Welcome back to Petal, Georgia in this spin-off of the Chase Brothers series by Lauren Dane.
A town divided. A family torn apart.
Is one love strong enough to overcome it all?
Caroline Mendoza left home to become a lawyer with one goal in mind: prove her father’s innocence. Now she’s back, and nothing will stop her from uncovering the truth—not the folks of Petal, who have their own ideas about the case, not her siblings and definitely not Royal Watson, who should probably stand trial for being indecently and undeniably hot.
About the Author
Visit Lauren on the web at www.laurendane.com
You can write to her at: PO BOX 45175, Seattle, WA 98145
Read an Excerpt
Caroline adjusted the front of her blouse as she waited in the elegantly appointed reception area of the Law Offices of Chase and Chase.
She'd prepared for the interview much the same way a general might prepare for war. Every contingency had been planned for. Every possible question she might be asked needed to have an answer.
All the research and preparation kept her mind off being back in Petal for good instead of one of her usual visits, which tended to last just a few days.
The receptionist, as pretty and elegant as the walnut furniture and framed black-and-white photographs of Petal over the last century plus, spoke quietly over the phone and then turned her attention to Caroline.
"They're ready for you now."
She led Caroline into a small conference room where three men, all clearly related, stood upon her entrance.
"Ms. Mendoza, it's a pleasure to meet you." One of the men she recognized from the pictures on the website — the younger of the Chase brothers who ran the firm — held out a hand. "Peter Chase."
She took it. "Nice to meet you as well. Caroline Mendoza."
The silver fox she knew was Edward Chase smiled at her, warm and open, as he held his hand out. "Edward Chase."
She shook his hand and objectified him. In her head of course, she wasn't a savage.
He was the next generation, she knew. Peter's youngest son.
Edward indicated a chair. "Please sit. Would you like some tea or some coffee?" "No, thank you."
Clearly Edward was in charge as he conducted the interview. He led her through the interview basics. Asked her what drove her.
Finally, Peter Chase broke in. "Why then? Why make the move from a city where you'd built a successful practice, where you could bill nearly four hundred dollars an hour, to Petal where you'll be lucky to make half that? And not even a third of that on those two or three cases we take on from the county?"
"Some things have happened recently that led me to reevaluate my life and my future. I was born and raised here. Lived here until I was sixteen. My sister and brother live here with my maternal grandparents. My brother is about to graduate high school and head off to college. I just want to be around them more than a few times a year. Life is too short to be halfway across the country. I've missed enough of their lives."
"We're the only firm in town. What would you do if we said no?"
"Well, I could hang out my own shingle. But that's a lot of work, and though I've done it before, I don't really want that at this stage in my life. I've got my resume in at firms between here and Atlanta. I sat for the bar here a few years back, just to have it in case I ever wanted to move to Georgia again, so I'm good to go. No matter where I end up."
"You're ambitious and accomplished. You aren't averse to going down to the jail or out to the prison. We'd be fools to say no. We already have a client list that encompasses a fifty-mile radius or so. I do most of the criminal-defense work now, but with you on board, we could do a lot better. You have the appellate experience we'd like as well. You're a hometown girl. You're incredibly qualified and we'd like to offer you a job here. Partnership track if that's what you're looking for." Edward pushed a piece of paper her way detailing salary, bonus structure, benefits and the steps to partnership.
She looked it over. It was exceptionally fair. She already had a nest egg from selling her share of her firm in Seattle. Most of it she wanted to hold aside for college for her siblings so this would enable her to live a comfortable life and not have to touch that other money.
"Before you accept though, I'd like to address the elephant in the room," Peter said.
Ah. There it was. "My father."
All three Chases nodded.
"My father's arrest, trial and incarceration are what sent me to law school to start with. I've spent the last fifteen years of my life in one way or another trying to prove his innocence. Despite his death, I plan to continue to search for my mother's killer and to exonerate my father."
Edward drew in a slow breath, probably trying to find the right words to bring up the other elephant in the room. "Your grandparents aren't going to like that."
