WANTED: HUSBAND&DADDY Serious Candidates Only!
Katie Garrity is proud of her work at her Life is Sweet bakery, but it's high time she showed the town of Crimson that she's more than just "The Cupcake Lady." She wants to be "Mrs." and "Mommy" so badly she can't stand it! But in the small mountain town, the pickings are slim until the one who got away returns.
As a forest ranger, Noah loves protecting the places and people he loveshe just can't commit to forever. Katie has been his best friend since high school, but when did she turn into such a lovely woman? And is that desire he feels? Still, Crimson holds too many memories, and Katie wants things Noah can't give. But after one explosive night, it just may be too late. Only nine months will tell
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It was pretty much a given that a first date was a disaster when getting ready for it had been the best part of the evening.
Katie Garrity picked at the pale pink polish on her fingernails as she tried to look interested in the man sitting across from her. Owning a bakery was tough on her hands, so she'd tried to make them look more feminine tonight. She'd blown out her hair, applied makeup and even worn a dress and heels. All to look datable, the kind of woman a man would want to marry and have babies with. Her stomach squeezed at the time and effort she'd wasted. Or maybe it was her ovaries clenching.
Her date tapped his fingers on the table and her gaze snapped to his. "I have a couple of friends who are on gluten-free diets," she said, hoping she was responding to the question he'd asked. "I've been working on some recipes that would appeal to them."
"I'm talking about more than gluten-free." Her date shook his head. "I mean a full overhaul to a raw-foods diet. You would not believe how fast your colon cleans out when"
"Got it," Katie interrupted, looking over his shoulder for the waitress. The man, Mike, the project manager from nearby Aspen, had already given her too many details on what happened to his digestive system after a few bites of bread.
Why had she agreed to this date in the first place?
Because one of her customers had offered to set her up, and Katie wanted a date. A date that might lead to more, might give her the future she so desperately craved but couldn't seem to manage on her own.
She knew almost everyone in her hometown of Crimson, Colorado, but her popularity hadn't helped her love life in recent years. Men might be addicted to the pastries she created in her bakery, Life is Sweet, but that was where their interest in her ended.
"You should think about changing your shop to a raw-foods restaurant. The one in Aspen is doing quite well."
Katie focused on Mike, her eyes narrowing. "Are you suggesting I close my bakery? The one I inherited from my grandmother and has been in my family for three generations?" She had nothing against vegetables, but this was too much.
"Sugar could be considered a drug," Mike continued, oblivious to the fact that steam was about to start shooting from her ears. "It's like you're running a meth lab."
She felt her mouth drop open. "Okay, we're done here." She stood, pulled her wallet out of her purse and threw a few bills on the table. "Thank you for an enlightening evening. Have a safe drive back to Aspen."
Mike blinked, glanced at his watch then up at her.
"Should I call you?"
"I'll be busy," she answered through gritted teeth. "Baking in my 'meth lab.'"
She turned for the bar. Although they'd met for dinner at the brewery that had opened in downtown Crimson a few months ago, Mike had insisted they both order water while droning on about the contaminants in microbrewed beer. She needed a good dose of contaminants right about now.
The doors to the brewery's patio were open, letting in fresh mountain air on this early-summer night. The days were warm in Crimson in June, but because of the altitude the temperatures dropped at night. Still, there was a crowd out front, and Katie was glad for it. Crimson was a quaint, historic town nestled at nine thousand feet deep in the Rocky Mountains, with streets lined with Victorianera houses. Crimson attracted a fair number of visitors, and anything that brought more people into downtown was good for all the local businesses, including her bakery.
Turning back to the bar, her gaze snagged on a set of broad shoulders hunched over the polished wood. Katie felt her ovaries go on high alert. Down, girls, she admonished silently.
She walked closer, ordered a pale ale from the bartender and nudged the shoulder next to her. "Hey, Noah. When did you get to town?"
"Katie-bug." Noah Crawford's deep voice washed over her. Then he smiled, turning her insides to mush. Of course, she'd had this response to Noah since high school, so she was used to functioning as a glob of goo. "I got in a few days ago to see my mom. What are you doing out tonight?"
"I had a date," she mumbled, taking a drink of the beer the bartender set in front of her.
"A date?" Noah's cobalt blue eyes widened a fraction. He normally had a good six inches on her, but while sitting on the bar stool while she stood, they were the same height.
"Yes, Noah, a date" She grabbed a handful of nuts from the bowl on the bar and popped a few in her mouth. "It's when a man and a woman go out together in public. It usually involves more than alcohol and meaningless sex, so you might not be familiar with the term."
"Ouch." He shifted toward her, turning on the bar stool so his denim-clad knee grazed her hip. She felt the connection all the way up her body and gripped her beer glass harder, gulping down half the amber liquid.
"Did I do something to you, Bug? Because I thought we were friends. Hell, you've been one of my best friends since we were sixteen. Lately I'm not the most observant guy, but it seems like you kind of hate me."
