Authors: Isobelle Cate
Gracie Sinclair just wants life to return to normal.
Now a widow and picking up the pieces after the death of her husband, she delves into her work, seeking a new normal, until she bumps into a handsome stranger who derails her orderly life, completely.
Luke can’t wait for the week to be over. Having built an engineering company into a multi-million pound enterprise in record time, he feels...empty. Nothing satisfies him anymore, not even having weekenders in his bed. But when he bumps into a woman—literally—on his way out of a bar, realizing she is his last meeting before he goes on holiday, his plan of staying away from relationships takes a nose dive. He wants Gracie Sinclair.
Gracie learned a long time ago how insincere love can be, so when Luke decides to become part of her life, she tosses up every obstacle to dissuade him until he breaks down her walls and makes her realize that her life can only be complete with Luke by her side.
However, something sinister from Luke’s past threatens the happiness they have struggled to find. If he concedes, he will become criminally liable and lose everything.
If he refuses, he loses Gracie’s heart…
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2015 © Isobelle Cate
Published by Beau Coup Publishing
Cover by JRA Stevens
For Beau Coup Publishing
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.
To everyone in Beau Coup, you have been such a great blessing and moving force in my writing career. You have given me a chance to be heard, taught me to be better—Sable Hunter, Jess Hunter, Ryan O’Leary, Mike Leche, Debbie Workman, Lisa Kait, Elaine Robinson, Shirley Bastian, Pat Sager, Gina Marcantonio, Emily Kirkpatrick, B Anne M
Eichern, the beta readers and proof readers, thank you.
Special thanks go to Emily A. Lawrence, Jennifer Stevens, and Dianne Dixon. Not only have you helped me make my stories come to fruition, but you’ve also enriched my life with your laughter, wisdom, and everything else in between. Thank you so much.
To the Cate’s Renegades Street Team and Wolfie’s Fantasy Book Blog. You keep me going all the time. We shall go from strength to strength. Thank you for your support.
To my family. Thank you for the pizza, the coffee, the wine, your advice, laughter, patience, and insight even at five am. I love you both.
To all the authors I have had the good fortune to know in this incredible journey, thank you for allowing me to read and learn from you. To my readers, new readers, bloggers, and to those who have been with me from the very start. My characters and I are truly humbled and honoured that you have allowed us to be a part of your lives.
I’m having such a fantastic adventure. Thank you.
he Manchester Town Hall Tower clock chimed the eighth hour at night. Gracie groaned, letting go of her pen before stretching to remove the kinks in her spine. She could hear Manchester's answer to Big Ben all the way from her office on One Piccadilly Place. Open folders and printed excel sheets cluttered her desk while the near silent hum of the computer that sat on her desk glared patiently. She had been pouring over the reports since lunchtime without let up for the presentation the next day. Had her computer been human, it would have walked out on her a long time ago. The temp Matt gave her while her regular secretary was on maternity leave had made a mess of things. The list of the things that needed to be done she gave the temp looked as though it had gone through a dirty pub table. Several mug rings formed the Olympic banner on the list with oil spots that may have fallen from crisps. The paper placemat in the pub probably saw better days than the list the temp left with Gracie. Spoon feeding the temp didn't help either. Gracie would need to bring work home.
Sighing in annoyance, she stood and gathered the folders, placing them in a plastic grocery bag she found in one of the breakout room cupboards.
Her mobile phone vibrated on her desk, drawing her attention.
"Hi, hun." Gracie's voice was tired but happy.
"Where are you, Mummy?" a small voice asked.
"I'm still in the office, Flynn. Mum's sorry she'll be home late, again. I'll be there soon, though."
"Okay," he said, his voice understanding. "I love you."
Warmth and guilt pricked Gracie's conscience in equal measure at having to spend time away from her son again. At that moment, she felt she wasn't being a good mother, but here was Flynn. All hers to love and all his to be loved. She must have done something good in her past to deserve a son as understanding as he was.
"I love you too, baby," she replied, a wan smile tugging at her mouth. "Can you put Nana on the phone, please?"
Gracie heard the phone fall with a sharp thud.
"Nana! It's Mummy!"
Gracie giggled softly while listening to the scuffling noises in the background, followed by Flynn's shrill giggle and her mother's guffaw. Her mum and Flynn had a tendency to tease one another.
"Hi, Mum, thanks for putting in another long day. What was he doing to you?" Gracie's smile tinged her voice.
"Oh, he wouldn't give me the phone. He was hiding it behind his back and laughing." Her mother's voice was warm and strong. "You know I love my time with him. It's never a problem. Will you be much longer?"