"I love my grandparents, but we don't agree about who was responsible for my mother's murder. Regardless, the person who killed my mother is walking free, maybe even here in Petal, and I will not allow that to continue unchecked. My mother is dead. My siblings and I grew up without our parents. My father spent fourteen years in prison slowly dying. It's offensive to me that the real killer has been free all this time. I'll be careful to keep my actions separate from Chase and Chase, but it isn't something I'm prepared to stop pursuing."
"We've discussed this, Peter, Justin and I. I'm of the opinion that if I were in your place, I'd do the same. You understand the difference between your personal search for justice and what we do as a firm. That's the only issue we have any business caring about. You keep that distance and we're just fine. Can you start next week?"
She agreed and found herself with a job.CHAPTER 2
Caroline took a stroll along the sidewalk to peek in the various storefronts on her way to the grocery store.
Some of the places she remembered remained. The Honey Bear with its bright red tabletops and black-and-white striped booths and chairs. Her dad would bring them home blond brownies as treats sometimes. She warmed at the memory.
A tiny woman in towering heels and equally towering hair hurtled in her direction. Caroline smiled even before she recognized Polly Chase, Edward's wife and something of a town matriarch.
"Mrs. Chase, hello." Caroline took the hands Polly held out, squeezing them. She'd always liked the older woman who'd often volunteered in the school and library as Caroline had grown up. Her sons were several years older, but they were each so ridiculously handsome and well mannered it had been impossible for any young woman to have not known who they were.
Polly Chase was lovely. The kind of Southern woman Caroline had always admired. Mrs. Chase wasn't just old school in her appearance, Caroline bet the other woman never left her house without being done up. She'd certainly never go to the market in pajama bottoms.
At the same time, she managed to pull it off without being judgmental or uptight. She owned herself in ways Caroline found herself admiring greatly.
"You look pretty today." And Polly did. She wore a blue scarf that brought out the green in her eyes and the gold-blond in her hair too. Her nails were done up nice and she smelled really good.
"Thank you, sweetheart. I was just out visiting a friend of ours recovering from surgery." She paused a moment. "I am so glad I ran into you today. Are you too busy to have a cup of cocoa and something sweet with me at the Honey Bear?"
This was the boss's wife and someone she admired.
There was no drawback to saying yes.
"That would be wonderful."
They headed back the other way and into the Honey Bear, which was warm and smelled like the best thing on Earth.
The woman behind the counter erupted into a sunny smile when she saw Polly. "Hey there, Mrs. Chase!"
Then she turned to Caroline. "I'm so glad you came in. I've been on the lookout for you."
Melissa Gallardo had been an acquaintance back in school but over the last several years they'd become social-media friends. It had been nice to come to Petal and have a friend already.
"I told you yesterday I was finally finishing up with emptying all my boxes and I'd call you."
"You two know each other? I came in here and planned to introduce Caroline to you, Melissa." Polly grinned.
"We knew each other in school and reconnected online three or four years back. I'm concerned about the impact on my wallet now that someone who loves bags as much as I do lives in the same town." Melissa winked. "Well then, I assume you two would like a table?"
Polly nodded. "Oh yes, a table would be good, thank you, honey."
Melissa grabbed two menus and took them to a booth with a great view of the sidewalk. "This way you can people watch."
"Can you start us off with two hot chocolates? I'm pretty sure we're going to order something to eat too, but I want to look at the menu first."
Melissa patted Polly's arm. "You bet."
Once they'd gotten their hot chocolates and Polly had ordered vegetable soup for both of them along with some cinnamon buns, she turned back to Caroline.
"Edward is so pleased you're joining the firm. He's been talking about you so much it makes me laugh. I think my husband has a crush on your career."
Caroline laughed and then wondered if she should feel bad. Was that a warning? Was Polly mad?
Polly patted her hand with a chuckle. "Justin — that's my nephew — anyway, he's been pushing his dad and Edward to hire some new blood to expand what they do. He came over to the house with your resume when it arrived in the mail a few weeks back. He and Edward talked about you for hours at the table that night.
"And it means Edward can take a step back more often and spend time at home. We have an anniversary trip coming up and lots of grandbabies to love up on, so you help him do that more often."
"Well, I'm happy to hear that. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in your job, especially when it's your firm. When Edward gave me a tour of the place, he showed me all the pictures in his office of your growing family. He was so proud of each and every one of them."
