Cooper Moon: The Temptation

Welcome back to the small town of Timber Lake, Michigan. The streets may be relatively quiet, but a lot is going on behind closed doors! Most of it revolves around the most attractive man in town, Cooper Moon. Once a womanizer and a liar, Cooper is trying to change his ways. Unfortunately, that’s not so easy. One of his ex-girlfriends is determined to seduce him, he is about to receive a blackmail note from another ex-girlfriend, and his wife is tired of his cheating ways.

Cooper isn’t the only one in town with his hands full.

Jake the cop has fifty-two thousand dollars hidden in his bowling ball bag. His wife is desperate to get pregnant and his very ill mother has just moved in with them.

TJ Barnes just won a million dollars, but still can’t get the attention of the woman of his dreams.

Beaulah Potts has been a real estate agent for years and still has not made a sale. Her husband, pastor of the largest church in Timber Lake, has his own secrets, even from Beaulah.

Pete, the local bar owner, made the mistake of letting a married friend spend the night in his apartment. Now, she won’t move out and he doesn’t know how to get rid of her.

Trouble is brewing, faith is wavering, and love is being tested. Full of unexpected twists and turns, Cooper Moon: The Temptation is sure to keep you turning pages!

Cooper Moon: The Temptation is the second book in the Cooper Moon series. For more information on the series, go to www.coopermoon.com

Excerpt

Chapter 1

October

Women often store treasures. Sometimes the treasures are from past lovers—prom favors, fragile dried flowers, or faded love letters worn soft from reading. Sometimes they are mementos from their children—baby curls, a pacifier, or a scrap from a tattered blanket. These precious items are tangible proof of a time fondly remembered. Proof of a past love or a past life. They are an attempt to keep memories alive.

Sally Moon had her own box of memories, although her collection brought no joy. Her box stored mementos of her husband’s infidelities. Housed in a small cardboard box, tucked away in the bottom drawer on her side of the dresser, Sally’s collection consisted of a suggestive note another woman had written to her husband, assorted scraps of paper with phone numbers she had found in his pockets, a barrette she once found in his truck, and a pair of black lace panties recently discovered behind their hamper.

Sitting on the bed, the box before her, Sally added another item to her collection: a note she found in Cooper’s pocket a little over a month ago. Until this moment, the note had been kept in Sally’s sock drawer. Now, she felt she was ready to add it to the rest. She read it once more. I could make you happy. I love you with all of my heart. L

She still could not believe Libby Cartwright had been so bold, had strutted right into the diner where Sally worked and given Cooper this nasty little note. Just the thought of it enraged Sally, but she still did not know what to do about it. She never did. Mostly, she just ached, haunted by the notion that she was not enough for her husband, broken hearted that he had sex indiscriminately with other women.

He assured her he was being faithful now. But Cooper had said the same thing many times, hadn’t he? When she tried to remember the words of his frequent apologies, she could not. Sally only remembered him saying he was sorry. Every time.

Sally loved Cooper Moon. Even after all these years, she couldn’t wait to roll over in the morning to see him sleeping beside her. It was always a little gift, opening her eyes and seeing him, knowing that her bed was the one he chose to wake up in.

Although she loved him, love was not the reason she stayed. After years of wondering, she finally realized her devotion to Cooper came down to one thing—faith. Oddly enough, the realization came to her one day while she was watching a documentary on the Holocaust. She wondered how the men and women in the concentration camps had survived such atrocities. How had they survived the days? What kept them going? When one of the prisoners was interviewed, he said, “Every day, I held onto the faith that I would be free again one day.” At that moment, Sally realized faith was essential to enduring any situation. That prisoner could suffer through endless days of unspeakable horror because he had faith that one day he would be free.

Faith, Sally realized, provides the strength to overcome. The abused wife can endure beatings from her husband because she has faith he will change. The stroke victim can struggle to learn to walk and read again because she has faith in recovery. The cancer patient can endure the side effects of chemotherapy because he has faith he will regain his health. The athlete can endure grueling training because he has faith in winning. Those living in poverty look forward in faith to the day when things will be better. And Sally could endure the heartbreak of infidelity as long as she had faith that someday Cooper would change.

