The next story in the Madison Creek series is now available as an independent ebook.
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But if you read the April Fools Love novella collection, then you may have already read it as Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice.
I've updated and re-named the story.
If you didn't read it in the novella collection, here's your chance to get it for the introductory price.
Sage Dolan glanced at Nikolai Prater and inwardly whined that she’d made the pact in high school with him and her BFF, Moi Tamsyn, that the three of them would be friends forever. Nothing but friends. Yet, when Nikolai returned from the mission trip last year, Sage’s feelings for him exploded and her pact gets harder to keep.
Then on April fool’s day, she receives a letter from a secret admirer. A joke from her twin siblings.
Nikolai’s life changed after the mission trip. One thing he has to face is his feelings for Sage. Pact or no pact, he needs to let her know how he feels. Overhearing Sage and Moi talk about how they wished they received real love letters, Nikolai comes up with the perfect solution. He sends her an anonymous love letter, but instead of love, he reaps the wild, whirlwind of Sage who is already angry about being made a fool of once and won’t stand for being the fool twice.
Here's a Sneak Peek...
A wailing cry sent twenty-three-year-old Sage Dolan racing into the kitchen with the twins, twelve-year-old Meghan and Maximus, so close on her heels, Max knocked the heel off her shoe.
“Darn it, Max, watch what you’re doing!” Sage hopped into the kitchen as she slipped the canvas sneaker back on. Hot rollers bobbed around her head, her attempt at calming her frizzy red hair. “What’s going on? Is someone hurt? This better not be another stupid April Fool’s Day joke.” She narrowed her gaze at the twins who’d so far managed to cover the toilet seat with petroleum jelly, fill her leopard print slippers with shaving cream and plastic wrap Carol’s door so she plowed headlong and half-asleep into the see-through barrier.
“We didn’t do anything to Lana. She’d whop us.” Megs declared batting her large brown eyes rimmed in red lashes. All six Dolan children were cursed with bright red hair and freckles.
“I’m thinking of whopping you myself,” Sage growled. “Those were my favorite slippers.”
Max offered a shrug of an apology. “Thought for sure the shaving cream would wash out. How were we to know?”
Sage turned from them, biting back her angry retort. They’d meant no harm and came by their rambunctiousness honestly. Daddy, rest his soul, loved to laugh and play pranks on people. Even Ma, who had to be the most serious and hard-working member of the family, enjoyed a well-placed joke from time to time.
“Lana, what’s happened?” Sage found her oldest sister sitting at the kitchen table, her hair also wrapped up in large hot rollers. If the day stayed nice, their efforts might pay off, but at the first bit of humidity, forget it.
Sage pulled a chair out from the wooden table, in desperate need of a good sanding, and grabbed her sister’s hands that covered her tear-drenched face.
God, please don’t let Drake Wilson call off the wedding. Drake was a nice, upstanding guy, but she kept waiting for him to realize just what he was getting himself into by marrying into this wild household. He came from a large family, too, and understood… for the most part.
“What?” Sage asked again, finally catching her sister’s eye.
“Drake just called.”
Sage’s heart fell so fast it must have hit the floor with a loud splat. “Is… is… what did he say?” She held her breath, ready to go into sympathetic sister mode though Ma was much better at offering comfort than she was. Where was Ma? She looked to Meg and Max and mouthed with a jerk of her head for them to go find her. Meg pushed her brother out of the kitchen, their pounding feet headed up the stairs as both shouted for their mother to come because Sissy was devastated over something.
Lana rolled her eyes and dabbed a towel at her cheeks. “Ugh, I’m not… Oh, it’s the reception. We were going to have it at Drake’s uncle’s property by the lake. But his uncle has been suddenly called away on business and he won’t let us use it while he’s gone. So, with only a week to go, I have to find another place.” She pressed the paper towel to her face and wailed again. “I have so much to do as it is.”
Sage hugged her, mostly from relief that the wedding was still on. Lana and Drake were going to make a great couple. They loved each other so much. Why had Sage even thought he’d get cold feet? She rested her head on Lana’s trembling shoulder, hating how she was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, always expecting the worst to happen. When had she become so cynical?
“I’ll help find you a new place. This isn’t the end of the world.”
Lana gave a wobbly laugh, “I know. I’m sorry for making such a fuss. I’m just overwhelmed.”
Sage lifted her chin so they were eye to eye. “I’m going to help more. I promise. I’m so sorry, Lana. I’ve been all wrapped up in my classes and—”
“No, you’ve done a lot already. Don’t worry. This is your last semester. I don’t want my wedding to distract you from finishing college with a bang. You’ve worked so hard, sweetie.”
