What's a nice widow like you doing in a place like this?....
Consummate ladies man Will Tarrant has made it to middle age without walking down the aisle. People think he's anti-marriage, but he knows he just hasn't met the right woman yet. Then he lays eyes on Southern Belle Betty Asher--in the neighborhood pub of all places. She's new in town, perfectly gorgeous--and a perfect lady. But can Will be a perfect gentleman?...
With small town life and her cheating late husband behind her, Betty is looking forward to big city adventure. When she captures the attention of the local heartthrob, she even indulges in some hot and heavy flirtation. After all, it isn't everyday she gets to play the merry widow. She assumes their acquaintance will end there, until a job interview lands her in Will's office--and in his arms once more. Despite their irresistible attraction, Betty's enjoying her freedom, while Will's finally ready to put a ring on it. Now he'll just have to convince her that nothing could be sweeter than being tied down--with him. . .
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A Will and a Way
A Worth the Wait Romance
By Maggie Wells
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Maggie Wells
All rights reserved.
Dingy buildings and a whitewashed sky proved to be the perfect backdrop for flyaway wisps of spun-gold hair and a coat the color of everyone's favorite anti-diarrheal medication. Not a combination he ever dreamed he'd find attractive, but hey, maybe that was why it worked. No matter the reason, Will Tarrant found it impossible to tear his gaze off the woman in the bus shelter.
The light suspended above the intersection shone bright red. He crept to a stop well before the white line and signaled a left turn, but the actions were the swift, easy movements of a man running on autopilot. His gaze drifted across the two empty lanes between him and the weather-battered shelter on the corner, and his autonomic system went on strike.
The hot, dry air blasting from the car's dashboard sapped the moisture from his eyes. Will blinked and winced, wishing he could blame the Pepto-pink coat for the grimace, but it was no use. He'd just fallen in love again. For the eight-thousand-nine-hundred-and-forty-second time in his life.
He forced himself to drink deep gulps of overheated air. A couple more blinks, and he figured his corneas could be saved. At least from dehydration. There was no saving them from the sight of that garishly girly coat. Or from the wisps of golden hair teasing her cheeks. One intrepid lock adhered itself to her lipstick, and Will groaned. Jealousy sliced through the heat building inside him like the cold steel of a blade drawn from a snowbank. She'd brush that lucky hank of hair away, and he'd never know how soft her cheek might be. Her berry-pink lip gloss would smear, but it wouldn't be because of him. The light would change, the bus would come, and his heart would slide back down his throat and start beating again.
In the meantime, he planned to bask in the moment. Maybe the parka was what drew him in. Maybe this was nature's way of telling him his diet was Good N' Plenty deficient.
He chuckled and leaned forward, bracing his arm on the steering wheel as he angled for a better view. Questionable choices in outerwear aside, she was attractive enough to tempt any man. But good looks weren't sufficient to squeeze the air right out of a guy who'd known more than his share of pretty women.
Maybe it was the fact that she looked so damn out of place. Like a petunia sprouting out of the blackened snow sludge piled at the curbs. Or it could have been the way she danced from foot to foot, wobbling back and forth like one of those crazed windsock puppets car dealerships were so keen on these days. The awkward little jig momentarily drew his attention southward. She wore knee-high black boots with a series of complicated-looking buckles and the type of heel better suited to piercing a guy's ass than navigating ice-slicked sidewalks.
Will sent up a selfish, and most likely sacrilegious, prayer of thanks that Old Man Winter wasn't quite finished with them yet. To his way of thinking, there was nothing sadder than seeing a perfectly good pair of fuck-me boots forced into early hibernation. Still, he didn't think it was quite cold enough for her exuberant calisthenics.
