Cara has an admitted problem with hot men, falling so deeply and so quickly under their spell that she loses a little bit of herself with each toxic relationship that always seems to end badly. Every man in her young life thus far has let her down – her high school sweetheart, a college fling, and most of all her self-centered playboy father. She’s determined not to be a sucker for a handsome face and a hard body any longer, and has stuck to her guns for more than two years. And then she meets Dante. Dante knows he has no business messing with cute little Cara. For one thing she works for his best friend, and more importantly she’s all kinds of wrong for him – too young, too innocent, too kindhearted. And given the mood he’s in these days – after the woman he was ready to propose to chose her career over him - a sweetheart like Cara should be running as fast as she can in the opposite direction. But the only place Cara wants to run is right into Dante’s arms and stay a good long while. Will he wind up being the one for her – or is she destined yet again for another heartbreak?
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February – San Francisco
Dante Sabattini stared in disbelief at the woman seated to his right - the woman he'd fallen in love with soon after they had first met, and the same woman he had believed was the one for him. The woman he was this close to proposing to. In fact, he had casually begun to look at engagement rings for her recently, and had planned to pop the question in just a few more weeks, on the anniversary of their first full year of dating. But it seemed that the woman in question had a very different idea of the direction their relationship was headed.
"You're breaking up with me?" he asked incredulously. "Katie - what the hell is this all about? We've been together for close to a year now. I thought - no, make that knew - we had something really, really special. So what gives?"
Katie Carlisle looked distinctly uncomfortable, an expression that rarely if ever appeared on her beautiful, flawless face. She avoided looking directly at Dante, staring down instead at the slim, smooth hands clasped nervously on her lap, and was clearly ill at ease with what she was about to tell him. "I'm moving back to L.A.," she began in that sweet, high-pitched voice that had always aroused Dante, oftentimes with a single word. "Remember that TV pilot I shot last summer - the one I was so sure was going to get picked up by one of the networks?"
He nodded, regarding her warily. "I remember very well. It was a sitcom, and you were devastated when none of the networks were interested. What about it? You told me that had turned out to be a total dead end."
Katie's light blue eyes, enormous in her perfect oval of a face, were shining with excitement. "Well, the producers for the show kept shopping it around to different networks, and one of the up and coming cable channels is picking it up after all! Thirteen episodes, in addition to the pilot. Fortunately the rest of the cast is available, too, so we can start filming right away. In fact, I'm flying down to L.A. day after tomorrow to start looking for a place to live, and we start filming in about ten days. Isn't that the most wonderful news, Danny? My dream of being an actress is finally going to come true after all this time!"
Dante tried, really tried, to summon up enough enthusiasm to appear convincing as he pulled Katie into an embrace. 'God, she smells so good,' he thought with a groan. 'And feels even better. No way in hell am I letting her get away!'
Out loud, he told her warmly, "That's fantastic news, baby. I'm really, really happy for you. But what does that have to do with breaking up with me? Did you think I wouldn't be supportive or understanding? I know how much this means to you, Katie, how hard you've worked to get that big break. And, hey, it'll suck for sure to have you in L.A. most of the week, but it's just an hour's flight from here. We can see each other on the weekends, Skype in between. And I have a ton of clients in southern California so it gives me the perfect excuse to make lots of business trips down that way."
Katie's slender, toned body felt unnaturally stiff in his embrace, and she continued to fidget until he reluctantly withdrew his arms. "Danny," she protested weakly, "that's just not going to work. It - it wouldn't be fair to you for starters. I mean, I know how much you look forward to seeing your family every Sunday, and if you were flying down to L.A. to see me all the time you'd have to skip your visits with them."
He shrugged. "So maybe I have to cut down on seeing them quite as often. Or I come down to see you during the week. Besides, didn't you say it was only thirteen episodes? That's barely three months time. Does your agent already have something else lined up for you after the series wraps up?"
