Amanda Kozlov never felt such a strong and sudden passion for a man before. But falling for Nick is not an option—the life the rugged cop leads is too dangerous, the wounds he carries from his explosive family history too fresh. Yet watching Nick bond with the young boy in her care, experiencing tenderness in his arms, Amanda longs to take a chance on the one man who could save the Harrison heir—the only man with the power to shatter her heart. And as drama swirls around them, only time will tell if they’re brave enough to give their love the future it deserves . . .
Praise for 'Tis the Season
“Her best yet . . . a story that will tug hard at the heartstrings and make readers root for a happy ending.” --Publishers Weekly
“An appealing and passionate love story framed around themes of class conflict and family. Recommended for romance fans who believe love has no boundaries.”
BONUS NOVELLA INSIDE
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Nick Martell pulled up in front of his parents' house and cut the ignition. The engine on his sleek black Ford Mustang GT quieted, leaving him in silence to gather his thoughts.
He had so much to tell his family, he didn't know where to start. A gentle breeze blew, making the long leaves of the palm trees overhead sway against the soft blue of the evening sky. He let his head fall back against the seat and drew a few long, deep breaths as he looked at the house.
His mom had planted new flowers in the bigger pot by the front door, a bright hot pink. Nick grinned; it was her favorite color and always reminded him of her. He'd grown up in a modest three-bedroom home on a quiet street in a decent suburb, only five miles from the center of Miami. His father had been on the Miami police force for twenty-five years before retiring, devoted to the job and to his family. Nick had worshipped his dad as a kid, and aspired to be like him as a young adult, which was ultimately why he'd become a cop himself five years before. Five years of hard work ... and now, some payoff. He figured his dad would be pretty proud of him tonight, and the elation of that made Nick's grin widen.
Lew Martell met Maria Sanchez when Nick was three years old. Lew married Maria when Nick was four, and legally adopted Nick as his own when he was five. Though they didn't share blood, as far as Nick was concerned, Lew was his father in every way, and he knew to the core of his soul that Lew felt the same way. Even after a few years and two little sisters, he'd never been made to feel anything other than one hundred percent part of a family.
Now, as he walked up the front steps and unlocked the door to his parents' house, it was his father he couldn't wait to see the most. He knew his mom would be proud, but his dad would burst with it.
"Hello?" Nick called out as he stepped into the living room. The spicy aroma of his mother's cooking wafted in the air, enticing and comforting him at the same time.
"Ah!" His mother came in, rushing to hug him. She leaned back to look up into his face and held his cheeks. "You look good, mijo! You need a shave, but your eyes are smiling."
"I'm twenty-nine, Ma," he grumbled, teasing back. "You ever gonna stop telling me when I need to clean up?"
"I don't shave on my days off. I take a break. I've told you this."
She shrugged and made a disdainful face that clearly expressed her thoughts.
He just chuckled. Her dry sass was one of the things he loved most about her.
"So what's the big news?" she asked, her features brightening again. "And I'm glad you asked for a family dinner to share it, so I get to see you."
Nick rolled his eyes. He faithfully came for a family dinner every other Sunday. "Like you don't see me. I come by!"
He groaned and nudged her gently with his elbow. "Admit it — you're just happy to have an excuse to cook something special."
"You said you had really big news, so yeah ... I might've made one of your very favorites."
Nick inhaled deeply, trying to figure out what she'd made by what he smelled. A slow smile spread across his face. "Ahhh. You made carne frita con cebolla for me, didn't you?"
"Yes." Maria smiled and it lit up her pretty face. "Anyway, it'd been a while since I made it, so why not?"
He was six feet tall, and she was a petite five-foot-two, so he bent to kiss her cheek. "You're too good to me."
"Don't you forget it." She was clearly pleased that she'd pleased him. "So c'mon in. Your dad's out in the yard and your sisters are in their rooms. I'll get them out."
"Actually ..." Nick rubbed the back of his neck. "You know what? Maybe it'd be good to just talk to you and Dad first. Part of the news is great, but part is ... a little ... well, they might not fully understand. So maybe you'll help me figure out a way to tell them that won't ... upset them. I dunno."
Maria stilled at that, scrutinizing her son for a few seconds before saying, "I'll get your father."
Five minutes later, Maria and Lew sat together on the couch as Nick pulled over the armchair to sit directly opposite them. He took a deep breath, then ran his hands through his thick hair and over his scruffy jaw before starting.
"The best news first," he said, unable to keep from smiling. "I got the promotion. I'm going to be an investigator."
Lew let out a loud whoop and jumped to his feet. Maria's eyes shone with tears of pride. Nick laughed as his father pulled him up for a tight hug, warmed by delight.
Lew clapped him hard on the back, grasped him by the shoulders, then pulled back to look into Nick's eyes as he said, "Goddamn, I'm so proud of you, son. I mean, I wanted this for you, but I know you wanted this for you. You worked hard, showed your mettle. You've been a damn good officer, but you're just too smart not to ... well, this is the right thing for you." He clapped his son's arms again, beaming with pride. "Good for you, Nick. Well done. Congratulations!"
