Since she was a teen, there's been one guy that restaurateur Dani Pettit can always count onher best friend, Nick. Their relationship is purely platonic that is until a single kiss changes everything. Now Dani is falling hard for the one man she shouldn't fall forthe one who can truly break her heart.
Although rancher Nick Kelly knows he's to blame for his string of failed relationships, Dani is the only woman he ever trusted. Nick doesn't want to be just another guy who lets her down, but his new feelings for Dani are too strong to resist. Do they dare risk their lifelong friendship for a once-in-a-lifetime love?
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Read an Excerpt
Dinner was starting to smell so good that Dani Pettit's mouth watered when Nick Kelly knocked at her door. Only a few short minutes ago, she'd buzzed him into the building.
Although they talked and texted regularly, she hadn't seen him in a while. But tonight she really needed to be with her best friend.
"He's here," she told Fluff.
The tomcat meowed and trotted daintily toward the door. Which was funny because at twenty pounds and half a ton of white fur, Fluff wasn't exactly tiny. But he'd never let Dani down, and so she stifled the urge to laugh at him. There weren't many true-blue males in her lifejust the cat, Nick Kelly and Dani's oldest brother, Sly. She dearly loved all three.
To prevent Fluff from darting out, running across the hall and shamelessly begging food from Mrs. Detmeier, Dani scooped him up before she opened the door and managed a smile. "Hi, Nick."
The handsome rancher flashed his pearly whites at Fluff, then gave Dani a gentler grin. "Hey."
In his large hands he cradled a bottle of wine and a white bag bearing the Lannigan's Ice Creamery logo, which was, bar none, the best ice creamery in Prosperity. Although the central Montana town of sixty thousand people boasted at least a half-dozen ice cream specialty shops, several much closer to her house than Lannigan's, Nick had chosen well. He sure knew how to brighten a girl's spirits.
Dani eyed the bag. "I hope that's rocky road."
"A whole gallon of the stuff."
"You sweetheart!" She rubbed her hands together.
Nick chuckled. "Nothing but the best for Dani Pettit."
He kissed her cheek, then set his things down to shrug out of his leather bomber jacket. He hung the jacket on the doorknob of the coat closet, just as he always did, his navy flannel shirt stretching across his strong, broad shoulders.
He was a beautiful mantall and muscular without an ounce of extra fat, thanks to the physical demands of running a ranch. His long legs did wonders for the loose, faded jeans he favored.
Yet as gorgeous and sexy as he was, theirs was a strictly platonic relationship and always had been. Dani adored himas a friend.
Nick stuck his fingers into Fluff's thick fur and scratched behind the cat's neck. "Howdy, Big Fella."
He refused to use the name "Fluff," which he considered too sissy for a tomcat.
Fluff didn't seem to mind. He was too busy purring and batting Nick's hand for more. A moment later, sated and content, he jumped out of Dani's arms and strolled off.
"I brought a couple of DVDs for later," Nick said. "Unless you'd rather catch a movie out. It is Saturday night."
Date night. Only twenty-four hours ago, Dani had assumed that she and Jeter would be out dancing tonight at the Bitter & Sweet Bar and Grill in downtown Prosperity, where the live music and great dance floor made the bar a happening place.
Now, dateless for the first time in three months Dateless in Prosperity, she thought wrylyshe shook her head.
After last night's painful breakup and an especially irritating day, she wanted only to relax and hang out with her best friend. "Would you mind if we stayed here? I'm not in the mood to go out."
"Staying in works."
Nick shot her a sympathetic look, and tears she refused to shed gathered behind her eyes. Jeter had never exactly treated her well, and over the months they'd been together, she'd done more than enough crying.
"I'll bet you could use a hug," Nick said. "I know I could."
Which reminded her that she wasn't the only one hurting. Earlier in the week he'd broken up with Mandy, a woman he'd seemed to really likeat least for a while. Nick had commitment issues. He claimed that he didn't want to settle down with anyone, ever, didn't want to marry or have kids. They weren't just words, either. He meant it.
Dani stepped into the warm, comforting embrace she'd needed since Jeter had dumped her. She smelled Nick's sandalwood shaving soap and fresh Montana air. And underneath both, his own "Nick" scent.
For a few long moments they held each other tightly. When they let go and stepped back, Dani felt better.
Nick sniffed the air, rubbing his belly and licking his lips, making her smile for real. "Man, that smells amazing. I've been dreaming of your mac and cheese all day."
"Even while you worked on the barn roof in the freezing rain? You're lucky it didn't snow."
