Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
Still the One
By Robin Wells
Formats and Prices
Format:ebook $6.99 $8.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 1, 2010. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
STILL THE ONE
After Katie Charmaine’s husband is killed in Iraq, all she has left is a closet full of his clothes, a few pictures, and fond memories. She not only lost her love, but her last chance to have the children she’s always wanted. Until Zack Ferguson shows up in town . . . with the daughter Katie gave up for adoption nearly seventeen years ago.
Zack Ferguson has never forgotten Katie, or the one magical night they spent together. Seeing her again brings up a tidal wave of emotions: regret over the way he left her, anger at the secret she kept, and desire he hasn’t felt in years. But he’s in town for Gracie. Their daughter is sixteen, angry at the world, and-worst of all-pregnant. She needs the love of her two parents now more than ever. Can these three forgive the hurts of the past and open their hearts to each other?
ALSO BY ROBIN WELLS
Between the Sheets
How to Score
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Robin Wells
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.
Forever is an imprint of Grand Central Publishing.
The Forever name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
First eBook Edition: May 2010
Special thanks to the world's best parents, Roscoe and Charlie Lou Rouse; the world's best daughters, Taylor and Arden; the world's best cowboy lawyer brother, Dick Rouse; and the world's—make that the universe's—best husband, Ken.
I'd also like to thank my dear friend Lisa Bourgeois for helping with the many family health issues that occurred during the writing of this book. Lisa, you are beyond a jewel; you are the Hope Diamond of friends!
Last but not least, I want to thank my amazing editor, Selina McLemore, for her insight, wisdom, and guidance. Selina, you are the greatest!
"What are you doing Saturday night?" Lulu's protuberant green eyes, magnified by her round horn-rimmed eyeglasses, met Katie Charmaine's light brown ones in the salon mirror.
The question set off Katie's internal cupid alarm. Lulu had promised to quit playing matchmaker, but that was three fix-ups ago. "I'm not sure," Katie hedged as she towel-dried Lulu's red curls. "Why?"
"Well, I was wondering if you want to come over for dinner."
Katie blotted Lulu's hair, aware that the four other women in her kitschy pink-and-black beauty shop were actively listening over the drum of rain on the salon's slanted roof. Not that they could help it; the Acadian-style Curl Up 'N Dye beauty salon was only slightly larger than the space shuttle. The two stylist's chairs, the manicure station, and the window-seat waiting area were within such close proximity that all conversations were public property.
But then, most conversations in Chartreuse were like that, anyway. The close-knit nature of the community was both the blessing and the curse of living in the small Louisiana town.
Katie put down the towel, picked up a wide-toothed comb, and eyed Lulu sternly in the mirror—or, at least, as sternly as she could manage. Katie's late husband used to say that her face was half angel, half pixie, and that she couldn't muster a stern look if her life depended on it. "When we have kids, they're going to walk all over you," Paul used to tease.
The fact he'd died before she'd been able to prove him wrong was the tragedy of Katie's life. Pushing aside the thought, Katie slid the comb into Lulu's hair. "You're not trying to fix me up again, are you, Lulu?"
"Oh, no!" Lulu's eyes rounded in faux innocence.
Bev, the tall, angular stylist dabbing a shade called Brown Sugar onto the retired librarian's gray roots in the next chair, let out a disbelieving snort. One of Katie's closest friends, the forty-something blonde winked at Katie in the mirror. "Lulu would never do that. How could you even think such a thing?"
Katie opted to ignore Bev's sarcasm. "So it would just be dinner with you and your family?" Katie pressed.
"Well…" Lulu fiddled with the edge of the pink-and-black polka-dotted styling cape draped around her like a giant bib. "Not exactly."
Just as Katie suspected. She worked the comb through Lulu's short curls. "So who else, exactly, will be there?"
"Well…" Lulu blinked earnestly. "My Robby just put porcelain veneers on a new patient from Hammond."
"A male patient?" Rachel the manicurist looked up from Josie Pringle's hangnail, her straight black bob swinging.
Lulu nodded, nearly jerking the comb out of Katie's hand. "He's single and he's really nice and now he has a beautiful smile, so I thought I'd invite him over, too."
"And you don't call that a fix-up?" Katie demanded.
"Oh, no!" Lulu said. "The thought never occurred to me."
Bev snorted again.
"You're a terrible liar, Lulu," Rachel said.
"Not to mention incorrigible," Katie added.
