The Romance Reader
The Playboy (Chandler Brothers Series #2)by Carly Phillips
There isn't a woman in town who's immune to the legendary Chandler charm. Yet so far single cop Rick Chandler has managed to fend off the marriage-minded advances of Yorkshire Falls' entire female population. A past mistake has taught him never to put his heart on the line ... until he answers the SOS of a real-life runaway bride. In spite of her pearly gown and tiara… See more details below
There isn't a woman in town who's immune to the legendary Chandler charm. Yet so far single cop Rick Chandler has managed to fend off the marriage-minded advances of Yorkshire Falls' entire female population. A past mistake has taught him never to put his heart on the line ... until he answers the SOS of a real-life runaway bride. In spite of her pearly gown and tiara, Kendall Sutton vows to never wed- which makes her the ideal pretend lover who can ward off Rick's legion of admirers. When their passionate charade flames into the real thing, Rick is suddenly thinking about two words that spell forever after. But will Kendall ever say "I do?" Can a woman who's had it with weddings tie the knot with the town's most popular playboy?
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A high pitched ringing woke Kendall from a deep, luxurious sleep. She didn't
want to be bothered, not when she was cocooned in such delicious warmth, but a
hand on her arm was shaking her, giving her no choice but to open her eyes.
"Kendall. It's the phone in your purse," Rick said.
She groaned and buried her head in the pillow before rolling over and out of bed. Air conditioning hit her bare skin and she shivered. She dug through her bag, pulled out her phone and glanced at the incoming number. She didn't recognize anything but the Vermont area code. Hannah, she thought and realized the cold air on her naked body was the least of her problems. She pressed the green button, hoping she hadn't missed the call.
"Hannah?" She'd been so wrapped up in the dream world she'd created with Rick, she'd put her sister and her problems on hold. "Hannah are you still there?"
"Of course I'm still here. Vermont's the other end of the world. I can't travel far without money or a car." Her sister's annoyed voice sounded over the phone lines.
"That's not what I meant." Kendall ran a hand through her morning-messy hair. "We need to talk."
"Yeah we do."
Kendall narrowed her gaze. Hannah had been avoiding her phone calls for days and now she was suddenly being agreeable? "What's going on?"
"Like you care."
Kendall ignored that comment. "I spoke to Mr. Vancouver-"
"He hates me."
"Apparently you're giving him good reason."
Her sister snorted, the sentiment behind the obnoxious sound coming through loud and clear.
"He said you're on probation."
"Uh, not anymore."
Kendall blinked. "You're off probation? How'd you manage that? Did you apologize or -"
"What do you mean you left?" Kendall shrieked and Rick jumped out of bed, coming up behind her and leading her back so she could sit down on the mattress. "Where are you? And how are you?" She willed herself not to panic. Yet.
"What do you think I mean? I left. It's not like they wanted me there anyway. I'm sure I saved him the job of kicking me out."
"Kicking you out?" Though Mr. Vancouver had intimated such consequences were possible, Kendall had thought for sure he'd sit down with Hannah and her parents, or Hannah and Kendall, and talk first. And she'd never thought her sister would do anything to lead to such drastic consequences.
"Would you quit repeating everything I say? It's no big deal. This school sucks."
"Watch your mouth."
"Don't tell me what to do. You're not my mother."
Kendall cringed at Hannah's nasty tone. What happened to her sweet sister and what had caused her to run from school? "Look, I happen to be the only adult relative listed on your emergency card at school. That gives me some rights. And the first right I've got is to get a straight answer." To the most important question, Kendall thought. "How are you?"
"Like you care," Hannah shot back with that snotty tone again.
"Whatever. I'm fine and I'm at the bus station near school. I need a ticket and I need to know where you are. Between Mom, Dad and you, it's like having no relatives at all."
Hannah's words were like a knife in Kendall's heart. She'd lived the very life Hannah just described and it hadn't been fun, nor filled with warm, fuzzy moments. Their parents had chosen boarding school for Hannah as a means of providing more stability than Kendall had had. But could stability replace family, a chiding voice inside Kendall asked. "Hannah -"
"Don't get all mushy on me. Just get me out of here, okay?"
Kendall blinked. Her sister's animosity and hurt obviously ran deep. And Kendall hadn't even realized it existed. She'd been so caught up in caring for Aunt Crystal and dealing with her own problems, she'd merely assumed Hannah was safe and happy in boarding school. An assumption that would obviously cost her now. But first, she needed to get Hannah home. As if either of them had a home. Kendall glanced at her watch. It was eight A.M. already. She rubbed at her eyes. "Give me the information about where you are and I'll call and buy a bus ticket. You have your I.D. on you?" She gestured to Rick for a pencil and paper.
