Book 2 in the Juniper Springs Series
Part of the Camos and Cupcakes World
I’ve always been the brother who everyone calls the flirt. The one who isn’t too serious, the one who is a little…different.
And I don’t mind that title. In fact, I use my ability to think outside of the box to help my family in their business.
I’m also known as the player, although, I haven’t…suited up in a while. So maybe that’s why I’ve become completely infatuated with my old childhood friend Piper Abernathy.
Just saying her name makes me itch beneath my skin. I want to know what she’s thinking, how she spends her days, and I fantasize what her hair smells like.
And her lips…they are intoxicating. One taste will never be enough, and while I can talk her into my bed, she resists me beyond that.
She says we make each other bonkers, and she doesn’t believe in happily ever after.
For a woman who plans out ever minute of her day, she never counted on me, and I aim to prove to her there’s nothing wrong with crazy as long as we’re together.
Author Note: If you’ve met Carter, you know just how insane he is. He’s in Juniper, wooing his old childhood friend, irritating his brother, making friends with the LOLs, and becoming at one with the Juniper Springs culture. And if you think he’s crazy with his family, just wait until you see the things he does to his lady love.
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My parents aren’t fooling me. They think there’s something wrong with me. They brought me over to their friend’s house, a doctor, to see if my brain is messed up. I’ve heard other parents talk about me. Hell, my own brothers talk right in front of me about my issues. So what if I talk a lot, and my mind can’t settle on one thing for longer than a few minutes. My mom has always said that my brain is like a kaleidoscope, but each color is essential. I was kind of surprised when my mother brought me here. I’m not sure how I feel about all the questions, so when Mom and Dr. Abernathy start discussing something other than me, I slip out of the house and into the backyard.
A wave of moist heat slams me in the face the moment my foot hits the patio pavement. San Antonio in July is hot and wet. You can’t move without sweating. This doctor has a massive backyard filled with bushes, trees, and flowers. There’s a kidney-shaped pool with lots of tables like they have parties of some sort back here. At the very end of the pool, there is a massive live oak and sitting at one of the tables is a girl who looks about my age.
The first thing I notice is all the red hair like the doctor I just talked to, and she’s bent over what looks to be a textbook. Who reads during the summer break?
I amble over, and she looks up as I approach. The first thing I notice is her pale green eyes, then all the freckles. They’re cute. Also, she is not happy that I’m interrupting her. But that’s because she hasn’t met me yet.
“Hey, I’m Carter Phineas Hawthorne.”
She blinks at me, her mouth turning down even more.
“Hi. I’m Piper.”
“Is that your house?” I ask, pointing back at it with my thumb.
She glances at the house then back to me. She nods. “Yeah. Are you here with your parents?”
“Yeah.” Nervousness slips down my spine. Why? Why am I worried about talking to this girl? And when I get nervous, I tend to blurt things out. “I think your mother thinks I’ve got a screw loose.”
Like that. Mentally, I roll my eyes.
Her eyes widen. “Why would you say that?”
I jerk a shoulder and stuff my hands into my pockets. I guess I have to talk about it now that I blurted it out. “She asked me a bunch of questions.”
Something dark passes over her expression, and there’s sadness in her eyes. “No. You’re here for me.”
I cock my head to the side. “For you?”
She doesn’t answer right away like she’s trying to figure out exactly how to explain to me what she means. I can almost see gears shifting in her head, and I’m mesmerized.
“I have trouble making friends, so my parents are trying to get you to be my friend.” She sighs. “You can go back inside now.”
Then, she bends her head over her book once more. I have never felt dismissed in my life, and I have three older brothers who would rather I wasn’t around. In fact, they took a poll one time about how best to get rid of me. I’m still ticked off that killing me won over losing me in a foreign country.
I study her for a long moment, then approach the table, pulling out the chair next to hers. She slants a look at me, and her cheeks turn a little pink. I don’t know why she’s embarrassed, any more than I understand the weird feeling I have in my stomach seeing her blush. Usually, I can hardly concentrate on something for more than a few minutes, but I have a feeling this girl would keep me guessing for hours.
“You really don’t have to stay,” she says, her voice small. I hate the way it sounds.
“I know. But it’s nice out.”
She raises her head and looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. “The heat index is at least one hundred degrees.”
She’s not wrong.
“Then why are you out here?”
“I have to get my work done, and the maid needed to vacuum.”
