Itâs just a belated goodbye, right? No harm, no foul.
A FOOL FOR YOU
Foolproof Love #3
Releasing Oct 3rd, 2016
Itâs been thirteen years since Hope Moore left Devilâs Falls, land of sexy cowboys and bad memories. Back for the weekend, she has no intention of seeing the man she never got overâ¦or the two of them getting down and dirty. Itâs just a belated goodbye, right? No harm, no foul.
Until six weeks later, when her pregnancy test comes back positiveâ¦
Daniel Rodriguez hasnât forgiven himself for how things went down with Hope all those years ago. He knows sheâs better off without him, but when she shows up on his doorstep, panicking because sheâs pregnant with his baby, he canât help seeing it as a chance to make up for the past.
Too bad Hope has no intention of going along with his plans.
Hope Moore held her breath as she passed the sign declaring Welcome to Devilâs Falls. She hadnât crossed the town boundary in thirteen years, not since she sat next to an open grave as they lowered her brother into the ground. Not since she turned her back on her entire life here, whisked away by her parents to the best medical facilities Texas had to offer.
She touched her knee. Sheâd never cheered again, never run track, never done any of the things sheâd had planned when she was eighteen and had graduated high school with stars in her eyes.
Stars in her eyes, and love in her heart.
Neither had lasted past that car crash.
Oh, it had taken the love a lot longer to die than it had her knee, but Daniel Rodriguez made sure she knew where she stood with him.
She caught herself taking her foot off the gas and picked up speed again. There was no telling if sheâd see him while she was here, but it couldnât matter. Sheâd moved past what happened that night, moved past the disappointment that sheâd almost let sour everything else about her life. It might not have happened like she planned, but sheâd made the best of her college experience, and sheâd gone on to create a successful little niche for herself, helping people and institutions with too much money on their hands create trusts and scholarships for those in need.
And now Hope was back in town to finally do that in her brotherâs memory.
She pulled onto Main Street, heading for the only lodgings someone out of town with no relatives to stay with would considerâSara Janeâs B&B. It was a nice little place, but Sara Jane was nosy to a criminal degree and gossiped more than anyone Hope had ever come across. The second she checked in and went up to her room, everyone with a phone would be getting a call letting them know that she was back in town.
It wasnât that it was a secret, but she couldnât help but feel that sheâd always be John Mooreâs little sister, the one who survived when her older brotherâher better in a lot of waysâdidnât. She knew that was her own insecurity. Sheâd had too many years of therapy to believe anything else, except in her darkest heart of hearts, the place she didnât let see the light any more than strictly necessary.
But it was hard to ignore that little voice when driving through Devilâs Falls. No, not through.To. This was her destination.
Her parents hadnât been too thrilled about her coming back, even for a limited time, but even they couldnât deny that this scholarship she was here to set up was a good thingâthe right way to honor John. Heâd been in the middle of a full ride at the University of Texas when he was killed, and it made sense to set it up to allow other kids the opportunity heâd never be able to realize.
She pressed a hand to her chest and pulled into the nearest parking spot against the curb. God, even after all this time, it still hurts. Most days it didnât. Heâd been gone long enough that sheâd processed her grief as much as one person could process grief, and she was able to focus on the good memories.
Her eyes focused on the sign sheâd been staring blindly at, and she frowned. Cups and Kittens. That was new. In a town as mired in the past as Devilâs Falls, change was something of a novelty. Or maybe she was biased in a negative way, because the only thing this town held for her was memories. Some bad, mostly good, all dust now.
Pathetically grateful for something external to focus on, she climbed out of her car and looked at the cheery window painting depicting kittens frolicking in between flowers.
The B&B could wait a little while longer. Her meeting with the town board wasnât until tomorrow, so there was no reason she couldnât do a little poking around in the meantime. Thirteen years was a long time. If anyone had asked her, she would have joked that she hadnât expected anything about Devilâs Falls to change while she was gone.
Apparently sheâd been wrong.
She pushed through the door and froze in the face of a pair of cats staring at her from their perch on a table overlooking the big window in the front. The sight surprised a laugh out of her. âCups and Kittens, indeed.â
âIn the most literal sense.â
She glanced over at the woman behind the counter, a third cat lounging near the register. Familiarity rolled over Hope. âJules Rodriguez.â Danielâs little cousin. Not so little anymore. Last time sheâd seen Jules, the girl had been lanky to an almost awkward degree and had braces with bright green bands. Sheâd grown up pretty, and there was more of Daniel about her now than there had been when she was a kid.
Or maybe Iâm just back in Devilâs Falls and seeing Daniel wherever I look.
