Authors: Marie Ferrarella
“Ferrarella has penned a guaranteed page-turner!”
“Time and again, Marie Ferrarella demonstrates her gift for storytelling in the romantic suspense genre, and
Crime and Passion
is no exception.”
Crime and Passion
“â¦the saucy quips will draw a laugh, and the chemistry will make you shiver. Marie Ferrarella does it again!”
Mac's Bedside Manner
“Great romance, excellent plot, grabs you from page one.”
Affaire de Coeur
In Graywolf's Hands
“â¦the pleasure of this journey is in the getting there. Reading about warm, caring people and watching relationships mature under stressful situations is a pleasurable way to spend an afternoon. As usual, Ferrarella's dialogue is in voice, crisp, and moves the story along without ever bogging down in the emotional angst each brings to the relationship.
Once a Father
is a hearty recommend for a skilled writer.”
The Romance Reader
Once a Father
Get swept up in twelve new stories from your favorite family!
COWBOY AT MIDNIGHT by Ann Major
A BABY CHANGES EVERYTHING by Marie Ferrarella
IN THE ARMS OF THE LAW by Peggy Moreland
LONE STAR RANCHER by Laurie Paige
THE GOOD DOCTOR by Karen Rose Smith
THE DEBUTANTE by Elizabeth Bevarly
KEEPING HER SAFE by Myrna Mackenzie
THE LAW OF ATTRACTION by Kristi Gold
ONCE A REBEL by Sheri WhiteFeather
MILITARY MAN by Marie Ferrarella
FORTUNE'S LEGACY by Maureen Child
THE RECKONING by Christie Ridgway
It isn't often that we get a chance to see if happily ever after is all it's cracked up to be. When I was invited to do the second book in THE FORTUNES OF TEXAS: REUNION continuity, I discovered that I was being reunited with two characters I had brought together in
Expecting in Texas
and they were having problems. Although they still loved each other as much as ever, life and reality had found a way to put a wedge between them. Cruz worked too hard to create the kind of life he felt his family deserved and Savannah felt as if she was being taken for granted. (Sound familiar? Yeah, me, too.) Juggling as fast as they could, they had no energy left to devote to the marriage they had created. And let's face it, marriage takes work. Constant work. Changes were going to have to be made. But I'm betting that Savannah and Cruz are up to it. How about you?
I wish you love,
To Stella Bagwell, who no longer has a brain, because I've picked it clean.
Many thanks, Stella, for all your help.
ey, I'd given up on you two.”
Vanessa Fortune Kincaid threw open the door on the first ring and immediately hugged her dearest friend in the world as the latter began to cross the threshold. Stepping back, Vanessa took a closer look at Savannah Perez and decided that she didn't like what she saw. Savannah's bright, sunny smile was conspicuously absent.
Ushering her five-year-old son, Luke, in front of her, Savannah sighed. Luke hadn't stopped talking or moving since he'd opened his eyes this morning. The word
she had come to believe, had been created expressly to describe her son.
Savannah forced her lips into a weak smile. It was the best she could offer her friend. “You wouldn't be the first one.”
Vanessa had dropped down to one knee to give her god
son a huge embrace. The boy smelled faintly of raspberry jam and peanut butter, his sandwich of choice. “How's the handsomest man in three states?”
Luke beamed. “Fine, Aunt 'Nessa.”
He shoved his hands into the back pockets of his jeans, just like his father, and cocked his head, his dark eyes huge as he asked, “Got something for me?”
“Luke!” Embarrassment brought the only visible color to Savannah's pale cheeks. “You don't ask someone to give you a present.”
“I'm not âsomeone,'” Vanessa said, winking at the boy. “I'm Aunt 'Nessa.” Rising to her feet, Vanessa waved her hand at Savannah's protest. They'd been friends far too long to leave any room for embarrassment over imagined neglected niceties.
Vanessa walked to a credenza and opened one small door. “And, as a matter of fact, I do have something for Luke.”
Taking out an object, she tucked it behind her back as she turned to face the boy.
Luke was dancing from one foot to the other, his dark eyes shining.
With a pleasure-filled laugh, Vanessa handed her godson the very latest in action figures. The buffed character breaking out of his painted-on shirt was from a new movie that was yet to be released but was already a hit among the under-twelve set.
Luke gave a loud whoop of joy. “Wow, it's Big Jake, the monster killer.”
“And he even comes with his own monster to kill.” Vanessa pointed to a lesser figure that was included, easily overshadowed by the hero.
“Wow,” Luke echoed. He tugged at the packaging, eager to get at his prize. Vanessa helped him. Freed of their plastic prison, the two figures popped up into the air.
Savannah shook her head. “You're spoiling him, Vanessa.”
Luke sat down and was soon happily immersed in a fantasy reenactment of a battle royal between the hero and the monster, apparently oblivious to his mother and her friend.