It had been almost two years since Nick had repurchased Kelly Ranch, once owned by his family and then sold. Now he was slowly and painstakingly making improvements on the property, which, because it had been neglected, was rundown. His current project was the leaky barn roof. He could have hired a professional roofer, but he was watching his bank balance. Also, he claimed to enjoy doing the work himself.
"I'd prefer snow to the icy stuff we got. And yeah, I thought a lot about dinner while the sleet was pounding my head. I could eat a whole cow."
As if in agreement, his stomach growled loudlyjust as the oven timer pinged, signaling the casserole was ready.
"If that isn't great timing," Dani teased. "Come on."
They linked arms and headed toward the kitchen of her little apartment, swapping fond looks with each other. "What's next on your agenda, Mr. Ranch Fixer Upper?" she asked.
"Mending fences so that we can move the livestock when the spring grass comes up. Now that it's March, that's just around the corner. I also have to install the new irrigation system soon."
"You're keeping busy, I'll give you that." Too busy to reflect much on his recent breakup. "Ever notice how you use physical labor to avoid thinking about certain things?"
He shrugged. "Hey, if it works "
He did seem in a better frame of mind than he had when they'd talked the previous evening. "I wish I was as good at distracting myself as you," Dani said with envy.
He peered closely at her. "You've been crying."
She pulled herself to her full five-foot-six-inch height. "I was, but I'm finished now. I'm excited to spend the evening with my best friendeating, sipping wine, having ice cream, watching a movie, eating more ice cream
She expected a laugh, and Nick didn't disappoint. "You and me both," he said.
While he uncorked the wine, Dani donned oven mitts and brought the casserole to her cottage-style kitchen table. "When did we last have a pity party together?" she asked as they sat down in their usual seats.
"You mean at the same time?" Nick's thick-lashed, mocha-colored eyes narrowed in thought. "I don't believe we ever have. It's usually either you or me hurting, never both of us at once."
"A first for us, then, and after sixteen years of friendship." They'd met in middle school at the age of fourteen, and had bolstered each other up through too many breakups to count.
"Bummer, huh?" Nick said. "If this is a first, we should make a toast." He filled the glasses. "To no more breakups at the same time."
"I'd rather toast to no more breakups, period," Dani said. "But I know us both too well for that."
Neither of them stayed in a relationship for long.
After setting down his glass, Nick eyed the casserole. "I'm sorry about Jeter, but I gotta say, I sure enjoy your choice of comfort food."
Dani laughed. "You always cheer me up." His sense of humor was one of his many positive qualities. "And I agree, there's nothing better than mac and cheese with hamburger." She nodded at the steaming dish. "Help yourself."
"After you." Beaming the sexy smile that made women swoon, Nick nudged the casserole her way.
He was such a gentleman, which was also sexy. "Have you heard from Mandy since you broke up with her?" she asked when they'd both filled their plates.
"You want to talk about this now." He gave her a wary frown. "Are you trying to ruin my appetite?"
"Is that even possible? It's just that I remember how Jasmine stalked you with phone calls and texts when your relationship ended." Jasmine had been Nick's previous ex.
"She was unstable. Mandy isn't like that. We both knew we weren't going to make it."
"Too badshe was great." Dani sighed. "What a shame she wasn't your Ms. Right."
Nick almost choked on his wine. "You're such a fairytale romantic. I've told you, there is no Ms. Right, not for me."
His track record so far certainly proved that. He never went too deep into the reasons why he found his previous girlfriends lacking, but it happened over and over. Dani suspected that his issues stemmed from his mother's extramarital affair and the subsequent breakup of his parents' marriage when he was a kid. That and the broken heart he'd suffered in his early twenties.
In all the years they'd been friends, she'd only seen Nick in love that once. He'd met Ashley in college. They'd dated for nearly a year before they graduated and moved in together. Within months of that, they were talking marriage. Then Ashley's mom, who lived in Missoula, had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. Ashley had gone home to take care of her. She was only supposed to stay for a few months, but her relationship with Nick had fallen apart, and she never returned.
Nick claimed he'd been relieved. Even so, it had taken him ages to get over what had happened. Or maybe he never had, because he hadn't let a woman into his heart since.
Whereas Dani fell head over heels several times a year.
"And 7've told you that all it takes is the right person," she said. "You can deny it until you're hoarse, but I believe that your true love and mine are out there."
"I'm not opposed to love, Daniyou know that. I just don't do it." With a shrug, he bent his head toward his plate.