Another sigh, this one filled with irritation. “Yes. I have to take extra science lessons.”
“Like summer school?”
She rolls her eyes. “As if.”
I start tapping my fingers on the table. It’s one of those black iron things, so my fingers beat out a tinny rhythm. It only takes her about thirty seconds to sigh again.
“So, Phin, what do you want?”
“For Phineas. I assume you like that name more than you like your first name, or you wouldn’t introduce yourself that way.”
I blink. This girl is brighter than any of my brothers. None of them have figured out that’s why I do it. Phineas is a cooler name. It makes me sound like a pirate.
Her lips twitch, but she doesn’t smile. For some reason, I want to make her smile. As I’m staring at her, a butterfly floats by, and her eyes follow it. But her expression doesn’t change. It’s almost like she doesn’t want to let people know her feelings.
“Did you know that butterflies taste with their feet?”
Her gaze shoots back to me. “Yeah?”
“All clownfish are born male.”
I frown. “How do they have babies?”
“When it’s time for that, they change sexes and become the more dominant female.”
“Huh, that’s weird. Did you know that an ostrich can kill a man or lion with their legs?”
Then, something amazing happens. Her lips curve, and her eyes light up.
That funny feeling in my stomach gets worse, leaving me jittery like I just drank three cans of Mountain Dew in less than an hour. Side note…don’t do that. It isn’t pretty.
Still, I don’t know why I feel this way right now or even what it means. I somehow know that this girl doesn’t smile much, and I want to spend all my time coming up with things to make her happy.
“Why do your parents think you need friends?”
The light in her eyes dims, and her smile fades. “I’m weird.”
“You aren’t weird. I’m weird.”
“No, you’re normal.”
I shake my head. “There’s a good reason that I thought your mother was checking me out. I hear the teachers talk.”
“What do they say?”
“I cause disruptions. Also, I can’t seem to concentrate on one thing for more than a few minutes.”
“You probably have ADHD.”
“Yeah, I heard them say that.”
“You’re just hyperactive.” She shrugs. “You’ll probably grow out of it.”
There’s something in her voice that tells me she isn’t guessing. “I don’t want to grow out of it. I like to learn about everything.”
“That’s why you blurt weird things out randomly?”
I nod. “Did you know most people in Iceland believe in elves?”
Her eyes widen, and I notice the thin gold rim around the irises. “Really?”
I nod. “They even have little houses made up for them.”
“I would love to see that,” she says, her smile returning.
“Maybe I’ll take you one day.”
“I don’t have time for that,” she says, her voice still sounding dreamy. “But it’s a nice thought.”
“Why do you doubt it?”
“I don’t have time for crazy things like that.”
“What’s crazy about going to Iceland?”
“Nothing, but going there just because they believe in elves is crazy.”
“Carter,” my mom calls out. I look back across the pool and see her standing there. I’m not ready to go home, but I know not to mess with my mom.
“Well, it was nice talking to you.”
“I’ll see you again.”
She nods, but she doesn’t look convinced. It makes me sad. No one should be this lonely.
“I thought I could come over tomorrow. Maybe check out that pool?”
She looks behind her, then back at me. “Are you messing with me?”
I shake my head. “Nope.”
I get up and walk away but stop and turn around. I step closer, leaning down to whisper, “Sometimes, being crazy is important, Piper.”
“If you say so.”
I don’t miss the way her lips curve, but she doesn’t look at me.
“I promise that I’ll prove it to you,” I say before running away.
“You know you can’t take her home with you,” Everly says, her voice filled with humor. I look over at my brother’s baby mama and smile.
“I know. Although, she would love a weekend with Uncle Carter because he’s the best. Just so you know, I baby-proofed my house here.”
I look down at the perfect specimen that my brother Quinn and Everly produced. She is the most precious bundle, with dark eyes, long lashes, and my brother’s trademark one dimple smile. I’ll have to stand guard around her when she hits high school because boys are jerks.
Everly chuckles and settles deeper into the massive couch. I came here to keep her company while Quinn had to run to New York for some meetings. He’s a graphic artist and author who has been spending most of his time in the small town of Juniper Springs. With Esme six months old, he is finally willing to leave Everly for one weekend.
I’m not here because of Everly. She’s a kick-ass comic bookstore owner who would have my balls if I even suggested it. I’m here more for Quinn. The new daddy was a little nervous about going up to New York and leaving Everly.
