Charming Coco (The Lone Stars Book 5)

By: Katie Graykowski



Prologue




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“I wanted to see you before I left.” Coco Robbins played with the gold name necklace at her throat, twisting and untwisting. Nerves pounded away at her insides like Viking raiders battering down a solid wood door. She smoothed down nonexistent wrinkles in her red silk wrap dress. She’d worn her highest heels and most grown-up dress for what could be her final meeting with her soul mate Seth Charming.

He was twenty-four and she was eighteen.

Those six years might as well be sixty.

For once, at least, she thought she looked her age. She hoped. She was still working on the feminine wiles. Everyone said she had them, but she wasn’t so sure. Wouldn’t she know if she did?

“You look …” His eyes skimmed down her dress, “nice.”

That sounded like a verbal pat on the head.

“Thanks.” This was going to be harder than she’d thought, but she’d made herself a promise. Once she’d made a promise, she always kept it. “So do you.”

He always looked better than nice. He was wearing what she thought of as his uniform—white Austin Lone Stars football T-shirt, jeans that hugged everything, and loafers without socks. Sometimes he threw a tuxedo jacket over the ensemble and called it formal wear, and sometimes he wore a sleeveless Lone Stars T-shirt and called it casual wear.

As a handsome man, life must be simple for him. He could turn a garbage bag into haute couture.

“So, why did you insist on seeing me alone?” At his sides, his hands fisted and unfisted as he watched her with earnest eyes. If she didn’t know better, she’d say he was as nervous as she. But Seth didn’t do nervous. He was always the life of the party, Mr. Confidence, the one to lead a person astray … except if that person was her.

“I want to give you something.” That sounded so lame. “I mean, you know … I’m going away.”

“You’re headed to Baylor. It’s two hours north of here. It’s not like you’re going off to war.” He added a smile like it would lessen his snotty tone. In his defense, he was from old East Coast money—the kind that used “summer” and “winter” as verbs and did them in the Hamptons and Monte Carlo, respectively. His blood was true blue and snotty as hell.

“I know, but we won’t get to see each other as much.” The more she spoke the lamer her words got. If she was smart, she’d shut up now and go back to her graduation party.

He took a step back. “I’ll see you on holidays and during the summer. Most of the team are in and out of this house.”

It was now or never. Her heart drummed in her ears so loudly she was sure he could hear it. She walked right up to him, leaned up on her tiptoes, and placed her lips on his.

He froze, which was only slightly better than him pushing her away. He waited patiently—neither returning the kiss nor stopping it—until she finished and stepped back.

“I love you.” She hadn’t intended to tell him, but her heart took control of her mouth.

“This isn’t going to happen.” He actually patted the top of her head. “If I’m being honest, it makes me kind of sad. You’re gorgeous and funny and smart, but you’re too young for me.” His smile turned older-brotherly, which was so unbelievably patronizing. “You’re going to break so many hearts.”

But the fact that his wasn’t going to be one of them lingered in the air.

He backed out of the room and disappeared down the hallway.

Embarrassment swallowed her whole. This had to be the worst five minutes of her life. She knew the world wasn’t likely to end, but it sure did feel like it.





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Chapter 1


Twelve years later




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Coco Robbins was back in Austin. It had taken five flights, twenty-six hours, and a willingness to face her problems head on, but she was here. As she rode the escalator down to baggage claim at Austin–Bergstrom International Airport, she hitched her backpack onto her shoulders.

What did it say about her that at the age of thirty, everything she owned fit into a backpack and one large dead-body-sized duffle?

She looked around like someone would be there to greet her, but she was a week early. No one was here to hug her and wish her a happy return home because telepathy wasn’t a real form of communication. She hadn’t been able to call.

Being an orthopedic surgeon with Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan meant that timetables and telephones were a luxury. Fighting had broken out near the village where she was working, and to be on the safe side she’d been evacuated earlier than planned. There hadn’t been time to use the satellite phone at the makeshift hospital, and the bright and shiny cell phone her parents had sent her for Christmas last year had a bullet hole smack-dab in the middle of the screen. It wasn’t like she’d had cell service anyway—cell towers were right up there with toothpaste and hot water in the luxury department.

Thank God her stepmother, Grace, and her father loved surprises because she was here and she’d resigned from Doctors Without Borders. It was time for her to put on her big-girl pants and practice medicine at a real hospital with electricity and a sterile operating room and no bullets whizzing by her head. Some people thought making a difference involved writing a check, but Coco had always been about the grand gestures. No check writing for her. She’d wanted to travel the world and experience exotic places while helping those in need. Man, had she’d ever gotten more than she’d bargained for.