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Tamara Morgan is a contemporary romance author of humorous, heartfelt stories with flawed heroes and heroines designed to get your hackles up and make your heart melt. Her long-lived affinity for romance novels survived a B.A. degree in English Literature, after which time she discovered it was much more fun to create stories than analyze the life out of them.
Visit her online at www.tamaramorgan.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"You can't hide it from me anymore, Ryan." A low feminine voice broke through the underlying buzz of the garage radio, which was set to play an unending stream of '80s butt rock. "I know what's going on here."
Ryan looked up from under the hood of the Giulietta Spider he was working on, his body tense. Even though there was no malice in that voice—or in the tall, sunny woman attached to it—he couldn't help a feeling of alarm from tingling through him. How much did she know? And what had he done to give himself away?
"Is that a fact?" he asked, forcing his lips into the semblance of a smile. When in doubt, choose reticence. It was a motto that had gotten him through many a tense situation.
"Oh, yes. I've penetrated the mysteries of your deep, dark automotive secrets at last."
This time, his smile came more naturally. "I doubt that. Remember what you said when I tried explaining how the twin camshafts work?"
"That you had a better chance of getting me to speak Greek. Backwards. After having my tongue surgically removed." Amy Sanders peeked inside the engine and wrinkled her nose, seemingly unimpressed, as she always was, with what lay underneath the hood. If she had any idea what she was looking at, it would have impressed her—it sure impressed the hell out of him. This particular Alfa Romeo boasted an engine made for zipping along cobbled Italian roadways, all but begged for its owner to put down the top and let go.
Sadly, all Ryan planned to do was change the oil and then take it for a sedate, low-impact journey on a fully paved side road with little traffic and no challenge. The thrills of his job never ceased to bore him.
"I'll never understand the concept of multiple car ownership." Amy cast a look over the three cars parked in a row—worth a combined half of a million dollars—and shrugged. The contents of the garage represented just a fraction of the vehicles Ryan was paid to take care of, his daily share of the Montgomery collection that rotated out of the showroom behind the house, each model more impressive than the last. "If it runs, I'm happy. If it doesn't backfire while it's running, I'm a giant bowl of ecstatic Jell-O."
Ryan wiped his hands on a rag already stained with grease and gently lowered the hood, his alarm all but forgotten. The sole threat this woman posed to him right now was on his ability to focus on work—and that was a threat he was happy to face. "The only reason your car doesn't backfire anymore is because I fixed your timing alignment last week."
"I know. I'm still appropriately gelatin-like over it." Her face broke into a wide-lipped smile, bearing testament to that statement. With bright, sparkling hazel eyes and a smattering of freckles across her nose, Amy was every inch the girl next door. The annoyingly pert, always cheerful, undeniably attractive girl next door—the one he'd never, in his almost thirty years of existence, ever actually had living nearby.
He'd had the fantasies, though. Who hadn't?
She hooked a thumb on the belt loop of her snugly fit jeans and swept an exaggerated appraisal over him. "You know, my mother always told me to marry a mechanic. Or, if I couldn't manage one of those, a plumber. She said I'd save a fortune in repair bills."
"Your mother's a wise woman. Does this mean you're finally proposing?"
"It would, but you're technically not a mechanic."
His smile faltered. "I might as well be."
Either she didn't notice the sudden shift in his mood, or she ignored it. "There you go again, turning me down and breaking my heart. But don't think that lets you off the hook. I really have been watching you—and I've got you figured out."
If only it were that easy. He'd had plenty of time for self-reflection in the past two years, and even he couldn't understand the motivation behind half the things he'd done. Stupidity, most of the time. Recklessness was pretty high up there too. In fact, the only decent thing he could have been accused of doing any time recently was maintaining a friendly distance from the woman standing opposite him.
She shifted from one foot to another, her hip jutting out in a way that made him long to run his hands all over the curve of her ass.
Forget decent. He was being downright fucking virtuous over here.
"You're ashamed of my Rabbit." Unaware of the internal battle being waged just a few feet away, Amy gave a triumphant toss of her head, her straw-colored ponytail flipping over one shoulder. "Every time I come down to the parking lot to find it, you've got me buried behind at least three town cars and a limo. I see how it is. You're putting my poor, neglected baby in a corner."
