Authors: Brenda Jackson
He glanced over at her. “Yes?”
Her gaze immediately latched on to his lips. They were full, nice, inviting. She felt a sudden pull in her stomach. She wondered how they would feel if she were to press hers against them.
She snatched her gaze from his lips up to his eyes. They were eyes that were studying her intently. “What?”
“You called my name. What did you want?”
Frowning, Danielle compressed her lips, deciding for the moment to keep her mouth closed or else she might say the wrong thing. There was no way she would tell him that for a crazy moment she had been ready to ask if she could sample his lips.
“Dani? What’s wrong?”
If only he knew.
In Bed with Her Boss
A Valentine Kiss
One Special Moment
Fire and Desire
Something to Celebrate
Delaney’s Desert Sheikh
A Little Dare
Scandal Between the Sheets
Stone Cold Surrender
Riding the Storm
Jared’s Counterfeit Fiancée
Strictly Confidential Attraction
Taking Care of Business
The Chase Is On
The Durango Affair
Ian’s Ultimate Gamble
Seduction, Westmoreland Style
Stranded with the Tempting Stranger
Spencer’s Forbidden Passion
Taming Clint Westmoreland
Cole’s Red-Hot Pursuit
is a die “heart” romantic who married her childhood sweetheart and still proudly wears the “going steady” ring he gave her when she was fifteen. Because she’s always believed in the power of love, Brenda’s stories always have happy endings. In her real-life love story, Brenda and her husband of thirty-six years live in Jacksonville, Florida, and have two sons.
bestselling author of more than fifty romance novels, Brenda is also a recent retiree who worked thirty-seven years in management at a major insurance company. She divides her time between family, writing and traveling. You may write to Brenda at P.O Box 28267, Jacksonville, Florida 32226; e-mail her at [email protected] or visit her Web site at www.brendajackson.net.
It was a great pleasure to work on a project with two good author buddies of mine, Carla Fredd and Carmen Green!
From the moment we decided to write this trilogy, I was fascinated with Danielle’s character. I knew she would be a likable person, but she would also be someone who was hurting from the deceit of a man she thought was her husband.
And then there was Tristan, her best friend and, unbeknownst to Danielle, the man who has secretly been in love with her for years. I found myself rooting for Tristan and hoping that Danielle would finally realize what was right before her eyes.
I took the following question to my book club: “Can you fall in love with your best friend?” The responses were great and thought-provoking and started a lot of discussions. Overwhelmingly, we agreed that starting out as best friends makes for the best relationships.
I hope all of you enjoy reading Tristan and Danielle’s story, where you will see if that holds true.
Also, I would love for you to join me for the Madaris Family Reunion Cruise to Canada out of New York in June 2009. Please visit my Web site for more details!
To the love of my life, Gerald Jackson, Sr. Happy 36th anniversary!
To my author buddies, Carla Fredd and Carmen Green. I had fun working with you ladies on this one.
Let’s do it again!
To everyone who will be joining me on the 2009 Cruise to Canada. This one is for you!
For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
f it had been left up to Tristan Adams, he would not have given Danielle Timmons-Foster the news. But it hadn’t been left up to him. For the past two months her life had been one hellacious lie. A part of him wondered if one more lie wouldn’t hurt. But for Danielle he knew it would.
And when she hurt, he hurt.
She had dropped onto the sofa and was staring at him as if he had totally lost his mind. He almost wished he had. Or, at least, that this episode had been one long nightmare they would finally wake up from—and find that not only was her husband not dead, but that he hadn’t left three wives behind. Three wives who, until a couple of months ago, each assumed they were Mrs. Marc Foster. And now to add salt to the wound, he’d just told Danielle there might be a fourth woman out there with the title, as well.
“Tristan, please tell me you’re joking,” Danielle said, her voice soft, low and sounding utterly defeated. “It’s a sick joke, but I’ll accept it. I don’t want to believe what you just said. I
believe what you just said.”
He nodded slowly, understanding. He had been with her when she’d gotten the call two months ago that her husband of five years was dead after having choked on—of all things—his wedding ring. He’d also been with her at Marc’s funeral in California when they’d discovered she wasn’t the only Mrs. Foster. And he’d been by her side at the attorney’s office when it had been declared that the second wife, Renée, was the legal Mrs. Foster and that Danielle, his first wife, and Alexandra, his third, had gotten duped with phony marriage licenses.
He released a long sigh and crossed the living room’s hardwood floor to sit beside Danielle on the sofa. He took her hand in his and tried to smile. “Dani, I stopped teasing you the day you began wearing your first training bra, remember?”
