Brynn Catalano is in Comeback Cove to help her cousin with a relationship crisis and plan an anniversary celebration for the local dairy. Sure, her new landlord, Hank North, is worth a second look or three! But she's here only for a short time, and definitely not for romance, especially with a headstrong single dad who says he doesn't need her help.
Still, she can't resist Hank's daughter, Millie. The girl is almost as irresistible as her gorgeous daddy, and Brynn is surprised at how easily their twosome accommodates her and how much she likes that. Yet when the job and the crisis are over there's nothing to keep Brynn here. Or is there?
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Brynn Catalano handed her weeping cousin another tissue from the decimated box and wished for a fat little Cupid to descend from the clouds so she could pop him straight in his twisted kisser.
"Taylor " What was she supposed to say? She had started the visit braced for an afternoon of Taylor, this month's Brides magazine and a lively discussion of peplums versus trains. Not that she had any idea what a peplum might be, but hey. Fake it 'til you make it, that's what she always said.
But those plans had gone out the proverbial window when Taylor walked into Brynn's cozy basement apartment, burst into tears and announced that she had to break her engagement because she was in love with her fiance's brother. Somehow, Brynn doubted that her usual routine of "have a Band-Aid/hug/margarita" would cut it this time.
"Maybe you're just lonely," she said gently. "After all, Ian's been in Tanzania for a long time now."
"Eight months." Taylor wiped her eyes. "But, Brynn, come on. Real love wouldn't change in that amount of time, even without the Carter factor."
Brynn hooked her little fingers together. This wasn't the time to point out that Taylor had spent a good part of her life complaining about Carter North and his inability to grow up. In fact, just last year, Taylor had said that Carter made the cast of The Hangover look like models of maturity.
No. It was better to focus on the real relationship. Not the one that only existed in Taylor's head.
"Listen, hon. You're absolutely right that true love wouldn't disappear in a few months' absence, but that doesn't mean it couldn't, oh, shift. Change. What you're feeling is probably nothing more than I don't know. Confused hormones. You know. Ian is gone but his brother, who looks and sounds and probably smells like him, is still here. You're just transferring what you feel for Ian onto Carter."
Taylor let her head drop against the back of the sofa, looking cool and blonde and elegant even as she stared blankly at the ceiling.
"I wish I could believe that. But you want the truth? I think it was the other way around. I think I mean, Carter was an idiot for most of his life, I know. But it's like the seeds of what he is to me now were there all along. I think that what drew me to Ian were the things that I could see in Carter, but they weren't really there yet, you know? Then he came back from law school and everything had settled into place, he was finally who he is supposed to be, but I was already going out with Ian. And then Ian left. And now I see Carter and I think, oh, dear Lord, this is what I was looking for all along ."
The tears began f lowing once again. Brynn handed over another tissue.
"It's such a mess, Brynn. I feel like I'm living this giant lie, but I can't do anything about it until he comes home. Every night I pray that I'll wake up in love with Ian, and every day I go to work and see Carter and boom, it hits me all over again."
"Wait, Carter works at Northstar, too?"
A watery smile flitted across Taylor's face. "When they say the dairy is a family business, they aren't kidding. All the brothers work there. Their parents, too, and even their grandmother. The only one who doesn't is Hank."
"The youngest. You know. His little girl was supposed to be my flower girl."
"Oh, right. The one whose wife ran off someplace out west." Brynn shook her head free of the extraneous Norths and focused on the only one that mattered at the moment. "Back to you. Does he have any idea how you feel?"
"What? God, no. That's the last thing I need, for Carter to know that I No. Nothing."
"That's all well and good, but I was talking about Ian."
"Oh." Taylor bit her lip. "I don't think so. I still talk to him as much as ever, and email, and all that. He might have been suspicious when I stopped talking about the wedding, but I said something about waiting until he came home so we could plan it together. That seemed to help."
Considering that Taylor had been planning her wedding since the moment she was able to say the words I do, her sudden refusal to discuss it should definitely have been a tip-off.
Brynn needed to think, which meant she needed to move. She pushed herself out of Old Faithful, the battered recliner that had accompanied her on every move she'd ever made, stretched and patted Taylor's shoulder.
"I need a beer. How about you?"
"Do you have any white wine?"
"You've been my cousin my whole life and you have to ask me that?"
Taylor sighed and slumped against the sofa once again. "Fine. At least tell me it's light beer."
It was so easy to tell that Taylor hadn't grown up in a house full of brothers.
