Robin Kaye Home to You

ISBN 13: 9780451472847

Home to You

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9780451472847: Home to You
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From the award-winning author of the Bad Boys of Red Hook series, a new novel about finding love where you least expect it...

Jackson Sullivan III has always lived up to his uncle’s expectations, until his career is sidelined, leaving him lost and in need of a retreat to his family’s cabin. But his solitude is interrupted by a beautiful visitor whose combative feelings about the Sullivans lead Jax to a surprising declaration: he pretends to be someone else.

Though she hasn’t seen the privileged scion since she was a child, Kendall Watkins hates everything Jackson Sullivan represents. She should know: her parents have managed the Sullivan estate for years. In need of her own peace and quiet, she heads to the cabin, never expecting to come face to face with the most handsome man she’s ever met. Soon stranded by a violent nor’easter, Jax and Kendall end up sharing more than they dreamed. But Jax knows that when the storm clears, his true identity will be revealed, and Kendall will be left with a betrayal that may be too great to forgive...

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About the Author:

Robin Kaye is the Golden Heart Award–winning author of the Bad Boys of Red Hook novels, which include Had to Be You, You're the One, and Back to You. Her books have been translated into five languages.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ALSO BY ROBIN KAYE

SIGNET ECLIPSE

To Claire. I doubt I’d have been able to write this without your help. You’re an inspiration, a great sounding board, and an incredible support.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

CHAPTER ONE

Kendall Watkins stopped the Jeep and threw it into four-wheel drive before turning off the main road onto the sorry excuse of a trail that led up the hill to the cabin, her sanctuary. She’d gotten through a long, tough day on almost no sleep. She’d made the trip from her Boston apartment to Harmony, New Hampshire; powered through her best friend Addie’s inquisition about Kendall’s first heartbreak with minimal waterworks; and taken all the groceries, love, and support that she could stand.

As much as she loved Addie and appreciated the offer of her spare bedroom, right now, the last thing she needed was company. No matter how supportive, understanding, and well-intentioned Addie was, Kendall needed to be alone to lick her wounds and wallow in self-pity for as long as it took her to feel human again, or until the Rocky Road ran out—whichever came first. She had a bad feeling she’d be busy until the cupboards were bare.

Addie had told her in no uncertain terms that the grocery shopping spree was a onetime-only offer. There would be no refilling of the five basic food groups—chocolate, wine, pasta, ice cream, and Nutella—until Kendall poked her head out of her cave and rejoined society.

From a therapist’s perspective, Kendall had to admit it was a sound plan on Addie’s part. Everyone knew wallowing for more than a week or two might lead down the dark road of clinical depression, but from the perspective of a woman who was just unceremoniously dumped from a twelve-year relationship with no warning and not so much as a this-isn’t-working-for-me chat, a week or two didn’t seem nearly long enough.

Last night, the only thing she had wanted was to escape the apartment she’d shared with David. She’d never felt at home in Boston, and she wanted to go home. Home to Harmony.

When she thought of possible escapes, a picture of the old hunting cabin immediately came to mind. She knew she could go there and no one would find her hiding place. The only person who lived within five miles of it was Jaime Rouchard, and if he caught her, she was sure he’d keep her secret and respect her privacy. As far as she knew, he and Addie were the only people in their gossip mill of a town who could.

She looked through the dwindling light of late afternoon and tried not to think of all the times she and David had gone to the cabin. She did her best to tamp down a case of sudden nerves, wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans to make sure she had a good grip on the steering wheel, and wondered if she wasn’t making yet another huge mistake. When she’d come up with her plan in the wee hours of the morning, it hadn’t occurred to her that the last thing she needed was to be stuck in a cabin with the Ghost of Boyfriends Past. No, she wouldn’t allow David to ruin her homecoming. She refused to give him that much power.

The trail was snow-covered, and in the fading light it was difficult to discern the path at all. It was clear that whoever plowed hadn’t done so recently, so she was stuck picking her way up the steep incline in low gear.

Sara Bareilles’s “Gravity”—a song she’d always liked but could never relate to until today—drowned out the rumble of the engine and struck a chord so deep within her she had to blink back tears and fight for control of her emotions.

Kendall took a hand off the wheel to wipe her eyes, and the front passenger’s side of the Jeep ran over something—a boulder, the edge of the trail, a snow-covered log; she wasn’t sure. All she knew was she needed to get off the damn thing, since the Jeep canted awkwardly. She stopped and sent up a little prayer that she had enough clearance. After all, this was why she’d bought a four-wheel drive in the first place. It gave her the ability to go off-road, and this was definitely off-road. She eased up on the brake and tapped the gas, and the Jeep surged forward off whatever it had been on and landed with a decidedly expensive-sounding crunch of metal. “Damn.” She tapped the gas again, and the Jeep grunted ahead, except this time the front passenger’s side fell at an awkward angle and lurched to a stop, sitting way too low to be considered normal.

