For readers of Shannon Stacey and Susan Mallery, the heartfelt new Briarwood series begins with a tale of forbidden love, broken promises, and second chances.
Growing up in Eastbridge, Connecticut, Carolyn Rivington was a young debutante who did whatever her parents asked. So when her father demanded that she break things off with the boy from the wrong side of the tracks or else, she did. Now Carolyn’s family is deep in debt. She’s no longer a member of the Briarwood Golf and Yacht Club, she’s an employee. And the tanned, tattooed, dangerously handsome stranger who saunters into her lobby isn’t just her new boss . . . he’s also her first love.
The last time he saw Carolyn, Jake Gaffney was in the back of a police cruiser, handcuffed and humiliated. But seeing her again stirs other memories: a blanket on the beach, the moon above their heads, and the most expensive bottle of wine he could afford. Now the tables have turned. As a real-estate magnate and Briarwood’s new owner, Jake doesn’t have to answer to anyone. But now that he’s back home, he’s finding it hard to live down his old reputation.
Before they can move forward, Jake and Carolyn must face their pasts. But it’ll take more than sizzling chemistry for them to heal old wounds and return to the love they once shared.
“Sir? Excuse me, sir?” Carolyn Rivington kept her voice low and polite as she gracefully slid up next to the stranger standing in the entranceway of the Briarwood Golf and Yacht Club. “May I help you?”
The big, dark-haired man with the mirrored sunglasses didn’t even bother to glance in her direction. Just growled “no,” and gave her a flash of hard-set jaw as he turned away.
Kicking out unwanted guests from the club was so not in her job description, but she was damned good at it, and the more ways she could make herself useful at Briarwood, the less chance she had of losing her job. Plus, Tammi had begged.
Carolyn shot a look to the front desk. Sure enough, Tammi Porter was there, eyes wide, desperation written all over her face. See? Tammi seemed to be saying. Yes, she saw all right—the guy who just wouldn’t take the hint to get lost. Well, she was about to make him.
Carolyn shifted her weight in her cream-colored pumps and took a long, practiced look at her quarry—well, what she could see of him, anyway. He wasn’t from around here; that much was certain.
Eastbridge, Connecticut, in the heart of Fairfield County, was a pretty conservative place, and this guy was . . . not. He wore his thick black hair slicked back, and his bronzed skin fairly glowed against the club’s whitewashed wicker-and-chintz seating. Dark jeans emphasized every inch of his long, muscular legs. He sported two full sleeves of tattoos, a wall of color from the edge of his tight, black T-shirt all the way down to his wrists, and his don’t-mess-with-me attitude emanated from every pore in his body.
No. Definitely not on the membership list.
It was also unlikely that he was here for legitimate reasons. If he were a contractor, he would have made the appropriate appointment, and club employees would come in through the staff entrance. He didn’t have a wedding ring—not proof positive, but a likely indication he didn’t have a family—and youngish, single men typically didn’t join clubs like this one.
The man was at the window now, still with his back to her, and while she watched, he lifted a section of one long, taupe drape and rubbed it between his fingers, as if testing its weight. Augustus Richardson, one of Briarwood’s oldest members, pried his attention away from his Wall Street Journal, glanced at the man, shook his head, and then went back to his paper.
Mr. Tan-and-Tatted clearly didn’t care what kind of a scene he was causing, because he then ran his finger right down the middle of an end table, ostensibly checking for dust. Which he wouldn’t find, of course. Briarwood’s facilities had seen better days, but the cleaning staff did a good job. Not that she needed to explain that to this guy. Not that she needed to explain anything to this guy except where the exit was.
Satisfied that she was ready for a second approach, Carolyn smoothed the front of her suit jacket down, pasted on her most generous smile, and followed him over. After she was through, he’d never know what hit him.
“Sir,” she repeated. Insisted.
The man stopped pawing the entryway furniture and paused for one terrible moment. Then he turned, showing her all his dangerous beauty. A generous five o’clock shadow emphasized his sharp cheekbones and well-defined mouth. She followed the line of his neck down to the hollow of his throat, unable to help but notice the prominent lines of his collarbones before they disappeared under that tight tee that hugged his torso, emphasizing every plane and valley in his chest.
He shifted, and she dragged her gaze from his pectoral muscles back to his face. She couldn’t place him, although he looked vaguely familiar, in that way handsome men always did. And then the corners of his lips turned up in a . . . sneer?
No matter. Tattoos weren’t her thing, anyway.
“Sir, may I help you?” she asked, her voice firmer this time.
He began to turn away again, but she immediately stepped back into his line of sight.
“This is a private club,” she said quickly. “If you’re interested in joining, I would suggest reviewing our website first to familiarize yourself with the membership criteria. We welcome all applicants, but we do require two sponsors and a personal interview with the Board of Trustees once you have filled out the initial paperwork. Here,” she said, handing him her card. “I’m happy to answer any questions, so please email or call if you decide you’d like to apply.” She wasn’t in charge of membership, but she needed to do something to get this guy out of the clubhouse.
After a too-long pause, he took the card, and then just stood there, staring at it. In his huge hand, the paper looked minuscule.
“Carolyn Rivington, Director of Events,” he read, his tone gruff.
“Yes,” she said. “As I said, please call. I’m happy to talk anytime.” His cue to leave.
But he didn’t. Just stood there, still staring at the card, while a muscle ticked in his jaw.
“Sir?” she prompted, praying she wasn’t losing her touch.
A familiar face appeared to her right—Richard Handel, Briarwood’s general manager and her direct boss. “I have this, Carolyn,” Richard said, under his breath.
Carolyn nodded. Even though he looked like a professor with his salt-and-pepper hair, tweed blazer, and small, round glasses, Richard was more than capable of handling their unwanted visitor.
“I’ll see you at the meeting in a few minutes,” she told him. Then she gave a polite nod to Tattoo Guy. “A pleasure,” she lied. His only response was to frown.
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Elisabeth Barrett lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and spends her days teaching, editing, writing sexy contemporary romance, and enjoying time with her sometimes-bearded husband and three spirited children. She is constantly perfecting her home-work-writing juggling act, but in her free time she loves to hike open-space preserves, grow orchids, bake sweet things her husband won’t eat, and sing in grand choruses. For more about Elisabeth, please visit her website.
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