Hi Michelle and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, Cowboy True!
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
Cowboy True is the story of high school friends who bump into each other six years after graduation and finally give in to the attraction they had as teenagers. Unfortunately for my heroine, Faith, she still feels unworthy of a man like Gage and though the sex was even better than she’d ever fantasized about, she still can’t see a future with him.
Gage, on the other hand, has regretted letting her go since high school. He saw their hookup in a bar as a chance to finally be with the woman he hasn’t stopped loving in six years.
But when their one-night together leads to a pregnancy, it only further complicates things. By the time Faith comes to town to tell Gage, she’s made some hard decisions. Decisions that’ll rock Gage’s world and drive him to prove she is the one for him and that together they can have everything she’s ever really wanted.
Please share the opening lines of this book:
When Faith Stone made up her mind, she stuck with it. So, despite her galloping heartbeat and sweaty palms, she kept her foot on the gas pedal. Well, she did slow down when her car crested the hill, but who could blame her?
Please share a few Fun facts about this book…
- Often in romance books it’s the man who has commitment issues. I liked the idea that Gage be the opposite. A family man at heart who knows what he wants and it’s Faith, the heroine, who’s gun shy. I liked that dynamic and it suits Gage’s caregiver persona, that he wants a wife and family to cherish and support.
- I don’t normally have songs that inspire me with stories but for Gage and Faith the first that comes to mind is “Amazed” by Lonestar. I can see these two dancing in the Last Stand saloon to this song. The lyrics suit their story so much. How they are each amazed by the other, how they feel when they look at each other.
- In my research I learned some interesting things about EMT’s. I don’t know why but I assumed there was a designated ambulance driver. But that’s not the fact. Most ambulances are manned by an EMT and a Paramedic and when one is the back with the patient, the other drives the ambulance. I’d always pictured the two in the back with a driver in the front.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
Faith grew up feeling abandoned and unworthy. While she was strong enough to walk away as soon as she able, the scars linger. She’s strong enough to make her own life and stand on her own, but her determination to prove she doesn’t need anyone is a major hang-up between her and Gage.
Gage is the pleaser, the mediator. The glue. Even though he’s the baby of the family he’s the one everyone counts on. I had a powerful line in the book that I eventually took out but it still resonates with me. That his brothers were so busy looking ahead that they never turned around to see who was left behind. That feeling molded Gage into the man he is.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
I like the scene at the beginning when they see each other for the first time since their hook-up three months ago. She’s hit the ditch with her car, is slightly hurt and Gage, on his way back from medically transporting a patient, sees the car and pulls the ambulance over. Faith can’t see him the way her car is positioned but the minute he gets closer she recognizes that cologne. It brings her back to a hotel room and a night she can’t forget. She has her eyes closed and is thinking, “please don’t be him” and then he says her name. With Gage’s partner there they can’t discuss that night but there’s so much sexual tension and awareness and I think that would play so well on the screen.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat there, her head leaning against the driver’s window. But when she finally dared open her eyes, her breathing sounded as though she were hyperventilating. Aware the engine was still running, Faith pried her stiff fingers off the steering wheel and turned the key.
The good news was the car hadn’t rolled. And the air bags hadn’t deployed. So the front end, at least, was fine. And, she realized with a shuddering breath, so was she.
Faith released the seat belt and pushed open the door. She took it as another good sign that it opened without protest.
Unfortunately, when she stepped out of the car and put her weight on her left leg, her knee wasn’t as agreeable. A hot stab of pain had her gasping and clasping the top of the door to keep upright.
Balancing on one leg, Faith glanced down at the other. Since she’d dressed in shorts, her knee was easy enough to examine. There wasn’t any blood. No bones sticking out where there shouldn’t be. It must have just gotten a good banging. Kinda like her head. It was throbbing, too.
She had acetaminophen in her purse and a half-full bottle of water in her cup holder. But it suddenly felt like too much effort to reach onto the floor—her handbag had gotten knocked off the seat—and grasp it. Of course, the fact that she suddenly felt light-headed didn’t help any.
“I’ll just sit a minute.”
Instead of inside the car, Faith dropped to the grass. Sitting between her vehicle and the open door, she bent her right leg and pressed her forehead to her thigh. She smelled the vanilla bean body butter she’d rubbed on after her shower that morning. She concentrated on that to keep her stomach from pitching out the candy bar she’d eaten after she’d stopped for gas.
