Can a grumpy former Ranger find lasting happiness in a marriage of convenience with a sunny single mom?
After losing his leg, former Army Ranger Holt Steele is building a new life and a new business with his friends. Sure, he never expected to put small-town baker on his resume, but he finds he likes the quiet, simple life. If only he didn’t like the sunny single mom who works across the street–or her adorable kid–quite so much.
After escaping a controlling husband, event planner Cayla Black has one focus–growing her business and maintaining a safe, happy home for her daughter. She has no time or interest in a man. Not even one who charms her child with Disney songs and keeps turning up like a mind-reader to help without being asked.
But when her ex’s conviction is overturned on a technicality, and he shows up intending to reclaim his wife and child, Holt intervenes with an outrageous lie. The only way to fix it is to make his falsehood the truth. As they struggle to convince everyone that their marriage of protection is real, these two reluctant hearts fall deeper, until the lines between the fiction and the dream begin to blur, and they have to risk it all to protect the family they didn’t know they wanted.
“We’ll get to the bottom of it. But I need you to tell me everything that happened. Everything he said. Can you do that?”
Her voice was muffled as she told the story against his chest.
“He said he’d had good luck with his last appeal. That all his convictions were overturned, and he was a free man. I don’t understand. They said they had all the evidence they needed. How could it be overturned when he’s already been serving his sentence?”
It was a damned good question. “I’ve got a guy who can dig into it. But let’s talk about the more immediate issue. Will he come after Maddie, or is he all talk?”
Cayla lifted her head, and the look in her eyes shredded his gut. “Oh, he’ll come after her. Not out of any kind of love or desire to have a relationship with his child, but because he’ll believe she belongs to him. The same way he thinks I still do.”
“That doesn’t matter to a man like him. He views me as his property. And I have no idea what he’s going to do with what you threw out. What were you thinking, claiming to be my husband?” Baffled consternation knit her brows together.
He hadn’t been thinking. Not really. He’d already been walking over when he’d gotten her voice text. From that point, the only thing in his head was getting to Cayla, protecting her in whatever way he could. And when he’d walked in and seen her there, face sheet white, his immediate instinct had been to shield what was his. But he hadn’t had a chance to process what the hell that meant, and he didn’t think Cayla would appreciate that just now.
“That it might intimidate him. It seemed like a good idea in the heat of the moment.”
She pulled away, swiping at her face. “Yeah, well, you basically just waved a red flag at a very smart and calculating bull. He’s not going to just let this go because I allegedly belong to someone else. He’ll never acknowledge that claim. I was his first, and as far as he’s concerned, I’m his always. I only felt safe because he was behind bars and was supposed to stay there for a good long while. Now I… I don’t know what to do.”
Her shoulders shook as the tears fell harder.
Holt curled his hands into fists, desperate to do something. “He’s not going to get to either of you. I swear it.”
“How can you promise that?”
His brain spun, considering and rejecting scenarios. If Raynor sued for some kind of custody of Maddie, being caught out in a lie would hardly be in Cayla’s favor. And even if he didn’t, would they even be safe in their own home? The man she’d described wouldn’t let a piece of paper like a restraining order stop him—if they could even get one. They needed protection on site. Both of them. And there was one obvious solution.
Meet Kait Nolan:
Kait Nolan is a RITA® Award-winning Mississippi author who calls everyone sugar, honey, or darlin’, and can wield a ‘Bless your heart’ like a Snuggie or a saber, depending on requirements. She believes in love, laughter, and that tacos are the world’s most perfect food. When she’s not writing, reading, working the evil day job, or wrangling family (both the two-legged and the four-), you can find her obsessively watching The Great British Bake Off.
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