Maisie Carter has always been a free spirit. An artist by nature, she has no idea what she’s doing as co-owner of Three Chicks Brewery. But she’s determined to prove to her older sisters that she can be an asset to their grandfather’s beer legacy. The best way to do that? Make the rounds at Colorado’s craft brewery festivals and turn Foxy Diva, their top beer, into an award winner. Unfortunately, after more than one “beer mishap,” it becomes clear that she’s going to need some help.
Hayes Taylor knows he has a chip on his shoulder, but he has no interest in working through his traumatic past. He just wants to work on his horse farm, alone. The last thing he needs in his life is a woman, especially his dead wife’s best friend, the sweet-as-pie Maisie Carter. But she’s always brought out his protective instincts, and he can hardly say ‘no’ when she asks for his help…
As the two embark on the festival tour, beer filled days turn into lust filled nights, and neither Maisie nor Hayes can deny their growing attraction. But Hayes knows love leads to heartbreak…. Can Maisie show him that their love is worth the risk?
“You’re fired.”Maisie balked at Clara, trying to ignore the dinging alarm coming from the hospital room across the hallway. She’d been in the hospital for six terribly long hours now. After she’d been knocked out, and an orthopedic surgeon realigned the fracture fragments, they’d given her a horribly ugly splint. While that all sucked, the worst part was that she had hurt her dominant hand. No painting. No drawing. No creating. For…weeks? That was bad. But this? “You can’t fire me,” she implored.
“You and Amelia gave me full control of running the business, so I obviously can,” Clara said, placing her hands on her hips. “Even before your accident, I seriously doubted you could do this. Now? Maisie, let’s be real here, you can’t handle the festivals.”
Defeat sank in, and even Maisie doubted herself, but yet, she still asked, “Who says I can’t?”
Clara waved at the saline bag attached to Maisie’s hand and then pointed at Maisie’s broken finger. “I’d say today is evidence enough this isn’t working out.” Her sister’s expression softened, and she took Maisie’s uninjured hand and squeezed tight. “I know you wanted to do something more for the brewery than the logos and signage, and you tried. We’re proud of you.”
Amelia nodded and gave a soft smile. “So proud.”
Clara added, “But you’ve been struggling at this before you even hit the ground running. We’ll just have to find you something else to do within the company.”
But there wasn’t anything else for Maisie to do, and they all knew it. Clara was the brains of the operation. Amelia was creator of the beer. Even, Penelope, their cousin, had taken over the brewery tours since Maisie, well…sucked at that too. Maisie was the painter, the dreamer, the woman trying desperately to fit into the box that she didn’t fit in. “Okay, I know having the keg fall on my hand wasn’t my finest moment,” she hedged, “but I can fix this.”
Clara’s brows rose. “How?”
“I’ll figure that out soon,” Maisie said with a smile.
Clara frowned. “That sugary sweet smile has gotten you many, many chances, but I’m afraid you’re out of them.”
No! No. This couldn’t happen. Clara and Amelia had been fulfilling their end of their bargain. Maisie may have broken her finger, but she was determined to do the same. To help fulfill Pops’s final wish. “Just give me one more try,” she pleaded. “Please.”
Obviously taking pity on Maisie, Amelia cut in, nudging Clara’s arm. “It’s not going to hurt anyone to give her one more chance.”
A muscle near Clara’s eye twitched. Like, maybe a few of those gray hairs she dyed lately were because of Maisie. She finally huffed, then said to Maisie, “I don’t even pretend to know how you’ll pull this off, but fine, one more chance. That’s it, though, Maisie. Our reputation is riding on these festivals.”
“Got it,” Maisie said with a firm nod.
Clara loosed another breath and stepped closer to the bed to drop a kiss on Maisie’s forehead. “I’m sorry about your finger.”
Clara wasn’t all tough. She had an incredibly soft heart. It was just that her heart had thorns around it, ready to hurt, if need be. Maisie couldn’t blame her. Clara had Mason to think of, and being a single mom was a big weight. The brewery had to succeed.
