Four unforgettable stories from the biggest names in romance
Falling in love isn't on Fayrene Hopkins's schedule for at least four years, but from her very first kiss with charming Ryan Patterson, she's already Halfway There. In Susan Mallery's Fool's Gold, some plans are made to be broken .
In Lori Foster's Buckhorn Ever After, the last thing Nadine Moest wants is to be the latest notch on gorgeous ranger Shohn Hudson's bedpost. But Shohn is determined to win her trustand her heart.
Kenna Starr will do anything to overcome her bad-girl past in Gena Showalter's The One You Want. Dane Michaelson is exactly the kind of guy she needs to avoid, but he's used to getting what he wants, and he wants her.
Noah Bryant and Colbie Michaels are meant to beat least, that's what he thinks when they keep serendipitously meeting. Now he just has to convince her they're destined for each other, in Bella Andre's One Perfect Night.
About the Author
Lori Foster is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author with books from a variety of publishers, including Berkley/Jove, Kensington, St. Martin's, Harlequin and Silhouette. Lori has been a recipient of the prestigious RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award for Series Romantic Fantasy, and for Contemporary Romance. For more about Lori, visit her Web site at www.lorifoster.com.
Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of over fifty books, including the acclaimed Lords of the Underworld and Angels of the Dark series, and the White Rabbit Chronicles. She writes sizzling paranormal romance, heartwarming contemporary romance, and unputdownable young adult novels, and lives in Oklahoma City with her family and menagerie of dogs. Visit her at GenaShowalter.com.
New York Times bestselling author Bella Andre is known for “sensual, empowered stories enveloped in heady romance” (Publishers Weekly). Winner of the Award of Excellence, the Washington Post has called her “one of the top digital writers in America.” Married with two children, Bella splits her time between Northern California and the Adirondacks. You can visit Bella online at www.BellaAndre.com.
Read an Excerpt
"The babies are coming! The babies are coming! Someone call nine-one-one!"
Ryan Patterson glanced up from his computer as a petite blonde raced past his open office. She was wide-eyed, with her hands waving in the air. She looked to be on the verge of complete panic, in case the screaming hadn't been enough of a clue.
He had to admit, even running around like a deranged chicken, she was kind of cute. He liked how she wore her skirt just short enough to be interesting. Her hazel eyes were big, her mouth full. Early to mid-twenties. Yup, except for the shrieking, she was what his father would call a damned fine example of a woman.
Ryan stood and stepped out of his small glassed-in office. The woman made a complete circuit of the larger central space, then raced back toward him.
"Did you call?" she demanded, wringing her hands together. "I feel sick to my stomach. It's too soon. At least I think it is. I thought we had another week." She sucked in air. "Did you call?" she asked again.
"I will, ma'am, as soon as I confirm there's a pregnant woman in the building."
It was still early. Just after eight in the morning. Ryan had arrived at six and had been focused on his work.
He hadn't even heard anyone walking into the building. Other than the blonde, of course.
A quick look around the office confirmed that they seemed to be alone. Ethan Hendrix, Ryan's new boss, didn't believe in paying his engineers to sit around. Most of them were already on job sites or up at the manufacturing facility just outside of Fool's Gold. Because Ryan was working on a new design, he was in the main office. He'd been on the job all of a week. Ethan had mentioned something about hiring a temp to handle the phone, but hadn't given Ryan a name or ETA.
The woman stared at him blankly. "There's no pregnant person," she said, as if convinced he was an idiot. "It's Misty. I'm cat sitting, and she's pregnant. I told Ethan I couldn't leave her alone, so he said to bring her in to work with me. I didn't think it would be a problem because Charity, her owner, said she wasn't due for a week and they'd all be back by then. They're in Florida for a charity bike race that Josh is"
The woman drew in a breath. "None of this matters. Misty is giving birth. We have to get help."
Ryan shook his head. "Most cats give birth just fine on their own. They know what to do. If there's a problem, we can contact a local vet."
"Won't it be too late then?" She turned and sprinted for the desk by the front door. "I have to do something." She disappeared behind one of the partitions.
Ryan followed her and found her crouched by a box containing a short-haired tabby and what looked to be one squirming newborn kitten.
"It's happening!" the woman shrieked. "Misty, stop, please! I'll call a vet. I can find a vet."
Misty shot him a look that begged for privacy, along with peace and quiet.
"Okay, then," he said, grabbing the woman by the elbow and tugging her to her feet. "You need to step back and breathe."
"How is that going to help? Misty needs me."
"Misty's doing fine on her own. Come on."
He thought about easing her toward the break room, but it seemed like the last thing the blonde needed was caffeine. She was plenty wired on her own.
Instead he took her to his small office and settled her in the visitor's chair. He took his seat and settled his hands on the computer keyboard.