Not for the first time, I feel that telltale envy hit me. I have never been envious of my brothers. I love them, but they all take themselves waaaay too seriously. Like, they think the workday is nine to five. Why worry about what time you start working as long as you get the work done? Every time I say that I swear our oldest brother, Grady, twitches. It’s actually fun to watch, so I say it at least once a week.
But they’re all paired off. Starting lives with their soulmates and babies is taking up all their time. It’s not that their significant others don’t welcome me. It’s just that I feel like a proverbial third wheel when I spend time with them.
I feel…out of step.
It wasn’t only the arrival of my niece and soon-to-be adopted nephew that caused this. It’s something that has been digging beneath my skin, causing me to question everything about my personal life. I’m not a manwhore—although I have come close to that description in the past. I’ve grown bored with chasing women, in general. It gave me a thrill to find a woman and get to know her. Now, every woman I find a little bit attractive bores me except one.
Piper Abernathy. Doctor. My childhood friend—until she wasn’t. And now my obsession.
I avoided her for the longest time, but since she delivered Esme a few months ago, I can’t seem to avoid her or the mention of her. Also, I have had sex dreams about her. The one last night is embarrassing enough. I mean, what thirty-year-old man has wet dreams? Especially since I could call up one of my friends for a good time.
I swallow the knot in my throat and internally shake my head. See, that’s the problem. Anytime I think about even kissing another woman, I get nauseous. If I don’t get that fixed—and soon—I might become a hermit.
“I smell smoke.”
I blink. “You think something is burning?”
I hop up, panic hitting me. I keep baby Esme cradled to my chest. Before I head to the door, her laughter stops me.
“No,” she says. “You’re thinking too hard again.”
I roll my eyes, and my cheeks heat up. Everly is constantly yanking my chain, and I fall for it every single time. I should know better, but her big brown eyes and the fact she birthed my favorite person in the world always makes me think she’s done making me look like an ass.
Don’t get me wrong. She’s exactly who I would pick for my brother. In fact, I kind of did, and they are perfect together. And yes, I take credit for their happily ever after. She’s cut her dark hair short again, which makes her eyes look even more prominent. It’s deceptive because she appears harmless, but she isn’t, not by a long shot. She’s sarcastic and always has salty things to say about pretty much everyone but Quinn and Esme. Also, she’s wearing another of her specialty shirts. This one reads: “Feminism is my second favorite ‘F’ Word.” She balances Quinn in a way his first wife never did.
The only thing wrong with her is her choice of names for the first Hawthorne grandchild. I still don’t know why they didn’t name their firstborn Carter, other than Esme is a girl. I mean, how many girls are named Carter?
“Sit down and tell me what’s going on in that head of yours.”
I settle back in the chair and frown at her. “Why do people always ask me that? It’s like you all think that I’m plotting murder.”
“If you are, please tell me it’s that nosey Mrs. Stephenson. She is always in my business,” she says, shooting a nasty look at the window.
“Why do you have such a hatred of Marge? She’s the sweetest woman.”
“The fact that you call her by her first name is scary. Why do you hang out with them?”
Them being the LOLs—Little Old Ladies—of Juniper Springs. I have no idea why all the millennials seem to hate them. Yes, they are busybodies, but they are hilarious. Oh, and I guess how they report everyone’s movements on the Juniper Springs Express app might have something to do with it. I say that twenty years from now, Everly will be just like them. Well, I wouldn’t say it out loud because she would probably punch me.
“They’re fun. Also, they have the best cocktails in this town. Don’t tell your brother because he might break me in half.”
“He just doesn’t like people who talk a lot.”
“He’s a bartender.” I blink at her. Her older brother owns one of only two bars in the small town of Juniper Springs.
She shrugs. “I didn’t say he was smart.”
“I have a feeling that it isn’t me talking, but me talking to Becca.”
Becca Gold is Everly’s best friend and business partner. I count her as one of my closest friends, and there is absolutely nothing romantic between us. We tried to kiss. We were both grossed out by it. Either way, Everly’s brother Wyatt has a crush on her, whether either of them has come to terms with it or not.
“I feel like having some barbeque today,” Everly says. “Want to go to the Mason Jar?”
I nod because who the fuck wouldn’t want the award-winning barbeque her other brother cooks up? “I just have to get this one dressed for an outing.”
Everly is staring at me as if I’ve lost my mind.
“No. I have a new dress for her.”