The odds of keeping it down were swinging in her favor when she heard the sound of an approaching vehicle.
“Please keep going,” she muttered. While she was starting to feel better, she was still shaky and she’d prefer not to deal with anyone, even a well-meaning Good Samaritan, until she felt stronger.
But as luck would have it, the vehicle slowed then stopped. Two doors closed. She heard hurried footsteps rush through the long grass. Realizing they couldn’t see her since the car had ended up parallel to the road with the passenger side facing the highway, Faith lifted her head and called out, “I’m okay.”
She was bracing herself to stand when someone knelt at her side.
Her insides clutched. She knew that cologne. Oh, man, did she know it. Twelve weeks ago, she’d rolled around a bed with a man wearing nothing but that cologne.
Ever since, she’d had vivid dreams—awake and asleep—of how that scent had wrapped around her. How he’d wrapped around her. Faith clutched fistfuls of grass. It couldn’t be him. It was a popular brand. Loads of men wore it.
Please don’t be him.
Besides, he’d have no reason to be there. It wasn’t as though she’d called 911—or anyone else had since theirs was the first vehicle she’d heard. So, good. Whew. She still had some time before she faced him.
A warm hand settled lightly on her shoulder. “Faith?”
There’d been many times in her life when Faith had wished she could disappear. Just close her eyes and reappear somewhere else, anywhere else. As anyone else.
She’d never wished for it more than she did right then. Dammit. What was he even doing there?
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
That we are our own worst critics. So often, I think, we see ourselves harsher than others do. I’d like people to realize that and not be so hard on themselves. Also, that the past doesn’t dictate your future. You write your own story and you’re worthy of everything you ever dreamed of. You just have to have the courage to reach for it and believe you deserve it.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned?
Cowboy Wild, the third book in the series, releases Sept 22,2020. I’m currently starting the fourth book in the series, Ryker’s story, Cowboy Tough.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: Ebook of Cowboy True as well as swag from Tule Publishing
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and Post a comment to this Q: At first, Faith is devastated by news of her pregnancy. In the end, it becomes the best thing that ever happened to her. Has there been occasion in your life when something at first might seem like the worst thing ever but ended up being exactly the right thing?
Excerpt from Cowboy True:
Faith wasn’t Gage’s first hookup, though he could count them on one hand. However, she’d been the first one to haunt him after. Because she’d been the only one that had mattered. The only one he’d had feelings for before sleeping with.
Feelings that had gone back almost seven years.
Feelings he’d hoped she reciprocated since she’d gone back with him to his hotel room. Instead, he’d woken up alone with no means of contacting her. With hardly anyone having a landline anymore, he couldn’t simply look her up.
He could’ve stopped in at her grandmother’s and asked how to reach Faith. However, he knew by how rarely she came to town—thanks to the town’s grapevine—her relationship with Alice Stone hadn’t improved over the years. Knocking on the woman’s door asking for her granddaughter’s contact information would lead to questions as to why he was looking for her.
He had no intention of sharing those answers with anyone, let alone Alice. They weren’t anyone’s business but his and Faith’s.
So, without asking her grandma and with only knowing Faith lived in San Antonio, he’d had no way to reach her.
At least now he could stop driving by her grandma’s house to see if Faith happened to be there visiting. Although, lucky for him, her grandma also lived on Yellow Rose Road, which happened to be on the same street as the fire hall where he worked.
It was why he hadn’t felt like a lovesick fool driving past all the time. If anyone asked, though it was shorter to take Wisteria Lane as it led to the highway he needed to take to get to the ranch, it still made sense for him to go past her grandma’s, and he could easily claim work as his excuse for going that way.
At least on the days he worked. The times he had to come in for the odd errand, he’d have no such excuse. But luckily, especially since he’d been driving that street an extra tenfold in the last three months, nobody had ever commented. And he’d know if they had as there weren’t many secrets in a town the size of Last Stand.
For now, at least, he knew until her vehicle was fixed, she was in town. He wanted to talk to her before she drove back to San Antonio. He’d arrange something with Ryker so his brother wouldn’t give her the keys until Gage had a chance to talk about that night in San Antonio.
“That woman back there? How’d you know her?”