Sage kissed her sister’s cheek. She’d miss Lana when she moved into her new home though she’d be happy to have the whole bedroom to herself.
Carol, four years younger than Sage, shared the smaller room with Meghan.
Ma burst into the kitchen at that moment, her green eyes wide and worried.“What’s happened? Lana?”
They both talked over each other trying to explain. Poor Ma, she had enough weighing her rounded shoulders down with just trying to keep her brood fed and dressed. The house had been in the family for several generations, but Ma worked hard to keep everything functioning. Soon as she finished this last semester at college, Sage needed to spread her wings and start making a life for herself.
Sage sighed and slowly stood. If only she could find a weekend job to help bring in more income. When she got to church, she’d ask her friends, Moi and Nikolai, if they’d heard of anything. She’d also check the bulletin board. The family agreed Sage should focus on just her classes and hold off getting a job until this summer, but the wedding had really taken a toll on the family’s savings. Even with the Wilson’s taking up some of the slack. Now that they would have to rent a place for the reception, they’d all need to tighten their belts even more.
Ma had designed Lana’s wedding dress and it was simply beautiful. Elly Dolan’s tailor and dress shop was doing well, but Sage was a computer geek, not a seamstress. She couldn’t help in that area at all. Lana and Sage, both hated how hard their mother had to work for them.
Ma waved her hands, “We’ll figure out something. Worse comes to worse, we’ll… well, we can always… try….” Ma shook her head and waved her chapped hands. “We’ll figure out other arrangements. Don’t worry. Now, both of you go on and get ready for church, or you’ll be late.
Sage grabbed a cold muffin off the table for breakfast and noticed an envelope addressed to her in the stack of mail sitting beside the fruit bowl.“When did this come?”
Ma gave an uninterested shrug. “Max brought in the mail just this morning. I forgot to check it yesterday. Actually, for the past three days. So who knows? Why isn’t there a stamp on that envelope?”
Why indeed? Sage flipped the white letter over to the front. It only had her name and address, surrounded by penciled hearts colored red. “What in the…?”
Ma’s warning glare halted the last word on Sage’s tongue. Lana perked up, now smiling since her morning crisis seemed to be over for the most part. “It looks like a love letter. Who’s it from? Could your Nikolai finally be coming to his senses?”
Sage laughed. She and Moi had been friends with Nick since high school. He was like a big, dopey brother to them. Or, he used to be. Lately, it was Sage who started seeing him as more, despite the pact she made with Moi that he was off-limits to both of them.
Lana moved to stand beside her so she could read over her shoulder. Dare she open it in front of the family? Who honestly would send her a love letter? Certainly nobody she knew. It had to be some kind of prank. She looked around for the twins, but they were nowhere in sight. Besides, the handwriting was much too neat for it to be another joke from them.
“Open it, Sage,” Lana coaxed, grinning like one of those puppet clowns.
With a resolute sigh, she ripped open the top and pulled out a letter written on notebook paper.
“Deer Love of my Life.” Her suspicions went up a notch. “Well, whoever it’s from can’t spell.”
“Oh, that’s an honest mistake. And boys don’t pay much attention to homonyms, right? Drake always misspells words, too. Keep reading.”
Sage’s cheeks started to burn. Maybe she should fold up the note and take it to her room, but she knew Lana’s curiosity was piqued and she’d never leave her alone until she knew what it said. Since Sage would do the same to her, she kept reading.
“I’ve admired you for ages. I’ve dreamed of the day I might finally find the bravery to proclaim my undying love for you.”
Sage rolled her eyes and started to refold the letter. “This… who talks like this? Has to be a joke.” Yet, her heart pounded so loud it sounded like a thunderstorm in her ears. She hated that little part of her that wished it might be from Nikolai Prater. But he didn’t write letters. Ever. Like her, he was a tech geek and any correspondence he made was in digital form.
“Keep reading,” Lana snatched the note from her and whipped it open. “It says, ‘Your eyes, your hair, your beautiful face break my heart into a million pieces every time I see you. I love you, I love you, I can’t tell you how much. Please let me know if you feel the same for me. Yours forever, a secret admirer.”
Sage laughed out loud. “How am I supposed to know? He’s keeping his identity a secret?”
“True,” Lana said, her red brows furrowed over her green eyes. “Still…”
All the girls had green eyes like their mother, while their one brother, Troy, and the twins had Pa’s brown coloring. Troy, who recently graduated from high school, worked at the lumber yard and often crashed at his friend’s apartment to keep from having to share a room with Maximus who snored like a hedgehog.