"I would have had ten kids if I could have. Having grandchildren is the best of both worlds because I get to see them all the time and spoil them and hand them over to their parents. It's funny, I've been in love with Edward since I was seventeen years old and I didn't think it was possible to find new things about him to adore. But watching him with our children and their families, well, it's something special."
Caroline smiled but the realization that she'd never have that settled into her stomach like lead. Her mother was dead. Her father was dead.
Polly's smile fell away. "Oh, dear. I'm sorry, I didn't even think."
Caroline shook her head. "You have every right to be happy about things like that. They're good things."
"I knew your parents. I liked them both a great deal, and I have never believed that your daddy could have done it."
Relief washed through Caroline at Polly's words. "He looked at her like the sun rose and set with her.
And she looked at him right back that way. It just never made sense to me the way the whole thing was handled. I just want you to know that. It's going to be difficult here in town sometimes. People judge you based on what they've heard, not always what they know. But you hold your head up."
Caroline blinked back tears. "Thank you for that. Truly."
Their food came, and Melissa tipped her chin to indicate the heaping plate of french fries she'd also delivered. "Fries because why not? They were hot and crispy." She winked at Caroline.
Caroline popped one in her mouth, wincing at the heat, but they were so good. "So awesome. Thank you. I'll call you tonight. I need to go grocery shopping first because I have peanut butter and a box of stuffing. I did maybe eat pie for breakfast."
The Proffits, the people who'd owned and run the Honey Bear for near thirty years, wanted to retire. Their son was an architect and didn't want the business. Melissa and her fiancé had owned and run a cooking school. Something bad had happened, and Melissa, who was Maryellen Proffit's niece, had moved to Petal seven months before to take over and run the Honey Bear and seemed to be happy she had.
"Okay. We close up at five thirty so any time after six or so." Melissa hustled off to help some customers while Caroline and Polly chatted an hour more or so before Caroline needed to get going or she'd never get her grocery shopping done.
On the sidewalk, after Polly had bussed her cheek and click-clacked away in her heels, Caroline could only smile and shake her head at what a total force of nature Polly Chase was. Edward was a really lucky man.CHAPTER 3
Caroline stared up to the box she needed.
On the top shelf.
Sighing, she looked through her cart to for something to use to tip it down. Nothing that would work.
Muttering a curse, she stretched and just barely missed it. She'd totally climb the shelves if she had to but the last time she'd tried it, she'd ended up knocking a bunch of jars down and they broke and it was pretty embarrassing. Heaven knew she had enough to work against as it was without an incident on aisle ten with cereal.
"Lemme get that for you."
She looked to the side at the very tall cowboy who'd sidled up to use all his height to retrieve her box of cereal. "This here?" He pointed at the natural cereal she liked.
He grabbed it.
"Can you please get two? I figure I may as well just have a backup now, you know in case you aren't around the next time I'm here."
He pulled one more down and turned to drop them in her cart. That's when she realized it was Royal Watson. All grown up.
He faced her and all her parts stood up and cheered.
Like a full-stadium wave.
"Hey, it's Caroline Mendoza."
Oh. That accent. All Southern charm. Sexy and slow, like he tasted every word, savoring it before he let it go. She did love a Southern drawl coming from a man who used words like ma'am when they opened doors and retrieved things from high shelves. She knew it was pretty old school of her, but damn she didn't even care.
"Hey, it's Royal Watson. Thanks again for the assist." His grin made her want to moan.
Back in high school, he'd been two grades ahead. He'd been that super cute older boy who probably never noticed her existence. And of course by the time she'd grown into her body, he'd grown into his everything and she'd left town.
He had great hands. She tore her gaze away from them and her brain from imagining them on her because hello, grocery store, in front of people and all.
As if he knew what she was thinking, he got just a smidge closer. "It's good to see you. You're in town. For a visit or?"
She laughed, putting a hand at her hip. "Come on now. Are we pretending you haven't already heard I moved back to Petal? I may have forgotten my share of things about living in small towns, but your business is everyone's business." And her past had so much meat for the gossip table, she knew tongues had been wagging ever since she signed the lease on her apartment three weeks before.
