Book 2 in the Unexpected Mergers series
General Release Date: 23rd November 2021
Word Count: 50,577
Book Length: NOVEL
Genres: CONTEMPORARY, COWBOYS AND WESTERN, ROMANCE, SWEET ROMANCE
Home is where the heart is…
Kindall Armstead was content with her life in the heart of Manhattan. She had a successful career and a welcome lack of romance to muddle things up. So, when Texas cowboy Clint Donne walks into her life, it’s more than her client’s wedding that he crashes. Before she knows it, her one-time fling has turned into something far more dangerous, and Kindall now finds herself skipping a tropical vacation in favor of a heated Texas ranch in need of serious help.
With family drama, deep secrets and a suspicious local creating trouble for her, Kindall barely has time to plan the Donnes’ annual family festival, much less think about the complicated, messy feelings she has for a smooth cowboy with a crooked grin.
With much more at stake than just her heart, can this city girl go back to her roots—or will she shake the dust from her designer shoes and turn her back on the only place that is starting to feel like home?
Reader advisory: This book contains bullying and references to inadequate parenting.
For the first time since she could remember, Kindall was ready for the workday to end. She marched through the open floor, ticking boxes on her tablet once she was sure everything was in order. Laura Cortez, her assistant, followed close behind, making her own notes as they went.
Kindall would be leaving everything in Laura’s care while she was gone. It was a big step for both of them. Laura had never been given so much responsibility at once and Kindall had never trusted anyone to do her job right. But Kindall knew that the young girl was eager, capable and would make her proud.
Laura reminded Kindall of herself in many ways. It wasn’t that they looked alike. Laura was younger, with short black hair and bright green eyes. Her skin was a deep tan, telling of her Salvadoran roots. No, it was the way that Laura was completely devoted to her job, willing to do whatever was necessary. Laura had made it no secret that she wanted Kindall’s position as chief event coordinator someday, and she worked hard to prove herself.
“Don’t forget you’ll be meeting with the caterers this weekend,” Kindall said over her shoulder, her heels clicking on the tile. “And there will be an order coming in early next week with the new dinnerware.”
“I’ve already got it here,” Laura said. “You don’t have to worry about a thing.”
“I know I don’t have to, but I’m going to anyway,” she said, stopping at the fabric station. There was a dark cut of fabric with metallic pinstriped threading. “What is this?”
“I think Damien found that earlier,” Laura said. “He was wondering if we had more of it for the dinner.”
“What? Where is he?” Crumpling the swatch in her hand, she rounded on Laura, looking over her to find her newest employee. Damien was near one of the table settings, flicking his shaggy brown hair out of his eyes. He was young, probably just old enough to legally drink, and had the type of face that screamed ‘heartthrob’.
Kindall wasn’t the type to be duped by a pretty face. Well, except when it came to Clint Donne. Don’t think about him now, she scolded herself. Steeling herself for confrontation, Kindall made her way over to Damien.
“Why was this with the fabrics for the executive dinner?” she asked sternly, holding the cloth in front of his face.
“Oh, that,” Damien said slowly. “Yeah, I found that in the storage room and thought it would look good or something.” He shrugged and offered her a crooked grin.
Kindall could practically feel Laura melting beside her. With a forced smile, Kindall took a step forward. Damien had a few good inches on her, but she knew where true power came from. She stood straight, boring into him with her ice-blue eyes.
“When were you going to ask me?”
“I figured I’d bring it up once I tried it out,” he said. There was a slight quiver in his voice that Kindall caught. “You know, better to ask forgiveness than permission and stuff.”
“Things don’t work that way around here,” Kindall said. “I am always open to suggestions, and I love to hear new ideas during the planning phase. But we are well past that and, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the ordering phase. You can’t add new items to an order at the last minute. It goes against the plan we’ve worked hard to create.”
Damien raised his hands in surrender, taking a few steps back. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It won’t happen again, Miss Armstead.”
“See that it doesn’t.” She offered him a more polite smile before turning on her heel and heading back toward her office.
“Did you have to be so mean to him?” Laura asked, jogging to keep pace with Kindall.
“Yes, I did. He’s new and needs to learn how things work around here.” Kindall shut down her tablet. “I can’t afford to have a wild card on my team, and that’s what he’s turning out to be. You just want me to be nice because you think he’s cute.”
“That’s not true,” Laura argued, but the slight pink in her cheeks gave her away. “Whenever you’re done establishing the pecking order, I’ll be ready for your lists.”
