“I do understand, Emmy. Better than you think.” Steffi took the partially folded tarp and snapped its final fold on her own, then crouched to Emmy’s eye level. “I wasn’t much older than you when my mom died. I missed her so much it felt like the whole world turned into a dark black hole. Most days I wanted to jump right through that hole and follow her to heaven. I was so angry that she left me like that, even though she couldn’t help it. But I kept all those feelings tight inside, like a ball right here.” Steffi pointed at Emmy’s stomach. “Holding all that stuff inside hurt, but it made me feel strong. It seemed better than crying, for sure. Then a girl named Claire moved in across the street. She was very sweet and sporty, and I liked her right away. I was lucky because she was patient with my moods. And at the end of our street was another girl our age, Peyton. Peyton was popular, but it turns out she was kind of lonely, too, for other reasons.“Anyway, somehow that summer we all started spending time together. We gave ourselves a name—the Lilac Lane League—and we started a journal, because Peyton liked to write. We wrote down our dreams and the things that made us mad, and the things that made us laugh. Our crushes, first kisses, all that stuff. Little by little, that knot in my stomach unwound because my friends made me less lonely. That’s how I know the fastest way to feel better is to make a new friend.”“You’re my new friend.” Emmy’s voice sounded small and shaky.“I am your friend, but you also need a friend your age. I know you miss your old gang, but try to make one new friend here, too. I promise there are nice girls. I grew up here, after all, and I’m nice.” Steffi smiled and brushed some of Emmy’s curls off her face.Ryan decided to enter the conversation now, before Emmy broke down in front of Steffi or put her in a more difficult situation. He exited through the kitchen door and crossed the partially framed porch to get to the yard. “Hey there, ladies.”Emmy snapped her gaze at him, and he saw the panic in her eyes. His daughter’s fear of him speared his chest like a sword. He’d failed at his marriage, and his daughter was paying the highest price. He couldn’t fail her, too. He dropped to his knees and opened his arms. She flew into them in a heartbeat.He hugged her and swayed, like he’d done when she was so much younger. Steffi quietly retrieved her toolbox and took it to her van.“Emmy?” Ryan asked once they were alone. “I’m sorry this is such a hard time for you. I want to help you, but I don’t always have all the answers. I do know one thing, though. You can’t call people names and expect to make friends.”She cried against his chest, each tear falling like acid raining on his heart. “Oh, sweetie, it’ll be okay. We all make mistakes. The important thing is to apologize and try to learn from it.”“You always say that,” she muttered into his shirt.“Because it’s the truest thing I know.” He kissed her head.“So why can’t you and Mom apologize and make up?”He hadn’t expected that question, although maybe he should have. “It’s not that simple.”“You always say that, too.”If a conversation with her took this much work at this age, he could barely imagine dealing with her in her teens. “You’re all dirty from helping Steffi. How ’bout you go inside and clean up before dinner? I need to talk to Steffi for a second. Then I’ll come in, and we can figure out how to apologize to Katie Winston.”Emmy nodded while swiping her arm under her runny nose. “Okay.”She wandered into the house just as Steffi came back from the van to get the rest of her personal things. He stood to speak with her. “I heard part of what you said to Emmy.”“I know you don’t want me to speak for you, but I just—”“It’s okay. Thank you for making her feel like she can confide in you. I should’ve listened to you the other day.” He crossed his arms and blew out a long breath. “I’m in over my head doing this on my own.”“You’re not on your own. You’ve got your parents. But even if you were, I know you can do it. She loves you. She wants to make you happy and proud.”He nodded, although he knew he was screwing it all up.“Well, I’d better take off. Benny’s expecting me for another training run.”“You guys are disciplined. I haven’t had a chance to get in a good workout in three months. Pretty soon I’m going to be too soft.” He patted his gut. Granted, he was still pretty fit. He could probably keep up with Steffi for a few miles, anyhow.“I’m sure your mom would watch Emmy if you need to hit the gym or the mean streets of Sanctuary Sound.” She tipped her head, grinning. “My brother might even like some male company now and then. He gets sick of my singing.”Ryan laughed. “Well, you were good at a lot of things, but singing wasn’t one of them.”“You didn’t used to complain.” She hit his arm.He grew quiet for a second, remembering the many times he’d listened to her terrible rendition of Lifehouse’s “You and Me” in the car or on the patio. “No, I never did mind those private concerts.”The air between them turned sweet and thick with fond memories. Holding hands, soccer footwork challenges, the first time he’d copped a feel, and the light in her eyes when he had. The images almost made him want to take hold of her hand again; his heart beat with that hot desire like it had at seventeen.“Dad!” Emmy called from the door, breaking the spell.“You’d better go,” Steffi said with a wistful smile before she turned and walked back to her car.
I was a planner.
I had one Erin Condren planner for work, and another for home and recreational activities like my biweekly running and yoga sessions.
I even mapped out my meals on the front of my fridge in different-colored chalk for each day of the week. I’d never faltered in my routine, I never forgot to highlight, to color code. It was my life.
He was the wrench you throw in the perfectly good engine, causing it to sputter to its death.
I picked up the binoculars again, despite Blaire’s heavy sigh. “He’s just … staring right back at us. Leaning against his stupid Tesla like he owns the world. Why is he even driving a Tesla?”
“Why are we mad about his car again?” Blaire asked in a bored voice.
I glanced over my shoulder. “Don’t you have a date with your perfect man-bun-wearing millionaire hotel-empire-owner slash bartender?”
“I love that you actually included the slash.” Blaire laughed. “And yes, yes I do.” She walked over to me and jerked the binoculars from my death grip. “Give it a rest, he’s just trying to get into your head. He’s still pissed about everything that was leaked to the press.”
“That wasn’t our fault and you know it.” I put my hands on my hips. “That was his blood-sucking wife trying to make us and him look bad.”