Julesâs dark eyes cleared. âHope? What are you doing back in town?â She hesitated. âI donât suppose youâre here to sweep my brooding cousin off his feet and shove him back into real life?â
Her mind tripped over itself trying to keep up with the other womanâs verbal gymnastics. Jules had always been like that, now that she thought about itâa bright and bubbly steamroller. She tried to weed her way through what the woman had just said, but there was only one thing she could focus on. Daniel. Always Daniel. âWhat do you mean, back into real life?â
âWell, you know.â
No, she really didnât. She studied Julesâs face, the way she wouldnât quite meet her eyes. âIs he okay?â She hadnât missed the way Quinn Baldwyn had frozen up when sheâd asked that same question a few weeks ago at his sisterâs wedding, and worry had been simmering in the back of her mind ever since, no matter how many times she told herself it wasnât any of her business. Daniel was a grown man, and he had always been more than capable of taking care of himselfâand everyone else around him. Things changed, but she couldnât see that changing.
Jules shifted, her hand darting out to pet the calico on the counter and then darting away when the cat swiped at her. âDefine okay.â
It was none of her business. It stopped being her business a very long time ago.
But that didnât stop her from clearing her throat and asking, âIs heâ¦is he married?â Did he build the house we always talked about and have those two wild boys and one sweet girl? Does he bring his wife waffles for breakfast in bed on the weekends?
Oh my God, stop.
But Jules was already shaking her head, her mouth turning down. âNope. No wife, no kids, no serious relationship in, well, thirteen years.â
Hope blinked. âYouâre joking.â
âI wish I was.â A calculating look came into her eyes, but then she shook herself and it was all guileless enthusiasm. âWhat are you doing for dinner?â She rushed on without waiting for a response. âWeâre having a little thing with Quinn and my friend Aubry, and, well, I kind of went and married Adam Meyers.â
Some things really do change. She remembered Adam, the wild-eyed boy whoâd grown into a wild-eyed man, better than she remembered Jules. No one had expected him to come back to Devilâs Falls after he blew out of town that last time, let alone to settle here andâ¦get married. âWow. Whatâs Daniel have to say about that?â
âHe was best man at our wedding.â Jules laughed. âThough he was pretty furious at the beginning. Here, sit down. You look like you could use a coffee, and Iâll tell you the story since weâre generally pretty dead Thursday nights. Then Iâll close up and we can go to dinner. The boys will love to see you. Quinn was just talking about you the other day.â
Hope wasnât sure she actually agreed to any of it, but the next thing she knew, she was drinking coffee while a cat curled up in her lap and listening to Julesâs wild tale about a fake relationship that turned into a real relationship. Somehow in the middle of that, she was bundled up into Julesâs truck, and by then it was too late to change her mind.
She settled into her seat, consoling herself with the fact that Jules had very specifically not mentioned Danielâs name. There was no reason to think heâd be there, but it would be nice to reconnect with some of her old friends. As much as it had hurt when things went south with Daniel, knowing that sheâd lost Quinn and Adam, too, had just been salt in the wound. Sheâd chased them around since she could toddle after her big brother and his friends, and theyâd turned into true friends over the years. She understood why they hadnât reached out, but she wasnât going to turn down a chance to catch up with them.
It would probably be the only nice thing about being back in Devilâs Falls.
âYou havenât even heard what Iâm asking.â
âDonât need to.â Daniel Rodriguez leaned down and unbuckled Ritaâs saddle and hefted it off the horseâs back. Theyâd had a good run today, the hot sun making it impossible to think too hard about anything other than whether a human being could roast alive in Texas in August. He hadnât yet, so that put the odds ever so slightly in his favor.
All he wanted was to finish here and head back to his place for a cold shower and an even colder beer.
It would just fucking figure that the universe had other ideas. He glanced up, but Aubry Kaiser hadnât moved. In fact, with her arms crossed over her chest and her chin up, all signs pointed to this adding up to an argument he couldnât possibly win.
She frowned harder. âItâs your birthday. You canât just sit at home by yourself.â
âSince itâs my birthday, this is the one day a year I should be able to do exactly that with no one bitching at me.â He regretted the harsh words almost as soon as they were out of his mouth, but Aubry wasnât like his little cousin. She was meaner than a rattler and twice as likely to bite.
She narrowed her amber eyes at him. âYour cousin misses you.â
That explained why she was out here when he knew for a fact she thought horses were akin to goatsâas in, the devilâs own creatures. Hell, she was giving poor Rita a suspicious look even while guilt-tripping him using the one person in his life he couldnât say no to.