“Thanks,” Maisie said, studying her finger in the splint. “It actually doesn’t even hurt anymore.” She smiled at her sisters. “But maybe that’s the morphine talking.”
Amelia chuckled, her eyes twinkling. “Probably, but since you are feeling better, how about I go see about getting you out of here?”
“Lord, yes, please.” Maisie had been stuffed into a semi-private room, the blue curtain separating her and the next bed. She didn’t want to be there when that next person came in.
Clara grabbed her purse off the seat. “I need to pick up Mason from the sitter. She’s probably wondering where I am.” When Clara reached the curtain, she turned back. “You’re really okay?”
Maisie nodded. “The only thing hurting right now is my ego.”
Clara’s brow wrinkled, obviously disbelieving. “Okay, call me if you need me. I’ll stop off at the pharmacy and pick up your painkiller prescription”
Maisie often felt bad for Clara. The burden of responsibility always rested on her shoulders. Maisie couldn’t remember the last time Clara ever did anything for herself. “Thanks. Love you.” She forced a smile, giving her sisters a quick wave before they shut the curtain closed behind them.
The moment they were gone, tears pricked Maisie’s eyelids. One more chance, and then what? Before she broke her finger, she had doubts she could pull off the beer festivals without epically screwing up. Now? Even she knew the finish line was near impossible to reach. She couldn’t even move a damn keg without it falling on her.
This was beginning to feel like a nightmare she couldn’t wake up from. Being a disappointment to her sisters was normal. She’d always been Maisie, the baby who always got caught sneaking out and never followed the rules. But disappointing her grandfather, not seeing his final wish for the girls he’d raised come true, was harder to stomach. She slowly breathed through the pain, knowing one thing for certain—she could not fail.
Voices stirred next to her as nurses rolled a bed in. A moment later, a high feminine voice snapped, “Sir, you need to stay in your bed.”
“I’m fine. If you’d just let me go, I’d show you.”
There was a muffled creak as the person adjusted in the bed before the nurse practically growled, “I’m going to sedate you if you don’t stay put.”
Maisie fought her laughter at that low baritone voice. Only one man would cause someone so much grief. She slid off the bed, grabbed the curtain, and whisked it open. First, she met the nurse’s scowl. Then she met Hayes’s whiskey-colored eyes. He practically filled the hospital bed with six-foot-two feet of pure, hardworking muscle. And just the sight of him warmed Maisie’s belly.
That was a problem lately. Hayes had always been Laurel’s guy. Then Hayes had become a friend. But over the last few months, something had shifted between them, and Maisie still couldn’t figure out why her heart suddenly wanted him. But there was no denying the draw there, the want, the need. She’d tried to fight her growing attraction, feeling horribly guilty, but there was no point. Her heart demanded Hayes. While she knew Laurel would want them to be happy, Hayes hadn’t acted on the attraction, and neither had Maisie. Yet. To keep things light, she joked, “Aw, you felt so bad I was in here, you wanted to join me.”
Hayes’s mouth twitched, his eyes warming when they met hers. “Didn’t want you feeling left out,” he said.
A snort came from the doorway. Maisie glanced up, catching Beckett’s bemused expression. “I told him to wear armor. He didn’t listen.”
Maisie smiled at Beckett, but her smile fell when she glanced at Hayes. “What happened?”
Hayes looked more than annoyed, his eye twitching. “After your sisters brought you here, I went back to the farm. I had little a disagreement with a horse.”
“No,” the nurse said. “He fell off a horse, and that’s why he needs to stay in this bed.”
Maisie gave Hayes a totally fake chastising look. “You’re not being a terrible patient, are you?”
Hayes set his jaw. “I don’t want to be a patient at all.”
The nurse frowned at him. “You might have a concussion. The doctor wants you to stay overnight, just to be safe.”
