Authors: Carly Phillips
RAVES FOR THE NOVELS OF
“[An] entertaining and sexy romance… [A] fun and romantic summer read… Will please readers with its mischievous characters, red-hot passionate encounters, and spirited plot.”
“Fast-moving and sexy… Her many readers will clamor for this.”
“This sassy, sexy story with a rapid-fire pace…will send readers looking for the rest.”
“Fast-paced and fabulously fun, Carly Phillips entertains with witty dialogue and delightful characters.”
New York Times
“A sassy treat full of titillating twists sure to ring your (wedding) bell.”
“A titillating read… on a scale of one to five: a high five for fun, ease of reading, and sex—actually I would’ve given it a six for sex if I could have.”
“This is one of Phillips’s best, a lighthearted, fast-moving plot filled with her signature quirky characters. The book also shows depth of heart, outlining some of the life choices we make that perhaps could use a second look. Great fun with a bit of insight tucked in—fans will be clamoring for this one!”
RT Book Reviews
(* * * *)
“Once again Carly Phillips has done it. She knows how to combine suspense, romance, and comedy. Loved it.”
Night Owl Reviews
“An entertaining read from start to finish that fans of
Ms. Phillips, both new and old, are sure to enjoy.”
“Carly Phillips’s characters are always believable and I think that’s what makes her books keepers… The only issue a Phillips fan will have is leaving these wonderful characters.”
Berkley titles by Carly Phillips
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley mass-market edition / January 2012
Copyright © 2012 by Karen Drogin.
by Carly Phillips copyright © 2012 by Karen Drogin.
Cover art by Hugh Syme. Cover design by Annette Fiore DeFex.
Interior text design by Kristin del Rosario.
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If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
This book is dedicated to my readers—those I’ve met in person, online, and those I’ve never met but hope to someday. Thank you for investing your valuable time and hard-earned money on my books. I’m so grateful, and I hope you love the Serendipity series because there’s more to come.
A special note—
As hard as this is for me to believe,
is on bookshelves exactly one year from the day we lost our beloved Wheaten Terrier, Buddy. Rest in peace, my best boy. I think of you every day. A special shout-out to the current dogs in my life: Bailey (a Wheaten) and Brady (a Havanese puppy)—thanks for making me smile and for being by my side while I work! And to my family for humoring my obsession with the dogs: You do know I’d save you first! To Phil, Jackie, and Jen—
I LOVE YOU!
Nash Barron might be cynical about life and more
recently about love, but even he normally enjoyed a good wedding. Today’s affair had been an exception. The invitation had requested the presence of “close friends and family.” Nash wondered if he was the only one in the group to notice the irony.
The groom’s two brothers, Nash included, were a step short of estranged, and they’d only known the flower girl, their newly discovered half sister, Tess, for six weeks. The bride’s father was in jail, which left her flamboyant decorator friend to give her away, while her mother spent the afternoon downing wine and bemoaning the loss of her beloved home, which just so happened to be the site of the wedding. The landmark house on the hill in their hometown of Serendipity, New York, was now owned by the groom, Nash’s brother Ethan.
Come to think of it, the irony of the situation might be the only thing Nash had enjoyed about this day.
That and Kelly Moss, the woman sipping champagne across the lush green grass of the backyard.
Tess was Nash’s half sister, a product of his father and Tess’s mother’s affair. Kelly, Tess’s half sister on her mother’s side, was a sexy woman who by turns frustrated him, intrigued him, and turned him on. Complicated yet simple enough to be summed up in one sentence: Kelly Moss was a beautiful woman and they were in no way blood related.
Which didn’t make his desire for her any more acceptable. A simple acquaintance-like relationship seemed the safest route, yet Nash had been unable to find comfortable ground with either Kelly or Tess in the time since they’d been in Serendipity. Nash had no idea why he couldn’t connect with his fourteen-year-old sister, who seemed determined to freeze him out.
As for Kelly, at first Nash blamed his frustration with her on the fact that she’d unceremoniously dumped Tess, a sister the Barron brothers knew nothing about, on Ethan’s doorstep back in August. She’d demanded he parent the out-of-control teen. Nash hated to give Ethan credit for anything, but he had to admit his older brother had turned the wildly rebellious kid around in a short time. But Nash still had issues with Kelly’s methods. So when she’d resurfaced and moved to town, he’d been both understandably wary and shockingly attracted. And she’d been getting under his skin ever since.
Nash turned away and his gaze fell on Ethan, his brother whose luck seemed to have done a one eighty since he’d abandoned his siblings ten years ago. He had chosen the perfect day for a wedding. Though early October, the temperature had hiked into the low seventies, enabling him to have the wedding outdoors. Ethan stood with his arm around his wife, Faith, talking to their youngest sibling, Dare. Even he had forgiven Ethan for the past.
Nash couldn’t bring himself to be so lenient.