He was forced into a laugh, his hands up in mock surrender. "It's not that. I swear."
"I bring shame to your pristine garage."
"It's not my garage."
"I bring shame to your pristine reputation."
"I don't have one of those either."
"There's shame in here somewhere. I can practically taste it."
She wanted shame, did she? It wasn't that hard to find—at least not when Ryan was in the vicinity. "What if I told you I blockade your car on purpose?" The tips of his ears grew only slightly warm at the confession. "That I bury it deep in automobiles so you have to come find me whenever you want to drive somewhere?"
She broke into another of her wide smiles, offering it up as if her happiness was such a palpable, physical thing she had no choice but to share. This woman had been working at Montgomery Manor for only four months, and he'd already become addicted to the sight of that grin. He wanted to bask in it, roll in it, run his lips all over it.
He didn't, of course. Amy wasn't the sort of girl you kissed behind the garage and forgot about the next day. She was the sort who required staying power.
Hence the virtue. And his alarm at being found out in the middle of what could only be called his puppy-like adoration.
"Now you're just making me blush," she teased. "Can I unbury it myself today, or is this where I bat my eyes and ask you to do it for me?"
"Nah. You're still parked on the far end of the lot. I got bored, so I washed all the staff cars this afternoon."
She stopped in the middle of pulling her keys from her purse. "All of them?"
"I got really bored."
"Oh, man—you should come up to the nursery for a change. I'm still praying for the day Lily and Evan nap at the same time. It's like they collaborate to create a timetable of mass destruction." Her tone belied the sense that she held the Montgomery twins in anything but affection. "Naturally, since it's my half day off, I left them as sweet and docile as lambs. They'll probably coo and simper and charm their mother into believing I have the easiest job on the face of the planet. They're wily, those two."
"I don't think I even know where the nursery is."
"It's easy. Start moving up the main stairwell. Turn right. Follow the sounds of screaming."
"Your screams, or the twins'?"
Amy decided she liked that question. "All three of us, naturally. We're thinking about starting a band. What do you think about the name Diaper Genies? It's got the right amount of sass."
Ryan shook his head. "I think you need to get out more."
That, sadly, was truer than she cared to admit. And from the sounds of the terrible music playing on Ryan's radio, she wasn't alone in that regard. "That reminds me—are you coming out with the rest of the staff tonight? Holly said she has a table reserved for us at O'Twohy's. We plan to drink and gossip and maybe, if the mood strikes, sing a few karaoke duets."
"Me? Nah." Ryan shook his head at her request and turned back to his work. As his work consisted of maintaining, cleaning and occasionally driving the five dozen cars and motorcycles that were Mr. Montgomery's pride and joy—not including his children, of course—Ryan presented a nice picture. A very nice picture.
Growing up, Amy had always remembered the Montgomery chauffeur as a stern, austere man who wore a dark suit when he drove and mechanic coveralls for all of life's other important moments. Ryan never wore anything but jeans and a white T-shirt, both clinging to his stocky frame and speckled with grease—and she meant that in the best way possible. The only way possible on a guy who looked like this one. His short blondish hair offset a pair of ears that had the tendency to protrude boyishly from the sides of his face; his nose—broken several times over—kinked at an angle that somehow managed to look rakish instead of menacing. And what she'd seen of his arms showcased crisscrossed scars and burn marks. Nothing catastrophic, mind you. Just enough to give him an edge.
Few people in their cozy town of Ransom Creek could claim such an edge. It was a place of rounded corners and cushioned falls.
"You're not much of a one for socializing, are you?" she asked.
"I like socializing just fine. But I'm not much of a one for bars." He paused, neither smiling nor frowning, his serious intensity making her feel a bit squirmy around the edges. "Enjoy your afternoon off, Amy. You deserve it."
She watched him for a moment, wondering if there was more to that statement than met her ears, but enlightenment didn't come. The truth was—squirmy feelings and declarations of figuring this man out aside—she really didn't know Ryan very well. Not like she knew the other members of the staff, whose birthdays and love lives and secret wishes had been untangled in a matter of weeks. Most of them were born in November. Most of them had no love lives. And most of them wished desperately that they did.