He knew that would get a smile out of her. She would remember that day. It would remind her of happier times when her brother had been alive. Tristan couldn’t help but smile himself whenever he thought of Paul Timmons, his best friend since kindergarten. They’d lived in the same neighborhood and had gone to school together, had played peewee football and gone off to college together—roommates at the University of Florida in Gainesville, a long way from their hometown of Port St. Lucie, Florida. And then when they’d finished college, they’d returned home to go into business together. They started A&T Shipping Company, making it into a very successful corporation. Then the Iraq war started and Paul’s reserve unit was shipped out for duty. Paul never made it back home alive.
“When will it end?” Danielle asked, her words intruding into his thoughts. “How could I have been married to a man and not know him the way I thought I did?”
Tristan’s grip on her hand tightened. They had covered this ground before and he felt partly to blame. Danielle had been a well-known international model when she had been contacted about Paul’s death. Since their parents had gotten killed in a plane crash her first year in college, Paul had been all the family she’d had. Losing him had taken a toll on her. Claiming she was tired of the glitz and glamour of life as a successful fashion model, she had returned to Port St. Lucie to take over Paul’s role as Tristan’s partner.
Barely two months after Paul’s death, Marc Foster had opened a business account, and since Danielle’s role was to wine and dine new clients, she had taken on Marc. If Tristan hadn’t been so torn up with grief himself over losing his best friend, he would have seen Marc for the conniving snake he was. Marc had set his sights on Danielle and less than a month later, Danielle had called to say she and Marc had eloped to Atlanta.
The reason Tristan blamed himself was that he had promised Paul the day he’d left for Iraq that if anything were to happen to Paul, he would look after Danielle. Apparently he’d done a piss-poor job of it.
Danielle pulled her hand from his, stood up and began pacing the floor. It wasn’t hard to realize she was madder than hell. He would be, too, if he were in her shoes.
She had dropped by last night for dinner and he had talked her into spending the night, since the guest room practically had her name on it, anyway. He knew she thought of him as nothing more than her best friend and confidant. He was hoping that one day she would begin to see him as more.
He leaned back in the sofa trying to recall when he had finally broken down and admitted to himself that he was in love with her. Had it been that day she’d called to say she’d eloped? That was probably the reason he had taken off a couple of days and drank himself into a stupor.
He had called himself all kinds of fool for letting Marc into her life, but not once had Tristan gotten out of line or tried convincing her to divorce the guy. He’d respected her marriage. He’d even tried to like Marc. When he saw that he couldn’t, he’d gone five years and pretended he did.
But he should have suspected something wasn’t on the up-and-up with the guy. Because Danielle confided in Tristan, he knew about the spats the couple had about Marc’s job as a salesman and the frequency of his out-of-town trips. He also knew that they were on bad terms around the issue of children—Danielle wanted a child but Marc never seemed to have the time to slow down and give her one. Now they knew why. The man had been living a double life. Tristan took that back. Marc Foster had been living a
life. And now, according to Marc’s brother, Chris, who’d called late last night, there may have been a fourth woman involved.
“Who told you about the fourth woman?”
He glanced over at Danielle. She stood—all five foot eight of her—in a stance he found totally sexy. She was an absolutely gorgeous woman whose face and body had once graced the covers of a number of magazines. Her face was tilted at a haughty angle, her hands were on her hips, her feet were bare, and she was wearing a short skirt with an even shorter ribbed top. Today she looked more like twenty than thirty, with a body that made men weep.
His gaze zeroed in on her face. She had coffee-colored skin, dark almond eyes and lush, full lips. Her shoulder-length hair was tousled and sexy. She looked like she’d just crawled out of bed. Too bad it hadn’t been his.
Dani didn’t know how he felt about her. Didn’t have a clue. She assumed their relationship—as it had always been—was that of little sister and big brother. Boy, was she wrong. At thirty-four, he could no longer think of her as a little sister. She was a full-grown woman in every sense of the word. But he would continue to be her best friend until she finally opened her eyes to see just how things really were.
Her saying his name reminded him that he hadn’t answered her question. “Chris called after you went to bed last night.”
She inhaled and he watched the movement of her chest when she did so. The low cut of her top displayed the top swell of her breasts. “Do Alex and Renée know?”
He shrugged. “Yes. Chris mentioned he told Renée and that he had spoken to Hunter to relay the news to Alexandra.”
He thought about the three women, who at Marc’s funeral had quickly become bitter enemies. Over the past couple of months, however, after discovering that Marc had been a pathological liar, they had actually bonded. Marc had betrayed all three of them. And now there might be a fourth one out there.
Alexandra and Hunter Smith had gotten married last month, and Renée and Chris Foster were engaged and would be getting married later this month. Hunter was Chris’s friend. He’d agreed to fly to Atlanta and escort Alexandra to Marc’s funeral in California two months ago.
“How did Chris find out?”
Tristan hesitated before saying anything, deciding to give her the skimmed-down version without a lot of detail. If he told her everything, she’d be more upset. “It seems that Marc had a locker at the airport. Chris had all Marc’s mail at that post-office box in Costa Woods forwarded to him, and two days ago he received a renewal notice for the locker. Chris caught a plane out to California to check out the locker and found an apartment key inside it. After a little investigating he determined where the apartment was located and went there.”
