From the award-winning author of the Bad Boys of Red Hook series, a new novel about finding love where you least expect it…
Jackson Sullivan III has always lived up to his uncle’s expectations, until his career is sidelined, leaving him lost and in need of a retreat to his family’s cabin. But his solitude is interrupted by a beautiful visitor whose combative feelings about the Sullivans lead Jax to a surprising declaration: he pretends to be someone else.
Though she hasn’t seen the privileged scion since she was a child, Kendall Watkins hates everything Jackson Sullivan represents. She should know: her parents have managed the Sullivan estate for years. In need of her own peace and quiet, she heads to the cabin, never expecting to come face to face with the most handsome man she’s ever met. Soon stranded by a violent nor’easter, Jax and Kendall end up sharing more than they dreamed. But Jax knows that when the storm clears, his true identity will be revealed, and Kendall will be left with a betrayal that may be too great to forgive…
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Lidia Dornet is a Brooklyn-based artist who specializes in voice-over and dance. She is heavily addicted to yoga, karaoke, and all things made of chocolate. Lidia is also obsessed with the Talking Heads, David Bowie, and the Clash.
Read an Excerpt
ALSO BY ROBIN KAYE
To Claire. I doubt I’d have been able to write this without your help. You’re an inspiration, a great sounding board, and an incredible support.
Kendall Watkins stopped the Jeep and threw it into four-wheel drive before turning off the main road onto the sorry excuse of a trail that led up the hill to the cabin, her sanctuary. She’d gotten through a long, tough day on almost no sleep. She’d made the trip from her Boston apartment to Harmony, New Hampshire; powered through her best friend Addie’s inquisition about Kendall’s first heartbreak with minimal waterworks; and taken all the groceries, love, and support that she could stand.
As much as she loved Addie and appreciated the offer of her spare bedroom, right now, the last thing she needed was company. No matter how supportive, understanding, and well-intentioned Addie was, Kendall needed to be alone to lick her wounds and wallow in self-pity for as long as it took her to feel human again, or until the Rocky Road ran out—whichever came first. She had a bad feeling she’d be busy until the cupboards were bare.
Addie had told her in no uncertain terms that the grocery shopping spree was a onetime-only offer. There would be no refilling of the five basic food groups—chocolate, wine, pasta, ice cream, and Nutella—until Kendall poked her head out of her cave and rejoined society.
From a therapist’s perspective, Kendall had to admit it was a sound plan on Addie’s part. Everyone knew wallowing for more than a week or two might lead down the dark road of clinical depression, but from the perspective of a woman who was just unceremoniously dumped from a twelve-year relationship with no warning and not so much as a this-isn’t-working-for-me chat, a week or two didn’t seem nearly long enough.
Last night, the only thing she had wanted was to escape the apartment she’d shared with David. She’d never felt at home in Boston, and she wanted to go home. Home to Harmony.
When she thought of possible escapes, a picture of the old hunting cabin immediately came to mind. She knew she could go there and no one would find her hiding place. The only person who lived within five miles of it was Jaime Rouchard, and if he caught her, she was sure he’d keep her secret and respect her privacy. As far as she knew, he and Addie were the only people in their gossip mill of a town who could.
She looked through the dwindling light of late afternoon and tried not to think of all the times she and David had gone to the cabin. She did her best to tamp down a case of sudden nerves, wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans to make sure she had a good grip on the steering wheel, and wondered if she wasn’t making yet another huge mistake. When she’d come up with her plan in the wee hours of the morning, it hadn’t occurred to her that the last thing she needed was to be stuck in a cabin with the Ghost of Boyfriends Past. No, she wouldn’t allow David to ruin her homecoming. She refused to give him that much power.
The trail was snow-covered, and in the fading light it was difficult to discern the path at all. It was clear that whoever plowed hadn’t done so recently, so she was stuck picking her way up the steep incline in low gear.
Sara Bareilles’s “Gravity”—a song she’d always liked but could never relate to until today—drowned out the rumble of the engine and struck a chord so deep within her she had to blink back tears and fight for control of her emotions.
Kendall took a hand off the wheel to wipe her eyes, and the front passenger’s side of the Jeep ran over something—a boulder, the edge of the trail, a snow-covered log; she wasn’t sure. All she knew was she needed to get off the damn thing, since the Jeep canted awkwardly. She stopped and sent up a little prayer that she had enough clearance. After all, this was why she’d bought a four-wheel drive in the first place. It gave her the ability to go off-road, and this was definitely off-road. She eased up on the brake and tapped the gas, and the Jeep surged forward off whatever it had been on and landed with a decidedly expensive-sounding crunch of metal. “Damn.” She tapped the gas again, and the Jeep grunted ahead, except this time the front passenger’s side fell at an awkward angle and lurched to a stop, sitting way too low to be considered normal.
“Oh, God. This is just the icing on a total shit cake of a day. Can’t anything go right?” She put the car in park—as if it would go anywhere—and banged her head against the steering wheel with a painful thud. She rubbed her forehead. The action did nothing to make her feel better. “Whoever thought that a good head bang would release tension was obviously an idiot.”
Great. She was in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest person, in a disabled car. She took a quick look at her phone—no cell coverage. Unfortunately, in a twenty-four-hour period filled with nonstop shocks, the lack of cell coverage wasn’t one of them.
Strains of Lady Antebellum’s song “Love Don’t Live Here” filled the car, and she considered banging her head again. “Maybe love don’t live here anymore, but it did once,” she mumbled, and killed the engine.
That thought pushed her over the edge of the emotional cliff she’d been skirting for the past day and a half. She stopped fighting the good fight and let loose the river of tears she’d kept dammed up with a finger, a wad of gum, duct tape, and a prayer.
She wasn’t sure how long she’d sat in the cooling car, crying, when a triple rap on the driver’s-side door interrupted her midmeltdown. Kendall jumped, let out a startled yelp, and blinked at the image of a hairy hulk of a man staring through the steamed-up driver’s-side window. He had longish blond hair sticking out of a navy blue knit cap, a two- or three-week beard covered what looked like a square jaw, and he sported crinkles around the bluest, most intense eyes she’d ever seen. Even with tears and a foggy window clouding her vision, her gaze felt shackled to his, and, like a sleepwalker, she slowly opened the door and let out an embarrassing, hiccuping sob.