I’m a professional.
I’m in control.
Breathe in and out.
Everything is fine.
I’m co-partner of one of the premier PI companies in Hollywood.
I’m the Beyoncé of catching cheaters with their pants down.
“Right.” Blaire nodded slowly. “But in the end it just made him look stupid in front of the entire world—in front of a world that he’s trying to make a better place through all of his charity endeavors, which means, even though he’s not a terrible person, everyone now thinks he is.”
A headache pulsed behind my temples, I rubbed my head and tried to think of a solution. It’s what I did. I fixed things. I fixed broken marriages, relationships, and if a client was too far gone and in a free fall, I handed them a safety net and made it better.
Yet every time I thought of Jessie Beckett I either wanted to inflict violence on his person, or just … huh, I guess all I really wanted was to fight him.
I was tall.
He was muscular.
I would lose.
He would laugh.
Plus it would mean touching him.
“Cold?” Blaire grinned.
“You’re still here?” I said, confused.
She shoved me toward the door. “Go talk to him, throw up the white flag, and move on. Thanks to the news, we didn’t get the short end of the stick and have a client load that’s going to force us to take on another employee.”
I sagged a bit. “Right, you’re right. Okay, I’ll just tell him it’s over. How hard can it be? He has to be bored out of his mind anyway. He’s been there all day.”
Blaire smiled and then gave me an encouraging nod before walking to her car. I gulped at Jessie and stared him down, all six foot four of him.
There were so many things wrong with him as a human that I was offended just thinking about them.
For one, his eyes were too knowing, like he’d already done a search on every single part of your body that responded to male touch and memorized it just in case he got the chance to corner you.
His light eyes against tan skin, dark hair that was a bit longer in the back curling at the ends and making a girl think about giving them a tug.
And don’t even get me started on his muscular build.
It said one thing, in bold colors above his head, that he put physical perfection above all else and wanted everyone else to not only know it, but comment about it, appreciate it—he basically had a big giant freaking “You’re Welcome” sign hovering over him. And it irritated me.
It irritated me that when I’d tried to get close to him during our investigation, he didn’t play into my hands as easily as I was used to with most of our targets.
And to be honest, it stung a bit that when I dumbly threw myself in his face in order to distract him from Blaire—he looked at me like I was a sad excuse for bait. I’d never had a guy react to me in that way, typically it was easy to distract them, tempt them to default to their cheating tendencies, catch them on camera, and be done. But Jessie … Jessie hadn’t even blinked in interest—if anything, I annoyed him. Which in turn annoyed me, made me try harder to push his buttons, until he relented and we became friends.
He gave me another small wave.
I steeled my gaze and made the slow, painful walk across the street.
In one final swipe.
Merry Christmas from your new friends in Holiday, Texas:
The most celebratory town in the South!
When Jinx Jacobs’s motorcycle breaks down outside Holiday, Texas, the last thing she wants is to get stuck in the cheery little town, especially during the holidays. The whole place has gone Christmas crazy, but all she has to do is stay out from under the mistletoe—and do her best to keep that unnervingly attractive cop off her back.
Single dad and sheriff’s deputy Cash Walker doesn’t have time for romance, and yet something about the tempting loner twists his stomach up tighter than a tangle of tinsel. He may have finally found the missing piece in his life…but with Jinx so determined to avoid putting down roots, convincing her to stay may just take a Christmas miracle.
The walk back and forth to the honky-tonk was getting to her. She’d been keeping her eyes open for a spot to camp closer. So far, nothing beat this tract where she’d first parked the bike. The scrubby trees provided a break from the wind, and there was a freshwater stream just a few minutes’ walk through the brush. But she did need to start thinking about a more semipermanent solution. She’d text Jamie today to find out how long she could hold the job in New Orleans. If things looked good on that front, she could bunk with Dixie for a while and still make it to Louisiana before New Year’s.
Her backpack stuffed with dirty clothes and with a grumpy Chihuahua in his soft- side crate, she set off on the walk back to the Rambling Rose. She arrived in enough time to brush her teeth and put on a touch of makeup in the bathroom.
For the next couple of hours, she mixed mimosas and hauled trays of Texas french toast and huevos rancheros to the waiting crowd. The kids wanted to touch her hair, and more than once, she caught a skeptical glance from a surly local or concerned parent. She was about to sneak off to the backroom to take Hendrix out when someone shrieked her name from the doorway.
Kenzie barreled across the room, legs and arms flapping like she’d just seen her favorite cartoon character. Jinx caught her right before Kenzie plowed into her. Scrawny arms wrapped around her waist, and a mass of light-brown hair pressed into her gut. Jinx instinctively hugged the kid back.
Kenzie took two steps backward, grabbed Jinx’s hand, and began tugging her toward the doorway. “Daddy told me you work for Aunt Charlie now. Are you gonna have breakfast with us? I like the french toast sticks. Angelo always makes them look like a face and gives me extra whipped cream. Do you like whipped cream?”
“You gotta like whipped cream. Papa sometimes squirts it into my mouth from the can.” Kenzie’s voice quieted as she glanced at the older man standing next to her dad. “Oh, I wasn’t supposed to tell Daddy that.”
“You must be Jinx.” A woman about Jinx’s height enveloped her in a hug.
Awkward. Who in the hell were these people? So far, Texans sure seemed to like to dole out the hugs. All of them. Well, all of them except the tall, dark, and cranky deputy. Jinx stood still, waiting for the moment to pass.
Cash cleared his throat. “Sorry, my family’s made up of huggers. Mom, enough already.”
The words sounded funny coming from the man who couldn’t seem to stand her. He definitely didn’t strike her as a hugger. Or much of a smiler either. The chip on his shoulder seemed to be as big as the double- wide where she’d last seen her own mother.