Which doesnât explain why Jules herself isnât here.
âShe sees me on a regular basis.â
âThis is your birthday.â Aubry sighed and rolled her eyes, looking put-upon. âLook, it goes like thisâJules has worked really hard to put together a surprise birthday party for you, and if you donât show up to be surprised, sheâs going to be crushed.â
He stared. âI donât want a surprise birthday party.â The fact that it was no longer a surprise said a whole lot about Aubryâs priorities, and he couldnât blame her for that.
âLook at my face. This is the face of a woman who doesnât give two fucks what you care about. What I care about is Jules, and that means youâre going to go shower off the smell of that animal and show up at their house in an hour, right on time.â She paused, her brows slanting down in an expression that was downright forbidding. âYou helped me out not too long ago, so Iâm going to do you a solid and give you the lowdown. Ready?â
Fuck, no. âSure.â
âJules is worried about you. Really worried. If you donât show up tonight, sheâs going to take that as a sign to go forward with plan B.â
He knew he was going to regret it, but he still asked, âWhatâs plan B?â
Aubry gave a tight smile. âA full-scale intervention with everyone in your life, including your parents. The kind where they sit you down in a circle and each speak their mind in the most uncomfortable way possible until youâre ready to beg the ground to swallow you whole.â Her smile dimmed. âSheâs worried about you, Daniel.â
Everyone seemed worried about him, though they usually did him the courtesy of at least trying to hide the looks exchanged when they thought he wasnât looking. The whispered conversations with his various cousins and his parents. The never-ending work that was only there because they were throwing him a goddamn bone. It didnât seem to matter that he hadnât done anything requiring an intervention. Heâd just stopped enjoying the company of people, mostly because he was such shitty company these days. But try telling that to the family, and they acted like he had just confessed to being an ax murderer.
At least Jules had mostly stayed out of it. Up until today.
He grabbed the curry brush and went over Ritaâs back. Aubry was right. Showing up to a party he didnât want on a day he sure as fuck didnât feel like celebrating was vastly preferable to the alternative. âExplain to me what the plan is.â
She gave a grin that did nothing to reassure him. âDinner and drinks. Itâll be nice. Adam and Quinn miss you.â
âI see those assholes every day.â Kind of hard not to when they worked the ranch alongside him. It felt right to have Adam back, to have Quinn there, but at the same time it was a constant reminder that they were a man short.
And it was his fault.
âItâs different and you know it,â Aubry continued, obviously enjoying how miserable he was. Sheâd always been a mean one, which never failed to amuse him because Jules was her polar oppositeâas bright and happy as a spring day. Rita shifted in her stall, and Aubry went even paler than she was normally. âDinner starts at six. Donât be late.â Then she was gone, moving at a clip fast enough that a less cautious man than Daniel would call it running.
He waited a good five minutes before he followed, hauling the saddle into the tack room and sorting out the bridle. He didnât begrudge Quinn his happinessâor Adam, for that matterâbut sometimes it sure as fuck was hard to be around them and their women. The fact that one of those women was his little cousin barely entered into it.
He headed for his truck and took the pitted dirt road leading around the edge of his parentsâ property to the little house heâd built a few years ago. It wasnât anything fancy, but it got the job done, and it was far enough outside town that most people thought twice before stopping by unannounced.
Most people not including his family.
The shower did nothing to ward off the feeling of pending doom. It wasnât that he didnât like Jules or Adam or Quinn or whoever the fuck else was going to be at this damn party, but he wasnât in the partying sort of mood. Truth be told, he hadnât been in that mood for over a decade. It was almost enough to make him call the whole thing off, but the knowledge that Jules would have no problem bringing the party to him got him moving again. Not to mention the potential intervention he needed like he needed a hole in the head.
At least if he went there, he could hang out for the appropriate amount of time, make his excuses, and slip out while everyone else was occupied. Two hours, tops.
Feeling significantly better, he pulled on a pair of his favorite old jeans and a T-shirt and grabbed his keys. It struck him as he walked out the door that he was thirty-fucking-four years old. How the hell did that happen? He shook his head. He knew damn well how that happened. One day turned into a week, a month, a year, a decade. All while he kept on keeping, the world changing around him, but never changing enough.
He glanced at his watch. âTwo hours starts when I get there.â
New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Katee Robert learned to tell her stories at her grandpaâs knee. She found romance novels at age twelve and they changed her life. When not writing sexy contemporary and romantic suspense, she spends her time playing imaginary games with her children, driving her husband batty with what-if questions, and planning for the inevitable zombie apocalypse.
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