The man took what looked like a cautious step back and crouched before her, maybe to seem less threatening. “Are you hurt?” He sounded as if he didn’t want to know the answer but felt awkwardly obligated to ask.
Another sob escaped. She shook her head and took what she hoped was a calming breath. “Physically, I’m fine. Emotionally, I’m a complete wreck.”
He rose to his full height, rounded the front of the car, and then crouched to inspect the sunken front end. She wasn’t sure if it was to look for damage or just a damn good excuse to get away from the crazy woman blubbering all over herself. He placed one large hand on the edge of the hood and pushed, rocking the car with a grunt of effort.
The next sound she heard was a manly hum of disappointment confirming her initial assessment of the situation: she was screwed.
He came to his feet in one smooth move and caught her gaze—probably to gauge her mental competency—and his expression shifted from polite but hugely uncomfortable concern to an I’ve-got-bad-news-for-you grimace.
Kendall wiped her cold, tearstained face. “You might as well just say whatever it is.”
He looked her up and down again. “I don’t want to make what is obviously a terrible day worse, but it looks as if you have a broken axle.”
“A broken axle? Seriously?” She raised her gaze to the sky. “God, I know I’m strong, independent, intelligent, and resourceful, but don’t you think the broken axle was just a little over the top?” She waited a beat to give God a second to strike her down, in case he was in the mood. “Okay, you win. I give up.” She knew she stood beside a snowbank, but looked over her shoulder just to make sure before taking a seat. Who could blame her? After the day she’d had, she had good reason to question her own judgment. At that moment, she couldn’t have cared less who the man before her was or that he, a complete stranger, would witness her tears. At times like this, self-respect was overrated. Besides, it wasn’t as if he had to stand there and listen—he could slink off to wherever he came from.
She took a stilted breath before dropping her face into her hands and crying again in earnest. “In the past day, I’ve been downsized and dumped. In a month, I’ll be homeless, because without my job and my fiancé, I can’t afford to keep my apartment. And if that isn’t enough, now you tell me I’ve just broken the axle on my car. I’m no crack mechanic, but even I know that’s really expensive.”
The snowbank gave way, and she sank another six inches. “And now I’m sitting here, in the middle of nowhere, crying in front of a total stranger, my ass is wet, and I’m stuck.”
A slow, self-deprecating smile spread across his face. “I’m not much of a stranger anymore.” He pulled a folded bandanna from his pocket and held it out to her. “Here, blow your nose.”
She took the bandanna. “What do I look like? A five-year-old?”
“No. No one would mistake you for a child, but you’ve been crying with all the abandon of one.”
Kendall always enjoyed arguing, but even she couldn’t argue with this. After all, he was right. She shrugged, snapped the bandanna open, and blew her nose. Before she finished wiping tears from her face, he had a grip on her arm. “Come on. It’s getting colder, and we’re losing the light. I can deal with a lot of things, but not a frozen ass. I have a cabin just up the hill. I’ll stoke the fire, and you can thaw out.”
She dug in her heels. “You have a cabin?”
“Yeah, but just to warn you, it’s not much.”
“You’re staying in the Sullivans’ hunting cabin?”
“The very one.”
“My father rented it to you?”
When he didn’t answer, she forged ahead. “My father works for the Grand Pooh-Bah of Harmony, Jackson Finneus Sullivan III.”
“Is my father. Guilty as charged.” From the look of consternation on his face, she figured he must have recently been on the receiving end of her father’s third degree—the same one her dad gave to anyone interested in renting one of the houses or cabins on Sullivan’s Tarn. “Well, that’s a relief. At least I know you’re not an ax murderer. The Secret Service has nothing on my dad when it comes to looking into the backgrounds of tenants.”
“Teddy’s that careful, is he?”
“Oh yeah.” She looked from the guy who still had a hand on her elbow to the land around them. “I’m a little surprised Jax Sullivan hasn’t developed this side of the lake by now, but, then, maybe he’s forgotten he owns it. I guess when you own half the town, not to mention half the banks in Chicago, you’d have better things to do than remember a falling-down cabin on a heavily forested piece of land.”
The man rocked back on his heels and blew out a breath. “It sounds as if you don’t like your dad’s boss very much.”
She shrugged and brushed the snow off her skinny jeans. “Believe me, the last thing I want to do is think about Jax Sullivan or men like him. Just because my parents think he walks on water doesn’t mean I do.” She shrugged. “But, then, I can’t say I have feelings about him either way—”
“You could have fooled me.”
“I haven’t seen him since I was in grade school. By the time he started coming back to the lake, I was in college or living and working in Boston.”
He didn’t say anything. He just stared at her with those startling blue eyes.
“So, it’s nothing personal. I don’t actually dislike him, but I don’t automatically like him either. He pays my parents’ salary, and he must treat them well. If he didn’t, I doubt they’d still think he walked on water.” She shrugged. She might not know the man, but she couldn’t help but lump Jax in with every other stuffed shirt with whom her fiancé forced her to socialize. She’d always wondered why David tried so hard to impress the corporate elite. Now it all made sense. “Well, enough about me. What brings you out here in the off-season?”
He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Me? I wanted some peace and solitude. I thought this would be the perfect place to find it. I’m staying at the cabin for a few months at a cut rate and doing some handyman work.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Why is that so hard to believe? I’m just repairing the roof and cleaning the place up a little.”
“Do you mean to tell me that the great Jax Sullivan—Harmony’s own Scrooge McDuck—is so cheap, he’s not even paying for your labor?”
“I think it’s a fair deal.”
“You make it sound like having money is a criminal offense.”
“No, but taking advantage of people should be. It’s not having money that’s bad; what’s bad is what people usually do to keep it.”
“Are you speaking from personal experience?”
She looked at her car, wondering how much money David had seen fit to leave in their—make that her—savings account. “Probably.” She blew out a breath and tossed her hair over her shoulder before she shook her head. “Look, don’t mind me. I just discovered that sometime in our twelve-year relationship, my ex-fiancé turned into a Jackson Sullivan wannabe. If I’d known world financial domination was what he was after, I never would have gotten involved with him in the first place.”
The guy seemed to relax a little then. “We all make mistakes.”
“Obviously, but in my own defense, when David and I started dating, he wanted to be a fireman—of course, we were in eighth grade at the time.”