Watching him, Vanessa smiled broadly. “Hey, I like roaming through toy stores. Shopping for Luke gives me an excuse to be there.” After her miscarriage, she wanted a baby more than ever. Now that her husband, Devin's, desk job at the FBI only took him away occasionally, there was a better chance to make that happen.
She ruffled the boy's jet-black hair, then walked over to Savannah, taking a seat beside her on the wide, cream-colored leather sofa. Savannah was huddled to one side, leaning against the upholstered arm as if she intended to use it to help keep her up.
Concern flitted through Vanessa as she sat down. Savannah hadn't sounded quite like herself on the telephone when she'd asked to come over.
Seeing her didn't alter that impression.
Vanessa grew serious. “What did you mean when you said I wouldn't be the first?”
Savannah looked from her son to her friend. “What?”
Vanessa had a pitcher of iced tea standing at the ready on a tray on the coffee table. Without bothering to extend an invitation, she poured a tall glass for Savannah and one for herself. Two bottles of chilled soda waited on Luke's pleasure.
“When you walked in,” she reminded Savannah, hand
ing her a glass. “I said I'd given up on you two, and you said I wouldn't be the first. What did you mean by that?”
Wrapping her hands around the glass, Savannah shrugged carelessly. It was a subject she'd just as soon dismiss. But she knew better. Vanessa had a way of hanging on to something once she'd gotten her teeth into it.
Savannah took a long sip of the cool liquid before offering a vague answer. “Just me, feeling sorry for myself, that's all.”
Vanessa gave her a long, penetrating look. This wasn't just a passing mood, she thought. This was something more. Was there trouble on Paradise Island? “Want to talk about it?”
Savannah stared at the amber liquid. In the background, Luke's monster gave a bloodcurdling yell as Jake killed him. “No.”
Vanessa glanced in Luke's direction to make sure everything was all right. The boy had started a new scenario. She looked back at Savannah.
“Yes, you do,” Vanessa said firmly. Savannah began to protest, but the words never left her mouth, halted by Vanessa's knowing look. “You wouldn't be here if you didn't. You know I won't leave it alone until you tell me. When you walk in hereâ” she gestured around the house with her free hand “âor anywhere near me, you do
have the right to remain silent.” She leaned closer, lowering her voice even though she doubted that Luke could hear. He was too busy being Jake and the monster. “Now, what's wrong?”
Feeling empty, weary beyond her years and lonelier than she could remember being in a very long time, Savannah murmured, “It's nothing.” She stared again at her tall,
frosted glass, noting the tiny rivulets of water had begun to run along the sides.
Just like my tears.
Vanessa frowned. “âNothing' wouldn't have you looking like a wilted flower.” Her eyes swept over her friend's form. Five months pregnant and barely a discernible clue from her body. How did she do it? “You're supposed to be glowing by now.”
Glowing, ha. Most mornings Savannah felt like ashes from a day-old campfire. With a shake of her head, she laughed dryly. “Whoever made that assessment of motherhood was obviously a man. On my best day, I don't âglow.' I manage.”
And just barely,
she added silently. Between doing the bookkeeping for the ranch, handling Luke, morning sickness and the housekeeping, she was coming perilously close to losing it on all fronts. The faster she juggled, the more certain she was that she was going to drop something. Or everything.
But in her heart she knew that if she just had a little support, she could do it.
She might as well be wishing for the moon, she thought sadly.
Savannah could feel her friend studying her. Vanessa always seemed to know just what she was thinking. Now was no exception.
“But it's not just the pregnancy getting you down, is it?” she asked.
“No, it's not.” Taking another sip of her iced tea, Savannah put the glass back on the tray. “You know, the police force could use your clairvoyance. You're going to waste here.”
Vanessa put her hand on top of Savannah's, forcing her
friend to look at her instead of avoiding her eyes. “Stop trying to change the subject. Tell me what's wrong.”
Savannah knotted her fingers together in her lap, staring down at them.
“Everything,” she finally whispered, so quietly that, even sitting next to her, Vanessa had to strain to hear.
Tears suddenly filled Savannah's eyes, spilling out. Annoyed, she wiped them away with the back of her hand. “Damn, I still haven't gotten the hang of riding this emotional roller coaster. You'd think that the second time around would be easier, not harder.” She sighed, feeling as if everything was conspiring against her. But she knew that if only Cruz would love her the way he used to, everything else would fall into place. “There should be a way to put your hormones in cold storage for the duration, get them back after you push out the baby.”
Feeling for her, Vanessa put her arm around Savannah's small shoulders. “Have you told Cruz what you're going through?”
Savannah drew back and laughed. The sound had no pleasure in it.
“Cruz?” He was the whole problem, not a solution. Although if he'd only change againâ¦ “I'd have to make an appointment to talk to him. And even then he'd probably only break it or, worse, forget to show up altogether.”
Vanessa was very quiet for a moment. There was something in Savannah's face that had her heart freezing. She tried to read between the lines and hoped fervently that she was wrong. “My God, there's isn't another woman, is there?”
