,” Phoenix says, and I stop. I don’t want to intrude.

“Hey, little brother.”

I grunt. What is it with older siblings constantly reminding their younger siblings how they’re the oldest? We already know the birth order. We don’t need to be told we’re the baby constantly.  

“What’s up?”

“Not much. Have you seen Beckett’s sisters? They’re a pretty bunch.”

My eyes widen and I creep closer to make sure I don’t miss a word of what they’re saying. Yes, I’m officially eavesdropping. Although, in my defense, they’re standing outside, which technically makes it overhearing and not eavesdropping.  

“What are you? A member of the gossip gals matchmakers now?”

“Nah. But the youngest one, Gabrielle, seems to have a crush on you.”

I wince. How does Lyric know? I didn’t think I was being obvious.

“Gabrielle’s nice.” I cringe. Nice is a death knoll. No one wants a nice girl. “But I’m not interested in a relationship right now.”

Dang. I should have known. I finally meet a man who I’m interested in, and he doesn’t want a relationship. Figures.

“You need to get over her.” Her? Who’s her?

Phoenix growls. “I’m over her.”

“Which is why you’re running scared when a nice girl’s interested.”

“Gabrielle’s soft. She could never handle life on the farm anyway.”

I slam a hand over my mouth before anyone can hear me gasp. Soft? If nice is bad, soft is worse. Much worse.

“Your loss.”

Footsteps approach. Shoot. Shoot. What do I do? I try to flee, but Pan is still latched onto my skirt.

“Stop it!” I yank at my skirt. It rips, but I manage to pull it out of the goat’s maw.

I don’t pause to check how bad the tear is. In a contest between a ripped skirt and a man realizing I overheard him tell his brother I’m soft and nice, a ripped skirt wins every dang time. I bolt across the field as fast as my short legs will take me.  

“Gabrielle!” Phoenix cries my name.

Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Does he know I was eavesdropping? I feel my face heat until it’s the color of an overripe tomato. There’s no way I’m turning around now. I’m such an idiot. Why would I think Phoenix could ever want me? I know better. I’m worthless as a girlfriend.

Can Lilac resist her grumpy boss?

The time has come. *Sniff* The last book of the Winter Falls series has arrived. Lilac, the final sister of the West family, is ready to find love.

Psych! Just kidding. Lilac isn’t ready to find love. *Snort* And certainly not with her grumpasaurus boss. Talk about asking for drama. And we all know one thing Lilac does not do is drama. Want to find out if Lilac can resist her grumpy boss, Beckett? And whether Beckett can convince Lilac to give him a chance?  

P.S. There’s no need to worry about leaving Winter Falls. A spin-off series is already in the works. You’ll read all about it in Only Forever.

Need some more convincing? No worries. Read the first chapter of Only Forever below.

Chapter 1

Patience – the capacity to tolerate a grumpy boss without wanting to throw him in a steaming pile of burning biomass


At the sound of my boss, Beckett, bellowing my name throughout the office, I close my eyes and search for patience.


The second bellow of my name makes it clear today will not be the day I discover the ability to accept my boss’ interruptions without becoming annoyed, although no one will notice my annoyance. On the outside, I’m completely composed.

I’m always composed. My sisters believe I have no emotions. Just because I don’t fling my emotions at random passers-by the way they do doesn’t mean I don’t have any. There’s no reason to inflict my emotional baggage on other people. I don’t want theirs, why would they want mine?

I inhale a deep breath and let it out slowly before I rise from my chair. I run a hand down my skirt to smooth away the wrinkles caused by hours of sitting before exiting my office and walking to Beckett’s.

I frown when I notice the empty desk in front of his office. His personal assistant should be sitting here. If she were at her desk, he wouldn’t feel the need to yell my name throughout the building.

“Where’s Brandi?” I ask upon entering my boss’ office.

“How should I know?”

Is he serious?

“Because she’s your PA and she could summon people into your office using this handy device known as a telephone allowing you to save your yelling and screaming for your private life.”

A hint of humor flares in his eyes before he blinks, and it’s gone. I wish I could say the hint doesn’t make my belly feel warm and tingly, but I do not lie. It’s not that I don’t have the ability to lie. Nearly everyone has the ability to lie. I simply choose not to.

Beckett clears his throat and despite knowing the likelihood of whatever he’s planning to say angering me, I can’t help myself from anticipating the sound of his voice. His voice is deep and gravely. It’s on the top of the long list detailing the reasons why the man is the sexiest person I’ve ever met.

Next on the list is his face. Combine his deep blue eyes, high cheekbones, and square jaw and all the standard requirements for sexy have been not only met but exceeded. It would be a perfect face except his nose is a bit too straight and there’s a small bump in the middle of it as if it’s been broken in the past. If he didn’t spend all his time barking at me, I’d ask him what happened.

I mustn’t forget to mention his hair, which also makes the top ten of the list. It’s thick and dark except when the sun shines and streaks of blond become visible. Those streaks along with the curl at his neck give him a careless, youthful appearance despite his age of thirty-eight.

If his sexy voice and almost perfect face weren’t enough to cause flutters in my belly, his body could do the job all on its own. I’m quite tall for a woman at five-foot-nine and Beckett at an even six-foot is the perfect size for me. Not too tall, but not too short either.

He also spends a great deal of time working out causing his biceps to strain at the sleeves of his button-down tops. Men who work out a great deal can quickly become disproportional with overdeveloped neck muscles and underdeveloped quadriceps, but Beckett’s body is the perfect balance.

“I don’t scream,” he protests, and my contemplation of his sexiness comes to a complete halt.

I raise an eyebrow and cross my arms over my chest. There’s no need to speak. He knows very well he was screaming since my office is down the hall from his and yet I heard him perfectly.

“How did your meeting with the White Bridge city administrators go? Are they interested in our firm helping to improve their recycling?”

At his question, I enjoy a moment of imagining myself strangling him. Not to death. Just enough to cause him to lose the ability to speak for a while.