Marcella buckled her seat belt then started the ambulance.
“We went to school together from grade eight on. Her name’s Faith Stone.”
“Stone?” She pulled the ambulance off the shoulder back onto the highway. “I don’t remember any Stones in high school.”
Gage’s lip curled.
Marcella scowled. “Don’t say it.”
Gage feigned innocence. “Say what?”
“That it’s because I’m so much older than you. I’m not even thirty yet.”
Gage grinned. “You will be within the month.”
“Bite me,” Marcella muttered.
Gage laughed. He’d been paired up with Marcella Russo since he was hired. Like police officers, EMT’s had partners. Each ambulance consisted of a troop of two people, an EMT and a paramedic. As a paramedic, Marcella had a broader scope of medical training and was able to administer meds that Gage couldn’t.
Unless someone was sick or on vacation, Gage always worked with Marcella and, over time, they’d become more than coworkers. They’d become friends. In the four years they’d worked together, Gage had gotten to know Marcella well enough to know the fact his partner was turning thirty was a touchy subject.
Not that it stopped Gage from mentioning it on occasion.
“Got any plans for your days off?”
As a rule, they worked 24/48-hour rotations. Twenty-four hours on, forty-eight off, which meant they had the next two days free. But since his work as an EMT wasn’t his only responsibility, Gage didn’t have the luxury of doing nothing for the next forty-eight hours.
“There’s still some haying to be finished, on top of regular chores. I’m sure Ryker will find something for me to do.”
Ryker not only helped their dad run the Diamond G, he also ran Granger Automotive out of the yard. Although, since Joe had had his heart attack almost two weeks ago and remained in a coma, it fell to Ryker, as the only Granger son to be there full-time, to keep the Diamond G operating.
It was easy enough for Gage to help when he wasn’t on duty. Cam, who usually only lent a hand between rodeos, planned on sticking around until their dad’s condition improved. Dallas managed one night a week and Sundays as he owned his own business in San Antonio and couldn’t spare more time.
Although Dallas’s new girlfriend, Ashley—on top of taking over the ranch books until Joe recovered—loved the horses, so maybe that would bring Dallas by a little more often.
If not, they’d manage. Though they were a ranch hand short with Brian recuperating from a hernia operation, Dallas had found a replacement their dad’s age that was proving to be a huge help. Roy had once owned his own farm, so he was used to doing chores and running equipment, and he was damn good at both. So good, in fact, Gage just might be able to get in a little fishing this weekend.
“Does Ryker ever do anything but work?” Marcella asked.
“Sure he does.” Gage jumped to his brother’s defense. “He fishes, hunts. Likes to go to the nearby rodeos.”
He also played music, which had been a revelation to Gage when he’d gone in Ryker’s garage once, looking for grease for a squeaky door hinge on his Jeep, and spotted a guitar case tucked in the corner. Since he’d never heard Ryker play, and his brother had never taken lessons far as he knew and certainly had never spoken about music other than to bitch about how loud Cam liked to listen to it, Gage suspected it was a secret Ryker wanted kept.
Gage had never mentioned he’d seen it.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Marcella said.
Back at the fire hall, Gage wiped down the inside of the ambulance. Though the only thing that needed to be restocked was the ice pack they’d given Faith, Gage nonetheless went through the ritual of double-checking they were stocked and ready to go.
In the office, he helped Marcella finish the paperwork. With everything in order, he said goodbye to the rest of the crew and clocked out. Since it was his night to cook, Gage swung by The Hut, the best barbecue place within three counties thanks to the post oak they used in their pits. Though they only served lunch, Gage had called ahead of time and, thanks to a family event they were having privately, was able to pick up his order despite the fact they’d been closed for hours.
Then, because Ryker had done him the favor of fetching Faith’s car, and the pie shop was just two doors down, he set the food into his Jeep before making a last pit stop at Char-Pie for the peach pie Ryker favored.
He wasn’t the only one who’d had the idea of pie for dessert. He held the door open for Police Chief Shane Highwater, who carried out two boxes in his hands, and smiled when he recognized Macon Draeger standing at the counter. As a volunteer firefighter, it wasn’t uncommon for Gage and Macon’s paths to cross.
Macon had his arms crossed. His brow was furrowed. Definitely more serious than choosing pie warranted.