“And what makes you think there will be lists?”
“I don’t know, working directly under you for the past few years?” Laura held out her hand.
“They’re in my desk,” Kindall said. She rolled her eyes, shoving the glass door to her office open with her shoulder. “I don’t know why you’re judging me for this. The dinner is in less than three weeks, and I’ll be gone for two of them.”
“But you’ve already done most of the work. We just need to follow the plan, which we know how to do.”
“If there’s an emergency, though, you’ll have this.” She pulled out a pink folder and handed it to Laura. “Just in case you can’t get in touch with me.”
Laura took the folder and flipped through the pages before tucking it under her tablet. “Anything else I need to know?”
Kindall looked down at her watch. Only half an hour to go. “That’s it. Just keep things running like I’m still here, and we should be okay.”
Laura stood up with a nod and headed for the door.
“And, Laura? Don’t flirt with the new guy while I’m away. I won’t be here to keep you in check.”
“Thanks, Mom,” she said, scrunching her nose. “Have fun in paradise without me.”
Kindall laughed to herself, booting up her monitor for one last look at her emails. She found it hard to stay on task, her focus always drifting back down to the bottom corner of the screen, watching the minutes tick by. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to leave a little early. She had to finish packing, after all.
It hadn’t been easy to convince her to take a vacation. The order had come directly from Jade Alexander herself, and it had been Laura who had chosen the destination. Kindall would be spending the next fourteen days on a beach in the Bahamas, drinking as much as she wanted and definitely not planning any events.
She leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes for a moment. She could already smell the salt water and feel the sun against her skin. This vacation was going to cure her. For some reason, ever since the wedding, she’d felt drained and tired all the time. She was determined to leave her tablet at her apartment and try to get through the enormous stack of unread books on her shelves.
A knock on her door shook her from her musings about how many books she could cram into her suitcase. Jade Alexander stepped inside and shut the door behind her. She was dressed very casually for a weekday and Kindall couldn’t help being a little curious.
“Are you ready to go?” Jade asked, taking the seat Laura had left pulled out. Her jeans and T-shirt were stained with dry paint and her black hair was piled into a messy bun.
“I will be by tonight,” Kindall said. She gestured to Jade’s clothes. “What’s going on there?” she asked.
“We’re remodeling the penthouse,” Jade explained. “It felt too modern, so I thought I’d spruce it up a bit. But that’s not important. What is important is making sure you take time to relax and take care of yourself, right?”
“Yes, it’s very relaxing to have my career threatened by my boss,” Kindall joked.
“I never threatened you,” Jade said. “Besides, I think this will be good for you. Trust me. I’m not doing this as your boss. I’m doing it as your friend.” Jade stood up and stretched. “Well, have fun, and when you get back, I might get your opinions on the redesign.”
“I’d like that,” Kindall said. Jade’s style was vastly different from her own, but she was excited to see what her friend had come up with.
It wasn’t long before five o’clock rolled around and Kindall shut down her computer. She packed her tablet in her bag and stopped herself before she grabbed some of the folders from her desk. No more work, she reminded herself. Not for two weeks.
Getting into the elevator knowing that she had left something behind ate at her insides. She longed to go back and grab the papers. But she made it down to the garage in one piece and walked to her car with her head held high.
It wasn’t until she sat buckled into the driver’s seat that she practiced her breathing exercises. She was addicted to her work and knew it. She wasn’t about to change that, but she had to cope with it in her own way. Kindall started the car and pulled out of the garage onto the cramped street.
Traffic was a mess as usual, but that had always been Kindall’s time to decompress after work. Then, when she got to her apartment, it was right back to work. It was a vicious cycle that had never been a problem until recently. She sat in her car, an orchestra of car horns muted around her, and called in a delivery. It was something she did often and, if she timed it just right, her meal would be delivered minutes after she walked through the door.
She scrolled mindlessly through her phone, keeping an eye on the car ahead of her as a podcast ran in the background. A notification dropped down from the top of her screen with Clint’s name in bold letters. As usual when she got a message from him, she got a weird fluttery feeling in her stomach. Those unwelcome feelings from September had waned, but her body liked to remind her of them when she got a text or call from Clint.
She opened the message and was greeted by a picture of a beautiful smiling dog. He was sitting in front of a purple-flowered bush, his black, caramel and white fur shining in the sunlight and his tongue lolling out of his mouth. It was Rover, Clint’s Bernese Mountain dog, and Kindall was accustomed to getting a new picture of him every couple of days.