She took a breath through her mouth, trying to ignore the way Noah's scentthe smell of pine and spicewashed over her. "We're still friends, Noah," she whispered. "But stop calling me Bug. That was a nickname for a kid. I'm not a kid anymore."
"I know that, Katie" His tone was teasing and he poked her shoulder gently. "How was the date?"
"Stupid." She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, not trusting herself to look straight at him and keep her emotions hidden. One beer and she was tipsy. She signaled the bartender for another.
Yes, she and Noah were friends, but she'd always wanted more. Noah had never acknowledged her silly infatuation. She wasn't sure he'd even noticed.
"Stupid, huh?" She felt rather than saw him stiffen. "Do I need to kick his butt? Was he out of line?"
"Nothing like that. Just boring."
"So why'd you go out with him in the first place?" The bartender brought refills for both of them. Katie watched Noah's fingers grip the pint glass. His hands were big and callused from the work he did as a division chief for the United States Forest Service. He spent his days outside, and she knew he was in great shape. She did not sneak a glance at the muscles of his tanned forearm as he raised the glass to his mouth. Nope, that would get her nowhere except more frustrated than she already was.
"I'm going to have a baby." She took a sip of beer as Noah choked and spit half of his beer across the bar. "I should say I want to have a baby."
"Going to or want to?" Noah pulled on the sleeve of her lightweight sweater, spinning her to face him. "There's a big difference."
She rolled her eyes. "Want to. Would I be in a bar drinking if I was pregnant now?"
"Good point." He lifted the hem of his olive green T-shirt to wipe his mouth just as she handed him a napkin. His lips quirked as he took it from her. His dark blond hair was longer than normal, curling a little at the nape of his neck. The top was messed as though he'd been running his hands through it. Which she knew he did when he was stressed. "Aren't these things supposed to happen naturally?"
"Easy for you to say." She took another drink, the beer making her stomach tingly and her tongue too loose. "You smile and panties all through the Rocky Mountains spontaneously combust."
He tilted back his head and laughed then flashed her a wide grin. A glass shattered nearby, and Katie turned to see a young woman staring slack-jawed at Noah. " See what I mean?"
He winked at the woman then turned his attention back to Katie. "Are your panties combusting?" He leaned in closer, his mouth almost grazing her jaw.
Katie resisted the urge to fan herself. "My panties are immune to you."
"That's why we can be friends," he said, straightening again.
Katie felt a different kind of clenching than she had earlier. This time it was her heart.
"Seriously, though, why would you agree to a date with a loser?"
"I didn't know he was a loser when I agreed. I'm at the bakery by four every morning and in bed most nights by nine. My social life consists of pleasantries exchanged with customers and the occasional girls' night out."
"Have one of your girlfriends set you up."
"I've asked. They're looking." She propped her elbows on the bar and dropped her head into her hands. "Everyone is looking. It's a little embarrassing. People are coming out of the woodwork with men for me to date. I feel like a charity case."
"It's not that." His hand curled around the back of her neck, massaging the tight muscles there. It shamed her how good even such an innocent touch felt. How it ignited the rest of her body. "Locals in Crimson love you, just like they loved your grandma when she ran the bakery. You help everyone, Bug. It's time to let them return the favor."
She started to correct his use of the nickname he'd given her so long ago when he added, "You deserve to be happy."
Something in his tone made her head snap up. Through the haze of her slight buzz, she studied him. Fine lines bracketed his blue eyes, and although they were still brilliant, she realized now they also seemed tired. The shadow of stubble across his annoyingly chiseled jaw looked not careless but as if he'd been too busy or stressed to shave.
"What's going on, Noah? Why are you in town?"
"I told you, to visit my mom."
She'd seen that look in his eyes before. A decade ago, the year his father died of cancer. "Because "
He crossed his arms over his chest, the soft cotton of his T-shirt stretching around his biceps. He was wound tight enough to break in half. "She has a brain tumor." The words came out on a harsh breath, and she could tell how much it cost him to say them out loud. A muscle throbbed in his jaw.
"Oh, no. I'm sorry." She closed her eyes for a moment then met his guarded gaze.
For all her mixed emotions toward Noah, she loved him. Not just romantically, but deep in her soul, and she hated to see him hurting. Katie knew better than most how difficult his dad's illness had been, the toll it had taken on the entire Crawford family and Noah in particular. She reached out and wrapped her fingers around his wrists, tugging until she could take his hands in hers. Despite the beating her hands took in the bakery, they looked delicate holding his. "What can I do?"
"It's okay." He shook his head but didn't pull away. "It's called a meningioma. Based on the results of the MRI, it's benign. Apparently she'd been having symptoms for a while and finally went to Denver for an MRI.
She didn't call Emily or me until she had the results so we wouldn't worry."
