There's a budding romance on Butler Mountain, but in the hornets' nest known as the Abbott family, keeping a secret is no easy feat....
Colton Abbott and Lucy Mulvaney have a secret. Colton's nosy siblings have begun to put the pieces together, but it's not like Lucy to keep things from those closest to her—especially her best friend, Cameron, who recently moved to Vermont to live with her true love, Will. But Lucy isn't about to tell Cam she's having a fling...with Will's brother.
Flitting between New York and Vermont is exhausting, so Lucy is looking forward to a long weekend with Colton at the Abbott family lake house in Burlington. Too bad Will and Cameron have the same idea, and once Colton and Lucy are caught red-handed (and red-faced), will their clandestine romance lose its appeal or will their secret beginnings be the start of something lasting?
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Marie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 contemporary romances, including the Gansett Island Series, which has sold more than 2.3 million books, and the Fatal Series from Harlequin Books, which has sold more than 1.2 million books. In addition, she is the author of the Green Mountain Series as well as the erotic romance Quantum Series, written under the slightly modified name of M.S. Force. All together, her books have sold more than 5 million copies worldwide!
Her goals in life are simple--to finish raising two happy, healthy, productive young adults, to keep writing books for as long as she possibly can and to never be on a flight that makes the news.
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Sugarmakers in Vermont feel a bit tender about the weather this winter, what with memories of the heat wave in March last year that choked off the sap runs. In response, we decided to start tapping earlier than ever, on February 6. What’s two weeks? It sounds insignificant, but it feels akin to moving Christmas Day up to December 11.
—Colton Abbott’s sugaring journal, February 11
Colton Abbott had never considered himself a particularly private person—that is, until he had something big to hide from his loving but overly involved family. His six brothers, three sisters, two parents and one grandfather were dying to know how he was spending his weekends lately, and Colton wasloving that they had no idea. Not the first clue.
A smile split his face as he drove across Northern Vermont, from his home in the Northeast Kingdom town of Butler to Burlington, where his family owned a lake house and where his “secret” girlfriend would be meeting him in a couple of hours. He wanted to get there early and hit the store for supplies so they could relax and enjoy every minute of their time together.
Colton had big plans for this weekend, the sixth one he’d spent completely alone with her. During that time, they’d talked about nearly every subject known to mankind, they’d kissed a lot, fooled around quite a bit and last weekend, they’d even gone so far as to take each other all the way to blissful fulfillment. But they’d yet to have sex.
He intended to fix that this weekend before he lost his mind from wanting more of her. He’d tried to respect her wishes to “take things slow” so they didn’t “get in over their heads” when they lived so far from each other and had so little time to spend together. Of course he’d heard people say for years that long-distance relationships sucked, but until he’d experienced the suckage personally, he’d had no idea just how totally the situation sucked.
It got worse with every weekend they spent together when he was left wanting more and having to wait a full week before he could see her again. They’d been lucky so far. Other than the weekend he’d stayed home for the funeral of his sister Hannah’s dog Homer, they’d had six weekends with no other commitments to get in the way of their plans, but he knew reality would interfere eventually. They both had busy lives and families and other obligations that would mess with the idyllic routine they’d slipped into over the last month and a half.
They’d met halfway the other times, and this would be the first time that she’d come to Vermont. Since he wasn’t quite ready to expose her to the austere life he led on his mountain, he’d asked his dad for the keys to the lake house.
And what an odd conversation that had been the day before . . . With time to think about it during the two-hour ride across the state, Colton had the uncomfortable suspicion that the one person he wasn’t fooling with his secret romance was his dear old dad.
Colton had planned his attack stealthily, coming down off the mountain on a rare Thursday to see his dad at the office. Waiting until most of his siblings had left for lunch—except for Hunter, who never seemed to leave the office for any reason except a fire alarm—Colton had sat in his truck and watched his dad step out of the diner and head back across the street to the office above the family-owned Green Mountain Country Store in “downtown” Butler, if you could call Elm Street a downtown.
Colton had emerged from his truck and followed Lincoln up the back stairs that led to the offices where he and five of Colton’s siblings ran the store. Colton kept his head down as he walked past Hunter’s office and knocked on his dad’s door.
“Hey,” Lincoln said with obvious pleasure. His father was always happy to see him, which was one of the many things in life Colton could count on. “This is a nice surprise. Come in.”
Colton shook his father’s outstretched hand and took a seat in one of his visitor chairs.
“To what do I owe the honor of a rare midweek visit from the mountain man?”
