In Molly O’Keefe’s captivating new contemporary romance, a woman with a past and a man without a future struggle to find a place where they belong.
A girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Tara Jean Sweet knows that opportunity will never knock; she’ll have to seize it. Elderly Texas rancher Lyle Baker has a dying request: He will give Tara Jean a stake in his leather business in exchange for a little family subterfuge. All Tara Jean has to do is play the part of a gold-digging fiancée to lure Lyle’s estranged children home. The mission is soon accomplished.
Now Lyle’s gone—and his ridiculously handsome son, Luc, an ice hockey superstar sidelined by injuries, is the new owner of Crooked Creek ranch. He’s also Tara Jean’s boss. But being so close to sinfully sweet Tara Jean does crazy things to Luc’s priorities, like make him want to pry her deepest secrets from those irresistible lips. But when Tara Jean’s past demands a dirty showdown, will Luc stay and fight?
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This was not how Tara Jean Sweet imagined her engagement. Perched on the edge of her eighty-nine-year-old fiancé’s wheelchair wearing a skirt so short there was a good chance the photographer was getting a shot of her uterus.
But at the top of the very long list of what was wrong with this picture were the cows.
There were ten of the hulking, stinky animals, hand-picked by Lyle Baker himself to be as much a part of her engagement photo as his ten-gallon hat and the big blue sky backdrop of Crooked Creek Ranch.
Look at me! the cows said—metaphorically of course. Look at me, I’m so damn rich.
As a young girl, planning her dream engagement, there hadn’t been many cows. None, really.
She tugged on her pink leather skirt, but Lyle lifted his trembling hand to stop her.
“Leave it,” he gasped, refusing to wear the oxygen for the photos, a decision that was probably pinching precious minutes off his very short remaining life span.
But he was the boss so she didn’t nag about the oxygen, tried to ignore the cow lowing in her ear, and left the skirt alone.
Sighing, she curled her upper body around Lyle as best she could without bumping into the various monitors and wires that ran off him as if he were a supercomputer.
“Smile, baby,” his voice an agonized whisper.
A flash popped and she turned up the wattage of her smile, getting as much teeth and as little brain behind it as she could. She knew the drill. Had been living it for four years.
From the fur lining on his wheelchair, Lyle pulled a cigar the size of her forearm. She plucked it away from him.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Give it back.” The words wheezed past his cracked lips.
“As your bride,” her smile was sharp, letting him know the game worked both ways, “I must insist.”
The photographer laughed and Lyle’s scowl faded away, replaced by a calculating smile.
“You think this is gonna work?” She laid a hand on the old man’s papery cheek. He was so smooth; age and disease had turned him into a river stone.
How did we get here? she wondered, sadness a dark lining to her victory.
Lyle turned toward her with obvious effort and she saw his runny eyes glittering. Nothing like a devious plan to get the old man’s heart pumping.
“Watch ’em come running.”
Luc Baker stepped out of the team doctor’s office into a viper’s nest of reporters.
Camera flashes exploded in his face.
“Holy shit.” Beside him, his teammate, Billy Wilkins, who had waited for Luc after his physio appointment, winced at the blinding lights on the video cameras.
Luc didn’t even blink.
Twenty years in the NHL, the last seven in Toronto; vipers were part of the job. And right now the viper’s nest was well and truly stirred.
“Ice Man!” the reporters yelled, using Luc’s nickname.
“Is it true you’re having extensive brain surgery?”
“Is it true you have brain damage?”
“Are the Cavaliers going to buy out your contract?”
Luc smiled and lifted his hands, calming the seething knot of parasites in front of him, like a priest before a congregation.
“Luc?” Jim Muggs, from the Toronto Star, cut through the chatter. “What did the doctor say?”
Scar tissue on your frontal lobe. Possible brain-eating protein. Increased chances of lasting cognitive damage.
For a second, Luc’s vision went red and his instinct was to grab Billy’s crutch and clear a path of cracked skulls and broken camera equipment, just to avoid answering that question.
“Dr. Matthews says I’m good to go next year,” he lied, forcing his lips to curl into a smile. “I’m ready to work hard in the off-season and bring the cup back to Toronto.”
“Brain damage?” Billy swiveled around on his crutches, stepping slightly in front of Luc. “I swear to God, you guys are worse gossips than my grandma’s church group—”
“Dr. Matthews also said,” Luc interrupted with a smile and he felt the sharp focus of every lens, “that I needed to hurry up and get my personal guard back on the ice.”
He clapped a hand on Billy’s shoulder, and everyone laughed.
Gilcot never would have gotten close to Luc if Billy hadn’t blown out his knee in game three of the finals.