He glanced at his watch and decided his time here was over. The bride and groom were married, cake served, bouquet thrown. He finished what remained of his Ketel One, placed the glass on a passing waitress’s tray, and headed toward the house.
“Leaving so soon?” a familiar female voice asked.
“The festivities are over.” He turned to face the woman who’d hijacked his thoughts just moments before.
Kelly, her hair pulled loosely behind her head, soft waves escaping and grazing her shoulders, stood close beside him. Her warm, inviting lemony scent enveloped him in heat.
Nash was a man who valued his personal space. Kelly was a woman who pushed past boundaries. Yet for a reason he couldn’t fathom, he lacked his usual desire to find safer ground.
“The band is still playing,” she pointed out.
“No one will realize I’m gone.”
Or care. His leaving would probably ease any tension his presence created.
“I would.” She gazed at him with perceptive brown eyes.
Intelligent chocolate-colored eyes that seemed to see beyond the indifferent facade he presented to the world. One he thought he’d perfected in his late teens, when his life had been turned upside down by his parents’ deaths followed quickly by Ethan’s abandonment of both Nash and their younger brother, Dare.
“Why do you care?” he asked, even though he knew he’d be smarter to walk away.
She shrugged, a sexy lift of one shoulder that drew his attention to her soft-looking skin.
“Because you seem as out of place here as I am.” She paused. “Except you’re not a stranger to town or to this family.”
Out of place. That one comment summed up his entire existence lately. How had she figured him out when no one else ever could?
“I need to leave,” he said, immediately uncomfortable.
“What you need is to relax,” she countered, and stopped him with one hand on his shoulder. “Let’s dance.” She playfully tugged on his tie.
He glanced over to where the rest of the family gathered next to the dance floor. “I’m not really interested in making a spectacle.”
“Then we won’t.” She slipped her hand in his and led him to the far side of the house beneath an old weeping willow tree.
He could still hear the slow music, but he could no longer see the dance floor, and whoever was out there couldn’t see them. She tightened her hold on his hand, and he realized he’d better take control or she’d be leading him through this dance. He wrapped an arm around her waist, slid his other hand into hers, and swayed to the sultry sound of the music coming from the band.
A slight breeze blew through the long dripping branches of the tree. She shivered and eased her body closer to his, obviously in need of warmth.
He inched his hand up her bare back. “Cold?” he asked in a gruff voice as her body heat and scent wrapped around him him.
He looked into her eyes to discover an awareness that matched his own, glanced down and caught sight of her lush lips. As they moved together to the music, warning bells rang in his head, but nothing could have stopped him from settling his mouth on hers. The first touch was electric, a heady combination of sparkling champagne and sensual, willing woman. Her lips were soft and giving, and he wasn’t sure how long their mouths lingered in a chaste kiss they both knew was anything but.
His entire body came alive, reminding him of what he’d been missing in the two years since his divorce. That this woman could awaken him both surprised and unnerved him. It made him want to
more. He trailed his hand up the soft skin of her back and cupped her head in one hand. With a sweet sigh, she opened for him, letting him really taste her for the first time. Warmth, heat, and desire flooded through him.
“Oh, gross! Just shoot me now!” Tess exclaimed in a disgusted voice.
Nash jerked back at the unwanted interruption. “What the hell are you doing?” he asked, the annoyed words escaping before he could think it through.
“Looking for Kelly. What are
doing?” She perched her hands on her hips, demanding an answer.
Wasn’t it obvious? Nash shook his head and swallowed a groan. The kid was the biggest wiseass he’d ever come across.
“You found me,” Kelly said, sounding calmer than he did.
Like that kiss hadn’t affected her at all. A look at her told him that unless she was one hell of an actress, it hadn’t. She appeared completely unflustered, while he was snapping at Tess because the hunger Kelly inspired continued to gnaw at him.
“Ethan and Faith want to talk to you,” Tess muttered in a sulking tone.
Obviously she didn’t like what she’d seen between him and her sister. Unlike Nash, who’d liked it a lot.
Too much, in fact.
From the pissed-off look on Tess’s face, kissing Kelly and biting Tess’s head off had resulted in a huge setback in trying to create any kind of relationship with his new sister. And to think, if asked, he’d have said things between them couldn’t get any worse.
“Why don’t you go tell them I’ll be right there?” Kelly said patiently to Tess.
The teenager now folded her arms across her chest. “How about not?”
Kelly raised an eyebrow. “How about I’m the one in charge while Ethan’s on his honeymoon and if you don’t want to find yourself grounded and in your room for the next two weeks, you’ll start listening now.”
With a roll of her eyes and a deliberate stomp of her foot, which wasn’t impressive considering she was wearing a deep purple dress and mini-heels from her walk down the aisle, Tess stormed away.
“Well done,” he said to Kelly, admiring how she’d gotten Tess to listen without yelling or sniping back.
“Yeah, I did a better job than you.” She shot him an amused glance. “But I can’t take any credit. You saw what she was like before Ethan took over. This change is due to his influence, not mine.” Her expression saddened at the fact that she’d been unable to accomplish helping Tess on her own.