But Ryan maintained a firm personal distance that made it difficult for her to worm her way in. He rarely joined the rest of them at lunchtime and lived in the town center instead of taking the previous chauffeur's above-garage apartment. He never came out with them when they asked. But whenever she stopped by to chat, he always set his work aside and gave her his full attention.
It was an odd mixture, to say the least.
"Thanks. I intend to." She stopped herself before she made the mistake of saying more. There was a time and a place for being a pushy busybody. The trick to being a successfully pushy busybody was discovering where that time and place collided. "I guess I'll see you around."
As promised, her car sat, gleaming and polished, at the edge of the parking lot. It seemed like overkill, washing a car whose body was more covered with rust than paint, but she appreciated the sentiment all the same. She might not be fast. She might not be flashy. She might be surrounded by better built models with flawless designs and heartier engines. But this was what Amy had to work with, so work with it she did.
She turned the keys in the ignition, enjoying the smooth start of an engine that, until recently, had creaked and groaned with overuse. Whatever secret mechanical tricks Ryan had performed to fix her car last week, she was pretty sure it included a lot more than a timing alignment.
As she drove by the open door to the garage, she offered him a cheerful wave goodbye, but his face had set once again into a slight frown, so she doubted he saw her.
And that was okay. She could be patient, waiting in the background for her opportunity to strike. She was exceptionally skilled at slipping by unnoticed—sometimes for years, usually in a professional capacity, at Montgomery Manor in particular. There was something about the sixty acres of rolling Connecticut countryside and the mansion, which made its stately bow at the highest crest, that rendered her all but invisible.
She turned up the radio to drown the sounds of miniature violins striking up at her one-woman pity party and rolled down her windows, determined to enjoy the scents of bluegrass and dogwood that wafted in instead.
Those were the smells of a fresh start.
Those were the smells of home.
"No. Absolutely not. You're not spending your afternoon off hanging out with me." Amy's mom squinted up from where she crouched in the dirt of her garden.
In an attempt to separate her mother from some of that dirt, Amy had recently bought her one of those garden kneeling pads with matching gloves, but the gift hadn't taken. Her mom said she preferred there being no physical barriers between her and the earth—that the plants took the extra protection as a personal offense. As she also sang to the leafy greens in an effort to help them grow, Amy wasn't sure how much stock to put in that particular practice.
"Go to the city and shop," her mom commanded. "Or take a hike along the creek. Do something. I don't need you to babysit me. You get enough of that at work."
"That's probably true. Though I think Evan and Lily are happier to see me than you are. Or they're better at pretending, anyway."
Her mom looked up and beamed—it was obvious where her real affections lay. Her love for her own child was nothing compared to how her heart swelled for the various Montgomery offspring.
Amy plopped to the ground next to her, the thick grass serving as a comfortable cushion. Her mom had been obsessed with her yard since the day she'd moved in. It was the very first patch of grass she'd ever owned, paid for with decades of hard work. The Craftsman cottage attached to it wasn't bad either—small and functional—but the outdoor living space was her real point of pride. The spring found it awash with bright floral blooms and the fat buzzy bumblebees they attracted.
"How are the little dears doing?" her mom asked. "I had no idea I'd miss them as much as I do."
"Oh, they're just fine. Evan is cutting a tooth, and poor Lily feels so bad for him that she ends up doing most of the crying over it. That girl feels everything so deeply. She's going to have a rough time of it."
Her mom rocked back on her heels and gave up her spade. "She gets that from the Clare side of the family. None of the Montgomerys I raised would admit to having deep feelings. They'd rather cut their own hands off first."
Amy laughed, acknowledging the truth of that statement. If there was one thing she knew in this world, it was how the Montgomerys felt. How they acted. How they lived and loved and lost.
And won. Most of the time, they won.
Some people found it odd that she'd been hired to take care of the newest members of the Montgomery clan—born of Mr. Montgomery's painfully young second wife—after her mom stepped down a few months back. Others found it charming. Either way, most people accepted it as fate. She was practically a sister to the babies anyway. In addition to caring for the twins for the first nineteen months of their life, her mother had also served as nanny to the three older Montgomerys—now grown adults and still likely to cut off their hands before recognizing simple human emotions. Amy had been raised almost as one of the family.
"How are the kids anyway?" her mother asked. In that context, kids referred to anything but. Monty, the eldest, was thirty-three.
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