Blurb: Florist Claire Holbrook has always played by the rules her entire life, but breaks them to spend one night with sexy lone wolf Jake Manning, a man she’s adored since she was a teenager. Six weeks later, things get complicated when she discovers they created a bond that will last a lifetime
Jake has never played by the rules. Getting Minister Holbrook’s daughter pregnant wasn’t part of any life plan, but he won’t run from his responsibilities. He’ll step up and be the best man he can, even if he doesn’t have a clue where to begin. The more time he spends with Claire, though, the more he wants her, and the harder it is to get close, because that would mean sharing the one thing he hasn’t with anyone–the truth and his heart.
Now I couldn't resist posting this excerpt even though it's a bit longer than I usually post. I love it.
Excerpt: You don’t have to tell him tonight. As long as it’s sometime in the next eight months you’re fine. Liar.
Claire Holbrook knew there was no way she’d be able to keep her pregnancy a secret in a small town like Red River.
Jake wasn’t an idiot. Jerk maybe, idiot not.
She continued to gaze out her best friend’s kitchen window at the man she’d fantasized about for thirteen years. And as usual, Jake had no idea she was around. Not once in the years that they’d known each other had Jake looked at her twice—until the night of his brother’s and her best friend’s wedding. That was the moment cautious Claire had taken the biggest gamble in her perfectly mundane life.
The night of Holly and Quinn’s wedding had provided her with an epiphany—thanks to a little help from the open bar. She had been living her life without any courage, like the lion in The Wizard of Oz. Holly was finally getting married to the man of her dreams and Claire hadn’t even kissed the man of her dreams. So, after a few too many glasses of champagne and a few whiskeys as well, Claire had made her move. And when his arms tightened around her, his head dipping close to her ear, his powerful chest tightening beneath her fingers…she and Jake had stumbled into one of the luxurious suites in the historical Inn. He had lit her body on fire with his touch and filled her heart with promises. But then he left. The first and only man she’d ever slept with, the only man she’d ever loved, just left her in the middle of the night, alone in a hotel room. And now, six weeks later he was back in town, without so much as a phone call.
Claire squeezed her eyes shut and tried to block out the memory of their night together along with the smell of grilling beef, which was making her stomach turn faster than a roller coaster. Her hands gripped the sweating plastic bottle of water she was holding, its crackling the only sound in the empty kitchen.
The sound of laughter and deep masculine voices wafted through the open window, and her heart catapulted forward a few traitorous beats at the sound of Jake’s low voice. She heard the old iron gate swing open as guests meandered down the cobblestone pathway to the impeccably landscaped backyard, their clacking sandals and brightly colored clothes a reminder that summer was imminent. Her eyes narrowed sharply and she stood up a little straighter as a vaguely familiar blonde in short shorts and a tight halter top appeared and snaked her spaghetti-thin arms around Jake’s waist.
Claire crushed the plastic bottle in her fist, the remaining water sputtering out and onto the quartzite countertop with enough force that it could have been from a running fountain. But she didn’t care about the water. What she did care about was the woman snuggling into his side like a slimy sardine. How could he have brought someone here tonight? He must have known she would be here, so why would he blatantly flaunt his newest acquisition in front of her? And did she have to be Claire’s extreme opposite? She was five feet five inches on a day that included an intense Pilates workout. And short shorts were something she’d never contemplate even in private, let alone in broad daylight where even a mere smidgen of cellulite would be highlighted like a neon sign. Despite the fact that she was wearing a stylish but conservative navy sundress, she was no match for that walking Barbie outside.
“Hey, when did you get here? And why is water dripping down your dress?”
Claire whipped her head around to look in the direction of the teasing voice and then down at the wet spot on her sundress. She hadn’t even heard Holly approach.
“Sorry, Holly,” she mumbled, avoiding eye contact as she grabbed a floral tea towel beside the sink to wipe the counter.
She hadn’t told Holly about her one night with Jake, mostly because Holly and Quinn had been away on their honeymoon. She wanted to confide in her, but Holly’s life was so blissfully happy right now, and hers was horribly messed up. Combined with the fact that Jake was now Holly’s brother-in-law, it was all very complicated.
Claire turned her attention back to the blonde and Jake. Sly, ugly jealousy snaked its way through her already wound-up body as she watched the blonde squeeze his perfectly formed, denim-clad butt. What kind of person does that in public, anyway?
She jumped as Holly pried the tea towel out of her hand and blotted the water on her dress. She took a deep breath and finally looked into her friend’s concerned eyes.
“What’s going on with you, Claire? Is it your dad? I know this year has been so hard on you and I feel like I haven’t been there for you—”
Claire waved her hand, silencing her friend. She didn’t want Holly to feel guilty about anything. And she couldn’t think about her father tonight. It was hard having him so far away, in Africa of all places. She shook her head and forced a smile on her face, gently taking the tea towel out of Holly’s hand. “Oh, please. You are the best friend I could ever ask for. I’m fine, really. I’m just tired.”
Holly’s eyes narrowed on her as she tilted her head to the side. Claire knew her best friend wasn’t buying her explanation. Holly had a sixth sense about lies. She avoided eye contact with her and pretended to be overly fixated on drying her dress.
“You? You’re never tired,” Holly said.
