Release Date: September 21, 2023
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Small Town Romance
Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Kobo
Fifteen years ago, Webb Duncan obliterated my heart. Now he’s back with a proposal that could give me everything I ever wanted or break me for good…
Adopting my late best friend’s baby is all I want, but to make it happen means marrying the man who stole my belief in forever. What’s supposed to be a marriage of convenience puts me on a path I never thought I’d walk again with Webb, awakening dormant desires and opening my heart to him again.
But there’s something I’m hiding from him, something that might destroy us. How can I protect my secret when I’m falling for him all over again?
I thought I did the right thing when I left Piper all those years ago, but I was a fool. Now I’ll do anything for a second chance at loving her, including marrying her so she can adopt a baby. She insists this is a marriage on paper only. Until our wedding night, when it becomes something more. Now the family I always wanted is in my grasp.
But the choices I made continue to haunt me. How can I keep our past from coming back to tear us apart?
Webb shows up at six p.m. on the dot, holding a bottle of Chardonnay. “I realized about halfway here I should have asked what dinner was. You might’ve preferred a red.”
I take the bottle and usher him in. “The white will do. Hope you like Coq au Vin.”
The oven timer buzzes. “Could you get the salad out of the fridge while I get this?”
I take the chicken out of the oven and set it on a trivet on the kitchen table. It smells amazing, thank you very much. Who said candy makers can’t cook? Like candy, it’s all about timing, and I’m confident I nailed the time on these chicken thighs.
Webb finds the dressings next to the salad and puts it all out. I dish out the Coq au Vin while he plates the salads. We move as if we’ve been doing this together forever, like this is the most natural thing in the world. He pops the cork on the wine and pours us each a glass, then sets them at our places before pulling my chair out for me. I sit before I swoon and make a fool of myself. His smile dazzles, crinkling the corners of his eyes as he picks up a fork. “This looks delicious.”
“Thanks. Hope it lives up to its appearance.” I watch him from under my eyelashes while he samples the dish. When he hums his approval, I relax—about the food, at least. The noises of appreciation coming out of his mouth vibrate through me. I take a long sip of wine, the chilled liquid doing little to douse the fiery arousal he’s ignited against my inner protests. I take a bite of chicken and let out my own happy moan. Damn, I’m good.
We ease into comfortable conversation while we eat, and once finished, I nod my chin at him. “Before we set ground rules, I need to make sure you’re really okay with this. With lying to almost everyone.”
“What we each want is inherently good,” he says. “You’ll provide a more loving home for Violet and I’ll provide much needed health services for the Isle. Win-win.”
“The end justifies the means.” I take in a breath. “Awfully Machiavellian.”
“I only scored a 56 on the Machiavellian scale,” he says, puffing out his chest. “I’m actually not that evil.”
“49.” He deflates some and I smirk into my glass.
“Guess you’re a better person than me.” He tilts his glass to me in a mock toast.
“It just means, on the whole, I’m not comfortable with deceit. I’ve been on the shitty end of it enough in my life.”
Webb stretches across the table and rests his hand on my arm, electrifying my skin. I resist the urge to melt in a puddle under the soft warmth of his touch. “Hey,” he says, his voice low and intense. “I promise to always be honest with you. I want you to know I will never lie to you. You can trust me.”
I flinch, not at his touch, though I’m sure it’s what he thinks. He sits back and stares at me. I clear my throat and gulp the rest of my wine. “We should talk about what’s going to happen—or not going to happen—between us.”
“All right.” An amused gleam dances in his eyes. “Let’s start with what’s going to happen.”
I finish my wine and stand to refill it. “We’re going to have to sell it, especially to Lulu and Denny. Which means we’ll have to act all love-dovey, at least in public.”
“What do you see that entailing?”
I stare at my wine, a heated flush creeping up my neck. “Holding hands, sweet talk, kissing.” I mumble this last one into my glass.
When he says nothing, I glance up to gauge his reaction. He’s looking much too smug. I scowl. “What?”
He stands and walks over to me. Before I can react, he takes the glass out of my hand and sets it on the counter, then pulls me into his arms. With a finger under my chin, he tilts my face up, then leans slowly in. My eyes flutter closed as his lips lightly brush against mine. He sips from my lips, a hummingbird drinking nectar from a flower. Holding my chin between his thumb and forefinger, he deepens the kiss, tongue sweeping against mine, his other hand coming to rest on my hip. My body arches into him without my permission, but as my brain screams, “this is a bad idea!” and my heart trembles with uncertainty, my pussy is shouting “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
I melt into him, my arms moving around his neck. His thick ridge presses against my stomach and one of us—I think it might be me—moans. And then…
He steps back, taking all the heat with him. Maybe not all of it, since my panties still may scorch right off me, but enough to leave me standing confused and cold. My breath rasps and the only sign he’s affected at all by what just happened is the way his fists clench at his sides.