Then I pop up again and head to her bedroom. Everly is hard on my heels. “Really, Carter, she’s fine.”
I snort. Everly is fantastic, but she is not a girly kind of girl. She’s badass, but I think Esme might be a little different. More than likely, she’ll become a lover of pink and ruffles just to drive her mother crazy.
I hand Esme over to her mother to undress her, then grab the new dress. It’s a tiny Wonder Woman dress that I had made for her. Yes, I paid someone a stupid amount of money to make a dress for my six-month-old niece. Don’t judge me. When I love, I love hard, and I love Esme the most.
“Settle down, you animal,” Everly says with a laugh as she secures her daughter with one hand while wiping her with her other hand. For a woman who said she wasn’t sure she wanted to be a mother, Everly has taken to it like one of the gay ducks they have in this town does to water.
And yes, they have gay ducks because they accept any and all orientations. Bert and Ernie are two of my favorite things about this town.
When she’s finally done changing the baby, I hold the little dress up. Then I hold up the little bow that looks like the crown.
Her eyes light up. “Oh my god, that is so damned cute.”
We have her dressed and are out the door within ten minutes—a record for us. I keep saying I want to take Esme home for a night, but I have a feeling she would kick my ass. Everly handles everything so quickly.
Everly drives us through town, and it only takes about ten minutes to get to the restaurant. It takes about that amount of time to get anywhere in town. We step into the restaurant. Cumin, paprika, and smoked meat scents hit me, and my mouth starts to water.
“I didn’t realize I was hungry.”
“I figured,” Everly says. “Oh, hey, there’s Piper.”
The moment she says the name, my heart starts beating so hard I’m sure everyone in the place can hear it above the blaring country music. I glance over at where Everly is pointing, and my breath catches. Piper’s laughing, her eyes are dancing, and she is flushed with happiness. God, she is stunning. She has her hair up, and I can tell she’s wearing a blouse, which means she’s also wearing one of those pencil skirts.
My dick, well, that jerk, decides to twitch. Dammit.
I really don’t want her to see me—or anyone for that matter—sporting a boner while holding my niece.
Then I hear my name, and I see the LOLs are holding a meeting, or maybe just drinking. The truth is that it’s pretty much the same thing with those broads. And that’s why I love them.
“I’m going to talk to the LOLs,” I say. I expect her to follow, but she stands there, looking obstinate. In fact, Everly crosses her arms over her chest.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
Dammit. There’s a good chance that if I talk about this with her, two things could happen. One, I will get more aroused because that’s what happens around Piper. Or I show my hand, and Everly figures everything out. Which I don’t need. Not now. I need to clear my head and to do that, I will chat with old ladies.
“I’m just going to talk to Peggy about some movie night they want to have.”
That much is true. The ladies want to have a Bridgerton binge-fest, AGAIN, and I am always down for Shonda Rhimes. That woman can do no wrong in my mind. “You can come with me.”
“No thanks. I want to chat with Avery. I’ve been too nervous to check out the conference.”
That’s when I realize that Avery is actually sitting with Piper. She handled all of my big brother’s social media over the last few months. And that tells you something because Avery is not the kind of woman who doesn’t make an impression. She’s a lot like me, loud and funny, and she’s sitting with Piper. Yep, didn’t see her at all because the only thing I can remember is Piper laughing.
“And we are sitting there and eating.”
“What if they don’t want you there?”
“They can suck it.”
And with that, she turns and makes her way through the crowded restaurant. I don’t look at Piper again before turning to go to the LOL table.
“Carter, what are you doing here?”
“In town because Quinn’s in New York.”
“Oh, watching over Everly.”
“As if,” I say, rolling my eyes. “This is more for my brother than it’s for her.”
They are all nodding. Most of them have known Everly her entire life. She has a bit of a reputation.
“That is the cutest outfit on the baby. I bet you got that for her.”
I smile and fall into an easy conversation, flirting with the older women. It’s easier than dealing with the one woman who has occupied my head for the last six months.
End of Excerpt
Feb 17, 2022
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The story line will grab your attention right at the beginning and take you on an emotional journey as they work their way toward a second chance.
Crazy Love takes emotions on a magical carpet ride of humor, heart and healing that makes a haunting impression.
Ms Schroeder does it again, by combining humour with heartfelt emotion.
This romance comedy was so great and funny, I loved every moment of it!
They have a connection full of chemistry and heat, love and longing, patience and understanding.
All of Melissa's Series
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