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Return to Love

Return to Love

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The cowboy's back in town... Cassie Powell is perfectly happy with her small town life in Willow Valley, but when Jack Martin swaggers back into town, secrets she's worked too hard to keep threaten to bring it all tumbling down around her.

Main Tropes

  • Secret Baby
  • Childhood Friends
  • Friends to Lovers


The cowboy's back in town...Cassie Powell is perfectly happy with her small town life in Willow Valley. She has a successful bakery and a beautiful little girl—everything she's ever wanted. But when Jack Martin swaggers back into town, secrets she's worked too hard to keep threaten to bring it all tumbling down around her.Jack has always thought of Cassie as a little sister—until he sees her all grown up! But she's hiding something, and he's determined to find out what. Can he break down her walls and find a way into her heart?

Read Chapter One

"Whoa there, little lady, what are you doing up on that table?"

Cassie Powell jerked her head up at the sound of the slow deep voice, hitting it with a metallic thump against the inside of her bakery display case where she was arranging this morning's offerings. She dropped her tray of muffins as her eyes darted frantically to where the man in the Stetson hat was standing by one of her cafe tables.

"Sarah, no," she squeaked out. Cassie rushed around the counter toward her two-year-old daughter who was tipping precariously off the edge of the table. All she had done was look away for just a moment, and Sarah had gotten in trouble. I'm not going to get to her in time. Just as she was certain Sarah would crash to the floor, the man plucked her up and tossed her in the air, peals of laughter escaping Sarah's lips as he settled her back on his hip.

"Oh, thank you so much," Cassie lifted a hand to her heart and sighed. "She's into everything these days." Her shoulders slumped in relief and she brushed some blond hairs back from her forehead that had come loose from her ponytail before reaching to take Sarah.

As the man handed her back, Cassie finally took her eyes off Sarah and looked up at him with a grateful smile. It froze instantly on her lips, and her heart dropped all the way down to her stomach. She knew those bright blue eyes anywhere.

"Jack? What are you doing here?"

Please not him. Anyone but him. She thought he had blown this town for good.

Jack Martin laughed and tipped the brim of his hat with his finger, revealing too-long strands of his pitch black hair. "Cassie. I heard you had opened a bakery since I was last home, so I thought I'd stop by for some breakfast. What I hadn't heard is that it was a daycare as well."

Her smile felt forced and her laugh too high. "Yeah, well, whatever keeps the customers rolling in."

She hurried back around the counter and sat Sarah down at her miniature plastic table and chairs set. "Here, honey, color me a picture while I help this customer."

She fastened the child gate back between the counter and the wall. She didn't remember leaving it open. Sarah was as fast as lightning when Cassie wasn't looking. 

Jack looked curiously between the two of them and opened his mouth to say something, but the question remained unasked as a couple of girls from the hair salon next door came through the front door, the bells tinkling as it shut behind them. They started up to the counter, then noticed Jack. With his rugged good looks, he was pretty hard not to notice.

"Oh, were you here first?" one of them asked. Cassie thought her name was Katie. She had just moved to town and gotten a job at the salon, fresh out of cosmetology school. She couldn't be more than nineteen. 

Jack tipped his hat again. "Ladies first." He flashed them a heart-stopping smile.

The girls both giggled and stepped up to the counter. Cassie hurriedly straightened the mess she had spilled when Sarah had given her a scare. "What can I get for you two today?"

They ordered their breakfast and Cassie was certain she felt the burn of Jack's eyes on her as she busied herself filling their orders and giving them their change. She took her time, not ready to be alone with him again. Too bad he hadn't gone ahead of them. Then maybe he would have just taken his food and left and not waited for the opportunity to talk again. 

As the girls took their muffins and turned to leave, they both flashed bright flirtatious smiles at Jack. He winked at them, and they left, giggling again.

Cassie couldn't help but laugh, in spite of the nerves bunching in her stomach. "You're going to be all they talk about the rest of the day."

"Just doing my civic duty to the women of Willow Valley," he joked, stepping up and resting an arm on the counter. "So what delectable offerings do you have for me here?" His eyes twinkled as he looked down at her.

She knew he meant the baked goods, but couldn't help feeling a flush as the words rolled off his tongue. Don't be crazy. You absolutely do not find Jack attractive. But she knew she was lying to herself. Well, I'll just keep right on lying. There was no way she was letting this man under her skin. 

All business now, she named off the varieties of muffins, breads and coffee cakes. Jack made his choice and as she reached into the case, his voice made her jump and hit her head for the second time that day.

"Is she yours?"

"What?" She shook her head, confused by his words and distracted by his presence.

"The little girl. Is she yours? I thought you might be serious about babysitting, but she has your exact shade of hair."

Cassie took a deep breath. "Yes, she is mine, but the hair is just a coincidence." She paused, unsure how much she should say. "I adopted her."

Jack lifted his eyebrows in surprise but didn't ask any more, thankfully. Cassie hoped that now he would just take his food and be gone. And hopefully, he would breeze back out of town just as quickly as he'd come in.

She had to know. "How long are you here for? I'm surprised to see you."

Jack squinted and stared out the window for a minute. "I think I may be back for good this time, Cassie."

All the breath went out of her, leaving her lightheaded. This could not be happening. Surely he was joking. Cassie forced another laugh. "That'll be the day. You've blown in and out of here for years, I have yet to see you stay more than a night or two."

And she'd managed to avoid him every time.

He looked back at her, something different in his eyes that she didn't quite recognize. "That's true," he said, "but this time..." He let his voice trail off.

She didn't ask and he didn't offer any more information. Just as quickly as the look was there, it was gone, replaced with the smile and swagger she was used to. "I'll keep quiet about the table dancing. Wouldn't want to ruin the reputation of your establishment." He winked and flashed his make-you-melt smile and was ambling out the door with a tip of his hat.

Cassie stood rooted in place, staring after him, dread slowly creeping up her spine. 

"Who's that, Mommy?" Sarah was pulling on her hand. She snapped back to attention and picked her daughter up, hugging her tightly to her chest.

"Just an old friend, baby. That's all."

"I like him."

That's what Cassie was afraid of. She couldn't risk either of them liking him. He needed to get out of town, and the sooner the better.

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