He shifted in the seat as he nudged his wandering eyes and wayward thoughts toward higher ground. A shaft of weak March sunlight shone down on her like a spotlight. As if the puffy nylon needed high-def enhancement. Will cringed but couldn't tear his gaze away. The rogue streak of sunshine picked up each strand of fuzz that made up the ridiculous little stocking cap she wore. He smirked, noting the way she'd pulled the loose knit down over her ears as if something his dear, departed Nana could have whipped up with her trusty crochet hook would provide any real warmth.
The more she shivered and stamped, the wider his smile grew. Didn't Goldilocks know it was springtime? Hell, the thermometer was expected to edge up over forty that afternoon. It was all he could do to resist the urge to pull a pair of shorts from his dresser drawer that morning. This woman was wearing a parka, fuzzy hat, and what appeared to be matching gloves. Of course, he'd been around long enough to know there was a big difference between forty degrees at the height of the day and the frigid stillness at the ass-crack of dawn. He'd dressed weather-appropriate. He just hadn't espoused the same kind of wardrobe overkill as his bus stop babe.
Though the car's cabin was toasty warm, Will gave an involuntary shiver as he watched her stamp one spiked heel. The desire to lunge across two lanes and play Sir Galahad was nearly overwhelming. But that might have been a spate of chivalry left over from performing early morning airport shuttle service.
Only the very best friend in the world would drag himself out of a warm bed before dawn. And he was the best of friends. Even if his life-long partner in crime had decided to trade him in for another crack at romance. With a woman whose ass Will had seen. A few times.
Not that Greg would appreciate him making any wisecracks about his new wife's crack. The fact that Will walked away from her a decade and a half before was truly a testament to the arrogance of youth. But she hadn't been the one. Close, but not quite.
Minutes had passed. The light cycled through, but since there was no one in the lane behind him, he ignored the left turn arrow.
A strong gust shoved a cloud over the sun. The woman in the pink parka hunched her shoulders and stepped deeper into the Plexiglas shelter. Given its sheer volume, the hideous coat had to be filled with down, or some hippie-dippy ethically-correct alternative. It was zipped and buttoned and cinched in every conceivable spot, but still the woman hugged the shiny fabric close. There was something strikingly vulnerable about the way she hugged herself to keep the chill away. Something alluring about the fluffy gloves that matched her hat.
The word popped into his head in bold blocky letters. As if drawn there in a cartoon bubble. A hot rush of embarrassment scorched his ears and he jerked his gaze from her, mortified that his subconscious could even conjure the word, much less apply it to an article of clothing. Where in the hell had he picked that up?
Mystified, he stared at the red light suspended above the intersection and let his vision blur as he connected the dots. The word evoked images of old movies. Ponytailed girls with wide eyes. Natalie Wood. Wholesome. Innocent. Too good to hang out with thugs who rolled cigarette packs in their shirt sleeves.
Mary Ann, not Ginger.
Betty, not Veronica.
Will jerked as the thought struck home. His neck snapped as he turned to peer into the dirt-clouded shelter once more. He pressed his thumb to his shoulder, pushing through the pinch of pain as he studied her closely. His heart lodged at the back of his throat. He tried to swallow it down, but the damn thing was thrumming to beat the band.
The preternatural color of her coat wasn't what drew his attention. No, it was that silly white hat and those impractical gloves. The whole ensemble was so fresh and new. Snow white in the land of sludge.
And the girl?
She was Betty Cooper from the old Archie Comics come to life. An all-American wet dream come true.
Definitely not his usual type.
Will was more of a Reggie than an Archie. He liked the Veronicas of the world. Women a little jaded and a lot wiser. The kind of women who'd never even consider wearing a puffy parka.
His fascination with her, this tugging he felt pulling at his gut, they had to be some kind of a cosmic joke. Another one of Fate's twisted jabs. It couldn't be a coincidence that he felt compelled to swoop in and grab this woman, the antithesis of every female he'd chased in his long and somewhat illustrious dating career. This Betty of a woman, who just happened to be standing on this particular corner at this exact moment.
