Release Date: July 27, 2020
Published by The Wild Rose Press as part of their One Scoop Or Two series
Available at for Kindle

History teacher Sarena Fallon has leased the ice cream shop at the Colton Marina for the last three summers. And every year, she looked forward to spending time with her friend, Drew. Only this summer, she wants their relationship status to move beyond the friend zone he seems to prefer.

Drew Braden was taken with Sarena the first time he saw her. But a disastrous marriage to a scheming woman has left him seriously commitment phobic. Then there's also the matter of his true identity. If she discovers who he really is, he could lose her forever.



Read G-rated Excerpt (opening)
Read PG-Excerpt #2 (after dinner)
Read G-Excerpt #3: (meeting with property manager)
Read G-Excerpt #4: (Serena tries to find out more about Drew)
Read G-Excerpt #5: (Drew comforts Sarena after work disaster)
Read G-Excerpt #6: (Sarena discovers Drew's identity)


G-Excerpt #1: (opening):

Sarena Fallon entered the ice cream shop and set her purse on one of the chairs. A quick glance around told her everything appeared to be in order. She ran her hand across the counter, then rubbed her fingers together. She wrinkled her brow into a scowl. It definitely did not feel very clean. I have the uneasy feeling a more detailed inspection is going to discover--

"Hi. I hoped I'd find you here."

She turned at the sound of the smooth, masculine voice. She couldn't stop the smile that came to her lips as her gaze fell on Drew Braden, all six feet one inch of him. Her breath came a little quicker, and her heart beat a little faster. His blue eyes sparkled as he blatantly looked her up and down. He wore his medium brown hair longer than last summer, but it was a length that looked good on him. It gave him a sexy appearance -- even more sexy than she remembered from last year. She liked it longer. She definitely liked it.

"Hi, yourself." Her smile widened, conveying her pleasure at seeing him. "I just unlocked the door. If you had arrived five minute ago, you would have beaten me here."

He looked even more desirable than he did at the end of last summer, right before she returned to her teaching job at the beginning of the school term, when he had suddenly pulled her into his arms and captured her mouth with the hottest kiss she had ever experienced. A kiss that curled her toes and confirmed how much she wanted more of him. But more apparently wasn't to be, much to her disappointment.

Fall, winter, spring -- not a word from him, as if he had totally forgotten she even existed. But now, here he stood, as if he had been waiting for her to show up. The situation left her slightly perplexed. She briefly touched her fingers to her lips. All these months later, his parting kiss still burned hot against her lips. "You're looking well. I like your hair longer like that."

"Thanks... I think it might be the result of a bit of mid-life crisis. Trying to recapture a little youth." His teasing grin said far more than his words.

"Mid-life crisis? You can't be old enough for that."

"I'll be that dreaded forty in a couple of months."

"There's nothing old about forty." Especially considering that I'm thirty-five.

He winked. "How would a sweet young thing like you know anything about old?"

"You're incorrigible." Her laugh surrounded her words. "It looks like you managed to survive the winter without any mishaps. Your brittle old bones didn't snap?"

His spontaneous laughter filled the air. "No broken bones from slipping on the ice or falling into any snow drifts if that's what you meant. And no broken bones from being thrown off a bucking horse, either." His smile slowly faded as he pulled her into his arms. "I've missed you. I'm so glad to see you back this summer."

"I have a phone, you have the number, and I only live fifteen miles from here in Coltonville. It's not like you need to drive for several hours to get there." She teased, but her comment contained a lot of truth.

A hint of something darted across his features but disappeared before she could read it. He slowly released her without kissing her, almost reluctantly so. After the goodbye kiss from last summer, she had anticipated more than just a hug.

"I haven't checked the shop to make sure it's been properly cleaned." She touched the counter again. "And from what I've found so far, I suspect it hasn't been." A scowl darted across her face. "At least not adequately. Do you want to help me with my inspection?"

"Sure, I can handle that." Drew nodded, pleased with the opportunity to check out the management office's efficiency without it appearing to be his objective.

