A new chapter in the book of love?
After being left at the altar in Texas, Madison Wagner is determined to fly solo. The once-burned book reviewer's move to Oregon is difficult, especially when she becomes attracted to the one man she should avoid at all costs. She can't help being irresistibly drawn to rugged and handsome bestselling author Stuart Kendall. If only Stuart's sister hadn't married Madison's snake of an ex-fiancé .
Although Stuart is secretly thrilled that Madison chose to settle in Portland, he still bears the pain of his ex-wife's cruel betrayal. And he's vowed to protect himself and his young twin daughters from being hurt again. But Madison is different, and she is slowly breaking down his barriers, one by one. Suddenly, Stuart's fantasizing about a future with her. Could they both have a second chance at romance together?
About the Author
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Read an Excerpt
Madison Wagner could hardly believe that she was living in Portland, Oregon. Yet here she was, for two weeks now, occupying a very nice town house in a parklike setting that overlooked the Willamette River with a lovely view of Mount Hood. The place had all the modern amenities and an open floor plan, and it fit her rustic furnishings perfectly. After relocating from Houston, Texas, she had taken a job as a senior book reviewer and columnist for an upscale magazine called Rose Petals that was a play on the city's nickname of the Rose City. Though part of her would always consider Houston home, the better part of Madison was delighted to have a chance for a fresh start at age thirty. After being stung by an ex who basically left her at the altar three years ago, she definitely wanted out of Texas. She hoped to someday find that perfect man but would definitely proceed very carefully down that road.
It was a Saturday morning in early December, and Madison put on her helmet and got on her bicycle for some exercise. It seemed as though practically everyone in town rode their bicycles to stay fit and cut down on the costs of driving.
No sooner had Madison started up a hill surrounded by Douglas firs when she heard her name being called. She looked over her shoulder and saw Stuart Kendall. He was a big-time author who also happened to be the brother of her onetime friend Holly, now engaged to Madison's ex-fiance. Madison had been devastated when she'd found out that Holly had started dating her ex-fiance, and the two hadn't been close since.
The situation made things awkward between her and Stuart, to say the least. Of course, he was loyal to his sister, as he should be. But she still didn't feel it was a good idea to get too friendly with Stuart, even if he was one of the few people she knew in town. She had video-chatted with him once when things were tight between her and Holly, and he had also phoned when she first arrived in Portland, in what she assumed was just a courtesy call. The call had lasted all of two minutes; she could hear his two kids in the background and decided she should cut it short.
Stuart was on his bicycle and barreling toward her at breakneck speed as she continued up the hill. For a moment, she actually thought he might run into her, but then he slowed down.
"I thought that was you," he said. A crooked smile played on his handsome walnut-colored face. He was wearing a helmet and colorful bicycling attire.
"Yes, it's me," she said tersely, taking a breath.
"So you obviously live around here, then," he said.
She nodded. "I guess you do, too."
"Yeah, just a few blocks away," he said, pointing his sable eyes toward some luxurious old homes.
"I'm just down the hill," she told him.
Stuart Kendall glanced at the row of new townhomes, guessing she lived in one of them. His sister Holly had told him that her ex-friend was relocating to Portland. Given the delicate situation between her and Madison, he thought the move was probably a good idea.
He gave Madison a quick appraisal. She was hot, even if the chilly-weather clothing kept him from getting a good look at her body. He liked her butterscotch-colored complexion, soft brown eyes and long curly hair beneath the helmet. Yes, she had a beauty that would get any man to look twice.
Madison kept riding and he stayed with her. "So have you been riding long?" he asked. "Or did you take up the sport to fit in with our lifestyle?"
She rolled her eyes at him. "I think people across the country enjoy riding bikes just as much as Oregonians," she said stiffly. "And, yes, I have been riding for most of my life."
He cocked a brow. "That's good to hear." Was it just him or was she giving him the cold shoulder? "I ride with my daughters whenever I can," he told her. "If you need someone to partner with sometime, just let me know ."
"I will," she said, then quickly added, "but I prefer to ride by myself and take the time to think about my day."
"No problem," Stuart said in a measured tone. Actually there was a problem, but not on his end. Still, he had to respect the lady's wishes to be left alone, even if he was merely trying to be hospitable to a new resident. "Guess I'll see you around then."
She forced a smile. "Sure, see you later."
Madison watched him veer off in the opposite direction. She hoped he didn't take her unfriendliness personally. It was just the way it had to be. At least till she had time to gain her bearings in Portland and put more distance between her and the past.
She continued pedaling, feeling weariness in her legs but determined to keep going.
Stuart caught up with his best friend and successful musician, Chad Schmidt. The two frequently went cycling and shot hoops together. They met the same year Stuart's wife left him. Chad, who had lost his wife to cancer a few years earlier, was someone Stuart had been able to lean on in his time of need.
"What's up, man?" Chad asked, sitting on his bike. His brown Rastafarian locks bounced atop his broad shoulders.
"I'm good," Stuart said as they tapped knuckles. "So who was that chick I saw you talking to?"
"Just someone who wants to be left alone." Chad chuckled. "Man, you must be losing your touch."
"I lost that when Fawn left me," Stuart grumbled.
"I doubt it," Chad said. "Just because you're choosing to lay low on the dating scene right now doesn't mean the ladies wouldn't line up in droves to go out with you. And not only because you're a great writer, though that doesn't hurt."
"I'll leave the ladies to other available men like you, for now," Stuart told him. He gazed off in the distance and watched as Madison pedaled up a hill.
"Sounds like a good plan to me," Chad said, grinning.
"Let's ride," Stuart said.
