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Lilah Bell isn't asking for much—just a normal life. A future that's different from her shadowed, traumatic past. Maybe even a chance to start over. Instead, all she gets is the suffocating attention of her overprotective sisters, who seem to be waiting for her to break again. They don't get that helping save her family's beautiful Virgin Islands resort is definitely a challenge she can handle. But what she can't handle is a serious relationship with carefree visitor Justin Cales. After all, wanting a man who isn't planning to stick around isn't smart.
Problem is, falling for Justin is too easy. And now life is more complicated than ever. When the truth unravels, they'll either be brought together in unexpected ways...or torn apart for good.
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Kimberly Van Meter started her writing career at the age of 16 when she finished her first novel, typing late nights and early mornings, on her mother’s old portable typewriter. She received The Call in March 2006 with Harlequin Superromance and hasn't looked back since. She currently writes for Harlequin Blaze and Harlequin Romantic Suspense.
Kimberly, her husband and their three children make their home in the Central Valley of California.
Justin Cales feared his father was going to have a coronary event as he crumpled the gossip rag in his hand until it was a tight, ink-smeared ball of newsprint before throwing it in the wastebasket with far more force than required.
"Calm down before you hurt yourself, old man," Justin muttered, failing to see what his father was losing his temper over. "It's no big deal. You can barely make out my face anyway and it was a joke. Benny thought it would be funny if—"
At that Senator Vernon Cales growled, "Am I laughing? I fail to see what's laughable about the fact that your fool head is stuck between Starr's giant melon breasts."
Justin chuckled at the memory but sobered immediately when he saw his father was really about to lose it. "It was Benny's idea to go to that strip club but we were only there for maybe a half hour before this happened. It was a total joke but—"
"But a photographer managed to catch the shot because he sure as hell knew who you were and who you were connected to. Damn it all to hell, Justin! What are you trying to do to this family?"
A familiar resentment rose in his chest that threatened his earlier decision to ride out the storm of his father's anger with a humble attitude. Screw that. The old man could kiss his ass. He hadn't done anything wrong—per se. It's not as if he was out whoring and visiting strip clubs all the time. For God's sake, it was one time and they'd been clowning around. "It's always about the family. Let's get real, Dad. It's about your image, not mine."
"I've built a solid political foundation on morals and family values and I'm not about to let you tear it all down with your irresponsible ways. Everyone is toeing the line, but you."
Justin exhaled a short breath, quickly losing interest in the You're-a-Screwup show his father loved to roll out. He'd seen this show before and he didn't much care for the way it ended. "Is this what this meeting is about? If so, I'm going to bounce. I don't need this. It was a bit of harmless fun. There were half a dozen guys doing the same exact thing as me."
"But you're my son." Vernon's tone lowered with finality and there was something in his eyes Justin had never seen before. Hell, maybe the old man was serious this time around. Vernon drew a deep breath as if needing calm to proceed, then returned to his high-back leather chair. "Things are going to change," he announced, sliding paperwork to the forefront and steepling his hands over it. A sense of foreboding followed as Vernon continued. "You're thirty-two years old. It's time to start acting your age and take your responsibilities serious."
Justin rolled his eyes in ill-disguised irritation. This again? "I have a college degree, even a master's degree in business. I think I've fulfilled my debt to your expectations. You need to back off and let me live my life."
His father ignored him and continued undeterred. "When I was your age I was already working my way up the political ladder. It's time you start making your mark, too."
"I'm not interested in politics," Justin said flatly. He hated politics and his father knew it.
"I've decided not to run for my seat in the Senate," Vernon said, shocking Justin and sending a trickle of unease into his gut. He didn't like the general direction of the conversation. Vernon met his stare squarely. "I want you to run in my stead. I want you to be the next Cales New York senator."
"No." Justin sat straighter. "Dad...no. What are you doing? You can't be serious." As far as bad jokes went, this one sucked pretty hard. Justin excelled in doing nothing, being highly educated for zero purpose—and he liked it that way. He liked hanging out with his over-privileged friends who had trust accounts with more money than some small countries. He fully embraced his bacchanal lifestyle and a career in politics would definitely put an end to those types of shenanigans. He swallowed the spurt of raw panic but before he could launch a suitable protest, his father had begun again.