Yeah, until she became pregnant. Now she had to fight a losing battle with keeping her eyes open all day, while Jake just carried on with his normal life.
“Enough about me. I haven’t heard a thing about your month-long honeymoon. How was the cruise? How did Ella like it?”
“That’s a nice attempt at changing the subject. The trip was great, Ella loved it. We loved it. Now back to you and why you look so spacey.”
So much for trying to divert the attention off herself. “Who’s Jake’s date?”
Holly eyes widened comically. “You mean you don’t know?”
“I didn’t see her face,” she said, panicking now.
“I almost kicked her out, but Quinn stopped me. It’s Amanda,” Holly said wincing. Claire felt whatever bit of hope there was for her and Jake die faster than a rose in a blizzard. Amanda.
“Oh, wow. I haven’t thought about her in a long time,” Claire said, doing her best to fake a casual smile, doing her best to pretend she hadn’t thought of Amanda since high school.
“Good, because she’s still as irritating as before. Jake has the worst taste in women. You know, I wish you’d just tell him how you feel and put us all out of our misery.”
Claire gritted her teeth. “I don’t feel anything for him anymore.” Her words came out sounding like she was choking on a dry steak.
Holly scoffed. “Hey, this is me you’re talking to, remember? The one who spent her entire adolescence hearing about how you were going to marry Jake Manning?”
Claire stared at her friend’s pretty face, and memories of the two of them laughing and sharing dreams of what their lives would be like when they were older filled her with sadness, because none of it had happened for Claire. Her life was nothing like she’d envisioned. She was hiding in the kitchen, for goodness’ sake. Claire was not an overweight, shy teenager with acne and braces anymore. She didn’t live with her vain, size-four-or-die mother anymore. She’d spent years trying to get her mother’s shrill, disapproving voice out of her head when she looked at her reflection in the mirror.
Claire was a successful florist who owned her own business and home. She was not going to cower in her best friend’s kitchen while Octopus Barbie groped the father of her child. And there was no way in hell she was going to let Jake be so happy while she was miserable.
“Earth to Claire?” Holly’s waving hands in front of her face snapped her back to reality.
Claire didn’t answer as she marched over to her purse sitting on the kitchen table. She was not going to be a bystander to her own life any longer. Was there ever a better time to assert one’s independence than when one was about to become a parent? And what if she had a daughter? Would she criticize her and plague her with trivial ideas about weight and beauty? Or would she love her unconditionally and encourage her to be strong and independent?
Holly’s voice softened, but the worry in it was unmistakable as she came to stand beside her at the table. “Hey, let’s get together tomorrow, okay? I’ve missed you, and now that the wedding is over we can catch up and talk.”
She ignored her best friend and dumped the contents of her purse on the kitchen table in between Holly’s neatly stacked plates and assortment of drinks.
She was looking for the little item she’d kept in her purse for the last five days. She’d carried it around with her because she couldn’t believe it was true, kept looking at it to see if both pink lines were still on the indicator.
“What are you doing?”
She still didn’t answer.
“You’re starting to worry me. Your face is blotchy and you look upset.” Claire thought Holly sounded as though she were speaking to a mentally unbalanced person.
She swung her arm wide, clearing some of the mess, her lipstick clinking against the china. Where was that box? Her eyes scanned the mess and finally fell on the thin box sandwiched between the San Pellegrinos and Heinekens. Bingo. She snatched the prize in her hand, clutching it as tightly as a newly won Oscar. She quickly jammed her belongings back in her purse and swung it over her shoulder as she tried to sidestep her best friend before she could see the box in her hand.
Holly crossed her arms and blocked her path. She could be formidable, but she was no match for Claire right now.
“What are you doing? What is that?” She tried to unfold Claire’s arms. Claire squeezed her arms together tightly.
“I’m giving Jake a welcome-home present.” She tore past Holly, nearly knocking her worried friend over. It was now or never. Jake Manning could not sleep with her, take off for six weeks, and then reappear with another woman groping him. Especially that woman.
“Claire!” She ignored Holly’s plea and stormed down the steps to the outdoor patio. She didn’t even falter as she approached the door and saw Amanda casually caress Jake’s back. His broad, muscular back, the one she remembered clutching, digging her nails into as…
She flung the Victorian screen door open with a force that sent all the boisterous partygoers looking in her direction, the sound of conversation slowly fading to a frightening silence. Quinn was just placing a hamburger on Jake’s plate and stopped, the plate frozen in midair between them, each brother left holding one side.
Claire saw Amanda’s eyes zero in on her and watched with satisfaction as the woman’s sinewy body tensed, like a cat sensing someone encroaching on her territory. Oh no, honey, not only am I encroaching, I’m claiming my throne. Claire’s eyes locked with Jake’s blue ones and the panic she read in them made all of this oh so worth it. She forced herself to turn her lip upward, hopefully pulling off a Mona Lisa-type smile. She strode over to Jake, her strappy sandals clacking confidently on the flagstone patio.
Claire clutched her precious piece of evidence in her right hand, holding it like a knight would hold a sword, ready to pierce his opponent through the heart.
Jake opened his perfectly chiseled mouth. “Claire.”
“Welcome home, daddy.” She stabbed the positive pregnancy indicator stick through his hamburger with enough force that it could have killed the cow had it still been alive.
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