Cash’s mom backed away. “I’m sorry. It’s just that Kenzie and Charlie have told us so much about you. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Jinx side-eyed the beaming girl. They’d only met once. What could Kenzie have told them?
Cash gestured to his mother. “Mom, meet Jinx. Jinx, this is my mom, Ann, and my dad, Tom.” He shifted from foot to foot, clearly uncomfortable performing the introductions.
Tom offered a hand, so Jinx shook it. Warm, rough, the way she imagined a rancher’s hands would feel. Charlie had told her she grew up around here with a ranch full of brothers. Lucky for her she had so mucCOh family around.
“Can you eat with us? Nana, can she?” Kenzie grabbed Jinx’s hand in one of hers and Ann’s in the other.
“We’d love to have you join us. Kenzie, why don’t you go find a table?” Ann pointed to the far side of the room, at the tables closest to the windows.
Couldn’t they tell she was on the clock? Surely the logo T-shirt or apron ought to provide a built-in excuse. “Oh, I’m actually working right now. I can’t— ”
“Place is about cleared out, wouldn’t you say?” Tom gestured around the mostly empty room.
The brunch crowd had come and gone. A few regulars sat on barstools watching a college football game. Dixie walked by at that exact ill-timed moment.
“You go ahead, Jinx. I’ll cash out the table you’ve got left. Enjoy the break.” She winked, and Jinx vowed to royally screw up her next cocktail order.
“It’s all settled then. Looks like Kenzie found us a table.” Tom guided his wife toward an empty table where Kenzie sat, swinging her legs in a too-big-for-her chair.
Jinx looked up at Cash, waiting for him to make up some excuse. She didn’t want to budge her way into their little family lunch.
Instead, he pulled his mouth into a resigned line. “Shall we?” He gestured toward the table across the room.
Toward his mom and dad.
Toward his kid.
Toward uncharted territory.
I dialed my brother and hid in an alcove.
“Lacey?” He answered like he was confused.
“Yeah,” I whispered, and glanced around. “I need advice.”
“Okay.” His tone still seemed skeptical.
“What if I created a company that fidelity-tested guys, offering this as a service for a fee? Is that morally wrong?”
“Fidelity-testing service? Who would honestly pay someone—never mind. Forget I even asked that. We both know who would pay for something so stupid. Is this hypothetical?” He laughed hopefully.
“No,” I whispered, and scanned the hall again. “What would I need?”
“Honestly? I don’t know. I’d need a minute to think about it.”
“You have a minute.”
“Okay. Uhhhhh. A website that couldn’t be hacked. A system of being paid that couldn’t be traced. A couple of girls who could easily blend in and not be recognized if they wore simple disguises. A way of recording every interaction as proof. An email account that’s linked to the website that could send the recordings of the guy being disloyal.”
“Have you given something like this much thought before?” I asked quietly, a little worried.
“Yeah, this is totally what I spend all my free time thinking about,” he said sarcastically. “It’s simple logic, moron.”
“Can you help me make this?” I closed my eyes for a second and really contemplated if this was a good idea.
“Probably. You would make your entire year of tuition and probably mine in the next two months of summer. I would totally be down for this.” He was too eager. “I legit have nothing better to do. But I have one condition.”
“Hennie. You give me your blessing to ask her out. I will knock that website outta the park.”
“Fine,” I hissed, and closed my eyes and forced myself into a momentary chant of do whatever makes him happy before I continued with the regular worries. “Are we going to burn in hell for manipulating people like this?” Second-guessing was already starting.
“No. Dude. If girls are willing to pay you for this, that’s their choice, and you should take the money. And it’s the guy’s choice whether or not he acts like a dick. Not your problem. This is like being a PI for love. That’s what you should call it. PI for Love.”
“I was thinking Fidelity Tester,” I whispered, and checked the hall again.
“That sounds stupid.”
“You’re stupid.” We automatically slipped back into our brother-sister banter.
“Love Tester,” he offered, ignoring the name-calling game.
“Dear God. Don’t you claim to work at a marketing firm?”
“Shut up. Test Dummy.” I laughed, thinking how insanely stupid this idea might be and how dumb I sounded even contemplating it.
“Winner!” He smiled. I could hear it in his tone. “Test Dummy it is. I’ll set up the email account now: firstname.lastname@example.org. The address is available; no surprise there. I guess there isn’t a lineup of other creeps putting money on the name.”
“Okay.” I inhaled sharply. “I’ll go advertise it where all the girls look, kinda random and casual, like it’s on the DL.” I took a second deep breath. “Thanks.”
“No, no. Thank you for the chance to contribute my talents on such a positive, healthy, world-benefitting project, with the side perk being you forced to accept my adoration of Hennie. First order of business, stop the players; next up, save the whales. I’ll get started now.”
Among her superrich friends, Lacey Winters never minded being the “poor one.” That is, until her tuition money and big dreams vanish overnight. Now Lacey has a plan to make some extra cash—a devilishly brilliant plan. For a fee, she’ll test your boyfriend to find out if he’s faithful or a cheating jerk. Her next target: a slick and sexy trust-fund playboy. Unfortunately for Lacey, his charms aren’t just legend. And before she knows it, she’s under his spell.
It was bad enough that Jordan Somersby’s father forced a spoiled “society princess” on him. Then Jordan had to go and find his dream girl—the beautiful, fun, and down-to-earth Lacey. And he’ll do anything to prove he’s sincere. But pretty soon it’ll be Lacey’s turn to prove that this is not just a game.
Because, when it comes to mixing love and deception, nothing is what it seems. And Lacey and Jordan are about to face the ultimate test.
The international bestselling author of Roommates and the Puck Buddies series, Tara Brown writes in a variety of genres. In addition to her comedic Single Lady Spy series, she has also published popular contemporary and paranormal romances, science fiction, thrillers, and romantic comedies. She especially enjoys writing dark and moody tales, often focusing on strong female characters who are more inclined to vanquish evil than perpetrate it. She shares her home with her husband, two daughters, two cats, an Irish wolfhound, and a Maremma Sheepdog. Find out more about Tara by visiting www.TaraBrownAuthor.com.