“Oh, God. This is just the icing on a total shit cake of a day. Can’t anything go right?” She put the car in park—as if it would go anywhere—and banged her head against the steering wheel with a painful thud. She rubbed her forehead. The action did nothing to make her feel better. “Whoever thought that a good head bang would release tension was obviously an idiot.”

Great. She was in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest person, in a disabled car. She took a quick look at her phone—no cell coverage. Unfortunately, in a twenty-four-hour period filled with nonstop shocks, the lack of cell coverage wasn’t one of them.

Strains of Lady Antebellum’s song “Love Don’t Live Here” filled the car, and she considered banging her head again. “Maybe love don’t live here anymore, but it did once,” she mumbled, and killed the engine.

That thought pushed her over the edge of the emotional cliff she’d been skirting for the past day and a half. She stopped fighting the good fight and let loose the river of tears she’d kept dammed up with a finger, a wad of gum, duct tape, and a prayer.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d sat in the cooling car, crying, when a triple rap on the driver’s-side door interrupted her midmeltdown. Kendall jumped, let out a startled yelp, and blinked at the image of a hairy hulk of a man staring through the steamed-up driver’s-side window. He had longish blond hair sticking out of a navy blue knit cap, a two- or three-week beard covered what looked like a square jaw, and he sported crinkles around the bluest, most intense eyes she’d ever seen. Even with tears and a foggy window clouding her vision, her gaze felt shackled to his, and, like a sleepwalker, she slowly opened the door and let out an embarrassing, hiccuping sob.

The man took what looked like a cautious step back and crouched before her, maybe to seem less threatening. “Are you hurt?” He sounded as if he didn’t want to know the answer but felt awkwardly obligated to ask.

Another sob escaped. She shook her head and took what she hoped was a calming breath. “Physically, I’m fine. Emotionally, I’m a complete wreck.”

He rose to his full height, rounded the front of the car, and then crouched to inspect the sunken front end. She wasn’t sure if it was to look for damage or just a damn good excuse to get away from the crazy woman blubbering all over herself. He placed one large hand on the edge of the hood and pushed, rocking the car with a grunt of effort.

The next sound she heard was a manly hum of disappointment confirming her initial assessment of the situation: she was screwed.

He came to his feet in one smooth move and caught her gaze—probably to gauge her mental competency—and his expression shifted from polite but hugely uncomfortable concern to an I’ve-got-bad-news-for-you grimace.

Kendall wiped her cold, tearstained face. “You might as well just say whatever it is.”

He looked her up and down again. “I don’t want to make what is obviously a terrible day worse, but it looks as if you have a broken axle.”

“A broken axle? Seriously?” She raised her gaze to the sky. “God, I know I’m strong, independent, intelligent, and resourceful, but don’t you think the broken axle was just a little over the top?” She waited a beat to give God a second to strike her down, in case he was in the mood. “Okay, you win. I give up.” She knew she stood beside a snowbank, but looked over her shoulder just to make sure before taking a seat. Who could blame her? After the day she’d had, she had good reason to question her own judgment. At that moment, she couldn’t have cared less who the man before her was or that he, a complete stranger, would witness her tears. At times like this, self-respect was overrated. Besides, it wasn’t as if he had to stand there and listen—he could slink off to wherever he came from.

She took a stilted breath before dropping her face into her hands and crying again in earnest. “In the past day, I’ve been downsized and dumped. In a month, I’ll be homeless, because without my job and my fiancé, I can’t afford to keep my apartment. And if that isn’t enough, now you tell me I’ve just broken the axle on my car. I’m no crack mechanic, but even I know that’s really expensive.”

The snowbank gave way, and she sank another six inches. “And now I’m sitting here, in the middle of nowhere, crying in front of a total stranger, my ass is wet, and I’m stuck.”

A slow, self-deprecating smile spread across his face. “I’m not much of a stranger anymore.” He pulled a folded bandanna from his pocket and held it out to her. “Here, blow your nose.”

She took the bandanna. “What do I look like? A five-year-old?”

“No. No one would mistake you for a child, but you’ve been crying with all the abandon of one.”

Kendall always enjoyed arguing, but even she couldn’t argue with this. After all, he was right. She shrugged, snapped the bandanna open, and blew her nose. Before she finished wiping tears from her face, he had a grip on her arm. “Come on. It’s getting colder, and we’re losing the light. I can deal with a lot of things, but not a frozen ass. I have a cabin just up the hill. I’ll stoke the fire, and you can thaw out.”

She dug in her heels. “You have a cabin?”