Stepping up beside him and seeing only one peach pie in the display case, Gage nudged Macon’s ribs with his elbow.
“You can’t have the peach one,” Gage said.
Macon turned and smiled. “You don’t have to worry about that. I get enough of those during the peach festival.”
“Me, too, but this is for Ryker because he did me a favor today. Unlike the rest of us, he can never get enough.”
When the owner, Charlie Stockton, approached the counter, Macon said, “Go ahead. I’m still deciding.”
Gage bought the pie, said goodbye to Macon and Charlie, and walked out the shop. With the smells of sweet pie and BBQ filling his Jeep, Gage headed out of town.
Once he was past the town’s limits, the countryside opened up to farms and ranches. Settled comfortably behind the wheel, his thoughts turned to Faith.
She should be home by now, hopefully with her leg up and another ice pack on her knee. A picture of her grandmother’s little two-story house flashed through his mind. Though he’d never been invited inside, thanks to Alice, he imagined it was set out as most homes that age and size were. Living room, kitchen, bathroom, and maybe one-bedroom downstairs, the other bedrooms upstairs.
Well, shit. Why hadn’t he thought of that before?
He hadn’t been able to offer her crutches because the ambulance didn’t carry any, and Ryker would help her to get into the tow truck and then the house. But he hadn’t thought past that. Idiot. He should have considered how she’d get around between now and tomorrow. She’d need help moving around the house, never mind walking into a doctor’s office.
Gage took his foot off the gas as he checked his rearview mirror. With nothing to see but the long grey ribbon of highway and the fields on both sides, he pushed on the brake and made a U-turn. His phone pinged with an incoming text. He pulled over, looked at the screen. It was from Cam.
We’re starving. Haul ass.
Gage fired back a quick text.
Something came up. Won’t take long. Be there ASAP.
Ignoring the dots that indicated Cam was replying, Gage tossed his phone on the passenger seat and drove back to town.
Faith, leaning heavily on Ryker for support, hobbled into the kitchen.
Judging by the spicy smell filling the room, she figured they were having chili for supper. Her grandmother looked up as they entered. Her mouth pursed. She finished stirring then set the wooden spoon on a small saucer and replaced the lid on the crockpot.
“What did you do?” Alice asked.
“I’m fine, thanks,” Faith muttered. Then louder, she said, “I hit the ditch and banged up my knee. Since I also popped a tire, Ryker was nice enough to give my car a tow and bring me here.”
Faith sat in the closest chair and plopped the now lukewarm ice pack and her purse onto the table. She offered Ryker a smile. “Thanks for the help. Not just with the car, but with getting in and out of your truck and into the house.”
He shrugged. “That was no trouble. But you might want to get some crutches. Be easier to move around.”
She supposed she could ask her grandmother to drive her to emergency given that the regular clinics would be closing for the day, but right then, it seemed like too much hassle. Faith could already hear the woman’s griping if she were to suggest such a thing. She so wasn’t going there.
Besides, despite what she’d told Gage, her headache hadn’t stopped throbbing, and the only thing she wanted to do was take another acetaminophen and sit somewhere quiet.
“I will tomorrow.”
“Then I’ll let you get to your meal.” He tipped his hat. “Nice seeing you again, Mrs. Stone.”
Her grandmother gave a stiff nod.
Undeterred by the lack of warmth, he looked to Faith. “I’ll let you know what I find as soon I get a chance to look at it.”
“Sounds good. Thanks again.”
The minute he was gone, her grandmother turned to her. “You weren’t drinking, were you?”
“What? No! Something—a dog, I think—suddenly jumped onto the road. I swerved to miss it and ended up in the ditch.”
“So you weren’t paying attention,” Alice scoffed. Eying Faith, she stated, “I hope you aren’t looking to me to help pay for damages.”
Faith pressed her fingers to her temples. “I haven’t asked you for money since I left, have I? Whatever it costs, I’ll pay for myself.”
She might not have the best-paying job, but she was frugal with her money. It was why she’d insisted on having a roommate to share the rent. It allowed her to keep a savings account, which, in turn, kept her from ever having to ask her grandmother for anything. Because, Lord knew if she had to, she’d never live it down.
“Do you need help with supper?” Faith asked.
