Sara's letters were the only bright spot during Gabe's devastating tour in Iraq. With each new correspondence he fell harder, needed her more, wanted to be with her. Now, after initially rejecting his offer to meet, she's shown up at the door of his isolated cabin in Alaska looking for...what? Gabe's not sure what made Sara change her mind, but he knows he never wants to let her go.
Major Gabe Randall is everything Sara Ryan wants but nothing she feels she deserves. A modern-day spinster, Sara hides behind family obligations and the safe, quiet life she's resigned herself to living. But secretly, even though she may have stretched the truth about who she is in her letters to him, she wants Gabe. Will he still want her when he discovers the real woman behind the pen?
Once they meet, Gabe asks her for six weeks in Alaska. Six weeks to spend getting to know each other, and then she'll have to decide whether they are better together or apart.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||1 MB|
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Talk about a family reunion from hell, Sara Ryan thought as she smiled politely through yet another introduction. Her aunt Lydia had relentlessly marched her around the room like a drill sergeant for the last hour. Her brother, Chris, had been smart enough to make up an excuse that got him out of coming, but true to form, Sara let her mother guilt her into it. The bathroom door was only inches away, and she was so close to making a break for it, when her aunt's voice rang out loud enough for the people in the next town to hear. "And this is my niece Sara, Joan's daughter. You know, the spinster. She lives with her brother." Horrified. That's the only way to put it. Or perhaps "mortified" was a better word. The entire family appeared to be staring at her with equal parts pity and disapproval. While Sara was frantically trying to compose herself, her aunt patted her on the back before adding, "She spends a lot of time with her mom, since, you know, she's never had a boyfriend. I've told her time and again that she needs to get her nose out of those trashy books she's always reading. Men like that don't exist." Sara wanted to object. There had been some boyfriends. It had been a while, but there had definitely been a couple. Back before the time of electricity and vehicles. Heck, she'd had sex before. But how exactly could she go about denying something so personal without making herself sound worse? Could this get any worse?
She opened her mouth, intent on clarifying some of the misinformation, but her aunt Ivy suddenly appeared at her other side. Shit, what now? Her mother's oldest sister had always been the more outspoken of the three of them, which was normally amusing-but Sara was already at her limit and couldn't take much more. Ivy gave her an exaggerated wink, which resembled someone having a seizure, before saying, "I sure love that Christian fella. Now there's someone who seems like he's got it all figured out. Anna is one lucky gal. He's rich, hot, and knows how to take care of his business." All eyes turned to stare across the room when Ivy pointed to her husband, who appeared to be sound asleep sitting up. "Even Fred likes listening to those audio books." Oh, dear God, she can't possibly be talking about Fifty Shades of Grey. Sweet Aunt Ivy? Uncle Fred? From the snickers around the room, Sara could only deduce that Ivy wasn't the only one who'd been doing a little reading on the wild side. Or was it doing a little wild reading on the side? And while the things being whispered among her relatives might result in years of therapy in the future, it had shifted the attention away from her.
"That's disturbing," an amused voice murmured behind her. Sara whirled around to find her cousin Chloe standing there with a grimace on her face. "Sorry about Mom. She means well for the most part." Chloe was the only child of Ivy and Fred, and two years younger than Sara. She was also single, but no one had called attention to that fact. At one time, she had been very close to her cousin, but Chloe traveled often for her job with a local investment company. And Sara rarely had a night away from taking care of Kaylee, her niece. Truthfully, she had always been a little jealous of her attractive cousin. If her Facebook page was any indication, she had a large circle of friends, whom she was always going on amazing trips with. She was successful, drove a new BMW, and lived in a condominium in the ritzy downtown district of Charlotte. In short, she was living the life that Sara had always imagined for herself-yet had given up on somewhere along the way.
Sara smiled, taking a step to her cousin closer. "Are you kidding? She saved my ass. Everyone looked terrified that my 'spinsterhood' might be contagious. I swear I saw Tasha ready to douse herself in hand sanitizer. Who knew that being single was the equivalent of having a raging STD?"
Chloe snorted as they stared across the room at their cousin. "Trust me, nothing else has touched that body lately-if ever. Now, she's a spinster poster girl. Why in the heck was Lydia calling you out? What'd you do, forget to send her a Christmas card? You know how petty these old hens can be. I swear they all get together and compare notes. If you screw up and miss a birthday for one, but not the other, you're in big trouble."
Sara rolled her eyes, "Happened to you too, huh? Swear to God, I've never heard news travel that fast."