“Yeah, but just to warn you, it’s not much.”

“You’re staying in the Sullivans’ hunting cabin?”

“The very one.”

“My father rented it to you?”

When he didn’t answer, she forged ahead. “My father works for the Grand Pooh-Bah of Harmony, Jackson Finneus Sullivan III.”

“Teddy Watkins—”

“Is my father. Guilty as charged.” From the look of consternation on his face, she figured he must have recently been on the receiving end of her father’s third degree—the same one her dad gave to anyone interested in renting one of the houses or cabins on Sullivan’s Tarn. “Well, that’s a relief. At least I know you’re not an ax murderer. The Secret Service has nothing on my dad when it comes to looking into the backgrounds of tenants.”

“Teddy’s that careful, is he?”

“Oh yeah.” She looked from the guy who still had a hand on her elbow to the land around them. “I’m a little surprised Jax Sullivan hasn’t developed this side of the lake by now, but, then, maybe he’s forgotten he owns it. I guess when you own half the town, not to mention half the banks in Chicago, you’d have better things to do than remember a falling-down cabin on a heavily forested piece of land.”

The man rocked back on his heels and blew out a breath. “It sounds as if you don’t like your dad’s boss very much.”

She shrugged and brushed the snow off her skinny jeans. “Believe me, the last thing I want to do is think about Jax Sullivan or men like him. Just because my parents think he walks on water doesn’t mean I do.” She shrugged. “But, then, I can’t say I have feelings about him either way—”

“You could have fooled me.”

“I haven’t seen him since I was in grade school. By the time he started coming back to the lake, I was in college or living and working in Boston.”

He didn’t say anything. He just stared at her with those startling blue eyes.

“So, it’s nothing personal. I don’t actually dislike him, but I don’t automatically like him either. He pays my parents’ salary, and he must treat them well. If he didn’t, I doubt they’d still think he walked on water.” She shrugged. She might not know the man, but she couldn’t help but lump Jax in with every other stuffed shirt with whom her fiancé forced her to socialize. She’d always wondered why David tried so hard to impress the corporate elite. Now it all made sense. “Well, enough about me. What brings you out here in the off-season?”

He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Me? I wanted some peace and solitude. I thought this would be the perfect place to find it. I’m staying at the cabin for a few months at a cut rate and doing some handyman work.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Why is that so hard to believe? I’m just repairing the roof and cleaning the place up a little.”

“Do you mean to tell me that the great Jax Sullivan—Harmony’s own Scrooge McDuck—is so cheap, he’s not even paying for your labor?”

“I think it’s a fair deal.”

“Right.”

“You make it sound like having money is a criminal offense.”

“No, but taking advantage of people should be. It’s not having money that’s bad; what’s bad is what people usually do to keep it.”

“Are you speaking from personal experience?”

She looked at her car, wondering how much money David had seen fit to leave in their—make that her—savings account. “Probably.” She blew out a breath and tossed her hair over her shoulder before she shook her head. “Look, don’t mind me. I just discovered that sometime in our twelve-year relationship, my ex-fiancé turned into a Jackson Sullivan wannabe. If I’d known world financial domination was what he was after, I never would have gotten involved with him in the first place.”

The guy seemed to relax a little then. “We all make mistakes.”

“Obviously, but in my own defense, when David and I started dating, he wanted to be a fireman—of course, we were in eighth grade at the time.”

“So I take it the career switch didn’t come as a complete shock?”

She shrugged. “Yes and no. In college and grad school, he majored in finance, but our plan had always been to move back to Harmony—not exactly a world financial center. I was going to open my own psychotherapy practice, and I thought he’d get a job at the bank, maybe do some financial planning, sell insurance—that kind of thing.”

“He had other plans?”

“Apparently. Plans he didn’t see fit to share with me. He took a promotion in San Francisco. Yesterday I got a pink slip, and then, to top off my day, I came home to find him packing. He said he didn’t need a modern-day Betty Crocker with a Carl Jung fetish. His words, not mine.”

“Wow, that’s harsh.” He leaned back against the car and tilted his head, as if looking at her from a different angle would change the picture. No such luck for either of them. “Would you have gone to San Francisco with him if he’d asked?”

She wanted to say yes, but the look in his eyes stopped her and made her really think about it. Would she have followed David to San Francisco? She’d followed him to Boston, but that was with the understanding that they’d return to Harmony. Boston was two hours away from home, not on the other side of the country. “I honestly don’t know. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere but right here.”

“I would think that if you really loved this guy, you’d follow him anywhere.”

“We spent the past twelve years planning our life together, and David never even floated the idea of a move to San Francisco, or anyplace else, for that matter.”

The man didn’t argue; he just continued staring.

“If I used your logic, I could say that if he rea...

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