She shook her head. "Not yet, anyway. But given that all of this just happened over the last couple of days it's too soon for anything to have come up. Though Doug is convinced that this is going to be my big break - that once the series airs his phone will start ringing off the hook with offers. And of course we're all hoping that the series will get picked up for a second season. So if you're thinking that I'm just going to move back here after we finish filming, that's not going to happen. I'm planning to stay in L.A. permanently, Danny. Which is why we need to end things between us."
Dante fought off the sense of panic that was threatening to overwhelm him, forced himself to remain calm, and resisted the urge to raise his voice and start issuing demands - behaviors that were sometimes second nature to his passionate, hot-tempered Italian personality. Instead, he gently placed his hands on Katie's shoulders, turning her to face him, and tried to ignore the way she resisted him.
"Katie," he began in the suave, persuasive voice that had successfully seduced too many woman to count over the years. "Baby, we do not need to end things between us. Lots of couples have long distance relationships and find ways to make them work. Howie and I have talked about opening another branch of the business, possibly in southern California since we do a lot of business there. I could pursue that idea further, get an office opened up within a few months, and arrange things so that I work out of that location at least half the month."
She shook her glossy blonde head stubbornly. "I don't want you to go to that much trouble, Danny. You'd practically be rearranging your entire life for me. And it's not - that is, I don't think - well, you shouldn't do something that drastic."
He leaned over and kissed her, then frowned as she turned her head away. "What the hell, Katie?" he asked in disbelief. "What exactly is going on, anyway? Because I'm more than willing to do whatever I need in order to make things work between us, and all you can do is come up with reasons against it." A sudden, ugly suspicion popped into his head, causing him to drop his hands and lean away from her. "Is there someone else? Is that it, Katie? Is that why you're so dead-set against me moving to L.A. part-time or trying to work out arrangements for us to keep seeing each other?"
"No! No," she assured him, placing a hand on his chest to calm him down. "I swear, Danny. There's no one else. But, well, Doug thinks that - that it would be a lot better for my career if I was known to be single, especially since my character on the show is a real party girl."
Dante gave a snort of derision. "I think your agent is an idiot. There are plenty of successful actresses who are married or in relationships. Why does he think your situation is any different?"
This was clearly a conversation that Katie didn't want to have, given the way her fidgeting increased and she continued to clasp and unclasp her hands in agitation. "He - he just does, that's all," she replied faintly.
"Well, I think he's full of shit," declared Dante bluntly. "You've already got the role in the TV show, and once everyone sees what a great actress you are I'm convinced that not only will the show get renewed but you'll get all sorts of other offers. And I'll do everything I can to support you, baby. It'll suck not to see you as often, but we will work this out, Katie. I promise you."
Katie gave another small, stubborn shake of her head. "No, Danny. I'm sorry, but it's got to end between us. I - I don't want the sort of lifestyle you do. I love L.A., all the excitement and nightlife and energy. And I don't think I'd ever want to move back to San Francisco. While you have your business here and your family and all your friends. I'm not going to ask you to give that up for me. I guess we just want different things from life, you know?"
"No, I don't," he retorted, beginning to lose patience with her half-baked excuses. "For the third time, we can figure this out, Katie. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but, for Christ's sake I'm crazy in love with you, woman! You're the only woman I've ever felt this way about, I've been with you longer than anyone else, and, well, I was going to wait for a few more weeks until the anniversary of our first date, but I was planning to ask you to marry me, Katie. To be my wife and spend the rest of your life with me. So I'm sure as hell not willing to just end things between us because you think it won't be fair to me. Let me be the judge of that, hmm?"
But rather than look thrilled at his unexpected announcement, the expression on Katie's face more closely resembled horror. Her blue eyes held a panicked look, and she inched away from him even further on the sofa. "Marry you?" she whispered in disbelief. "My God, Danny, I'm nowhere near ready to get married! To you or anyone! Not only is my career just beginning to take off, but I'm way too young to even think of settling down for years and years yet."
