Authors: Mia Kay
Table of Contents
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
Cover Design by Syneca Featherstone
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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who followed me home from vacation
and gave me everything I didn’t know I needed.
This book has been an incredibly personal project for me. The story started as a simple “what if,” and then waited for me to learn what it took to make it readable. It’s the first manuscript I contracted.
My beta-reader, Melinda, loved this book the moment I put it in her hands. Thank you for believing in “the people on the train.”
Thank you to Callie Hutton, who took an extra step for me and started everything.
Thank you to Char Chaffin, who pushed me to find new words and learn my craft, and to Cheryl Yeko for my beautiful cover.
I have amazing critique partners in Carrie Nichols and C.A. Speakman. Thanks to them and to the ladies at the Diamond State Romance Authors, The Ink Spot, and The Fabulous Five.
“Let me do that.” Grace tugged the handle of her mother’s carryon bag. Her mother tugged back.
“Idgie, I’m not a helpless old lady.”
“I know, but every person on this plane will think I’m awful if I let
load our bags. I’d like to avoid the gossip.”
“Even if I’ll never see them again.” She tugged again. “Please.”
Her mother surrendered and sank into the narrow seat by the window, returning her sunglasses to the bridge of her nose. Rather than looking out the window, she rested against the high back with a muffled sigh.
Their fellow passengers pushed past Grace in a rush to board. One businessman practically knocked her into her mother’s lap in his hurry to get to a window seat.
Hoisting the bulky bag overhead, Grace gasped as her elbows buckled. It listed backward, skewing her balance and threatening to topple onto the passenger across the aisle.
“May I help?” A deep, warm voice rumbled over her shoulder. Before she could answer, the weight of the bag disappeared and she fell against a solid chest. She gazed from large hands, up strong arms, to broad shoulders. Tilting further back, she saw a wide smile. When his hand covered hers, she jerked upright and surrendered the bag.
“Thank you,” she squeaked.
“My pleasure,” he said as he boosted the second bag overhead.
Grace sidestepped to her seat and her volunteer valet walked to the back of the plane, for all intent disappearing since Grace refused to turn and stare. Closing her eyes, she willed her blush to subside and waited for the announcements signaling takeoff for the last leg of their flight to Vienna.
The jolt of landing jerked Grace alert. As they taxied to the gate, her mother unfastened her seat belt and perched on the edge of her chair. Her purse jiggled in time to her tapping feet.
“Relax, Mom. Vienna won’t disappear.”
The aisle filled, resembling a blocked conveyor belt as passengers pushed and pressed, children fussed, and bags shifted and fell. Finally everyone moved. The last person in the line was her gentleman valet—tall, well-dressed, dark hair, narrow waist, and long legs. His back was as nice as his front.
Grace’s feet were leaden and her arms felt like rubber, but she managed to reach the carryon bags, walk off the plane, and trudge to baggage claim.
The buzzer rang as the carousel jerked into motion, and Grace recited her ritual, silent “find my luggage” prayer. When both large bags arrived side by side, her relief gave her the extra adrenaline necessary to lift them clear. With that hurdle cleared, she hurried to catch up as her mother reached the revolving door.
After twelve hours of artificial darkness and recycled air in planes and airports, the sunshine and light breeze was a welcome reward. However, in minutes exhaust fumes were overwhelming, perspiration trickled down her back, and weariness set in. Grace groaned in relief as a shuttle van came into view.
“Mother, why don’t you sit while I get a taxi?”
She recognized the voice from the plane. As the heat doubled under her skin, she turned toward the only other recognizable face in Vienna.
“We meet again.” She smiled as she shrugged the heavy bag onto her aching shoulder. She’d probably walk like Quasimodo for the rest of the trip.
“We do. Hello.” His response was wary.
He’s probably worried I’ll end up in his lap—again.
“Which hotel, ladies?” The driver asked as he reached for their luggage.
“Hotel Ananas, please.”
“Are you traveling together?” the driver asked.
“No.” The answer was issued in harmonic tandem, the man’s British bass and her Southern alto.
“So, two taxis?”
There wasn’t another vehicle waiting, and the heat was just the other side of warm.
