What if she could simply say no to her old dream? What if she could simply say—
No men! No kids! And no pets!
It’s the perfect life for thirty-seven-year-old Rachel McGivney, a career woman who’s struggled for years to gain a foothold in business . . . and to keep her emotions under control.
So, when high-powered lawyer Garrett Yates (her high school crush) returns to town and wants to foist a mischievous nine-year-old orphan on her, Rachel rebels. Garrett’s even suggesting she take that aggravating sheep dog!
She’s not ready to take on a kid and a dog.

But handsome and persistent Garrett believes in Rachel and trusts her to be the right person for little Jamie. The question is: Can Rachel learn to trust herself?

Chapter Five

Before I could twist my ankle or fall, Dottie’s handsome hunk caught me, supporting my back with a strong arm. He saved me from hitting the floor, but not from the shock I got when I looked up to thank him.
He’d stepped back. A smile quirked his beautiful mouth and showed off his perfect white teeth. “Rachel McGivney. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
His dark, thick hair was slightly wavy, with a tinge of white at the temples, giving him a distinguished appearance. His lips were full. My cheeks warmed with embarrassment as I stared and despite my better intention, I wondered what it’d be like to be kissed by him.
When I didn’t answer him promptly, he put out his hand. “You’ve probably forgotten me. I’m Garrett Yates.”
I hadn’t forgotten his name or anything else about him. In my teens, he’d been the epitome of perfection and the star of all my romantic dreams. A funny ache settled in my chest. I could never forget Garrett Yates.
“Would you care for a glass of punch?”
I nodded, my mouth suddenly dry.
I glanced around the room. Dottie had left and the kid was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Sorenson still sat in the overstuffed chair, and people milled around chatting and laughing. I was alone in a sea of self-doubt.
I’d known Garrett Yates for twenty years. Twenty-one to be exact. In high school, I’d fallen hard for him, developing a major crush on the high school football captain and top student. We’d been in the same honor roll photo and had worked together, for hours, on the school yearbook. I’d wanted him to notice and like me. I imagined that I’d seen interest in his eyes, but after one date he'd barely talked to me. I wasn’t worth the trouble. To me, his polite indifference labeled me as trailer trash.
I don’t know whether this was true, but at the time I really believed it, especially when I’d overheard the popular girls making snide comments about where I lived and where my mother worked. All the tormenting memories came tumbling back into my mind.
In no time, Garrett was back with two glasses of punch. He offered me one.
“I want to hear what you’ve been doing for the past few years.” He put his free hand on my waist and ushered me out of the living room and across the narrow hall into the dining room. His touch was warm and disarming. We passed under the mistletoe, but he didn’t miss a step. Either he’d forgotten it or didn’t want to kiss me. I tried not to be disappointed, because unlike high school, this time I wanted to be caught under the mistletoe, and thoroughly kissed by Garrett.
Maybe I was even hoping for a little romance in my life.
He pulled out a chair for me and then sat to my right, a couple of feet away. I could smell his aftershave. I tried not to stare at him, but couldn’t help remembering the young man who inspired crushes in all the girls. The touch of gray at his temples stood out attractively against his black hair and gave him a distinguished, sexy appearance. At thirty-nine, he was one year older than me and appeared to be in great shape.
“It’s terrific to see you again.” The keen, measuring glint in his eyes made me self-conscious.
Other guests came into the dining room. Chatting and acknowledging us with a nod, they helped themselves to appetizers from the food-laden table. I reached for some cheese and crackers, and the guests wandered out of the room, leaving me alone once more with Garrett.
As a female guest passed the doorway, she paused and caught my attention, with a knowing gleam in her eyes and an admiring glance at Garrett. I ignored it.
“I hear you’re in business,” Garrett said. He placed his hands on the table and I was too quick to notice that there was no wedding band. I realized lots of couples didn’t feel rings were necessary. I actually agreed with them, but couldn’t help wondering if this applied to Garrett.
I tried to convince myself that, if I could be calm when making renovations and design suggestions to prospective clients, I was perfectly capable of explaining my business to Garrett. I went into a few details about how I’d come back to Maryville just over a year ago, bought a house, and renovated it.
“I take it you’re planning to make Maryville your permanent home?” He asked the question with great sincerity. For a few seconds, I imagined that he really cared, but then wondered why he would. I dismissed the negative thought almost as quickly as it had come. My cynical feelings were getting the better of me and I knew I should behave like an adult and not some foolish, drooling schoolgirl.
“Business has been going very well,” I said, warming to the interest in his dark brown eyes and feeling a blush of pleasure at being the center of his attention. He still had the ability to make my heart beat faster.