“Gilcot’s been suspended for the first three games of next season. Do you think that’s reasonable?” Muggs asked.
“Gilcot rang my bell.” Luc shrugged, downplaying the injury. “It’s not like we’re having a tea party out there.”
But the truth was, hits like Gilcot’s and concussions like Luc’s were at a crisis point in the NHL.
A couple of the reporters laughed and the atmosphere in the viper pit changed. He had them right where he wanted them. This interview crap wasn’t any different from controlling the tempo of a game.
And no one controlled tempo like Luc Baker.
“Dr. Matthews is leading a study on the effects of repeated head trauma on professional athletes. Will you be a part of it?” Muggs asked.
Luc nearly jerked, the question a razor blade against his belly. Him and a bunch of drooling, early-onset Alz- heimer linebackers from the NFL?
Matthews had asked, but Luc had rejected the idea. Just as he’d rejected everything Matthews said during the extensive exam.
Retire. Get out while you’re ahead.
“No,” he said. “Dr. Matthews’s work is important for the future of athletes in professional sports, but it has nothing to do with me right now.”
“Luc takes one bad hit and you guys are ready to make him a head case just to get a headline,” Billy said. “It’s sick.”
Luc squeezed Billy’s shoulder, appreciating his loyalty, but Billy didn’t know the whole story.
“But it wasn’t just one bad hit, was it?” a woman’s voice piped up and Luc’s control buckled slightly. The rarely seen beast of his temper shook itself awake.
Adelaide Eggers, of course. She was the worst of the bunch, like a bulldog, from years of having to prove herself in the Junior A locker rooms all across the Northwest Territories.
A guy couldn’t hide from Addie Eggers. Couldn’t bluff her with a joke and a juicy quote. “As a kid you participated in peewee Rodeo in Texas. You sustained multiple blackout concussions, am I right? They called you the Knockout Kid.”
“Adelaide.” He smiled into the flashes, absorbing them like he would a controlled slide into the boards. “You need to get a life outside of Google.”
The reporters laughed and he saw a lot of bent heads. The Knockout Kid would make the top-ten list of terrible athlete nicknames tomorrow morning on TSN.
Billy glanced sideways at him. “Rodeo?”
Great. Now he knew the whole story.
“It was a long time ago,” he said to everyone. “I’m fine. My head is fine.” Except for the brain-eating protein. “We’re ready to put this season behind us.”
Again, he rested his hand on Billy’s shoulder, and just like that the pack was thrown off the scent of his concussion and onto Billy and his knee.
“Billy, how is physio going?” Adelaide asked. “Is it true you’ll be out most of next year?”
“Hell no.” Billy got a little reckless with one of his crutches, about to use it as a bat against the ankles of the nearest ESPN cameraman. “Six months’ recovery. Tops. I’ll be back before the second half next year.”
“Six months’ recovery for a man half your age.” Addie raised a killing eyebrow.
“Why don’t you guys go back to giving him a hard time?” Billy jerked a thumb back at Luc.
“Don’t bring me into this.”
“You are the oldest man in the league,” Addie said to Luc. “Thirty-seven is—”
“I know how old I am.”
“You don’t think about retiring?”
“Not without winning the cup for Toronto first.”
Luc got knocked out at the end of the third quarter of game seven in the finals. The Bull Dogs were able to tie it up and The Cavaliers lost in a shootout. They’d been close. So damn close. If he and Billy hadn’t been laid up, he’d be drinking out of the cup right now, instead of answering questions no one should be asking him.
“What do you think of your chances next year?” Addie asked.
“Well, if we can keep everyone healthy, I think our chances are great.”
“And after that?” Addie asked, a sly grin on her face.
Matthews couldn’t give him any concrete proof that he had this Tav protein, or even would have it. So he had a buildup of scar tissue on his frontal lobe? There wasn’t a pro athlete who didn’t, except for maybe the baseball players. But the increased chances of future concussions was going to be a problem when his contract was up.
Post-concussion syndrome wasn’t something anyone wanted to have. And he had it. And it was documented.
The league was getting twitchy about head injuries. Lindros and his glass jaw had changed the game. And that was before Sidney Crosby’s concussion made global headlines. No one wanted to take a chance on a guy who couldn’t take a hit without getting knocked cold.
All that aside, if Luc wasn’t thirty-seven years old, standing at the edge of his contract, the word “retire” wouldn’t have even passed Matthews’s lips.
He’d accused Matthews of that, but the old man had disagreed. Said he’d seen too many athletes burn themselves out, damage themselves beyond repair in pursuit of the dream.