"That sounds like your mom." Meg Crawford was one of the strongest women Katie had ever met. She'd seen her husband, Noah's father, Jacob, through stage-four pancreatic cancer with grace and optimism. No matter how bad things got, Meg's attitude had never wavered. "Is Emily back in town, too?" Noah's younger sister lived on the East Coast with her attorney husband and young son.
"I picked up her and Davey in Denver earlier today."
Katie had never met Emily's four-year-old son. "How long will the two of you be here? What's the treatment? Your mom's prognosis?"
"Slow down there, Bug." A hint of a smile crossed his face. "I mean Katie."
"You get a free pass tonight. Call me whatever you want." She squeezed his hand.
"I'll take her to Denver early next week for a craniotomy. They'll biopsy the tumor to confirm that it's benign. She'll have follow-up cognitive testing. The first couple of weeks are when she'll need the most help, but it'll be at least six until she's back to normal. If all goes well, it's just a matter of regular MRIs going forward."
"She'll recover completely? No long-term side effects?"
"That's what her doctor is saying now, although there are a lot of variables. The brain is complex. But she's
"She's going to be fine, Noah. Your mom is strong."
"So was my dad."
"Do you two want another round?" The bartender spoke before Katie could answer.
"Not for me." She drew her hands away from Noah's, suddenly aware of how intimate they looked sitting together. She caught the jealous glare of the woman who'd dropped her drink earlier. That woman was Noah's type, big bust and small waista girl who looked as if she knew how to party. Opposite of Katie in every way.
Noah followed her gaze and the woman smiled.
"Your next conquest?" Katie couldn't help asking.
"Not tonight." He stood and took his wallet from the back pocket of his faded jeans, tossing a few bills on the bar. "I'll walk you home."
"You don't have to"
"I want to." He shrugged. "Sitting here drinking is doing me no good. I I don't want to be alone right now, you know?"
She nodded. "Want to watch a movie?"
"Elf?" he asked, his expression boyishly hopeful.
"It's June, Noah," she said with a laugh. The two of them shared a love for all things Will Ferrell.
"Never too early for some holiday cheer."
"Elf it is, then."
He flashed a grateful smile and chucked her on the shoulder. "What would I do without you, Bug?"
Katie ignored the butterflies that skittered across her stomach at his words. Noah was a friend, and no matter what her heart wanted, she knew he'd never be anything more.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very good book. Katie and Noah have been best friends since they were in high school, but Katie has always felt more than just friendship for Noah. She also knows that he'll never feel the same way about her, so she's decided that if she ever wants a family of her own she'll have to move on. Finding someone in tiny Crimson is going to be a real challenge, but she's trying. Then Noah comes back to town and she's right back where she started, still hung up on him. Noah hasn't spent much time in Crimson over the last ten years due to the memories of what he sees as his failures. He hadn't handled his father's illness and death well and the guilt of his actions still affects his relationship with his family. At the same time he discovered that the girl he loved and was going to propose to was cheating on him. Since that time he has kept all his relationships superficial, protecting his heart from any more hurt. But now he's back in Crimson for the summer, to help take care of his mother during her recovery from major surgery. The plus side is getting to spend more time with best buddy Katie. I loved Katie, but she sure did frustrate me at times. She is a sweet, caring woman who loves to take care of her friends. Thanks to her treatment by her parents, she has always felt as though she needed to "earn" her place in peoples' lives. She's always so worried about disappointing people that she doesn't say no to anything asked of her. Even with Noah, she's there for him, listening to his woman woes, even though it hurts to hear about them. She does have a few shining moments of doing something for herself. I especially loved the swimming section. It was fun to see Noah suddenly realize that Katie was a beautiful woman. He's attracted to her and it freaks him out. When he loses his head and kisses her he's stunned when she kisses him back and they end up in bed together. The experience is so amazing that he panics and sneaks out, heading for the woods for a few days (supposedly for his job) so he can get his head together. When he comes back, ready for round two, he's shocked when she tells him to get lost. I loved seeing her tell him flat out that she wants more than he's willing to give and that she's got a date with a man who shows promise for a real relationship. I loved seeing the shoe on the other foot as Noah is now the one who wants more. He knows he has to prove himself and he can't depend on his old ways of getting the girl. It was really sweet to see how well he knows her and how he puts that knowledge to use to try to win her over. Katie is now the one trying to protect herself. She has to decide if she's willing to take whatever she can get and deal with the pain when he leaves, or stay with just being friends. Just when things are looking promising, an old secret and an unexpected pregnancy send Noah running again. Now both Noah and Katie have to face their fears if they want a life together. I loved Noah's big moment at the end as his love for her breaks through everything else. I really liked Noah and Katie's friends and how they were there when they needed someone. I loved the way that Noah's friends were there to support him the day of his mom's surgery whether he wanted it or not. I also liked the way that Jase read him the riot act when he needed it. I also loved how Katie's girlfriends listened, provided ice cream and sympathy, but also reminded her that she had loved Noah for a long time and not to give up.
This was a great read. Enjoyed the story.