“So I take it the career switch didn’t come as a complete shock?”
She shrugged. “Yes and no. In college and grad school, he majored in finance, but our plan had always been to move back to Harmony—not exactly a world financial center. I was going to open my own psychotherapy practice, and I thought he’d get a job at the bank, maybe do some financial planning, sell insurance—that kind of thing.”
“He had other plans?”
“Apparently. Plans he didn’t see fit to share with me. He took a promotion in San Francisco. Yesterday I got a pink slip, and then, to top off my day, I came home to find him packing. He said he didn’t need a modern-day Betty Crocker with a Carl Jung fetish. His words, not mine.”
“Wow, that’s harsh.” He leaned back against the car and tilted his head, as if looking at her from a different angle would change the picture. No such luck for either of them. “Would you have gone to San Francisco with him if he’d asked?”
She wanted to say yes, but the look in his eyes stopped her and made her really think about it. Would she have followed David to San Francisco? She’d followed him to Boston, but that was with the understanding that they’d return to Harmony. Boston was two hours away from home, not on the other side of the country. “I honestly don’t know. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere but right here.”
“I would think that if you really loved this guy, you’d follow him anywhere.”
“We spent the past twelve years planning our life together, and David never even floated the idea of a move to San Francisco, or anyplace else, for that matter.”
The man didn’t argue; he just continued staring.
“If I used your logic, I could say that if he really loved me, he would never leave me for a job on the West Coast.”
“You’re right. Which begs the question: why are you wasting your time crying over a man who obviously doesn’t love you? At least not anymore.”
Ouch; that hurt. Tears welled in her eyes, but she blinked them away. “He might not have loved me, but I loved him.” It came out on a sob, and his frown deepened.
“Not enough to follow him to San Francisco,” he said softly. His eyes stared into hers, as if he were willing her to agree.
Except she wasn’t feeling very agreeable at the moment. “I might have if he’d asked. Instead, he waited until I left for work to pack his things and move out of our apartment without a word about it to me. If I hadn’t lost my job and come home early, I would have received nothing more than the e-mail he’d planned to send from the airport. He said he wanted to avoid the drama.”
He stepped closer and crossed his arms, his gaze pinning her in place. “Look, you don’t know me from Adam, but if you ask me, I think the jerk did you a favor.”
“You think he did me favor?”
“Yeah. He’s obviously a coward. No real man would spend over a decade with a beautiful woman like you—even with your penchant for tears—and leave you with no warning, no apology, and without so much as a good-bye. You should thank him for keeping you from wasting any more of your life on him. He probably saved you years of misery, not to mention the cost of a good divorce attorney. In his own cowardly way, he did the right thing. He set you free to be happy.”
She took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts, and his words pinballed their way around her mind, hitting more bumpers than she would have thought possible. “You know, I doubt I would have ever come to that conclusion on my own, but you might be right.” She stared at the tall, blond, obnoxiously gorgeous man, and wondered who in the hell he was. “If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll feel that way in a few years. Right now, I’m having a difficult time working up any real gratitude.”
“It won’t take years, believe me.”
“Who are you?” That question seemed to surprise him. She couldn’t fathom why.
“It’s suddenly occurred to me that I’ve just spilled my guts to a total stranger and I don’t even know your name.”
“I’m Jack.” He held out his hand in a manner so businesslike, it was odd, considering where they were and the fact that he was dressed like a construction worker.
“Jack.” She tried his name on for size and found that it fit, rolling off her tongue with an unnatural ease. Jack was a no-frills, competent, strong-sounding name, and it suited him. His warm, work-roughened hand engulfed her smaller, smooth, frozen one. “It’s nice to meet you, Jack. I’m Kendall.”
* * *
Jackson Finneus Sullivan III wanted to curse his luck and Kendall’s. It had taken him a few moments, but he’d recognized her from the pictures his caretakers and unofficial adoptive parents, Grace and Teddy, had showed him over the years. Either they were really bad photographers or Kendall wasn’t nearly as photogenic as she should be, because no picture he had ever seen of Kendall came close to doing her justice.
He’d known she was a pretty girl, but the woman before him was so far beyond pretty, she wasn’t even in the same time zone. She was, in a word, spectacular. Who’d have thought the quiet little mouse of a pigtailed, buck-toothed girl he remembered trailing behind Grace the summer before his parents’ death would blossom into such an incredible beauty?
What man in his right mind would leave a woman like Kendall? Even with red, swollen, bloodshot eyes, a raw nose, and a bulky down coat, she was stunning enough to give any man between the ages of two and a hundred and two whiplash.
“Do you want to come up to the cabin? If I had a car here, I’d lend it to you, but I don’t.”
That seemed to shock her. “You don’t have a car? How did you get up here?”
“I took a cab to the other side of the lake and then hiked across.”
“What do you do for groceries?”
“There’s a guy who lives a few miles away, Jaime Rouchard—”
“I know him.”
“He’s been helping me out. He keeps me well supplied with food and lumber.”
“Oh, that’s good.” She turned a full circle. “That reminds me, I have at least a week’s worth of groceries and my duffel bag in the Jeep. I know the bears are hibernating this time of year, but I feel weird just leaving it.”
“No problem.” When he popped open the back of the Jeep, the light spilled onto her face, highlighting her pale skin and ebony hair. Her cheeks were red from the cold or maybe her tears—he couldn’t be sure—and her eyes were so dark, they looked almost black. “I’ll help you get your things to the cabin, and we’ll decide what to do when we get there.” She had enough food to last the rest of the winter. He threw the duffel bag over his shoulder and grabbed the larger of the two boxes of groceries. “It looks as if you were planning to stay awhile.”
“Yeah.” She grabbed the smaller box and started up the trail.
She was tall. It was hard to tell with her boots on, but he guessed she was only three or four inches shorter than he, and most of it was leg. “Why didn’t you go to your parents’ place?”
“Because I don’t want anyone in town to know I’m here. I didn’t think anyone would find me at the cabin. I’m hiding out.”
She wasn’t the only one.
“My parents are on a Mediterranean cruise, and if anyone in town knew I was here, the first thing they’d do is call or e-mail my folks. If Mom and Dad knew what happened between me and David, they’d drop everything and hop the first flight home. I’d never forgive myself for ruining their dream vacation.”
