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Endless Hope

Monroe Brothers, Book 5

It takes more than endless hope to get to a happily ever after in this small town…

Signing up for the fund-raising bachelorette auction seemed like the right thing to do. Sure, it’d be awkward and embarrassing. But it was for a good cause, right? 

I never thought my high school sweetheart—my first love, my first everything—would bid on me. 

But he did.

Talon is grumpy. Borderline antisocial. Far too sexy for my peace of mind. 

And he wants more than just one date.

I probably should’ve refused. But I couldn’t.  

 Now, spending time with him is making me want things I know we can’t have. Because the truth is that I don’t deserve a second chance.

I don’t deserve him.

All I can do is hope I don’t break his heart—again—when he finally figures that out…    

+ Excerpt +

In front of the stage, men called out numbers in a rapid back-and-forth I couldn’t keep up with. The first bachelorette of the evening, Hanna Roberts, swayed on her feet.

Was it too hot on the stage with the spotlights?

When her eyes rolled back, someone shouted a warning. Heath moved from his spot in the shadows and dropped to his knees with his arms held out in front of him, catching her before Hanna’s head could hit the floor.

Sebastian leapt onto the stage and knelt beside her. 

Heath eased Hanna into Sebastian’s arms, who pleaded, “Hanna, wake up.”

The crowd quieted, everyone waiting to see if Hanna would respond.

Sebastian bowed over her body, his mouth brushing a kiss over her forehead as he whispered something I couldn’t hear from where I stood. 

A second later, her eyelids fluttered, and Sebastian’s shoulders lowered. 

“Is it over?” Hanna asked in a soft voice, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“The auction? You were only the second person to go,” Sebastian said as he shifted her to a seated position.

Her forehead creased. “Am I done?”

Sebastian stood and held his hand out to Hanna. “Let’s get you out of here and get you something to eat.”

Marley stepped to their side and rested a hand on Hanna’s arm. “Are you okay?”

Sebastian helped Hanna off the stage, and the three of them moved toward the door. 

All I could think about was that I was next on the auction block. I almost wished I could feign light-headedness so that I could escape with Hanna.

When Marley returned, her cheeks were flushed as she held the clipboard to her chest.

“Do you think we should cancel the rest of the event?” I asked her hopefully.

Marley attempted to smile at me, but it was brittle. “Absolutely not. Hanna is fine and in good hands with Sebastian.”

I briefly wondered why Sebastian had bid on his best friend, but I brushed it away because I was more concerned about my predicament. In a few short seconds, I was going to stand in front of a room of eligible bachelors while they bid money to go on an elaborate date with me.

Marley fixed her gaze on me. “Remember, this is for a good cause. We’re raising money for the farm and a local animal shelter.”

I scanned the crowd to see if there were any men I could be interested in. Having grown up here, I knew most of the men in the barn. But my gaze snagged on the dark figure in the back. The one leaning against the wall, his shoulders lowered, his stance casual, but his gaze was fixed on mine. “What’s Talon doing here?”

Marley smiled as she glanced at her clipboard for the hundredth time. “All the Monroes are here to support the event. You know that.”

Now my stomach was tightening for a different reason. We’d dated in high school, and it had ended badly. Talon hadn’t wanted to break things off, but I didn’t have a choice. Everything was my fault, and I couldn’t see past the guilt. I couldn’t subject him to that, so I’d let him go, and I’d regretted it every day since.

When I started working for the Monroes on their Christmas tree farm, creating hand-painted ornaments for their holiday shop, we’d run into each other a few times. We’d even danced at Marley’s holiday party at the inn, but we hadn’t spoken of the past. It reminded me of the homecomings and proms we’d attended in high school, making my heart ache.

Back then, it had been easy between us. Our relationship was a natural progression, and we quickly fell in love. It was the summer after senior year when real life set in and everything fell apart.

At some point, I’d have to talk to him. But if I could put it off for some time in the future, I was more than okay with that. 