“Still nothing, that has to be… I can’t think of anyone who writes like that.” Sage refused to allow herself to believe the letter might be real. Though, the flowery words had sent a bit of a shockwave through her. For a second, at least. She shook her head and began pulling the cold rollers from her hair. She did need to hurry if she hoped to get a decent seat at church.
“It’s romantic.” Lana patted the place right over her heart with a happy sigh. “Guys can be romantic when they want to be.”
“Right. Has Drake ever written you a love letter like that?” She then added, “On April Fool’s day?” Her eyes narrowed as she looked around at the now suspiciously empty kitchen. She’d not let her heart get away from her, even if the words had stirred… something. Dare she entertain the possibly someone would admire a freckly freak like her?
“Drake has written a couple of love notes. Though he’s more into texting. He’s said a few romantic things to me from time to time. You never know.” She added when Sage started to shake her head in doubt. “Don’t blow it off before you know for sure.”
Giggling came from the hallway. Sage’s heart thudded like a flattened tire. “Right.” She stormed around the corner to find Max and Megs huddled together as they peered around the other doorway. “Busted!” She grabbed both by their over-sized ears and pulled them into the kitchen. “Fess up you two. Did you write this note?”
Both shook their heads, looking from Lana to her with their angel faces. Too bad their halos were propped up by their curved horns.
“Don’t lie! Ma gives pops for lying, you both know that.”
Max gulped. “We didn’t write the letter. Promise.”
Sage had to admit it wasn’t penned in their sloppy scrawl. “Do you know who did?”
The twins stared at their feet.
“I don’t have time for this. I’ve had enough of your pranks this morning. Did you leave this letter for me to find, or not?”
At that moment, Carol entered and spotted the notepaper she shook in their faces. She stopped and pointed. “Hey, that’s the note Meg asked me to copy for her. Said she’d found it in a book. Asked if I’d write it out for… wait. Was that another one of your pranks?” Carol rounded on the twin tricksters, her face set in a furious scowl. She still had a red patch on her forehead from running into the plastic wrap covering her doorway.
Sage flung the letter in their faces. “You evil little twits. Enough with your jokes! Really! On a Sunday, even. You both should be ashamed of yourselves.”
“We were just having some fun,” Max defended. “Meghan had the idea.” He turned to her. “Told you it wasn’t a good one. Not like the jokes I came up with.”
“You little scamps,” Lana scolded. “Just how many pranks have you played today?”
Carol poured a bowl of cereal and added several spoonful of sugar to it. Shoving a heaping serving into her mouth, her face reddened and her eyes rounded. She ran to the sink and spit it out. “Ugh, that’s … nasty. Who put salt in the sugar bowl?”
Sage turned to the set of culprits only to find they’d turned tail and ran out the back door. The screen banged against the frame.
“Gonna tell Ma,” Carol yelled into the empty space.
Not that it would do much good. Ma was soft on her babies.
Sage shook her head in exasperation. Truth be told, they were all soft on their youngest siblings. She crumpled the letter, angrier by the fact that she had allowed herself to be taken in by their prank, than the fact they’d pulled it on her in the first place. She stomped up the stairs to her room. “I’m going to be late.”
Nikolai Prater waited inside the Creekside Gospel Church entrance but tried to not be obvious about staking out the doors. He’d arrived extra early so he could wash up in the restrooms and change into a clean outfit. The tourist camp grounds had changed the monthly password, and he’d need to check with his friend to get the code before he could use the showers again.
Thankfully, he now had a job, of sorts, that paid him somewhat regularly. Soon as the Bed and Breakfast started serving dinners on the weekends, he’d receive a more consistent paycheck, though the owner, Haley Madison, couldn’t tell him exactly how much he’d earn. She’d pay on commission. Better than nothing, which was what he had at the moment.
“Nicky.” Moi Tamsyn waved as she entered behind her parents. She closed her umbrella and left it next to the entrance. Her long, sleek black hair hung loose over a dressy leather jacket. She hurried over to him, purple stiletto boots clicking on the tiled floors. “Are you waiting for Sage? Or is she here already?”
“Morning Moi-Toy.” He leaned over as she greeted him with a feathery kiss against his cheek.
He, Moi and Sage had been friends since high-school when his step-father, Jim, moved them to Madison Creek and back into his family’s old home. Unfortunately, their combined children had to squeeze into the smaller accommodations. As soon as one of the kids turned nineteen, Jim booted them out to make it on their own or join the service. Nick had been on his own for three years. Three very long years.