But now, someday was here, and her faith was wavering. This was it. She knew it. It was now or never. He promised he would be faithful to her now. And if Cooper couldn’t be faithful to her now that he claimed to believe in God, she knew he never would be. There were no more excuses. If he was unfaithful to her now, all hope was lost.

Sally still didn’t know what to make of her husband’s recent conversion. She still wasn’t sure if she even believed it. True, he had built a little church in their woods, and he had even had his first service yesterday. And, as far as she knew, he hadn’t been unfaithful to her since his conversion back in April. He seemed to have changed. But with Cooper, you never knew.

Sally almost wished he had never said those words to her. Those words were everything she had ever hoped for. And he promised. They weren’t words he said after getting caught cheating. He promised for no reason at all. Right out of the blue. He gave her everything with that promise, as if he had wrapped her dreams in a box and handed them to her with a delicate bow on top. And this time, she not only hoped he was telling the truth, she believed him. She had faith in him. Almost.

Now, when it seemed Cooper had become the man she always wanted him to be, she was most afraid. Her actions betrayed her faith. She found herself questioning him, watching his every move, sniffing for traces of perfume, looking for hints of betrayal. As he talked to her about the church or how he had spent his day, she wondered if he had been in the arms of another woman. She was obsessed with proving her faith was unwarranted, because now, she had so much to lose.

Sally could not imagine life without her husband. But she also knew that every woman has her breaking point, a point where living without him seems less painful than living with him. If Cooper cheated on her now, she would have to leave. And should that day arise, Sally knew, too, she would need these mementos, this proof, to give her the strength to walk out the door.

 

Dressed in faded jeans and a black tee shirt, his black hair still wet from the shower, Cooper entered the bedroom. “Are you sure you don’t want to go to the bank with me?”

Sally tucked the flaps of the box in and returned it to her drawer. There was no need to make much effort to hide it; Cooper was not very curious. If Sally had seen him putting a cardboard box into his side of the dresser, she would check it as soon as he had left the room. Cooper never even glanced at the box as Sally put it away. “No. I need to get to the diner,” she told him.

Cooper wrapped his arms around her waist. “Come on, Sally. How often do we get to deposit a fifty thousand dollar check?”

Sally could feel his breath on her neck. A quiver snaked through her body. She pulled away and turned to face him. “Not often enough. Could you do that every year?”

“Not unless TJ wins the World Wide Warrior competition every year.”

“Are you serious? Is he going to give you another fifty thousand dollars if he wins it again next year?”

“No, Sally. I was kidding. He isn’t even going to do it next year. He says he doesn’t like the competition part of it. He only liked the training.”

Sally shook her head, crossed the tiny bedroom of the mobile home, and withdrew a coat from the closet. “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of. He wins the competition in the best time ever, wins a million dollars, and then decides he doesn’t want to try again. Must be nice to not need money.”

Cooper shrugged. “It’s his choice. His life. He’ll be here soon. Why don’t you wait so you can at least be here when he gives us the check?”

“He isn’t giving us the check; he’s giving you the check. And I can’t be late for work.”

“Sure you can. He’ll be here soon. What difference does half an hour make?”

“None—to you. You don’t have a real job.” Sally pushed past him.

“Sally, are you mad at me about something?” Cooper reached out and took hold of her arm.

“What would I be mad at you about?” She looked directly into the bluest eyes she had ever seen, eyes she could never resist, and she braced herself. Maybe, just once, he would tell her the truth. Tell her about the note Libby had slipped to him that night in the diner.

“Sally, if I’ve done something wrong, or said something to hurt you, please tell me. I feel like you’ve been mad at me for over a month. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Everything is perfect. Just perfect. Right?” Sally gritted her teeth in an effort to keep from crying. It was painful enough to have her husband possibly sleeping with other women again, but when he lied right to her face it was more than she could bear. She could blame passion for his past infidelities, but every time he lied to her, it felt like a slap in the face.