“I can understand that.” It was the truth; for anyone other than his friend Jaime to know he was here was the last thing he needed. He’d come up to his hometown to recover from a traumatic injury, and the recovery was progressing more slowly than he’d expected. If anyone got wind of things, well, damn, he didn’t even want to think about what a financial disaster that could be.
“Besides, this is something I have to deal with on my own. I love my parents. I really do. But right now, I just want to be left alone.”
Well, that could be a problem. “So, no one knows you’re here?”
“Only my friend Addie, and she’s been sworn to secrecy. She was the one who went grocery shopping for me—and, just to be safe, she went to the store in the next town.”
Good thought. He might ask Jaime to do the same thing next time.
Kendall let out a laugh. “Harmony is your typical small town—the largest thing in it is the gossip mill. Addie thought Sophie Evans over at the market would question her, since Addie did her own shopping the day before yesterday. The entire population, except Jaime and Addie, are card-carrying members of the International Brotherhood of Busybodies.”
She didn’t have to tell him that, but luckily, she didn’t know who he was or that he already knew everything there was to know about Harmony. Hell, his ancestors were the founding fathers. “Is your friend Addie coming here?”
“No.” Kendall shook her head, and her waterfall of black hair flew around her shoulders. “She promised to leave me alone as long as I came out of my cave by the time the food ran out.”
He blew out a relieved breath; if Addie showed up, he’d be outed. Not only would Addie know he was here and feel the need to inform Grace and Teddy, but Kendall would find out who he was—or who he used to be. Well, he couldn’t allow that to happen.
He tucked the large box under his arm for a second to scratch the two weeks’ worth of beard growth covering his face—the damn thing still itched, but it kept him warm in the wind. Besides, it was nice not to have to shave every damn day. Jax had never not shaved. When he was going for the Olympic Trials in swimming, he even waxed . . . just about everything. Since then, he’d never taken much vacation time, and in his business, beards were frowned upon. But these days, the man he used to be felt like a stranger to him. Now, with Kendall not recognizing him at all, he didn’t have to pretend to be Jackson Finneus Sullivan III. Maybe that was why he didn’t want anyone to know he was here. He’d spent more than a week in New York with his sister, pretending there was nothing wrong with him, pretending he was the same old Jax, and he was tired of pretending to be something he wasn’t. For now at least, Jax was gone, and if he never came back, he’d deal with it.
The relief he felt was short-lived. He still didn’t know what he was going to do about his unexpected visitor. If Kendall left, his secret would be shot to hell. She’d probably run right to Addie and tell her why she couldn’t stay at the cabin. It didn’t take a mathematical genius to know that Addie would add up the clues and cook his goose. And Kendall finding out who he really was wouldn’t do him any good either. For whatever reason, she didn’t have a very high opinion of the Grand Pooh-Bah. He’d have to ask Jaime when he acquired that moniker. She might have said it was nothing personal, but it sounded very personal to him.
He didn’t know why he cared what Kendall thought of him. Okay, so that was a lie. He knew why he cared. What straight man in his right—albeit slightly damaged—mind wouldn’t want a chance with a woman like Kendall Watkins?
But any kind of relationship with Kendall would be full of complications. Even if he could count, he wouldn’t be able to number them all. No, he needed to keep it strictly platonic, because when it came down to it, he needed to keep her here at the cabin to protect both their secrets. “You know, there are two bedrooms in the cabin and I’m only using one. You’re more than welcome to the spare.”
She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “I couldn’t.”
Sure she could. And if he didn’t want her hightailing it back to town, he’d better talk faster, because the cabin was in sight. “If you’re serious about hiding out, it sounds as if your options are rather limited.”
“I am serious.”
“Look, if you want to be alone, I’ll leave you alone. I’m not the best company right now anyway.”
“Really? Why’s that?”
And she thought the townspeople were nosy. Hello, Pot. Meet Kettle. Shit, if she was going to be staying at the cabin, she’d figure it out eventually. His head ached in earnest now—it had gone from the normal, constant, after-a-concussion dull ache to an almost blinding pain. It was nothing unusual. Ever since his accident, he’d had bouts of nightmare headaches, the frequency of which were decreasing. Unfortunately, the headache fairies had chosen now to make an appearance. “I was in an accident recently and had a head injury. I’m still not quite myself.” He held his breath, waiting to hear about how the Grand Pooh-Bah of Harmony hit a tree while skiing, but she said nothing. By now, he knew her well enough to know that if she’d heard about the accident, she’d tell him all about it. She wasn’t one to hold back.
“Wow, I’m sorry to hear that. But after all I’ve dumped on you, and considering that you’ve seen me at my worst, you’re not telling me very much here. What happened?”
“They tell me I skied into a tree. I don’t have any memory of the accident—actually, I can’t remember anything that happened that day. I just remember waking up in the hospital a few days later with a headache like you read about. I’d been in a medically induced coma, and they had to operate to reduce the pressure on my brain.”
One of her dark brows rose. “And that turned you into someone not quite yourself?”
He’d turned into someone completely different, or at least he felt as if he had. “I’ve changed. I can’t do some of the things I used to do. It’s been about a month, and supposedly my brain is still healing. There’s no way to know if the difficulties I’ve encountered are permanent.”
She blew out a visible breath. The temperature had plummeted with the sun. “It sounds as if you’re lucky to be alive.”
“That’s true enough.”
“The accident obviously hasn’t affected your speech.”
“Actually, it has a little bit. Sometimes I can’t remember the exact word I’m thinking of. It’s as if it’s right there, but I can’t reach it. I don’t think it’s noticeable to anyone but me.”
“There’s no such thing as personal boundaries with you, is there?”
She stopped, turned toward him, and shot him a smile. “I’m a psychotherapist. I’m trained to be nosy.”
“Right. So this is purely professional interest.”
“Would it make you feel better if I said yes?”
“I don’t know if anything would make me feel better right now. Well, maybe those wicked strong painkillers they gave me at the hospital. That is, if you think completely out of it equals better.” He didn’t, but if his headache didn’t subside, he might have to rethink his position.
“Oh.” She gave him the same clinical nod he’d seen doctors use before giving him a diagnosis. “You’re grieving the loss of whatever it is you may have lost. That’s completely normal.”
“Thanks, I think.”