Chloe shook her head, "Um no, not in years. I don't bother with it anymore, and it's the best decision I ever made. Sure, there was some bitching for a while, but now they have no expectations where I'm concerned. If I listened to them, I'd be like Tasha. Just talking about life instead of actually living it." Ouch. Sara knew that remark hadn't been aimed at her, but it hit home just the same. She felt like a fake who'd managed to snag a seat at the cool kids' table. Any minute now Chloe would tell her to move her ass back to the other side of the room with Tasha. Heck, come to think of it, even she had brought a guy to the last family gathering. It's official, I'm a spinster. Is there a Facebook group I should join? Sara's pity party was in full swing when Chloe elbowed her before saying, "Stop obsessing over it. Lydia's full of crap."
For a moment she considered acting dumb, but why bother? Her pride had already taken a hit, and she didn't feel like pretending the comment hadn't hit home. "I can't say she's totally off the mark. I mean, I do live with my brother's family. And I haven't brought a guy around the family in-it's been a while." More like never. But really, who wanted to subject an innocent person to this kind of dysfunctional situation unless things were serious?
She'd been afraid of seeing yet more pity, but Chloe simply gave her a blank stare before shrugging. "Even if you were a lazy freeloader who never had a date in her entire life-which you're not-it shouldn't matter to anyone here. What happened to family supporting each other? It's bad enough that the world passes judgment without knowing all the facts, but who appointed our aunts as judge, jury, and executioner? If you're happy, then screw 'em. If you're not, then change."
While she appreciated Chloe coming to her defense, Sara felt as if she was listening to a self-help seminar. You've got this, girl. Just go do you. Release your inner power and conquer the world. Blah, blah, blah. People who had it all couldn't fathom why everyone didn't. "You make it sound so simple to alter your life. Last time I checked, there weren't a line of men waiting at my door, to take me away from all this."
Chloe studied her for so long she had to resist the urge to run a hand over her hair to smooth it. "You really have no clue how attractive you are, do you? I mean sure, you dress completely wrong for your body type and coloring, but even with that, you still have that elusive girl-next-door beauty that most women dream about. If you put yourself out there, you wouldn't lack for attention."
So didn't see that coming. Is she bullshitting me? But there appeared to be nothing but sincerity in her eyes, which was almost more unsettling than a lie would have been. Even more bizarre, she sounded almost envious. Sara resisted the urge to argue, not wanting her lack of self-confidence to be even more apparent that it already was. But she couldn't resist admitting, "I wouldn't know where to start. It's been so long since I've been on a date that the mere thought of it terrifies me."
Chloe nodded, appearing to understand even though Sara hadn't a clue as to how. Surely she never lacked for men in her life . . . did she? "I get it. After Brian and I broke up, it was at least a year before I went out with another guy." She crossed her arms over her chest and looked down at the floor as she murmured, "I was completely blindsided when I found out he was cheating on me. Never saw it coming. I was so depressed that I almost lost my job over the bastard. After I used up all my vacation and sick days, they were running out of patience. If not for a few good friends showering me with some tough love, I'm not sure how bad things would have gotten before I hit rock bottom." She glanced across the room at her mother and cringed. "I wasn't far from having to move back home with the parents."
Sara had never been one to take pleasure in another's misfortune, but she couldn't help being riveted by Chloe's story. If she can't hold on to a man, what hope do the rest of us mere mortals have? She touched her cousin's hand as she said, "I'm so sorry. You should have . . ." Should have what? Would you have taken or returned her call? Not likely. Even though she didn't give voice to the last part, they both knew exactly what she was thinking. They were at that awkward level-friends who'd drifted apart and yet fell into old habits when they saw each other unexpectedly. "How'd we get to this point?" she blurted.
"Shit happens," Chloe said matter-of-factly. "But let's not let it continue. You and I are going to dinner next weekend and don't even think of blowing me off. Tell Nicole to get off her ass and watch her own kid for an evening. Heck, if Kaylee went missing, she wouldn't be able to describe her own daughter to the police. You'd have to do it."
Even though Sara secretly agreed with what she'd said, she still halfheartedly attempted to defend her mostly absent sister-in-law. "Well, I am the nanny. Pretty sure child care is considered the main part of my job."
Chloe gave her a skeptical look. "So they pay you enough to be on duty round the clock? She works like an hour a day doing the weather for Channel 7. How taxing can that possibly be? And what about Chris? He's been out of the military for several years now."
"He started his own business with a couple of his Air Force friends. He spends a lot of time building his customer base." At least that's what he says when I want a day off. "He does work from home some, but you know how distracting kids can be. Plus-Kaylee gets upset when I'm not there."