Cooper pulled her into his arms. “Don’t be like this,” he whispered.

At the touch of his hands, Sally felt her resolve weaken. Maybe, oh maybe… His breath upon her neck caused her to close her eyes and tilt her head back. He pulled her closer, pressing his body against hers. She wanted to stay like that—so close she could feel his heart beating against her body. Reminding herself that he still had not told her about that note, and maybe there was more than a note to be worried about, Sally stiffened. “Let me go. I’m going to be late.” She pulled away. “You always start this as I’m headed out the door.”

A few seconds later, the door slammed.

Cooper stood in the bedroom and listened, first to her car door, and then to the car pulling away on the dirt road. The bedroom suddenly seemed much smaller and darker. Their full-sized bed was pushed against one wall. A small bedside table holding a lamp, an alarm clock, and a couple of magazines sat near Sally’s side of the bed. The only other furniture was a scratched dresser they had picked up on trash day from where it had been sitting by someone’s trashcan. Cooper moved to the bed and tried to straighten the blankets. He wasn’t very good at making the bed, but then again, he had not had much practice. Tugging at the comforter, he pulled it up far enough to cover the pillows. Two pillows on the floor had ruffled pillowcases that matched the cover. Cooper tossed them against the head of the bed. He hated the comforter. It was blue with a huge white sailboat on it. He didn’t know anything about decorating, but it didn’t look very good with this dark brown carpeting. Reaching over, he slid the drapes back to let a little light into the room.

Outside, he noticed most of the trees had lost their leaves, except for the stubborn oaks. Shades of oranges and browns bathed the woods. It was late October, almost time for Halloween. Snow would cover the ground soon. For some reason, the thought saddened him, but he wasn’t sure why. Cooper had never disliked winter. In fact, he never gave much thought to any of the seasons; they were just part of life. But this year the oncoming winter seemed ominous, a feeling he couldn’t shake. He had plenty of firewood cut for the winter, so it wasn’t that. Yet the feeling remained.

He had just held his first service in the church yesterday. His very own church, a little white building with a simple steeple. Despite a slow start, the service ended up better than he ever expected. The church was full of people. He still couldn’t believe that. He was grateful, but it was more than that. He felt embarrassed. Who was he to lead a church? To collect hard-earned money? It felt wrong. And yet, he and TJ had spent the last year building the church and he had to have some sort of money to run it, so he supposed it would be okay. The money was in his sock drawer. Cooper supposed that was as safe a place as any for now. He’d figure out what to do with it later. Maybe he’d ask them at the bank today. Maybe he’d start a business account for the church.

His thoughts turned back to Sally. She was acting strange, and for the first time ever, he couldn’t get her to talk to him. Lately, she seemed taut as a spring, and there was no telling which direction she’d take off in when released.

“Hey, Cooper,” he heard TJ call from the living room.

“Yeah, TJ. I’m coming.” Cooper turned away from the window.

TJ was standing just inside the front door, closing it behind him. “Nice and warm in here.”

“Yeah. The woodstove is burning.”

“Do you use the furnace at all?”

“Nope. Don’t even know if it works anymore. Come on in. You want a cup of coffee?” Cooper moved to the kitchen and poured himself a cup.

“Nah. I don’t like coffee.”

“Neither do I. But it’s warm, and Sally makes it every morning, so I drink it.”

With his usual careless, energetic way of moving, which always reminded Cooper of a child, TJ wiped his feet on the rug by the door and walked the few steps to the white Formica kitchen counter that separated the living room from the kitchen. “Here’s your money.” He handed Cooper a white envelope. “Check for fifty grand is in there.”

“Man, TJ. Are you sure you want to do that? That’s a lot of money. You don’t have to. You already paid for the materials to finish the church. That’s more than I ever dreamed of.”