A fierce Englishwoman on the run.
A Highland Laird who needs a proper wife.
And a desire neither can resist.
Athena Trappes thinks she’s in love…until she discovers the scoundrel only wanted her as his bit on the side. Enraged, she does what any spirited Englishwoman would do: set fire to his belongings, incur his dangerous wrath, and flee—immediately. With nowhere else to turn, she seeks freedom in the wilds of Scotland.
Highland Laird Symon Grant lost his wife years ago, and it’s his duty to find another. Athena is not exactly what the clan has in mind for him, but Symon’s heart burns with unexpected passion for the woman who would risk everything to be free.
The difficulty with escaping was a person needed a place to go. Athena discovered the truth of her dilemma once she spied her uncle’s home. The moon was rising, but the night was still bitter. The sturdy wool dress she had lamented wasn’t pretty enough was now her dearest friend, for it kept her from shivering.
At least as far as the chill in the night went.
Inside her heart, there was ice forming.
What a fool I was.
And now, her lack of judgment was going to destroy everything. Galwell would do as he promised, she had little doubt. It felt as though his shell had cracked, allowing her to see what manner of foul creature he truly was. Well, she would not allow him to claim a victory over her. But how? Nobles controlled the world. His blue blood would be seen as more honest than her word. The sin of her parents would be taken as a stain against her account of what had happened.
He could accuse her of thievery. Have her flogged or any other manner of horrible fates. Yet there was nowhere else to go.
“Athena?” The door suddenly opened wide, the light from within illuminating her. “Thank Christ! I have been near to death with worry.” Henry was pulling her inside, even as she tried to fend him off. She didn’t really want to. No, he was her family, the man who called her his own when others had advised him to abandon her to an orphan’s lot.
“Tell me true,” he demanded once the door was shut and the warm glow of the candles on the table surrounded her.
Sweet Christ, she had not given enough thanks for how wonderful her home was. The world beyond the door was crueler than she might ever have imagined.
“Athena.” There was a subtle reprimand in her uncle’s voice.
Her memory rushed in with vivid recollection of Galwell’s threats. “I must leave.”
Henry’s forehead furrowed.
“I must,” she insisted. “Oh, Uncle, I have made a grave misjudgment of character.”
Henry held up a hand. His fingertips were marked with scars from years of toil at his trade. She fought back nausea as she recalled how Galwell had promised to destroy it all in his quest to have her submission.
“Tell me everything. We shall find a solution.”
“I must leave,” she muttered, suddenly losing the strength to stand. She lowered herself onto one of the benches at the table. A place she had so often enjoyed the company of her family. Now it was empty, and she faced the knowledge that she could not be there at dawn when they came down to break their fast.
“Galwell…came upon me as I was leaving service…in his carriage…”
Henry had always been a man able to keep his thoughts hidden. Tonight she witnessed him fighting for control of his temper. It flashed in his eyes as he tapped the tabletop with his fist.
“I shall have to leave…” And yet she had no idea where to go. “Galwell will ruin you.”
“Aye, he’s a black-hearted man and no mistake.”
Her uncle stood, pacing about the kitchen. He stopped as he came to some sort of decision. Athena stood, ready to face whatever he might say as her due for loving unwisely.
“We need time,” Henry said. “I am not a man without friends, but it will require planning to ensure Galwell cannot destroy us. As a noble, his word will be listened to first and with more weight. I will have to make inquiries discreetly, for not many will go against Galwell’s blood. At least publicly. Behind closed doors is another matter entirely.”
There was a commotion on the street, the sound of boots stamping against the cobblestones as men approached.
“The priest hole,” Henry whispered.
He didn’t wait but grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward a side of the hearth. There he ran his fingers along a stone until he found the small indentation where he could open a hidden door. She had to turn sideways to fit into the hollowed-out section of the wall. Her uncle closed it, locking her behind the wall of the common room.
It was dark, but she’d often played in the space as a child. She drew in a deep breath and slid down farther, to where she could see into the kitchen through tiny places where the plaster had been removed so a hidden priest might see out.
Someone pounded on the door.
“What’s all this?” her uncle asked gruffly. “Is that my niece at last? I’m sick with worry.”
“We are here for Athena Trappes.”
Through the peepholes, Athena saw the constables with their white staffs. All along the street, doors opened as the neighbors came to investigate why the sheriff had sent the constables out into the night.
Every honest man was expected to show he was not harboring a criminal by opening his door wide.
“And you come to me?” Henry demanded. “Why?”
It wasn’t a lie. Athena realized Henry was a man who was bound by his honor. She bit her lip as her insides churned. Tonight her fate would be decided.
“Baron Scrope’s son has accused her of setting fire to his London home.”
There was a shifting among those watching in the streets. Fire was a grave crime because it might spread so easily in the tight confines of the city.
“You say my niece was with Galwell?” Henry demanded again. “Before he finished the contracts with me? He has offered for my niece and then takes her to his home? I will have satisfaction!”
“So will the sheriff,” the captain of the constables said. “You shall—”
Henry interrupted the man. “You will return to the sheriff and demand to know why Galwell Scrope took my niece to his home when he had sworn to finish negotiating contracts with me, as he pledged his word of honor to do. What manner of a man is noble by birth and yet not honest in his dealing with a common man such as myself? He stood in my home and vowed to wed Athena! It is well known on this street! If my niece set a fire, she was likely attempting to escape from a man who is dishonorable at his core. Did he attempt to make her his whore?”
Now there was a mumbling among those watching, good men who had indeed heard Galwell say he would wed her. The constable captain was uncertain. He looked between Henry and the crowd moving closer.
“I will put the question to the sheriff.”