“I needed a couple of things in town, so I figured I’d stop by.”
“Everything okay up the hill?”
“It’s all good. Quiet and relaxing this time of year, as always.” Colton thought of early summer as the calm that followed the storm of boiling season, during which he produced more than five thousand gallons of the maple syrup that was sold in the store. After nine years of running the family’s sugaring facility, his life had fallen into a predictable pattern governed by twenty-five thousand syrup-producing trees.
“I’m glad you stopped by. I was going to come up to see you today or tomorrow.”
Lincoln rooted around on his desk, looking for something in the piles of paper and file folders. “Ah, here it is.” He pulled out a light blue page and handed it over to Colton.
As he scanned the announcement of a trade show in New York City, he skimmed the details until he realized what he was reading. “What the hell, Dad?Pleasure aids and sensual devices? What’s that got to do with me?” He nearly had a heart attack at the thought of his father thinking he needed such things to move the relationship no one was supposed to know about forward.
“I’m considering the line for the store, and I’m looking for someone to send to the show. Since this is your off-season, I thought you might be able to make the trip for us.”
While trying to wrap his mind around the idea of “pleasure aids and sensual devices” on sale at their homespun country store, he tried to keep his expression neutral. Though he was slightly appalled at the reason for the mission, the location appealed to him very much.
In the interest of keeping his big secret a secret, he kept his reaction casual and indifferent. “What do the others have to say about that product line?”
“I haven’t exactly mentioned it to them yet. I figured I’d let you check it out first and see what you think before I bring it to them.”
“Why not you? Everyone else is up to their eyeballs in work and life stuff, so it seemed to make sense to ask you now that your busy season is over for the time being.” Lincoln shrugged. “But if you’re not up for going—”
“Never said that.” He’d be a fool to pass up a chance to spend a whole week with her. “I’ll do it, but with the caveat that I think this product line has no business in our store.”
“And I think you’re in for yet another battle royal with your kids over it.”
“I live for a good row with my kids,” Lincoln said with a grin that made his blue eyes twinkle with mirth.
“Don’t I know it,” Colton muttered. The latest row had involved the website designer Lincoln had hired behind the backs of his children, who’d made it clear they had no interest in taking their store online. Then Cameron Murphy had come to town and won the hearts of the entire Abbott family, especially Colton’s older brother Will, who was now madly in love and living with Cam as she designed the website for the store. Lincoln Abbott had a way of getting what he wanted, and Colton and his siblings had learned to be wary of their father’s motivations.
In this case, however, Colton couldn’t care less about his father’s motivations. Not when he was looking at a full week with his lady.
“Talk to Hunter about getting you registered,” Lincoln said, clearly pleased with Colton’s capitulation.
“I will.” Colton folded the flyer into a square, with the images on the inside, and stashed it in his pocket. “Since you now owe me a favor, I was wondering if I could use the lake house this weekend.” When his father gave him an oddly intuitive look, Colton added, “I feel like doing some fishing.”
Lincoln didn’t move or respond for a long, uncomfortable moment.
Colton had begun to sweat under the steely stare his father directed his way.
“Of course, son,” Lincoln finally said, withdrawing a set of keys from his top desk drawer and handing them over. “You remember the code, right?”
Since the code was his parents’ wedding anniversary and had been for as long as they’d owned the house, Colton nodded and stood. “Thanks.”
“Have a good time.”
“Are you taking the dogs with you?”
“I thought I would if that’s okay.”
As Lincoln Abbott was the biggest “dog person” Colton had ever known, he wasn’t surprised when his dad said, “Of course it is.”
Now as Colton drove to the lake with his dogs, Elmer and Sarah, asleep in the backseat, he pondered the odd look his father had given him when he asked to use the lake house and wondered what it had meant. He thought about the bizarre conversation with his older brother Hunter, who’d questioned what in the hell their father wanted with pleasure aids and sensual devices in the store, before he begrudgingly registered Colton for the trade show that would take place in New York in two weeks.
Colton had merely shrugged and refused to engage in the war of words that would no doubt take place between his father, the CEO, and his brother, the CFO. Let them duke it out. No way was Colton going to get in the middle of their dispute when he’d been handed a free pass to a week in New York.
He couldn’t wait to tell her the good news.
An hour later, he pulled up to the lake house that was one of his favorite places in the world. Made of timber and beam and glass and stone, the house sat on the shores of Lake Champlain, right outside Burlington. His parents had gotten a sweet deal on it about ten years ago when it was sold at auction after the previous owner defaulted on the mortgage. The Abbotts had enjoyed many a good time there in the ensuing years.