Her grandma, wearing a pink-and-white plaid waist apron, folded her hands over her middle. “No. But don’t think a sore knee will get you out of helping do the dishes after. I don’t run a restaurant.”
“I know.” You made it clear every day I lived here and every time I come back to visit. “Well, unless you need me for anything else, I think I’ll go sit outside until then.”
Though it was the last thing she wanted, she had just gotten there, and because she hadn’t been back since Easter, she felt obligated to ask her grandmother to join her.
“My program is on.”
And as though her only grandchild hadn’t come back for the first time in weeks, wasn’t sitting there in pain, Alice walked stiffly into the living room, leaving Faith alone. Which, in this case, was actually a blessing.
Though it did leave her with the problem of getting herself to the porch.
Gritting her teeth and using first the counter, then the wall, then hopping the rest of the way, which just added to the throbbing in her head, Faith finally made it outside.
She hobbled to one of the lawn chairs her grandma kept outside. Then she took the pot of African violets off the small table sitting between the two chairs and set it on the porch. Glad the table was made of plastic and not wood, Faith set it before her chair and, with a sigh, rested her foot on it.
Hopefully, her grandma would be too wrapped up in her program to harp on Faith’s choice of footstool.
One could hope.
Sitting back, Faith tried to relax. It should’ve been easy given the tree-lined street was quiet, except for the occasional bark of a dog and odd car creeping by as someone made their way home from work.
Plumes of smoke from backyard grills filled the air with delicious aromas. American flags hung sleepily from front porch railings. All in all, it couldn’t be more picturesque. But, instead of enjoying it, Faith’s thoughts turned to Gage.
She buried her face in her hands. She shouldn’t have accepted his invitation to go to his room. She shouldn’t have made out with him in the elevator until, when it reached his floor, his shirt had been ripped from his jeans and her hands had been exploring his washboard abdomen.
Sure, she could, and did, blame some of it on the alcohol they’d consumed that night, but for her, at least, there’d been more to it.
If there was such a thing as “the girl next door” then Gage was the “boy next door”. Easygoing, good-looking, and friends with everyone. Though he’d participated in school sports, he hadn’t been the all-star player, but he was competent enough that the guys always wanted him on the team. And while he hadn’t been top of the class academically, he certainly had never been at the bottom.
Most importantly, he was kind. Even though he’d fit in with the popular crowd, he’d had a smile for everyone. If someone needed help when he was around, he’d been the first to offer. She’d witnessed him stand up to more than one bully. Equally surprising was the fact that—despite not taking sides, despite standing up for the little guy, which sometimes meant putting a popular kid in their place—he never made enemies. There was just a way about him that people liked.
It was no surprise he’d become an EMT. Although he’d have made a good doctor. Or even a vet. Any job where he cared for things, really.
Because that was what Gage did. He took care. And if she hadn’t had him as a friend in high school, she didn’t know where she’d be.
Faith lowered her hands and stared at one of the pots of pink petunias that marched along the base of the porch railing. Actually, she did know where she’d be. Or at least what she’d be. A high school dropout.
After a particularly horrid night with her grandmother, Faith had gone to school the next day determined to get out of Last Stand. It hadn’t mattered that she was only fifteen and had no money and no way to leave. She’d been prepared to walk anywhere by then.
Anything had seemed better than living with Alice at that point. She’d emptied her locker of her personal possessions and left that afternoon with no plans to return.
Gage, catching up with her as she’d left the school grounds, had changed her mind. Though he’d always been friendly toward her, they hadn’t been close and really didn’t know each other. Though, she hadn’t known much about anyone.
Her grandma had never let anyone come over, and Faith hadn’t been allowed to go anywhere but school, home, and work. It was hard to make friends when she only ever had the chance to talk to them at lunch or during gym class.
But he’d befriended her that day. He must have seen her clean out her locker. Or perhaps he’d caught the tears she hadn’t been able to completely hold back. Either way, he’d caught up with her. He hadn’t asked her anything personal. Just made small talk.
Looking back, she realized what he’d done. He’d eased her into conversation. He’d let it be her choice, rather than demanding to know what was going on.
He’d told her about the ranch. Then he’d started telling her some story about how they had to inseminate a cow that wasn’t taking the usual way, and that she wouldn’t believe what had happened. Then he’d left it at that.
Dumbfounded, she’d asked what had happened, and he’d just smiled, given her a friendly wink, and told her she’d have to come back the next day to find out.