The constables turned and marched away. Henry nodded to a few of his neighbors before firmly shutting the door.
She wanted to be relieved. But her worry only grew as she recognized just how much power Galwell wielded.
“Stay in there, Athena. I shall return.”
Her uncle was gone a moment later, slipping out of the back door.
It left her alone with her thoughts.
Her heart was torn. Oh, she understood she owed not a single tear to Galwell, not after what he had done and threatened to do.
And yet her dreams were a pile of rubble at her feet, her world upside down, and even hope seemed beyond her grasp as she felt as though she was turning as hard and cold as the stones she was pressed against.
Perhaps that was for the best.
It truly was.
She would never love again, for men were vile creatures. They declared themselves so many things, and beneath it all was naught but the craving to use women to satisfy their lust.
Ophelia Bishop was a lovestruck teenage girl when she and Kyle Kimpton chased their dreams to Hollywood. Kyle’s dreams came true. Ophelia’s did not. When Kyle chose his career over their relationship, Ophelia returned home to rural New York to run the family’s B & B—wiser, and more guarded against foolish fantasies. Now Kyle has come crashing back into her life, and all her defenses are down.
He parked the car and cut the engine.
Ten years since he’d come home to the small upstate New York town of Gardiner and gazed upon the staggering Shawangunk Mountains. Ten years since he’d touched snow. Ten years since he’d been surrounded by the eerie beauty of nature’s silence.
And too many years since he’d seen the only woman he’d ever loved.
They’d been the three musketeers—Ethan, Ophelia, and him—caught in a world of their own making. Memories assaulted him. Of running through the woods when they were young and racing horses barefoot as the green meadow flashed below. Of moonlight walks and late nights at Bea’s Diner, squeezed into the cracked red-vinyl booths as they spun dreams of the future and feasted on greasy burgers. Of his first kiss with Ophelia. The taste of innocence and passion mixed with Juicy Fruit chewing gum.
He closed his eyes, staggering under the raw emotions the images brought. Some of those dreams had come true for him, but the price had been brutal.
It was time to make things right.
It was time to reclaim what he’d lost.
Kyle glanced at the passenger seat, his fingers already reaching to stroke the leather laptop case. He’d left a fancy mansion behind, along with rooms filled with expensive trinkets meant to amuse, entertain, and distract the masses. He’d walked away from a gourmet chef, housekeeper, and personal trainer. His garage still held the laser-blue Lamborghini and the sleek black Hummer. He’d left the tuxedoes and designer clothes in his closet; the cedar wine cellar still filled with rare, expensive wine; and the four-poster mahogany bed that had seen too many lonely nights.
Now all he had to his name was one battered suitcase, his laptop, and a Ford Fusion rental car.
And for the first time in way too long, he felt the beginning of a creative spark—the sexy wink of his muse beckoning him closer to his childhood home, where he’d sworn he’d never return.
He grabbed his phone and tapped out a text to Ethan.
I’m here. How bad is she going to take it?
He waited a bit, until the familiar gray bubble with ellipsis popped up.
Don’t know—depends on how pathetic you look. Still have no clue why she’s mad at you.
Kyle winced as guilt punched through him. Falling in love with your best friend’s younger sister was a no-no. Running away with her was even worse. But eloping and not telling his friend about it?
There was no making amends for that one.
He cursed, then tapped his fingers again.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
Don’t be stupid—it’s a great idea! The inn isn’t booked up and she’s just being stubborn. Go inside, make nice, and I’ll be there in an hour.
He groaned and resisted the urge to bang his head against the steering wheel. When he’d asked about staying at the inn for three months to work on a new project, he’d worried Ophelia would refuse. When Ethan told him to book his ticket, he’d been relieved.
Until he found out on the plane ride that Ophelia had actually said no. Ethan had conveniently left that part out, citing in true guy code it would all be fine.
Her refusal to see him hurt more than he’d imagined it would, but now he had no choice. Everything was set in motion, and he wasn’t about to return to LA. Not only had he committed to writing this screenplay surrounded by his memories, he’d sworn to fight for a second chance with Ophelia. It was time they both faced the past, put some ghosts behind them, and figure things out. After all, it had been eight years.
She had no idea he was about to walk through her door with the intention of staying for the next three months—in the dead of winter.
That’d be bad enough, but when she heard his other piece of news?
Things were gonna get a hell of a lot worse.
He stayed in the car a few more minutes, trying to psych himself up. Maybe she’d surprise him and be open to talking things through. Maybe she wouldn’t be horrified when he told her about what he’d discovered a few months ago. Maybe it would all work out fine, just like Ethan said.
Maybe he’d find himself again.
Grasping at all those positive possibilities, he gritted his teeth, grabbed his bag, and got out of the car.
Kyle can’t think of a better place to write his latest screenplay than his hometown. After all, that was where he met the heart of his inspiration—his first love. He knows the damage he’s caused Ophelia, and he wants a chance to mend their relationship. If anyone can prove to Ophelia that happy ever afters aren’t only for the movies, it should be him.
As much as Ophelia’s changed, she still has feelings for Kyle. But her heart has been broken before, and she knows that Kyle could run back to Hollywood at any time. She gave up her dreams once, but maybe she can dare to change her own love story…one last time.
Jennifer Probst is the New York Times bestselling author of the Billionaire Builders series, the Searching For series, The Marriage series, the Steele Brothers series, and The Start of Something Good, which is the first book in the Stay series. Like some of her characters, Probst, along with her husband and two sons, calls New York’s Hudson Valley home. When she isn’t traveling to meet readers, she enjoys reading, watching “shameful reality television,” and visiting a local Hudson Valley animal shelter.
New York Times bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter Paula Brackston returns to her trademark blend of magic and romance guaranteed to enchant in The Little Shop of Found Things, the first book in a new continuing series.