"Sly used to say the same thing, and look at him now. He's happily married, with a little girl." Dani's brother and his wife, Lana, had an adorable two-and-a-half-year-old, the happy result of Lana's miracle pregnancy.
"If it can happen to Sly, it could happen to you," she went on. "And to meI hope." She crossed her fingers and held them up.
Nick failed to comment.
"Out of all the women in the world, one is perfect for you," she said. "Someday when you meet her, you'll see."
"Trust me, between the available women in Prosperity and the summer tourists who come through every year, I'm a happy man."
"Except before, during and after the breakups." She bit her lip. "I did everything I could to make Jeter love me as much as I loved him. What's wrong with me?"
Nick shook his head. "That's the wrong question. You should be asking, what's wrong with Jeter? You've got to quit trying to please the guys you date and be yourself. You're great just as you are."
Nick had always been wonderful at boosting her self-esteem. "You're sweet," she said.
"I mean it, Dani. Now, about the guys you date. You say you want to get married and have a family, but you pick guys who don't. Guys like me." He shook his head. "Most of them are jerks, too. That's why you get hurt."
"So you and Sly keep pointing out." Dani fiddled with her napkin. "I guess I'll take a little break from dating."
"That's probably a wise idea."
Except that she hated sitting home alone on a Saturday night. "I'll make plans to go out with some of my girlfriends instead." But that posed a problem, because at the moment, most of them were either in a relationship or married. "That is, if I can find someone who's free to get together on a Saturday night."
"I'm available," Nick said. "You can hang with me."
"Until your next girlfriend comes along."
"That could be a while."
"Ha." Dani hated being single. Maybe her plan to take a break from dating had been made too hastily. She let out a heavy sigh.
Nick gave her a measured look. "You're already wishing you had another guy in the wings, aren't you? Just do me a favor. The next time you date someone, hold on to your heart until you're sure he's worthy enough to give it to."
"And just how do I do that?"
He stroked his strong chin pensively. "It might help if you try going out with a different kind of guy than your usual type. Someone who isn't a bum."
He was right, most of the males Dani dated were pretty much jerks. As she sipped her wine, she thought about why she made such poor choices. There was nothing more attractive than a good-looking man with a spark of wild in his eyes and a devil-may-care attitude. She'd certainly fallen for enough of them.
And where had that gotten her? Every new relationship started out filled with promise, making her ever hopeful that this time, this boyfriend would love her and treat her right. And although she tried everything to make him happy, from wearing clothes he liked to embracing the activities he enjoyedeven when she didn'tsooner or later things always soured.
Nick just might have a point. She sat up straight. "You're rightI should try dating someone I wouldn't normally choose. Drumroll please. When I do decide to date again, I'll pick a man I wouldn't usually look twice at."
Nick frowned. "Define a man you 'wouldn't normally choose.'"
"Well, someone hard-working, with both feet on the ground. And he has to have a good job." That way, he wouldn't ask to borrow money from her, as Jeter had. "If he's impatient about getting physical and refuses to move slowly, he's out."
"Having a regular job doesn't make a man a decent human being," Nick said. "At first, guys tend to put their best foot forward. How can you tell the square shooters from the jerks until you get to know them?"
"Hmm." Propping her chin on her fist, Dani pondered the question. "Well, I'll do what you said, and hold my heart in check for a while. And maybe, instead of waiting for the man to ask me out, I'll do the asking. I'll start by observing him for a while when he isn't looking, and I'll pay attention to how he treats other people. That'll give me a glimmer of an idea of his character."
Nick gave an approving nod. "That's not a bad plan. It's definitely worth a try."
Dani smiled. "So glad you approve, Mr. Kelly."
After three helpings of mac and cheese, Nick's belly was satisfied. He and Dani lingered at the table, both of them relaxed. He was also too beat to move. Fixing up the ranch and making it profitable was an all-consuming job, filled with unexpected obstacles and on-going challenges. Not that he minded. He loved his land. But with another full day starting at oh-dark-thirty tomorrow, he was ready to head home and fall into a dreamless sleep. Dani appeared to be just as tired.
"Are you sure you want to watch a movie tonight?" he asked after she yawned for the second time. "You have to get up even earlier than I do, and with Big Mama riding your case "
"Don't remind me." Dani grimaced. "Ever since the Poplar Tree restaurant opened and the Prosperity Daily News ran that story about them, business at the café has been slipping. How many times have I told Big Mama that we need to step things up and make some changes in order to compete? Does she listen? Heck, no."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A must read, fast read, loved it, it just shows that love can happen.