She started up the slope again. “I’m just trying to get all the information I need to decide whether or not I’m crazy to even consider staying at a cabin with a perfect stranger. You know a heck of a lot more about me than I know about you.”
“True. Okay, here’s the deal. I can’t make sense of anything having to do with numbers. I couldn’t dial a phone if you gave me the phone number. I can’t add. I can’t count money. I can’t even tell time. I used to be a math whiz, and now I look at a receipt for groceries and get confused.”
“Can you still read?”
“That’s odd, isn’t it? You would think that if you can’t read numbers, you wouldn’t be able to read words.”
“I didn’t say I can’t read them—I just can’t . . . I don’t know . . . work with them, I guess. It doesn’t make sense. But from what the doctors say, brain injuries rarely make sense.”
“What’s the prognosis?”
He shrugged. “I’m told that the brain can form new connections somehow, so there’s a chance I’ll regain what I lost. But then there’s a chance I won’t. I’m supposed to go back in a few weeks for another MRI.”
She quickened her pace and ran across the small front yard to the porch and set the groceries on the table he’d made out of two sawhorses. Her breath came out in plumes of white from the exertion. “If you’re supposed to be recovering from a head injury, why are you working on the cabin?”
“What else am I supposed to do to keep from going completely crazy?”
“Aren’t you supposed to rest?”
“I did for the first couple of weeks, and the doctors said I could go back to a normal level of activity.”
She paced the porch, as if she were afraid to go inside. “Rebuilding a roof isn’t exactly normal activity, is it?”
“Well, it’s hardly an extreme sport.”
The moment Kendall stepped into the cabin, she felt as if she’d stepped back in time—except for the incredibly gorgeous stranger following her. The furniture was the same; the place even smelled the same—well, if you added the acrid scent of burnt meat to the mix. “Did you leave something cooking on the stove?” She headed right for the kitchen.
“Not for a few days. I’m still trying to get the smell of petrified roast out of the air. Luckily, the smell came through the roof before I managed to burn down the cabin. I have no idea how long I’d left it in the oven.”
“Too long, obviously.” The pan still lay unwashed in the sink. “It might help if you did the dishes.” She turned on the tap to scalding, put the stopper in the drain, and threw in a healthy splash of dish soap. The pan needed to soak.
Jack set the box of groceries on the counter. “I was going to get around to that, but I was trying to get a section of the roof cabin dried in before I lost the light.”
“Did you?” She looked at him then and got caught in his gaze again.
“No.” He took off his hat, and his hair stood straight up with static electricity. He smoothed it down with one big hand. “I got sidetracked by an unexpected visitor with car trouble.”
“Oh.” She looked inside the box to cover her embarrassment, but felt heat fill her cheeks. She really shouldn’t stay. Not with him. God, she couldn’t believe she was actually considering taking him up on his generous offer. It was crazy.
“Don’t feel bad. I probably didn’t have a prayer of getting the tar paper on the roof anyway. I guess now we can both pray we don’t get snow tonight, because if we do and it warms up, we might both end up getting wet.”
She watched him to see if he was just being polite or telling the truth. His color seemed to have faded, or maybe it was just the florescent overhead light. He squinted, as if the light hurt his eyes.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, just a headache.”
“Do you need to take something?”
“No. I don’t like feeling out of it. I have painkillers, but I’m trying to keep it to nothing stronger than Tylenol.”
“And the last thing you need is an unexpected houseguest.” She turned off the water and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be here.”
“I really don’t mind the company.” He put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the counter. “I’m not lying about that, which is just as much a surprise to me as it seems to be to you.”
She really needed to put on the clinical mask she wore when treating patients. She didn’t like being an open book.
He pushed himself away from the counter and rocked back on his heels. “Look, if you decide to stay, I promise to give you all the space you need. I’ll be up at first light. I need to catch Jaime before he leaves for work to tell him about your Jeep. As soon as I return, I’ll get to work on the roof. Don’t expect to sleep in, but rest assured that you’ll have the cabin to yourself for most of the day.”
She bit her lip and watched him. He’d thrown off his coat and his sweater when he came inside and was wearing a tight, long-sleeved T-shirt that fit him like a second skin. She thought David had been a fitness freak—he went to the gym all the time—but when it came to being ripped, Jack had David beat. Not that she was comparing them or anything.
Jack shuffled his feet under her scrutiny, and she realized she’d been staring at his six-pack. Jeez, she was pathetic.
He cleared his throat. “I’ll talk to Jaime and ask if he can help you out with your car. He owns the garage in town, but I know he has a lift at home.”
“Sleep on it. If you want to leave, you can call your friend in the morning on my sat phone. Besides, you don’t want to drag her out this time of night. It’s almost full dark. Her car might end up in the same condition yours did.”
“Fine.” She grabbed a few containers of Ben & Jerry’s and stuffed them into the freezer. “Since it looks as if I’m staying the night, I’ll make dinner. It’s the least I can do. Besides, I’m hungry.” That surprised her. She hadn’t felt like eating since David dumped her. Maybe there was something good that came from spilling her guts. She just prayed she’d overcome the residual embarrassment.
When she turned back around, Jack had his eyes closed, his neck was bent so he was chin to chest, and he’d pressed two fingers against the bridge of his nose. He stepped out of the light into the darkening hallway, blinking as if the light made his headache worse. “I really hope your ex wasn’t kidding about the Betty Crocker thing. I’ve learned that microwaveable and canned meals leave a lot to be desired.”
“You’re in luck, then. I happen to be a phenomenal cook. Why don’t you take some Tylenol and go lie down? I’ll get the other box of food off the porch, take an inventory, and figure out what to make for dinner.”
“You’ll holler if you need help?”
“Jack, if there’s one thing I’m sure I can do on my own, it’s cook. Go ahead and lie down—you really don’t look so good.” His color was worse than it had been when they’d first met. She didn’t know what he normally looked like, but even with his face pale and lines of strain around his eyes, he was still gorgeous. She’d never really thought about other men before—she’d never really looked at anyone other than David—not sexually at least.
If Jack usually looked better than he did today and people knew he was in town, the female population of Harmony would be stopping by with food for the hot single guy.
Jack nodded, groaned, and then, still holding his head, disappeared down the short hallway, leaving her blessedly alone.
Maybe cooking would keep her mind off her problems. There would be time enough to wallow in self-pity and decide what to do about the immediate future after she did something constructive.