“I’m delighted for you, Rachel.” He moved his hands towards mine and the flutter in my stomach climbed to my chest. Disappointment cascaded through me when he ignored my hands and picked up my glass instead. “Would you care for another drink?”
He stood and I nodded, at a loss for words. I’d foolishly misjudged his intentions and once again I was out of step, just like a few years ago when I’d dated a guy and started to like him. He’d announced that he was looking for a wife and wanted a big family. I’d felt pressured like I was auditioning for a part. I’d quickly dropped him. The whole scenario scared me. Maybe I was destined to live alone, like my piano teacher.
A couple moved under the mistletoe and locked their lips in a deep embrace. The woman thrust herself against the man and I looked away, embarrassed by their public intimacy. Garrett strode back into the dining room and I managed a polite nod. He glanced back at the pair and then back at me, his expression unreadable.
Jamie dodged past them and stopped beside Garrett.
“Slow down, buddy,” Garrett said, putting the two glasses on the table.
“I saw them kissing.” Jamie pointed to the pair who were holding hands and walking towards Mrs. Sorenson. He smacked his lips together and made sucking sounds.
Garrett ignored the display of bad manners. If the kid were mine, I’d have been on him in a nanosecond, but I chose to mind my own business. This wasn’t my house and it was not my place to lecture Jamie.
My good intentions didn’t last for long. Jamie yanked on Garrett’s sleeve and gave him an angelic grin.
“It’s your turn to kiss someone.” Jamie rotated and his gaze landed on me. He tapped Garrett’s arm. “You’ve got to kiss Miss McGivney.”
I wondered how long he’d connived to get even with me.
“Come on. You have to kiss her.” Jamie did a quick exit and within a few seconds, a recording of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” blared from the living room.
I swallowed and Garrett put his arm on my shoulder. “If you don’t kiss me,” he whispered, “Jamie will think of some other way to play a trick on you. Kissing me might be the least unpleasant option and it’ll be all over before you even feel the pain.” His eyes gleamed with amusement.
Warm excitement bubbled through me. I put on an air of confidence and said, “You’re on.” I stepped under the mistletoe and before I even had time to brace my feet, Garrett had pulled me into his arms.
I tilted my head back and looped my arms around his neck. I’d show that kid he couldn’t get the better of me. Who was I kidding? This kiss wasn’t about the kid—it was about something I wanted all those years ago and still wanted. I’d been given the perfect opportunity.
Garrett’s lips brushed my mouth in a friendly gesture, as if for the benefit of those watching us. The music got louder, pulsating in my head, and something unfamiliar twisted inside me as I pictured the pair before us, ardently kissing under the mistletoe. I found myself brashly saying, “Let’s really show them.”
He pressed his mouth to my neck, whispering, “I’ve waited a long time for this.” His words aroused a deep longing to experience and understand the passion I’d seen in other couples. He held me in his arms, with his thighs so close they pushed against my skirt and the warmth of his chest pressed against my breasts. I tilted my head and shut my eyes, vaguely aware of a child’s laughter in the background and people cheering. Garrett’s lips closed over mine. Pleasure rippled down my spine and a drifting sensation filled me as if I’d fallen into a pillow of clouds. His kiss coiled around my senses and ribbons of sunlight danced before my eyes. I slid my hands up his back and something stirred in my stomach.
Was the world spinning or had Garrett twirled me around?
Too soon the kiss ended and the music changed to a thumping dance rhythm and people clapped in time to the beat. Garrett had one hand on my arm, and with his other hand, he’d grabbed Jamie.
Jamie held my right hand and Garrett my left as we moved into the living room. We danced in a circle, and on one of our turns, I glanced at Mrs. Sorenson.
I saw a glow around her head and shoulders and realized that I was seeing her aura. I’m sure nobody else noticed it. She wasn’t smiling and yet I had the feeling that she’d discovered some treasure. A part of me wanted to understand and experience the genuine happiness radiating from her. I was almost bursting from my own ridiculously happy bubble. We lifted Jamie, swinging him until his feet flew off the floor and he giggled. People cheered and clapped.
The music stopped. My little bubble of happiness burst and Jamie ran to his mom. She kissed him on the top of the head and glanced up at me. My heart gave a tender twist, knowing how privileged I was to witness a special moment between a mother and her son, and their special love for each other. My insides were running in a tight circle. I knew I'd never deserve a man’s love or a child’s trust, not after what I’d done, but I tried to ignore that knowledge.
Half an hour later, after saying our goodbyes, and Garrett telling me that he’d be in touch, Dottie and I left the party. After our kiss, I was disappointed Garrett hadn’t asked me for a date. I had to remember that I’d initiated the kiss to show Jamie he couldn’t embarrass me. Garrett had been a good sport. Still smitten with him, I’d allowed myself to think his kiss was for real. I doubted I’d see him again. Besides, he probably had a girlfriend.
As we strolled back to Dottie’s house, she commented, “I was watching you and the handsome hunk. I think he’s interested.”