In fact, his older sister Hannah would marry her fiancé, Nolan, at the lake house in a few weeks.
The house was stuffy and hot from being closed up, so he walked straight through the massive living room to open the sliding door to let in the breeze coming from the lake. He never tired of that view of the lake with the mountains in the distance. Late on this Friday afternoon, a handful of Jet-Skiers and water-skiers were enjoying the warm sunshine and the all-too-short Vermont summer.
Relieved to be out of the truck after the long ride, Elmer and Sarah ran straight down to the private stretch of beach, where they frolicked in the water.
Colton smiled with pleasure and relief at being here, at having pulled off another escape from Butler and the Abbott family clutches, and at knowing he had four full days to spend at his favorite place with the woman who was quickly becoming his favorite person.
* * *
Three hours later, Colton had been to the grocery and liquor stores to stock up on necessary supplies, and he was beginning to worry.
While he waited, he made dinner—pasta with grilled vegetables, salad and bread, which was now keeping warm on the stove while he paced from one end of the big house to the other, filled with nervous energy.
When he got tired of pacing, he flopped onto the big sectional sofa that faced the two-story stone fireplace.
Sarah came over to give him a lick, which he rewarded with a pat to her soft blonde head.
“Thanks, girl. I know she’ll be here soon, and you and your brother are going to love her.” If anyone knew how often he talked to his dogs, he’d be committed. But they were his only companions on the mountain, and he kept up a running dialogue with them during the long days and nights he spent completely alone with them.
For his entire adult life, he’d lived by himself on that mountain, happily content with his no-frills lifestyle. He was the only person he knew who lived without running water, electricity, TV, an Internet connection or any of the modern conveniences most people took for granted.
He’d lived that way since he was seventeen, fresh out of high school and anxious to take over the sugaring facility that had been in their family since his grandparents—the original Sarah and Elmer—had bought the place as newlyweds. His mother had hated the idea of him living up there alone when he was so young, but his dad had encouraged her to let him be, and he’d been there ever since.
Rather than pine for what he didn’t have, Colton had preferred to focus on what he did have—a beautiful home in the midst of the majestic Green Mountains, two dogs whose devotion to him was boundless, a job he loved and was good at, a family he adored close enough to see at least once a week and a life that made sense to him.
For the first time in the nine years he’d spent on the mountain, what he didn’t have had begun to bother him. For one thing, he wished he had a phone so he could talk to her every day. For another, a computer with an Internet connection would come in handy as he navigated a long-distance relationship.
He was twenty-six years old and forced to use his parents’ phone to call her because he didn’t own one of his own. That was one thing he planned to do something about soon. His mountain was one of the few places around Butler that had reliable cell service thanks to its clear proximity to the cell towers near St. Johnsbury.
But the rest of it, the electricity, the running water, the Internet connection . . . Those were things he needed to think about. He’d yet to bring her to his home on the mountain, mostly because he was afraid of what she might think of it. She was used to the city where she had everything she wanted or needed at her fingertips.
What did he have to offer someone who was accustomed to so much more when he didn’t even have electricity or running water? What modern woman would find his lifestyle attractive? And was he willing to change everything about who and what he was for a woman he’d known for only a couple of months?
Unfortunately, he had no good answers to any of these questions, and the more time he spent with her, the more muddled his thinking became on all of them.
And then there was the fact that she was happy in her life, settled in her work and home, living close to her own family and not at all interested in uprooting her existence. He knew this because she’d told him so. But knowing that hadn’t kept him from seeing her almost every weekend lately. It hadn’t kept him from wanting more of her every time he had to leave her. It hadn’t kept him from lying awake at night and wondering what she was doing and if she missed him between visits the way he missed her.
What if she didn’t? What if she never gave him a thought from one weekend to the next? He had no way to know if she did or not because he didn’t talk to her very often between visits. That had to change, and getting a cell phone would be the first thing he did after this weekend.
Maybe by then he’d have a better idea of how she really felt about him and what’d been happening between them. He had this niggling fear that for her it was just a fun interlude with someone different from the guys she normally dated, while for him it became something more involved every time he was with her.
He was determined to get some answers this weekend, to figure out what this thing between them was and where it was going. Then the doorbell rang and every thought that wasn’t about her finally arriving fled from his brain as he sprinted...
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Book Description Book Condition: New. I Saw Her Standing There. Bookseller Inventory # BBS-9781491506431
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