Pint-size Lulubelle Swan is not Ty’s—or anyone’s—idea of a construction worker. But she’s so eager to join his crew for the Climax library renovation that he gives her a shot . . . and she totally lives down to his expectations. Aside from her fear of ladders, she’s a hazard every time she picks up a hammer. He’d toss her out on her tight little tush, but he gets the feeling she needs the job—or at least, needs something . . .
Lu’s trying her hardest, but she’s no handywoman. She’s sought out Ty because he served in Afghanistan with the man she loved—and nearly three years after losing Joe, she still can’t move on. Hiding her true intentions, she spends hours with Ty, trying to get him to talk about the past—and in the process, learn how to face the future on her own. But when her quest for closure gets complicated, she may have to open her heart in unexpected ways . . .
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A Cates Brothers Novel
By Lee Kilraine
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Lee Kilraine
All rights reserved.
"Um ... Lu? You're doing it again."
"What? No ... I ..." Lu rose up from the half-sheet cake she was decorating for the Turner twins' sixth birthday. She started to shake her head, but a quick glance at her watch showed her she had lost track of time again.
"Yeah, you are." Bonnie wiped her hands on her apron, then gestured to the cake. "That is the angriest clown I've ever seen."
Lu pursed her lips, examining the cake she'd been lost in. Okay, so maybe the clown's flame-red hair did shoot out from his head as if on fire. And possibly being whipped around by hurricane-force winds. His eyebrows slashed like angry cuts over piercing green eyes. Red lips twisted in a maniacal snarl, revealing teeth honed to razor-sharp points. "Oh, boy."
"It can't be that bad, Lu." Claire closed the heavy door on the walk-in refrigerator and joined them at the stainless-steel counter. "You've been doing better this — oh, yikes! That's not going to work for a party of six-year-olds."
"Or sixteen-year-olds," Bonnie said.
Lu sighed, looking down at the clown/serial murderer she'd created in piped butter cream frosting and edible paint. "I guess I'm having another bad week." I should've just stayed in bed today. This week. This year.
When the bell over the front door chimed, Bonnie wrapped an arm around her, steering her from the back kitchen out to behind the front bakery counter. "I'll be right with you, Sherry. You're doing great, hon. Isn't she, Claire?"
"Absolutely. You can't expect to get over losing someone overnight. It takes time." Claire nodded a little too enthusiastically as she pushed Lu down onto the barstool normally reserved for Bonnie when her pregnant body needed a break. "And, and ... you're back to work, so that's good."
Lu's body sank down onto the stool as if gravity had doubled. Her arms were weighted down, too heavy to lift. Her hands were numb in her lap. Claire's words echoed in her head. It takes time. Time? Hadn't she been dragging herself through each rotation of the earth like a good girl? Some days her heart was made of spun glass, every little thing ready to shatter it. Other days her heart was a diamond, compressed by sorrow's weight and hardened from the pain. She waved off Claire's concern so they could take care of the customer.
"Sherry, how can we — oh, wait, you're here for the garden club cake. Let me go get it from the walk-in." Claire threw a worried glance in Lu's direction on her way into the back kitchen.
Huh. Was she having a good day or a bad day when she'd decorated the cake for the garden club? Claire came back out front, a huge, relaxed smile on her face. She threw Lu a wink on her way to set the cake on the counter for Sherry to admire before she rang her up. Claire folded back the cake lid, putting the cake on display.
Lu almost couldn't look, knowing how sketchy she had felt two days ago, but she stepped up and leaned in a little for a peek. It was beautiful, thank goodness. She eased back onto the stool with a sigh of relief. It was about time she'd done something right. She was in the process of admiring the beautiful verdant garden she'd created when her gaze caught Sherry's horrified expression.
"It's beautiful," Bonnie said, yet her eyes darted over the cake, as if looking for something evil hidden in the lush greenery.
"What's wrong?" Claire said, her backbone pulled up tall and straight.
Sherry took a step back from the counter. And the cake. Her fingers twisted around themselves as her gaze flicked over to Lu before landing on the cake. "Those are all toxic."