“And from what he discovered, he reached the conclusion that there could be a fourth Mrs. Foster, or that Marc was planning another wedding. Chris leans toward the latter.”
Tristan went to her and pulled her into his arms, wanting her to get her emotions out. She had cried in the attorney’s office when it was revealed that Marc was sterile, but he felt she was still holding a lot inside. She refused to let all of it out.
She pulled away from his arms. “No, I won’t cry again,” she said angrily. “If I cry again that means Marc has succeeded in humiliating me again. And I won’t let him.”
Danielle walked back over to the sofa and calmly sat down. “Now, Tristan,” she said in a composed voice, “does Chris know how to contact the woman?”
He sat beside her. “No,” he said.
“Who’s been paying the rent?”
“Chris spoke with the landlord and it appears Marc had a paid-up lease for a full year.”
Danielle nodded. “And from what Chris found at the apartment he’s pretty sure there might be a fourth woman?”
“Yes, it’s a very good possibility.”
She stood up again. “Then we have to do something. We need to find out if she was a wife or a fiancée. We need to—”
He pulled her back down on the sofa beside him. “
need to slow down and relax, Danielle. You’ve been through a lot these past two months and I don’t want to see you lose it.”
She lifted a brow. “Lose it?”
“Yes. Have a nervous breakdown or something,” he tried to say delicately. “I don’t want to see you lose control.”
She scoffed at his words. “Oh, come on, Tris. I’m always in control. I’m—”
“Danielle,” he said in a firm voice, “do I need to remind you that you lost it one day and slapped someone? You, who’re too compassionate to even squish a bug, actually slapped Alexandra.”
He watched as she lowered her head in shame. Then she raised her head and he noted first regret and then fire in her eyes. “Okay, that was one time I admit I lost it. Hell, Tristan, she pissed me off. If you had any idea what she said—”
“I know what she said. She told us and she apologized.”
“And I apologized, as well. I even offered to let her slap me back,” she said in earnest.
Tristan couldn’t help but chuckle at the ridiculousness of the offer Danielle had made that day. “Well, still, you’ve been under a lot of emotional stress and pressure and need to get away.”
“Get away?” she asked with an incredulous look on her face.
“Yes, get away.”
“Tristan, I can’t get away. I’ve taken enough time away from A&T as it is, trying to straighten out the mess Marc left me in.”
“You can and you will. Take off, Danielle. Fly to New York and visit some of your friends. Or better yet, fly to Paris to visit that model friend of yours. What’s her name?”
“On second thought maybe you don’t need to fly to Paris.”
A smile touched Danielle’s face. “Trying to be big brother, Tristan?”
“Someone has to keep you out of trouble.”
“Now where were we? Oh, yeah, we were discussing your need to get away. And I don’t want to hear any argument out of you.”
She looked at him and he knew she was itching to make a word of protest, but she had to know it wouldn’t do any good. When he had his mind made up, that was it. “Okay, okay. And if I do get away for a few days, when I come back will you promise to help me find out more about that fourth woman?”
He shook his head. “Dani, I’m sure Chris is already on it. He’s an FBI agent, so he’ll know how to track her down.”
“Yes, but I want to be there when he does. You know how it was with Alex, Renée and me. One of us needs to be there to assure this woman that everything will be okay and that we were all duped by Marc and survived. Since I’m the oldest among Marc’s wives, that task belongs to me.”
Tristan studied her stubborn features, especially the firm set of her lips. They were lips he had placed a friendly kiss on a number of times but had never taken with the fire and passion that burned in his loins whenever he looked at them. “Okay, Danielle, I don’t think Chris will have a problem with that. I’ll run it by him the next time we talk.”
“Thanks. And I also want to thank you for standing by me the way you have the past couple of months. You took time away from the company to be with me and I really appreciate it.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“No, I feel I need to mention it, Tris. You’ve been super and you’re the best friend a girl could have.” She then leaned down and kissed his cheek before prancing off toward the guest room and closing the door behind her.
The moment Danielle closed the door behind her she grabbed her cell phone off the dresser. It was still early morning, but she hoped that Alex and Renée were out of bed already. And if they weren’t that was too bad, because they needed to discuss this latest development.
She shook her head when she thought about their relationship. At first it had been fiery, with each of them thinking she was the real Mrs. Foster and the other two were frauds. Tempers had flared, nasty words had been spoken, as Tristan had reminded her, she had even gotten physical. All because Marc had turned out to be a no-good bastard with a capital
. He had played each of them and played them well. He had taken over a million dollars from Alex and had even purchased a yacht Alex hadn’t known he had. From Renée, he had taken her aunt Gert’s priceless diamond necklace; luckily it had been recovered. As for herself, Marc had destroyed the one thing she wanted most from her marriage—a child.