It had been awkward at first. Clint had been in New York for several weeks but Kindall had only met him in passing. It wasn’t until after the wedding that they’d decided to spend one night together, the night before he would leave for Texas. Kindall had never kept in contact with any of her one-night stands before. She and Clint had discovered that they didn’t have much in common, but conversation was easy. Although there was the occasional flirtation—usually on Clint’s end—they had become good friends and she looked forward to their talks. If only she could get rid of the butterflies…
Kindall finally arrived at her apartment building and swiped her key card to get into the garage. Each day she returned home more tired than the last. The idea of a vacation grew on her by the second. On her way up, she ran into the delivery man, the same one she saw every time she ordered tacos, and he handed over her bag.
As soon as she unlocked the door, Kindall’s phone buzzed in her hand. A picture of Clint lit up the screen and she struggled to open the door and press ‘accept’ at the same time. She shut the door with her hip as she aimed the camera at her face. Clint was already smiling at her from the screen.
“Bad time?” he asked, his voice echoing through the speaker.
“Not exactly,” Kindall said, setting her work bag on the floor. “I just wasn’t expecting you to call today. What’s the occasion?”
“You know me. I don’t need a reason to do anything.” He sat down on the couch, the camera shaking slightly. “I’m spontaneous like that.”
“I’m aware.” Kindall shifted the phone to her other hand, emptying the contents of her food-delivery bag on the counter. “Hey, since I have you here, do you think it’s weird when a taco delivery man knows you by apartment number and name?”
“I think that’s a sign you order from that restaurant too much,” Clint said.
“You could be right. So, what’s going on?” she asked, picking up one of the small boxes of noodles. “Why the random call?”
“Can’t I just call my friend to check in on her?” he asked. He readjusted on the couch, lying back so that his hair spread on the cushion like a halo. She’d told him before that it was past time for a haircut, but he always said he didn’t have enough time. “How are things at work?”
“Busy,” she said, “but that’s nothing new. The dinner’s pretty much planned, though, so it should go smoothly from here on out. What about you?”
“We’re not too far off from your situation,” he said. “You know we have the festival coming up, right?”
“I remember you saying something about it,” Kindall said, lounging back on her own couch with the box of takeout balanced on her leg. Normally, she would eat in her home office while getting some work done.
“Well, we’ve hit a little snag and”—Clint shoved his hair back from his forehead—“I was wondering if I could get some advice from you.” He looked a little embarrassed to ask, but Kindall thought it was adorable.
“I’m always here to offer advice,” she said, “but hasn’t your mom been doing this for years? Why would you need my help?” Even through the screen, she could see his distress. There was more going on that he wasn’t telling her.
“We’re just a little behind, that’s all,” he said. “The bones are there, and Mama and Bobby have most of it together, but—”
“But something’s happened.” Kindall took a bite. She would patiently wait for him to explain himself before she helped.
“It’s nothing you need to worry about.” Clint wasn’t looking at the screen. He was focused on the ceiling above him. “There are some problems, but I just need to make sure this festival happens.” He paused, chewing at his bottom lip. “It might be the last one we have.”
Kindall sat up straight. From the way Clint talked about the Donnes’ annual festival, it had been the highlight of his life since he had been little. It was more than a family tradition for him. “What’s happening, Clint?”
Clint began to move through his house, the camera shaking with each step.
“It’s really not a big deal.” The screen went dark for a second until he flipped on a light. “My parents aren’t doing well. Like, they’re going to be splitting up after the festival.”
“Holy crap.” Kindall had not seen that coming. “What happened?”
“Like I said, it’s nothing you need to worry about. But I need this year’s festival to work. I need to feel like my family isn’t falling apart, you know?” He covered his mouth, his brown eyes far away. “I just need some advice so I can know what to talk about with Bobby.”
Kindall could only imagine what he was going through. Her childhood had been vastly different from Clint’s, but she could tell he was in a lot of pain. Pain was something she knew. She looked over at the counter where her ticket to a tropical island sat next to her bag.
“I’ll do you one better,” she finally said. “You don’t just need advice. You need a friend. I’ll be on a plane first thing tomorrow morning.”
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About the Author
Lori Fayre was born and raised in a small South Georgia town. Her debut novel, “The Devil’s Maverick”, was a novel nearly six years in the making. An obsessive consumer of romance, Lori knew it was the only genre for her. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, drawing, or binging Hulu with her husband and Yorkie.
You can find Lori on Twitter and at her website here.
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