"What?" Claire and Bonnie stared down at the cake in disbelief. "They're gorgeous."
"They're deadly." Sherry took a second step back. "Wolfsbane, oleander, lantana, nightshade, bloodroot and hemlock."
"This is just like last year's hot rod club all over again, isn't it?" Lu squeezed her hands tight together in her lap. "I'm sorry, Sherry. I'm hopeless."
"Oh, honey, they appreciated the great detail work you put into the Mustang. They said you made it sexy and had every detail perfect, down to the tire size." Bonnie nodded her head pertly.
Claire's eyes widened. "They just would have preferred it without the deer through the windshield and massive front-end damage. That's all."
Lu's head fell against the wall with a thunk. Her voice quivered. "I should be better than this by now. I mean, people deal with death every damn day. Why am I so ... stuck?"
"Lu, it's perfectly normal. Don't you worry your head about it." Bonnie tucked a tissue in Lu's clenched fist.
Sherry stepped forward, nodding quickly. "Sure, Lu. The cake really is beautiful. I'm sure our members will get a kick out of the cake. I mean, deadly plants ... how c-cool is that, right? Bonnie, just put this amazing cake on our tab." Sherry closed the lid of the cake box, slid it into her arms, and backed carefully out the door. "Great cake, Lu. Uh, just great."
The bell jangled in the quiet bakery. Only the swish of the front door and the buzz of the overhead lights accompanied the bell.
"I'm really sorry, Claire and Bonnie. I think it's time for me to quit. It's been almost three years and it isn't fair for me to drag the business down with me."
"No. Lu, it's because the anniversary of Joe's death is coming up. It's always hard for you. That's completely normal. You just need to take some time off."
"Claire has that exactly right. Oh, I've got just the thing." Bonnie leaned down under the counter, pulling her gypsy style, oversized quilted fabric purse up and onto the counter. She started rooting through it, tossing papers and items all over the space. "I know I put it in here somewhere."
Lu looked wide-eyed at the growing collection of items Bonnie pulled from her bag like she was a real-life Mary Poppins. Paperbacks, hair clips, baby rattle, a sandwich bag of neatly folded tissues, lip balm, the latest gossip tabloid, a hairbrush ... a jar of peanut butter? She stood up to peek over Bonnie's shoulder, sure the bag had to be empty. Nope.
"Here it is!" Bonnie waved a creased travel brochure around in the air. "I found this in a magazine at the dentist's office and thought of you, Lu. It's a two-week Caribbean cruise for singles."
"Thanks, Bon, but I don't think so." She shook her head, unable to imagine a worse idea. Two weeks of "scheduled fun" with a boatload of drunk strangers. Yippee. She started handing Bonnie back the contents to reload her purse. "I know I need something, but not that."
"How about a fishing and camping excursion? You used to love —" Bonnie stopped talking when Claire coughed. "Oh, yeah, never mind. I just remembered the ... um, the mosquitoes are real bad this time of year."
"You just remembered Joe and I fished and camped in high school all the time. It's okay to say his name. I don't want people to stop talking about Joe like he didn't exist just because I'm" — she passed down Bonnie's wallet, her lip gloss, the paperback book, the tabloid, and little Ella's baby rattle — "stuck."
"Geez, I'm sorry, Lu." Bonnie snatched the rattle out of her hand and tossed it in her purse. "I forgot that was in there from church."
"Don't apologize, Bon! I'm so happy for you and Jimbo, I could bust." She reached over and squeezed Bonnie's hand. "I appreciate you thinking of me with the brochure and all, but I don't need love. I had my once-in-a lifetime love. I'm just looking to get unstuck."
Her gaze landed on the tabloid's full-color, front-page photo, and the breath seized in her lungs at the face staring up at her. The happy, laughing face of the last man to talk with Joe before he died. Her hand clenched around the tabloid, scrunching up the man's smile until it disappeared into the folds. She looked up at her friends, but their faces blurred, as if they stood looking behind a rainy window.
"It's okay, Lu. Everyone understands."