Marley stepped up to the podium and gripped the microphone, sending my heart racing. “Sebastian is taking good care of Hanna, and she’s doing great after her fainting spell. So, we’ll move on to our next eligible bachelorette.” Marley swung her arm in my direction, and I took it as the prompt to step forward. I’d opted for a red dress that was soft and comfortable and had the added effect of looking amazing against my skin. 

I hadn’t dated in what felt like forever, and I’d never put myself out there like I had with Talon. 

A fan had been pulled from somewhere and was now pointed in my direction. The air cooled my heated cheeks and molded the dress to my frame.

“Holly is an amazing artist. She created the beautiful hand-painted ornaments that you’ll find in the holiday shop in the red barn. She’s also been a friend of our family for many years.”

I swayed on my feet, wondering if I was going to faint like Hanna. Unfortunately, I was all too aware of the lights on me, the stares, and the whispered conversations. I wondered if they were talking about my ill-fated relationship with Talon.

“Holly enjoys reading and painting—”

I sounded like a crazy cat lady minus the cat. Would anyone want to bid on me? Panic gripped me. That was something I hadn’t considered before now.

There was a crowd of men near the stage, but they could have been interested in one of the other bachelorettes. 

Marley grinned at the men. “Remember, the hot tub date is still up for grabs.”

A ripple of anticipation went through the crowd.

“Let the bidding begin,” Marley said. She pounded the gavel on the podium, sparking a headache. “We’ll start at five hundred dollars.”

I hadn’t paid attention to the numbers for the last two auctions because I was so nervous about standing on the stage. But now that I was in the spotlight, time seemed to have slowed down. I licked my lips, forcing myself to look at the men bidding on me.

There was Brad from high school, who was maybe a year or two ahead of me. He’d been a jock and not someone I’d spoken to at the time. Why was he bidding on me? I hadn’t drawn his attention back then. But then again, I only had eyes for the soft-spoken Talon, who wasn’t in the academic classes. He spent all his time in the tech buildings.

Then there was Brian, who was tall and lean. I remembered him going into some kind of science field. There was a third man, who was big and brawny. I recognized him as one of the Calloway brothers who ran Pine Valley Farm, possibly the eldest, Teddy.

I refrained from wiping sweat from my brow as Brian, Brad, and Teddy volleyed ever-increasing numbers like it was a tennis match. 

My ears were pounding, and my stomach rolled. I didn’t particularly want to spend time with any of them. They were attractive, but I preferred the dark and broody type. I preferred Talon Monroe, and nothing in the past ten years had changed that fact.

Another voice rang out from the back of the room. “Five thousand dollars.”

Sweat trickled down my spine. Was it Talon?

Marley motioned him forward. 

When Talon stepped closer, his gaze was fixed on mine, and it reminded me of when he’d communicated silently in school with just a look. I’d always interpreted it to mean something akin to I’ve got you. 

I let out a breath, hoping he was doing this to save me. I shouldn’t want that, but I did. I couldn’t imagine slipping into a hot tub with Brad or Brian. I didn’t know either of them well enough to wear a bikini with them on a first date. 

Brian and Brad stepped back, but Teddy’s jaw tightened, and he bid higher. The back-and-forth went on for a few minutes, and I wished I could sink into the floor. I hated being the center of attention. I couldn’t think of anything worse than two men fighting over me.

The crazy thing was, I wasn’t even sure one of them wanted me. Talon was just trying to save me from an intimate evening with a man who was a stranger to me.

Then Talon said ten thousand, and the room quieted. He raised a brow at Teddy as if challenging him to go higher. 

I bit my lip. Please let this be over. Ten thousand was an insane amount to spend on a date, but I was positive Talon wasn’t doing it because he wanted to rekindle our relationship. I’d broken things off when we were eighteen and hadn’t provided any opening for a reunion.

After a few tense seconds, Teddy finally shook Talon’s hand, congratulating him. Had Talon just spent ten thousand dollars to go on a date with me?

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