The Wild Caruthers

USA TODAY bestselling author

Heartbreak gives her only one place to turn…

the arms of a forbidden man.

Until now, Crissanne Moss has been off-limits. As his best friend’s significant other, she is Ethan Caruthers’s friend, too. So he’s always snuffed out any spark between them. Now Crissanne is single and seeking comfort. Ethan is happy to give her all she needs—and desires. But can their friendship truly become more when one explosive revelation changes everything?



Harlequin Books

August 1, 2018

ISBN 978-1335971692



Ethan Caruthers opened the door to find Crissanne Moss standing there, face pale, biting her lower lip the way she did when she was worried. What was she doing here? She had her camera bag flung over one shoulder and a suitcase on the step behind her, and a taxi was pulling away from the curb. She pushed her sunglasses up on her head, and a strand of her silky, straight long blond hair slipped free in the late summer breeze. She parted her lips and blew the strand away. As always, he had to force his eyes away from her mouth.


With some women he’d met, he could easily ignore the fact that they were female. But from the moment he’d been introduced to his best friend’s girl, it had been a struggle to control his intense attraction to her.


He had felt so disloyal to Mason yet at the same had been powerless to control his attraction. He’d wanted her from the moment he’d seen her and he’d hesitated…


“Well, hello there. I wasn’t expecting you, was I? I mean Cole’s Hill, Texas, isn’t your normal neighborhood,” he said, holding the door open for her to enter before going to get her suitcase. She’d been living in LA with his best friend, Mason, for the better part of the last three years.


“No, you weren’t expecting me, and when you hear why I’m here I won’t blame you if you tell me to hit the road,” she said.


Crissanne had a Northwestern twang to her speech that he’d always found endearing. He couldn’t imagine anything she could do that would make him send her away. “I’m a lawyer and have heard some pretty outrageous things over the years. I doubt you’ll shock me.”


She gave him a sweet smile that didn’t reach her clear gray eyes and then reached over and hugged him. “You’ve always been the best, Ethan. Frankly, I didn’t know where else to go…”


Intrigued, he put her suitcase against the wall near the front hall table and then closed the front door before turning to face her again. He wanted to ask where Mason was, but also thought he remembered something about his best friend heading to Peru to film his extreme adventure survival show.


And right now, Ethan was pretty sure he was going to hell for lusting after Crissanne, but he’d never been able to look at her and not see the two of them tangled together in a big king-size bed.


He liked to think that he’d hidden his reaction, though; he was always on guard whenever he was around Mason and Crissanne.


 “Come into the kitchen. My housekeeper made some sweet tea and chocolate chip cookies before she left for the day,” he said. “We can have a snack and you can tell me why you’re here.”


He gestured for her to precede him down the hall. It was the gentlemanly thing to do, but as his gaze fell to her hips, which swayed gently with each step she took, he knew there wasn’t anything polite about his attention. He wanted her. He swallowed hard and knew he had to get himself under control.


He’d broken up with the woman he’d been seeing off and on in Midland a while ago, so he’d been celibate for longer than he liked. “I need to grab my phone from my study. Help yourself to the cookies.”


He turned into his study and then stood there for a second, forcing himself to remember everything he’d ever heard in Sunday school about not coveting things that weren’t his. He grabbed his smartphone from the desk and then went down the hall, sure he had himself under control, until he saw her standing at the French doors that led to his back porch, resting her head against the glass.


She looked lost.


She needed a friend.


He remembered the hug and it was suddenly easier to shove his lustful thoughts to the back of his mind. She needed him.




She turned and pulled her sunglasses from her head, putting them on the kitchen table. She put her hands in her back pockets, which thrust her breasts forward in the loose, peasant-style top she wore.




“Mason and I broke up,” she said, her words pouring out in a rush. “We had a really bad fight and he said I could stay in his condo in LA while he’s in Peru but I couldn’t. I…I just needed to get away. And I don’t have any family. When I got to the airport I didn’t know where to go, and then I thought of you.”


But he was stuck on Mason and I broke up.


She was single.


She was hurting and alone. He knew she had no family. She’d grown up in the foster system and had only a few close friends…most of whom she shared with Mason. They’d been a couple since freshman year in college. Clearly, she needed Ethan to be her friend at this moment. Something he’d always been for her. And he buried his desire for her as he always did.


“Of course you are welcome to stay here as long as you need to,” Ethan said to put her mind at ease right off the bat.