The damage a second concussion would do to your brain will end your career. You’d better pray you don’t get another concussion and you’d better pray you don’t get traded. Without Billy Wilkins chasing guys down, it’s open season on you. This is your last year in the league.
This next year was the year he was born to play, on the team he’d helped create. He was going to make history. Oldest man in the NHL, bringing the cup back to a city that hadn’t seen it in over fifty years.
What People are Saying About This
“Molly O'Keefe delivers addictive and sexy romance at its best: irresistible and satisfying . . . a terrific read.”—New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery
“Molly O’Keefe is a unique, not-to-be-missed voice in romantic fiction . . . an automatic must-read!”—New York Times bestselling author Susan Andersen
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My Review: This book had everything I love in a contemporary romance...a ranch in Texas, a super-hot and sexy NHL player with a big vulnerability, and one tough heroine. When I started reading this book, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to like Tara. She' s acting like a vapid, money-digging tramp and there are little hints that she isn't entirely acting. She absolutely has a past which she's not proud of, but I really am impressed with the way that Molly O'Keefe wrote this book. She managed to keep the heroine likable even while skirting very close to the edge of a really awful character. In the end, you love her more because she's overcome this awful past which truly could have turned her into the caricature of herself that she sometimes acts like. Then there's Luc. *sigh* From the very start you know that his hockey career means everything to him even though it's slowly killing him. He's having a really hard time facing the reality that it's over and he really doesn't want the distraction that his family and Tara provide. He wants to focus on hockey and getting better. He is a strong guy and fully believes that his will alone will overcome everything else. An alpha with a huge vulnerability...yeah, I liked it. And I really loved the glimpses of life in the NHL that we got to see. This is a book about family, which is kind of ironic since the whole story is brought together by the extreme dysfunction that this family has dealt with their entire lives. But there is a whole cast of characters that make up this family. I loved Celeste, Luc's mom, and Rosa, the housekeeper, and was intrigued by Ian, the ranch foreman and Tara's friend. I loved Billy, Luc's hockey teammate and really hope we get to see a book about him sometime soon...especially since he was just traded to Dallas in this book. I'm not so sold on Victoria, Luc's half-sister and heroine of the next book, but I have a feeling that Molly O'Keefe will work her writing magic with her too. Overall this was a fun and entertaining book. There's a lot to the book and I waffled alot about how I was going to rate it (both lower and higher), but overall I loved the book, these two characters, and the way the story evolved to them finding their Happily Ever After.
Looking at the cover I was expecting a fluffy romantic comedy type of story…but I got a whole lot more, I was really surprised by the depth of the storyline. The characters have some heavy baggage from the past and some real issues from the present. It was a much more emotional read than I expected. Having said all that I really liked the book. Ms. O’Keefe did a great job with the characters and made the way they handled their situations very realistic. Tara and Luc make a great pair, lots of heat there! Tara is so sassy you can’t wait to see what she will say next! At first I did not like Victoria (Luc’s sister) she seemed so shallow and insecure but she eventually comes into her own and I’m looking forward to her story in the next book. Book provided by the publisher for review.
I loved it. It starts a little slow but then it picks up. I finished it and headed straight for the second book in the series loved itthat much
I love a romance novel with a hockey player leading man and Luc Baker was perfect :)
Can’t Buy Me Love is the first book in Molly O’Keefe’s Crooked Creek Series. The book centers on Tara Jean Sweet and Luc Baker. The overview describes Tara Jean as being from the wrong side of the tracks. She actually grew up with a single mother in various less than desirable trailer parks. Her mother was one of those mothers who cared more about herself and the various men coming in and out of her life, than she did her own daughter. To which leads Tara Jean to be the woman she is today. Luc Baker is known as “The Ice Man” on the hockey stage. Since he was a teen hockey has been his thing. It is what defines who he is. Sidelined with a head injury, which could be career and life ending, he’s main goal is to work hard to get back to what he loves, which is hockey. With his teammates, he’s known as “Grandpa”. Not because of his age, he’s thirty seven, but because, “It has everything to do with how you worry, about everyone. Whether they want it or not.” The story starts out with Lyle Baker, Luc’s father and owner of Baker Leather and Crooked Creek Ranch, dying and wanting to see his children before he dies. Lyle was known as a good man, but a little difficult to get along with by everyone. To his children, Luc and Victoria, he was an abuser. Thus, explaining why he and his children are estranged. I found Victoria to be a pathetic needy woman. Because she never stands up for herself or shows any interest in being her own person, Lyle picks on her. Victoria’s story is told in the second book of the series, Can’t Hurry Love. Tara Jean plays the part of gold-digging fiancée/dim-witted Barbie doll very well. But she’s more than that. Surprisingly, Luc is the one who gives her chance by getting to know her. He even tries to make her see that she’s more than she thinks she is. You have the complicated, I don’t want to be with you, let alone fall in love with you moments, that I’m starting to get use to with books by Molly. But this one has a little unexpected surprise to it. I’m not going to call it suspenseful. But I will say it added a little twist to the story that I wasn’t expecting. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.