But they didn't. And how could they when she didn't understand it either? She wasn't the only person to ever lose someone. Or was this how it was for everyone? It sure didn't seem like it. She pulled herself together and slid on a reassuring smile. "I know. I'm going to sit outside to get some air."
The bell tinkled as she swung the door open, leaving their hushed whispers inside. She slumped onto the bench in front of the bakery, lifting her face to the sunshine. How did they keep putting up with her? Hell, she was sick of herself. Sick of feeling stuck in this sucking sadness. She swatted the paper onto the palm of her hand so hard it stung. Serves me right. I'm a pain in the ass to everyone else, even if they're too nice to admit it.
The paper crinkled in her hands and she unrolled it, staring again at the smiling faces in the photo. Her eyes skimmed the headline: "World's Sexiest Man off the Market." It wasn't the newly engaged movie star who drew Lu's attention, though. No, it was his brother, standing next to him. Joe's rifle squad leader, Staff Sergeant Tynan Cates. She'd never met the man, but she had a vague memory of Joe telling her his sergeant had a famous brother. He looked happy, his big, wide smile flashing up at her. Taunting her.
He'd lost a few men in the firefight that took Joe. That had to be devastating, but here he was, laughing. Had she laughed at all in the last three years? If she had, she didn't remember it. Of course that first year after Joe's death was a blur. Some days still were. Some days were just going through the motions so the people who loved her could worry a little less. She couldn't keep on going like this, though.
How had he moved on? Did he know some trick? Have a great therapist? She wanted to know the secret. Maybe if she could talk to him for an hour, he'd tell her how he did it.
"Hey, Lu. How are you?"
She looked up into Joe's eyes. What? She used her hand to block out the sun's rays slicing into her vision. No. Not Joe's. Joe's older brother, Cameron. "Hey, Cam. I'm okay, just thinking I need a change."
"Say the word and I'll help." Cam sat down next to her, looking her over, searching her face. "It's been hard watching you go through this."
Her gaze fell away from his as guilt smacked her down. Here she was, selfishly wallowing, while Cam had quietly sucked up the pain of losing his brother and moved on with his life. And he'd more than tried to help over the last three years. Every time she turned around, he was there for her. Lu shook her head and pointed down to the smiling face in the paper. "Hey, look who's in the paper. I thought the unit was deployed overseas right now?"
"They might be." Cam shrugged and glanced down at the paper in her hand. "Sergeant Cates? He's civilian now. He visited Ma about a year after Joe's funeral, asking if there was anything he could do to help. He lives right over in Climax."
"I was thinking maybe what I need is closure. To force myself to hear the real details." Lu knew she'd fold at the real details, but she figured Cam would think she was crazy if she said one look at Cates's laughing face and, like a vision, she was sure the man held the key to getting unstuck. Maybe she was crazy. "You know, not the government's sterile version."
"I don't know, Lu." His forehead wrinkled low and he tugged his ear. "It seems like that might be a step in the wrong direction, you know?"
"I've spent three years blocking everything relating to Joe out —"
"I know." His eyes, too much like Joe's, were warm and understanding. "We've missed you."
"I'm sorry. Anyway, it hasn't worked." She refused to let her eyes tear up. She bit the inside of her lip, focusing on the pain instead. Her hands clenched into fists, crumpling the paper, the smiling face folding up like an accordion. "So, I thought I might go talk to Sergeant Cates."
Cam looked at the paper in her hands and shook his head. "Two years ago he looked a little rough himself and only repeated the military findings. I don't think you'll find any answers there, Lu."
"Yeah, you're right. It's a stupid idea. Maybe I just need to get away for a few weeks. That way, even if it doesn't help me, at least Bonnie and Claire will get a break."
"Everyone understands." Cam patted her awkwardly on her shoulder. "But I think getting away for a few weeks is a great idea. I could —"
"I'm going to visit my Aunt Steph in Charleston." Lu couldn't let Cam finish. The last thing she wanted Cam to do was play martyr to help her. "She's been on me for a while to visit and now feels like a good time."