Dante flinched visibly at her outburst, shocked by the vehemence of her statement, and was more than a little taken aback by such a reaction from the woman he'd been convinced was his soulmate, his future wife and the mother of his children. "Katie," he reminded gently, "you're almost thirty years old. That's not such an outrageously young age to not be thinking about the future or getting married. I'm thirty-three and practically the last one of my family or friends to get married."
"I am not almost thirty!" protested Katie, her high-pitched voice escalating to a near-shriek. "I just turned twenty-nine a few months ago. And I've already told you multiple times that my agent tells everyone I'm only twenty-four. But that's beside the point. I'm sorry, Danny, but getting married just isn't part of my plan right now. Or for a long time to come."
He shook his head in disbelief. "How in the hell could I have read you so wrong for almost a year?" he mused as though to himself. "I mean, I know your career means a lot to you, but when your show didn't get picked up last year you seemed to have resigned yourself to moving on. And while we never actually discussed getting married, we definitely have a connection, Katie. We love each other, for Christ's sake! And I can't believe you're just going to walk away from me as though the last year meant nothing to you."
"It's not that," assured Katie quietly, her voice sounding a little choked up. "I already told you, Danny - it just wouldn't be fair to you. I mean, who knows how busy I'll get, how unpredictable my job might become. What if you flew all the way to L.A. and I couldn't spend any time with you during your stay because I was filming all day, and doing promotional stuff at night? And let's face it - you're an awfully macho guy, and I already know you'd get fed up with that sort of unreliability pretty quick. So it's just - better this way."
"Better for who?" he sneered. "Certainly not for me, baby. So you must be referring to yourself. And now that I think about it, having a boyfriend - not to mention a fiancé - would definitely cramp your style if you're trying to project the image of a single, fun-loving party girl. I'm surprised that this sleazeball agent of yours isn't already planning for you to be seen out on the town with a string of hot guys as a way to reinforce that image."
It was the expression on Katie's face that gave her away, and Dante knew that he'd hit the nail on the head with his suspicion. He shook his head in disgust, giving her a scathing look.
"Jesus, Katie," he muttered. "It's all true, isn't it? You're breaking up with me, refusing to even compromise on how we could make a long-distance relationship work, all because your asshole of an agent thinks it would be better for your career to date other guys? You're throwing away everything we've had together for the past year, not to mention our future, on the chance - a slim one at that - it will help your career?"
Katie's blue eyes were shimmering with tears now, and the hand she placed on his chest was trembling. "Don't be mad," she pleaded. "It's nothing to do with you, Danny, honest. You've been wonderful to me, spoiled me rotten, and you're the nicest guy I've ever dated. But I can't be what you want, Danny. Can't give you what you need. I knew from the first time we met that you were an old-fashioned kind of guy, that sooner than later you'd want to get married and have kids. And I thought for a few months that maybe I wanted that, too. That my career was going nowhere, that I was probably being stupid and unrealistic to think I'd ever get my break."
"But now that you have, all of a sudden settling down is the last thing you want," finished Dante sarcastically. "Yeah, baby, you've made that pretty fucking clear. Now that your luck has changed and Hollywood is calling, it's bye-bye Dante, forget about this last year, and have a nice life. Well, I get the message loud and clear, Katie. But here's my message for you, sweetheart lose my number, okay? Forget you ever knew me. Because I sure as hell plan on following my own advice where you're concerned."
And before Katie could utter a single word of protest, Dante surged to his feet and stormed out of her apartment, slamming the door behind him for good measure and not bothering to spare even a single backwards glance.
Nick Manning glared in annoyance at the man seated across from him as they waited for their lunch to be served. "Jesus, will you snap the fuck out of it already, Dan? It's been over two months, for Christ's sake! When was the last time you ever mooned over a woman for this long? Correction - when have you ever mooned over any woman for even a day?"
Dante sighed, taking a sip from the glass of Pinot Noir he'd ordered to accompany his meal. "Never," he admitted reluctantly. "But then I've never had a relationship that lasted more than a couple of months, much less almost a year. And there's never been anyone who could hold a candle to Katie. She's - special, Nick. And I was so sure she was the one. It's going to take a long time to get over her."