“No. I want to. It feels good. I like to help people. For the first time ever, I have money to do that. I might not ever be able to do it again. Right now, that’s what I want to do.” TJ stretched his ropy, athletic arms behind his back and grinned.

After adding sugar and milk to his coffee, Cooper walked around the counter and into the living room. “Sit down. Take a load off, unless you got somewhere to be.”

TJ unzipped his coat and sat down on the couch. “Where was Sally headed in such a hurry? Work? I passed her on the road and she didn’t even wave, acted like she didn’t see me. Maybe she didn’t.”

“How’d you get here?”

“My bike.”

“Then she had to see you. It’s not like there’s any other traffic on a dead end road. Not much to distract her. She’s on her way to work.” Cooper sipped his coffee and placed it on the coffee table. “I don’t know, TJ. She’s been acting weird lately. I don’t know what to think.”

“If you ask me, everybody is acting weird lately. Since I won Warrior, you wouldn’t believe how people have been. It’s like everybody is my best friend now. Everywhere I go, I feel like people are talking about me behind my back, pointing at me or just staring. Asking me for my autograph. How stupid is that? And I get all kinds of letters from people telling me they need money. Half of them are probably fake. How am I supposed to know what’s true and what isn’t? I got a whole box of them at Jake’s. I don’t even open them anymore. It’s too depressing.”

“Yeah, I bet. Must be weird. But I guess you’ll get that—winning a competition that was on TV. It’s not every day someone wins a million bucks.”

TJ nodded and sighed. “Sometimes I hate it. And the worst thing is, I don’t know what to do with myself. For five years, I trained every day. Now, I wake up and I don’t know what to do. What in the world do people do with all of their time? What am I supposed to do with today?”

“You got plenty of money to do it once you get it figured out.”

“Yeah, I guess. I’m not complaining. Plenty of people got it a lot worse than me. I’m grateful, don’t get me wrong, but I just feel sort of … I don’t know … lost.”

“Why don’t you go to the diner and ask Lucy out? And why are you still riding a bike? Why don’t you buy a car? You can’t take her out on your bike.”

TJ stood and moved to the woodstove, warming his hands over the top. “Having money doesn’t change anything with Lucy. I’m just not on her radar.”

“You’ll never know unless you ask her.”

“I guess I’d rather wonder than ask her out and have her turn me down.”

“TJ, that’s no way to live. You gotta have faith. Ask her out.”

“I’m afraid she’d tell me no. I’d rather wait until I have some sort of a chance of her saying yes.” TJ gazed out the window. “Won’t be long and it will be snowing.”

“Do something to make her notice you.”

“Like what?” TJ collapsed into a chair across from Cooper and threw a leg over the arm.

“I don’t know.”

“Sure you don’t. It’s easy for you. Women just notice you. You don’t have to do anything.”

Cooper picked up his coffee cup and took another sip. He thought for a moment. “What does she like to do?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, does she like to bowl or anything? You could take her bowling.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, talk to her. Find out. And then go do that with her. Say you like it too.”

“What if it is scuba diving?”

“Come on, TJ. You’re making this harder than it is.”

“Easy for you to say, Cooper.” She’d say yes to you, TJ thought. “You’re better with women than I am.”

“Lately, I’m not so sure about that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Sally’s been acting weird lately. Like she’s kind of mad, but she won’t tell me what she’s mad about. And why do you suppose Frank Collette is hanging out at the diner all of a sudden?”

“The food?”

“I’m not so sure. Have you noticed how much he and Sally talk to each other? And he always comes in alone. Wouldn’t you think he’d have a date once in a while? He’s there all the time. There are other places in town to eat.”

“Violet’s gone. Maybe he’s lonely and doesn’t want to eat at home alone.”

“Yeah. That’s what I’m worried about.”

“What?”

“Frank being lonely.”

“Cooper, come on. You don’t have to worry about that with Sally. She’d never cheat on you.”

Cooper shrugged. “I’ve given her plenty of reasons to.”

“But that was in the past.”

