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A secret baby brings ex-lovers together in this tale of lost memories and second chances.
Getting hit with divorce papers isn't the fresh beginning Jake Holt wanted with Skye Taylor. But when he returns to their Texas hometown, he finds Skye has a child...and no memory of the couple's painful breakup.
After a long coma, Skye doesn't remember being swept up in a tornado or nearly losing her baby girl. Seeing Jake again rekindles their all-consuming passion. Then she starts to remember... Is their love strong enough to overcome the past so they can become a real family?
Be sure to read other scandalous stories from the Texas Cattleman's Club: After the Storm series, only from Harlequin® Desire!
STRANDED WITH THE RANCHER by USA TODAY bestseller Janice Maynard
SHELTERED BY THE MILLIONAIRE by USA TODAY bestseller Catherine Mann
PREGNANT BY THE TEXAN by USA TODAY bestseller Sara Orwig
BECAUSE OF THE BABY... by Cat Schield
MORE THAN A CONVENIENT BRIDE by USA TODAY bestseller Michelle Celmer
FOR HIS BROTHER'S WIFE by USA TODAY bestseller Kathie DeNosky
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Sarah M. Anderson won RT Reviewer's Choice 2012 Desire of the Year for A Man of Privilege. The Nanny Plan was a 2016 RITA® Finalist. Find out more about Sarah's love of cowboys at www.sarahmanderson.comExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Jake Holt could not believe his eyes. What on God's green earth had happened to Royal, Texas?
Yeah, he'd been gone for four years after cutting off all contact with his family and his hometown. He expected some things to have changed. But this? He drove down what had been the main commercial drag. Fast-food restaurants and big-box stores all looked like someone had run over them with a freight train. He passed the hospital, where it looked as if a whole wing was missing.
Jesus. It looked as if a bomb had gone off here. Or...
Or a tornado had blown the town to bits.
The thought made him nervous. Jake cast a withering glance at the papers in the benign-looking envelope on the passenger seat. Divorce papers. Skye had sent him divorce papers. He probably shouldn't be surprised—he hadn't spoken to her in almost ten months. He'd been out of the country, setting up an IT at a new oil site in Bahrain. He'd been busy and she'd made her feelings clear.
Part of him knew the marriage was over. They wanted different things. He wanted to be free of their families and their neverending feud over land. He wanted to wash his hands of Royal, Texas, for good. He'd wanted to get his business, Texas Sky Technologies, off the ground, which required a lot of hard work. He'd wanted to be a success and give her everything she wanted.
Except he couldn't. Skye wanted the impossible. She hadn't been able to let go of the crazy notions she'd had about coming back home and resolving the family feud and somehow bringing the Taylors and Holts together. He didn't know why. Maybe so they could join hands and sing in perfect harmony and share a soda together.
No matter what her reasons, it wasn't going to happen. The Taylors and the Holts had been arguing, suing and occasionally shooting over the same piece of land for at least a hundred years and nothing Jake did or said was going to change that. Hell, he couldn't even get his own family to accept that he'd fallen in love with Skye Taylor. How was he supposed to convince her parents to accept him as a son-in-law?
Easier just to pick up and start over somewhere new.
Or it had been, until it all fell apart.
Still, Jake could not believe that she'd actually had him served with divorce papers. Skye had been his world for so long. They'd sacrificed everything to be together once.
The papers were dated eight months ago. Jake wasn't about to sign the damn things and mail them off. Not until he made good and sure that Skye was done with him.
Which was why he was back in his least favorite place in the entire world—Royal, Texas. If Skye could tell him to his face that it was over, then it was over. Twenty years of his life spent loving her—done.
God, he hated this town.
He'd come home after all these years on the assumption that Skye was here. But now? Now he hoped she wasn't here. It looked as if the tornado that had blown through town had left a wake of complete and total destruction in its path.
Despite the long months apart, and the evil divorce papers, he prayed she wasn't here, that wherever she was, she was safe. That she hadn't been in the path of that twister.
He didn't even know when the twister had hit. He was jumping to conclusions, but the whole prodigal-son-returns-home thing had him on edge. He needed information before he did anything else. And the best place to get information in this town was the Royal Diner.
As he headed into the heart of the town, the damage got worse and worse. Trees were gone, nothing but twisted stumps left. The car lot where he'd bought his first truck was vacant, save a pile of rubble where the building used to stand. Plenty of places had tarps over their roofs and boarded-up windows. The walk-up ice-cream shop where he used to take Skye for a cone was off its foundation entirely, sitting four feet away on the sidewalk where he'd dared to hold Skye's hand in public.
He'd turned his back on this town four years ago. Said he didn't care if he never saw Royal—or the people in it—ever again. But now that he was here, it was almost too much.