"All right. Well, my aunt Denver is famous for two things. First, she makes the best coconut cake in a hundred-mile radius. Maybe even the whole state of Georgia, but there's some serious old-lady cake competition out there so I can't be totally sure. Second, she's got a nose for gossip that is, as my uncle says, unparalleled. I was just being neighborly and was gonna let you divulge all the details to me yourself."
She pushed her cart and he followed. "Yes, I'm back for good."
He loped along at her side. "I may as well come with you. You're what they call size challenged. In case you need something else from the top shelf, I'll come in handy."
"Oh you're not going to use the S word? Go on then.
Short. I'm short."
"Why, Ms. Mendoza, I do believe you're yanking my chain. I think you're more fun sized than short."
She blushed. "I don't know why they have to have shelves that are so high to start with. How do all the little old ladies get their cereal anyway?"
"Darlin', they eat Cheerios and mother's oats. All that fancy organic stuff is on the high shelf 'cause it's just you city girls who eat it. I'd check the sell-by date on it, just in case it went bad in 2010 or something."
"There's not a darned thing wrong with wanting healthy options."
He grinned again. "I'm teasing. Well, I'm telling the truth, but also teasing. Heck, we converted the farm into an organic operation three years ago. I'm always happy when people want the healthier option."
"You did? That's awesome."
Before she could ask more questions, they had to skirt around a gaggle of women who gave him the once-over twice.
"I see it'd be impossible to take you anywhere." Caroline gave him a raised brow.
He held his hands out all innocent-like. "You, sweet thing, can take me anywhere you like. In any case, I can't be blamed for being so handsome and charming."
She laughed. Good Lord he was adorable.
"So you're working with Edward Chase then?" "I bet the gossip already knows what color my sheets are too. Yes. My first day is Monday."
"Makes sense you're a lawyer now. You did love to argue back in school."
As if he'd ever noticed her! Had he?
She managed to pretend she was cool and not giddy. Probably worked. "My uncle says it's a wonderful thing when you can make a living off your most annoying trait." She paused to put some soup in her cart. "Can you?" She pointed toward the chicken broth.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Count On Me"
Copyright © 2019 Lauren Dane.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm a HUGE fan of Lauren Dane but I wasn't sure about this book because I never really got a strong feeling about Royal's character. He was always in the background. LOVED this story!! It's funny to me because the character that drew me into the story was Caroline. I just loved her~she was such a great heroine. She was feisty, strong, intelligent, funny, sweet, caring, smart and determined. I loved that she was so determined to clear her father's name and never gave up even though it was never easy for her. Royal...I had a real problem with him in the beginning when it came to Anne. I loved his character and loved him with Caroline but I wanted to kick him when it came to Anne. I get that they were close but I think he needed to set up some barriers with her way before he did. I was surprised how Anne acted and I was more surprised at the way all the others acted to Caroline. Anne never wanted Royal. I LOVED that Caroline wasn't afraid to stand up to her and I LOVED that Caroline was the one to finally set her straight after that last stunt she pulled. And I was so glad that Royal finally made a point to choose Caroline over everyone!! Oh and what a surprise Royal was to me. So sexy and charming and protective. The sex was definitely HOT!! ;) Such a great story and definitely my favorite of the series. Loved seeing some of my favorite characters and especially Edward and Polly. Looking forward to more and hoping to see more of Royal and Caroline. Mariann at Belle's Book Bag
## I loved the first book in the series (Nathan's story; Lily being the highlight of that story) but couldn't stand the second book (Joe's story; Beth was so clingy and pushy-ugh). So I was on the fence about buying this one. Honestly, I'm glad I took the chance. Both hero and heroine were likable characters and they had marvelous chemistry. Don't get me wrong, I wanted to smack Royal for hanging on to his ex, insisting they were best friends. I'm sorry, but there is no way any woman would put up with her boyfriend being so close to a woman he slept with for six years and wanted to marry. She's always texting him, walking into his house without knocking, bad-mouthing the heroine, turning other friends against her and she even lays in wait naked in his bed while he's out on a date with the heroine. And Lauren wants us to believe that Caroline ends up being BFFs with her. Nuh-uh. Not happening. Sure, Caroline told her off and staked her claim. But she wouldn't have had to if Royal grew a pair and let her go. Why would you want to stay friends with someone who deliberatly sabotages you? That was the only major problem I had with this book. Everything else was fabulous. Especially the heroine. I truly adored her. Honest, beautiful, smart, capable and playful. My favorite kind of heroine. I will read again!