Alexander Winslow dreads the midnight hour when darkness permeates his soul, spasms of pain slash his body and hours of torment begin.
Afflicted by an ancient family curse, Alex endures a nightly transformation and is doomed to stalk the countryside, searching for prey.
Seeking refuge from her greedy uncle who wants her killed, heiress Victoria Northcote escapes to Winslow Mansion, the home of an old family friend. However, the friend is dead and Alex, the new master, has his secret to guard and he doesn’t welcome Vicki.
When they are forced into a dangerous alliance, tempers flare and passions ignite.

New England 1895

Chapter One
Heels clicked on the hardwood floor outside the library. Fearing detection, Victoria Northcote stuffed the documents back into her uncle’s desk drawer, lifted the hem of her skirt and hid behind the velvet drapes. The door squeaked as someone entered the room. She pressed her hand against her mouth. One tiny sound and she’d be discovered.
“She must die tonight. Make no mistakes this time,” said her uncle.
Vicki flinched—his words confirmed her suspicions. The fall from her horse, several weeks ago, was deliberately planned.
“The boy? Does he have an accident too?”
The other man’s guttural voice made her shiver. She recognized her uncle’s henchman, Benny—the very same pock-faced ruffian who’d saddled her horse before the accident.
Taking silent breaths, she forced herself to remain quiet.
“Smothering the boy would be easy if that be how you want it.”
A whip cracked, followed by a grunt. “You stupid lout. My nephew, Davey, is of little consequence, but if you touch a hair on his head, I’d have you knifed to death in a dark alley.”
“No need, no need to anger, sir.”
Although she detested Benny, she didn’t want him beaten on her account.
“Have you no brains? Can’t you understand? An accident so soon after you make my niece disappear would be suspicious. I will bide my time, manage the boy’s inheritance for a few years—until he too dies. Unexpectedly.”
The draperies folded in on Vicki, smothering and choking her breath. Davey, her beloved brother. If they hurt him, she’d fight her uncle—but how?
She could just picture his face, the smirk between his neatly trimmed mustache and hatchet jaw. To other men, his appearance symbolized knowledge and self-confidence—to her, deceit and dishonesty. “The inheritance should have been mine,” he said.
Realization of her situation weakened her knees and she wanted to crumple to the ground. She stood ramrod still, the smell of cigar smoke drifting towards the opened window beside her.
What could she do? Her father’s lawyer trusted her uncle completely. How could she explain that her uncle required her dead before her twenty-first birthday when she’d inherit her father’s fortune? And her uncle, the second son in the family, got nothing?
The attorney would smile kindly and assure her everything was for her and Davey’s best interests. She must not worry and trust their knowledge. The conditions of the will would be honored and for the first time since her father’s death a year ago, her smooth-talking, suave uncle, with no money of his own to bankroll his love of gambling, would be without funds.
In three weeks she’d get her inheritance—but she would have to live long enough to claim it.
As Vicki tiptoed into Davey’s bedroom, she heard his soft breathing, almost matching the purring of the black cat curled beside him.
She brushed the fine hair back from Davey’s forehead and gave him a light kiss, the little boy she’d vowed to protect when her father died. Small and slight of stature for his nine years, Davey was a gentle child who loved playing with the kitten she’d bought him a year ago. The cat, named Kitty, had grown to be an inseparable friend and Vicki hoped their closeness would comfort Davey in the weeks ahead.
Kitty opened his green eyes and she looked into their seemingly infinite depths. She picked him up and whispered. “If only you could talk and tell Davey I’m not deserting him.” For a minute she bowed her head. What would Davey do when he found her gone?
As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t leave Davey a note because he might unknowingly give the information to her uncle. If she didn’t remain strong she’d be of no use to him. Steeling her resolve, she raised her head and stared at the cat. “I trust you to care for Davey. Please be his friend and constant companion.”
She cuddled Kitty to her chest and ran her fingers through his silky fur, the touch reassuring her. After placing the cat back on the bed, she took one last look at Davey and laid her hand on his shoulder. “Sleep well, dear brother. When I find safety, I will come back for you and we’ll be together again.”
Back in her own bedroom, Vicki retrieved the bundle of letters her father had given her. Confident they were her ticket to safety, she crammed them into her satchel along with a few undergarments and pulled the strap over her head, letting it drape diagonally across her body.
Her heart pumped as she crept outside and dashed across the flagstones to the stable where she saddled Sophie and led the mare out of the barn.
She needed to find a safe sanctuary for three weeks.

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