Just when he thought he couldn't take it, he came upon a block that was mostly okay looking. Jake was thrilled to see the Royal Diner was still standing. People were sitting inside, drinking coffee.
He felt himself breathe. It wasn't all gone. The diner was still here.
He pulled up in front and sat, thinking. He didn't want to care about Royal, Texas, because he'd told himself for years that he didn't care.
But seeing the town so wounded, and not knowing who'd lived and who'd died—it tore him up in a way he wasn't prepared for. He was worried about his family, for God's sake. He was worried about Skye. Just because it was over didn't mean he hoped something awful had happened to her.
Someone walked past his car and did a double take. Jake didn't recognize the man, but then, he didn't recognize the town anymore. Things had changed.
He needed to know how much they'd changed. Forewarned was forearmed and he needed to know what had happened before he sucked it up and went home.
So, gritting his teeth, Jake got out of the car and walked into the diner.
What had been a pleasant midday hum died the moment the door shut behind him. He recognized Amanda working behind the counter, although he was surprised to see she was pregnant.
"Jake? Jake Holt?" She froze in what seemed to be true shock—or horror. "Is it really you?"
"Hi," Jake said, putting on a smile as the silence closed around him. He could feel the shock rolling off of every single person in the restaurant. Even the cook leaned out of the kitchen to look at him.
He'd been in tight spots before, dealing with angry international businessmen who didn't speak much English and had their own ways of doing things. But this? This was the tightest spot he'd ever been in.
"What?" someone demanded from one of the booths in the back of the diner. "Did someone say Jake Holt?"
Then, to Jake's surprise, his brother, Keaton, stood up.
"Jake?" Keaton looked at him as if Jake were a zombie who'd stumbled into the diner fresh from the graveyard. "What the hell?"
Jake looked around the room, but he found no moral support. Everyone appeared to be thinking the same thing.
Even Amanda, who'd always been a sweetheart back in school.
This was not how he'd wanted it to go. He'd wanted to locate Skye and hash it out for once and for all in private with no one—or at least not their families—the wiser. He wanted things to go back to the way they used to be, back when it was him and Skye against the world. And if he had to confront his family, then he'd wanted it to happen in the privacy of the Holt home, without an audience.
Which is what he had right now—one hell of an audience. The diner was mostly full with the lunch crowd. Plenty of witnesses with waggling tongues who would probably be more than happy to spread the news of the less-than-happy family reunion from here to San Antonio.
"Hello, Keaton." Jake tried to sound as if he were glad to see his brother, but he didn't pull it off.
The diner was so quiet he could have heard a pin drop. He wasn't sure anyone was even breathing.
Keaton's jaw was clenched—and so were his fists. Yeah, this wasn't a happy family reunion by any stretch of the imagination. "Where have you been?" To his credit, at least it didn't come out as a snarl.
"Bahrain," Jake replied, trying to keep his tone casual. After all, he was basically announcing this to the whole town. "I had a big job there. It just wrapped up."
A light murmur rippled through the onlookers. Jake couldn't tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
"I heard about the storm," he went on. Might as well put some lipstick on this pig. "I came home as soon as I could to see if I could help."
More murmuring. At least this time, it sounded like a positive reaction.
Keaton gave him a look of white-hot death, but then he seemed to realize that they had an audience. "Do you have time to have a cup of coffee?" He motioned back to the booth.
"Sure." Just a casual cup of joe with the man who'd forced Jake to choose between the Holt land and the woman he loved. No big deal.
He walked past his brother and slid into the opposite side of the booth. Keaton stood there, glaring down at him for a moment before he took his seat.
The diner was still unnaturally quiet—so quiet, Jake could hear Amanda's footsteps coming toward. "Coffee?"
He tried to be polite. "Sure. I take it you're not Amanda Altman anymore, huh?"
"Been married to Nathan Battle for over a year," she said with an awkward grin.
Jake nodded, hoping the gesture concealed his surprise. He'd thought they'd broken up a long time ago. "That's great. Congratulations."
"It's good you're back, Jake," Amanda said. She paused and then, after a worried glance at Keaton, added, "Things may have changed, but it's still good to come home."
He forced a polite smile. "Not sure how long I'll be here," he said. "But I'll do my best to help out."
Amanda gave him a look before the cook rang the bell and yelled, "Order up!"
And then it was him and Keaton. His brother had changed, but then, hadn't everything? Fine lines had settled in around his eyes and his mouth. They might have been the lines that went with smiling. Maybe Keaton had been happy after Jake had slipped off into the night with Skye four years ago. Maybe he'd gotten married, had some kids. Had a nice life. Jake could be a big enough man to hope for that.
There were no smiles now.
Jake took a sip of his coffee and felt something inside him unclench. He'd had coffee the world over, but there was something about the coffee at the diner that tasted like.