"Do you know a vet around town?" he asked.
She stared at him. "What? Yes. Of course. Cameron McKenzie. He's the local vet."
Ryan typed the name into the search engine and got the link to the veterinary practice. "Here's the phone number. They opened at seven, and they'll be there until five." He studied the address. While he hadn't been in town long, he thought the office couldn't be very far away.
The woman twisted her fingers together. "We should go now.'''
"So this is about you, not Misty, right? Because she's doing fine."
Those big hazel eyes narrowed considerably. "Excuse me? Are you saying I'm being selfish while Misty is doing all the work?"
He leaned back in the chair and prepared himself for a heated discussion. He'd always believed you learned a lot about a person by how she handled a disagreement. When tensions ran high, true character was revealed.
The woman sucked in a breath. He braced himself for shrieking and was surprised when she sagged back in the chair and nodded slowly.
"I've never been around a cat giving birth before," she said with a sigh. "I still think she belongs in a feline maternity ward, but your point is a good one. She seems to be doing fine on her own. I guess I can check on her every five minutes and if she seems to be handling it, leave her to become a mom in her own time."
"That seems like a plan," he said, impressed by her ability to be rational and only a little disappointed there wasn't going to be a show. "I'm Ryan, by the way."
Those beautiful eyes widened again, and color flooded her face. "Oh, no. We haven't met, have we? You're the new guy, and now you're worried you're trapped with a crazy person."
He grinned. "I'm pretty sure I can handle myself."
He looked like he could, Fayrene Hopkins thought as she stared into amused brown eyes. Ryan was close to six feet, with broad shoulders and dark hair. He wore a plaid shirt tucked into jeans and cute rimless glasses.
"You're saying if I came at you with a letter opener, you'd be comfortable wrestling me to the ground?" she asked.
"Are you going to?"
"I'm not into violence. It doesn't move me forward on my four-year plan. I'm Fayrene. Fayrene Hopkins."
She rose and offered her hand. They shook. His skin was warm, and for a second, as she gazed into his eyes, she felt a slight zap of electricity.
She settled back in the chair and told herself no zip, zap or tingle was going to get in the way of what she wanted. In the office alcove of her small apartment she had large sheets of poster paper tacked up on the walls. Each was covered with a graph or a chart or a list. She was a big believer in taking responsibility of her own happiness, and for her that meant getting her business up and running. Zaps tended to derail young women pursuing financial and business success.
"You have a four-year plan?" he asked, his tone slightly amused. "Not a five-year one?"
She raised her chin. "It was a five-year plan, but I'm wrapping year one now."
"How many pregnant cats does it include?"
She laughed. "Hopefully Misty is my last one. I'm a pet sitter. My company provides temporary employees and pet-sitting services."
"I have a degree in business," she told him. "I spent eighteen months working for a bank and hated every minute of it. So I quit and spent a month figuring out what I wanted from my life."
"I want to own my own business."
"You've already done that."
"Sure, my name's on the door, but I'm struggling. I want to be financially successful. I'm twenty-four. By the time I'm twenty-eight, I want four employees, all working full-time."
"That's a lot to take on."
"I know, but like I said, I have a plan. When I did my analysis, I saw there was a real need for good pet-sitting services in town. Not just someone to come in and feed the fish, but a person willing to be there 24/7 if necessary."
"That explains the pregnant Misty."
"Exactly." She smiled. "Charity didn't want to leave her alone. So I'm taking her with me. Although she wasn't supposed to be giving birth so soon."
"And the temp side of things?"
"I fill in. Right now I'm spending a couple of weeks here at Ethan's office while his regular receptionist is on vacation. There are a lot of small businesses in Fool's Gold. They need extra help but don't always want to hire someone full-time. I fill a gap."
Starting her business had taken every penny of her savings and a loan from her older sister. Dellina had handled the family finances ever since she'd turned eighteen and had taken over the responsibility of raising her two younger twin sisters. Each sibling had a small trust fund left by their parents' life insurance. Fayrene's loan was against that.
Ryan stood and held out his hand. "Come on," he said. "We'll go check on our girl."
Fayrene wasn't sure about touching Ryan again. She'd already felt that one zap. But maybe it had been static electricity and not anything chemical.
She took the outstretched hand and held her breath. The second their palms touched, she felt it. A distinct shivery sensation working its way up her spine. Uh-oh. This wasn't good. Her four-year plan didn't include time for romance.
Ryan, however, appeared unmoved. He gave her a quick smile, then led the way back to Misty's box under the receptionist desk.
Three tiny kittens nestled against their mother.
Misty carefully licked them, dampening their fur. Their tiny eyes were closed, their miniature paws kneading slightly. Fayrene pulled free of Ryan and dropped to a crouch.
"They're beautiful," she murmured. "Do you think she's done giving birth?"