"No, I told Flynn I'm on my way home. How is he, by the way?"
Her mother chuckled. "As lovable as he can be. You've brought him up very well despite everything you've been through."
Gracie sighed, not wanting to think about the past. "Okay, just locking up. I'll see you in a bit."
She ended the call and switched off her computer. Shrugging into her coat, she grabbed her things and left the office. Gracie wished her life could be different. Oh, how she missed being loved. One more month and it would be Christmas, the season of miracles. Pity she didn't believe in them anymore.
* * *
Luke stared at his drink as he slouched on the booth's seat. The music inside Bluu Bar, located in the Northern Quarter, blared from the speakers, but it couldn't drown the thoughts that churned in his mind. People coming from offices nearby were at the bar getting their poison of choice while some of the clientele sat on sofas or booths.
What a hectic day. It wasn't what he would have wanted, but since this was the last day before his leave kicked in, he needed to finish everything he had set out to do. Going to the Belton plant earlier to sort out another unforeseen situation had taken a lot of his time which could have been used more productively in the office. He just hated it when agreed jobs suddenly changed, and it didn't help that the project manager hadn't been forthright with the board. Luke wanted to give him a piece of his mind, but he was the maverick in the industry. Some would call him an upstart. He couldn't afford to rock the boat at this moment. His company was just growing. A whisper of a mistake could start the grapevine going and everything he’d worked hard for would start floating on water. His impromptu visit at the plant should straighten things out.
At least he hoped it would.
One more day,
he mused. Weariness as insidious and sticky as cough syrup seeped into his bones. The last thing on his agenda was the meeting tomorrow morning with the financial analyst, and he'd be free to enjoy the break. He couldn't care less if hell froze over afterwards. He just wanted out for the time being. Just for the moment to let responsibilities slide, to feel free, relaxed, and be without a care in the world.
"What's wrong this time?" Terrence, who was also his all-around gadfly, asked sitting beside Luke before taking a sip from his pint of lager. A partner in his engineering firm, Terrence took care of personnel and finance. "I mean, c'mon, mate. You're not even in the half way mark of thirty and you own an engineering firm that makes the big boys piss and wish they could hold their crap in their pants because they don't know what you're going to pull out of that brain of yours." He chugged another mouthful. "You've got a razor sharp brain, political savvy that makes up and coming politicians beat a path to your door."
Luke reached out to grip Terrence on the shoulder and winked. "Extolling my not so pure virtues isn't going to land you the top job in my company, mate."
His friend snorted. "All I'm saying is, what's the bloody problem? You should be happy you're taking a break after today."
"Can't wait for Saturday."
"In a few hours it will be. Lucky bastard. I have to stay to hold everything together until you return." Terrence grinned before taking another gulp from his drink. He was the only one who could get away with calling Luke that name without receiving a withering glare.
"Yeah, that I am, you ginger-haired git. You need a breather too. You've been working your arse non-stop."
"I'm fine where I am. No use looking forward to the weekend when your kids are halfway around the world." Terrence looked down at his quarter full glass before looking up with a frown. "And stop changing the bloody subject. What's the problem?"
Luke gave his friend a steely glance but it didn't faze Terrence at all. The side of Luke's mouth lifted to a half smile while he quietly contemplated his drink. The amber liquid was smooth despite the froth and bubbles that were stuck to the sides of the glass. Was he really lucky? Maybe. He sure as hell didn't feel it. There was something lacking, and he didn't have a fucking clue what it was.
"There's no problem. What makes you say that?"
"Mate, we've known each other since even before our mums pushed us out into this world. Don't think I don't know something's eating you up."
Luke sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.
"It doesn't seem to be enough," he muttered.
"Dude, you're what? A mega-millionaire?" Terrence looked at him askance. "What more can you ask for?" He paused before realization dawned on his face. "Oh yeah, you want to be a billionaire."
Luke snorted before taking a sip from his tepid beer. "It's not the money."
"Well, what is it then?"
He cocked an eyebrow. "If I knew, then I wouldn't be feeling like shit now, would I?"
Terrence shrugged but nodded sagely. "I know what you need. You need a good fuck. When you wake up tomorrow things will look much better."
Luke allowed the music to drown him, unmindful of his surroundings. Terrence was probably right. Sex might just be the answer to remove the tension and funk he felt. The act always gave him a temporary semblance of peace and cleared his mind.