She looked through the groceries at hand and found Jack to be a typical man: he had meat, potatoes, vegetables, and assorted frozen and canned dinners. All that processed food would kill him. It was no wonder he hadn’t been able to kick the headaches; this stuff had enough additives and preservatives to last a decade.
Shepherd’s pie came to mind—it was fast and easy, she had all the ingredients, and, above all, it was comfort food. Jack looked like he could use a little comfort, and, Lord knew, it wouldn’t hurt anything but her waistline. Shepherd’s pie sounded even better than eating a ton of pasta and putting herself into a high-carb coma. It wasn’t gourmet, but, then, David was the one who wanted her to cook more sophisticated meals, and turned up his nose at casseroles, calling them peasant food. He bought her a subscription to Bon Appétit magazine for her birthday to encourage her transformation from Betty Crocker to Julia Child. She shook her head at the memory and wondered why she’d never noticed that he tried to turn her into someone she wasn’t.
She reached into the cabinet and pulled out the cutting board; it was right where she’d left it the last time she’d been there.
This wasn’t the first time she’d escaped.
The hunting cabin was one of the private, family-only houses on the estate, like the lake house. She’d never known her dad to rent out either before.
She peeled and cut half a dozen potatoes and looked around. The place did need a lot of work. Maybe her father only rented it in exchange for doing the heavy work he could no longer handle on his own. That would make sense. Her dad was still in good shape, but way too old to be scrambling around on roofs, especially midwinter. She laughed at his cheapness, knowing if she mentioned it, he’d blame it on his Scots-Irish upbringing. She set the potatoes to boil, gathered all the ingredients she needed, and then got down to the business of cooking.
An hour and a half later, the cabin smelled like heaven, and Kendall felt more in control. Cooking always soothed her. She’d made a simple salad, the entrée was ready to come out of the oven, and the table was set. All she needed was for Jack to join her.
She hadn’t heard a sound from him since he’d headed down the hall, and didn’t know if she should just let him be or wake him for dinner.
She could leave a plate for him. He certainly didn’t need to feel obligated to entertain her, and vice versa. Still, she did feel obligated. This was his cabin, for as long as the lease lasted, and she had no business being here.
Kendall tiptoed down the hall to use the bathroom, and was surprised to see he’d set her duffel bag on the queen bed in the master bedroom. She peeked in and found Jack asleep on a twin bed in the smaller room. His shoulders were so broad, he seemed to overflow the mattress, and his feet hung off the end.
At first she thought he’d just given her the larger of the rooms to be gentlemanly, but it looked as if he’d been using the smaller room all along. Odd, that. His bags were tossed on the floor, clothes hung from the chair in the corner. The dresser was littered with papers, a laptop computer lay closed on the small writing desk, and what looked like a pile of laundry had been kicked into the corner.
The shepherd’s pie needed to rest for twenty minutes before they could eat it, so she tiptoed back into the main room and stoked the fire. The cold night air added a chill to the cabin, and while the bedrooms and bathroom had small radiators, most of the heat came from the woodstove.
She refilled the long-dry iron kettle kept on top of the stove to add some much-needed humidity to the air and prayed she’d remembered to pack her lotion. She could feel the moisture being sucked from her already dry skin.
She checked her watch: it was half past six. Jack had been asleep for almost two hours, and dinner was definitely ready. From the contents of his refrigerator and the cans of soup, chili, and stew she saw in the trash, he had to be hungry for a home-cooked meal.
She turned on the hall light and stood in his doorway, trying to decide if she should wake him.
* * *
Jax squinted against the light shining in his eyes. An angel stood silhouetted against the glow, her dark hair shining, but her face wasn’t clear. He really wished he could see her face.
“Jack, dinner’s ready. Did you want to get up to eat?”
No one ever called him Jack. The scent of something amazing brought him closer to consciousness, and his stomach growled. It was food, but nothing like the stuff he’d been eating lately.
His head cleared enough for him to realize that the headache had receded to its normal, dull, postconcussion throb.
The woman moved closer. “Jack, are you awake?”
Kendall. Okay, he hadn’t died and gone to a cabin in heaven. That was good, or at least he thought it was. If you had asked him before he lay down, he probably would have had another answer. “Yeah, I’m awake.” He rolled to a sitting position and waited for the vestiges of sleep to dissipate. “Something smells wonderful. Thanks for cooking.” He got to his feet and remembered what he was wearing—or wasn’t: namely pants and a shirt.
Kendall’s shocked intake of breath told him she’d noticed his state of undress before he did. And if she kept staring at him like that, his boxer briefs weren’t going to be able to hide his natural reaction. His head might not be in top working order, but the same couldn’t be said for his body. Oh yeah, his body’s reactions were completely normal, if not a bit embarrassing. He turned his back to her and reached for his jeans, looking over his shoulder.
She stared wide-eyed.
“Just let me get dressed. I’ll be out in a minute.”
That got her moving. She backed up until she hit the wall on the other side of the hallway. “Right. I’m sorry. Take your time. I’ll . . . I’ll just wait outside.”
He turned his head before he smiled. Well, he supposed it was nice that Kendall seemed to like what she saw. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman looked at him like that, but, then, he wondered if he’d simply stopped noticing.
Dating had always been complicated for him. No matter how nice the woman seemed, he couldn’t help but wonder if it was him she was interested in or his bank balance and social stature. He’d been unpleasantly surprised so many times, it hardly seemed worth the time and effort to start a relationship. He’d never been at a loss for a date to whatever function he’d needed to attend, but he knew how much time it took to make a relationship work, and time had been the one thing of which he didn’t have an unlimited supply. Until now. Now he had nothing but time.
Jax dragged on a sweatshirt, buttoned his jeans, and ran a hand through his hair. He supposed he was as presentable as he’d get. He found Kendall serving up a steaming casserole. “That looks and smells amazing.”
Kendall’s eyes shifted to him, her cheeks pink, either from the steam coming off the casserole or embarrassment at the compliment. “It’s just shepherd’s pie—nothing gourmet.”
“Give me good home cooking over gourmet any day. I haven’t eaten anything that smells this good in a very long time.” Probably since her mother had cooked for him before the accident. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
He scooped up a forkful and groaned as the combination of flavors hit his taste buds. Onions, carrots, peas, corn, and beef in a savory gravy spiced with rosemary and thyme. He smiled, because it was something he could do with his mouth full.