Another woman, Savannah thought. If onlyâ¦
“Well,” she said slowly, “yes, in a manner of speaking there is another woman.”
There might as well have been, for all the time Cruz spent away from the house, Savannah thought. A slight trace of bitterness entered her voice. Who would have thought that the promise of success would do this to them? Money had never meant anything to her. Only love and Cruz had.
“He spends almost all his time with her.” Savannah laughed shortly, recalling the last few months, so awful in their loneliness. “By the time I get him back, he can hardly make conversation, much less act like the man who made my head spin and my pulse race.”
Vanessa curled her fingers into her palms, trying to curb the desire to beat on Cruz even though she'd grown up liking him. Until he'd married Savannah, Cruz had worked on her father's ranch, the Double Crown. She and her brothers and sister had grown up playing with Cruz and his sisters, calling him friend.
Now she was calling him something a whole lot less flattering in her mind.
“Well, who is she?” Vanessa demanded. “Have you tried confronting her?” She put herself in Savannah's shoes. “I know if there was some woman who was trying to get her hooks into Devin, I'd knock her into next Tuesday.” She looked at Savannah, suddenly mindful of her condition. It was so hard to remember she was pregnant, given what Savannah looked like. “I could do that for you, you know. You're pregnant, you don't want to get yourself upset. But I could certainly handle this bitch for you. What's her name?”
“La Esperanza.” Hope, that was what he'd named it. Hope, because that was what it represented to both of them. Hope for a new start, hope for the future. And now it had taken all hope away from her.
Vanessa stared at her. “The ranch?” she asked incredulously.
“The ranch,” Savannah confirmed. “Cruz refers to our ranch as âshe.'” The more she thought about it, the more fitting it seemed. “And La Esperanza is a hell of a lot more competition than any flesh-and-blood woman I ever knew.”
At least, if it had been another woman, she'd like to think she'd know how to compete. But the ranch had been her husband's dream ever since she could remember. How could she possibly compete against a dream?
“But he's just doing that for his family. For you,” Vanessa argued.
No, not for her, Savannah thought. Because if it was for her, he would have stopped knocking himself out a long time ago. He would have tried to fit her into his day, into his night, instead of living and breathing work on the ranch.
“He's doing that for himself,” Savannah said firmly. Ever loyal to the man she loved with all her heart, she softened slightly, as if she couldn't help but take his side, at least to a minor degree. “Oh, he wants to be a good provider and all, but part of being a good provider is being there in more than just body. And he's not.” She sighed, looking past her friend, focusing instead on the last few months. Maybe even years, she amended. This had been going on and steadily getting worse for a long, long time. “He hasn't been for a long while now.”
Trying to lighten the moment and do away with the dark look in her friend's eyes, Vanessa patted Savannah's stomach. “Well, he must have been there in body and spirit at least once.”
Savannah shook her head. “I need more than just once.
I need more than just a part-time husband, although at this point I'd settle for that. What I have is a husband who's there ten percent of the time. And usually that ten percent is spent in bed.”
“Quality, not quantity, has always been my motto.”
“Sleeping,” Savannah emphasized. “And although he looks really cute that wayâ¦” She looked toward her son, who had once more dropped down onto the rug. Jake was smashing in the monster's face. “A little like Luke, really. But it's hard to maintain a two-way conversation with a man who's doing a fairly good imitation of a corpse.”
Savannah took in a deep breath, knowing that she was coming very close to crying again. That wasn't why she'd come here. She didn't want to cry; she wanted to forget about everything for a little while.
“Cruz is up and out of the house before sunrise, back after sunsetâsometimes long after sunset.” Sadness twisted her soul. “I have to show Luke pictures of the man just to remind him what his father looks like.”
Vanessa shook her head as she laughed. “C'mon now, you're exaggerating.”
Savannah sighed. There was sadness in her eyes as she looked up at her best friend. “Not as much as I wish I was.”
Communication was the only way, Vanessa thought. It certainly worked for her and Devin. “Have you told him how you feel?”
Savannah looked at her. Hadn't she been listening? “I just saidâ”
“I know what you just said,” Vanessa interrupted, squelching a minor bout of impatience. The solution, or at least a start, seemed pretty clear to her. “That you'd have to make an appointment to see him. Well, make one. Do what
ever it takes. Grab him by the arm when he walks in tonight and say, âCruz, we have to talk.'” She waved her hand, as if trying to bring about a magic spell. “And then talk.”
“He'll probably fall asleep while I'm talking.”
Cruz had done that just the other night. Right after dinner. He hadn't even got up from the table. He'd laid his head down for a second, just to “rest my eyes,” and boom, he was out like a light. It took everything she had not to put on the radio and blast him. But she hadn't. She'd gently prodded him to his feet and then, with his arm slung across her shoulders, she'd somehow managed to get him up the stairs and into bed. During the one occasion when he'd been intoxicated and the same thing had happened, he'd pulled her down on top of him and they'd made love.