Authors: Kat Brookes
Seeking a fresh start, single mom Audra Marshall uproots her family to a home she's purchased sight unseen. But she hadn't counted on the house needing major repairs. Enter handsome neighbor Carter Cooper. Fixing houses is Carter's job, but it turns into more than business when Audra allows him to help her rebuild her home. Carter's soon falling for the sweet mom and her delightful kids. But Carter's always been hesitant of opening his heart to love. As the cautious duo work together to transform her home, will they also find a love to last a lifetime?
“You know what they say about the way to a man's heart.”
She stiffened visibly, and Carter wanted to rope the words he'd just spoken and yank them back into his mouth.
“I should get going,” she said, pulling her van keys from the purse slung over her shoulder.
“Audra,” he said apologetically, knowing she wasn't looking to be part of any man's heart. She'd made that pretty clear. Friendship was as far as anything could ever go between them. But he found himself wanting more.
He chose his next words carefully.
“I know what you've gone through and understand your need to be guarded. But the truth is, I'd like to move beyond a working relationship where you're concerned.”
“Carter,” she said in a panicked whisper, “please don't.”
“Friendship, Audra,” he said determinedly. “That's all I'm asking for. Like you, I'm not looking for anything more right now,” he added, hoping it would ease her worry. It wasn't a lie. He knew that there would be no “right now” with her.
But tomorrow, or the day afterâ¦ Well, that was another story.
is an award-winning author and past Romance Writers of America Golden HeartÂ® Award finalist. She is married to her childhood sweetheart and has been blessed with two beautiful daughters. She loves writing stories that can both make you smile and touch your heart. Kat is represented by Michelle Grajkowski with 3 Seas Literary Agency. Read more about Kat and her upcoming releases at
. Email her at
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Books by Kat Brookes
Her Texas Hero
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HER TEXAS HERO
For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
To my husband, whom I adore. You are my heart.
Thank you for your never-ending love and
support, and for showing me that real heroes
can be found beyond the pages of fiction.
arter Cooper grabbed for the ringing cell phone on the truck seat beside him. A quick glance at the screen listed Nathan Cooper as the caller
Swiping his thumb over the answer button, he brought the phone to his ear.
“Missing me already, big brother?”
Nathan snorted. “Hardly. But I am missing the keys to my truck. You got any idea where they might have gotten to?”
A smile quirked at the corners of Carter's mouth. “Can you describe them to me? Might help jog my memory some.”
“Carter,” Nathan growled impatiently.
“What's wrong, Nate? You can dish it out, but you can't take it?” His brother and business partner in Cooper Construction had thought it funny to line the back of Carter's safety goggles with black shoe polish. Carter glanced up in the rearview mirror where, beneath the mirrored lenses of his sunglasses, the remainder of what he hadn't been able to scrub off at the job site remained.
“It was Logan's idea,” his brother grumbled.
“And you executed it.” Their younger brother, Logan, was the real prankster of the family, but he was good at getting others to join in. Or in this instance, pull off the prank for him. The fact that his little brother had gotten Nathan to play along was worth the thick black smudging he was sporting around his eyes. After losing their parents, along with his older brother's wife, in the tornado that had ripped through their tiny town of Braxton more than a year ago, Nathan seemed to have lost himself, as well. He knew the only thing that kept his big brother from giving up on life, at least as far as Carter was concerned, was Nathan's beautiful little daughter, Katie. Or as Carter was fond of calling his six-year-old nieceâKatydid.
“All right, guilty as charged,” his brother conceded. “Now where are my truck keys?”
“You know that bucket of wall primer...?” Carter teased as he turned off the main road, intending to take a shortcut into town, where he would swing by the hardware store and pick up something to take the remaining shoe polish off his face.
His brother groaned. “Tell me you didn't.”
“I didn't,” Carter said with a chuckle. “They're...” His words trailed off as his attention was drawn to movement outside the open driver's side window. Just past the wildly overgrown hedgerow that lined the inside of the faded white property fence, a woman lay facedown atop the sagging porch roof of the old abandoned Harris house. At least, the upper half of her did. The rest of her dangled down over the roof's edge.
Slowing his truck, he glanced back at the scene he'd just driven by. Crime was virtually nonexistent in Braxton, Texas. And the only thing anyone would find in that old place would be cobwebs and dust balls, so he immediately wrote off the possibility of a robbery. So what was that woman doing up on the old farmhouse's porch roof?
That last thought had barely surfaced when a high-pitched cry cut through the warm spring air. “Help!”
“Carter?” his brother prompted, his impatience growing.