Rick handed her the things she'd asked for. "Thanks," she mouthed at him. "Go ahead, Hannah." Kendall scribbled down the Vermont bus terminal name and area code, then asked and got the pay phone number. "I'll make the arrangements and there'll be a ticket waiting for you. I'll meet you on the other end."
Kendall saw past the bravado to the scared girl alone at a bus station, or perhaps Kendall just needed to believe her sister wasn't as hardened and uncaring as she sounded. After all, she'd been in touch with Hannah lately and she'd sounded fine. But when was the last time you really made time to listen to her, that same accusing voice asked. Not wanting to face the answers or the guilt, Kendall turned her attention to the here and now. "Be careful, Hannah."
"I'm not going back to that place." Hannah's voice cracked and Kendall knew she hadn't imagined it this time.
Kendall swallowed over the lump in her throat. "We'll talk when you get here, okay?"
"Just promise me you won't send me back there."
She'd have to reach her parents somehow, but no child should have to stay where they were that unhappy. "I promise."
A loud exhale of relief sounded over the other end of the phone.
"I'll call Mr. Vancouver and explain you're on your way to me. I don't want him calling the police or reporting you missing."
"Don't take anything he says too seriously. The cue ball -" "That would be Mr. Vancouver?" Kendall hazarded a guess.
Hannah snorted in reply. "He has no sense of humor."
"I wouldn't either if you were calling me a cue ball," Kendall said wryly. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear Hannah's latest prank either. "I only did it to his face once."
She shook her head, realizing she had her work cut out for her when Hannah arrived. "Let me go buy the ticket. I want you here safe and sound. Stand by the pay phone. I'll call you back with the details."
Kendall spent the next five minutes on the phone, purchasing the ticket, making certain the clerk would watch out for Hannah until she got on the bus and then she called her sister back.
Finally, she hung up the phone and turned to Rick. "She's on a 10:45. I have to pick her up in Harrington at 2:55 this afternoon."
"What happened?" Rick eased the cell phone out of her hand and placed it on the night stand.
Kendall ran a shaking hand through her hair, then began to pace. "I can't believe this."
"Come sit down." He patted the mattress where they'd made love and then slept in their own world, in a blissful state of oblivion while her sister was so unhappy, she'd run off.
And Kendall hadn't a clue. Hadn't seen it coming. She shook her head, her thoughts reeling. "Hannah must be distraught. I mean how could she just leave school? How could she do something as stupid arriving at a bus station, no real destination in mind. Who does something that impulsive?"
Rick winced. "Excuse me for stating the obvious, but you do."
Kendall opened her mouth to argue, then realized she couldn't. "Okay so it runs in the family. But do you know what can happen to a fourteen year old girl alone at a bus terminal?" She shuddered to think about it. "That clerk better watch out for her."
Rick picked up the paper she'd written her notes on earlier, then grabbed for the phone and dialed. "Hello?"
"What are you -"
He held a hand up to silence her. "This is Officer Rick Chandler from the Yorkshire Falls Police Department. Yorkshire Falls, New York. You have a minor child there named Hannah Sutton?" He waited for an answer, then nodded at Kendall. "Good. I'd appreciate it if you made certain she got on the proper bus and wasn't bothered by strangers while she waits. I can give you my badge number for an I.D. if you need-" He remained silent again, listening. "Won't be necessary? Thank you. I appreciate that. Bye." He set the phone back down and grinned at her.
"Can you do that?"
He shrugged. "I just did. Feel better?"
"Much." She came back to bed then and treated him to a grateful hug.
"Thank you. I can't tell you how much that meant to me."
Rick couldn't tell her how much she'd come to mean to him. Not without scaring her off. "I'll go with you to get her."
"Don't you have to work?"
"I can get someone to switch shifts."
Warmth filled her gaze. "I really appreciate that. You know for all my talk about loving my sister, we haven't lived together since I was eighteen. I don't know what to do with a teenager. And an angry one at that." She shivered at the obviously overwhelming sense of responsibility. "How can I get through to her?"
"She called you, didn't she? You two will come to terms."
Kendall shook her head. "I'm sure I wasn't her first choice but she didn't have anyone else to call. I got the distinct impression she doesn't think I care much. I do, but I'm beginning to understand - I've given her reason to believe what she does." She hung her head, obviously not proud of herself.
He tipped her chin upward. "Kendall, you're her sister not her parent. You were living through your own problems. You're here for her now. That's all that counts."
He ran a soothing hand over her bare back, savoring the feel of her skin. The closeness they'd shared had been a moment out of time. Reality had intruded in the form of a fourteen year old girl. Rick felt sorry for both Kendall and Hannah. He hated losing the alone time he'd planned to share with Kendall, but he'd be here for her and help her through this rough patch.She gave him a shaky smile. "Thanks. I guess I'll have to try to locate my parents, if they can be found, which is unlikely. They're on an excursion in Africa somewhere."
