Authors: Kimberla Lawson Roby
For Kathy Vigna
My first professional mentor.
A woman I’ve always admired.
The woman I’ve always looked up to in the business world.
The best boss I ever had.
First, I thank God for guiding and protecting my family and me and for continuing to bless us in every way. Without You, nothing would be possible, and I am forever grateful.
To my heart and joy—my husband, Will. I love you with everything in me. Your love has remained unconditional since the very beginning, and I thank God for you every day of my life.
I also want to thank my wonderful family members whom I love so, so much. Your unwavering support means everything: my brothers, Willie Jr. and Michael Stapleton; my stepson and daughter-in-law, Trenod and Tasha Vines-Roby; my aunts and uncles, Clifton and Vernell Tennin, Ben Tennin, Luther Tennin, Charlie and Mary Beasley, Earl and Fannie Haley-Rome, Ada Tennin, James Tennin, and Ollie Tennin; all of my cousins, sisters-in-law, and brothers-in-law (way too many to name individually but you all know who you are!); my girls of girls who are more like blood sisters, Kelli Bullard, Lori Thurman, and Janell Green; and the wonderful mothers of my nieces and nephews, Karen Young, Danetta Taylor, and April Farris.
Much love and many thanks to my spiritual mother, Dr. Betty Price; my author friends, Patricia Haley (also my first cousin!), Victoria Christopher Murray, Trisha R. Thomas, Trice Hickman, Eric Jerome Dickey, Eric Pete, Mary Morrison, ReShonda Tate Billingsley, and Curtis Bunn, to name just a few.
To my assistant, Connie Dettman: you are simply the best, and I’m not sure how I would manage without you. Thank you for being so kind and for all you do. I also want to say a special thanks to my freelance publicist, Shandra Hill Smith, my website developer and e-card/advertisement designer, Luke Lefevre, and my newsletter graphic designer and programmer, Pamela Walker-Williams. You guys are beyond amazing!
Then, to all of the wonderful folks at Grand Central Publishing. You are each an author’s dream, and I am so blessed to be working with such a talented and caring team. My editor-in-chief/editor, Beth de Guzman; my manuscript editor, Selina McLemore; assistant editor, Latoya Smith; my publisher, Jamie Raab; my publicity director, Linda Duggins; associate publicist, Samantha Kelly; my online marketing gurus Anna Balasi and Brad Parsons; my production editor, Dorothea Halliday; my art director, Elizabeth Connor; the entire sales force, the entire marketing team and everyone else at Hachette/GCP who works so hard on each of my titles. Thanks a million for everything.
To all the book clubs nationwide that choose my work as their monthly selection, to all the bookstores that sell my work to the masses, and to all the radio and TV producers, talk show hosts, anchors, and newspaper and magazine editors/writers who review or feature my novels. Thank you for all your support.
And finally to the most important people of all—the folks who allow me to do what I love and who are kind enough to support me with every single book release: my fabulous readers. From the bottom of my heart, I say thank you.
With all my love and many blessings,
Kimberla Lawson Roby
aige Donahue glanced around the elegant dining room and literally wanted to die. She hated visiting her sister, she hated all that Camille had been blessed with, and most important, she hated
. In fact, she always had, ever since childhood, thanks to the way their parents had doted on Camille and treated her like she was just a bit more precious. They’d gone out of their way, confirming the idea that Camille was the better daughter, their golden child so to speak, and that Paige was the very least of their worries. They’d even as much as told Paige this very thing on several different occasions—maybe not directly, of course, but their actions had made their feelings dreadfully clear. Such as the time when she’d turned sixteen and they’d told her how they simply couldn’t afford to give her the same pricey sweet-sixteen party they’d given Camille just two years before, since they now had to save all their money for Camille’s graduation gala. Worse, they’d never even apologized for it and had merely expected Paige to accept their decision. And it was the same situation when they’d purchased Camille that brand-new SUV right before she left for college but had convinced Paige that there was nothing wrong with driving her sister’s hand-me-down, ten-year-old Camry when she graduated—that is, since Paige would
be traveling ten miles down the road to a junior college. It was true that Camille had done much better than Paige in high school, and yes, Camille had practically breezed through Marquette with honors, and right after had immediately been hired by one of Chicago’s top advertising firms. But had that given George and Maxine Donahue the right to treat their younger daughter like she didn’t matter? Had it been okay for them to boast about Camille’s high accomplishments to anyone who would listen and then constantly compare those accomplishments to all that Paige had failed at? Had it been okay for them to insist that maybe if Paige had been just a tad more like Camille, they’d have been a lot prouder of her?
Even today, Paige still hadn’t forgiven them, doubted she ever would, and pretty much kept her distance. From her parents, anyway, because when it came to Camille, Paige had always visited her regularly and never let on how she truly felt about her—not once. They did everything sisters should do together, and Paige went out of her way to let Camille know that she loved her and would give her life for her if she had to. She’d done all of this for years because she needed her sister to love and trust her completely. She needed her to trust her so much that she would never suspect what was coming. Paige had denied herself for fifteen agonizing years, partly because she didn’t want to hurt Crystal and PJ, her adorable niece and nephew, but as of a few months ago, they’d turned ten and twelve, respectively—meaning they were older and wiser and would handle things a lot better now. They would still be hurt, that much she knew for sure, but not devastated.
