When life hands you a hunky, rich hockey player…say yes.
But Cassandra isn’t used to accepting help—and especially not from a sweet-talking, hunky man with more cash than she’s seen in her life. And anyway, she’s got problems that are bigger than his bank account, and she figures when life gets really tough, he’ll be gone.
Single dad Landon isn’t used to hearing no. Especially when he knows the only thing holding Cass back from this mutual deal-of-a-parenting-lifetime is her pride, and her unfounded fears.
How can he convince her that she’s the best thing for his daughter, and that he’s worth counting on when it comes to her sick son?
It’s hard to keep saying no.
Especially when love starts to grow…
Too bad they agreed they’d only come together out of convenience—and never out of love.
Is it too late to change their deal?
Find out in The Peppermint Lodge, a standalone sweet romance set in the small town of Sweetheart Creek, Texas. Enjoy hockey players, ranchers, single parents, crazy errant armadillos, laughter and tears with this relationship of convenience romance.
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Sneak Peek from The Peppermint Lodge
Maybe taking Rylnn to a Mother’s Day dance wasn’t such a brilliant idea, after all. His four-year-old was literally dancing him off his feet. And Landon Jackson was a darn good dancer.
But keeping up with his daughter, dressed as a princess? That was going to end him.
“Rylnn, I need to sit.” His ankle, which had been shattered during a hockey game, nearly ending his pro career, was telling him it was done being held captive in cowboy boots and trying to bust a move like he was still in his twenties.
Rylnn crossed her arms and made her big brown eyes even bigger.
“Ry, I need a break.”
She harrumphed with her entire body.
“Just one song.” He grabbed a nearby chair and spun it under him. Sweetheart Creek’s community center had a generous dance floor filled with mothers and sons, as well as some fathers and daughters, and pretty much all of the rest of the small town. There was air-conditioning, but it was struggling to keep up with the throng of dancers filling the old, converted barn. Chances were, despite his physical conditioning, his cheeks were a burning red, and if not, they certainly felt like it. Coach Louis should have the team try to keep up with his daughter on the dance floor as part of their dryland training.
As Landon pulled off his cowboy hat to fan himself, he caught the eye of a gorgeous woman he’d been noticing all night. She was tall, and not what he’d call dolled up. Yet she had a freshness about her, an effortless air he found instantly attractive. Currently, she was trying to mask a smile, no doubt brought on by his obvious inability to keep up with his preschooler.
“One song,” he repeated, as Rylnn tried to tug him back onto his feet, her unruly spray of black curls waving under her tiara.
When he refused to budge, her eyes brimmed with tears and her lower lip stuck out, then trembled. He could have sworn the nanny had been giving her lessons in acting helpless, as well as how to pull on his heartstrings.
What was he supposed to do? The world wasn’t gentle with women who couldn’t take care of themselves, and that was not the kind of woman he wanted to raise.
Was he coddling Ry? Was the nanny? His little girl needed to go outside and get grubby and learn by doing—which apparently was difficult while living in downtown San Antonio.
Despite his repeated demands that the nanny take Rylnn outside to play, her clothes were never grass-stained. No dirt smudges. No holes in her wardrobe. No character-building scratches or bruises from testing her limits in the playground. No mud falling off her cute little sneakers.
Rylnn’s face was turning a dark brown-red, the change subtle but alarming.
Landon sat straighter, panic and pre-emptive humiliation burning through him. “No. No, no, no. Don’t cry.” He reached out as if there was a magical button he could tap to prevent the impending meltdown.
Had her mother never said no to her? No, he’d seen Zofia establish boundaries the times he’d visited them in Hawaii, before Zofia had passed away. Was it grief? Little-girl sorrow? Too many changes in her life over the past year wearing down her resiliency?
As Rylnn tipped her head back to let out a giant wail—which would no doubt tell everyone in the small community just how out of his depth he was with fatherhood—the gorgeous cowgirl he’d been eyeing crouched beside his daughter.
“You are the most beautiful princess I’ve ever seen.” The woman’s tanned face was kind, the compliment sounding so genuine it made a lump form in Landon’s throat as Rylnn blinked in surprise.
“Are these real jewels?” She fingered the pink, glittery skirt of Rylnn’s dress.
Wordlessly, Rylnn shook her head.
The woman studied Rylnn’s tiara. “Did you know my friend April was a rodeo princess? But I don’t think she ever once got a crown as lovely as yours.”
“It’s a tiara.”
“Oh, that’s right. Tiara. A crown goes all the way around, doesn’t it?”