This book exceeded my expectations. A good read.
Do not be fooled by the cover on this book. It is a sexy lovely fun cover. It is nothing like this story. This story is hard and human. It is rare to find someone that can write a story this way. The h/h disliked each other to begin with, they fought, insulted each other. Usually, when someone tries writing this story, I find myself screaming, Oh for crying out loud, just get into the bed already! But not this story. The characters were human, real, not all mean, not all good. The whole group of them were. Not just the stars. The feelings and moods, the sex and the needs, the look of the places, people, clothes, jewelry, the cows for goodness sake. All so well written, I could feel it all. I wanted to keep reading. I did not want to sit this book down. It is not typical in any way. They are messed up. The whole lot of them. And they manage to keep trying and find their way. The characters do grow and change thru the story. Tara & Luc. I am so happy for them. I wonder if I will get an invitation to the wedding? Loved this story.
Lyle Baker had a plan to get his family to visit him. Tara Jean Sweet had agreed to go along with the scheme because he was offering her a portion of the Leather fashion design company she had helped to bring back from the brink of bankruptcy. Lyle was dying and he wanted to see his kids one last time. He couldn't claim to have been a good father, but in his own way he loved his kids. Perhaps he just wanted to make amends or maybe he just wanted the opportunity to control them one last time. One thing was for sure, he figured an invitation to his wedding, which included a picture of him and Tara, would send his family scrambling to his side to stop him. After all, millions of dollars were at stake and Lyle was a master manipulator. He knew how to push their buttons. Luc Baker didn't wish to go back. He'd put his past and his father behind him a long time ago. His childhood home did not hold any fond memories, and he didn't want the feelings his father had instilled in him as a child to awaken ever again. While he didn't need his father's money, for he had plenty of his own, his sister, Victoria, was another story. Too proud to take any of Luc's money, she was financially challenged and had felt, after the awful childhood she'd endured at her father's hands, she was owed her inheritance. She'd been counting on it to see her through. Lyle knew all this, and he knew his son would never let his sister down. So despite being handed the news by his physician that his career might be over, Luc escorted his sister home to his father. He was prepared to deal with his father. What he wasn't prepared for was Tara. She wasn't what he expected and wasn't like anyone he'd ever met before. While his father may have done a number on him, Tara might just be his undoing. ___________________ They say first impressions are important, and they are, especially those our parents have of us. They can lift us up or bring us down. They can emotionally scar us even if no one else can see the wounds. It's those scars, hidden deep within us, that can haunt us for life and, if we let them, allow the one person we shouldn't let control us to do so years after the physical or emotional abuse has ended. That is the one things Luc and Tara have in common. Luc had done all he could to stay away from his father. He'd built himself a career as one of the best hockey players and had hopes and aspirations of bringing the Cup to his team in Toronto. But what he hadn't realized was that he was still tormented by what had transpired all those years ago. While he no longer sought his father's approval, a portion of him still bought the BS his father had tried to sell him all those years ago, that he wasn't good enough. He'd thrown himself into his career and, other than his sister and mother, distanced himself from any serious relationships. Tara had been raised by a mom who really didn't have time for her and finally kicked her out at 16. That was when she'd fallen in with Dennis, a scam artist, and had paid for it dearly when she tried to get out. That is how she ended up in the same hospital as Lyle nearly five years ago. She's tormented by her past sins and Lyle managed to build up her self esteem by offering her an honest job as a designer of a leather clothing line with his company Baker Leather. Later, he'd offered her financial security by way of a percentage of Baker Leather in exchange for her going along with his plans to stage a fake engagement. While Lyle was compensating Tara for her help, he was also setting her up to be in a bad position when he passed. He left his kids thinking she was a gold digging tramp who had targeted their dad. My favorite quote: "We're more than our mistakes...More than our past. We can be more than the things we let define us." I truly enjoyed the book and gave it 4 out of 5 roses. I enjoyed the drama created when Tara's past came back to haunt her. I loved watching Luc and Tara come to terms with their pasts. I loved how Luc seemed to figure out Tara so quickly. It kind of tied in to they way he was with his teammates. On the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale, this one scores a STEAM rating--too hot for a fan, but you still have a handle on things. You should use extreme caution when reading a book with this rating in public. People may inquire as to why you looked flustered and flushed.