“Funny, clever, and oh so steamy.” Genevieve Jack, USA Today best-selling author of the Treasure of Paragon series
Faith Fox grew up rich, but she burned that bridge—and her trust fund along with it—after her parents drove away the only boy she ever loved.
Leo Morales grew up poor, and although he carved out a fulfilling career for himself, he never forgot the humiliation he endured at the hands of Faith Fox’s family.
Then Leo’s offered a job in his hometown, and he finds himself in an unexpected position: he’s now the one with the money Faith needs to keep her non-profit afloat.
The pair reluctantly agree to work together, but their unresolved issues (and their unquenchable lust) keep boiling over—and that’s before they get stuck in the woods with only one tent, where they discover that second chances can be twice as hot.
“Sara Whitney keeps writing my best friends into these stories and is quickly becoming an auto-buy author for me.” Colleen Moore, Amazon reviewer
The award-winning Cinnamon Roll Alphas series concludes with Tempting Fate, featuring the playful banter, steamy encounters, and sunny outlook that Sara Whitney’s readers have come to love.
“Sweet, spicy, emotional, and hilarious.” Sarah, Book Obsession Confessions
Faith Fox pushed open the restroom door and let the tap tap tap of her shoes carry her to the sink. She braced her hands on the marble countertop and peered in the mirror.
“Fancy meeting you here,” she murmured. Her reflection didn’t look amused.
Only twenty minutes of conversation with her parents and Faith felt flushed and ruffled, but she didn’t dare splash water on her cheeks for fear she’d disturb her carefully applied makeup.
Instead, she tugged her jacket down, hoping it covered the top of her skirt. She’d scavenged her only tweed suit from the back of the closet, and it was snugger than the last time she’d been forced into dinner with her family. She prayed the button on her waistband would hold.
Faith ran her hands over the severe bun that had tamed her hair, checking again that the streaks of electric blue were hidden thanks to her strategic straightening, twisting, and pinning. Just knowing the color was there made her brave, so there was no need to cause conniption fits among the gentlepeople dining at the country club tonight.
Pressing the backs of her fingers to her cheeks, she tried to smile reassuringly at her reflection. “You got this. You’ll eat some salad and drop one tiny question and say good night. It’s ninety more minutes in hell, tops.”
Having failed to pacify her reflection, Faith slunk out of the ladies’ room, limping a bit courtesy of the blister forming on her pinky toe. Damn high heels. She paused in the lobby to take the weight off her aching foot, studying the restaurant’s forest-green walls and gilt-framed hunting scenes as she did.
Faith hated gilt frames. And hunting scenes. And forest green.
Desperate for an excuse not to return to her table and the unthinkable task she had to undertake, she glanced to her left where the mannequin-faced hostess was having a tense conversation with a customer who was obviously spoiling for a fight.
The man wore dark pants and a wrinkled button-down shirt, and he couldn’t have looked more out of place at the Beaucoeur Country Club restaurant. Beyond his rumpled appearance, there was something almost dangerous about the barely leashed stillness of his tall frame. He was coiled and ready to spring. Faith drifted closer, observing the clenching and unclenching of his fist where it pressed against his leg.
“And there’s no way you can bend the rules?” he growled.
“I’m sorry, sir. No exceptions,” said the cool blond hostess, ending their argument by holding up a blue blazer.
The man snarled and turned his back on the hostess, giving Faith her first glimpse of his face. At first all she saw were wild black curls and an untamed beard.
Then she saw his eyes.
“Leo?” she choked out. Those eyes snapped up to hers, and just like that, the years fell away and her shock shifted to a wild bolt of joy. It was Leo Morales. Her Leo. Bigger now, broader than he’d been. But it was Leo.
His scowl dissolved, and the corners of his lips curved upward as he stepped toward her. She started moving too, until they were standing in front of each other.
“Hi.” She was suddenly breathless.
“Faith.” He rasped out her name and his head was tilting down, and she was lifting her chin and waiting for the press of his lips on her mouth like it was the most natural thing in the world. Like it hadn’t been twelve years. Like he hadn’t broken her heart the last time she’d seen him. Or maybe she’d broken his; she’d never been sure.
“Ahem.” The hostess cleared her throat and waved the blazer, shattering the strange moment.
The synapses in Faith’s brain kicked back into gear, and she blurted out, “What are you doing here?”
He straightened abruptly, the warmth draining from his eyes. “Amazing who they’ll let in these days, isn’t it?”
She pulled back in dismay. “No, I didn’t mean it like—”
“Of course you didn’t.” Leo cocked his head, his narrowed, glittering eyes undercutting the casual gesture. “I’m sure foxy little Faith meets guys like me for dinner here all the time.”
Faith sucked in a breath but wasn’t able to hide the tremor that ran through her body. The glow of seeing him again receded under the weight of the disdain rolling off him. How was he still so angry?
Leo glanced to the right and waved at two older men in suits who’d just entered the restaurant. “Great catching up with you, duchess. Let’s get together soon, maybe talk tennis? Share stock tips?”