"I don't know what you mean." Lulu turned up her palms and attempted to look baffled. Since it wasn't far from her usual expression, it wasn't much of a stretch. "I'm just inviting a couple of friends to dinner."
"A couple of friends you happen to be fixing up on a blind date," Bev said.
"Nice try, Lulu," called Josie, an attractive thirty-nine-year-old brunette who was rocking her sleeping eight-month-old daughter's stroller with her foot as she got her nails done.
"I think you should go, Katie," said Mrs. Street, the elderly librarian.
"Yeah," called Josie. "It never hurts to meet new people."
Katie stifled a sigh. She knew her friends meant well, she really did, but she wished they'd quit trying to meddle in her life. "Thanks, but no thanks."
"He's got beautiful teeth now," Lulu said earnestly. "You know what good work my Robby does." She flashed her own shockingly white veneers, which slanted out like a row of venetian blinds. Robby really should have sent Lulu for some orthodontic work before slapping those puppies on her overbite, Katie thought for the umpteenth time.
She ran the comb down Lulu's scalp, sectioning off the front from the back. "I really appreciate the thought, Lulu, but I'm not interested."
"Still." And probably not ever, she thought, tackling a snarl in Lulu's hair.
"Katie, honey," Mrs. Street said gently from the next chair, "it's been two years."
Two years, six months, and four days, to be exact—and if she turned and looked at the clock, she could pinpoint exactly how many hours and minutes had gone by as well. Her life was divided into before and after 6:10 that fateful Tuesday morning. That was the time glowing on her bedside alarm clock when she'd awakened from a dream of Paul—a dream so real, she'd thought the pillow against her back was her husband spooning her—to realize the doorbell was ringing. She'd gotten up and padded to the door, the dream still wrapped around her like a blanket, expecting to see the UPS delivery man with the new chair she'd ordered as a welcome-home surprise for Paul.
Instead, she'd peered out the sidelight window and seen two Marines in full-dress uniform standing on her porch. A scream had started in her soul, pumped through her veins, and burst out her throat. She remembered covering her ears—from her screams? From the doorbell? From reality? She still didn't know—and running into the kitchen. She would probably still be there, rocking back and forth on the floor, her fingers plugged in her ears, chanting, No! No! No! if Sue Greenley across the street hadn't seen the military van parked at the curb. Guessing the awful reason, she'd come over, let herself in with the key Katie kept under the potted fern by the back door, and sat beside her on the kitchen floor while the Marines delivered the awful news.
"It's time you got back out there, Katie," Josie was saying now.
What was the point? A man like Paul didn't come along twice in a lifetime. For most women, he didn't even come along once. Paul had been The One. Everyone else was destined to be second-rate, second-choice, second-best.
She was relieved to have the conversation interrupted by the jangle of the bells on the beveled-glass door. She looked up to see Eula, the local real-estate agent, step inside, bringing the scent of rain and a blast of humid July air with her.
Eula thought ladybugs brought good luck and always wore at least one ladybug accessory. Today's ensemble featured a blue ladybug-emblazoned scarf tied amid the wattles of her chinless neck.
"Hi, Eula," Katie called, glad for the distraction. "Any news on who's moving into the Ashton house?"
The whole town had been buzzing about the sale of an elderly couple's home to a large Las Vegas consortium days earlier.
"No, but we'll know soon enough." The heavyset woman shook out her ladybug-printed umbrella. "I had to unlock the place for a fancy interior designer from New Orleans a couple of days ago, and she's had painters and carpenters working through the night. I saw a Hurwitz Mintz Furniture truck outside the house on my way here. Apparently the new owner is moving in today or tomorrow."
A murmur arose among the women. "Why would someone buy a house they hadn't even seen?" Rachel wondered.
"Maybe they just plan to use it as a vacation home," Josie suggested.
"Why would anyone want to vacation here?" Lulu asked.
It was a good question. Chartreuse, Louisiana, was not exactly a tourist mecca.
"I think it's someone in the witness protection program," Bev said, wiping a blob of hair color off Mrs. Street's neck.
"Or maybe a mobster," Josie said. "It's obviously someone with money, and Nellie says all the businesses in Vegas are connected to the mafia."
Lulu rolled her bobble eyes. "Nellie thinks she knows everything."
"That's because she usually does," Rachel said. "At least about what's going on in town, anyway."
It was true. As the clerk at the town's only drugstore, Nellie had insider information on practically everyone. Unfortunately, she also had one of the biggest mouths in town.