I’m not a violent person. I would never actually strangle him, but I read an article suggesting imagining the act as a way to cope with frustration with a person. An article I only read because Beckett is the most frustrating person I’ve ever met.

Although his question seems appropriate enough – I did meet with the city administrators today to discuss their recycling program – it’s not. Before Beckett arrived and took over the CEO position at Clean Mountain Environment last year, I had complete autonomy over my work.

“I’m nearly finished with the report. I’ll have it on your desk by tomorrow morning.”

He growls in annoyance, and my stomach dips at the sound. Beckett Dempsey may be the most frustrating man on the planet, but his sexy growls make me want to do wicked things to him and with him.

No, Lilac. Those thoughts are highly inappropriate. Beckett Dempsey is your boss. You do not want to do wicked things with him. It’s the sexual frustration speaking. Ever since Beckett showed up, I haven’t had any time to meet with a sexual partner.

I frown. Sexual partner? Considering it’s been months since I had sex, I think it’s safe to say I no longer have any sexual partners. Damn Beckett.

“I don’t want to wait for the report. I want to know what the city administrators said from you. Now,” he grits out between clenched teeth.

I don’t know why he’s angry. He has no right to be angry. I’m the one who should be angry. He’s questioning my work. No one questions my work.

“I’ll get my report,” I say and pivot on my heel to march out of the room.

“You can—“

I ignore the rest of whatever he says. If I don’t get out of his office as soon as possible, I’m going to kill him. I know killing’s wrong, but if anyone can get away with murder, it’s me. I know numerous ways to make his death appear to be an accident.

Alternatively, I can dispose of the body in such a way as to ensure it’s never found again. The biomass project I’m working on in my hometown of Winter Falls would be a perfect place. No. I shut those thoughts down. I can’t corrupt the project with a human body. Besides, the project isn’t ready yet.

The mere fact I’m contemplating corrupting my project is an indication of how strong my anger is. How dare Beckett question my work? Who does he think he is?

I am aware he is the CEO of Clean Mountain Environment and technically my ‘boss’, but I maintain I don’t need a boss. I’ve been working at the environmental engineering firmever since I completed my master’s degree eight years ago. I’ve proven myself to be an independent worker who finishes her projects on time – if not ahead of time – with hardly any complaint from customers.

 I print the report – in triplicate as you never know how many copies you’ll need – and save it on an external device as well before returning to Beckett’s office.

I place the items on his desk. “Here you are. If there’s nothing else…,” I trail off as I make my way to the door.

“Hold up,” he says, and I stop a mere footstep away from the door. “I want to discuss your recommendations to the city.”

He wants to discuss my recommendations? Is he questioning my work? How dare he!

I should quit. I don’t need the aggravation this man causes in my life. He telephones and messages me at all times of the day and night as if it’s his right and interrupts my personal life with questions that could easily be answered during working hours. Ever since he became the CEO, my work-life balance has disappeared.

Do not misunderstand me. I love my job. I love my chosen field of work. I don’t mind working extra hours. I have no problem with the work portion of my work-life balance being on the heavier side. I do have a problem with not having control of how the balance is maintained.

Unfortunately, quitting isn’t my best option. Clean Mountain Environment is the only environmental engineering firm within driving distance of my hometown of Winter Falls. Unless I want to relocate – and I don’t – I have to persevere with Beckett as my boss.

“Perhaps it would be more helpful if you read my report and my recommendations first,” I suggest to the door since I can’t turn around without it being perfectly clear to my boss how pissed off I am at this moment.

“Come sit down,” he orders. “You can explain your recommendations to me in person instead of me having to read a boring report.”

I bristle. My report is anything but boring. It outlines the numerous avenues White Bridge can pursue to improve their recycling program and how we can assist them with this endeavor.

While I realize this type of work sounds boring to the majority of people, I maintain it’s fascinating. Growing up in Winter Falls – the first carbon neutral town in the world – gave me an appreciation of the environment and how important it is. Inventing creative ways to save it is invigorating.

I inhale a deep breath and count to ten before letting it out. The action doesn’t calm me – at least, not completely – but it is enough to smooth out the anger in my face.

“I didn’t realize you needed my help understanding recycling,” I say as I sit down across from him.

He chuckles and his blue eyes sparkle. “Good thing you’re here to help me then.”

I frown. He isn’t supposed to be amused. He should be offended.

“If you don’t understand recycling methods, you shouldn’t be the CEO,” I tell him.

The humor disappears. “Do not question my competency,” he growls.

My core trembles at his growl and I cross my legs to relieve some of the growing tension. Beckett’s eyes drop to my legs. When his gaze returns to my face, heat is evident in his eyes. I want to run away before I lose control of my sexual desire for him, but I quash the impulse. Running away won’t improve the situation.  

I must continue to maintain strict control over my emotions. My sexual desire is immaterial as he believes I’m incompetent. I will never spend time on a man who thinks I don’t know how to do my job. Besides, he’s my boss. Work relationships are statistically doomed to fail.

Even if such a relationship weren’t doomed from the start, working with someone you’re personally involved in is complicated, and I don’t do complicated.

Can Maverick convince Juniper to give him a second chance?

Juniper is done with men – especially movie stars named Maverick. They are not to be trusted!

Maverick sashayed into her life, talked her out of her pants and into his bed, and then – boom! – betrayed her. She’s learned her lesson. She is NOT giving him another chance.

Maverick’s willing to do anything to prove her wrong – including climbing into a cage with those scary little devils known as capybaras. Don’t let anyone fool you – they are vicious animals!

Ready to find out if Maverick can charm his way back into Juniper’s life?

Need some more convincing? No worries. Read the first chapter of Stay For Forever below.

Chapter 1

Why do all dogs go to heaven but not all people? Because people are jerks. Plain and simple.

As I look around the garden at the entire town of Winter Falls celebrating the love my sister, Ellery, has found, it’s all I can do to not roll my eyes. Love. Ha! I thought I found it, but I was a naïve fool.