“It still happened.”

“Nah. Sally’d never do that.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Oh, hey, I forgot. Libby Cartwright wanted me to give you Beaulah Potts’ business card.”

TJ raised his brows. “When did you see Libby?”

Cooper shook his head. “No. It wasn’t like that. She stopped by the diner and gave it to me while we were all watching you on TV.” Cooper wondered briefly if that was why Sally was mad. Sally had seen Libby that night and been none too pleased. But Libby had only stayed for a couple of minutes, just long enough to give him the business card.

“Why would she do that?”

“She thinks you might want to buy a house now, and if you do, Libby wants you to use Beaulah Potts. I guess Libby gets a cut when Beaulah makes a sale.”

“Me? Buy a house?”

“Why not? You can’t keep sleeping at Jake’s forever. And sleeping in the church can’t be too comfortable. You have enough money to pay cash for a house. Or even build a new one.”

“I never thought about that. Maybe I could build a house with a special room for Ma and a nurse.”

“Well, if you decide to buy or build, give Beaulah Potts a call and tell her I gave you her business card.”

“Okay. I’ll think about it.” TJ got to his feet.

“You leaving so soon?”

“Yeah. I think I’m going to go for a ride. I feel like I got ants crawling all over me. I need to do something.”

Cooper stood too. “Okay. Thanks for the check.”

“You’re welcome.” TJ moved to the door. “Later.”

 

A short time later, as Cooper was driving to the bank, his thoughts returned to Sally. It didn’t make sense for her to be mad about Libby. Ever since his conversion last April, he’d been faithful to Sally. For the first time in his life, Cooper was having sex with only one woman. And oddly enough, Sally seemed unhappier than ever before. He couldn’t understand it. Maybe he’d ignored her too much while he and TJ spent all summer building the church. Cooper tried to remember when things had taken a turn for the worse. It seemed right around the time TJ won the World Wide Warrior contest, but that didn’t make sense. It seems like that would have made Sally happy, knowing that TJ’s win would also mean money for them. But, somehow, her anger seemed to be tied to that win.

He remembered Sally had been mad that Libby Cartwright had come into the diner. And maybe Sally saw Libby give him her business card, but hell, he’d thrown it away before he ever left the diner that night, so why be mad about that? And he hadn’t had sex with Libby since before he believed in God. Here he was, trying to be a faithful husband, and it didn’t do him a bit of good. He might as well be out screwing around, if Sally was going to walk around pissed all of the time.

Cooper parked his truck in front of the bank. The last time he’d been in here, Frank Collette had turned him down for a loan to buy First Baptist Church. Well, screw Frank Collette. True, the church he and TJ had built was just a small church, and nothing like First Baptist, but it was still a church. And now Cooper had a fifty-thousand-dollar check in his hand. And he was going to enjoy depositing that fifty-thousand-dollar check, right under the nose of Frank Collette.

“Hello,” two young tellers said in unison as he strode toward the counter, both trying to get him to come to their window.

Cooper looked over at Frank’s desk. It was empty. He approached one of the women, a pretty brown-eyed blonde whose name tag read Lee Anne.

“How are you today?” she asked with a smile.

“I want to see Frank Collette.”

“He’s not in, but we have other loan officers available. Would you like me to buzz one?” Her face was flawless with the exception of one small freckle on her forehead, which only made her more beautiful.

But her charms were lost on Cooper. He frowned and looked back at Frank’s desk. “When do you expect him back?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I need to see Frank. I don’t want to talk to anyone else.”

“Oh, I see.” The young woman looked uncomfortable. “Actually, Mr. Collette is no longer with us.”

“What?” Cooper put his hands on the counter and leaned toward her.

“Mr. Collette is no longer with Timber Lake Community Bank.”

“When did that happen?”

“Would you like to talk to another loan officer?”

Cooper shook his head. “No. I guess I’ll just deposit this.” He grabbed an ink pen from the pen holder on the counter, quickly signed the check, and pushed it toward her.