Paige smiled at her sister, then at her flawless-looking brother-in-law, Pierce, and then at the children. She lifted one of the freshly baked dinner rolls from the basket, set it back onto the table, and pretended she couldn’t be happier.
“So, how’s business this month?” Camille asked Paige, referring to the public relations firm Paige had founded shortly after being laid off from her previous job.
“Not bad. I’m still working with my three ongoing clients, and I just contracted two short-term clients a couple of days ago.”
“That’s really great, sis,” Camille said, and Paige could tell Camille was genuinely happy for her. Too bad Paige could barely stand the sight of
—too bad Paige envied everything about her sister, including her beautiful, extremely thick, off-black shoulder-length hair and her ridiculously toned five-foot-ten-inch frame. Even sitting down, there was no mistaking how statuesque and attractive Camille was, and suddenly Paige felt ill, so much so that she wanted to leave. But she knew escaping the situation wouldn’t help her, and she pulled herself together.
“I think it’s wonderful how you were able to start your own business and find so much success with it,” Pierce said. “Truly impressive.”
“Why, thank you.” Paige wanted to hug him.
Pierce was an honestly good man who had always been very kind to her, and she loved him for it. He was one of the best men she knew, and while he’d graduated at the top of his MBA class sixteen years ago and was now a top bank executive earning well into the mid–six figures, he treated her as an equal. He never talked down to her the way her parents did, and she appreciated that. She appreciated everything about him and had felt this way ever since first laying eyes on him. As a matter of fact, it seemed only days ago when Camille had finally decided to bring Pierce to their parents’ home for dinner. He’d been the perfect gentleman, and Paige had known immediately that Camille wasn’t about to let him get away. So there was no surprise when the two of them had announced their engagement only three months later and had begun planning the wedding of the century. Their parents had even taken out a sizable home equity loan, used a portion of their savings, and their mother had acted as though she’d been the one who was actually getting married. She’d been so excited about her first daughter tying the knot, and to Paige’s great disappointment, Camille and Pierce’s wedding had ended up being the most talked-about nuptials in Covington Park—the south suburb of Chicago where Paige and Camille had grown up and where they all still resided. Paige also remembered how miserable she’d been, standing next to her sister, serving as her maid of honor, and how she’d wished it was her who’d met the perfect man and was going to live happily ever after.
But the longer Paige sat reminiscing about her overall relationship with her sister and how terribly her parents had treated her, the more certain she was of her decision. She was going to take what rightly should have been hers from the very beginning: her brother-in-law, Pierce Montgomery. She would take what belonged to her, which wouldn’t be very difficult, considering how there had always been an obvious attraction between the two of them—Paige may not have been as tall as Camille, but she’d been told on more than a number of occasions that she was beautiful. So, yes, things would work out just the way they were supposed to, and soon, Pierce would realize he’d fallen in love with the wrong sister. Soon, Pierce would fall madly in love with Paige, he would ask his darling wife for a divorce, and he and Paige would marry at a lovely resort in the Caribbean. They would become husband and wife the way God intended. Paige knew this because she’d plotted a very clever plan.
One Week Later
aige smiled at Owen Richardson, her boyfriend of one year, and wondered how she’d tolerated him for so long. But she knew why. He worshiped the ground she walked on, and the sex between them could sometimes be out of this world. Still, he was no Pierce Montgomery. He wasn’t even half the man her brother-in-law was, not when you compared their looks, charisma, and personality, and Owen’s financial situation had never sat well with her either. Of course, there was no denying that he did earn a great salary as a fireman, but he didn’t bring in nearly enough money to excite Paige. He didn’t make the kind of money that would keep her satisfied or afford her a much more glamorous home—something much better than the average-looking one she lived in currently.
Owen took a bite of the chicken quesadilla they’d just had delivered and then drank a sip of soda. “Such a great movie, isn’t it, baby?”
“Yeah, it really is,” Paige said, referring to
The Blind Side
, which she’d already seen with a friend when it was first released at the theater and also two other times on one of the pay channels.
“I just love how the Tuohys took in Michael Oher, loved him like he was their own child, and also made sure he got a great education. Not to mention, you could tell he’d been a great kid all along. Just needed someone to guide and care about him.”
“Yeah, that really was sweet of them,” Paige said, barely paying Owen any attention because she was now daydreaming about Pierce—wondering what he was doing and whether he was thinking of her as well. Oh how desperately she wanted to be with him and couldn’t wait to begin implementing the fabulous strategy she’d come up with. Her plan was absolutely brilliant, and she couldn’t help smiling when she thought about the future outcome. Just visualizing the two of them together forever made her tingly all over.
“Paige!” she heard Owen yelling. “Have you heard a word I said?”
“What? Of course I have.”
“Then why did I have to call your name three different times before you answered? I mean, what are you so preoccupied about?”
“It doesn’t seem like nothing to me.”