He knew the feeling. “Don’t remind me about Saint Ethan.”
She raised her eyebrow. “There’s always tension between you and Ethan. Why is that?” she asked.
He definitely didn’t want to talk about his brother or his past. “Is asking about my life your way of avoiding discussing the kiss?” He deliberately threw a question back at her as a distraction.
An unexpected smile caught hold of her lips. “Why would I want to avoid discussing it when it was so much fun?” she asked, and grabbed hold of his tie once more.
Her moist lips shimmered, beckoning to him as did her renewed interest, and he shoved his hands into his pants pockets. Easier to keep them to himself that way.
“Kelly! We’re waiting!” Tess called impatiently, interrupting them again and reminding him of why he had to keep his distance from Kelly from now on.
“Coming!” Kelly called over her shoulder, before meeting Nash’s gaze. “Looks like you got a reprieve.” A mischievous twinkle lit her gaze.
A sparkle he found infectious. She had spunk, confidence, and an independent spirit he admired. His ex-wife had been as opposite of Kelly as he could imagine, more sweet and in need of being taken care of. Kelly could obviously hold her own.
And Nash didn’t plan on giving her the upper hand. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied.
She patted his cheek. “Keep telling yourself that.”
He would. For as long as it took to convince himself this woman would only cause him and his need to have a relationship with Tess boatloads of trouble.
Kelly Moss stood at the bottom of the circular stairs
in the house that was nothing short of a mansion and yelled up at her sister. “Tess, let’s go! If you want to have time for breakfast before school, get yourself downstairs now!” It was the third time she’d called up in the last five minutes.
“I said I’m coming!” came Tess’s grumpy reply.
Ethan and Faith had left yesterday morning for their honeymoon, one week on the beautiful, secluded island of Turks and Caicos, where they had their own villa complete with private butler.
Talk about living the life,
Kelly thought. Hers wasn’t so bad either, since she got to stay in this huge house with her own housekeeper while they were gone.
Tess’s door slammed loudly, startling Kelly back to reality as her sister came storming out of her room, then stomping down the stairs.
The old days, when Kelly had been raising Tess alone and doing a god-awful job at it, came rushing back, and Kelly clenched her fists. “What’s wrong?” Kelly only hoped it was something easily fixable, not a problem that would lead Tess to turn back to running wild.
“This!” Tess gestured to the school uniform she wore, a navy pleated skirt, white-collared shirt, and kneesocks. “I hate it.”
Kelly knew better than to say it was better than the all-black outfits the teenager used to wear, including the old army surplus jacket and combat boots. “You’ll get used to it.”
Tess passed by Kelly and headed for the kitchen. “It’s been a month and I still hate it.”
The clothes or the school?
Kelly wondered as she followed behind her sister. “Is it the skirt? Because you didn’t mind the dress you wore at the wedding.” In fact, she’d looked like a beautiful young lady.
“It’s the fact that I
to wear it. I hate being told what to do.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Kelly muttered, having been Tess’s primary caregiver for longer than she could remember.
“I heard that.”
Kelly grinned. Tess really had come a long way, thanks to Ethan Barron. Kelly shuddered to think of what might have happened if she hadn’t taken drastic steps.
Both Tess and Kelly’s mother, Leah Moss, had been a weak woman, too dependent on men and incapable of raising Tess. She’d been different when Kelly was young, or maybe that’s how she wanted to remember her. Or maybe it had been Kelly’s father’s influence that had made Leah different.
Kelly would never know because her father had died of a heart attack when she was twelve. And Leah had immediately gone in search of another man to take his place. Her choice was a poor one. Leah struck up an affair with her married boss, Mark Barron. Yet despite how wrong it was, for Kelly, her mother’s years as his mistress had been stable ones, including the period after Tess was born. But with Mark Barron’s passing ten years ago, Leah had spiraled downward, and both Kelly and Tess suffered as a result.
She’d immediately packed up and moved them to a seedy part of New York City, far from their home in Tomlin’s Cove, the neighboring town to Serendipity. Leah said she wanted them to start over. In reality, their mother had wanted an easy place to search for another lover to take care of her. But Leah never found her next white knight, turning to alcohol and a never-ending rotation of disgusting men instead.
Since Tess had only been four years old at the time, a sixteen-year-old Kelly had become the adult, juggling high school, then part-time college with jobs and raising Tess. Fortunately, her mother had moved them into a boarding house with a kindly older woman who’d helped Kelly too.
But last year, their mother had run off with some guy, abandoning her youngest daughter, and something in Tess had broken. Angry and hurt, she’d turned into a belligerent, rebellious teenager, hanging out with the wrong crowd, smoking, drinking, and ultimately getting arrested. Desperate, Kelly had turned to the only person she remembered from their years in Tomlin’s Cove, Richard Kane, a lawyer in Serendipity who’d put her in touch with Ethan Barron.