“There’s wine, if you can have it. I wasn’t sure if you’re on any medication. . . .” She let that thought trail off.
He looked up at her, then chewed and swallowed. “Wine is good. Would you like me to open a bottle?”
“No, I’ve had one breathing—I used a little in the shepherd’s pie, knowing the alcohol would cook out. I just wasn’t sure—”
He took a last, longing look at his plate and pushed away from the table. “I’ll get it. I don’t know if there are wineglasses—”
“In the cabinet to the right of the sink. Top shelf.”
He strode into the kitchen, surprised to find it not only clean, but sparkling—something it hadn’t been before he conked out. If he’d been the one cooking, the place would have looked like a bomb had exploded in it. Here, everything she’d used was already washed, dried, and put away. The wine bottle sat, breathing, on the counter. A good wine—he recognized the name. He tried to read the numbers, knowing they would tell him the vintage, but failed to make sense of them.
Failing was getting easier to handle since he’d long since given up waiting for divine intervention. He comforted himself with the sure knowledge that the accident could have been much worse; he could have died or ended up a paraplegic. There were a lot worse things than not being able to deal with numbers.
The glasses were right where Kendall said they’d be, so he grabbed the bottle and glasses and headed back toward the table. The fire in the Franklin stove lit Kendall’s face, and he stopped in his tracks, his bare feet silent on the worn wood floors. God, she did look like an angel—an angel who could cook and pick out a decent bottle of wine. Not a bad combination at that.
He forced himself to get on with it. “Here you go.” He filled the glasses and handed one to Kendall before taking his seat. “Here’s to new friends.”
“To friends.” She raised the glass and looked at him, the fire reflecting in her dark eyes. And not for the first time, he questioned the intelligence of the man willing to give her up.
Jax tucked into his meal, and after a few minutes of stuffing food in his face, he remembered his manners. He forced himself to slow down and take the time to wipe his mouth on a napkin made from a folded paper towel. “This is really good. I hope you made enough for leftovers.”
She looked up from her still-full plate to his, which contained only a bite or two more. “There won’t be if you keep eating at that speed.”
“Oh, sorry.” He stilled his fork. “It’s just that I haven’t had any decent food since I got here.”
She laughed, and the smile that lingered on her face was enough to take his breath away. “Go ahead and eat.”
Kendall nodded toward what was left of the casserole. She unwound her hair from her makeshift bun and the strands fell to frame her face. She should have looked a mess, but Kendall’s classically beautiful features were sexy enough to make a desert dweller drool.
Her gaze went back to her almost untouched plate and she bit her lip. “I’m done, and there’s plenty more—feel free to finish it up. I’m happy to have an excuse to cook. It’s therapeutic, especially cooking for someone who appreciates it as much as you do.”
He refilled his plate, forcing himself to take a few scoops of green salad just for show. If he’d been alone, he would have eaten right out of the casserole dish and wouldn’t have wasted stomach space on salad. “Since I fully support your quest for inner peace and clarity, feel free to do as much therapeutic cooking as you can stand. I’ll even pay for the ingredients. I know it’s selfless of me, so don’t embarrass me with your gratitude. Really, it’s the least I can do.”
Her laugh rang out clear and strong, and for the moment, at least, he felt whole. The dull throb of his headache and the fact that the vintage of the wine was still a mystery to him didn’t seem to matter so much. Kendall’s laugh somehow filled that empty space within him he hadn’t even known existed.
* * *
Jax left the cabin at first light and hightailed it to Jaime’s place. He was pounding on the door with a heavy hand before the sun cleared the ridge.
Jaime answered the door, wearing a pair of jeans and nothing else. He sniffed the air, scratched his bare chest, and then looked in the direction from which Jax had come. “Did you finally burn down the cabin?”
“No, it’s worse.”
Apparently the lack of smoke satisfied his curiosity about the cabin, because he nodded and stepped back, wordlessly inviting Jax to enter. “How can it be worse than turning the cabin into a bonfire?” Jaime headed toward the kitchen—hopefully to make coffee.
Jax followed, tugged off his coat, and threw it over the back of a barstool before sitting. “Kendall showed up yesterday evening just before dark.”
Jaime looked up from counting out scoops of coffee. “Kendall Watkins?”
“Do you know any other Kendalls?”
“No. Now that you mention it, I don’t think I do. But, shit, man, I haven’t had my first cup of coffee yet, so give a guy a break, would you?”
“Sorry.” Jax could relate. He hadn’t successfully made coffee since his accident. Between the unfamiliar coffeemaker and his inability to count, he’d been eyeballing everything and still hadn’t hit the correct ratio of coffee grounds to water. The coffee, if you could call it that, either tasted weak as dishwater or resembled the sludge you found in the bottom of an oil pan after not changing said oil for thirty-thousand-plus miles.
Jaime pressed the button to brew and turned back to him. The scent of fresh ground beans—Jaime was a coffee snob, thank God—wafted over to Jax, and he took a slow, appreciative sniff. God, he’d missed good coffee.
“So, I guess your secret is out now.” It wasn’t a question.
“You have more than one?”
He did—at least from Jaime. Shit.
“Kendall and Addie are best friends, so as soon as she tells Addie who’s staying at the cabin, everyone in town will know where you’re holed up.”
“Oh, that. No, it turns out Kendall’s in hiding mode too. I’ve offered her the second bedroom in the hopes that her need for privacy will ensure mine.”
“And what does her asshole of a fiancé think about the two of you shacking up together?”
“David, right? Well, I doubt he cares. He dumped Kendall the day before yesterday. I’ve never met the man, but he sounds like a dickhead.”
Jaime nodded. “That’s an apt description. His folks bought the Browns’ old place after you went away to school. You know, the one on the ridge overlooking the lake.”
“From what I could make out through her tears, Kendall said he took a job in San Francisco without telling her, and started packing after she left for work. If she hadn’t lost her job, she’d have come home to an empty apartment and a Dear Jane e-mail. The cowardly bastard.”
“She lost her job?”
“Yeah, downsized due to budget cuts.”
Jaime’s eyebrows rose. “Sounds like she had the mother of all bad days.”