"Speaking of Nellie…" Eula closed her umbrella and turned to Josie, who was peering in the stroller at her baby. "I was in the drugstore this morning, and I heard you might have some news to share."
Josie looked up. "Oh, yeah?"
"Nellie says you bought a pregnancy test yesterday."
Josie's mouth curved in dismay. "Nellie wasn't even there! I made sure she was on her lunch break."
"Nellie counts the EPTs and condoms before she leaves the store, and if any are missing when she comes back, she looks back through the security tapes to see who bought them," Bev volunteered.
"Good heavens. Is that even legal?" Mrs. Street asked.
Rachel shrugged. "As long as her dad owns the place, I guess she can do what she wants."
"So… are you expecting again?" Lulu asked eagerly.
"Mercy, no!" Josie protested. "I didn't buy the test for myself."
"If it wasn't for you, then who…" Lulu stopped mid-sentence. Her eyes rounded. "Oh, Lord—Madeline?" she asked in a choked whisper.
Madeline was Josie's seventeen-year-old daughter—exactly the same age that Katie had been when she'd…
The comb slipped through Katie's fingers and clattered to the floor.
"Oh, no!" Josie's eyebrows shot up in horror. She waved her hands back and forth and vigorously shook her head. "No, no, no! She's barely seventeen. Are you crazy?"
Katie hadn't even realized she'd been holding her breath until she exhaled.
"Well, then, who'd you buy the test for?" Lulu demanded.
Josie sheepishly nodded. "She got outside before I knew she was in heat, and I wanted to make sure that she wasn't already in a family way before I paid the ridiculous fee at the poodle stud farm."
Laughter filled the room. "There's a poodle stud farm?" Eula asked.
Josie nodded. "Just outside New Orleans. It's called Who's Your Daddy."
The women laughed again.
"Pregnancy tests work on dogs?" Mrs. Street asked.
"I sure hope so," Josie said. "It came out negative."
Lulu's forehead crinkled thoughtfully. "How did you get her to pee on the little stick?"
"I didn't," Josie said when the howls of laughter died down. "I took her for a walk and dipped it in the grass afterward." Her brow pulled into a worried frown. "You don't think other people will think I bought that test for Maddie, do you?"
"Oh, no," Bev said. "Not the way you and Marcus go at it."
The whole salon roared. Josie had a total of six children—the youngest of whom began to squall in the stroller.
"I'll have to skip the polish, Rachel." Josie sighed, pulling her hands out of the water bowl and wiping them on the towel. "The baby's not going to give me time to let it dry."
As Josie bent to pick up her baby, Katie knelt to retrieve the comb, which had slid underneath the counter. The bells on the salon door jangled again as she extended her arm and reached under the bottom shelf, her butt in the air, her short khaki skirt riding up her thighs.
"Is Katie here?" asked a deep male voice.
Oh, great. That was probably Derwin, the pompous, beer-bellied hair product salesman. Thanks to Lulu's not-so-subtle hints that Katie was single, he stopped by in his pink panel van every week, even though Katie only placed an order every other month or so.
"She's, uh, right over there," Rachel said in an oddly breathy voice.
Terrific. He was getting a good look at her airborne backside—which would probably encourage him to stop by even more frequently. Katie grabbed the comb and started to rise, only to bang her head on the countertop. Wincing, she scrambled to her feet, turned around, and stared directly into a blast from the past.
No. No way. It couldn't be.
But it was. The shiver of attraction skittering up her spine confirmed it. Standing in the entryway was not the bald-headed sales rep she'd expected, but Zack Ferguson—the boy who'd stolen her heart and broken it into a million pieces the summer after her junior year in high school.
Except he wasn't a boy any longer. He'd been at least six feet tall when she'd known him, but he seemed to have gained another inch or two in height, and his once-lanky frame had filled out into the kind of broad-shouldered, muscular build that women fantasized about. His face had matured into a study of planes and angles, with a strong nose, a cleft in his chin, and a five-o'clock shadow, even though it was only two in the afternoon. He'd been cute as a teenager, but now he was devastatingly handsome—the kind of handsome that should come with a warning label, the kind that any sensible female would steer clear of, because he was no doubt accustomed to getting whatever he wanted from women.
He'd certainly gotten it from Katie eighteen years ago. The thought made her stomach tighten.
"Hello, Kate," he said now.