“Guess I’ll have to live in suspense,” she’d answered.
But that night, as she sat on the bed waiting for her grandma to fall asleep so she could sneak out, she’d thought of his story. More, she’d thought of his smile. How he’d cared enough to come after her and gently tried to get her to stay.
What was one more day? She’d survived that long. So she’d gone to sleep and gone to school the next day. Instead of looking smug she was back, he’d looked relieved. And happy. He’d told her he’d finish the story at lunch, which he had. But then he’d started another and, no surprise, had left that one unfinished. To be continued.
Eventually, he’d come to finish his stories on the same day he told them. By then, they’d become friends and he hadn’t seemed bothered he was never allowed over. But he had taken exception to her not being allowed at the ranch. And, more than once, had managed to sneak her there when her grandma was at one function or another.
It was because of Gage and his friendship that she’d graduated. And it was because of the kind of boy he’d been that she’d started to fall for him. Had attempted to kiss him the night of graduation. And, when he’d backed away from her, breaking her heart, the reason she’d never kept in touch. Not only because she’d been hurt, but because she’d been embarrassed. She’d wanted to distance herself from both.
“You should have thought of that before you went to his hotel room,” she muttered.
Which immediately turned her thoughts from high school to a night that, despite wishing it had never happened, she couldn’t forget.
After years of wondering what it would have been like to be with Gage, she still hadn’t been prepared for the reality of it. His hard body. His attention to detail.
Cheeks burning, Faith cleared her throat. It’d be best if she forgot just how much he’d pleased her. Especially when the sex was the reason she’d had to come back.
She was distracted from her thoughts as a blue Jeep slowed, then stopped at the curb in front of her grandma’s house. It wasn’t a vehicle she recognized, but she had been living in San Antonio for almost seven years. With the angle it had parked, she couldn’t see the driver until he stepped out of the vehicle.
Shit. Shit. Shit!
What was Gage doing here? Though she knew she had to talk to him, this place wasn’t any better than the ditch had been earlier. In fact, it was worse. So much worse.
He stepped out and looked over the roof of the Jeep. He took off his sunglasses, hung them from the open collar of his uniform shirt. Their gazes locked. He braced his arms on the black hard top of his vehicle. A smile curved his lips.
“Bet you didn’t expect to see me again so soon.”
It was clear by her wide eyes she hadn’t. Just as it was clear by the way her shoulders stiffened that she wasn’t thrilled about it, either. Her reaction pulled him in two different directions.
Part of him wanted to hurry and reassure her and let her know she had nothing to fear from him. He wasn’t there to shout from Main Street that they’d slept together.
The other part of him wanted to march up those steps and demand to know why she’d not only run out on him in San Antonio, but earlier today, as well. Well, she hadn’t literally run away because she couldn’t with a wrecked car and a bum knee, but she hadn’t been happy to see him then, either, and she’d refused his help until he’d practically had to beg her to let him.
He wouldn’t lie. Her reaction hurt. Because he’d treated her with respect. Hell, he’d worshiped her. There’d been no coercion. In fact, he’d asked her multiple times between them leaving the bar together and their getting naked if she was sure. She’d said yes. And when she’d screamed his name later, it sure as hell hadn’t been in anger or fear.
He could understand regret, as he carried some, as well. He’d been extra careful in high school to treat her special.
So when he’d first woken up in that hotel room and remembered what had happened, he’d initially felt a little panicked.
Everyone in Last Stand knew about her mother’s wild ways. He’d always suspected that was part of the reason she’d been so reserved.
Because of that, he’d been careful not to flirt with her at first. He hadn’t wanted her to think he was befriending her to get laid. He hadn’t known, at the time, the relationship she had with her grandmother, but he had known she wasn’t happy. And he’d wanted her to be.
Once she’d shared her life with him, and he realized he’d been right, he’d tried to show her she was pretty and smart and fun to be around. That it wasn’t a hardship to spend time with her.
He’d never gotten completely through to her. When they spent time together, whether it was after he drove her home from one of the times he’d snuck her out of the house or when he’d walked her to her locker, she’d thanked him like he’d done some chore for her. And if he happened to stop and talk or ask to sit beside her outside or in the cafeteria, she’d always look around first. As though the only reason he could possibly want to was if nobody was watching.
