Can't Forget Her:Hope Falls

By: Molly McLain

Acknowledgments




First and foremost, I have to thank Melanie & Shawna for allowing me to be a part of this amazing collaboration. I absolutely adore Hope Falls and being able to bring a little River Bend to California was a ton of fun! Take care of my Ryan, ladies!



Thanks, also, to Tony for the gorgeous cover design. I appreciate your patience with my indecisiveness. You’re the best!



Big kudos to Dana W. and Misty S. for helping me shape this novella into the best little happily-ever-after it could be. Kisses, girls!



Last but not least, thank you to my reader group and fans for always wanting more small town romance. If you keep reading it, I’ll keep writing it. Promise.





Chapter One



River Bend, Nebraska



Nine years. Nine long ass years since Ryan Croft had taken a legit vacation outside the state of Nebraska. And even then, he wasn’t sure that his last trip—to the West Coast the summer before college—really counted. He hadn’t enjoyed one bit of it. Especially not the part where he’d found his Rosie curled up on another man’s lap.

Rubbing a hand around the back of his neck, he stared out the window of Cedar Street Brew. Who had he been kidding? Ryan & Rosie 4-ever. That kind of gag-me sweet stuff only existed on the WB, in shows that were popular with the twelve to twenty age group.

Kinda like high school.

When Rosie’s favorite place had been on his lap.

“A good son would take his mother along, you know.” Dressed to the nines in a charcoal pencil skirt and matching jacket, Beatrice Croft waggled her light brown eyebrows over the lid of her to-go cup. Her shiny red fingernails tapped against the glossy mocha cardboard, making Ryan smile.

“You can go back to Malibu anytime you want, Barbie. No need to wait on me for a ride.” Smirking, he lifted his own coffee cup and sipped. The warmth made him shiver and burrow deeper into his Hudson Contracting coat. Only two more days of freezing his butt off on the job site, then look out, Tahoe. If all he accomplished was drinking beer, soaking in the hot tub, and maybe hitting the slopes a time or two, he’d come back to Nebraska a happy man.

“Well, if you won’t let me tag along, at least do me a favor and drive over to Hope Falls.”

“Hope Falls?” What the hell was that? Some feel-good, family tourist attraction? Didn’t sound up to par with his bachelor adventure.

“It’s where your cousin Janine recently moved, remember? I told you this last week.” His mother narrowed her eyes. “Son-of-mine, you need a vacation more than I realized.”

Yep, and for more reasons than he’d ever say out loud. Those kinds of wishy-washy feelings didn’t really match the scars on his hands or the scruffy beard on his face.

“As much as I’d like to see Janine, I’m not really interested in spending my time off stuck in a car.” Shit, that sounded selfish as hell, didn’t it?

“It’s forty-five minutes, Ryan. Suck it up and do the right thing.” Rewrapping her scarf, Beatrice stood, lips pressed into a tight smile. “Please don’t forget to shave before you go. You’re starting to look like Grizzly Adams.”

“Ha!” Knees spread wide, he leaned back in the chair and chuckled, rubbing his hand over the thicker than usual stubble. “Ladies love the facial hair, Ma. Haven’t you heard?”

“I’m going to pretend I have no idea what you’re talking about and be on my way.” His mother winked and dropped her hand to his shoulder, pausing on her way to the door. “You need to refuel, honey. Nothing does that better than spending time with people you care about.”

Usually. But right now he needed to kick back with the boys and figure out what the heck he was going to do with his life. “A few beers will do just fine.”

“Oh, you.” Playful fingers pushed at his arm. “Just trust me on this, okay? Mother’s intuition.”

He ducked away from the childish gesture and rolled his eyes. “Don’t start with the maternal juju.”

“Don’t mock the gods, Ryan. It’s bad karma.”

Uh huh. Too bad that threat had stopped working on him a long time ago. These days, the only thing he believed in was hard work and making stuff happen on his own. Fate was the fantasy of lazy people. Ryan wasn’t an egotistical kind of guy, but lazy wasn’t something he’d call himself. Never had been, never would be.

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