Kate, not Katie. He'd been the first person to call her that, and at seventeen, it had been a heady experience. It had made her feel grown-up and worldly, as if she were an adult whose thoughts and opinions counted.
It had been a seriously bad delusion.
Still, the sound of her name on his lips made her heart patter like the rain on the salon roof, and it took a moment before she could make her mouth move. "Wh-what are you doing here?"
"I'm moving to Chartreuse, so I thought I'd come by and say hello."
Katie felt as if the room had suddenly tilted. The women in the salon all murmured.
"So you're the person moving into the old Ashton house?" Bev ventured.
Eula scrambled to her feet and thrust out her hand. "I'm Eula Belle Johnson—the Realtor who handled the property sale."
Zack shook her hand. "Nice to meet you. Thank you for doing such an excellent job."
"Oh, it was my pleasure." The older woman gazed up at him as if in a trance. She must have realized she'd been pumping his hand as if it were a tire jack, because she blushed and abruptly pulled it away. "So you're associated with Winning Strategies, Incorporated?"
Zack nodded. "I'm the CEO."
Lulu whirled around in her stylist chair and flashed an overly white, bucktoothed grin. "Well, welcome to Chartreuse! I'm Lulu." She swept her hand around at the other women. "And this is Mrs. Street and Bev and Josie and Eula and Rachel. And apparently you already know Katie."
Avoiding looking at Katie, he nodded and smiled at each of the other women. "Nice to meet you. I'm Zack Ferguson."
Oh, God—how had Katie forgotten about his smile? He hadn't even turned it on her, yet she felt it like a heat lamp. The appeal of Zack's smile was more than the physical components of straight white teeth, deep-set dimples, and devastating crinkles at the corner of his blue, blue eyes; it was a force of nature, a lightning bolt of testosterone, a shot of pure sex appeal, and she wasn't the only woman affected by it. Rachel spastically licked her lips, Josie looked as if she'd dived headfirst into a bucket of blush, and Eula was tugging on the ladybug scarf around her throat as if it was suddenly too tight. Even the retired librarian was fanning off a hot flash, and she was a good fifteen years past menopause.
A murmur of "Nice to meet yous" sounded around the room.
The librarian regarded him thoughtfully. "Zack Ferguson, the poker champion?"
He inclined his head. "I used to be. I no longer compete."
"Oh, my husband idolizes you!" Mrs. Street gushed. "He has the whole series of your Play to Win CDs."
The last time Katie had looked Zack up on the Internet—which had been about seven years ago, before she married Paul—he'd been the top-rated poker player in the world, living a jet-set lifestyle and dating a Victoria's Secret model. She hadn't been all that surprised at his success; he'd been an amazing card shark even at seventeen. He'd spent most of his evenings that summer hustling cards in the back room of the roadhouse the next town over, and he'd made a small fortune.
"So what brings you to Chartreuse?" Rachel asked.
He stuck his hand in the pocket of his jeans. "Well, actually, Katie does."
The women collectively gasped.
No one gasped louder than Katie. "Me?"
He dipped his head in a curt, all-business nod, his eyes giving away nothing. "Is there someplace we can go to talk?"
Panic shot through her veins. "I—I'm sorry, but I'm with a client."
"Oh, honey, don't you worry about me." Lulu's bug eyes were fixed on Zack as if he were a double serving of mile-high pie.
"But your hair's wet and I haven't cut it yet, and…"
Lulu wafted her hand in a dismissive wave. "That's just fine. I'll come back later."
"But—but…" Panic narrowed Katie's throat.
"Oh, dear! Silly old me." Lulu jumped out of the chair and pulled the polka-dotted cape off her neck. "I think I left my oven on!" Her wet hair dripped onto her white linen shirt, creating transparent spots. "I better head home right now and turn it off."
She gave Zack a broad wink as she reached for her enormous orange leather purse and black umbrella on the counter. He rewarded her with another smile, causing Lulu to flush like a smitten groupie. She teetered to the door on her high-heeled orange mules, her eyes never leaving his face. Zack stepped forward and opened the door for her, then took her umbrella, stuck it out the door, and opened it as well.
"Oh, my," Lulu murmured, placing one hand against her chest and shooting Katie a look that clearly said, Don't let this one get away. "How gentlemanly. Thank you!"
"My pleasure." The wind blew his thick dark hair as he closed the door behind Lulu and turned to Katie.