I can only hope the love my sister and her brand-spanking-new fiancé, Cole, share will last longer than my attempts at a happily ever after.

My phone buzzes in my pocket. Oh goodie. A reminder of why love sucks. Because I needed a reminder.

You’d think Mr. ‘Can’t buy a hint if it slaps him in the face’ would have figured it out by now. We are over. Although, we never actually began. It’s hard to have a relationship when half of the couple bolts the morning after sex. And leaving me alone in bed isn’t the worst part. Not by a long shot.

“Here.” Another one of my sisters – Aspen this time – presses a glass into my hand.

I sniff the drink and nearly rear back at the strong scent of alcohol. “What is this?”

“A martini.”

A martini doesn’t burn my nose hairs. “This is not a martini.”

“Yes, it is. Gin and vodka equals martini.” My book-obsessed sister always did suck at math.

I shiver. “What about the vermouth?”

“Trust me. You’re going to need the fortification.”

I pause with my lips on the glass. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s your turn.”

“My turn?”

My two other sisters, Lilac and Ashlyn, join us. Yep. There are five of us in total. I’d feel sorry for my poor father, but Dad loves his girls more than anything on earth.

“I believe she means she’s going to meddle in your love life next,” Lilac says.

Uh oh. My sisters have been falling for men like flies over the past year. First, Aspen returned to Winter Falls after her bookstore in Dallas burned down and rekindled her romance with her first love, Lyric. Afterwards, Ashlyn went balls to the wall to convince her forever crush, Rowan, to give her a chance. They’re married now.

And, last but not least, Ellery got pregnant during a one-night stand with Cole. My stubborn sister gave the man a run for his money, but she accepted his marriage proposal today, so I’m thinking the running’s over.

But my sisters being all loved up doesn’t mean I want to be. I tried doing the whole love and romance thing. It was a disaster. Complete and utter disaster.  

I retreat a step. “What about you?” I point to Lilac, the only other sister who remains unattached. “Why can’t Aspen meddle in your love life?”

“Please,” Aspen draws out the word. “I think we all know Lilac will be the last of us to pair off, and she’s going to need the most help. It’s for the best if all of us are happily paired off before we set our sights on matching Lilac.”

“What if I don’t want to be happily paired off?”

Ashlyn barks out a laugh. “Ha! Liar.”

“I am not lying.” I sneer at her.

I’m done with men. Men who make tons of promises before they get you in their bed but disappear before you wake up the next morning. Men who can’t be bothered to answer your messages until you start ignoring them. I hate games. In fact, I’m thinking I hate most people at the moment. 

I’ll stick to my animals, thank you very much. My sweet pets never forget about me, and I never question how much they love me, because they show me how much they love me constantly.

The crowd buzzes, and I glance over at the back porch expecting to see Ellery and Cole emerge from the house. It’s about time. But the happy couple is still missing from their own party. 

“Someone’s not a secret admirer anymore,” Ashlyn sings. What is my baby sister – aka shit stirrer of the worst kind – talking about?  

I scan the crowd and flaming ducks! I blink my eyes hoping I’m in the midst of some type of hallucination, but when my vision clears the scene in front of me hasn’t changed. Maverick Langston is here. In my sister’s backyard. Love a duck.

Aspen stares at him with her mouth hanging open as he stalks across the lawn toward us. I can’t blame her for staring. My reaction the first time I met the owner of the Wildlife Refuge I manage wasn’t much different.

You don’t expect a Hollywood movie star to own a Wildlife Refuge in Winter Falls, Colorado – the town that defines the word quirky. Seriously. Our claim to fame is being the first carbon neutral town in the world, but the quirkiness doesn’t stop there. Not even close.

But Maverick Langston is indeed the owner of the Wildlife Refuge. He’s also a gorgeous movie star. Duh. Movie stars in general are gorgeous. He could have stepped directly off the silver screen with his thick brown hair, high cheekbones, and smoldering blue eyes.

Dang him. Why can’t he have a big, fat hairy mole on his crooked nose? Probably because he’s not a witch, but you get what I’m saying.  

“You knew about him?” Aspen asks Ashlyn before he reaches us.

“Of course. Juniper and I don’t have secrets.”

I snort. “She means she followed me to work and spied on me.” As I said, Ashlyn’s a troublemaker.

“Same thing.”

“June Bug,” Mav greets in his deep voice, and I nearly forget why I’ve been ignoring the man. He smirks and I remember. He’s a movie star who’s playing at being with me. He’s not really interested in me as a person. Hell, he’s not interested in the Wildlife Refuge except as a tax write-off.

I tag his hand and drag him toward the furthest edge of the yard.

“What are you doing here?” I hiss at him. “You’ve blown your cover.”

I don’t actually care if the whole town knows the movie star has a house here and owns the place where I work, but if he’s worried about everyone knowing about him, maybe he’ll go away and never come back. My heart squeezes at the thought. No, heart. Stop it! We don’t care about him!

“No, he hasn’t,” Sage says before he can respond. “We’ve known Rickie owned the Wildlife Refuge since he bought it.”

“Nothing is sacred in this town,” I grumble despite not being surprised at Sage’s declaration. The woman’s ability to ferret out secrets is refined to an art form. 

“Sacred refers to—”

I shove my palm in Lilac’s direction. Lilac is Ms. Literal. Words should be used in their most basic sense without any form of exaggeration according to her. And if you don’t follow her rules, she makes her disapproval known. Not now, sis. The last thing I need at this very moment is a lecture on the proper use of the word sacred.

“Can’t you give us some space to have a private conversation?” I ask when I notice everyone has followed us.

“Why?” Aspen questions, her brow wrinkled in confusion.

“I’ve never met a movie star before. I want an autograph,” Ashlyn adds.

I roll my eyes at her. “You’re a big fat liar. Half of your college graduating class became movie stars.”

I’m not exaggerating. Ashlyn studied drama in college. While she didn’t run off to try her hand at being an actor in Hollywood, many of her fellow students did. And they made it big.  

