Authors: Elizabeth Palmer
Tags: #romance, #contemporary
This edition published by
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, Ohio 45242
Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Palmer
ISBN 10: 1-4405-5099-9
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-5099-7
eISBN 10: 1-4405-5098-0
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-5098-0
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © istockphoto.com/© Jorge Salcedo, 123rf.com/© Imagehit International Ltd
Violet Gallagher felt like she was all alone at her own going-away party, even though a hundred people smiled and applauded as they waited for her to speak. After wiping away her sudden tears with a manicured fingertip, she turned on her brightest evening-news smile and took a deep breath.
“Please excuse me,” she said, once the room was quiet. “It just sank in that I’m leaving Wickham and all the wonderful friends I’ve made here.”
As Richard Rayburn, her co-anchor at WWIC, had said when he introduced her, she was moving up to the station’s network affiliate in Boston. The promotion was the achievement of a decade-long goal, yet she felt no joy in her accomplishment this evening. Wickham, a close-knit seaside community about sixty miles from Boston, had been warm and welcoming, and she would miss it — but she didn’t think that was the problem.
Just in case, she turned to her producer, seated next to the dais at the head table. “If they don’t like me in Boston, can I come back?”
The hoots and whistles that followed gave her the opportunity to scan the faces in the ballroom. Her coworkers from WWIC were all there, of course, and members of the community ranging from her downstairs neighbor to the mayor. A man she didn’t recognize caught her eye and winked, and she smiled back. Could she have met such a gorgeous man and forgotten? Matt Macintyre, a local builder and president of the Chamber of Commerce, sat next to the handsome stranger. He grinned and gave her a thumbs-up signal.
Conspicuously absent, however, was the face of anyone she could consider more than just a
. Her mother and stepfather were on a cruise they had planned long before her promotion was announced, and her twin brother Seth was trying an important case at home in California and couldn’t get away.
When she had imagined this proud moment — and she had, many times — there was always a special someone in the crowd clapping harder than everyone else, the one person whose approval mattered. But the calculated planning that had been so effective for reaching her career goals had gotten her nowhere when it came to love. Now she vowed that once she was settled in Boston, she’d make a new plan. A
“There’s really only one thing I want to say. Thank you, everyone, for making the last five years the best of my life.”
As she stepped away from the podium after her short speech, she was surrounded by guests who wanted to give her an air-kiss or clasp her hand and tell her how much she’d be missed. Within fifteen minutes, however, the group had dispersed and she was left standing alone. The last time she’d felt as awkward had been at her eighth-grade dinner dance, when she’d been certain everyone except her was part of a couple.
She snatched a glass of champagne off the tray of a passing waiter and drained it in three gulps while considering the advice her brother had given her when he’d called just before the party.
“Be yourself,” he’d told her, only to immediately amend his statement. “Except more spontaneous. Don’t be afraid to leave some things to chance.”
Resolving to be more outgoing, and, yes, more spontaneous, she headed for the dessert table, where Matt caught her in a bear hug.
“Oh, Violet, I wanted to ask you out the first time I met you, but I was too shy.” His booming voice caught the attention of everyone around them; people who knew him, which included almost everyone, laughed and shook their heads. Shy, he was not. “Now it’s too late.”
“If I’d ever seen you in a tuxedo, I wouldn’t have waited for you to do the asking.” Although she knew he was joking, his flirting always made her feel feminine and desirable. He was at least a decade older than Violet, but if he’d ever asked her for a date, she’d have said yes in a flash.
“Have you met my nephew, Jake Macintyre?” He turned to the side and revealed a tall, broad-shouldered man with golden hair that curled over his forehead and around his ears — the mystery man who had winked at her during her speech.
Although he resembled his uncle in height and coloring, Jake was slimmer, and his features were more classically handsome — less hunky construction worker and more romantic-comedy leading-man. His boyish appearance, and the fact that he was Matt’s nephew, fooled her at first into thinking he must be visiting from college. Then he smiled, and the crinkles around his dark amber eyes said he must be close to her age, in his early to mid-thirties.
“I don’t make a habit of crashing going-away parties.” He held her hand long enough for her to notice how it engulfed hers. His skin was warm and dry.
“But he often crashes other kinds!” Matt’s laughter brought her back to earth, and she withdrew her hand from Jake’s and switched her empty flute of champagne for a full one. Her hand trembled as she downed a mouthful of the cool, bubbly drink.
“Jake’s visiting from Boston,” Matt continued, “and I didn’t feel right leaving him home alone.”
“Really? He seems like a big boy to me.” Her face felt so hot she had to resist the urge to fan herself.
, she reminded herself, not foolish.
