Authors: Elisabeth Barrett
Once and Again
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright © 2015 by Elisabeth Barrett
Deep Autumn Heat
by Elisabeth Barrett copyright © 2012 by Elisabeth Barrett
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
is a registered trademark and the
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN 9781101883235
Cover design: Diane Luger
Cover photograph: © Fancy/Veer
“Sir? Excuse me, sir?” Carolyn Rivington kept her voice low and polite as she gracefully slid up next to the stranger standing in the entranceway of the Briarwood Golf and Yacht Club. “May I help you?”
The big, dark-haired man with the mirrored sunglasses didn’t even bother to glance in her direction. Just growled “no,” and gave her a flash of hard-set jaw as he turned away.
Kicking out unwanted guests from the club was
not in her job description, but she was damned good at it, and the more ways she could make herself useful at Briarwood, the less chance she had of losing her job. Plus, Tammi had begged.
Carolyn shot a look to the front desk. Sure enough, Tammi Porter was there, eyes wide, desperation written all over her face.
Tammi seemed to be saying. Yes, she saw all right—the guy who just wouldn’t take the hint to get lost. Well, she was about to make him.
Carolyn shifted her weight in her cream-colored pumps and took a long, practiced look at her quarry—well, what she could see of him, anyway. He wasn’t from around here; that much was certain.
Eastbridge, Connecticut, in the heart of Fairfield County, was a pretty conservative place, and this guy was…not. He wore his thick black hair slicked back, and his bronzed skin fairly glowed against the club’s whitewashed wicker-and-chintz seating. Dark jeans emphasized every inch of his long, muscular legs. He sported two full sleeves of tattoos, a wall of color from the edge of his tight, black T-shirt all the way down to his wrists, and his don’t-mess-with-me attitude emanated from every pore in his body.
not on the membership list.
It was also unlikely that he was here for legitimate reasons. If he were a contractor, he would have made the appropriate appointment, and club employees would come in through the staff entrance. He didn’t have a wedding ring—not proof positive, but a likely indication he didn’t have a family—and youngish, single men typically didn’t join clubs like this one.
The man was at the window now, still with his back to her, and while she watched, he lifted a section of one long, taupe drape and rubbed it between his fingers, as if testing its weight. Augustus Richardson, one of Briarwood’s oldest members, pried his attention away from his
Wall Street Journal,
glanced at the man, shook his head, and then went back to his paper.
Mr. Tan-and-Tatted clearly didn’t care what kind of a scene he was causing, because he then ran his finger right down the middle of an end table, ostensibly checking for dust. Which he wouldn’t find, of course. Briarwood’s facilities had seen better days, but the cleaning staff did a good job. Not that she needed to explain that to this guy. Not that she needed to explain
to this guy except where the exit was.
Satisfied that she was ready for a second approach, Carolyn smoothed the front of her suit jacket down, pasted on her most generous smile, and followed him over. After she was through, he’d never know what hit him.
“Sir,” she repeated. Insisted.
The man stopped pawing the entryway furniture and paused for one terrible moment. Then he turned, showing her all his dangerous beauty. A generous five o’clock shadow emphasized his sharp cheekbones and well-defined mouth. She followed the line of his neck down to the hollow of his throat, unable to help but notice the prominent lines of his collarbones before they disappeared under that tight tee that hugged his torso, emphasizing every plane and valley in his chest.
He shifted, and she dragged her gaze from his pectoral muscles back to his face. She couldn’t place him, although he looked vaguely familiar, in that way handsome men always did. And then the corners of his lips turned up in a…sneer?
No matter. Tattoos weren’t her thing, anyway.
“Sir, may I help you?” she asked, her voice firmer this time.
He began to turn away again, but she immediately stepped back into his line of sight.
“This is a private club,” she said quickly. “If you’re interested in joining, I would suggest reviewing our website first to familiarize yourself with the membership criteria. We welcome all applicants, but we do require two sponsors and a personal interview with the Board of Trustees once you have filled out the initial paperwork. Here,” she said, handing him her card. “I’m happy to answer any questions, so please email or call if you decide you’d like to apply.” She wasn’t in charge of membership, but she needed to do
to get this guy out of the clubhouse.
After a too-long pause, he took the card, and then just stood there, staring at it. In his huge hand, the paper looked minuscule.
“Carolyn Rivington, Director of Events,” he read, his tone gruff.
“Yes,” she said. “As I said, please call. I’m happy to talk anytime.” His cue to leave.
But he didn’t. Just stood there, still staring at the card, while a muscle ticked in his jaw.
“Sir?” she prompted, praying she wasn’t losing her touch.