“I wouldn’t say stars,” she mumbles.

“Who is this man?” Lilac asks. If I weren’t in the middle of freaking out, I’d laugh at her question. Naturally, my sister, who I worry is more robot than person, has no clue who this movie star is.  

“It’s Maverick Langston. If you’d been to any of Juniper’s monthly movie nights, you’d recognize him,” Ashlyn explains.

“Enough!” I shout loud enough for the entire town to hear me. “Everyone needs to back off before the revealing of secrets begins.”

“I don’t have any secrets,” Sage, the leader of the town busybodies, claims.

I cock an eyebrow. “How about the time I saw you—”

“Let’s give Juniper and Rickie some space,” she says before I can finish tattling on her for the time I caught her spying on her friend Petal’s house with a pair of binoculars.

I wait until Sage has herded everyone toward the house before I turn my attention to Mav. “Now, what can I do for you?”

“You can stop running away.”

Me? I’m the one running away? He must be joking.  

He reaches for me, but I bat his hands away. He sighs. “I’m done playing around Juniper. I want you. You want me. It’s time to figure out where this can go.”

I know exactly where it will go. It’s this place I refer to as heartbreak city. Been there. Done that. Have a broken heart as a souvenir. Do I plan to return? Not on your life.  

“Not interested,” I tell him before marching away.

Can Cole out-stubborn the most stubborn woman in the world? He’s going to try

Ellery does not have time for a man. Not when she’s too busy being a workaholic. But when Cole shows up at her bed & breakfast with his sexy voice and dimple, she can’t resist. What harm can one night do?

When her one night of fun has lasting consequences of the baby variety, she figures she’ll give it a go on her own. Cole disagrees. He’s all in to claim this baby and its mom. He just has to out-stubborn her first. No worries. Ellery might be the most stubborn woman in the world, but Cole is the most determined man.

Ready to read if Cole can convince Ellery to give him a chance?

Need some more convincing? No worries. Read the first chapter of Just For Forever below.

Chapter 1

Hard work never killed anyone, but why take the chance?

Four months ago

“Excuse me.”  

At the sound of a man’s husky voice, I halt rummaging through the cleaning supplies. Holy hot flashes. A man’s voice should not be sexy enough on its own to cause a shiver to run down my spine, but that’s exactly what’s happening.

I need to see the face that matches the voice. Since I’m on my knees with my butt sticking out of the supply closet, I stand and whirl around at the same time. Unfortunately, I forgot I was holding onto a box of cleaning supplies and Mr. Sexy Voice is standing directly behind me. The box collides with his body, and I lose my hold on it causing it to drop to the floor and the contents to fly out and scatter through the hallway.

“Shit,” I mutter as I drop to my knees to gather the supplies.

“Let me help.” He offers.

I look up to tell him not to worry about it and – whack! – our heads collide since he’s already leaning over. I fall back on my bottom and place a hand on my head. Ow.

“I wasn’t looking forward to my trip to a small town, but I didn’t expect to get injured the second I arrive.”

I scowl up at him – small towns are awesome, especially if the small town is Winter Falls – but the scowl freezes on my face when I get my first look at him. Yowzah! Talk about a stone cold fox. His dark hair is styled to appear as if he just rolled out of bed – making me itch to run my fingers through it and mess up all the careful styling – while his deep, blue eyes sparkle with humor as he watches me check him out. And then there’s his jaw. Square jaws are like catnip to me. I want to caress his jaw while I kiss him.

He chuckles and I remember where I am – sitting on my ass in the hallway at my bed and breakfast. What is wrong with me? I’m not usually klutzy Karen, and I do NOT check out guests. I mentally slap myself upside the head. Get yourself together, woman. No drooling over a strange man no matter how sexy his voice is.

I ignore his hand offering to help me up and stand on my own. When I reach my full height of a whopping five-feet-two, I realize this man is not only gorgeous but tall. Probably around six-foot. I would fit perfectly snuggled under his shoulder. So much for not drooling over strange men.  

I shut the supply closet door behind me and walk around the reception desk. “Checking in?”

“Won’t your boss get mad at you for checking me in? Maybe you should call him.”

Him? I briefly close my eyes to stop myself from rolling them. Rolling eyes at guests is bad, even when they are being presumptuous.

“It’s fine. She won’t mind.” I make sure to emphasize the she as I wiggle the mouse to wake up the computer and type in my password. “Do you have a reservation?”

He doesn’t respond and I gaze up at him to discover him staring at me. I know I don’t look my best. Rushing around trying to clean all the rooms in the inn after getting up early to prepare breakfast doesn’t exactly equal a fresh and clean appearance. My face is probably red and shiny, and I don’t want to think about how my hair looks.

“Do you have a reservation?” I repeat my question.

He finally snaps out of his silence and nods. “Yes. It’s under Cole Hawkins.”

Dang. A sexy name for a sexy man.

“Are you positive your boss—”

“Here, it is,” I say and cut him off.

I should probably tell him I’m the owner and operator of the Inn on Main at this point, but it’ll be more fun to let him figure it out on his own. And I could use some fun.

“You’ll be staying with us for two weeks?”


“I’ve put you in the executive suite on the top floor. You won’t …” My words trail off as the Chief of Police stalks into the building.

“Chief Alston.” My voice sounds friendly, but there’s a frown on my face. I always assumed Lyric would become my brother-in-law since my older sister, Aspen, has been in love with him forever, but the two broke up a decade ago and my sister’s been heartbroken ever since.

Being a witness to Lyric moving on with his life and dating other women has been painful, especially since my sister avoids coming home because she’s afraid to see him with another woman. She’ll deny it, but I know it’s true.

He nods to me in greeting before focusing his attention on my guest. “Are you the owner of the Jeep Grand Cherokee?”

Uh oh. Someone’s in trouble.

Cole’s eyebrows pinch together. “I am. Is there a problem? Don’t tell me someone ran into my car. It’s brand new.”