Drew Braden -- Andrew Braden Colton V, to be exact -- was fifth generation of the wealthy and powerful Colton family and at thirty-nine years of age, the corporate head of all the family holdings. He went by his nickname and middle name to separate himself and his personal activities from the family name and business empire. He found he accomplished more if people didn't know he was one of the Coltons, specifically president of Colton Enterprises, Chairman of the Board, primary share holder, and in control of all the family businesses and investments of the privately held corporation.


PG-Excerpt #2: (after dinner)

She didn't know what to make of Drew Braden. He seemed a paradox, not at all what he appeared to be. The only thing she knew for sure was that he tugged on all her desires and made her heart beat faster. She wanted to know so much more about him. She wanted to know everything.

They drove back to her house after dinner, and Drew walked her to her front door, his intention being to say goodnight there and not go inside. If he went inside, he would want to stay. He didn't dare let himself become that involved, even though every fiber of his existence wanted to be very involved with her. He realized the first time he met her that she wasn't the type for a no strings attached affair, and he couldn't trust anything more than that.

His confidence in his ability to make an accurate judgment of people -- at least as far as women in personal relationships were concerned -- had taken a severe emotional beating and he hadn't recovered. Even though he was now fifteen years older and much wiser, he had continued to allow the emotional baggage he carried to make his decisions for him where women and relationships were concerned. Fortunately, that emotional hang up did not extend to any other situations. His business acumen and instincts were sharper now than they ever were.

Drew took her house key from her hand, unlocked the door, then handed the key back to her. He made no attempt to enter her house. "Thank you for having dinner with me. I really enjoyed it." Every desire he ever possessed told him to scoop her up in his arms, carry her to the bedroom, and spend the rest of the night making love to her. And at the same time, every rational thought told him to get out while he could.

"Me, too. I'm glad you called. Would you like to come in? Maybe some after dinner coffee?"

"Uh, no. I'd better not."

She glanced at her watch. "It's still early." She tilted her head and gave him a questioning look.

The slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, the sparkle in her beautiful green eyes, her slightly parted delicious looking lips -- they all sent waves of desire racing through his veins. There was nothing he wanted more. He couldn't stop himself from pulling her into his embrace.

"Coming in for a cup of coffee... That's probably not a good idea." His words came out as a whisper. Then his mouth was on hers. He pulled her body tightly against his. She felt so good in his arms. He ran his fingers through the silky strands of her short auburn hair. He had never wanted a woman more than he wanted her. Did he dare pursue those desires? He knew it couldn't be a one night stand. And it couldn't be one of his typical no strings attached short term affairs. She was special. She deserved more. But could he really give her what she deserved -- a true relationship?


G-Excerpt #3: (meeting with property manager)

"Come in." Drew responded to the knock on his office door.

The expression on Bert Larkin's face told of his trepidation over being summoned to Drew's office on a Sunday morning.

"Sit down, Bert." Drew indicated the chair across the desk from him. He had made the decision to have the meeting at his office in the corporate headquarters building, making it more official.

"It's nine o'clock Sunday morning. This is an odd time for a meeting. Is there a problem that I'm not aware of?"

"There's definitely a problem. And it's one you most certainly should be aware of since it's been brought to your attention on numerous occasions by various people."

Bert's face changed from simple trepidation to serious concern. "Uh, what would that be? I can't think of any problems that need to be fixed."

"Perhaps that's another problem. You don't think there's anything that needs to be fixed. We've had this conversation before, and I don't intend to have it again. We have unhappy tenants at the boardwalk shops. I've already heard about the buildings not being ready for the summer tenants. I heard about it last summer, too. In fact, almost every tenant we have has had complaints about the management office. That's you, Bert. You are the management office. And it's not just preparation for the tenants moving in. There's been ongoing complaints about lack of response to the need for maintenance and repairs."

Bert awkwardly shifted his weight in the chair, clearly displaying his discomfort along with his surprise that Drew was personally aware of the complaints. "Well, uh... I'm doing the best I can, considering."

Drew leveled a penetrating look at him, the type intended to send a clear message. "Considering what?"

"Uh, I'm shorthanded for one thing."

"Oh? And why is this the first I've heard about it? We're talking a situation that existed last summer. For that matter, why didn't you say anything about it when we had our meeting three months ago about this summer's operation?"