Lauren Dane never disappoints. Great visiting Petal, Georgia again. Loved this series.
Another good story from Petal . It was nice to visit with all the other people from all of her other books. You must read the Chase books then the Petal 1 & 2 then this book first. Also read the Brown family stories as they are great too.
I was so very impressed with the heroine in Lauren Dane’s latest Petal, Georgia book because it takes a lot of grit and determination to rise above a family tragedy and return to the scene of the crime and Caroline is fearless when it comes to solving the mystery of her mother’s death. Now that her father has passed away in prison nothing is going to stand in the way of her finding her mother’s killer and clearing her father’s name. Caroline’s maternal grandparents still live in Petal and have raised her two younger siblings since that tragic night but they hate her father and do everything they can to stop Caroline from discovering the truth. I have a lot of admiration for Royal, the hero in the story because he’s strong and supportive of Caroline’s search for the truth and he introduces her to his friends and they make her welcome. This book has everything I look for in a great read with interesting characters, plenty of romance and plenty of suspense to keep me intrigued. I read an early copy of this book through NetGalley and all opinions expressed in my voluntary review are completely my own.
not her best
This was the best Petal book by far. It was thrilling book that I couldn't put down until I finished it. Royal and Caroline were great characters that were well rounded, and it was refreshing that they didn't have the normal drama that usually follows the Chase and Petal series. This was an incredibly emotional ride. There were parts that made me so mad, parts that made me happy, laugh, and parts that made me so sad because I know things like that still happen in today's world. Bravo Lauren Dane, you have created a story that is fantastic and realistic, and I'm sure your fans will be talking about this one for a very long time!
A big thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin/Carina Press for the ARC. I am voluntarily reviewing this book. Caroline's life changes forever when her dad is accused of killing her mom. she becomes an attorney to help him. She is On a crusade to find the real killer. Her grandparents are horrible!! WTHeck!! Her sisters boyfriend is a dweeb, and she is being stalked and very few people believe her! Made me a little sad but the vines between Royal and Caroline are good. 4 stars.
From a rather intense relationship drama to what seems like an impossible to solve legal drama this novel covers a lot of life, living, loving, and growing, trouble, and drama. I absolutely adore the Chase brothers series and this spinoff to Petal, Georgia has been a great, entertaining addition to the original one. Royal Watson might be the most honorable, loyal, affectionate, amazing book boyfriend ever, I mean, he is all that and so much more. Just truly a one of a kind man that was easy to admire, trust, and fall for. And I can't think of a better match to Royal than the sassy, smart, sweet, caring, reliable, steadfast Caroline Mendoza. These two were like the two halves of the whole, they completed each other, were there for each other, and the name of their story, Count On Me, was perfect for them. I loved their love story. I loved the passion between them, the fun, the difficult things they went through, and the way they dealt with the jealous ex (who drove me nuts, really not a fan of her, but Caroline was the Queen dealing with her). I found the legal aspect of the story intriguing, and the suspense and threat were intense. So there is a lot I liked, enjoyed, and even adored in the tale, yet there were some aspects that I had a really difficult time to understand, and thus not the five Spoons score for the book. See, in my mind, the people in Petal were petty and just weird to chastise someone for a difference of opinion. And it went so much further than just that, there was violence involved. Now, this might be a cultural thing, but what kind of people do that?! For real?! It all seemed to be based on racist hate, and how deep the venom runs in the society, even within a family. And as such, showing that in the community, the author did a stellar job of it. But as a reader who reads to escape the crazy in the world, this aspect of the tale really got me down. So first there was the ex who just caused unnecessary drama, and then there were the crazy people that turned on one of their own, and after all the research and drama and disturbance, the ending to the murder case was a bit too easy in my mind. I expected fireworks, and maybe it was my expectations that failed not the story, yet here we are... So. This is difficult because while I absolutely loved some aspects of the story, there were others that made me want to quit reading it, yet the desire to find out more kept me going. Do I want to read more of the series? Yes. Can I recommend the series and this book? Yes. I just want you to be aware that there might be some issues and events in the story that can cause serious irritation and even sadness on the way to the happily ever after... Royal and Caroline, despite all the hate, difficulties, and obstacles you had to go through to find peace and serenity into your life, I loved your love story and cheered you all the way. ~ Three Spoons with a teaspoon on the side
What a wonderful story! I loved Royal and Caroline from the beginning to the end if the book, both as individuals and as a couple. Their journey to find their happy ending kinda reminded me of the intensity of the first two books in the Chase brother's series. This book had a mystery to solve, some violence towards Caroline, strong female lead, hot loving, intense connections to one another. I loved how it all came together. Royal was so supportive and protective of Caroline, loving her with a great passion. And Caroline was a perfect fit for Royal. She understood his feelings for his ranching, pitched in to help, and found herself leaning on him, which she never had anyone before. Their relationship was so heartwarming. I love getting a glimpse into the other characters, including the Chase brother's and parents as well as the Murphy's. I have loved all books in the Chase and Petal Georgia series and look forward to more of them! I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher through Netgalley.