"Of course it's light." Note to self: pour Taylor's drink into a glass.
Alone in her bright yellow kitchen, Brynn opened the fridge, grabbed a couple of bottles and surveyed the shelves. Taylor was a lightweight, and she'd been crying a lot. She probably needed food. There was that pint of Cherry Garcia But no. That had met the business end of Brynn's spoon last week.
Another look, another sigh. She knew how to cook a hearty meal with four ingredients and twenty minutes, but she had never mastered the kind of fluffy food that Taylor preferred.
Nor was she loaded with experience to help her cousin. Unlike Taylor, Brynn had never been swimming in admirers. As a teen she'd been needed at home too much to date. Her family obligations had lightened up over the years but it still seemed there were more crises than relationships. And oddly enough, whenever she did dip her toes back into the social pool, there didn't seem to be many guys who could keep up with her no-bullshit approach to life.
So no, she didn't have a lot of personal knowledge of matters of the heart. But she had the desire to help and the ability to make a plan and carry it through. Those, she was sure, were the skills that would go furthest in helping Taylor. They had always worked so far.
Her mind made up, Brynn grabbed a block of cheddar, tossed it on a plate and added a sleeve of crackers. Then, her mother's admonitions in her head, she removed the crackers from the paper, arranged them in a circle around the cheese and balanced a knife on the side.
Martha Stewart was undoubtedly quivering in her hand-tooled Italian leather boots.
She poured Taylor's beer into a mug, shoved her own bottle in one pocket of her sweatpants and the opener in the other, grabbed everything with easethanks to a college career spent waiting tablesand sailed back to the sofa. The good news was that Taylor had stopped crying. The bad news was that she still looked as wan and lifeless as if she'd been plucked from the mondo snowbank that loomed outside Brynn's window, pressing against the glass like it was contemplating a career in breaking and entering. Ah, the joys of winter in eastern Ontario.
Spring couldn't come fast enough.
Brynn set the food and drinks on the old trunk that served as her coffee table, opened her beer and indulged in a long, steadying swallow. Then and only then did she trust herself to respond with the brisk compassion she knew was needed.
"Okay. This is a pickle, no doubt about it, but we can fix it."
"I can't think how." Taylor eyed her beer. "Except maybe with mindaltering drugs."
"You only wish. The answer is going to be harder, but trust me, it'll be worth it. All we have to do is make you fall in love with Ian again."
Taylor choked on her drink. Oops. Maybe that hadn't been the best timing.
"Haven't you heard anything I said? I don't love Ian. I probably never did. I'm in love"
"With Carter. Yes, I know. But, Tay, come on. Don't you think it's suspicious that you never started seeing Carter in this new and dazzling light until Ian was gone?"
Taylor's eyes reddened, but at least she didn't start crying again. Nor did she have an answer.
"You said yourself, you think that the things that attracted you to Ian are the parts of Carter that hadn't bloomed yet. Well, maybe you got it wrong. Maybe the things you liked about Ian are what you were really looking for."
"I don't think that made any sense."
"Of course not. That doesn't matter. Do you trust me?"
Taylor nodded, though without as much vigor as Brynn would have liked.
"Here's what we're going to do. You said you don't want to break up with Ian while he's gone, right?"
"It's not that I don't want tonot that I do want to, of coursebut I can't do that to him now. He's doing such good work there helping people start their own businesses, but he's all by himself. No family, no real friends. I can't do that to him when he has no one to help him through it."
Personally, Brynn saw that as a sign that deep down, Taylor wanted to stay with him, but this wasn't the moment to mention that.
"Totally understandable. When is he coming home?"
"The middle of May."
"So that gives us four months. I propose we use that time to get you back on track. You think you aren't in love, but my bet is that you are and it's just hibernating." She waved a hand toward the snow-covered windows. "We just have to wake you up."
"Taylor Belle Hunter, stop yourself right there. You can't tell me you have absolutely no feelings for Ian."
"Well, of course I do. I might not be in love, but he's a great guy and I still care about him."
"Good to his family?"
"Thoughtful and considerate?"
"Good in bed?"
"Sorry. Couldn't help it." She snagged a piece of cheese and popped it in her mouth. "The thing is, he's an awesome guy, you do have positive feelings for him, and they probably run a lot deeper than you think. All we have to do is rekindle what's already there."
"Taylor. What is your plan?"