“Why don’t we share?” Grace offered.
“How kind. Thank you.” His mother accepted the invitation.
Her stylish clothes were unwrinkled, and her sleek salt and pepper bob stopped at her jaw. She had a lovely smile, and the crinkles around her eyes suggested she used it a lot. “I’m Camille Brady and this is my son, Ben.”
At his name, he offered his hand with a silent nod. His clothing was as fresh as his mother’s. Grace felt more and more like an unmade bed, and she was sure her ponytail was crooked.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Her mother stepped into the conversation gap. “I’m Charlotte Ward, but please call me Sunny. This is my daughter, Grace.”
She held her breath, worried her mother would slip. It was silly. The chance anyone would recognize her, even using her proper last name, was almost nonexistent. But after the incident last week, she wasn’t taking any chances.
“Ms. Ward?” Ben’s voice rumbled into her thoughts. He was standing by the open taxi, with his hand outstretched and a silent question in his lopsided grin and arched eyebrow. She put her fingers in his.
“Grace, please . . . Ben.”
He sat across from her, and she tucked her feet under the seat to leave room for his long legs. The door slid closed with a muted
“You wouldn’t happen to be going on a two-week train tour, would you?” her mother asked.
“Austria, Italy, and France?” Camille countered. “What a wonderful coincidence.”
“Isn’t it? It will be nice to know a few people when we get started.”
As the women overran each other in giddy conversation, Grace almost felt guilty for not looking out the window to enjoy the sights zipping by. Almost. They’d have two days in Vienna. It wouldn’t hurt to close her eyes for a minute. Behind sunglasses, no one would notice.
“You’ve come over from the States, then?” Ben asked in a measured, quiet tone.
Lifting lids that were now almost as heavy as her luggage, Grace saw him waiting on an answer. At least he was facing her while his sunglasses shielded his eyes, so she assumed he’d directed the question at her. “Yes. We left Chicago yesterday.”
Ben’s grin stretched his face. “But you’re not from there. I’ve traveled in the U.S. so I recognize the accent.”
Grace relaxed and returned the smile. She’d worked for years to rid herself of her telltale drawl, but it returned when she was with her mother. Sunny embraced her Southernness as if it were a near relation.
“You’ve found us out.” She forced her spine straight. “Where have you been in the States?”
His grin faded. “Mostly New York and Los Angeles.”
“Were you there for pleasure or for business?”
The simple question was on the tip of her tongue.
What do you do?
It always led to the parenthetical
what about you?
And it went downhill from there. People couldn’t help their curiosity, but she could help hers. “And you were in Chicago?”
“Umm . . . yes. I spent an extra night there during an unscheduled layover.”
“I hope you made it to the Field Museum.”
“I did, and to the lake shore. It’s odd to stand on a beach and have the skyline that close.”
“For me it’s standing on the beach and being cold,” she agreed. “After years of flying through Chicago, I finally planned a long layover so I could sightsee.”
“The museum is your favorite?”
“The T-Rex is incredible. Can you imagine being on a hunting trip and running into
?” Her imagination hijacked her tongue. “What would you do?”
His lips twitched. “Am I hungry?”
“You live on roots and berries and the monster is between you and a prehistoric bunny,” she used her hands to gauge the size of the creature, “
big. Fight or flight?”
“Fight.” He smiled. “Definitely.”
They arrived at their hotel. Home stretch—efficient clerks, someone else to carry their bags, an elevator. A bed.
“Perhaps we could register and start our sightseeing early?” Camille offered.
Sunny accepted. “That would be wonderful.”
Grace whimpered at her mother’s glee. Her eyes were scratchy, her teeth fuzzy, and her legs were turning to gelatin. It wasn’t only the travel. She’d spent two weeks in nonstop meetings or staring at her latest edits, making up for the time she’d lose while she unplugged. Still, she hated to disappoint her mother.
“Mum, why don’t we give Sunny and Grace a chance to rest?” Ben said. “They’ve had a long trip. We could meet for dinner tonight instead.”
“That would—” Grace caught herself. “Would that be all right with you, Mom?”
“Of course, dear.”