"I, uh, told your secretary about it. I can't be held responsible if she didn't tell you."

Drew had already heard enough to confirm that he needed to terminate Bert's employment as soon as he found a suitable replacement, and he already had someone in mind for the position. Being second cousins had given Bert a reprieve last year but not this year -- not again. His termination was no longer a maybe situation. It was definite.

One more thing had been nagging at him. He wasn't satisfied with Bert's financial reports. Tenants complained that repairs weren't being done, yet the cost of those repairs showed up on the monthly reports. He needed to have a meeting with his vice president of finance and his chief accountant about doing an audit of the property management operation to specifically look for embezzlement.


G-Excerpt #4: (Serena tries to find out more about Drew)

While he opened the bottle and poured two glasses, Sarena put together a quick and easy meal -- spaghetti and a green salad. Her mind raced to determine a plan of action. How could she find out more about his personal life without appearing to pry?

They engaged in superficial conversation while eating. After clearing away the dishes, she turned on some music and they settled into the living room with a glass of wine. She would ask about his job. That should be a safe question. In some ways he seemed very open and outgoing, but she also detected a level of secrecy running underneath. But secrecy about what?

"You know, I don't really have any idea what it is you do for a living. I've been assuming you work at the Colton ranch. Is that right?" She saw the instant flash of concern that covered his features but quickly disappeared, a look she didn't understand.

"Uh, yes, I get my paycheck from Colton Enterprises."

"The corporation..." He works for the corporate entity rather than specifically at the ranch? She had heard enough about the Colton Enterprises structure and everything it owned to know that the main headquarters were located in a separate building adjacent to the Colton ranch and they also had business interests in other states. "I thought you worked on the ranch, maybe a foreman. You actually work in the corporate offices?"

He hesitated before answering her question. "Yes, I guess you could say I'm sort of a consultant on various projects -- a trouble-shooter. I'm usually out in the field rather than in an office."

"Really? That sounds very interesting. The Coltons seem to have their hands on a wide variety of pursuits in addition to the obvious cattle ranch, dude ranch, and the marina. What type of projects are you involved with?"

"Well... right now, I'm involved in a problem with one of the existing business operations."

"The one you were thinking about on the drive to my house?"

He laughed, but it seemed more forced than genuine. "Yep, that's the one. I know what needs to be done about it, but there are extenuating circumstances that I think will lead to additional problems. It's all very hush-hush for the moment."

Sarena smiled as she nodded her head knowingly. "I hear you. It's basically none of my business."

"I didn't mean for it to sound so blunt. It's a problem that should be resolved one way or another in a couple of weeks and will become common knowledge at that time."

"Well, how about this? I don't have a phone number for you. That's why I had to leave a note on the front door of the ice cream shop yesterday. Is your phone number a secret?" She had asked without any sense of accusation in her voice. Hopefully, he wasn't offended. For a moment, she had a very uneasy feeling. Her ex-husband had lied to her about everything, including his background of three ex-wives and two years in prison. The last thing she wanted was to be involved with someone who wasn't honest with her.

He laughed. "Of course not. It never occurred to me that you didn't have it. Give me your phone, and I'll put it in your contacts list. I'll even put it on your speed dial."


G-Excerpt #5: (Drew comforts Sarena after work disaster)

Sarena opened her front door in response to the doorbell. The moment she saw Drew standing there holding a pizza box, it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. He set the pizza on the kitchen counter then immediately pulled her into his arms. He didn't kiss her. Instead, he simply held her close. Somehow, he seemed to sense the comfort she needed and wanted, the comfort he willingly provided.

"I'm sorry you had such a bad day. Hopefully, things will look better in a couple of days." She allowed the sensation of being wrapped in his arms to engulf her, the feeling that everything would truly turn out okay. He radiated strength and compassion. He was someone she could depend on. Someone she could trust.

It had been a long time since she had been able to truly trust someone. Not necessarily trust with tangible situations, but someone to trust with her emotions and deepest secrets. And she believed Drew Braden to be that someone. He ran his fingers through her hair as he cradled her head against his shoulder. She clung to the emotional support he provided.