Rylnn nodded, chin tipped down, shyly taking in her admirer. This close, Landon could see the woman had freckles across the bridge of her cute nose. Landon was a sucker for freckles, as well as height. And, actually, pretty much anyone who could prevent an embarrassing, public meltdown. This woman could’ve asked him for a Ferrari right now and he would have signed the check. Happily.
“I saw you twirling earlier. I wish my dress did that.”
Rylnn, now completely distracted, put one hand on her hip and tipped her head to the side in a move that reminded Landon of Zofia. It made him miss his best friend and the strong mother Ry would be unlikely to remember.
“You’re not wearing a dress,” Rylnn pointed out.
The woman looked down at her jeans, cowboy boots and flannel shirt. “True. Too much of a cowgirl, I suppose.” She stood with a laugh, her smile wide, not quite hiding subtle lines of fatigue. “What I should say is that I wish I had a dress like yours.” She shrugged easily. “I don’t really have dresses anymore.”
“Really?” Rylnn was staring at her as though she’d just admitted she liked how worms tasted.
“Nowhere to wear them, I guess.”
His daughter’s frown deepened.
Landon tried to imagine the woman in a dress that was feminine and clingy. She’d be a knock-out. Slender curves, long legs, and those eyes that were kind, yet mischievous, giving her a sexy, illusive air. Too bad he didn’t have time for a girlfriend, or he’d ask for her number.
Landon’s friend and teammate Maverick Blades joined them, saying, “Hey, I’m heading out.”
Landon shook his head. Maverick had coaxed him here, saying it would be good for Rylnn. Bonding and such. He’d expected Mav to stay as long as he did, if for no other reason than to lend moral support.
“Please stay,” he said too quickly.
So much for looking cool and in control for this cowgirl babe. Although, when it came to parenthood, he was discovering he wasn’t too proud to beg.
“Dude, there’s no reason for me to be here now that my own mom’s left for the night,” Maverick said with a laugh. He nodded to the woman chatting with Rylnn. “Hey, Cass. How’s it going?”
“Cass?” Landon stood. He hoped he didn’t wince as his ankle bit him, sending a shard of pain up his calf.
Maverick gave him a stern look. “Next season starts soon enough. Take care of that ankle, Blockade.”
“Yes, honey,” Landon said sweetly, earning a smirk from his friend.
Their regular season had just ended and he had a few months to recuperate before hitting the ice again. Plenty of time to finish healing.
Maverick tipped his cowboy hat to Cass and Rylnn, then headed toward the doors.
Abandoned. Some friend.
“I’m Landon.” He offered his hand to Cass. She shook it firmly, her eyes assessing him.
“Dragons?” she asked, referring to the NHL San Antonio Dragons, the local pro hockey team that both he and Maverick played for.
“Goalie,” he said. One of the most important positions on the team. Not that they had a decent defense, which meant he allowed way too many pucks past him to make him happy. Or to make him look good. He felt like he no longer deserved his nickname, The Blockade.
“And is this your daughter?” Cass asked, gesturing to Rylnn, who was now doing little twirls near a pale-looking boy who was slightly taller than she was.
“Yeah,” Landon said. “This is Rylnn.”
“My name is Cassandra, but everybody calls me Cass.” She crouched down to talk to Rylnn. “And this is my son, Dusty. He’s my date tonight.”
Dusty, in his cowboy hat and jeans, gave Rylnn’s hand a very serious shake. Rylnn curtsied and said something that sounded princessy.
Landon really hoped this was a normal phase of childhood and not the beginnings of a personality disorder. Dusty looked confused, until another boy in a cowboy hat tugged him away with promises of a monster truck battle.
A two-step started, and the DJ’s voice boomed through the room. “The next dance is for the moms out there. Kids, take your mothers onto the floor.” There was a pause before the DJ singled out one of the grown men along the sidelines. “You, too, Ryan. Show Maria you appreciate the hours she’s put into keeping you in line. Carly, give him a push, would you?”
The crowd laughed as a woman with curls as wild as Rylnn’s obliged and gave her man a nudge toward what must be his mother.
Landon glanced back at Rylnn. Her eyes had turned huge again, and her bottom lip was quivering.
Landon’s heart squeezed.
Take your mothers onto the floor…
He had his arms out to sweep her into a hug, but before he knew it, Cass was intercepting his daughter, drawing her onto the floor and asking to be shown some princess dance moves. As Landon sank back in his seat and rested his ankle, he decided this Cassandra must be an angel sent from above.
Copyright © 2023 Jean Oram. All rights reserved.
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