Later, he arrived at the Victorian home he shared with his seven-year-old twin daughters, Carrie and Dottie. The house was more than one hundred years old, but it had been updated with all the modern features of the twenty-first century, including granite countertops, cork and vinyl flooring, new plumbing and energy-efficient windows. The house had once been shared with Fawn, the girls' mother and Stuart's former wife, before she inexplicably bolted from their lives four years ago, leaving him alone to raise the twins.
It was a challenge Stuart, now age thirty-three, had readily accepted for the love of his girls. It had also left a wound in his heart that wasn't so easy to heal. He had to do what was best for his twins, and that meant he couldn't invite another woman into his life. The last thing he wanted was for them to get comfortable with someone who wasn't their mother, only to be disappointed if she too suddenly left.
The moment he stepped inside the huge foyer, Stuart was surrounded by Dottie and Carrie.
"Hi, Daddy," they spoke in unison. They were light-complexioned, thin and had thick black hair, currently in braids.
"Good morning, my little angels." He lifted them up one at a time and gave them each a big kiss on the cheek. Honestly, even with the subtle differences between the two, it was still hard sometimes to tell them apart. "Did you have breakfast yet?"
"No, we waited for you," Dottie said.
"Yeah, Grace said we should," Carrie added, tugging on his leg.
"Did she now?" Stuart smiled as Grace Brennan, their part-time nanny, entered the room. The twenty-one-year-old graduate student did a good job caring for the girls when he needed to do other things. Moreover, Dottie and Carrie got along with her, unlike the previous nannies he had employed.
"Good morning, Stuart," Grace said. "How was your ride?"
"It was a great workout," he answered. He loved the way riding raised his heart rate and strengthened his legs. He thought about how Madison Wagner and her decidedly less-than-warm attitude had put a damper on his bright morning. If she acted like that before she even got to know him, he could only imagine how she might treat his kids if they ever ran into each other. "Why don't we all go wash up and have some breakfast," he told the girls, and added for Grace, "You're welcome to stay and eat, too." He said the polite thing, but secretly hoped she would decline as he enjoyed when it was just the three of them bonding as a family.
"I'd love to," Grace said, "but I have a hiking date with my boyfriend, so "
"Understood," Stuart said with a smile. "Have a good hike and we'll see you the next time."
"Sounds good." Grace grabbed her bag and beamed at the girls. "Don't give your dad a hard time."
"We won't," Carrie promised, then turned to her sister. "Will we?"
"No, we won't," Dottie said. "Race you to the bathroom."
"Okay." Carrie sprinted away, giggling, with Dottie hot on her tail.
Stuart laughed, as did Grace. It gave him such joy to see them acting like girls should, rather than the way it was when their mother left and it seemed like there was a void he could never fill. While he considered it still a work-in-progress, Stuart felt he was generally getting the job done as a single parent.
On Monday, Madison drove her Subaru Legacy to the downtown offices of Rose Petals magazine. She loved the job, as she loved reading books and giving honest reviews. It was also nice to have her own column, where she could highlight books of interest and other general literary topics.
Stuart Kendall crossed her mind. She had not seen him since their run-in. She had read some of his thriller fiction after Holly had recommended she try it. Admittedly, he was talented, and she had given him high marks when doing reviews in Houston. But she saw little reason for them to crisscross at this point, as it would only remind her of things she was trying to forget.
After pulling into the underground parking garage, Madison took the elevator up to the fifth floor. She greeted the other members of the staff, then sat at her desk in her small office.
The editor-in-chief, Giselle Fortune, walked in holding a stack of books.
"Good morning, Madison," she said. "I've got some reading material for you."
"Oh, great!" Madison smiled as Giselle set them on her desk. "I can't wait to get started." She picked up the top book in the stack, which was a thriller by Stuart Kendall titled The Next One to Fall. "Hmm this looks interesting, but I know Stuart, kind of. I used to hang out with his sister. I'd feel kind of funny reviewing his book, especially if it wasn't glowing." Maybe even weirder if it was, she mused.
"Understood," Giselle said. She brushed aside feathered blond hair and took the book from Madison's hands. "I'll get Larry Wellington to review it."
"Thanks," Madison said, grabbing another hardcover title that was more agreeable to her.
"I'm sure you probably already realize that Stuart's a local," Giselle said.
"Yes, my friend mentioned it to me."
"Well, just so you know," Giselle began, "while I wouldn't go so far as to say that we treat our city's best-selling authors like royalty, we do try to do pieces on them every now and then to boost circulation and show our appreciation for local talent."
And I'm sure it all goes to their heads, Madison thought. "Makes sense," she said evenly.
"That doesn't mean anyone gets a free pass for a lousy book," Giselle made clear. "As for Stuart, I met him once at a Portland book convention. He seems like a stand-up guy and totally down-to-earth."
"I'm glad to hear he's approachable," Madison told her, though she had already gathered as much. I'd just rather not be the one to approach him right now, she thought.
"Well, I'd better let you get to work," Giselle said. "Oh, in case I forgot to mention it, we're glad to have you as part of our team."
Madison smiled. "Thank you. I'm happy to be part of the team."
After her boss left, Madison leaned back in her chair and thought about how she could make the most of her new city and circumstances. She deserved to be happy just like everyone else. Didn't she?
What People are Saying About This
...the romantic and heartwarming story of two individuals who cross paths more than 20 years after a life-changing tragedy. It has wonderful, well-written characters and a story that flows.-RT Book Reviews on CHRISTMAS HEAT
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved this story
Usuallyi finish reading the story before i comment but i cant get past page 38. This book is so slow and i expected more from this author.