“You’re not kidding, and the future isn’t looking too bright either. She said she’s going to lose her apartment in a month. She can’t make the rent without Dickhead and a job.”
“Most people can’t. I guess you’re seeing layoffs from the other side of the desk now, aren’t you?”
This was an old argument. Jaime didn’t always approve of Jax’s business dealings, but, then, Jaime didn’t have stockholders and a board of directors to answer to either. And now neither did Jax, which, surprisingly, came as a relief. But he didn’t have the time or inclination to jump on the well-worn path of their usual heated discussions. “Look, I didn’t come here to debate corporate policy. The reason I hiked all the way out here was to ask for a favor.”
Jaime’s brows rose in apparent suspicion and he poured them coffee, handing over a big mug. “What kind of favor? And why do I get the feeling that I’m going to end up on the wrong side of either Kendall or her father—maybe both?”
Jax didn’t bother hiding his smile. He and Jaime had been covering each other’s asses since they were in Pull-Ups. “Because you’re exceptionally perceptive?”
He took a sip of coffee and stared at Jax over the edge of his mug. “Well, get on with it.”
“Fine. Kendall didn’t recognize me. She thinks I rented the cabin at a reduced rate in exchange for fixing up the place.”
Jaime’s eyebrows rose higher. “And just who does Kendall think you are?”
“I introduced myself as Jack.”
He laughed. “Well, that certainly was a stretch. And you think she’s not going to figure it out on her own? Jack, Jackson . . .”
“She hasn’t yet.”
“So, what do you want from me?”
“I want you to back up my story.”
“If you don’t, then she’ll tell Addie—”
“And your cover will be blown.”
“Remind me again why you’re in hiding?”
“I don’t want to get into it right now. I promise I’ll explain later.” Telling Kendall about his—what the hell was it anyway? A disability? Maybe. God, that certainly wasn’t a comforting thought. . . . Still, telling her, a stranger for all intents and purposes, was one thing; telling a man he’d known all his life, a man who knew the old him better than anyone else, was a whole different animal. Kendall hadn’t known him; she’d known of him, which reminded him . . . “How come you never told me that people call me the Grand Pooh-Bah of Harmony?”
Jaime choked on his coffee. After catching his breath, Jaime turned his wry grin on Jax. “Kendall mentioned that, did she?”
“Answer the question.”
“What good would my telling you have done?”
“It would have kept me from being blindsided by it.”
Jaime shrugged. “You’d have been blindsided regardless, and let’s face it, Jax, no one would have the guts to say it to your face. Jealousy is an ugly thing, and that’s why people call you the Grand Pooh-Bah in the first place.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the novels of Robin Kaye:
“Heartwarming, sexy, and definitely enthralling.”—Under the Covers
“Fun and spicy.”—USA Today bestselling author Susan Donovan
"Charming readers with her wit and style, Kaye creates an extremely sensual romance."—Booklist
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
## I'm mad. I have never felt mad after reading a book, so this is a first for me. SPOILERS BELOW. DO NOT READ IF YOU WANT TO BE SURPRISED. This book started of so delicious. It was warm, funny and just plain brilliant. I kept smiling to myself and thinking: Wow, it's been so long since I've liked a book this much. I loved that the heroine was beautiful, playful, smart, and caring. I loved that she was an amazing cook. I loved that she didn't mind getting her hands dirty and working hard. I just plain loved her. The hero kept his identity from her so I expected the conflict. What I didn't expect is that he would leave her with a damn Dear Jane letter saying he had to find himself and he'd be back in the Spring. Three months. Not one call, no texts, no emails...nothing. Wow. And immediately she takes him back with no discussion (not about the lying but about leaving and never hearing from him again). She should've at least gone out and been with other men but nooo, she waited around to see if he'd come back. Ugh. It completed ruined the story that was so fabulous up until that point. Will not read again.
Home To You is one of those books that draw you in from the very first page, the kind of book that has you losing track of time as you become absorbed in the story of Kendall and Jackson 'Jack'. I really enjoy stories that feature two people shut away and isolated in a cabin, add in the fact that Jack hasn't exactly been honest about his identity to Kendall letting her think that he's just a roofer not the millionaire businessman he really is and whom Kendall seems to have a problem with referring to him as the Grand Pooh-Ba. Kendall arrives at the cabin to get away after losing her job and fiancee in the same day, add to that her car is damaged on the drive up to the cabin, she's really not having a good time of it, Jack is hiding away after an accident that has left him with a brain injury that affects his ability with numbers, from telling the time to counting, seeing as his job is in finance he can't let this news get out lest he risk losing a lot of clients and a whole lot of money. Being alone together the chemistry is intense and in no time at all they find themselves giving in to the attraction, but real life will come knocking when Kendall discovers Jack's true identity can she ever forgive him? This was such an entertaining and fun read, the characters were really likeable and I'm hoping that the next book will focus on Jamie and Addie, and to discover the secret that Addie's hiding which I have an idea about. A fantastic start to an all new series, I'm happy to have Robin on my radar.
It was good to catch up with Rocky's brother from the Red Hook series. Cute story that kept my interest
Title: Home To You Author: Robin Kaye Publisher: Signet Reviewed By: Arlena Dean Rating: Four Review: "Home To You" by Robin Kaye What I liked about this novel... What was there not to like in this story of Kendall and Jack in the author's new series? This author gives us a sweet story of two people in Harmony, New Hampshire with one hiding his identity. Now, why was that? We find that both of these two people had some real problems of there own. What will happen when they come together and there seems to be intense chemistry between the two however, when the truth comes out and Kendall discovers who Jack really is what happens next. I liked how this author was able to give the reader a rather intensed story that will keep you turning the pages to see what will go on next for these two. The hero and heroine in this story were very fascinating and interesting that will keep you turning the pages where you will find that each one of these characters have some wounds that needs are in need of some help. Will they be able to get this from each other after all is said and opened? I did like the way this author presented them sharing with one another especially at the beginning when they really didn't know that much about each other but as things progress will there be issues [secrets] that gets in the way of their relationship? "Home To You" was definitely a read of two people who had gone through and had some hard blows in their life's. I did find the read rather slow paced at times that left me wondering about that, however, I could see how this author was building the plots and creating this relationship. By the end these two characters will have to make some very important decisions and with saying that you the reader must pick up this good read to see for yourself just what that decision will be for these two.