"Thanks, Dad." Nick's throat felt thick, and he swallowed down the lump that had risen there. He'd known his dad would be proud, but this felt incredible.
"Mijo ..." Maria stood and lifted her hands to cradle his face. "I'm so, so proud."
"Thanks, Ma." Nick knew she was happy, but also a little scared for him. That she knew being an investigator still meant dangerous work. That being the wife of a cop, and now the mother of a cop, meant she didn't sleep well every night. When her arms wrapped around his waist and squeezed tight, he hugged her back until she was the one to let go.
"When do you start?" Lew asked.
Nick took another deep breath as he released his mother. "Well ... that's the other thing I need to tell you all about. Sit down. There's more. It's totally different, not about work."
All three of them sat, and as soon as they did, Nick launched into it. "A few years ago, I wanna say three years ago? They had a bone marrow donor drive at the station. Because Jim Connelly's nephew needed a donor."
Lew nodded. "Sure, I've heard of those. It's easy as pie, just a swab in your cheek, right?"
"Right," Nick said. "So I did it, and truthfully, I never thought about it again. But I guess they keep your name on the national and international bone marrow registry after that, because, well ... I got a call two weeks ago. It seems I'm a match for a kid who needs a bone marrow transplant. He's got non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Twelve years old."
Maria's eyes flew wide as Lew's brows furrowed.
"Really," Lew said.
"That's amazing," Maria murmured.
"Yeah. So ..." Nick blew out a breath. "How do I nutshell this? First the registry contacted me to tell me the news. I agreed to being tested further, went in, gave blood and all that. Earlier this week, they called to tell me that yes, I'm a strong, viable match. I agreed to go through with it right then." He saw the worry creeping into his mother's face as he talked. "Ma, I talked for a while with a rep from the registry. I learned a lot. It's barely going to hurt. It's outpatient surgery. So please stop looking so worried, okay?"
"You're my son," she said. "And you're talking about a major medical procedure. I'm going to worry no matter what you say."
"That's your right," he said, tossing her a wink to try to lighten her up. "So here's where it gets a little unusual. Apparently, most donors and patients never meet or have contact, confidentiality rights and all. But the day after I confirmed I'd do it, the registry rep called me again. Said the father of the kid really wanted to talk to me, if I'd allow it. I figured sure, why not? I mean, I was going to do it no matter what. As soon as I heard I could help someone, there was no question in my mind I'd go through with it."
"Of course," Maria said. "That's who you are."
"So did you talk to the father?" Lew asked.
"Yeah. On Friday morning." Nick shifted in his seat, stretching out his legs to roll one ankle, then the other. "The guy couldn't be nicer, and I could hear the worry there and it really moved me. His son's just a kid. They're desperate. And long story short, I'm going."
"Where are you going?" Lew and Maria said at the same time, then looked at each other with a quick laugh.
"New York. Turns out the kid's father is some mega-rich businessman — I'm talking billionaire, like crazy money. Probably how he got around the whole 'getting to talk to the donor' thing. He wanted to talk to me to ... well, offer incentive, I guess. He wanted me to understand that insurance should pay for everything that's medical, but beyond that, he wants to pay. Even offered to cover whatever pay I lose at work for taking time off. Bottom line is, he didn't want me to be worried about the expenses if it would make me decide not to go there and do it."
Nick shrugged, rolled his head to stretch out the muscles there. Something about the way his mother looked had him slightly tense. "I assured him that I was going to do it no matter what. And yeah, I took him up on the hotel. Because if I have to go back and forth to New York a few times, or stay there for longer than I thought? Might add up, I don't know."
"Nick ..." Maria's voice sounded breathless all of a sudden. "You're going to New York?"
"Yeah, Ma. I leave the day after tomorrow." Nick watched her as he spoke; she really seemed off. He hated for her to worry about him. "On Friday, when I got the promotion, it was amazing, but terrible timing. I'd just talked to the father that morning! So I explained what happened, and that I feel I need to do this. Work was great about it. Better than I thought they'd be, actually."
He ran his hands absently over his knees. "I'm taking an unpaid leave for two weeks. If I have to go a few more times, they're fine with it. And the time I need off for the surgery and recovery will be paid leave. They were fully supportive. After it's all done, and I'm back to one hundred percent, I'll start the new job."
"New York," Maria repeated. "Billionaires, you said?"
"Uh-huh. Why?" Nick stared harder now. She looked upset. No, it was more than that. She looked ... spooked. "Ma, you used to live in New York. You know I'm not going to, like, a war zone or something."
"Are they from Long Island?" she asked.
Lew flinched, his head swiveling to look at his wife as his eyes flew wide.
Nick's gut started humming and clenched, like right before something bad went down on the street. "What's going on?" he asked, looking from one to the other. "You're both acting weird."
"The boy," she said. "The billionaire father. What's his name, do you know?"