“In the toolbox,” he blurted out. “Gotta go.” He disconnected the call, then stepped on the brake. Throwing his truck into Reverse, he backed up to the drive that led to the dilapidated old farmhouse that no one had lived in for a good ten years or more.
Sure enough, the woman dangled from the edge of the aging farmhouse's sagging porch roof. She was definitely in trouble. Carter turned his truck into the dirt-and-gravel drive and drove at breakneck speed up to the house, sending a billowing cloud of dust up into the air behind him.
He was out of the truck in no time, racing toward the wraparound porch where the wooden ladder the woman had been using to climb onto the roof had kicked away and was now resting haphazardly against the thick, sprawling branch of a honey mesquite.
The woman was fortunate, he thought with a concerned frown. If the tree hadn't taken root so close to the old farmhouse... Well, he wasn't even going to think about what the outcome might have been. As it was, one flip-flop-covered foot rested at an awkward angle against the top rung of the rickety old ladder. The woman's other foot, currently shoeless, struggled to find purchase below her with no success.
“Hold on!” he called out to her. And then he did something he hadn't done since his daddy and poor little Katie had been taken to the hospital after the tornado. He prayed.
Lord, please let me reach this woman in time.
Years of working construction, much of that time spent atop ladders, told him that her legs wouldn't be able to hold out for long before cramping would set in.
“Mommy!” a tiny voice whimpered.
Carter's gaze shot up to the second-story window just beyond the woman, noticing for the first time the two little faces peeking out, eyes wide with worry.
“Mommy's fine, sweetie,” she replied, her words strained. “I've got a hold on the rope loop Mason made for me.”
His gaze shifted to the length of what looked to be a half-inch manila rope that spilled out over the open windowsill and ran down the weathered asphalt shingles. At the end of the rope was a large loop, which the woman held in a determinedly white-knuckled grasp.
He stepped up to the fallen ladder, just beneath her dangling form. “Are you injured?”
“No,” she called down. “But I seem to have lost my other flip-flop.”
She could have lost a lot more than that, he thought, his frown deepening. “It's right here on the ground,” he told her as he eyed the cotton-candy-pink flip-flop lying on the grass in front of a flowering Texas sage shrub. “What are you doing up there anyway?” he called up to her with a frown.
“Retrieving a Frisbee.”
His dark brow shot up.
The woman had risked her neck for a Frisbee? “How about we rescue you instead?”
“I... I'm okay with that.”
His mouth quirked, despite the seriousness of the situation. “I'm gonna reposition this ladder, but I want you to keep your foot braced against it while I do. Then I'm gonna hold the ladder in place so you can climb down.”
“Sounds like a plan,” she said unevenly.
He couldn't see her face from where he stood, but he didn't have to see it to know she was more shaken than she was letting on. “Okay, I'm gonna start lifting the ladder back toward the roof.” He raised it slow enough to allow the woman to maintain her foothold, prepared to catch her if her foot slipped and she fell. “Okay, work your other foot over to the ladder,” he told her the moment he had the ladder firmly back in place.
Ever so tentatively, her bare foot felt its way to the top rung. Her long ponytail swung ever so slightly behind her, the afternoon sun bringing out the glints of gold in the honey-brown strands.
“That's it, darlin',” he said, his grip firm on the ladder.
Her legs trembled beneath her, making the ladder vibrate. The shudder was subtle, but it told him that her strength was nearly spent. “Steady...” he said, wishing he could go up to get her. But the ladder was old and too unsteady to risk it. No, he had to make this work. In doing so, he offered up another silent prayer for the Lord to deliver her safely to the ground below.
“Now work your way down,” he coaxed calmly.
She started to step down and then stopped. “I can't. The rope isn't long enough.”
He glanced up toward the window. “What's that rope secured to anyway?”
“An old iron bed,” she replied shakily. “At least, the frame. There's no mattress. It's the only thing in the room.”
“If that bed frame's in the same shape as that roof you're lying on and this ladder I'm holding on to, it's best we don't have you holding on to that rope much longer. You're gonna have to let go of it so you can grab on to the ladder.”
“What if I fall?” she said, sounding on the verge of tears. “I can't fall. My children need me. I'm all they have.”
He thought of the two frightened faces he saw in the window above. Her children were counting on him to get their momma down safely. A feeling like he'd never known came over him and he knew that God had turned him down her road, one he rarely ever traveled on, for a reason.
“I'm not gonna let you fall,” he assured her.
“And if I do?” she demanded with a muffled sob.
“I'll catch you,” he answered without hesitation. “Either way, you're safe with me.”
* * *
You're safe with me.