He had gorgeous hair—thick and wavy, so deep a brown it was almost black. It looked overdue for a trim, but it had been cut by someone who knew what they were doing. Katie could usually tell a lot about a person by their hair, but she wasn't sure exactly what Zack's hair was telling her.
She wasn't at all sure about his face, either. It must be all that poker playing, because his expression was inscrutable.
"Guess this means you're free for a few minutes," he said. "Is there someplace around here where we can get a cup of coffee?"
"The Chartreuse Café is right around the corner," Rachel volunteered.
Zack's eyebrows quirked up. "That old place is still in business?"
"Oh, yeah. It's like sharks and cockroaches—it'll still be here, unchanged, long after everything else is extinct and gone," Eula said.
"So you've been to Chartreuse before?" Bev prompted.
Zack nodded. "I spent the summer here with my aunt's family eighteen years ago."
"Really? Is that when you met Katie?" Josie asked.
"As a matter of fact, it is."
The memories of that summer flooded her mind. Katie had been seventeen, working at the bait-and-tackle shop down at the lake. When Zack had walked through the door one hot afternoon, his gray T-shirt clinging to his lean frame, her lungs had felt as if they'd forgotten how to work.
"How do you breathe in here?" he'd asked.
For a moment, she thought he'd read her mind. "What?"
"The sign on the door says live bait, but it smells like it's been dead for days."
"Oh." He was talking about the odor rising from the cooler of day-old shrimp by the door—of course. She lifted her shoulders. "After a while, you get used to it."
"You mean it doesn't bother you?"
"No. I mean I'm used to being bothered."
He'd laughed, a hearty, appreciative laugh, and the sound made her heart feel like it was tied to a hot-air balloon. He hooked a thumb toward the cooler at the back of the store. "Let me grab a Coke and I'll come bother you some more."
The door opened as he sauntered to the rear of the store, and two men in orange hunting vests ambled in. The stench of stale beer clung to them like sweat. Their bloodshot eyes ran over her in a way that had made her skin crawl. "Oo-ee. Lookee what we got here," said the taller one.
The shorter, chubbier one, who had a stubbled chin and a scar by his eye, stared at her chest. Apparently the cretin could read, because when his gaze eventually made its way to her nametag—Katie Landers—his contiguous eyebrow rose. "Hey—are you Mona's girl?"
Her stomach had clenched. She didn't want to say yes, but it would be disloyal to deny her own mother. She nodded her head.
"I knew it. My, my, my. The apple sure don't fall far from the tree." He gazed pointedly at her breasts.
The taller one chortled, revealing two missing bottom teeth. "How old are you, honey?"
Katie decided to ignore the question. "May I help you with something?"
"Well, now, that just depends," the shorter one said. "You ever party with your old lady?"
The other one gave a phlegmy cackle. Katie felt her face flame.
"Your mama, she sure knows how to party."
Oh, God. Her mother had a drinking problem, and when she drank, she didn't always remember what she did.
"Know what I hear? I hear she's hot and heavy with the mayor now," the taller one said.
Katie's mouth went dry. She'd known the news was all over town, but being confronted with it head-on made her want to barf.
"Yes, sir, you're your mama's daughter, all right. The family resemblance is right there for all to see." His eyes locked on her breasts in a way that had made her feel as if he could see through her shirt. "Yesirree. Your mama's mighty fine, but I do believe you've got an even nicer pair of…"
"Leave her alone," said an authoritative voice from the back of the store.
The men turned as Zack strode up. The shorter one squinted at him. "Who the hell are you?"
"The mayor's nephew. And he's not going to like hearing that you two are spreading nasty rumors about him."
The short one spat in the trash can. "We don't care what he likes and don't like."
"Yeah, well, maybe you'll care to know that when folks tick him off, he gets the police to follow them. Before they know it, they're being stopped for speeding or reckless driving or worse, and it's their word against the cop's."
The two men looked at each other.
"We were just havin' some fun," the tall one said. They both edged toward the door.
"You picked on the wrong girl." Zack's brow lowered into a badass scowl. "Now get the hell out of here and don't bother her again."
The door banged behind them after they scurried outside. The tires of their dirty red pickup threw up a rooster tail of gravel as they squealed out of the parking lot.
Zack plopped the can of Coke on the counter. "When you said you were used to being bothered, you weren't kidding, were you?"
"No." To Katie's chagrin, tears sprang to her eyes.
- On Sale
- May 1, 2010
- Page Count
- 432 pages