An antique shop haunted by a ghost.
A silver treasure with an injustice in its story.
An adventure to the past she’ll never forget.
Xanthe and her mother Flora leave London behind for a fresh start, taking over an antique shop in the historic town of Marlborough. Xanthe has always had an affinity with some of the antiques she finds. When she touches them, she can sense something of the past they come from and the stories they hold. When she has an intense connection to a beautiful silver chatelaine she has to know more.
It is while she’s examining the chatelaine that she’s transported back to the seventeenth century where it has its origins. She discovers there is an injustice in its history. The spirit that inhabits her new home confronts her and charges her with saving her daughter’s life, threatening to take Flora’s if she fails.
While Xanthe fights to save the girl amid the turbulent days of 1605, she meets architect Samuel Appleby. He may be the person who can help her succeed. He may also be the reason she can’t bring herself to leave. (Synopsis from Amazon)
The way the chatelaine speaks to Xanthe combined with the hateful ghost and the danger surrounding her and her mother, THE LITTLE SHOP OF FOUND THINGS reminded me a bit of an old TV show based on cursed objects in an antique shop. If you ever watched the show and decided to read THE LITTLE SHOP OF FOUND THINGS, please let me know if it struck you the same.
My thoughts…..3.5 stars
Xanthe inadvertently becomes a time traveler after purchasing a chatelaine at an estate sale. Things speak to Xanthe and the chatelaine was practically screaming. Once she brings it home, an antique shop with flat above purchased with her mom, the chatelaine teams with a malevolent spirit and a seventeenth century jail in their back garden to compel Xanthe into the past.
Her mission, if she wishes her mom to remain safe, is to save the life of a young housemaid in 1605.
THE LITTLE SHOP OF FOUND THINGS is about the love between a mother and daughter and the lengths they’re willing to go to for each other. It’s also a time travel tale, strong on history and adventure with a light smattering of romance.
There was a period when it appeared that current social justice standards would be applied to the past and the housemaid’s plight, fortunately that was short lived.
Often in time travel there’s the conundrum of change the past/change the future; unless it’s based on changing/preventing a future event. Xanthe’s circumstances don’t allow for such niceties.
THE LITTLE SHOP OF FOUND THINGS centers on a loving relationship between a mother and daughter, the sacrifices we can be called upon to make, and features a resourceful, slightly prickly heroine. Xanthe can’t accomplish her task alone, but any romance takes a backseat making the story stronger and more appealing.
I can’t help but wonder what Xanthe will get up to next and will she and Samuel ever meet again?
Wildlife conservationist Jade Sinclair isn’t used to having money. But when she and her siblings learned they were part of the mega-rich Sinclair dynasty, they became billionaires overnight. Jade doesn’t even know how to act rich, especially when she’s dealing with an arrogant, privileged, unreasonably sexy snob like Eli Stone.
Unlike Jade, Eli grew up rich, and he just keeps getting richer. Eli is always looking for an adventure, and he’s found an inviting one in Jade—as resistant as she is irresistible. His less-than-honorable plan? Get her alone in the wilderness by buying out all the spots in her survival class.
Calling a truce, they strike a bargain: Jade will teach Eli basic survival skills, and he’ll teach her how to navigate the world of the wealthy elite. Jade has only one condition—she will not let herself be seduced by him. But some things are easier said than done . . .
I slowed down as I turned off the main highway.
I pulled onto the rough road to the small cabin on the property. There were enough bunk beds in the rustic structure for everybody, but students had the option of pitching tents or building their own shelters if they chose.
After I parked my Jeep, I unloaded some supplies and checked out the cabin. Although I encouraged foraging and trapping, I always made sure to have enough basic food so students didn’t starve.
I sat on the wooden steps and took a deep breath, relaxing to the sounds of the birds and the feel of a light breeze that caressed my skin.
I opened the book I’d brought along, the latest from my favorite erotic romance writer. The reading material was one of my secret pleasures, maybe because I’d never been overwhelmed by lust for any man, but I loved to read about the possibility.
I was mostly a realist, but I loved the fantasy of some hot guy sweeping me off my feet.
Other than a boyfriend in college who had used me to help him get his degree and then disappeared after graduation without a word, I’d never been in a sexual relationship.
Honestly, my ex hadn’t exactly rocked my world. But I liked to think that love and lust existed.
Brooke had always accused me of being a closet romantic. And maybe she was right. As a scientist, believing in soulmates, love, and unbridled lust didn’t make much sense. But I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to believe it was real anyway.
It had happened for my twin, and Brooke deserved the love she had with Liam. Her capacity to care about other people was endless.
A sigh escaped from my mouth as I started reading the scene I’d left off on the last time I’d picked up the book.
It was hot.
It was sensual.
And even though the male hero was an obnoxious alpha sometimes, I adored the way he wanted to give his woman everything and protect her from anything bad in the world, and how incredibly devoted he was to the woman he loved.
“Hello, Jade,” a smooth baritone said from above me, the deep voice startling me so much I instinctively slammed the book closed.
Even though I loved steamy romance, I didn’t exactly broadcast it, except to my friends who read the same type of books.
Unfortunately, I’d gotten so lost in the hot fairy tale that I obviously hadn’t heard my first student arrive.
I shaded my eyes and looked up, curious because the voice was familiar, but I was pretty sure that since I lusted after Eli Stone, I was hearing that whiskey-smooth baritone voice only in my imagination.
My heart skittered as I focused in on the face belonging to the sexy male voice.
It was Eli Stone, and I gaped at him like an idiot because I couldn’t seem to reconcile him and being out in the middle of nowhere.
I scrambled to my feet, feeling at a disadvantage because I was so far below him. But the position change didn’t help all that much. I was average height, and Eli Stone was all muscle—broad, tall, and pretty damn intimidating, even though he was casually dressed in jeans, a T-shirt that only showed how ripped he was, and a pair of hiking boots.