Audra Marshall replayed those words over and over in her mind as she moved down the old ladder. They were the same words she'd heard before from the man who'd promised to love her forever. A man who'd failed to hold to his vows, leaving her to raise their two young children alone.
“Mommy?” her nearly five-year-old daughter called down worriedly. “Are you going to leave us, too?”
“Mommy's not going anywhere,” she quickly assured her little girl, having heard the panic in her voice. Then she felt herself being lifted from the ladder into a pair of strong arms. “I'm...” She'd almost said she was safe now, but considering she was being held in the arms of a man she didn't know, she couldn't bring herself to say those words. She did, however, say a prayer of thanks to God for watching over her. Not that she'd expected the help she'd prayed for, while clinging frantically to the loop of rope her son had tossed down to her, to show up in the form of a Texas cowboy. Hat and all.
“Why don't you kids pull that rope back in through the window and untie it? Then bring it on down with you?” the man hollered up toward the roof's overhang. Then he muttered, “The last thing we need is for one of them to use that rope to climb out onto the roof to see that you're all right.”
“I've raised my children to have more sense than that,” she said stiffly, automatically defensive when it came to even the slightest criticism where her son and daughter were concerned. Her ex-husband had done nothing but that for the past three years.
The man holding her securely in his strong arms paused midstep to look down at her from behind the mirrored shades of his sunglasses, which were shadowed by the brim of his cowboy hat. Then his head tilted ever so slightly upward, and if she had her guess she'd say he'd just rolled his eyes heavenward beneath the concealing lenses of his sunglasses.
“I would hope they do,” he said. “But I did just save their momma from breaking her pretty little neck after she tried to retrieve a plastic disc from a rotted roof using a ladder better used for kindling than climbing on.”
“I didn't know the roof was rotted,” she replied with a frown. “Just a little sunken.” The ladder, however, she had actually hesitated in using. But after a moment's indecision, she'd given in, deciding that it looked strong enough to hold her for the short time it would take for her to grab her son's Frisbee and toss it down. What she hadn't counted on was having it tip out from under her.
“Maybe so,” he said, “but I'm not about to risk your little ones getting hurt because they don't know better, either.”
She looked up at him in stunned surprise. Here was a man who didn't even know her children, yet he was voicing his concern, rather adamantly, about their well-being, when their own father couldn't care less. She couldn't keep the tears from filling her eyes.
“Ma'am,” he said, his deep, baritone voice laced with concern. “Are you hurt?”
She fought back the tears, shaking her head. “No, I... I'm fine. Just a little shaken.” And sore. Every muscle in her body felt like she'd just rolled down a steep hillside. “I appreciate your concern for my children. I'll have a talk with them and make certain they know never to go out onto that roof. Any roof for that matter.”
He nodded. “Glad to hear it. Now let's get you over to that porch swing,” he said as he headed for the crumbling walkway that led to the old farmhouse's deep-set porch.
“I can walk,” she protested without much conviction as she clung to her rescuer's wide shoulders. Despite her stubborn determination to stand on her own two feet, she honestly wasn't sure she could at that moment. She felt like a rag doll without any stuffing.
“Humor me,” he replied, his long strides never slowing until he had her lowered safely onto the porch swing, which, thankfully, appeared to be sturdier than the ladder she had found in the garage.
“Thank you for coming to my rescue, Mr....”
“Cooper,” he said as he took a step back, putting some distance between them. “Carter Cooper.”
“Audra Marshall,” she replied with a tentative smile as she settled back against the swing, her legs trembling. Her right calf ached from having been perched on the ball of her foot atop the ladder rung for so long. She attempted to stretch the cramping limb, pointing her toes downward. Before she could lift her toes upward to complete the motion, the muscle in her calf knotted up painfully, drawing a soft cry from her lips.
Vivid blue eyes studied her. “Cramp?” Carter Cooper asked worriedly.
“Yes,” she gasped as tears once again filled her eyes.
Kneeling in front of her, he lifted her foot, flip-flop and all, in his large hand and then gently pushed her toes upward, effectively stretching the contracting muscle.
“What are you doing?” Her words came out in a pained whisper.
He looked up at her from beneath the brim of his cowboy hat. “Working the cramp out,” he said matter-of-factly. Then his focus returned to the painfully knotted muscle in her leg. Keeping the pressure steady, he held her foot in place for several seconds before easing up on the tension he'd been applying. Then he repeated the motion once more. “Helping?”
“Yes,” she said, pulling her leg free of his grasp. “It seems I'm indebted to you yet again.”
Looking up at her, he said, “I only did what my momma raised me to do.”
“Please thank your mother for me,” she said with a smile. “She raised a very thoughtful son.”