Nick made a sound of disgust, refilling his glass from the bottle of Pellegrino water he'd ordered. "Why? Because she stabbed you in the back and chose her career over you? A career, by the way, that's gone nowhere for ten years until now. I'm willing to bet this sitcom of hers is going to bomb, and that Katie will come running back and beg you to forgive her in that sweet little girl voice. Did I ever tell you how annoying that voice of hers is?"
Despite his bad case of the doldrums, Dante couldn't help grinning at his friend's unabashed candor. "A few times, yeah. You aren't exactly known for holding back, Nick. And you've made it pretty obvious that you didn't like Katie very much."
Nick shrugged. "She was okay. I mean, she seemed to make you happy, and that's really all that matters, right? Except now, of course, when you're starting to embarrass yourself by the way you keep mooning over her. Even Angela told me you need to snap out of it. And this is coming from a woman who was in a funk for over two years after I broke up with her."
Dante took a slice of sourdough bread from the basket, then dunked it into the mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar he'd poured into a small dish. "You treated Angela like shit when you were together," he commented matter-of-factly. "I was speechless when I learned she actually agreed to give you another chance. And I hope you say a prayer of thanks every single day that she decided to take your sorry ass back."
A smirk crossed Nick's darkly handsome features. "I'll leave the praying up to you, Catholic school boy. But I make sure to let my woman know how much she means to me on a regular basis, and that I still have a lot to make up for. You don't have to remind me how much of an asshole I was to her. But frankly, Katie didn't always treat you very well either."
Dante's dark eyes narrowed dangerously. "What the hell do you mean by that? Except for the way she broke up with me two months ago, my relationship with Katie was just about perfect."
"If you say so," drawled Nick. "And, hey, you know the old saying - 'no one knows what goes on behind closed doors'. But from what I could see your sweet little Katie knew exactly how to play you, Dan. Did you ever bother to total up how much you spent on her over the last year? Between the four-star restaurants, the exotic vacations, and an entire designer wardrobe, I'm betting it was a pretty penny. Oh, and I forgot about the brand new car you bought her for Christmas. I'm just assuming she didn't return that to you when she flitted off to Hollywood to quote unquote 'pursue her dream'?"
Dante could feel his cheeks grow warm, and he fidgeted awkwardly in his chair. "No," he acknowledged sullenly. "And why would she? The car was a gift, like all the other things I gave her. Things that any man with the means would give to the woman he loved. And I resent your implication that Katie was just using me for material gain. She wasn't like that, Nick."
"Yeah, whatever," replied Nick dismissively. "The bottom line, my friend, is that you've got to snap out of this funk you've been in since she took off and start living again. You need to start dating, enjoying your life, and moving on. You're too young to start acting like a hermit."
Excerpted from "Stronger"
Copyright © 2017 Janet Nissenson.
Excerpted by permission of Janet Nissenson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
'Stronger' by Janet Nissenson is book 6 in The "Inevitable" series. This is the story of Dante Sabattini and Cara Bregante. Dante and Cara had met earlier in this series but this can be read as a standalone book. Dante thought he was in love with Katie and was about to ask her to marry him, but she up and broke things off with him. This has left Dante feeling sour toward love. Cara has had a big crush on Dante since first meeting him but he was in a relationship and never thought she would be with him. Then Cara too has some bad relationship and swore to keep to working toward her college degree. Dante has been in the dumps since the break up but when he sees Katie seems to have moved on with her life vows to ask the next women on a date. Which turns out to be Cara. I really enjoyed their story building up to what it became. It was a hot read and hard to put down. I ended up reading this book twice.