“You’re just paranoid.”
“Yeah, whatever,” he said, turning back toward the television with an annoyed look on his face.
Paige knew he hadn’t believed her and now had a slight attitude, but in truth, she couldn’t have cared less.
They watched another twenty minutes of the movie, and then out of nowhere Owen’s face softened and he got serious. He muted the volume on the remote and turned his body completely toward her. Paige wondered what this was all about.
“You know,” he said, “I’ve been debating whether to have this discussion with you for a good while now, but for some reason, tonight feels right. We just made the most passionate love, and I’ve never been more sure about our relationship.”
Paige wasn’t sure she liked where this conversation was headed and didn’t say anything.
“You know I love you, right?” he said, continuing.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I love you more than anything in this world.”
Paige fell silent again, and when Owen moved from the sofa and down to the floor on one knee, her heart dropped. He positioned himself directly in front of her and then pulled out a tiny royal blue velvet box. “Paige Donahue, will you marry me?”
Paige was taken aback and still had no words to speak. She tried answering him, or at least to make some sort of comment, but she couldn’t.
“Sweetheart, I know we haven’t spoken much about marriage, but I don’t think my feelings about you have ever been a secret. I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you, so how about it? Will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?”
“I… I… Look, Owen,” she finally said. “This is truly very kind of you, but I’m sorry to say that I’m not ready for marriage.”
Owen stared at her, clearly hurt by her rejection. “But why?”
“Because I’m just not.”
“So does this mean you don’t love me?”
“No. It doesn’t mean that at all, but I have to be honest. I love you, but I’m not
love with you.”
Owen sighed deeply, got to his feet, and sat back down on the sofa. Paige saw how devastated, heartbroken, and confused he was, but there was nothing she could do about it.
“I’m really sorry,” she said innocently.
Owen set the tiny box down on the glass coffee table. “Wow,” he said, shaking his head. “I feel like a complete fool. Especially, since you’ve been telling me for months that you
“That’s because I do. But not in the way a woman should love a man when she’s ready to marry him.”
Owen looked at her, noticeably perturbed. “Well, Paige, if you weren’t in love with me and you’ve known that you weren’t all this time, then why have you been allowing me to pay half of your car note every month and take you shopping in stores I really couldn’t afford? Not to mention the cash I gave you from almost every paycheck.”
“I don’t get what you mean,” she said, acting as though she didn’t understand what he was saying.
“You know exactly what I mean. Why did you use me the way you did?”
Paige raised her eyebrows, now losing patience with him. “Look, Owen. I never forced you to do any of those things. You helped with my car payment and bought nice things for me all on your own.”
Owen folded his arms. “So, not once did you hint around about how tough things were for you or how hard it was paying all your bills? Not once did you tell me you were experiencing a slow period with clients and that you didn’t know what you were going to do?”
Paige looked away from him, knowing she
hinted a few times about her eight-hundred-dollar Lexus car payment on purpose and how she had also lured him into high-end department stores, only to express how much she loved a certain dress or handbag. She’d told him how she wished she could buy some of those things but just couldn’t afford it. She’d done this because she’d learned early on that Owen did care a lot for her and wanted her to be happy. She’d discovered how compassionate he was, and, right or wrong, she’d preyed on his sympathy every chance she’d gotten. Now, though, she wanted nothing to do with the idea of marrying him and hoped he would eventually understand that.
“So, what does this mean for us?” he asked, still angry. “I mean, do you think you’ll ever be in love with me? Will you ever want to become my wife?”
Paige hesitated for a few seconds, then said, “No. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see that happening.”
“Wow,” he said.
Paige placed her hand on the side of his arm. “I really am sorry.”
Owen grabbed his jeans and sweater from the back of the sofa and slipped them on. “I don’t know when I’ve ever been more disappointed or pissed off. But hey, I guess it is what it is.”
“I never meant to hurt you, Owen. I never meant for things to turn out this way,” she said, because she honestly hadn’t planned on their relationship ending so soon. Although, deep down, she had to admit that she wasn’t terribly bothered by it, because once she and Pierce finally got together, she would have had to end things with Owen anyhow. She would have had to notify him abruptly, and that scenario might have made things worse.
Owen pulled on his leather jacket and walked toward the front door, and Paige followed behind him.
“I know I’ve apologized, but I just want to say again how sorry I am.”
“I’ll see you later, Paige,” he said, opening the door.
“Owen, I know you’re upset right now, but I do hope we can still be friends.”
Owen walked out of the condo and never looked back at her.
Paige watched him stroll toward the driveway and get into his car. She truly was very sorry, but she could never love him the way he wanted her to, so there was no sense delaying the inevitable. Surprisingly, though, she did feel a little sad and felt bad for Owen, but she had to move on. What she had to do now was focus on more critical matters—her brother-in-law—and this, of course, made her smile again. The whole idea of it all lifted her spirits and made her want to take a shower and turn in early. That way she would have even longer to dream about her future husband.
Yes, life was going to be just grand once Paige became the next Mrs. Pierce Montgomery—something that would happen a lot sooner than anyone could imagine.