There's a bit of suspense, romance, and family drama all wrapped up in a great story. Although listed as book 3 in a series, I felt it could be read as a standalone book. I don't know what the first two stories were about but this book was a good one. Small towns are unique, where everyone knows your name; but they also rally around the downtrodden. The Chase family and friends are perfect examples of how support can control how others view the situation. It would be fun to read books following Mindy and Shep. I received a free ARC eBook from Net Galley and the publisher for my honest opinions.
I really enjoyed this one even if life had a way of trying to put all kinds of road blocks in my way of reading it. Caroline Mendoza has finally come home to Petal, Georgia, after being away, pushed away, after her mother's murder and her father being accused and convicted of the murder and sent to prison where he died. She grew up convinced of his innocence and became a lawyer and now it looks like they might finally have some traction to finding the actual killer. Although along the way she has picked up a stalker. She also has caught the eye of Royal Watson and he likes what he sees. These two have explosive chemistry and Royal starts out as laid back but when his woman is threatened he is alpha through and through and it is H-O-T. All the supporting cast of Petal characters come out to play and make for interesting side lines and even the side story with Anne is enough to raise an eyebrow but Caro handles it as a good Southern woman lawyer should and it is spectacular. I wish life had left me alone because I could have spent a wonderful afternoon reading this one and probably give it 5 stars but reading it in spurts brought me down to 4.5 but I highly recommend it. I would deem it standalone if you choose and not be lost. **Received this ARC for review from the publisher from NetGalley**
Lawyer Caroline Mendoza has returned to Petal, Georgia with one goal in mind uncovering the truth and proving her father’s innocence. No one with stand in her way, not her family, not the town and definitely not the indecently and undeniably hot, Royal Watson. This Petal, Georgia romance is emotionally gripping and very suspenseful. The characters are strong, bold and have an inner core of strength that really draws readers to them. Royal and Caroline have some super sizzlin’ chemistry and rock readers’ world with their sweet and extremely passionate romance, although the story is also chock full of emotional angst that tugs at readers hot, this couple proves that love has no bounds which makes readers sign in heartfelt envy. The story takes place at a steady pace that keeps reader thoroughly engaged from the very beginning with suspense and the drama of a divided town, divided family and some downright ugly people that should really mind their own business. The author has a gift for getting real and own to the nitty gritty of a situation that readers can easily identify and relate to. So, once again, Petal, Georgia has it going on and the Chases are front and center as they adopt Royal and Caroline into their ever growing family and the hero and heroine overcome adversity and reach for their happily ever after in this heartwarming emotionally gripping romance.
This was a complimentary copy from netgalley - many thanks I have read some of Lauren Dane's work previously so was thrilled to be able to read an advanced copy This is part of a series and I will certainly be looking out for the others having really enjoyed this Would highly recommend as a holiday read
Must read. Cute.
Loved it and I read it in one day! I have absolutely loved this series (Including the Chase brothers) and can't wait for the next one!
It is a really great story.