"Cats can take a break for up to twenty-four hours," he told her. "She's not in discomfort, so just let her be."
Misty might not be upset, but Fayrene felt the whole world kind of shift to the left. She wondered if she was about to faint for the first time in her life.
"It's not that unusual. The fact that the first three came so quickly might mean she's done, but there's no way to know for sure."
She stood slowly, one hand on the desk for support. "I can't go through this for twenty-four hours," she murmured. "It's too stressful."
"Misty's doing great," Ryan told her.
Easy for him to say. He wasn't the one who would be watching over her for the next twenty-four hours. Work now, she told herself. Panic later. So the night would be long. She would make it through.
"Thank you for your help," she said, glancing at him. "You've been great, and now you probably want to get back to whatever it was you were doing."
He flashed her a grin that made her knees nearly give way. "I'll be in all day if you and Misty need any help."
"We might have to take you up on that."
She appreciated that he didn't point out the cat was doing great and didn't seem to need much of anything. She, on the other hand, could use a hug. Her gaze slid to Ryan's retreating back. She would bet he was a great hugger. She liked that in a guy. When he held on tight, as if he would never let go. Although not in a scary, stalker kind of way.
Not that she was interested in Ryan. She had goals and a plan. Part of that plan was to avoid romance for the next four years. There would be plenty of time for fun later.
* * *
Ryan saved his work on his program, then stood and stretched. It was after five. This was his second week working for Ethan. As the job was only for a couple of months and he didn't know anyone in town, Ryan had been working until at least eight. But tonight was different. All day he'd been conscious of Fayrene sitting at the front desk in the office. She'd answered phones, typed on her keyboard and checked on Misty about every fifteen minutes. From what he could tell, she was efficient and a bit of a worrier. Now that she wasn't running around screaming about the cat, he'd noticed she had the sexiest walk he'd seen in a while. Or ever.
He grabbed his leather jacket. While the early spring days were warm in Fool's Gold, the nights could be cool. He was staying at Ronan's Lodgea nice hotel in town. It meant he could walk back and forth to work. It also meant dealing with the weather.
Now he moved toward Fayrene's desk. She'd gathered her belongings and looked ready to bend down to collect the box containing Misty and her three kittens.
"I'll get her," he said, stepping around the desk and lifting the box. "Taking her home for the night?"
Fayrene nodded. She was pale with worry. He could see the strain in her eyes. "I spoke to Misty's owner, Charity. The bike race was today, so they're coming back tomorrow to be with her. I just have to get through until then." She bit her lower lip. "You really think she might have more kittens?"
"That's a long time to be in labor."
"I don't think she's in pain."
Misty lay with her kittens snuggled close. Her eyes were half-closed, and she was purring.
"I guess not," Fayrene said.
Ryan surrendered to the inevitable and put the box on the desk. "I could stay with you and sit up with her, if that would help."
Fayrene stared at him. "I don't think so. I barely know you. You can't come over to my place."
If he hadn't been holding the cat and her babies, he would have raised both hands in a gesture of surrender. "I wasn't suggesting anything. Just offering. We could stay here, if you'd feel safer."
"You'd spend the night in this office to help me watch over the cat?"
"That's very nice of you, but I don't think so."
He couldn't read her tone, so he wasn't sure if she was paying him a compliment or mocking him. "It's how I was raised."
She studied him for a second. "Wallet in your back pocket?" she asked.
"Sure, but what"
His question was cut off when he felt her fingers tugging the wallet free. She flipped it open and then picked up the phone and dialed.
"Police Chief Barns, please. It's Fayrene Hopkins."
"You're calling the police?" he asked, thinking his grumpy uncle had been right. No good deed went unpunished.
"Hi, Alice," Fayrene said with a smile. "I need you to run a background check on someone." She explained about Misty and the kittens and his offer. "His name is Ryan Patterson. He's from Washington State." She gave Alice his date of birth and license number, then glanced back at him. "Nice picture."
She covered the mouthpiece. "I dated Alice's oldest when I was in high school. We went to prom. She's always liked me."
He couldn't decide if Fayrene's actions impressed him or made him want to recant his offer. He supposed a little of both. He respected her need to protect herself, even as he was uncomfortable being investigated by the police. Not that he had anything to hide, but still.
Fayrene pointed to the bowl of jelly beans on her desk.
She picked out a couple. "Green apple. I haven't been eating much fruit lately."
He stared at her. "That's a jelly bean, not fruit."
"I think it still counts."
"Are you sure about that?"
"Duh." She uncovered the mouthpiece and listened for a minute. "Uh-huh. Okay, thanks. I'll tell him. No, I haven't heard from Jim. Alice, you have to let it go." She paused, then smiled again. "That's sweet. I'll let you know if anything changes. Bye."