I giggle. Who exactly would have run into his car? The transportation method of choice in Winter Falls is a golf cart. Although I suppose a golf cart could cause some damage to a Jeep. My baby sister, Ashlyn, managed to scratch the heck out of a police car when she lost control of a golf cart while racing down the street when she was in high school.

Lyric places his hands on his hips and glares at Cole. “Did you receive dispensation to drive the car into Winter Falls?”

“Dispensation? What are you talking about?”

Winter Falls’ claim to fame is being the first carbon neutral town in the world. As such, we have a bunch of rules and regulations about energy use including driving cars in town.

Lyric switches his glare to me. “Aren’t guests informed of the rules regarding gas-guzzling vehicles when they book a room at the inn?”

Cole stands in front of me. “Hey! Don’t give her a hard time. She’s merely a cleaner here.”

Lyric cocks his eyebrow. I know he’s wondering why I haven’t corrected Cole’s misconceptions, but I don’t answer to him. It’s none of his business I’m giving Cole a lesson in how to treat people. It’s also none of his business how I practically melted at Cole’s protective stance.

“You need a dispensation to drive a gas engine vehicle in Winter Falls,” Lyric explains to Cole when I don’t speak.

Cole scratches his neck. “I do? How do visitors arrive if not by car? Is there a bus or railroad station?”

He’s got a point. As much as Winter Falls likes to pretend it’s an island, it’s not. There aren’t exactly islands the size of this town in the middle of the Colorado foothills.

No matter how much food we produce locally, there are tons of necessities we can’t produce such as toilet paper. Trust me, toilet paper is a necessity. I am done trying to teach the world how to use a bidet. It’s officially no longer my fight. Toilet paper is a must have and it needs to reach Winter Falls somehow.

But why is Lyric being such an ass? Normally, he doesn’t show up at the inn to harass guests about the vehicles they used to arrive in town with. As long as the vehicle remains parked behind the inn for the duration of their stay, it’s fine. But he’s got a bug up his ass today.

And I think I know why. “You saw Aspen.” It’s not a question.

He frowns. “Did you know she was coming back to town?”

Of course, I knew. Her bookstore and apartment in Dallas burned down a few days ago. Where else was she going to go? But we agreed to keep her return secret because my big sister asked us to. Keeping a secret in this town is akin to a miracle, but we managed.

“Why don’t I get you a cup of coffee and a cookie?” I round the desk and walk to the small refreshment station in the lobby before he has a chance to answer.

I prepare a cup of coffee for him and place a cookie on a plate.

“I don’t—”

I don’t let Lyric finish whatever denial he was planning to give me and press the items in his hands.

“Sit. Take a load off for a while. I’ll get Mr. Hawkins checked in and then I’ll join you.”

His chin drops to his chest, and he takes a seat.

I turn to my guest. “Do you need help with your baggage?” He shakes his head. “I’ll show you to your room then.”

I swipe the room key from the desk and begin ascending the stairs. “The execute suite is on the third floor. Breakfast in the morning is from—”

“Was he serious?” He cuts me off to ask.

“Who serious about what?”

“The chief of police. Was he serious about needing dispensation for my car? What kind of crazy town is this?”

I bristle at his question. Is Winter Falls a bit kooky? Of course, it is. The town was founded by a group of hippies. How can it not be kooky? But it’s also a fun place to live and there’s not one person in this town of a thousand and one people who I wouldn’t trust to have my back. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

“There’s no need for concern. You are free to drive your car to and from town. Within town, however, you should either walk, bike, or use a golf cart. Bikes and golf carts are free to borrow. There are stations with them scattered throughout town, including behind the inn.”

We reach his room, and I motion for him to proceed me. The executive suite is one of my favorite rooms. It’s not technically a ‘suite’ as the bedroom is not a separate room and there isn’t a kitchen area. But there is a separate living space and a desk set up in front of the large window with a view over Main Street.

“I’m here for work,” Cole says. “I need my car to get to meetings.”

I barely hold in my eye roll. He ‘needs’ his car. Where exactly are his meetings? You can literally walk from one side of Winter Falls to the other in less than twenty minutes.

“What kind of work are you here for?”

He puffs out his chest. “I’m an architect.”

“You’re here for the community center project.” It’s not a question. In a small town – especially this small town – everyone knows what’s going on.

“I’m surprised you’ve heard about it.”

Why is he surprised? Oh yeah. He thinks I’m a cleaner. “I’m actually—”

He cuts me off before I have a chance to tell him how I actually own The Inn on Main. “I guess you must have heard about it from your boss.”

I open my mouth to once again try to clear up the misunderstanding happening here, but Cole is on a roll.

“Anyway, I’m an architect.” Yes, you said. “And my firm is bidding to acquire the project. I’ll be meeting with the mayor and city council.”

“The plot for the community center isn’t far from here. It’s not even a five-minute walk.”

“You’re well-informed for your position.”

I don’t bother trying to clear up his misconception again. I tried. I failed. I’d much rather have a front row seat when he realizes the truth. Someone’s going to be mighty embarrassed. Not my problem. It’s not my fault making assumptions makes you an ass.

Ashlyn has loved Rowan for-freaking-ever 🥰 But he thinks of her as his little sister 😒 Like that’ll stop Ashlyn 😏

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.

Chapter 1

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.

“What question?”

“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?”

“Bwak. Bwak.”

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?

Aspen’s leaving town as soon as possible. Lyric’s never leaving. Their second chance at love is doomed. Or is it?

Aspen is not staying in Winter Falls. Absolutely freaking not! No way! If you can’t tell, she has strong opinions about her hometown. Especially about the boy who broke her heart. He’s definitely not getting a second chance.

The residents of Winter Falls disagree. They will do everything – and I do mean everything – in their power to ensure Project Weston is a success.

Ready to read whether Lyric can convince Aspen to stay?

Not convinced? You can read the first chapter of their story here. Ready to read more? Read the second chapter below!