Nobody was watching now.
Pushing away from the Jeep, he reached in the back and pulled out the crutches he’d stopped to get at the pharmacy. Carrying them in one hand, he skirted the front of his vehicle and stepped onto the sidewalk.
The Stone house wasn’t anything fancy. An older, rectangular shaped two-story with a porch off to the right. But one thing about it remained the same as it had been in high school. It was well maintained. The lack of peeling paint on the wood siding told him the pale cream color had been recently applied. The front door that had once been plain white was now the color of the Caribbean ocean.
Faith’s grandma had pots of pink flowers lining the deck and flanking the door while bright, multicolored blooms flourished in the flowerbeds tucked up against the house. The sweet smell of them blended with that of a neighbor grilling meat. Both scents followed him up the stairs.
“I thought you could use these,” he said as he stepped onto the porch.
Her lips tipped upward. “Thanks. It was a bit tricky getting out here.”
“Didn’t have help I take it?”
“Yeah, right,” Faith scoffed.
He set the crutches at her feet.
“You didn’t have to do that, Gage,” she said, keeping her eyes lowered.
He took the chair next to hers, careful not to bump her elevated leg. “It wasn’t about have to, Faith. I wanted to.”
He leaned forward, braced his elbows on his knees. “I don’t mind helping out my friends. And once upon a time, Faith, we were friends.”
She raised her head. Her hazel eyes met his. “That was a long time ago.”
He cocked his head. “What happened in San Antonio wasn’t that long ago.”
Color poured into her cheeks. He sat back, satisfied. After her walking out on him at the hotel and then her reserve at the accident site earlier, he’d feared that night hadn’t affected her.
Because it sure as hell had had some effect on him.
Normally, when he looked back on a night with a woman, he relived the moments. What she’d done, what he’d done. How it had felt. How he’d want to see her again. Do it all over again. While he’d thought all those things with Faith, he’d actually spent more time thinking of other things than he had of the actual sex.
What was she doing? How was she doing? Was she regretting what they’d done? Why didn’t she call?
Okay, they hadn’t exchanged numbers that night, but the Diamond G still had a landline. It would have been easy enough for her to find the number if she’d wanted to. Since he’d never received a message, despite having asked Ryker every day for the first two weeks after that weekend in San Antonio if anyone had called for him, it was clear she hadn’t wanted to.
Because she’d cut the ties after high school, he didn’t know much about her anymore. Other than the fact she lived and worked in San Antonio. But he didn’t know where exactly. Had no idea if she had a roommate. She could have twenty cats for all he knew.
The point was, he knew nothing about her, and she knew as little about him now, other than he lived and worked in Last Stand.
So really, had this been any other woman, there was no reason she would have consumed as much of his thoughts as Faith had. Their hookup would have been easy to move past.
But it wasn’t just any woman. It was Faith and, three months later, he still couldn’t let it go.
What had started out as friendship in high school had changed into more for Gage. But he’d always known his life was in Last Stand, and Faith had made it clear hers wasn’t. Instead of starting something that would break his heart, he’d never pursued his feelings. But that hadn’t stopped him from missing her over the years. From wishing things had been different.
The moment he’d kissed her in that bar, he’d known. This time, he wasn’t going to let her go without a fight. He didn’t care if she lived in San Antonio. They were adults now. They could find a way to make it work. He could convince her life in Last Stand would be good. With him.
But she’d taken away that possibility when she’d disappeared in the night. Now he’d found her again, and he was going to make sure she didn’t disappear on him again.
“Faith, about that night…”
“Shh!” Her head swiveled toward the screen door.
Despite hearing muffled voices coming from the television inside, she was clearly worried Alice would hear. He sighed. Dammit, he really wanted to talk. But he had to agree. With Alice within earshot, it still wasn’t the time or place.
“Fine. But you’re not getting away—”
He was interrupted by his phone ringing. He pulled it from his pocket, saw it was Ryker.
“Sorry. I should grab this.” Likely, his brother was just looking for his supper, but in case he needed something else from town, better Gage find out now rather than after he was home.
“Yeah, Ryker, what’s up?”
“I’m freaking starving. You bringing supper, or do I have to throw a pizza in the oven?”
“I’ve got it. Just had to make a quick stop.”