"Of course she does, Sara. You're pretty much the only mother she has. And I know you must be equally attached to her. But she'll grow up and make a life of her own. And you'll realize that a big chunk of yours has passed you by."
"Gee, thanks," Sara muttered around the huge lump in her throat. Way to sugarcoat it. Does anyone have a bridge I call throw myself off of?
"That was a bit . . . blunt," she said sheepishly. "I'm used to working around a lot of men who don't have a sensitive bone in their bodies. I could have worded that better, sorry."
Sara forced a smile, hearing the note of regret in Chloe's voice. It had been hard to hear, but she did have a point. Kaylee was already growing up so fast, and when she no longer required constant supervision, what then? Nicole will make me the full-time maid. Wait, I'm not far from that now. "It's fine. Can't be in this family without growing some thick skin." She didn't think Chloe was buying into her tough girl act for a minute, but thankfully she let it go.
When Aunt Ivy ushered Chloe away to speak with more relatives, Sara took the opportunity to gather her things and leave. Thankfully her mom was fully enjoying the time with her sisters, and didn't seem to mind when she waved good-bye. Still, she didn't allow herself to relax until she reached the safety of her car.
Even though she wanted a moment to process the hellish reunion ordeal, she didn't dare risk being spotted and marched back inside the building. Her aunts would probably brand her with their version of the scarlet letter. In her case, it would be an S instead of an A. Heck, being an adulterer would likely have elevated her status in their eyes. Better a hoe than a spinster. I need to get laid immediately. But short of making out with some guy at the family Christmas party or posting X-rated pictures on Facebook, there wasn't actually a way to prove that she had gotten lucky. So much for that.
Normally she didn't give it a thought, but today she wasn't ready to go home. And since Chris had used Kaylee's cold as an excuse to avoid the reunion, then screw it. Let him and Nicole play parents for a while. It was certainly a role they weren't used to. Their contributions to Kaylee's life were pretty much limited to providing the sperm and giving birth. Oh, she knew they loved their daughter, but they were both career obsessed, which left little time for a demanding five-year-old. When they had friends over, they'd parade her in front of them, pat her head, and hand her off to Sara. Which didn't bother her at all; she loved the little girl as if she were her own-only she wasn't. And lately, she'd begun to wonder if being so close to her niece was a good thing. Kaylee seemed to view her life as some sort of reality television show, in which Chris and Nicole were the supporting cast. The ones you shared a few laughs with from time to time, but didn't miss when they weren't around. But was that good for Kaylee? To want to spend more time with her aunt, playing games, doing crafts, baking, going to the park, dancing . . . Surely long term, she'd rather be doing these things with her own mom.
She spotted Dunkin' Donuts ahead and pulled into the parking lot. An iced coffee always made everything better. It's coffee in a plastic cup, not a magic lamp. Even the voice in her head seemed to be unusually bitchy today. Sara was debating whether to go through the drive-thru, or inside, when the DJ on the local radio station said something that got her attention. "Send a card to our deployed troops. Receiving mail from home is a huge morale booster to the men and women overseas. Please take a moment today, and visit our website for all the information. It's a small price to pay for all that they do for us." Chris had served two tours in the Air Force, so Sara knew well the sacrifices that were made. Sending a card was the very least she could do.
She sat at a corner table, with her donut and iced coffee. Pulling her iPad from her purse, she browsed through her Facebook News Feed, but none of it interested her. Then she remembered the commercial she’d heard and quickly brought up the radio stations website. A few more clicks and she had the information she needed. She knew if she didn’t do it now, she likely wouldn’t. So she quickly gathered her things, and tossed the remainder of her coffee and donut in the trash. There was a Walgreens at the end of the block, so she walked the short distance and found herself in front of the Easter cards. Not knowing anything at all about the soldier who would receive it, she opted for a generic greeting that would be appropriate for anyone. On a whim, she also bought some stationery to include a letter with the card.
That had been the easy part. But back in her car, with pen in hand, she drew a blank. She wanted to make the person who received the card smile. To take them away from whatever they were facing for a few moments. Maybe make them a little less homesick—at least while they were reading her letter. But how? Well . . . talking about the weather probably isn’t going to cut it. Hey, you think you’ve got it bad, buddy, I’m a spinster, who lives with her brother. Wait—why not vent to a stranger? At least give them a version of the truth. It was pretty much the only unusual thing to happen to her in recent history, and there was an entire piece of paper to fill.