The teller’s eyes widened at the amount of the deposit. She started asking Cooper questions, offering all kinds of bank services, but Cooper heard little of what she said. When she paused, awaiting his response, he asked, “Why’d he leave?”

“Pardon?”

“Frank. Why’d he leave? Is he working at another bank in town?”

“I … I don’t know where Mr. Collette is.”

“Did he get fired?”

“If you’d like to open an—”

“No. I don’t want to open anything. We already have a checking and a savings account here. That’s enough.”

“But with this kind of balance—”

“Did he get fired?”

She looked back at the offices, as if afraid she might be overheard. Leaning slightly forward, she whispered, “Yes.”

“Crap. I wanted him to be here.”

As the young woman made the deposit, Cooper looked at Frank’s desk again. While he waited, a woman sat down at the desk and began typing on a keyboard. A small vase on the corner of the desk held flowers. Must be her desk now, he thought.

“Thanks.” He collected his deposit receipt and turned to leave. Lee Anne said something as he headed for the door, but he did not hear her. The visit to the bank was not nearly as much fun as he had thought it would be. He had so wanted Frank to see that fifty-thousand-dollar deposit.

 

Across town, Lucy Miller stood in her parents’ new sunroom. Cooper and TJ had built most of it. They had been in the middle of finishing the drywall when her mother had fired Cooper.

That night, Ivy had explained to her husband, Drake. “He said he was getting the raw end of the deal.” From her bedroom, Lucy had overheard the entire conversation. “He said it was too much work, building the sunroom in exchange for you processing his timber. He got nasty about it, so I fired him.”

But Lucy knew that wasn’t true. Cooper had been fired because he refused to sleep with Ivy. Long ago, Lucy had lost any illusions about her mother. She knew exactly what kind of woman she was: bitter and desperate. She slept around. Everyone in town knew it. Lucy supposed her father knew it too. But she also knew that Cooper didn’t want anything to do with Ivy. It wasn’t too hard to piece together the puzzle. Ivy had been coming on to Cooper that day, and the next thing Lucy knew, he had been fired, was gone. Her parents hired someone else to finish and paint the drywall, and then hired a couple more guys to come in and install the floor tile. Still, though, Lucy liked to be in the room. It reminded her of Cooper. But most things reminded her of Cooper.

She wondered why Cooper had not said anything about the note she had slipped into his pocket that night in the diner, when they were all watching TJ on World Wide Warrior. Some woman Cooper had called Libby had come in and given Cooper a business card. Lucy didn’t know Libby, but she didn’t like the look of her. Beautiful—and without even trying. Who could like a woman like that? Lucy hated that Cooper even knew such a woman. She refused to think about how well he might know her. Sally had also seen the woman give Cooper the business card, and she was plenty mad; that much was clear. Sally had been hateful the rest of the night, so hateful that Lucy had found the courage to finally let Cooper know how she felt about him. Scrawling a note on a scrap of paper, she’d then stuck it inside his jacket pocket. I could make you happy. I love you with all of my heart. L

Yet Cooper had still not said a word about the note. True, it had only been a few weeks ago, and the only time Lucy had seen him since then was at his church service, and it was hard to talk there, with everyone standing around. But still, Lucy thought that Cooper would have given her some sort of sign by now, a knowing look, a smile, or even another note in exchange. But, so far, nothing.

Lucy stood barefoot on the cold tile floor and looked across the backyard at a squirrel that was busy gathering acorns. If she married Cooper, he could build her a house. Their very own house. Wouldn’t that be something? And she’d never be hateful to him like Sally was. She’d ask him to build a sunroom on their house that was twice as big as this one. She’d like to see her mother’s face on that day. The thought brought a smile to Lucy’s face.

Another thought took her smile away just as quickly. Maybe Cooper had not found the note! She had slipped it into his right jacket pocket that night at the diner, but guys were weird. Maybe he never even looked in his jacket pockets. Maybe that was why she still had not heard anything from Cooper!

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