I touch my lips and steady my breaths. “What was that?”
Something flickers across his face, but is just as quickly replaced by an impassive expression. “If we’re going to kiss in public, I figured we should get the initial awkwardness out of the way.”
I huff out a short laugh. “Mission accomplished. Now it’s not awkward at all.”
He drops his head a moment, then lifts it and flashes a grin. “Sorry, it got away from me.”
I pick up my wine and down it in one long swallow. The rest of the white wine fills my glass and I do a mental inventory of what else I have on hand because I’m pretty sure this won’t be my last glass. “We should talk about what will not happen.”
He picks up his wineglass and follows me into the living room. I take up position in the center of my sofa and tuck my legs under me. He gets the message and sits in the overstuffed chair with the end table between us. “First,” I begin. “What just happened can’t happen again.”
The corners of his eyes twitch and I think he’s about to be a smart ass, but he only nods in agreement. “We’ll keep any kissing chaste.”
“Obviously, kissing isn’t the only thing we should keep chaste. Hand-holding, hugging when necessary, a touch to the hand or shoulder or cheek now and then—but nowhere else. This—,” I circle my hand in front of my chest and pelvic area, “is off-limits.”
He mimics my gesture in front of his crotch and deadpans, “Same here.”
I ignore him and continue. “We’ll keep our story simple—reconnected at the funeral and you moved here to open a dental office and see if we had a chance.”
He leans forward. “I couldn’t keep my eyes off you. It was like the past fifteen years didn’t happen and it was just us, young and stupid and hopeful again.”
I can feel his stare, but I keep mine firmly on the wine in my glass. “I gave you a hard time at first. But you won me over.”
I trace the rim of my glass with my finger and look up at him, my eyes drawn back to his mouth, to those thick lips that felt so good pressed to mine, even better than I remember. My breath quickens, desire building like a storm cloud in my gut. I look away, my lips parting as I draw in more air, but my gaze lands back on his eyes, now a dark, piney green, and I’m transfixed. The years fall away and for the first time in forever, the yearning in the pit of my stomach doesn’t pull and ache the same lonely way. His eyelids half-close and his Adam’s apple bobs.
“Pip,” he says, his voice coming out part-groan, part-whisper.
“I’d really like to kiss you again.”
I don’t answer right away, because I don’t know what the right thing is to say. I want him to kiss me again, to do more than kiss me, the thought causing me to draw my knees in and press my thighs together in a feeble attempt to hold myself together. I want to feel his lips, his tongue, his teeth on me. All over me.
But I can’t want that. This arrangement we’re agreeing to can’t include these sorts of extracurriculars. Not with so much at stake.
I set my glass on the table next to me. “I think I’ve had a little too much wine. I’m going to get some water. Want any?”
I stand, but before I can move away, he reaches across the gap between us and grasps my wrist. “Pip—”
I pull out of his grasp. Not harshly, but decidedly. “It’s Piper.” I need to keep things formal. We can’t go back to how it used to be or there’s no chance I’ll come out of this with my heart intact. “This is a bad idea. We need to stick to doing the bare minimum, okay?”
He stares at me for a long half-minute, then sits back with a sigh. “Okay.”
I take extra time in the kitchen to gather myself. This is an arrangement, a deal between two friends, that’s all. To pretend otherwise is courting disaster. Until I’m willing to tell him everything, this can’t go further and I will never be willing to do that. I need to keep a wall up between us.
But that kiss… my fingers linger against my mouth and I let myself swim in the feelings he stirred up for a moment before I lock it all down. Our relationship is a fictional construct and once the adoption goes through, we’ll carefully deconstruct it.
The mental pep talk works and I stroll back into the living room a little more sober, a little more confident, a little more steadfast. Webb is standing, facing the fireplace with an arm resting on the mantle. Shoulders back, chin up, I plaster a smile on my face that freezes when he turns around. His generous mouth is cocked up on one side, the smattering of soft scruff along his jaw begging to be stroked—and I know that no matter how hard I try to resist this magnetism between us, I am fucked.
Well and truly fucked.