Cara is an inspiring heroine for me. She maintains her positive attitude even as life keeps throwing her challenging curve balls. She has a deadbeat father that promised her mother on her death bed to pay for her college education and then he just stopped. She didn’t give up, she works full-time and goes to night school living in a closet of an apartment to get by. She stays focused and is willing to help her friends and co-workers whenever needed. Now Dante, well, he pissed me off more than once. Dante is a very sexy client at the financial firm where Cara works. He takes pity on Cara when he realizes she has no one to celebrate her birthday with so he impulsively asks her out to dinner. He is surprised by how grown up she looks when they meet for dinner and one thing leads to another with off-the-charts sex following. Dante had been dumped by shallow Katie and was still nursing a broken heart so he offers a no-strings relationship to Cara. She has loved Dante from afar so she jumps at the chance. Cara and Dante have a wonderful connection, there is a naturalness to their conversations and dates which is a joy to experience. But, when Katie suddenly returns to San Francisco, Dante drops Cara and goes back to the shallow, gold-digger Katie. As much as Dante was a gentleman and loved giving and taking care of those that are important in his life. His view of Cara for most of the book bothered me. Yes, she was almost 10 years younger than him, petite and not caught up in all the high-class trappings which had him keep her in a kid or friend zone. This made it easy for him to give up Cara and go back to Katie. Cara further impressed me with how she handled this break up. The real question is can these two find happiness together. Will Dante grow up and see the error of his ways? Will Cara be willing to forgive him?
I’m sad to see this series come to an end. I haven’t read every book in the series yet, but I’ve been fortunate enough to read Ian/Tessa and Matt/Sasha’s story and have loved these characters. You can read these as standalones but you also get couples from each book popping up in the others enough that I feel like I know them all already. I’m going to admit here that Stronger wasn’t my favorite out of the series. That is 100% due to personal preference than having anything to do with the writing. I’m all about the Hero and love a good Cinderella type story but I personally struggle when the Hero is in love with another woman while he’s with the heroine. Dante has been dating Katie for a year now and he’s at the point where he is ready to propose. Unfortunately, Katie has had a break in her acting career and has been offered a roll on a sitcom. Looking forward to her upcoming celebrity status, she dumps Dante to move to LA and enjoy the spotlight. Dante is heartbroken. He can’t believe Katie was so callous and dropped him without looking back when he was willing to do anything to keep them together. A couple months after she leaves he starts seeing pictures of her and a different guy in each photo, living it up in LA. He realizes he needs to move on. This is where Cara comes in. Cara works for his best friend, Nick who also handles his investments. When Dante stops in to see him, he notices it’s Cara’s birthday. Cara admits she isn’t doing anything to celebrate and Dante isn’t having it and offers to take her out to dinner. Dante just wants to do something nice for Cara and has no plans to start anything with her. She’s too young for him and doesn’t see her as a women...until she shows up for the date and she’s stunning. Seeing Cara all dressed up has really transformed her appearance. Dante is immediately attracted, but still has no plans of leading her on. When she kisses him at the end of there date he doesn’t see why he can’t enjoy a friends with benefits relationship with Cara. What I thought would follow was a Cinderella type romance. Extremely rich man meets very poor, but sweet woman. He showers her with love, affection and beautiful gifts. (Insert record scratch) This is what really happens... Dante tells Cara that he would like to continue seeing her but he doesn’t want a relationship. It would be purely for benefits and they would see each other only once or twice a week. No commitment and oh yeah, let’s keep this on the down-low cause Nick won’t approve of us. I’ll give Dante this much, he would have showered Cara with gifts, but Cara has enough self worth to not take gifts from a man who only wants to see her for the “benefits”. He hides their relationship, only sees her twice a week but completely on his terms. She never meets his friends or family and doesn’t even get to know where he lives and then pretty much dumps her when his ex comes crawling back. Man, I really struggled with that. What’s kind of worse is Dante isn’t really a jerk. He sounds like one and the evidence sure is overwhelming but really his only fault is being in love with a manipulative woman and not being able to see past her to what he could have with Cara. Obviously, he comes to his senses eventually, but man, by that point I really wanted better for Cara. Cara is the only reason I even enjoyed this book. She has had so many tragic things happen to her and so many people who treated her badly that I wan