"Yeah, of course I know. I told you, I talked to him," Nick said. "The kid's name is Myles. His father's name is Charles." Trying to joke to break the sudden heavy vibe in the room, he added in a mock snooty voice, "Get this for big-money pretentious: his full name is Charles Roger Harrison the third, thank you very much."
Maria gasped sharply, her eyes rolled back in her head, and she fainted, slumping against her husband.
* * *
"I'm okay," Maria said weakly. "Stop hovering." She tried to sit up.
"No, stop!" Lew held her shoulders, keeping her down as he sat beside her on the couch. "You just fainted dead away — you need to lie still for a few minutes."
"Do what he says, Ma." Nick knelt on the carpeted floor next to her, studying her face. She was still a little pale. "You scared the shit out of us."
"Sorry," she whispered. Her eyes locked on her husband's, and Nick saw they were filled with ... fear.
Nick took her hand and caressed the top of it. It was cold. Usually her skin was so warm, like she had a fire burning in her core. "You're fine, Ma. You're okay — we got you."
She just kept staring at Lew. He was telegraphing back to her with his own troubled gaze. Nick's gut wasn't just humming now, but blazing.
"What's going on?" He looked from one parent to the other.
"I have to tell him," Maria whispered to Lew.
"Totally your decision," he said, and took her other hand.
"Tell me what?" Nick released the hand he held. "Come on. Whatever it is, please ... you're both starting to freak me out a little here."
Maria's dark eyes got glassy. She closed them, but the tears escaped and slid down her cheeks.
"It'll be all right," Lew told her gently. "I'm here. He loves you. Tell him."
A strangled sob burst from her mouth, and she clapped her free hand over it. More tears fell. Lew kissed her other hand, which he didn't release.
A chill prickled over Nick's skin. He'd never seen his parents like this. He moved back and again sat in his chair, but brought it closer until he sat right at her side to stare down at her. "Whatever it is, he's right. I love you. So go on — I'm listening."
Her eyes opened and focused on him, liquid with emotion. "I just pray you'll forgive me. Try to understand. ..."
Nick didn't say anything. He clasped his hands on his knees and waited, trying to ignore the churning of his stomach.
"I ... I lied to you, mijo," Maria finally said. "I know who your biological father is. I've always known who he is, and where he is."
Nick felt like she'd slammed him in the chest with a sledgehammer. The air left his lungs with a hiss. He just stared at her as his heart skipped a beat, then took off like a shot.
"The only two people I ever told were your abuela and ... your father." She glanced to Lew, whose eyes never left his wife's face. "I couldn't marry him, start a life with him, with any secrets between us. I told him a month before we got married. And he didn't leave me; he supported my decision and kept my secret. He's the best man I've ever known in my life."
Lew's jaw clenched and a muscle jumped, but all he did was lift her hand to his lips and kiss the back of it.
Nick cleared his throat hard, trying to dislodge the boulder that had formed there. Maria turned, trying to lie on her side to better face her son.
"When I was twenty," she said, "I worked during the day and went to community college at night. I used to work as a waitress, but then my cousin got me in as a housekeeper for a very rich family. Better pay. So even though I lived in Queens with my family, I took the bus out to Long Island every day." She swiped at her wet cheeks. "I was young, naïve. ... Well, I had a short affair with someone, and I got pregnant. But I quickly realized I meant nothing to him. And what was worse, much worse ... I'd come to understand he was a horrible man. So I quit the job and left, without ever telling him I was pregnant. I didn't want him to know."
She sniffled hard, but the tears kept coming, rolling down her face. "I'd seen how awful he was to his own young son. He was downright cruel to him, and I didn't want him to do that to my baby. And I knew if I told him I was pregnant, he'd either make me get rid of it, or try to take it away from me ... so I ran. I told Mama, and she sent me down to Florida to live with Titi until the baby came. By the time you arrived, Mama was here. She gave up her job, her whole life in New York — my other sister and my brothers — to come down here to live with us ... you and me." A sentimental smile flickered. "You were her first grandchild, after all."
The blood roared in Nick's ears and his heart pounded, but he sat very still. After a long beat, he managed to choke out, "Who was the man? Tell me his name."
Maria gulped, sniffled hard, but met his eyes directly. "His name was Charles Harrison. The second. So this boy you're a match for? I guess he's Charles's grandson ... and your nephew."
Lew shook his head in slow astonishment. "Jesus, what are the odds of something like this happening? I mean ..."
Nick felt the blood drain from his face and sat back. A strange whirring noise took over his head, something like a tornado. He gripped the arms of the chair, trying to stop the sudden sense of falling. Maybe he was going to pass out too.
"Charles Harrison had four children," Maria went on quietly. "The oldest was Charles the third. You said you spoke to him? Well, he's your half brother."
Nick nodded. His head felt fuzzy, and he closed his eyes, trying to process the words. Jesus fucking Christ, he'd had a conversation with some stranger in New York, and it turned out the guy was his half brother? He could barely breathe.
Excerpted from "It Might Be You"
Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Gracen.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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