Turning on his heel, he snatched the garment from the hostess, shrugged it on in one smooth movement, and turned to greet the rest of his party.
Faith stood frozen, alarmed to feel tears dancing along the underside of her lashes. The hostess caught her eye and raised a perfectly arched brow in curiosity. She sneered back and turned her spine into a steel girder, willing her racing heart to stop slamming against her sternum. Leo was still angry with her? Fine. That road ran both ways. It might have faded over the years, but she still carried that hurt with her too. Also guilt, but dwelling on that wasn’t going to help anything right now. Nothing to be done but get through dinner, head home, and run a bath so hot it would scald this whole night from her memory.
Still, what a colossal joke, Leo crossing her path today of all days.
Cursing under her breath, she minced across the dining room in her too-tight suit, wondering if his eyes were tracking her progress under the soft restaurant lights. She hoped not for several reasons—not the least of which was what a catastrophe a meeting between Leo and her parents would be. And God, her toes throbbed.
“Good, you’re back.” Her father didn’t even wait for her to slide into her seat and return her napkin to her lap before slicing into the thick slab of prime rib that had been delivered while she was away from the table.
Faith and her mother exchanged a rare moment of mother/daughter unity and rolled their eyes together over the unabashed display of carnivorism.
Faith picked up her fork, speared a bite of salmon, and yanked the Band-Aid off. “Mom, Dad, can I ask you a favor?”
Her parents’ eyes flew to her in unison, and now she really was flushed. Damn Leo for rattling her so much that she’d just vomited out the question that she was there to ask. So much for trying to finesse it.
No. No more thinking about Leo. She just had to get through this humiliating parental episode.
“I beg your pardon?” Her father’s round face hung slack as he stared at her.
Faith bit her lip before barreling ahead, offering her parents the brightest smile and perkiest voice she could manage. After all, this was why she’d agreed to dinner, dressed in a suit, and troweled on the makeup. She wasn’t going to let anything knock her off her game. “I’m just having some housing difficulties and need a temporary place to live.”
Her mother’s preternaturally smooth forehead didn’t so much as crease as the corners of her mouth turned down. “Someplace temporary? Why on earth?”
“Typical renter problems!” Faith’s forced cheer was making all her pronouncements sound far too chipper, but the tone alone wasn’t enough of an answer for the duo raising their eyebrows at her over their wineglasses. Her nerves started to leak through, causing her to burble more of the story than she’d intended. “My landlord sold the house, and the new owner decided at the last minute that he wants to do major renovations once my lease is up, which is next month. That doesn’t leave me with much time to find a new rental, and I’m kind of limited in my options.”
“I’m not understanding where the favor comes in.” Franklin Fox blinked at her behind his rimless glasses, processing the shock at his independent daughter making any kind of request.
You and me both, pal. Faith was equally surprised that she was even considering this. Still, what choice did she have?
“It turns out I don’t have quite enough for first and last month’s rent at the places I walked through.” She kept her chin up and her voice strong. “You know I haven’t asked you for anything since high school graduation, so I was thinking—”
Her father scoffed and sliced off another bite of prime rib. “What, that job of yours doesn’t keep you afloat?”
It took every ounce of her willpower not to shrink into the high-backed wooden chair at the disdain in his voice. “Ah. Well.”
That halted the progress of her father’s fork entirely, and he turned to her mother. “I’m sure we’re misunderstanding our daughter, Betsy. Because it sounds like she’s saying that she’s wasting her time at some do-gooder outfit that doesn’t even pay her properly.”
Franklin’s voice rose at the end of the sentence, and Betsy cast her eyes around her as if to gauge which of their friends might have overhead his outburst. Faith’s irritation overrode her nerves, and even though it was the absolute last thing she should do, she opened her mouth to defend her job.
“Beaucoeur BUILD isn’t some…” But she bit back that dead-end argument. It hadn’t worked once in the past seven years. Instead, she exhaled on a count of five. Kind. Calm. Collected. Her therapist’s suggested mantra to get herself through difficult conversations was getting a workout tonight. “I’m in charge. I pay myself. And if I needed to reinvest some of my salary to keep it running—”
“Ridiculous,” her father snapped. “I want to know where in your college studies you learned that you give away your work for free.”
Faith laced her fingers together tightly in her lap to hide her frustration. She’d launched the tutoring center to help the underserved students in the Beaucoeur public schools rather than joining the family business as her father had always expected. And although her nonprofit had helped countless kids succeed in grade school and high school and even get into college, arguing the point with her father yet again wouldn’t win this argument.
“I just need some help while I wait on some funding to come in,” she muttered, already regretting everything. Maybe she could stay with Thea for a bit.
But by now her mother had recovered from her initial surprise, and her aquiline nose practically twitched in excitement. “How long a wait?”
Trust Mom to figure it out first. Her dad might think he was head of the household, but Betsy always had been faster at the uptake.