“Thank you. Honestly, I know this might put you in an awkward position, but I didn’t know where else to go.”


He shook his head. Of course it was going to be uncomfortable to explain to Mason when his friend called. But turning her away didn’t sit well with him. It was easy to say that his dad had raised him to be a gentleman—and it was true. Crissanne was in a tight spot and clearly needed a friend. But the truth was he wanted her here and he’d endure anything to have her under his roof. “It won’t be awkward. Are you sure this is a permanent breakup? I know Mason gets moody before he goes away to film.”


He wanted her to be happy, and until now he’d thought she and Mason were the ideal couple. As much as he wanted Crissanne for himself, her happiness had to come first. And Mason might be an ass when it came to women, but over the years he’d noticed that they seemed good for each other. Mason had been the one to encourage Crissanne to set up her travel vlog, which had turned into a financial boon for her and given her a career she was in control of.


“I’m sure. He and I have grown apart lately. And I know he’s your friend so I’m not going to talk smack about him to you, but we want different things out of life.”


That was news to him. Obviously. But he’d sort of avoided hanging out with them too much lately because it had become too hard to be around Crissanne and not want her.  Business had brought him to the West Coast more frequently and as dinner plans with Mason had fallen through because of his shooting schedule, it had been just Ethan and Crissanne. And he had hated that weakness in himself.


“Do you want to talk about it?”


She shook her head, long strands of hair sliding over her shoulder to rest on the curve of her breast. “Not right now.”


“Well, how about I show you to your room and you can clean up, and then I’ll treat you to dinner? I didn’t have my housekeeper prepare anything.”


“That sounds great,” Crissanne said. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”


“Positive,” he said.


“I’ll start looking for my own place right away,” she said. “LA was always Mason’s town and I’d been thinking of living in the center of the country instead of staying on the West Coast…so it’s here or Chicago, and since I know you…but I can definitely stay at a hotel. In fact, I should have gone there.”


“Stop. You can stay here. There’s no hurry for you to find a place. This house is big enough for both of us,” he said. And Mason would be out of the country for a few weeks, so Ethan had time to figure out what to say to his best friend when he got back home.


“You really are the best friend a girl could ask for,” she said.


He tried to tell himself that he could settle for being friends, but it had been a lie for a while now, and he knew that having her in his home was going to make it even harder.




Crissanne had hoped for this reaction from Ethan. She’d be lying if she said she hadn’t noticed that Ethan had always had a little crush on her. She had hoped he’d take her in. She wasn’t the kind of woman who made friends easily. Part of it was because she was competitive, but also she’d never really learned to trust. She remembered how the psychologist her last foster family had sent her to when she’d turned eighteen had stressed that this was going to be a barrier to her happiness.


Maybe it was what had driven the wedge between Mason and her. But the truth was, she had nowhere else to go. She’d rung her friend Abby, who lived in San Francisco, but she’d just started a relationship with a new guy and thought it would be weird if Crissanne moved in with them.


She had a good relationship with her brand manager at one of the large luggage brands that sponsored most of her vlogs and gave her most of her work, but she didn’t want to call her up and ask to live with her. She had needed a friend and someone who wouldn’t judge. And Ethan was that.


Also, he was busy. As an attorney, he was in court at lot so she’d have some quiet time to figure out what was next. She would make this work. Because staying in the house she’d shared with Mason after that horrible fight where things were said that could never be taken back was something she simply hadn’t been able to do.


She wanted to be someplace where she felt accepted and Ethan always made her feel like she was someone. Not a girl who had been abandoned by her crack-addicted mother or passed from foster home to foster home because she was too quiet and weirded people out.


“This is your room,” Ethan said when they reached the second-floor landing and he opened the third door on the right.


She stood in the doorway of one of the most luxurious bedrooms she’d ever seen. She’d never visited Ethan before; he’d always come to the West Coast. The house had a lot of Spanish design influence, from the tiles in the entryway to the large sweeping arch that led into the great room, but this room had more of a rustic Western feel. The carpet was thick and lush, and as she stepped into the room she wished she’d taken her shoes off so she could feel it on her bare feet. A large four-poster bed with dark navy drapes and a canopy on it dominated the space. The nightstands on either side of the bed each had a lamp. There was a sitting area with two overstuffed leather armchairs, a small table between them, and a landscape painting depicting the Texas Hill Country on the wall.