“Yeah, that’s not happening.” Hayes sat up, his large frame filling up the small space. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, sand falling off his cowboy boots.
Maisie took in the dirt covering his worn blue jeans and black T-shirt, realizing he most definitely did have a fall.
When he went to stand, she grabbed him by the arm with her uninjured hand, desperately aware of the muscles stretching and flexing beneath her fingers. “Don’t be stupid.” She pressed her hand to his chest and he willingly let her push him back on the bed. When the warmth of his eyes returned to hers, time stopped. She became instantly lost, trapped by the intensity she saw on his face. He slowly wrapped his fingers around her wrist, and maybe because it was the anniversary of Laurel’s death, or something else altogether, but she remembered the last time his fingers wrapped around her wrist.
“Maisie. Go home.”
Maisie stood in the dark bedroom in the empty house. She had no idea how bad Hayes’s depression had gotten, when she’d been so deep in her own. Then Beckett called and begged her to help. Now, here, with Hayes, she couldn’t believe her eyes, and yet, she understood, having been so lost herself.
The beautiful, expensive property that Hayes bought when he moved back to River Rock had been gorgeous when she’d come for the spreading of Laurel’s ashes on the weeping willow hanging over the creek. Now, without him mowing the lawn or tending to the property, everything was overgrown. The three-bedroom house had no furniture. Hayes slept on a camping mat on the floor, the curtains on the windows were drawn. The darkness of the place was near stifling.
She’d been right where he was. Until her sisters’ love brought her back to life.
Determined to get Hayes there too, she moved to the curtains and whisked them open, letting the sunlight spill inside. She turned back, finding Hayes lying curled on his side, looking thin, his hair long, his beard far past scruffy. “You’re getting up,” she told him. “We’re going outside.”
When he didn’t move, she dropped to her knees next to him. He rolled onto his back and she placed her hand on his chest. “Laurel would be devastated if she saw you like this. You’re going to get up and face each day, with me here, until we both have some kind of life worth living.”
Tears welled in his eyes. His fingers wrapped around her wrist tight. “I’ve got nothing left.”
“That’s not true,” she said, hearing the raw emotion in her voice. “You’ve got me.” She grabbed the blanket and yanked it off, paying no attention to the fact that he was naked. She tossed him the jeans that rested in a heap on the floor next to him. “Get dressed. I’m making you breakfast.”
Maisie blinked away the memory of the day Hayes had become her friend, instead of just Laurel’s husband. They’d come through dark times together, and they had history together. So much history. Some good. Some bad. Some unimaginably painful. But this new thing that had sprung out of nowhere over the last few months made her cheeks hot, and she averted his gaze. What was once friendly between them had become taut with tension that seemed to get tighter every day. This man staring at her wasn’t broken anymore. Hunger lived in his eyes. “You need to stay here,” she told him. “Let them look you over.”
“I’m fine,” he said, his voice lower than before.
Not wanting to, but knowing she had to, she slowly took her hand off his chest, watching her fingers drag against the hard muscles, feeling like touching him wasn’t all that friendly anymore. “I’ve been here all day,” she pointed out. “You can endure getting looked over.”
He held her stare. “Fine, I’ll get looked over. But there”—he glared at the nurse—“is no way in hell I’m staying the night.”
The nurse turned away, but even Maisie saw her roll her eyes as she left the room.
Maisie nudged Hayes’s shoulder. “Be nice. You’re really annoying her.”
Hayes snorted, lying his head back against the pillow, staring up at the ceiling, that muscle in his jaw twitching again. “Believe me, the feeling is mutual.”
Stacey lives with her husband and two children in southwestern Ontario—in a city that’s just as charming as any of the small towns she creates. Most days, you’ll find her enjoying the outdoors with her family or venturing into the forest with her horse, Priya. Stacey’s just as happy curled up indoors, where she writes surrounded by her lazy dogs. She believes that sexy books about hot cowboys or alpha heroes can fix any bad day. But wine and chocolate help too.