"No cell phones there, huh?"
"No. Which means any decisions regarding Hannah are my responsibility."
She sighed. "And I promised her no more Vermont Acres, so I'll have to feel her out and see what kind of school she'd be happy in come fall."
"Sounds like a good plan. I mean you wouldn't want to tie yourself down to any one or any thing."
She stiffened her spine and glared at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Rick shook his head. "Nothing." Damn his big mouth. "It's just that staying in Yorkshire Falls is another possible solution to Hannah's problem."
"Oh no." She shook her head. "No. New York City was my last permanent gig for awhile." She glanced away as she spoke, unable to meet his gaze.Because she was fighting her urge to stay? He hoped so. Because sometime during the night, despite his good intentions, he'd fallen hard for Kendall Sutton. Oh hell. He'd fallen from the minute he'd seen her in her wedding dress on the side of the road.
With her sister's arrival, Rick was given the chance to convince Kendall that Yorkshire Falls was her home and the small town provided the perfect place to put Hannah in school and settle down. In his dreams.
Well he'd damn well better begin rebuilding those walls if he wanted to walk away with his heart intact.
Kendall thought teenagers were supposed to chatter nonstop. But the silence in the car was deafening. As soon as Hannah had walked off the bus and side-stepped her attempted hug, Kendall knew she was in trouble. When Hannah had looked past Kendall to Rick's uniformed presence, Kendall realized she'd made a huge mistake bringing him along for this first meeting.
"What's with the cop?" her sister had asked, complete and utter disdain in her voice.
"He's not a cop, he's my ..." Kendall's voice had trailed off as she realized that one, she'd mispoke. Rick was a cop, just not here because of anything Hannah had done. And two, Kendall had no idea how to categorize her relationship with Rick to herself let alone to her fourteen year old sister. "Boyfriend." She settled on what she thought was a benign term.
"Speaking of gross, just what did you do to your hair?"
Hannah grabbed one of the purple kinked strands. "Cool, huh?"
Biting her tongue hadn't been easy but Kendall managed. She couldn't afford to alienate her sister even more. Now they all drove back to Yorkshire Falls in silence except Hannah's incessant cracking of her gum. "So what's there to do in this town?"
Kendall turned towards Hannah and faced Rick while he drove. "Rick? You'd know more than me."
He glanced over, one hand on the wheel. "The kids like Norman's and there's an old movie theater, and there's the town pool during the day."
Hannah rolled her eyes. "See what happens when you ask a cop for hangout places? I might as well stay home."
"Thank you would be more appropriate than complaining," Kendall said.
"Actually I was hoping I could teach you some beading or if that doesn't interest you, I thought we could do some sketching together."
Hannah merely glanced at her warily, as if she didn't trust Kendall's word that she wanted to do anything with her.
Well Kendall would just have to convince her. "I've seen your art work and I know you've got talent."
Hannah's words sounded indifferent but her gaze clung to Kendall, giving Kendall hope that all her sister needed was time and patience before she came around.
"As soon as you make some friends you'll be fine," Rick assured Hannah.
"I'd be happy to introduce you to some kids your age."
Kendall shot him a grateful glance.
"As long as they aren't geeks," Hannah said and sat back in her seat, arms folded over her extremely cropped top. After commenting on her sister's hair, Kendall clamped her mouth shut on the subject of her clothes. But there was no doubt her sister looked like a combination of a Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera wannabe.
Rick pulled up to the house and parked. "This is it."
Hannah sat up and grabbed the headrest of Kendall's seat so she could get a better look out the front window. "Aunt Crystal lived here?"
"Before she had to move to a nursing home."
Her sister's eyes opened wide, giving Kendall a glimpse of the young girl she remembered, not the angry teen she'd retrieved from the bus depot.
"We're in the guesthouse in the back." Kendall hoped the news wouldn't burst her sister's spontaneous excitement.
"A guesthouse? Cool!" She jerked open the back car door but turned before climbing out. "Who's in the main house?"
Before Kendall could answer, Pearl and Eldin came down the driveway to greet them, Pearl in all her housecoat glory and Eldin in his splattered painter's overalls and cap.
"You've got to be kidding me?" Hannah rose out of the car and stared just as Pearl began a quicker walk down the drive.
"Oh Eldin, look," Pearl said, pointing to Hannah. "Crystal's other niece."
How Pearl recognized Hannah from the more conservative pictures Crystal had probably shown her friend, Kendall would never know. But since Kendall had told the older woman she'd be bringing her sister home for the summer, Pearl had made a correct assumption.
She grabbed Hannah in a huge hug, then pulled her back for a good look. Kendall glanced at Rick and winced while Rick just shook his head and groaned.