"Wait until he comes home. Fake my way through a week of hell while he gets back on his feet and the family throws a giant centennial celebration for the dairy. Then tell him the truth, pack my bags and leave town."
"What about Carter?"
Taylor drew in a long breath that turned into a choking kind of sob. Brynn gaped at her.
"You weren't going to tell him?"
"What would that accomplish? I'm doing enough damage as it is. I'm not going to rip the family apart that way."
Brynn sank slowly back into the recliner. She was far too familiar with the hurt that came with families falling apart. Taylor was right.
"What about you?"
Taylor's shrug didn't fool Brynn for a minute. "It's not like I'm the first woman to find herself in love with the wrong man, right?"
Hell and damnation. Brynn hauled herself out of the chair and over to the sofa, where she put an arm around Taylor's shaking shoulders and pulled her close.
"Oh, sweetie," she whispered as she rocked Taylor like a child. "Let me help you. Let me make this right for you."
"I've tried, Brynn. I really have."
"I know you have, honey. I know you don't want anyone to get hurt. But just let me try. I don't know how yet, but I promise you, I will come up with something. All we have to do is make you want Ian again. That's the key to fixing this mess. To make you love him."
"I don't know, Brynn." Taylor wiped her cheeks.
"You're the queen of organizing and all that, but I don't think even you can manage emotions."
Ha. Taylor had no idea that emotions were Brynn's area of expertise, at least for herself. She had taught herself to ignore fear, fake confidence and feel nothing but a pitying kind of contempt for her own father. Emotions, she knew, had to be controlled, lest they end up controlling you.
But she was willing to concede that it wasn't that cut-and-dried for everyone else.
"Maybe I can't. But honestly, sweetie, what's the worst that could happen? Best-case scenario, you end up happily married to a man you love beyond reason. Worst case well, I don't think it could get worse than what you already have planned."
Taylor hiccupped before noddingslowly, cautiously, but a nod nonetheless. "You're right. There's no way it could be worse."
"That's my girl." Brynn gave Taylor's shoulders another squeeze, this time a lot more happily, and pulled a pen and small notebook from her pocket. Now they were getting into the parts she likedless talk, more action, more chances to make things better for people she loved. "Okay. This would be a lot easier if you lived here in Kingston instead of way the hell up there in Comeback Cove, but we have weekends and"
She stopped as Taylor made an odd little squeak.
"I have an idea. To maybe make it so there's not an hour's drive between us."
"You're going to move here?"
Taylor laughed for the first time since walking into the apartment. "No, you goof. But I might be able to juggle things so you can come to Comeback Cove."
"If you're suggesting I quit work and sponge off my brother now that he's living up there, too "
"No, no. Relax. But isn't your job due to end soon?"
"Probably. That's the thing with temp jobs. They're always ending soon." She winked. "Don't want to wear out my welcome, you know."
"And you know that's why you love them."
True. Let other women search for security and routine. Brynn was all about the next challenge, the next adventure. Or, as was so often the case in her family, the next crisis.
"Do you have your next job lined up yet?"
"Nothing definite." Brynn raised crossed fingers. "But Paigeremember her? My second cousin on the Catalano side. She's pregnant again. I filled in for her first maternity leave and it's ninety percent certain they'll want me to do it again. That's not until late June, though, so I have an opening in my incredibly high-demand schedule. What do you have in mind?"
"I have a meeting tomorrow," Taylor said slowly.
"I think, maybe, I can swing something that will work out to everyone's benefit."
"And you're not going to tell me what you're plotting?"
Brynn pointed the pen at Taylor. "This would be a lot easier if you didn't look exactly the way you did the time you dragged me down to the graveyard to howl at the old folks walking by. I swear I couldn't sit down for hours after your mom got through with us."
"Oh, relax. I'm trusting you with my heart for the next four months. You can give me a day."
When she put it that waywhen she grinned the way she used to, the way, Brynn realized with a shock, she hadn't grinned in monthsthere was no way to refuse her. Not that Brynn had ever been able to walk away from a family member in need.
She would never wish calamity on her loved ones, but when, life being what it was, it hap-penedwell, it was kind of nice to know that she was the one they trusted to make things better. The one they needed.
"Okay, kiddo. It's a deal. You work on your nefarious plot and I'll search the internet for love potions." She put her pen to the paper. "Operation Sleeping Beauty is officially under way."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved everything about this book! Loved the characters, setting, conflict. Loved the humor and the emotiin. Can't wait for Ian's story!