Chapter 2

Family tree – a diagram showing your relationship to all the nuts in your family.

When we pull up into my parent’s driveway in Basil’s beast – as he affectionately refers to his tow truck – my entire family is waiting for me on the front porch. There goes my hope for keeping my return home quiet.    

“Thanks for the ride, Basil.”

“No problem, man. No problem.”

With his long hair, bell-bottom pants, and bright floral shirt, Basil resembles a hippie headbanger, which is fitting since he totally is. The first generation of Winter Springs residents are all hippies. It made for an interesting childhood.

My door flies open. “Aspen Cloud, you’re home.”

My mom sounds happy, so I don’t bother reminding her of how much I hate the name Cloud or how I’m not home for good. I’m home for now anyway. I climb out of Basil’s beast straight into her arms.

Mom’s arms wrap around me, and she sways me from side to side. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you.”

I close my eyes and sink into the comfort she’s offering. The fear and tension I’ve been feeling since I saw the flames shooting out of my building ease out of me. I’m home. I’m safe. I have somewhere to sleep tonight besides the backseat of my car.

She leans back to gaze into my eyes. “You’re going to be fine, baby girl. Just fine.”

For the first time since my home and business were destroyed, I believe it. “Thanks, Mom.”

Dad elbows Mom out of the way and lifts me into his arms before twirling me around like I’m the seven-year-old girl who thinks playing helicopter is the best thing in the world, instead of the thirty-three-year-old mature adult I am. I giggle as he spins me around. Maybe not a mature adult then.

“Put me down, Dad. I’m not a child.” There’s no heat in my words since I’m giggling like the seven-year-old girl I claim I’m not.  

He sets me on the ground and places his forehead against mine. “You’ll always be a child to me, baby girl.”

“Thanks, Daddy-O.”

“Stop hogging her!”

My sisters, all four of them, attack and I don’t stand a chance. Before I know it, we’re rolling around on the ground.

“It’s good to have you home, big sis,” Ellery says.

The others – Juniper, Lilac, and Ashlyn – murmur their agreement. In case it’s unclear, my parents were hippies – still are actually – and they named their five girls after their five favorite trees. You’d think we’d get teased about it, but in the town of Winter Springs, hippie names are the norm.

I’m the oldest of this gang of sisters with Ellery next. Lilac is smack dab in the middle. Then, comes Juniper and last but not least is Ashlyn.


I struggle to my feet. “I need to let Waffles out before he pees all over the interior of my car.”

Lilac, aka Ms. Civil Engineer, curls her lip at the state of my car. “This is your vehicle? It’s in violation of town ordinance.”

I roll my eyes. “Yes, Ms. Know It All, but I didn’t exactly have a ton of cash laying around to buy a car when my life burned to the ground. Literally.”

She flinches. “Sorry, Aspen. I didn’t mean …” She clears her throat. “Anyway, I assume Basil will be removing this eyesore from the driveway.”

“Geez, Lilac. Have some compassion.” Ashlyn bumps her shoulder as she passes her to open the passenger door of my car.

Waffles jumps out of the car, dashes to the lawn, does three circles, and promptly lifts his leg to have a wee. While pee is still streaming out of him, he notices a squirrel on the lawn and rushes after it leaving a trail of pee in his wake.  

The squirrel scurries up a tree, and Waffles paws at the tree while barking up a storm at the poor squirrel. At least, he’s finally done peeing.   

“I got him,” Juniper – my animal loving sister – yells. “You unload the car.”

She holds out a treat to Waffles and he swivels away from the tree toward Juniper. She keeps the treat out in front of her as she backs into the house with my dog eagerly following her.  

“Is this everything?” Dad asks from where he’s peering into the trunk.

“Yeah,” I sigh out.

Ellery wraps her arm around me. “It could have been worse.”

Staring at the three boxes of books and one suitcase of clothes comprising every single thing I own in the world, I have a hard time believing her.

She squeezes my shoulder. “You’re alive. You’re young and you can rebuild.”

“Easy for you to say. You have a successful business. I have nothing.”

Ellery owns the local bed and breakfast. She spent years renovating the delipidated mansion on the southern edge of downtown and turned it into a romantic country inn – The Inn on Main.

“Yeah, well, owning a B&B is not all it’s cracked up to be,” she mutters under her breath.

Before I have a chance to ask her what she’s talking about, she grabs my suitcase and marches into the house.

“What’s going on with her?” I ask Ashlyn.

There’s no sense asking Lilac. Ms. Engineer barely deigns to acknowledge the world outside of environmental engineering exists, she’s hardly going to know why Ellery’s unhappy.

Ashlyn frowns as she watches Ellery retreat into the house. “Rumor has it she’s had some trouble with guests who don’t approve of the no gasoline engine cars in town rule.”

“It’s utterly ridiculous,” Lilac says. “There are free bikes anyone can use. And if a bike isn’t good enough for her guests, they can rent an electric golf cart.”

As part of the whole carbon neutral town thing, alternate forms of transportation are not simply encouraged, they’re facilitated. Biking paths and footpaths are as prevalent – if not more prevalent – than roads for cars.

My parents – as do most residents – use a golf cart as their main source of transportation. They don’t actually own a car – no one in my family does – which is why I had to buy this heaping pile of shit, to begin with.

Once we’ve emptied the car and placed my boxes and suitcase in my childhood bedroom, we gather at the dining room table where Mom has an apple pie waiting for us. Mom thinks apple pie heals all wounds. Her pie kind of does.

“What happened?” Ashlynn asks. “Why did your bookstore and apartment burn down?”

In addition to being a troublemaker of the highest order – something she’s very proud of – my youngest sister was born without the tact gene.

Ellery squeezes my hand. “You don’t have to answer her.”

“It’s fine.”

I’m lying. It’s not. I can still smell smoke in the air despite having showered and scrubbed my skin until it was raw several times since the fire. I practically used an entire bottle of shampoo on my hair trying to get the smell of smoke out of it. All to no avail.