He was doing fine until the burger joint he worked at in the next town over fired him when he’d asked for a raise. Rent had gone up, his pay needed to increase too. Sage and Moi wouldn’t let him drop out of college. The Three Musketeers stuck together. They had helped him get through his classes and oftentimes offered him a couch to sleep on. He really hated imposing on the girls’ families, though, and only went to them when he was in dire straits.
“Haven’t seen her.” He gave her a sidelong glance then refocused his attention on the bulletin board. Sometimes people posted when they needed help. Spring was just around the corner and he hoped to pick up a few lawn jobs once the last remains of snow cleared.
Moi studied him for a long moment, her full, purple lips set in a pout. “How’d the boarding house work out for you?”
“Fine,” He fibbed.
“Then you have a place to stay now?”
He gave a non-committal nod-shrug. His car worked fine so long as the temperatures didn’t dip too low. He was fine. He just had to hold out a few more weeks before paying gigs picked up again. Once he graduated, he’d be free to work full time.
She opened her mouth to probe more when a rainy breeze blew in consisting of red hair, wet shoes and an out of breath Sage Dolan. “Moi-Joy! Nikolai!” She brushed a kiss on both of their cheeks. Sage was the only one he tolerated calling him by his given name. Generally, she called him Nick like everyone else did, but when she did call him by his full name, it sent his heart reeling.
“Oh, Sweet Sage,” Moi cooed, “What’s wrong?” Their perceptive friend looked her over, head to foot. “Did you oversleep again, hon?”
Sage rolled her bright green eyes as she hooked her arms around his and Moi’s. “No, but I envy Lana so much. She’ll soon be married and able to move into a house of her very own. Away from the craziness. And those rotten twins. I swear I almost killed them both dead this morning.”
“Aw,” Moi giggled. “They’re sweeties. You’d not kill them completely dead, hon, and you know it. You adore them.” They made their way over to the coffee station.
Nick followed. “What did they do this time?”
Sage filled a cup with hot water and added a teabag and some sweetener.“April Fool’s Day, need I say more?”
Nick snorted a laugh. He loved those two. He’d probably taught them every prank they knew. But the glaring expression on Sage’s face kept his admission quiet.
“Then…” She blew on her tea. “Well, never mind.”
Both Nick and Moi urged her to go on. With another roll of her eyes, she stomped her wet sneaker and exclaimed, “They sent me a… a…. Oh, it’s so stupid. A secret admirer letter. They tricked Carol into writing it. She copied it from some book of Meghan’s.”
Moi pressed her hand to her chest. She’d painted her fingernails purple, too. Nick bit his upper lip to keep in his laughter. Girls. More than likely, once Moi, the fashion Barbie of the group, took off her jacket, she’d probably have on a new dress to match her accessories.
“Oh, Sweet Sage, did your heart break to find out the note wasn’t real?”
The laugh burst from Nick before he could stop it. He couldn’t help himself.
“What?” Sage gasped. “No. Well, deep down I had a feeling it was a joke.”
Moi draped her slender arm over her friend’s shoulder. “But you hoped it wasn’t, right? For just a bit, you hoped… maybe?”
“What?” Sage’s cheeks went tomato red. “As if.” She sipped her tea, cringing when the hot water hit her lips. “Well, maybe. It was awful nice, for a moment.”
Nick chuckled. “Who writes love notes anymore anyway?”
Blowing on her drink, Sage’s shoulder’s sagged. “Lana said Drake has written her a couple. I think it’s sweet.”
“Oh, I love getting little notes from an admirer. Or a text. Either way.” Moi batted her dark eyes. In high school, the boys were lining up to go out with her. But since starting college, she’d decided to put her nose to her studies and only went out on the occasional date. Moi-Toy never had trouble finding a plus one to any party they were invited to.
Even he would say Moi was stunningly beautiful, yet it was Sage’s simple beauty that stole his heart. For the past year, since he’d returned from the summer mission trip with the church youth, he realized that he’d fallen completely in love with his best friend. But, she was his best friend first, and he’d been too scared to ruin that by telling her how he really felt. Besides, he’d made a promise to stay within certain boundaries with his girls. They’d adopted him when his own over-sized family no longer had room for him. He couldn’t break his pact.
Jackie Castle is an author, artist and dreamer. She lives in Texas with her husband, two grown children and her dog, Banjo. She looks for the extraordinary in the ordinary in everything she experiences.
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