“Not long,” she muttered, not fighting the sag this time and letting defeat wash over her as the weight of her imploding life pressed down on her chest. “I’m applying for a grant that’ll carry me through the next two years.”
“Mmm.” Her father’s skeptical tone rankled.
Feeling like the high schooler she’d been the last time she asked her parents for anything, she sighed. “I just… Please, you guys. I’ve already had to lay off two people, and I can’t afford to lose any more. I need one tiny little favor.”
Sure. It might be tiny to Franklin and Betsy, but to Faith, it was the difference between success and watching her dreams get crushed in a trash compactor.
“We’re not reinstating your trust fund. Absolutely not.” Franklin practically bellowed his pronouncement, then viciously sawed a hunk off his meat. “You made your choices, and you’ll live with them.”
“I don’t want that!” She might have regretted the loss of the money over the years, but she’d rather dismantle BUILD brick by brick than tell her parents that. She loathed what she was about to do, but she was out of choices. “I was wondering about the Fox Industries’ corporate apartments. Could I stay in an empty one for a few weeks? Two months, tops.”
Neither parent said a thing, so Faith kept going, the words running together in her haste to sell this plan. “I’ll keep it clean. I’ll… I’ll clean any of the others that are vacant as well. Dust. Water the plants. Whatever you need.”
Franklin and Betsy exchanged glances, after which her mother rested her slim hand on her father’s wrist. At the gesture, Faith felt the first spark of hope. Her dad was the stubborn one, but her mom was the maker of plans and manipulator of moods.
Betsy gave Franklin a small nod and then turned to her. “No, Faithy.”
“What?” Faith had to have misheard her. Even Franklin looked surprised at her mother’s firm tone.
“I said no to the corporate apartment. Those are for Fox Industries employees, and you are not, as you know.”
The ambient restaurant noises faded to the background as Faith’s vision turned hazy. She’d swallowed her pride and come crawling to her parents after all these years, and now they were saying no to this thing that would cost them nothing?
“Unbelievable!” She shot to her feet and threw down her napkin. “You’re seriously saying no to this one little thing because I didn’t join the family insurance juggernaut?”
“Sit down,” Betsy singsonged through a tight smile. “People are staring.”
Faith didn’t have to glance around to know that was true. A scene at the country club would be conversation for the rest of the year.
“What we will do,” her mother continued in an aggressively calm voice, “is let you move back home.”
“Move home,” she repeated faintly. “With you.”
Her mother lifted a thick cloth napkin to her lips and give her flawless nude lipstick a gentle pat. “It’s the perfect solution.”
Faith collapsed into her seat like a puppet with cut strings while Franklin absorbed the news immediately.
“What an excellent idea! So that’s settled.” He beamed at his wife and then tucked back into the slab of meat on his plate.
Faith’s brain churned as Betsy turned her attention to her own meal.
“But I…” She struggled to come up with an objection to this lifeline. A lifeline that might end up strangling her, sure, but a lifeline nevertheless.
“You can move in anytime and stay as long as you like.” Her mother raised her wineglass in a salute. “We haven’t changed a thing in your bedroom.”
Her bedroom. That nightmare of princess pink, waiting to swaddle her in its eyelets and ruffles and never let her go.
Ignoring every rule of dining etiquette, Faith leaned her elbows on the table and dropped her head into her hands. She was genuinely screwed in the housing department unless she wanted to move into that studio with the creepy super who’d been a little too excited about having his own key to her place. At least she had the grant. Her program was likely the kind of community-development project they were looking for, and it was the only thing keeping her moving forward these days. The grant would save BUILD.
Still, to move in with her parents at twenty-nine, when she’d kept them at a frostily polite distance for the past decade? Her stomach lurched at the humiliation, but what choice did she have?
Her father barked out, “Oh, for God’s sake, Faith, it won’t be forever. And we’ll be traveling quite a bit for the next few months, so that’s even less time that you’ll have to endure us.”
His brusque voice indicated he considered this a done deal, and to Faith’s horror, she realized he was probably right. What other choice did she have? Her bank account was empty, the school year was imminent, and her new landlord was practically putting drop cloths down around her furniture.
Faith gave a strangled scream the likes of which had likely never graced the walls of this stately dining establishment, then pulled herself together just as quickly. “Thank you so much. I’ll be out of your hair as soon as BUILD is secure again.” She stabbed a lettuce leaf, grumbling, “Just don’t expect me to join you for family dinners.”
“Certainly not. I’m not Emily Gilmore,” Betsy agreed. At Faith’s astounded expression, she raised one thin blond eyebrow. “What, you think I haven’t seen Gilmore Girls? Oh, Faith, we have so much to catch up on!”
Her mother raised her wineglass in a salute, clearly delighted at the thought of having Faith back under her thumb, and Faith’s anemic chuckle in reply was interrupted by the tiny pop of the button on her skirt, choosing that moment to exit the conversation by exploding off the waistband.