A test, or simply temptation? How many times in his life had he let one of these moments of possibility pass him by? Lingering gazes locked with random women spotted in restaurants, bars, and even the DMV. Time and again, he'd let sparks of attraction fizzle out without exerting the effort to do anything but walk away. Hell, he could tick three very specific opportunities off the top of his head, including the last time he'd kissed his old friend's new wife goodbye sixteen years earlier.
Was she meant for him? Was Josie meant for Greg? His best friend was true-blue Archie Andrews through and through. And he'd gone and married Josie — the ultimate Veronica. Did that mean Reggie was supposed to beat old Archie's game and win Betty in the end?
And what the hell was his Betty doing out here anyway? He scanned the area. His love of this moment was the lone passenger waiting for the early morning bus. The observation made the tiny hairs on the back of his neck prickle.
Will frowned and scanned the nearly deserted street. This was a middle-class neighborhood. There should have been more foot traffic by now. People heading into work early, delivery drivers on their routes, those nut jobs who liked to dress up in spandex and pound pavement for the pure joy of making the rest of the world feel sluggish and lazy. The stillness made him nervous. This was the city. Things were never this quiet.
The turn signal made a clicking sound far too plebian to fit the insanely expensive luxury sedan. The leather-wrapped steering wheel was smooth and warm beneath his palms, the vibration of the well-tuned engine barely more than a hum. Will stiffened when a man approached the shelter. He had a week's growth of beard, two tattered plastic shopping bags wrapped around his shoes, and a pint bottle nosing from his coat pocket.
And sweet Betty seemed to have no street smarts.
She looked up, but instead of recoiling from the sight of her grungy companion or stepping out of the shelter into plain view of the street, she flashed a smile and nodded. Two actions so innocuous he shouldn't have noticed them. But he did. He noticed everything about her. The way her handbag wasn't quite zipped all the way. That sunshine-gold hair. Suddenly, she glanced his way. Their eyes met and held across two empty lanes of traffic.
The thought of pulling over to the curb and yanking a total stranger into the car didn't seem quite so unreasonable now. He cranked the wheel, but the second he darted a glance in the rearview mirror, the spell was broken.
A minivan pulled to a stop inches from his rear bumper and a low growl of frustration and desperation tangled in his throat. A beater blaring enough bass to shake loose whatever nuts and bolts were holding the thing together slid to a stop in the lane beside him. The bus rounded a corner two blocks back. A garbage truck lumbered to a stop in the far right lane, obliterating his view. He pressed back in the seat, embedding his skull in the leather headrest as he craned his neck, but it was no good. All he could see was a slice of puffy pink coat.
His chance was gone. The love affair fizzled before the number Seventy Riverside Drive's overtaxed hydraulics finished hissing.
He glared at the bus, resenting the hell out of the fact that a vehicle bearing an advertisement for the latest hair growth wonder cut off the last frame of his comic book dream come true.
The garbage truck rumbled at a rough idle. The bass blaster rattled. A knot of bitter regret took up residence under Will's breastbone. He pressed an absent hand to the ache and rubbed. The magical moment of zip and tingle was gone, and he wanted it back, damn it. How long had it been since he'd felt anything like it? How many chances would he have to miss? More to the point, how many more would he get?
An impatient blast of a horn jerked him out of his reverie. He held up a hand in an apologetic wave and pressed the accelerator. Grasping the steering wheel underhand, he stared after the bus even as he eased into the left turn. The splotch of pink was impossible to miss. The driver behind him tooted his horn again and Will snarled.
"What's your fucking hurry?"
He glanced at the rearview mirror to find a soccer mom in a minivan leaning into the turn as if she could speed him along with the sheer force of her will. Given the death grip she had on the top of the wheel and the grim determination thinning her mouth, he figured he'd be wiser not to test her. He sped up, but the woman in the van darted around him and flipped him the bird. He caught a glimpse of a princess movie playing on the multi-screened in-car entertainment system.