Two women entered the bar and became the brief cynosure of some of the patrons. Luke flicked his glance over the tall leggy brunette wrapped in a short woollen coat before returning to watch the bubbles in his drink float up to the surface. The brunette slid into the booth seat, turned Luke's chin with her fingers and gave him a long, lingering kiss.
"Luke," she purred.
"Hey," he nudged his chin away from her grip. Under normal circumstances he would have returned Cilla's kiss and he'd already have a raging hard-on just looking at her. Cilla was his current weekender. A world record, as Terrence put it, since Luke never had the same girl twice.
He looked up at Cilla's blonde companion.
"Have a seat, Serena," he gave her a friendly smile, seeing her blush with embarrassment at Cilla, who didn't bother to disguise the I'm-so-ready-for-you-to-fuck-me-baby tone in her voice.
"Hey, Serena," Terrence greeted her as well, standing to allow her to slip in beside him.
Serena smiled and remained standing, her blonde hair tucked underneath her thick coat. "It's okay. I can't stay."
"Don't be such a killjoy." Cilla blew out an exasperated breath, her teal blue eyes flashing. "Have a drink."
Serena remained calm despite the irritation that briefly flickered in her gaze.
"It's still a workday tomorrow, Cilla. I don't have your stamina."
Cilla rolled her eyes before turning her attention to Luke, her smile seductive. To Luke it seemed cunning.
"What's wrong, babe?" She took his chin again. "Let's go home and see what we can do. We can call it an early weekend get-together. What do you say?"
At any given day, Luke would have jumped at Cilla's offer. She always loved pleasing him in bed but always expected something material in return the next time they met. It didn't bother him until now.
"C'mon, Serena." Terrence stood up before downing his drink and leaving the glass on the table. "Let's leave these two lust birds alone. I'll walk you to the tram."
"I'm calling it a night too." Luke gently extricated himself from Cilla. He didn't need her tonight and his place as sure as hell wasn't her home. It was his. And he was going home.
Cilla's mouth thinned. She slid out of the booth's seat to stand up, slightly teetering on her five-inch black Jimmy Choos. Luke followed her out of the booth, dragging his coat along the seat before shrugging into it. Cilla linked her arm around his as the four of them walked out of the bar. Outside the crisp, cold November air crept up Luke's skin. It would be Christmas soon, a time he dreaded. It wasn't because he'd be out prowling for a bed partner. It was because he'd be alone.
He inhaled, allowing the cold to invade his lungs, hoping the dull ache it brought in to his nasal passages would remove his funk. Not even that helped.
"Don't mind him," Terrence spoke to Cilla as they stood just outside of the bar. The streets were deserted except for a few people on their way to their flats in the Northern Quarter. "He's been like this all day."
"Like I said, something which is easy to fix," Cilla reasoned, tossing her brown locks away from her face.
Luke's smile was enigmatic. He bent down, clearly seeing the expectant look on her face as she waited for his kiss.
"I'm not in the mood tonight, Cilla," he whispered into her ear. "Maybe next time."
Luke heard the hiss of Cilla's breath, her smile faltering, turning brittle.
"Yeah, sure." She shrugged, her body rigid beside him. "You'll be on holiday by tomorrow anyway, so we can hook up then."
"Cheers." He kissed her on the cheek instead of the lips. He bit down hard on the inside of his mouth to stop his grin. Why did he find that amusing? It had actually lifted a little of his depressed state.
He looked at Terrence and Serena, becoming aware of their bemusement. He'd normally have his hands all over Cilla, sometimes making her face him so that he could slip his hand inside her slacks and play with her pussy out in the open or twirl and pinch her nipple so that she was hot and wet for him by the time they reached his flat. Damn, he shouldn’t have told her he’d be taking a break. He didn’t do clingy. Clingy girls were trouble. As it was, he already wanted to dump Cilla because she was beginning to think that there was more to what they had, and he couldn't wait to move on to the next fuckship.
Yeah, that was what he had. Fuckships. Not relationships. Plain fuckships.
He lifted a mock brow at Terrence, who finally broke eye contact and shook his head.
"How did your meeting with the site manager go?" Terrence fell in beside him as they began to walk to their cars.
"I sure hope there are no more changes." Luke exhaled, annoyed. "It's just one thing after the other. We already had most of the plans down pat. The exception plan for the turbine was already accepted, and they bloody changed the specs."
Terrence was about to reply when someone bumped into them. Luke heard a feminine voice muffling an oath and the dull splash of things falling. Cilla squealed beside him. Serena and Terrence stood in surprise.
"Why the bloody hell can't you see where you're going?" Cilla snapped.