But Lu knew she'd plot her trip with a detour through Climax, NC. Maybe Cam was right and Cates wouldn't open up to Joe's fiancée, but he just might open up to a stranger. All she had to do was figure out a way to be around him. She'd stay there long enough to see how former Staff Sergeant Tynan Cates had moved on with his life. She had nothing to lose.
* * *
Nine hours and forty-two minutes. A new damn record for how long he'd lasted in a suit, and Tynan Cates had hated every second of it. The jacket and tie were the first to go. He rolled the cuffs back and released a few buttons of his shirt until the choking feeling left him. The dress slacks and shirt would disappear as soon as he got back home, but he had a toast to make first. Because he didn't keep alcohol at his house, it meant stopping in at Yadkin's Depot for a drink.
He winced at the idea of talking to more people. He'd spent the day doing that at the funeral, but wasn't that the whole point of not keeping booze at his house? To force him out of the isolation he'd hidden in when he'd first gotten home from Afghanistan. He liked people just fine, but today had been a rough day. So he'd slip into the Depot, raise a glass to a fallen comrade, and then head home to solitude.
The twang of an old country song and the light chatter of conversation washed over him as he entered the bar. Thank hell it was a weekday because that meant the crowd was light and the music mellow. His hope of parking himself at the polished oak bar was dashed when he saw his brothers' fiancées motioning him over to one of the large round tables.
Avery stood and gave him a hug and Delany patted his shoulder. They made room at the table, sitting him between them. Probably so they could grill him, but he grinned anyway. He liked his future sisters-in-law. They were both nicer than they were pretty, and that was saying something. His brothers had good taste in women, that was for sure.
"I'm so sorry, Tynan." Avery reached over and wrapped his hand in both of hers. "Why didn't you ask one of us to go with you?"
Delaney leaned into his space. "Yeah, you big dummy. You don't need to be the strong, silent type around us."
"I didn't tell anyone in the family. How did you — oh, the Grapevine." He nodded, looking around for the waitress. "Figures."
"Well, actually, it was the clothing that gave you away." Avery patted the turned-up cuff on his forearm. "Everyone knows there are only two things that get you in a suit and you look too somber for a wedding."
Cindee stopped at their table and slid a Guinness in front of him. He raised an eyebrow at her because it wasn't his usual drink.
"I saw the suit pants. Sorry about your buddy." Cindee cleared her throat and nodded before heading back to the bar to pick up another order.
Tynan lifted his beer. "To John Kyle. A hell of a soldier, but an even better man. Godspeed, John Kyle."
"Godspeed." Delaney and Avery raised their glasses with him.
Tynan ended the quiet moment with a shake of his head. "Okay, enough sadness. I had enough of that all day long."
"Are you sure you're good?" Delaney slowed him down with a hand on his biceps while she tried to peer closely into his eyes. "Because I don't want this to hit you when you're all alone at three in the morning."
He grinned at her. "Who says I'm planning to be alone at three in the morning?"
"You might actually try a relationship, you know." Avery swatted him on his other arm. "That goes beyond the bedroom."
"Hey, it's not my fault my brothers snatched up the best women first." Tynan wrapped an arm around each of them. "Seriously, if I can find a woman as perfect as you two, I'll grab her up and never let her go."
"Sure you will. You, sir, are a player."
Excerpted from Crazy Love by Lee Kilraine. Copyright © 2016 Lee Kilraine. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I adored Crazy Love! The story was funny, sweet, sad, frustrating, heartbreaking, & joyful. I can't wait to read more in the Cates Brothers Series. Crazy Love was the 3rd book in the series but can be read as a stand alone. I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
I loved this book!
This was a very good read. It had a unique storyline and the characters were interesting and funny. This is the second book I've read by this author and I was glad to see that we were given more of the characters backstories then we were in the first book. The quirky characters at the diner were hilarious and the witty banter between Lu and Ty was quite enjoyable. Imagining the petite Lu working on a construction jobsite and hurting all her fellow workers definitely had me chuckling. Ty and Lu seemed to help each other heal from the loss of Lu's fiance Joe. I would recommend this one.