A familiar face appeared to her right—Richard Handel, Briarwood’s general manager and her direct boss. “I have this, Carolyn,” Richard said, under his breath.
Carolyn nodded. Even though he looked like a professor with his salt-and-pepper hair, tweed blazer, and small, round glasses, Richard was more than capable of handling their unwanted visitor.
“I’ll see you at the meeting in a few minutes,” she told him. Then she gave a polite nod to Tattoo Guy. “A pleasure,” she lied. His only response was to frown.
take care of this one.
Tammi was still at the desk, frozen in place, but she managed to mouth a “thank you” as Carolyn passed by. Carolyn gave the young woman a nod before hightailing it to the Rosemount conference room, the club’s largest.
This meeting was an important one because this morning, Briarwood’s new owner was making his first official appearance at the club. She knew nothing about the sale other than that the buyer preferred to remain anonymous. It hadn’t fazed her. She was well aware of what kind of quirks rich people had.
She and Richard had gone over all the events planned for this year and last, including the ones she’d personally planned in the last six months since she came onboard. The events held at the club were typically big moneymakers, and they wanted to be prepared for any questions the new owner might ask.
The conference room was bustling when she arrived. After grabbing a cup of coffee from the sideboard, she took a seat at the enormous table in the center of the room, next to Eric Lefoute, the head chef of Waves, the club’s restaurant. Unsurprisingly, the handsome Frenchman was scowling. Eric hated answering to authority and made no bones about the fact that attending such a meeting was going to take away from the prep time he needed for this afternoon’s luncheon.
Sinking back into one of the slightly worn but still functional chairs, she glanced around and took a bracing sip of black coffee. Everyone was seated now, impatiently waiting for the new owner to appear. Orwell Tippett, the athletics director, tapped a pen over and over again on his notepad. Even Summer Lawrence, the spa manager who’d found a seat on Carolyn’s other side, looked less-than-Zen as she twisted her straight, light brown ponytail into a tight corkscrew.
Summer leaned over to whisper in her ear. “What kind of changes do you think the new owner will make?”
Carolyn shrugged. “I’m not sure. We’ll have to wait and see.”
“Do you think everyone will get fired?”
“God, I hope not.”
Getting canned was her biggest worry right now. Despite the fact that members and staff seemed to like her—both personally and professionally—her family’s reputation and the fact that she was the new kid on the block both weighed against her. Now that the family fortune was decimated and the Rivington name was mud, it didn’t matter a whit that her maternal great-grandfather had been one of the club’s original investors.
Just as everyone’s anxiety was reaching a fever pitch, the door to the conference room opened. Her heart skipped a beat just before Richard stepped inside. Beside her, Eric emitted a sharp breath. He was just as worried as anyone else about the changes that might come.
She’d almost collected herself before
Everything kind of slipped sideways for a minute while she sat there, barely breathing. He belonged here, didn’t he? And she’d tried to kick him out! It was impossible for this day to get worse.
And then it did.
He removed his sunglasses, and familiar deep-blue eyes swept the room, sizing up everything and everyone. When his gaze finally met hers, his lips curled into the merest hint of a smile and his eyes narrowed.
“Hello, everyone,” he said in a deep voice. “I’m Jacob Gaffney, Briarwood’s new owner.”
At that moment, her heart stopped. Actually stopped, just like her dad’s had last week when he’d suffered a massive heart attack brought on by the huge amount of stress he was under. But Carolyn wasn’t having a heart attack, because her organ kick-started up almost immediately.
It had been the best summer of her life—until everything had come crashing down. As she stared at him, trying to morph these new, hard, masculine features onto the boy she knew, Jake stared back. A complicated mix of emotion passed over his face—awareness, desire.
Sure that her cheeks were turning a furious crimson, she looked down at her fingers, now twisting in her lap. For a long time, she’d put up a wall to stop the ache, telling herself it was for the best. That she had been too young. Too inexperienced. But she was just fooling herself. Regret, sadness, and not for the first time, the intense desire for a do-over coursed through her in a wave of emotion. But in life, there were no do-overs, were there?
This hardened, transformed-to-the-point-of-unrecognizability Jake wasn’t going to give her one. Why would he, considering what she and her family had done?
Jake was now introducing himself and laying out the game plan for the staff for the next couple of weeks. The words, the room, even the walls were a blur. She was screwed, utterly and completely.
Because as soon as Jake got her alone, he was going to fire her ass, and then she’d be back where she started: a former socialite with crippling debt and a family on the brink of collapse.
Not that Jake would care, given that the last time she’d seen him, he’d been handcuffed in the back of a police car.
And her father was the one who’d put him there.