I swallow and force myself to tell the story, albeit a much shorter version. “Waffles woke me up in the middle of the night because he needed to go out. When we returned, there were flames shooting out of the café and bookstore downstairs. I rushed upstairs and managed to throw some clothes and jewelry in a suitcase and put some of my photo albums and books in a few boxes.”

“You went into a burning building?” Dad roars.

“Only the ground floor was actually burning. There weren’t any flames in my apartment above.”

“You could have been killed.”

At his words, I draw the sleeves of my t-shirt down over my hands. Wrong move. My mother would have made the perfect Cold War spy. Ironic since she married a Soviet immigrant. She doesn’t miss a thing. She shackles my wrist and carefully draws the material up my arm.

Her bottom lip trembles and there are tears in her eyes. “You didn’t tell us you were injured.”

“It’s fine. They’re barely second-degree burns.”

“Second-degree burns can cause scarring,” Lilac offers. When everyone at the table turns to stare at her, her eyes round. “What? It’s a fact. You can’t get mad at me for stating facts.”

I sigh. “I’m not mad at you, Lilac Bean.”

Mom stands. “Let me phone Dr. Blue. I’m certain we can get you an appointment right away.”

“There’s no need. I’ve already seen a doctor. He gave me antibiotics. Everything’s fine.”

Mom looks to Lilac for confirmation. At her nod, Mom returns to the table. “But you need to promise to tell me if you’re in pain.”

“I promise.”  

I’m sorry, Ashlyn mouths at me. I smile at her. It’s not her fault. If she was in a fire, I’d want to know everything, too.

“Now,” my dad says once the pie is demolished, “tell me why your insurance company won’t pay out your claim.”

Dad may appear to be a laidback hippie most of the time, but he’s also the town’s attorney. And he doesn’t let anyone mess with his girls.

I shrug. “Since the cause of the fire is unclear, they need to conduct an arson investigation and eliminate me as a suspect before they’ll pay my claim.”  

“Are they out of their minds?” Dad bellows.

Mom pats his arm. “Now, now, Daniel. Getting your heart rate up will not help anything.”

When Mom isn’t spying on or interrogating us until we spill all our secrets, she’s the peacemaker.  She’s the principal of the local school and has plenty of experience keeping the peace. Lucky for me, she wasn’t the principal when I was in school. It’s hard to get away with skipping class when Mom’s the principal.

“Besides,” she smirks at me, “our baby girl is home until the insurance company pays the claim.”

You don’t need to be a mind reader to figure out what she’s thinking. Mom hasn’t exactly been subtle about her desire I return home for good. She never wanted me to leave in the first place.

She’s out of luck. As soon as the insurance money is in my bank account, I’m out of here.

Can Lyric convince Aspen to stay in Winter Falls and give him a 2nd chance?

The last thing Aspen expected was to end up returning to Winter Falls homeless, broke, and jobless at the age of thirty-three.

Not to worry. She’s only back until the insurance company decides she’s not an arsonist and pays her the money they owe her. Then, she’s outta there.

The people of Winter Falls feel differently. They’re determined she rekindle her romance with her first love, Lyric Alston, and stay forever. Not happening. The man broke her heart and she hasn’t forgotten.

But when Aspen calls Lyric out for what he did, he has no clue what she’s talking about. Did she get it wrong? Did she not see what she thought she saw?

Once Lyric realizes she didn’t abandon him, he goes all out to convince Aspen to stay in Winter Falls and give him a second chance. Did he forget she’s not here to stay?  

Chapter 1

Bad day – the point at which even the most well-adjusted person snaps

Shit. Police lights in my rearview mirror is not the welcome home I was hoping for.

“Uh-oh, Waffles, the Fuzz is on our tail.”

My dog lifts his head, peers outside for a second, decides outside is not worth his time, gives a mini-woof, and goes back to his nap.

“I guess I’m on my own,” I mutter.

I check the speedometer, but I’m positive I wasn’t speeding. This piece of trash car can barely make it up to the speed limit without shimmying and shaking like it’s going to fall into pieces right in the middle of the road. I’d be a complete idiot to drive faster than absolutely necessary. And, despite current appearances, I am not a complete idiot.  

Plus, I know once I pass the sign for Winter Falls – the world’s first carbon neutral town – I need to slow down or risk a ticket. There are no warnings for speeding in a town of people who think using fossil fuels is equivalent to mass murder. Decarbonization is serious business in these parts.

I pull to the shoulder and watch the police officer as he exits his vehicle and swaggers toward me. Oh my. The ugly uniform is doing nothing to hide the delicious thighs he’s sporting. My gaze roves higher to his narrow hips. Moving back to home – albeit temporarily – doesn’t seem so bad right now.

He stops next to my window and my gaze lifts until it hits his name badge. No. No. No. No. It can’t be. I force myself to continue raising my head until I can view his face. Damnit. It is. Lyric Alston. Town bad boy. Town hottie. And the boy who shattered my heart into a million pieces. Awesome. Freaking awesome.

“Roll down your window, Aspen!”

Oh, right. Lyric isn’t merely the ‘boy who shattered my heart’, he’s also the Chief of Police of Winter Falls, Colorado. Population – 1,001.

I start cranking the window down. No electric windows on this luxury vehicle of mine. Naturally, the stupid handle falls off in my hand, and I end up dropping it. Ugh! Can this day get any worse?

I bend over to search for the handle when my door unexpectedly opens, and I tumble out of the car into Lyric’s arms. I had to ask if this day could get any worse, didn’t I?

“Still haven’t learned to wear a seatbelt, Aspen?”

I shove him away and scramble to my feet. “I was wearing a seatbelt, officer,” I sneer. “I unhooked it when I came to a stop. I know better than to get trapped in a car during a traffic stop.”

He frowns. “Of course. How could I forget Winter Falls isn’t big enough for Aspen West? Only the city is good enough for you.”