“This is a gorgeous room,” Crissanne said.


“Glad you like it. There’s a desk in the alcove over there leading into the walk-in closet and then to your private bath,” he said, gesturing toward them. “If you need anything at all just let me know.”


“I’m really low maintenance, so I don’t think I’ll need anything,” she said.


“Hey, you know I bet once Mason lands in Lima he’s going to be on the phone apologizing,” Ethan said.


She didn’t think so. Mason couldn’t get away from her fast enough when she’d suggested maybe they should get married and think about a family. She’d expected him to balk a little, considering their life together was meetings in airports and nights together in the different apartments he owned in major cities around the world. But the outright rejection had stung.


When they’d talked, he’d said he didn’t want to have a family…well, that had changed things for her. A family of her own had always been her dream, especially after her rough, lonely childhood.


“I wouldn’t count on that,” Crissanne said.


“Well, like I said, you’re welcome as long as you need to be here,” Ethan said. “Take your time settling in. I’m going to be in my study working. I have to be in court early tomorrow and want to go over my notes again.”


“We can skip dinner if that would be better for you,” she said.


“No. I was planning to eat out. And my daddy would kick my butt if he knew I served you cereal after you came halfway across the country,” Ethan said with that crooked grin of his.


“How are things on the Rockin’ C?” she asked.


“Not too bad. Dad is retired but that doesn’t mean anything to him,” Ethan said. “He still sticks his nose in all the time, making Nate crazy.”


Ethan was one of four brothers. Nate was the oldest. He’d taken over running the family ranch, the Rockin’ C, and was the CEO of the company that had interests in oil and mineral rights. Another of his brothers, Hunter, was a former NFL wide receiver who had recently been exonerated in a scandal that dated back to college. And then there was Derek, who was a surgeon in Cole’s Hill.


Ethan was way too sexy to be an attorney. She felt no guilt whatsoever in thinking that. He had thick, dark blond hair that curled onto his forehead despite the fact that he had styled it to stay back. His tailored shirt hugged his frame, showing off his muscled arms and hugging his lean abdomen.


 “Does he make you crazy, too?” Crissanne asked, realizing she’d spent too much time staring at Ethan.


“At times,” Ethan admitted. “But luckily Nate’s daughter, Penny, is a good distraction. Having a granddaughter kind of calms Dad down. So it’s not just me here at the house in addition to my housekeeper. I have a…manservant. Saying that makes me feel way too Downton Abbey, but butler sounds pretentious as well. Anyway, his name is Bart and he lives here and takes care of the house, the pool and the yard.”


“You need two helpers to keep your house?” she asked.


“I probably don’t need them but I am gone a lot. And Bart needed a job and no one would hire him because he had a record. Mrs. Yarnall used to work for my parents until they moved into the small house and didn’t need her anymore. Now that it’s just Nate at the Rockin’ C, there isn’t a need for two housekeepers at the main house. She has five or so more years before she retires, and I could use the help here.”


“Weren’t you worried about hiring Bart?” she asked.


Ethan shook his head. “He’s a good man who just grew up with bad influences. And I’ve seen a real change in him since he was paroled.”


If she needed a good example of the kind of man Ethan was, this was it. He cared about everyone. He saw the person, not all the other junk like upbringing or record or age. Not that many people took that kind of time to really make sure everyone had a purpose the way he did.


Though she’d come here knowing he sort of liked her, she didn’t kid herself that it would turn into something more than just curiosity. Mason was his friend, and Ethan was loyal. Not blindly loyal, but the kind of man who lived by his own code.


Then again, he probably had been crushing on her because she was forbidden fruit. And that made her sad, because she wanted Ethan to be the perfect man she always imagined him to be.


He strode toward the door and then hesitated. “The balcony overlooks the pool and grounds. It connects to the other rooms,” he said.


“Where is your room?” she asked.


“Two doors down,” he said before leaving and closing the door behind him.


She stood there in the nicely appointed room, trying very hard not to feel like she was lost. It had been a long time since she’d had this feeling, but she was flashing back hard to the foster homes of her youth and feeling adrift, like she wasn’t sure where she was going next. She was on her own again. She’d gotten used to being part of a family with Mason, and she knew that it had been a false feeling. He’d liked the noncommittal state of the relationship, and she’d been able to fool herself that it was something else. Something more. And she promised herself she wouldn’t do that again.


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