Both men laughed. “Family story,” Jake said. “I couldn’t be left alone or I’d escape.”
Even three glasses of champagne weren’t enough to make her ask him what
meant. He didn’t seem like a dangerous escapee from a mental institution, but, being a veteran newswoman, she knew those people never did.
WWIC’s anchorman lurched toward them and clapped Jake on the shoulder. “You’re Jake Macintyre. I have a call in to your agent about doing a story on your book. I’m Richard Rayburn.”
The two men shook hands, although Jake appeared annoyed by the interruption. His gaze flicked back to Violet even as he spoke to Richard. “I’m at your disposal, although you’ll have to wait.”
“Lucky Richard.” Had she said that out loud? Judging from the way all three men were staring at her, she had.
Nothing to do but tip up her glass and take another big hit. She’d been out of the loop at work because of her move, and wasn’t familiar with Jake’s work. She would ask him about it if the opportunity arose, but experience told her if she waited, he’d volunteer the information. People loved to talk about their work.
“Do you know Violet?” Richard asked Jake. “She’s my former co-anchor and fusure wife. I mean, my
Violet’s burst of laughter sent bubbles up her nose. She’d never heard Richard mispronounce a word before, and he’d just done it twice.
“You may laugh, but I know you’re secretly in love with me. There’s also a slight chance you’ve had too much to drink. Or I have.” Richard wore the spurned-puppy face that always tugged at her heart.
He’d told her he was considering a move to Boston himself, and said he hoped to take their relationship to a “new level” once they were no longer coworkers. On paper, he seemed like perfect husband and father material, but she’d always thought of him as “just Richard,” her work partner and now her friend.
“I do love you.” At that moment she loved everyone. “And I haven’t had too much to drink, I’m just being spontaneous!”
“Hold this for the lady,” Jake said to Richard, reaching for her glass. “You can have it back after you dance with me.”
She took a final gulp and handed the empty flute to Richard, then allowed Jake to press his hand against the small of her back and propel her onto the dance floor. The silk of her designer black-and-ivory slip-dress was so sheer he might have been touching her naked skin, and the heat of his hand through it made her shiver. When he turned to face her and took her right hand in his left, tightening his hold on her back, he was grinning.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” Even in three-inch heels, she had to tip her head uncomfortably far back to see his face. The view, however, was worth it.
His smile widened, displaying perfect teeth. He was better-looking than any anchorman she knew. Even Richard, renowned for his chiseled features and thick head of hair, seemed a bit foppish in comparison.
“I was just thinking how much I like your dress.”
Then he drew her close and began to dance with an ease she’d only seen in men of her stepfather’s generation. David Gallagher had taught her to dance in the days before that eighth grade event — unnecessarily, as it turned out, since no one asked her — and made her feel like a princess despite her awkward stumbling. But when he’d turned to her mother, his queen, and whirled her around the kitchen, Violet had watched and known she was in the presence of great love. Her long-suffering mother, and she and Seth too, had been rescued by the kind, steady gentleman. That night she’d written on her first list of goals, “marry a man like David.”
Something about Jake reminded her of her stepfather, something more than his skill at the foxtrot. But his approximate age, that he lived in Boston, and that he was a writer, were all she knew about him. Oh, and one more thing. He was knee-weakening, heart-hammering gorgeous. A handsome author might make the perfect partner off the dance floor as well.
Maybe it was time to get started on the new plan.
“I’m glad I crashed your party.” As he spoke he pulled her closer, and she both heard his words and felt them as a breath of warm air against her ear.
The tantalizing gap between them disappeared, and once again she was conscious of the flimsiness of her dress. She felt the hard muscles of his chest and his thighs as he led her in the dance, first advancing, then retreating. Never had a first dance with a man been so effortless; she moved with Jake as easily as she breathed.
To her delight, he didn’t relinquish his hold on her when the music stopped. “We’ll wait for the next one.” His grin was gone, but his intense gaze held her in place.
Unable to speak, she only nodded.
When the bandleader announced they were having technical difficulties and needed to take a short break, Jake groaned, then threw back his head and laughed. “I guess this means I’ll have to let you go. But do me a favor, and back away slowly. The last time dancing had this effect on me, I was in high school.”
She stepped away, but didn’t let go of his hand. “Come with me.” The door to the terrace was just a few feet away, and they slipped out into the relative coolness of the June night. Chinese lanterns provided soft illumination, and a half-crescent moon hung in the sky above them. She walked to the white iron railing and gazed up at the stars.
“This is so much better than my eighth-grade dinner dance.”
He laughed, then placed his hand over hers on the railing. “It’s hard to believe beautiful Violet Gallagher was ever a wallflower, but I suppose anything’s possible.”