"Are you okay?" His words came out as a soft whisper, a caring caress.

"Yes... it's just that I feel so helpless. When I arrived at the shop this morning, I found a terrible sticky mess of melted ice cream. Open for business one day and already closed down. I was so angry with Mr. Larkin, that smug arrogant attitude of his. I don't know how he manages to keep his job. He must be related to someone high up." She heard the antagonism in her voice as she spoke the words, but she had said them before she could stop herself.

"I sent my employees home and told them to report back for work on Tuesday. I also told them they would be paid for the time we're shut down. I don't know if my insurance covers that or not. I hope so, otherwise it will be coming out of my pocket. Even if it's covered, I have a rather high deductible in order to reduce the cost of my premium. The agent is supposed to get back to me. My ice cream supplier is standing by to deliver a replacement order for what was ruined. I hope there's a freezer to put it in. I need to check in the morning to make sure I have power so I can start the cleanup process." She looked up at him, instantly comforted by the look of concern and caring that covered his face. "There's just so much. I guess I'm feeling a little overwhelmed."

He placed a gentle kiss on her lips. "Don't worry, I'm sure everything's going to be okay."

She rested her head against his shoulder again. "If only it was that easy, but you can't promise me it will be."

He extended a teasing grin. "Did I forget to mention that I'm psychic? I predict that Monday morning you'll find everything back on track and you'll be able to open for business on Tuesday morning."

She managed a shy smile. "And can I hold you to that prediction?"

"Absolutely. I'll make good on it."

Sarena stepped back from his embrace. She believed him. She didn't know why, but she believed everything would turn out all right because Drew said it would.


G-Excerpt #6: (Sarena discovers Drew's identity)

She gathered her determination. None of that made any difference. The bottom line—the facts of the situation—he had lied to her, purposely deceived her. After she discovered the terrible truth about her ex-husband, she swore she would never allow anyone to lie to her again. And that certainly included Andrew Colton V.

"I told you everything would work out okay."

She turned at the sound of Drew's voice and saw him framed in the door from the parking lot into the back room. For a moment her anger and confusion disappeared, replaced by her joy at seeing him. She rose to her feet as he closed the door and crossed the room to her. In one smooth move, he had her in his embrace and his mouth was on hers. She circled her arms around his neck and returned his kiss with an equal amount of passion. For a brief moment in time, nothing else mattered other than the two of them being together.

Drew relished the feel of Sarena in his arms, not only the physical closeness but also the emotional closeness. He had spent a restless night. Several times he had reached out for her only to discover that she wasn't there. He was in his own bed and she was in hers. He had to tell her the truth but still hadn't figured out how to do it without alienating her. He held fast to the fact that he had not lied to her but could not deny his purposeful deception.

He finally broke the kiss. Cradling her head against his shoulder, he attempted to project a casual manner belying the unaccustomed uncertainty roiling inside him. "Is everything in order here? Are you set to reopen for business tomorrow morning?"

"Yes, miraculously everything was taken care of. The melted ice cream mess was all cleaned up, the old freezer removed, a new one ordered, and a temporary replacement is here until the new one arrives. I couldn't believe how much was accomplished over a Saturday afternoon and Sunday. I met Mr. Larkin's replacement this morning. I was surprised to find that Mr. Larkin was gone. He was here Saturday morning, then replaced by Monday morning. Tom Martin seems very personable."

She shot him a purposeful look, one that sent a definite ripple of concern through his consciousness. "He's a wizard to have accomplished all that so quickly."

She knows. Somehow, she discovered the truth. "Yes... he worked over at the dude ranch. He has a background in finance and personnel. Everyone seems to like him."

"That's certainly more than I can say for Mr. Larkin."

"He had been on borrowed time for quite a while. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that he's gone."

Once again, she gave him a questioning look that created a genuine moment of concern. "You seem to be well informed for someone who is only a consultant on specific projects. How do you have all this inside information?"

Her tone said far more than her words. He no longer felt confusion about what to do, only how to do it. I have to tell her. I have to tell her today. I need to tell her now. He took her hand in his. "Let's have dinner, then we need to talk."

"Yes, we do need to talk."