Will slowed as he toyed with the idea of hooking a right and giving the number Seventy Riverside Drive a bit of a chase. But really, what was the point? Even if he caught up to the bus, caught up to her, what would he say?
"Hey, Betty, wanna go to the sock hop?" He gave a half-disgusted but wholly amused snort. "We could double with Jughead and Big Ethel."
Pointing the car toward Harter's Bakery, he focused on the promise of coffee and a danish. He cruised the streets on autopilot, lifting a hand in greeting when he saw Sam pushing back the gates that covered the pharmacy's plate-glass windows and nodding a good morning to Rex, the bakery's delivery driver.
Most of the people from the old neighborhood had been at the wedding. They'd all been there to see Greg get his girl. All Will got was a chance to play airport chauffeur and a glimpse of a woman who just might have been The One.
He could hardly imagine what the fickle witch Fate would throw at him next.
Slipping into a spot in front of the bakery, Will made a mental note to tell Greg that his beautiful beast of a European driving machine had nearly been taken out by a woman jamming some serious Disney, not to mention being blown off the starting line by a rust bucket and one of Sanitation Services' finest. The cocky sonofabitch needed taken down a notch or two.CHAPTER 2
Only alcoholics drink a second glass of wine at home, Betty Jean. You don't want people to talk, do you?
Betty Asher eyed the bits of sediment in her glass of white wine. It was better than openly staring at the man seated at the middle of the scarred mahogany bar. Hooking the heels of her stiff new snow boots into the rungs of her stool, she geared herself up to take another sip. The pale gold liquid that claimed to be Chablis edged closer to tiki-torch fuel once it hit her palate. Just as well. Any wine strong enough to peel paint should be enough to kill the few brain cells that stored her mother's litany of soft-spoken admonishments.
Resentment rose from Betty's gut and lodged like a fist in her throat. Well, she wasn't having her second glass of wine at home.
So there, Mother.
The stem of the glass was smooth, sturdy, and warm from her fingers. They didn't use Riedel in bars like the one she'd stumbled into. Hell, this one didn't even have a name. Just a few ancient neon beer signs hung in the narrow, dusty windows. This wine glass was almost as thick as a jelly jar and bore the mark of the ghost of lipsticks past. Her dead mother and fastidious, appearance-obsessed late husband would be horrified. She rubbed her bottom lip over the stranger's imprint. If that wasn't out-and-out rebellion for a properly raised young lady, she didn't know what was.
She smirked and swirled the wine, setting the bits of flotsam spinning. Lifting it in silent toast to the not-so-dearly departed, she braved a sip then shuddered. Nope. It was just as bad on second approach.
Grimacing, she turned her attention from the sad excuse for wine and back to searching for the name she couldn't quite find. Sneaking another peek at the handsome stranger seated near the other end of the bar, she considered a few more candidates. The man was no Kiefer, Clooney, or Richard Gere. Ed Harris? Yummy, but no. Not Jude Law, either, but maybe Clive Owen. She squinted a little, trying to determine if the man looked the least bit British, then gave up with a sigh. At least he didn't look anything like Brad Pitt. She'd never really understood the whole Brad Pitt thing. His lips were too pink. Something about him was ... soft.
You've got no business being out all alone like this, Betty Jean. It isn't decent. Run along home like a good girl.
Betty gave her head a shake to dislodge the memory of her mother's voice and forced herself to sit taller. The slick fabric of her parka made it a tricky maneuver, but somehow she managed. Steeling her spine, she lifted the glass and chanced another glance as the wine touched her lips. She couldn't help herself. The man was a dead ringer for one of Julia Roberts' movie boyfriends. She just needed to figure out which one.
The problem was, each time she looked at him, he stared right back at her. A rude, oddly challenging, and somewhat insolent stare. Like he knew what she looked like under her parka. And without her pearls ... or pants. Even more disturbing was the fact that she found it arousing rather than off-putting.
Excerpted from A Will and a Way by Maggie Wells. Copyright © 2016 Maggie Wells. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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