For just a moment, my eyes were drawn to the dark scrolls and sharp angles of the tribal tattoo that covered his left arm, ending at his wrist. The markings were a stark black against his tanned skin, and the ferociousness of the design left me speechless.
I wasn’t into tats, and I’d seen Eli’s in images many times, but there was something about those markings that made my heart lodge in my throat. They were fierce, but for some reason they only made me feel . . . sadness.
“What are you doing here?” I finally asked hesitantly as my gaze went back to his face.
He folded his muscular arms in front of him as he answered, “You didn’t seem to want to come to me, so I’m coming to you. I’m your student for the next thirty-two hours or so, Jade.”
I might not have been fond of Eli Stone, but his presence was still a little bit overwhelming.
Okay, maybe more than a little bit.
It had been so long since I’d seen Eli in person that I’d started to tell myself that I’d overestimated the tension that had flowed between us in his office.
But I really hadn’t.
My body was taut just from being in close proximity to him, and the hypervigilant awareness I felt when I looked at him was very, very real.
The feelings were so powerful that I couldn’t focus on anything else but him.
I didn’t understand it.
But I was truly experiencing it.
The same awkward, potent attraction I’d fought in his office months ago.
I swallowed hard, my brain working to figure out exactly how I could get rid of Eli Stone before I made a complete and total fool of myself.
J.S. “Jan” Scott is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of numerous contemporary and paranormal romances, including The Sinclairs series. She’s an avid reader of all types of books and literature, but romance has always been her genre of choice—so she writes what she loves to read: stories that are almost always steamy, generally feature an alpha male, and have a happily ever after, because she just can’t seem to write them any other way! Jan loves to connect with readers. Visit her website at www.authorjsscott.com.
He can’t have her.
So he moves in with her…
What could possibly go wrong?
As heir to a chain of luxury hotels, Sean Wyse III always gets what he wants. So when he sees a freeloading roommate taking advantage of his spunky best friend, Molly Brandt, he doesn’t hesitate to step in. He kicks out the roommate…and moves himself in.
Molly loves quality time with Sean, but spending nights with him one wall away threatens to wake the crush she thought she’d gotten over. A crush Sean knows nothing about, which might be a problem…considering how hard Sean’s been working never to think of Molly that way.
Sean took a step back and ran his hand through his hair, pausing when he realized the state of disarray Molly’d left it in. “You messed up my hair,” he accused, his grin telling her that he knew how much she’d liked doing it.
She shook her head, unable to play along. “You’re messing up my mind.”
The half smile fell away, and then Sean was stepping closer, his eyes going serious. “If this is about the dancing, Moll—”
“It’s not. It’s about you and me figuring out how to get past this inconvenient attraction and get back to just being friends.”
Sean sighed, looking relieved. “You’re right. I keep hoping whatever’s going on between us will go away on its own. That if we just ignore it, eventually it will stop being an issue.”
Molly nodded, then shook her head and stepped into Sean’s space. “Or maybe… Okay, I know this is going to sound nuts, and it probably is, but I was talking to Jill inside and…” And this sounded so stupid, she couldn’t believe she was even thinking about suggesting it, but then Sean ducked low, putting his face back into her line of sight and giving her that smile that promised she could tell him anything.
“What is it?”
“Do you ever really wish you could have a doughnut, but you know you shouldn’t? Like you’re trying to cut back on bad carbs or processed sugar, or maybe they were just out of doughnuts when you went to the stand and you figured you’d just wait until you could get one another day, but then all day you think about the doughnut, because you didn’t just have it when you wanted it, so when you finally, finally see a chance to get the doughnut again, you make a really bad decision and buy, like, all the doughnuts they have and eat and eat and eat until you’re sick to your stomach and filled with regret?”
That endearing smile had left Sean’s face, but being Sean, he was taking her question to heart. He rubbed a hand along his jaw and cocked his head to the side. “No. I bust my ass at the gym so I don’t worry about carbs and sugar, and when I want a doughnut, I get one. And I mean, this sounds pretty obnoxious, but if I really want a doughnut and the stand doesn’t have one, I call down to Jerry, and I’ve got one in the next twenty minutes.”
Molly blew out a breath in a silent plea for patience. This guy ran the most successful hotel in the city, could do her taxes in his head, and knew the answer to every Jeopardy question every time they watched the show…and yet he couldn’t see where she was going with this?
“Say it’s a special doughnut and—”
“I’m more of a bagel guy.”
Maybe she should have used an éclair.
“You’re the doughnut, Sean!” she snapped, exasperation wearing her thin. “You are the doughnut I’m craving. The one I keep thinking about when I’m supposed to be thinking of other things. You. And all I was saying is that maybe what we need to do is give in just a little. Have a taste to curb the craving… Before we crack and wake up surrounded by shredded Dunkin’ Donut bags and a bed filled with crumbs.”
Sean had stopped moving. Heck, he looked like he might not even be breathing, he was so still. Except for his eyes, which had gone dark and serious as they searched hers.
“Molly, what kind of a taste are you talking about?” he asked, his voice gone gravelly rough.
She swallowed past the anxious knot in her throat. “A kiss. Not more than a doughnut hole.”
His stare dropped to her mouth. “You’re talking about now? Here?”
She angled her head, taking in the setting. The concrete was cracked, and Dumpsters lined one side of the alley, while fire escapes hung overhead. She looked at someone’s discarded McDonald’s bag and nodded. “Yeah, this is probably perfect for our needs.” At Sean’s raised brow, she explained. “It’s not romantic, so I don’t have to worry about you getting caught up in some princess fantasy. We’re only semiprivate out here. While if we were at home, we’d have zero chance of getting interrupted.”
“Plus, the assortment of sexable surfaces on hand back at your place.”
“I know. Don’t get me started. But here, the atmosphere isn’t really conducive to going too far. You know what I mean?”