“Well, finish it already. Cam and I’ve already chewed through a bag of chips.”
Gage scowled. “The smoky bacon ones were mine.”
“Were being the operative word. And unless you want us to dig into the stash of bagels you hide at the back of the freezer, you’d better get here with supper.”
Gage heaved a breath. “I’m on my way. Don’t touch the bagels.”
“Someone holding bagels for ransom?”
Gage slid his phone back in his pocket. “Ryker and Cam are starving and looking for their supper.” He shrugged. “My night to cook, so I got takeout from The Hut.”
“Can’t go wrong with barbecue.”
“Yeah. Anyway, it’s in the Jeep, so I better get going. I just wanted to make sure you had crutches for tonight.”
“And now I do. Thanks to you.”
He stood up but he didn’t walk away. Instead, he looked down at her. “I’m off for the next two days. Since you can’t go anywhere until your car is fixed, how about I pick you up tomorrow? We can go somewhere and talk.”
He’d expected her to come up with excuses, list a dozen reasons why they shouldn’t. So it surprised him when she nodded instead.
“How about I swing by after lunch? I have some chores to do in the morning.” He gestured to her propped leg. “Since a walk is out of the question, we could go for a drive. Or we could go back to the ranch. Up to you.”
“Not the ranch. Maybe just a drive.”
He wasn’t sure why the ranch was out, but location didn’t matter. He just wanted to talk.
“Works for me. I’ll see you around one thirty.”
Though he didn’t look back, he swore her gaze followed him to his Jeep and down the residential street until he turned the corner.
He took a deep breath, filling his senses with the aroma of barbecue. All in all, it hadn’t been a bad day. No major emergencies. He had a delicious meal waiting for him, and he’d finally found the woman that had haunted his thoughts for the past three months—six plus years, if he were honest.
He wasn’t sure if it was normal to hang on to feelings for a woman that long. But then, when had his life ever been normal?
His dad had emotionally shut down when his mom had gotten sick with cancer. His oldest brother, Dallas, had taken over as head of the family and tried to be both mother and father. What he’d ended up being was closer to a general.
By the time their dad had emerged from his depression—or whatever had kept him closed off and living as a stranger for years—every relationship in their household had been damaged.
They’d lived more as acquaintances than family for almost a decade now. And likely would have continued on that way indefinitely if, nearly two weeks ago now, his dad hadn’t had a heart attack and been brought in by a mysterious woman nobody knew. She’d slipped out, and since vanished, before anyone could find out who she was.
They suspected she was the reason Joe’d had the attack, but until he regained consciousness, the woman came forward, or they found their dad’s car—which could give them some insight as to where he’d been and what he could have possibly been doing—they had no way of knowing.
Gage rubbed his temples.
And he’d thought his relationship with Faith was complicated.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
She’s back in his life… and this time he’s not letting go.
Gage Granger knew back in high school that his friend and secret crush was desperate to get out of Last Stand, Texas. But with his roots running deep into the Hill Country soil of his family’s ranch, he couldn’t leave and so made the tough decision to let her go.
When Faith Stone runs into Gage in a San Antonio bar, she’s had just enough to drink to act on feelings that haven’t cooled in six years. And enough sense to flee the morning after. Yet almost twelve weeks later she’s back in her hometown and despite her life-altering news, her plan’s the same—leave Last Stand and its painful memories behind. Faith will never be anyone’s burden or responsibility again.
For Gage, Faith has always been the one. But he’ll have an uphill battle to convince her his heart is true.
Meet the Author:
Award-winning author Michelle Beattie began writing in 1995, almost immediately after returning from her honeymoon. It took 12 long years but she achieved her dream of seeing her name on the cover of a book when she sold her novel, What A Pirate Desires, in 2007. Since then she’s written and published several more historical novels as well a contemporary. Her pirate books have sold in several languages, been reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly and Romantic Times. Two of her independent self-published works went on to win the Reader’s Choice Silken Sands Self-Published Star Contest.
When Michelle isn’t writing she enjoys playing golf, reading, walking her dog, travelling and sitting outside enjoying the peace of country life. Michelle comes from a large family and treasures her brothers and sister as well as the dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins she’s proud to call family. She lives outside a tiny town in east-central Alberta, Canada with her husband, two teenage daughters and their dog, Ty.
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