"I hope Hannah watches her mouth," Kendall muttered.
"Don't get your hopes up, sweetheart." He yanked the keys out of the ignition. "I'm not sure which one of them needs rescuing but we'd better get out there."
Kendall nodded but grabbed his sleeve first. "Rick?"
Just his smile lent her a shoulder she hadn't realized she needed, which made her next words that much harder. "I know you didn't sign on for this so if you want to bail now I wouldn't blame you."
"We have a bargain, don't we? I'm not one to dishonor an agreement, so you're stuck with me."
Her stomach cramped at his words. When had she reverted to a mere bargain in his eyes? After last night, she'd thought much more existed between them.
But you pushed him away, didn't you? A voice in her head asked. Recalling her reaction to his idea of her staying in town, she realized he had every reason to keep his distance now and to protect himself. From her. She didn't blame him any more than she liked his sudden shift in attitude. But whatever his reasons, he was here with her now and had promised to stay. She wouldn't ask for anything else when she wouldn't give anything more in return.
She forced a grin. "Okay well you had your chance. I won't offer you an out again." Reaching for his hand, she held on tight, needing him more than she cared to admit.
"No problem." His gaze met hers and lingered.
Seizing the opportunity, she leaned over and captured his mouth in a kiss. Meant to reassure who, she wondered. Herself? Or him? Before she could figure out the answer, Hannah screamed.
Breaking apart, Kendall and Rick exited the car and came around to where Hannah and Pearl stood.
"What's wrong?" Kendall asked.
"Other than the fact that she smells like mothballs and she hugged me?"
"Hannah!" Kendall yelled, mortified.
"It's not mothballs, it's violet sachet," Pearl said, unaffected. "And I told her I'm so glad she's here. She's skinny and obviously hasn't been eating well at school. I have a plate of brownies cooling now."
Interest flickered in Hannah's eyes and Kendall saw her fighting not to show her desire for the basics, the food and warmth Pearl offered. Pearl leaned closer to Kendall and in her stage whisper spoke in Kendall's ear. "You really should get her a bra. She's young and they're perky but she really ought to wear a brassiere."
Hannah started to speak and Rick put a warning hand over her mouth. "Not now."
Pearl turned to Hannah just as Rick released her. "I'll go get those brownies and bring them over, okay?" Without waiting for an answer, she took off for the house.
"I'm Eldin," the older man said, sticking out his hand towards Hannah. "And Pearl means well."
Hannah stared until Rick gently nudged her arm with his elbow. Taking the hint, Hannah shook his hand quickly, then dropped it again. She was probably afraid he'd grab her into a bear hug like Pearl had done. Instead Eldin shook once and dropped Hannah's hand. Satisfied, he nodded and started back up the driveway, more slowly than his significant other, probably because of his bad back.
Warmth filled Kendall as she'd watched Rick not just taking charge with Hannah, but handling her well. Kendall was merely in a state of complete shock. One she'd have to get over and quickly.
"Bye, Eldin," Hannah called towards the older man, surprising Kendall.
Maybe she'd be okay here after all, Kendall thought.
Then Hannah turned back to face her sister. "No way am I living in this hick town with your cop boyfriend and two old people. And the old lady stares at my chest." She folded her arms tight. "That's sick." She narrowed her gaze, then stormed off in the direction of the guesthouse. Kendall looked at Rick and sighed. "She's a joy."
He laughed. "She's a teenager. I've seen worse."
"God help me." Kendall rolled her eyes heavenward. "Her hair's fluorescent purple."
He grinned. "Yours was pink."
"Would you stop mentioning all the similarities?" The truth was enough to drive Kendall mad.
He glanced at his watch. "Much as I hate to leave you on your own, I have to get to work."
"You're probably relieved."
"Kendall, Kendall." His gaze met hers. She saw the conflict in his eyes as he fought the attraction for a second before with a groan, he reached out and cupped his hand around the back of her neck, bringing her within kissing distance. "What am I going to do with you?"
His breath was warm and a hint of spearmint teased her senses, making her wish he'd kiss her already. "I don't know. What did you have in mind?"
"Convincing you I'm a good guy would be a good start. Making you believe in sticking around would be an even better ending," he admitted with obvious reluctance.
Before she could respond, he sealed his lips over hers, initiating a kiss. He tasted more delicious than she'd imagined as his tongue swirled inside her mouth.
"Mmm." The moan came out without permission but she wouldn't call it back even if she could because his body shook in reaction and he pulled her closer.
"Oh gag me."
Kendall jumped back to see Hannah, her expression set in a grimace, glaring at her and Rick.
"Pardon me for interrupting but the house is locked. Just how did you expect me to get in?" she asked.
Kendall raised an eyebrow Rick's way. Apparently the honeymoon was over and
reality had set in - in all its teenage
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