"I am serious. I've let you dick around too long and that—" he pointed to the ball of incriminating evidence in his wastebasket "—is proof. Your mother and I have come to a decision regarding your future. You're going to take a monthlong vacation, someplace warm and sunny, where you can appropriately say goodbye to your wild ways. At the end of that month, you will return home where you will immediately clean up your act and start the campaign trail for my seat. Of course, you'll have our full support and resources behind you. I've been assured your candidacy would be looked upon favorably."
"How is that even possible?" he asked, sweat beading his upper lip. "It's not as if I've been the model son, as you've enjoyed pointing out. Who the hell would put their resources behind me as a candidate?"
His father shot him a quelling glance. "Yes, who would? Well, let's just say it helps to have friends in high places. Most times your antics never made it to the press if it could be helped. This time was unfortunate," he said, referencing the stripper episode. "But with some creative handling, we should be able to maneuver around it. However, once your candidacy is announced it's important to avoid any more of these types of incidents. Am I clear?"
Clear? Was his father joking? Not hardly. "I'm not doing this," he said, shaking his head.
"You will." It was the certainty of his father's voice that deepened the chill chasing his spine. Justin felt the walls closing in on him, squeezing out the oxygen in the room.
"No!" Justin jumped from his chair. "I've never harbored any desire to follow you into politics or expressed any interest in current events or world issues. You know this, Dad. Why are you doing this to me?"
"Because it's time you stop thinking about just yourself. The Cales name has been associated with strong politics for generations. I'm not about to let my only son ruin that legacy without a fight."
Suddenly logic calmed his panic. His father couldn't make him do anything. He drew a deep breath and shook his head. "Sorry, Dad. I know I'm letting you down but I'm not about to jump through your hoops just to satisfy some ego stroke for you. I'm not that guy and if you thought I was, you obviously don't know me at all." He turned to leave, finished with the conversation, but his father's voice at his back pulled him around.
"I know who you are and who you can be. Today you're a lazy, spoiled playboy who spends more than he makes and depends on his trust fund to survive. You haven't held a serious job since graduating college and you have a penchant for fine things and expensive pastimes. Oh, son...I know quite well who you are right now. But I'm not interested in that person. I'm interested in finding who you can be. And I have a feeling that person is going to be someone worth knowing. So here's the deal... You will go on your vacation, leaving tomorrow. Mourn your playboy days and then when you return, you will devote your considerable energy on securing your campaign funds for your candidacy."
"And if I don't?"
Vernon's gaze hardened and Justin knew he wasn't bluffing. "You will be cut off. Permanently."
Justin balked, not quite comprehending what his father was saying. It seemed unbelievable in this day and age, something so medieval as familial extortion would become part of his father's arsenal but as he stared, meeting his father's steady and unflinching gaze, he realized the senator was as serious as a heart attack. "This is bullshit," he finally murmured in a shaky voice, unable to hide his shock. "And beneath you."
"You brought us to this end."
"A little archaic don't you think?" he bit out.
His father shrugged. "Some methods haven't lost their effectiveness no matter their age."
Justin felt betrayed by his own blood. He'd always known his hard-nosed father was a bit of a ruthless bastard when it came to getting what he wanted but he never thought he'd get caught in those deadly crosshairs. "Mom in on this, too?"
"She is agreed."
Swell. There went his only ally. Could he handle life on his own? Away from the safety net of his parents' influence and resources? He liked to think he could but he'd become accustomed to the privileges wealth provided and the idea made him shift uncomfortably. Before this moment, getting a job, having a career had been a back burner priority. Now it seemed paramount if he wanted to survive. He didn't like that feeling. Not at all.
He hated the idea of yielding to his father even more.
Pushy, overbearing jackass. He shoved his hands in his pockets to hide the hard clench of his fists. He needed time to think his way out of this. A month ought to be long enough. So, he'd take a vacation in a tropical paradise on his father's dime all the while figuring out his exit strategy. Sounded doable. He relaxed his fists, drawing air through his tight chest and forced a cool smirk. "A vacation it is, then. But here are my terms if I'm going to give up my life, I want top shelf, five-star accommodations. I want a credit card without a limit and I want you and Mom to leave me alone for the month that I'm mourning—as you put it—my playboy ways. No calls, no nagging emails or texts...family-free. Got it?"
His father nodded, accepting Justin's terms. He picked up the paperwork on his desk and held it out for Justin to grab. "I anticipated your answer—as well as your demands—here are your travel documents, plane ticket a...
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Book Description Harlequin, 2013. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110373718268
Book Description Harlequin Superromance, 2013. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0373718268
Book Description Condition: New. New. Seller Inventory # STRM-0373718268