He was not going to be glad to be back, no matter what Amanda said. And he was not staying long, either. The look on Keaton's face made it plenty clear he wasn't welcome. Some things never changed.
Slowly, the noise level in the diner began to return to normal conversation levels. Still, Keaton said nothing. And Jake wasn't about to fill the void. He had nothing to say to his brother.
Nothing polite, anyway.
Finally, Keaton cracked. "Bahrain?"
Jake nodded. "I run a successful information technology company that specializes in creating the IT infrastructure on oil drilling sites. We do jobs around the world. The Bahrain job was a major win—I beat out some NASDAQ companies for the right to that job."
Of course, none of that information was exactly secret. If Keaton—or anyone else here in Royal—had really wanted to, they could have searched for Texas Sky Technologies online.
Keaton's jaw worked. "Texas Sky, right?"
Jake stared at him. "You looked me up?" Had his brother...missed him?
"Yeah, I really had no choice," Keaton replied with a snort. "Imagine my surprise when the people who answer your phones insisted that you didn't have a brother. Like I didn't even exist."
Okay, so Jake maybe hadn't talked about his family in warm, glowing terms with his employees, but that didn't explain why his receptionist hadn't forwarded the messages.
One other thing was clear from the way Keaton had said he didn't have a choice—the man hadn't missed Jake. "Did you ever consider it's not the rest of the world, Keaton? Maybe you just bring that out in everyone." He started to slide out of the booth. Sparring with his brother was not getting him any closer to finding Skye. He did not have time for this.
Keaton put up an arm to block Jake's exit. "How long were you there for?"
Jake was stuck. He'd come in here to get information about Skye and he still had nothing. So he gritted his teeth and settled back in. This was for Skye. "Almost ten months. It was a yearlong contract, but once you factor in the vacation time, it was just short of ten months."
"So you have no idea, then?"
"No idea about what?" Which pretty much answered the question, but that was all Jake was going to give the man. "About Skye."
And just like that, the power balance in the booth shifted.
Jake took in the angry look on Keaton's face and did what he had to. He blurred the truth. "Bahrain isn't exactly a woman's paradise. She wasn't up to joining me on this job."
"I imagine not."
Jake didn't like his brother's sarcastic tone, and fought the urge to lunge over the table and grab Keaton by the collar. He wasn't the same hotheaded kid. He was a businessman—a darned successful one at that. He could negotiate with businessmen from China to South Africa to Bahrain.
He would not let Keaton win. Not now, not ever.
So he let that nugget sit while he sipped his coffee. "Something you'd like to get off your chest, Keaton?" he finally asked.
"Did you at least have the decency to marry her?"
He. Would. Not. Kill. Keaton.
Not yet, anyway.
"Actually," Jake said in his coolest voice, "I don't see what that has to do with you in the least. What goes on between me and Skye is our business. Not yours." He would absolutely not tell his brother a single iota of information more than he had to—and his questionable marital status was at the top of that list.
"You should have married her." Keaton made a show of sipping his coffee.
Jake didn't want to have his brother all up in his business like this. This was not how the plan was supposed to go. He was supposed to swing into Royal, find Skye, confront her if she was here and swing right back out again. Whatever problems he and Skye had were between the two of them. Keaton was not a part this. No one in their families was.
So much for that plan.
"Again, not your concern."
"You're so sure of that, huh?" Keaton shook his head in obvious pity.
Jake bristled. Why was Keaton insisting that he should have married Skye? The man had spent years trying to push Skye and Jake apart—not enter them into holy matrimony. "Positive."
"Positive," he said, his tone deadly serious. "Oh, yeah, you're positive! You always did think you knew everything, didn't you?"
That was it. Jake didn't have to sit here and take this. Keaton was always doing this—lording it over Jake. Jake hadn't missed his brother at all in four years. Not once. And this was why.
"Been good seeing you, Keaton. Give my best to Mom and Dad." He tried to slide out of the booth but Keaton grabbed his shirt. Immediately, the conversation in the diner dropped to an audible whisper.
"I need to congratulate you, Jake." The sarcasm had slipped back into Keaton's tone and he had a mean glint in his eye. "You're a father."
Jake's stomach dropped. It couldn't be true. He and Skye had always been careful, always discussed waiting to start their family until they were a little better situated. No, he wasn't a father because it just wasn't possible. Instead, this was Keaton trying to screw with him, as always. He probably didn't even know where Skye was. "Funny, Keaton. Real funny." He shook free of his brother's grip and bolted out of the booth. He tr...
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Book Description Harlequin Books, 2015. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: Brand New. 192 pages. 6.70x4.30x0.60 inches. In Stock. Seller Inventory # __0373733674
Book Description Harlequin. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0373733674 Ships promptly from Texas. Seller Inventory # Z0373733674ZN
Book Description Harlequin, 2015. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0373733674