“Thank you,” Grace whispered as she squeezed Ben’s hand when he helped her from the taxi.
“You’re welcome,” he murmured in reply. “I’ll make a reservation downstairs for seven-thirty.”
Each family followed their individual luggage carts to the registration desk, checked in side by side, and then took separate elevators to different floors.
After Sunny tipped the porter, she explored the room. “We have a wonderful view. Come see.”
“In a minute.”
Grace collapsed on the nearest bed, feeling like she’d passed out on the airport’s moving sidewalk. The muffled roar of jet engines still rang in her ears as a constant white noise.
She awoke rolled in the duvet like a big fluffy burrito. Water was running in the bathroom.
“We’ve got about an hour.”
Grace shuffled to her suitcase, glad that space restrictions had simplified her wardrobe decisions. She’d packed two wrinkle-resistant dresses, one black and one the color of blueberries, because they were easy to clean and matched her most comfortable pair of dress shoes.
She remembered the unwrinkled mother and son from London and grimaced. Her frown deepened when her mother emerged in tangerine and white with her makeup bag in her hand.
“The shower’s yours.”
Grace closed the door to the bathroom and stared into the mirror. Her hair was a mess, her mascara smeared under her lashes. At least she hoped it was mascara. An hour?
Rushing through her shower, she reached for the hair dryer while her skin was still damp. It hadn’t been mascara under her eyes. Damn. Once her hair was presentable, she began concealing the worst of the jet lag.
“We need to get a few things straight, young lady.” Her mother’s disembodied voice floated through the open bathroom door. “Are you listening?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Grace rolled her eyes. She felt like she was twelve.
“Don’t roll your eyes at me.” A smile infused the sentence.
“How did you—”
“I know my child.” Her mother came into the room and shared the mirror, smoothing her clothes as Grace finished applying her makeup. “You aren’t going to wait on me hand and foot and do only the things I want to do. Just like I’m not going to follow you around to places I don’t want to go.”
“We have a guide, Idgie. I can’t get lost if I stay with the group. I even have a new friend.” She smiled. “We seem to have more in common than attentive children.”
“Enough. Bill would want you to enjoy your vacation, too.” Mom blinked back tears at the mention of her beloved second husband. “He loved you, and he wanted you to have fun.” She emphasized her point with a glare.
Grace had been terrified of that look when she was five. It no longer had the same effect. “Okay. I promise.”
It was a safe vow. She doubted the tour would be full of parents escorted by their children. It would probably just be her and Ben.
“Ben is nice looking,” her mother said, winking.
“Yes he is, but don’t get any ideas.”
Some people were good at dating. Grace wasn’t one of them. Her last boyfriend had proved that when he’d ditched her in Vegas for another woman. Besides, this wasn’t a singles cruise.
“That’s not on my agenda, and I doubt it’s on his.”
“Still, it’ll be nice to have someone your age on the trip. You won’t have to spend all your time with old ladies.”
Grace chuckled. Her mother
considered herself an old lady. “Let me get dressed so we won’t be late for dinner.”
Three floors up, Ben checked his watch as he and his mother waited on the lift.
“I don’t want you conforming your schedule to mine,” his mother said.
“Do you have a hot date with an Austrian banker?” His question garnered the hoped-for laughter.
“You need to enjoy being between films and the chance to be anonymous. Both are becoming rare.” She stepped into the lift. “Promise me you’ll have fun on your own.”
Ben tapped his fingers over his breast pocket. “I’ve already made notes on places I’d like to visit.”
She didn’t need to know the pocket was empty.
As they emerged into the lobby, a camera flashed to his right.
Blast! Paps? Even here?
When a wall blocked his escape, Ben twisted to his left and charged forward, narrowly missing a column. Couldn’t they just leave him alone?
His mother’s heels clicked on the tile as she tugged his elbow. “Vacationers, dear.”
He slowed. No cameras and blinding flashes. Rather than insults and his name shouted in a deafening chorus, he heard delighted, relaxed laughter.
He risked a glance. No one was near.
“Don’t worry, we’re fine.” She patted his hand like she’d done for years on the first day of school.