I don’t respond. Why bother? We had this argument at least ten gazillion times after we graduated from college, and I wanted to move to New York City or Denver or anywhere but Winter Falls. Lyric had zero interest in moving. He was all set to settle down in our hometown, get married, and have a bunch of kids. The discussion of other possibilities was not on the table.

“Why’d you pull me over, Lyric?”

He taps the roof of the car. “This vehicle is not roadworthy.”

Tell me about it. I didn’t think I was going to manage the drive from Dallas to my hometown, but I didn’t have any money for anything better. As it is, I had to sell some of my jewelry to buy this piece of crap.

“You know vehicles with gasoline engines are strictly limited in Winter Falls.”

The joys of living in a carbon neutral town. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for green energy and saving the environment but being a savior of the planet is expensive. I would have had to sell all of my jewelry to afford an electric car and since I’m currently homeless, out of money, and out of a job, I had no intention of spending more money than was absolutely necessary.

“Can you give me a break this one time, Lyric?”

“It’s Chief Alston.”

“Really? You’re pulling rank on me right now?” I bite my tongue before I call him a fathead power abusing son of a goat farmer.

“It’s not pulling rank when it’s true.”

He leans over to peer into my backseat, and I block him. Everything I own is in this car. I left this town with hopes of taking the world by storm. I never expected to return ten years later while driving a thirty-year-old car with all of my possessions able to fit in its trunk and backseat. The last thing I need is for Lyric stupid head Alston to see me at my lowest.

I spot the orange stains on my yoga pants. Maybe that particular ship has already sailed.

“What’s going on, Miss Big City? Did you crash and burn?”

I flinch at the word burn. It’s a miracle I’m standing here alive and not burnt to a crisp. Lucky for me, Waffles needed to go out to pee at two o’clock in the morning. If he hadn’t? I shiver. I don’t want to think about what would have happened had I been in my apartment sleeping when the fire broke out.

As if he knows I’m thinking about him, my dog barks at me from the front passenger seat.

“Hold on, Waffles. We’ll go for a walk soon.”

“Waffles? You named your dog Waffles?”

Was Lyric always such a pain in the butt jerk? Was I too enamored with his brown, wavy locks of hair and sky-blue eyes that I ignored all the signs of him being a dickhead?

I cross my arms over my chest, and his eyes dip briefly to my breasts. Yep, I totally missed the signs of dickhead. Good thing I’m no longer sixteen and have built up immunity to broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted, strong-thighed men, who happen to be six-foot-three and eternally tan.

“For your information, Chief of Police who couldn’t find a clue if it hit him in the face, Waffles is a rescue. I found him behind my building. The sole way I could get his shaking, scared out of his mind, furry butt to come near me was to offer him waffles. Thus, Waffles.”

He grimaces. “Shit. You’re right. I’m sorry. And Waffles is adorable.”

You bet he is. He’s my baby.

“You took me by surprise is all. I didn’t expect you to be in town this time of year is all.”

Relief rushes through me. My family has kept my secret. It’s nothing short of a miracle. I half expected the entire town to be waiting to greet my return. No, not return. I’m not here for good. I’m not staying any longer than it takes for the insurance company to stop dragging its feet.

“Small town gossip has failed you, Chief.” I emphasize Chief and a muscle in his jaw spasms before he whips out his citation book and flips it open.

“I’m sorry, Aspen, but I’m going to have to write you a ticket for driving an unapproved gasoline engine vehicle.”

A ticket I won’t be able to afford. I knew using all my savings to expand my business and buy the café next door to the bookstore was a gamble. I just didn’t realize how big a gamble it would be until everything burned down.

“Can’t you give me a warning this one time, Chief?”

He shakes his head. “Policy says otherwise. No warnings for residents of Winter Falls.”

“I’m not technically a resident,” I’m quick to point out.

He rips the ticket off of the pad and holds it out to me. “You grew up here. You can’t claim to be ignorant of the rules.”

I bite my lip as I stare down at the ticket as if it’s a snake set on biting me and infecting me with its poison. I retreat a step. There’s got to be some way for me to get out of this. I’m not commemorating my return – however temporary it may be – home with a ticket.

I look around hoping the field surrounding town can offer me a solution to this problem. My gaze stops when I notice the Welcome to Winter Falls sign. I’m parked about twenty feet in front of it, meaning I’m not within the town limits.

I don’t bother trying to hide my grin. “I’m sorry, Chief, but I think I’m going to have to decline your ticket.”

He waves the ticket he’s still holding at me. “You can’t decline a ticket, Aspen. It doesn’t matter how much we meant to each other as kids.”

Meant? As in past tense? Ouch. My heart clenches, but I ignore it.

“I’m not trying to abuse our past relationship.” I point to the sign, and he swears under his breath.

“If I hadn’t stopped you, you would have driven straight past the sign.”

My grin widens. “But, thanks to you, I didn’t.”

“What are you going to do? You can’t leave your vehicle on the side of the road.”

Because he would take way too much pleasure in writing me a ticket for abandoning my vehicle. Not going to happen.

“I’ll call Basil to tow it.” Basil owns the only tow truck in town.   

He rips the ticket in half. “You better call Basil. I won’t hesitate to write you another ticket.”

Of course, he won’t. I want to ask him who shoved the stick up his bum, but I think I’ve antagonized him enough for today especially since he currently looks ready to throw me into a jail cell.  

“Have a good day, Chief. Thanks for stopping by to remind me of the town ordinances.”

I try to tone down my sarcasm, but judging by the thunder in Lyric’s face, I’m not entirely successful. Despite how he broke my heart when I left town after our college graduation, we’ve been civil to each other whenever I’ve been back home visiting my family. I have a sneaking suspicion our days of being civil have come to an end.

He tilts his hat. “Good day, Aspen.”

Despite what a rule following son of a gun he is, I can’t stop myself from watching him walk away. The way the muscles in his ass bunch as he moves should be illegal.

But it doesn’t matter how gorgeous Lyric Alston is, the man is not to be trusted. He’s a heartbreaker, and the last thing my heart needs right now is another break.