The muscle in his jaw bounced, and he met her eyes. “You worried about things going too far?”
He wasn’t? “No. But better safe than sorry, right?”
He moved a step closer, his single slow breath seeming to fill out his chest and broaden his shoulders. “Sure.”
She swallowed hard. “Honestly, it’s probably going to be gross when we finally do it.”
Sean nodded, close enough now for his hands to settle on her hips. “If you say so.”
Her hands met his stomach, her fingers briefly catching the fabric of his shirt before coasting up to rest lightly on his shoulders. “Just a taste,” she whispered, her lungs tight as their eyes met.
“Just enough to satisfy the craving,” he corrected, lowering his mouth to hers so slowly, she knew he was giving her this last chance to back out. Maybe she should have, but after all the years of wondering, being this close to knowing what Sean’s kiss tasted like was something she couldn’t back away from.
Fake engagements are a dangerous business.
Bryan James’s job is on thin ice unless he can secure a contract with a popular design house. He knows his best friend’s sister can help—but her terms are more than he bargained for.
Alexis Devers’s debut fashion line is a hit. But when Alexis’s publicist tells buyers that it landed her a wealthy, gorgeous fiancé, Alexis needs to come up with one—fast. Bryan’s offer to strike a deal is perfectly timed. She’s more than willing—on one condition…
It’s the perfect plan…until feelings start getting in the way. Suddenly, the dangers of mixing business and pleasure become much more real than either of them expected.
Alexis and Bryan meet for coffee and she wears her attraction on her sleeve.
The moment she stepped inside, the rich aroma of roasting coffee beans filled her nostrils, replacing the scent of the copious evidence of plant reproduction she’d dealt with outside. She inhaled, a smile stretching her lips. The shop wasn’t too crowded, but she could see there were a good ten or so people inside, seated at tables, on benches, or in the fluffy armchairs. She eased her way to the counter, reading the chalkboard that displayed the day’s special concoctions.
Bryan strode in.
The moment he entered the space, she felt his presence. It was as if her senses awakened whenever he was near. She looked toward the door, letting her gaze sweep over him. He wore a pair of navy slacks and a light-blue button-down shirt. He’d forgone a tie, and the top two buttons of his shirt were undone. His black dress shoes gleamed in the overhead light. A pair of dark sunglasses obscured his eyes but could not hide the smile that brightened his handsome face when he saw her.
He removed the sunglasses, tucking them into the hip pocket on his slacks. Their gazes met as he crossed the space.
Her heart pounded in her ears. What was it about him and his killer smile that made her feel like an overzealous fangirl in the front row of a concert? Even now, she could feel the rise in her body temperature, and she could tell it had nothing to do with the climatic conditions of the coffee shop.
No. This man was hot, plain and simple.
Standing abreast of her, he spoke. “Have you been waiting long?”
“No. I was a little early, but I haven’t been here that long.” She blinked, hoping to break the spell he seemed to be casting over her. “Do you want to order something?”
“I’m gonna grab a mocha. You look nice, by the way.” He let his gaze travel over her body.
She glanced down at her simple outfit of a long gray tunic, black leggings, and metallic silver ballet flats. “Thanks.” She hadn’t changed clothes after leaving work. As a designer and as a consumer, she held firm to the belief that comfort should coexist with looking put-together.
The young woman working behind the counter asked, “What can I get you, ma’am?”
Alexis turned toward the menu again but found it hard to decide. Nothing there looked quite as delicious as the tall drink of man standing behind her. In the end, she went with her usual. “Can I have a medium French roast with cream and a caramel drizzle, please?”
“No problem, ma’am. Anything else?”
“No.” She occasionally ordered a muffin or some other pastry to accompany her dark roast, but the butterflies in her stomach left little room—or desire—for food. She reached into her black shoulder bag for her wallet, but she heard Bryan speak as she rifled around inside her purse.
“I’ll be paying for the lady’s drink. And I’d like a medium mocha, please.”
She snapped her head up in time to see him hand the barista his credit card.
As if he sensed her wide-eyed stare, he turned her way. “What is it?”
“I was intending to pay for my drink.”
“Nonsense. It’s the least I can do for my beautiful fiancée.” He winked.
Her mouth watered, and she swallowed. Was it from the heady scent of coffee and baked goods arousing her taste buds? Or from the way he looked at her, which aroused her in an entirely different way?
“Did you already pick somewhere to sit?”
His question drew her back to reality. She shook her head. “Like I said, I haven’t been here that long.”
He gestured to a table for two, situated in the far back corner of the coffee shop, to the left of the counter. “That looks nice and private.”
She couldn’t help noticing the way he seemed to emphasize the word private. She swallowed again. “Sounds good.” Based on what they were about to discuss, it made sense for them to seek a table away from the other patrons.
Once the barista handed them their steaming ceramic mugs, he started toward the table he’d chosen. She fell into step behind him, and her traitorous eyes dipped to his hips. He had a glorious backside that nicely filled his slacks. It looked tight enough to bounce the proverbial quarter off. Chastising herself for the direction of her thoughts, she jerked her gaze upward as they reached the table.
And found him watching her, an amused grin on his face.
Her hands began to tremble beneath his scrutiny.
He set his mug down, then grabbed hers and put it down as well. “You okay?”
She nodded, slipping into her seat. “Yes. I’m fine.”
He sat in the chair across from her. “I know where you were looking.”
Her eyes widened, and she slid her cup to the side so she could rest her forehead on the cool surface of the tabletop. She certainly hadn’t intended to be so obvious in her ogling. She remembered that she’d caught him doing the same thing when he’d first visited her office. His inability to hide his behavior had amused her, yet here she was, doing the very same thing.
He chuckled. “Don’t be embarrassed. The fact that we’re attracted to each other will only add to the realism of this little game we’re playing.”