No one has ever accused Annie O'Connell of backing down from a challenge. She's tough as nails and that's what everyone has come to expect from her. But even the strongest of people need someone sometime.
Marcus Callison has loved Annie for as long as he's been working at O'Connell Realty. He would stand by her through thick, thin, and everything in between. If only she'd let him.
When tragedy strikes and Annie is left feeling vulnerable, Marcus does everything in his power to make all right in her world again. He just hopes it's enough to convince her that he is worthy of breaking through the walls she has built around her heart.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.64(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Marcus barged into his boss's office. "We've got to stop meeting like this."
Annie jolted, startled by his sudden appearance. She'd taken the pins from her hair, letting her blond strands fall around her shoulders, but it was a mess from running her fingers through it. She only did that when she was stressed, proving to Marcus this intervention was most definitely needed.
She dropped her reading glasses on the desk and looked up at him with curious gray eyes. "What's that?"
He sat in his usual seat on the other side of her desk. "Meatloaf, potatoes, and green beans."
"I didn't order dinner."
"Nope. You didn't. But look at that." He dropped the bag on her desk. "I brought it anyway. I'm vying for Employee of the Year."
She smiled weakly as he tossed a packet containing plasticware and a thin napkin at her. "Why stop there? I'm sure you could get Real Estate Agent of the Year if you wanted."
"Nah. You've got that covered."
"I'm actually not very hungry," she said.
"It'd be rude not to eat with me, Annie. After all the trouble I went through to bring you dinner."
She scoffed. "Your sister had this delivered, didn't she?"
"She texted me earlier, and I mentioned we were working late. She knows how we are — all work, no sustenance."
"Jen is a saint."
He set a white Styrofoam container in front of Annie, eyeing her as she dug in a drawer and tossed a stack of sturdier napkins on the desk. Something about her had been off all day. She'd been unusually melancholy, and he was determined to figure out why. "Mallory graduates tomorrow. I'm surprised you aren't home getting ready for the party."
"It's all taken care of and ready to go."
"Well, you've been a thousand miles away all day. I figured you were stressing about seating and finger foods."
Annie focused on her dinner and shook her head. "Nope."
Silence hung over them while he cut into his meatloaf and then chewed a big bite. "How are sales?"
"Fine. We should meet our quarterly goals."
"Good." He took another bite as the quiet lingered. Their late night dinners didn't normally go this way. They usually spent this time summarizing their days. Taking light-hearted jabs at each other. Laughing and unwinding from their day, not sitting in awkward silence. Finally, he sat forward. "Seriously, Annie. You're killing me here. What is wrong with you today?"
She lifted her brows at him. "What?"
"Something's wrong. Even Dianna noticed it. She asked me if I knew what was bugging you before she went home today."
"Just because Di is about to become my sister-in-law, doesn't mean she's in tune with my feelings."
"You have feelings?"
She cocked a brow at him, and he pointed a mashed-potato-topped fork at her.
"See? That right there. You let that fall. That isn't like you."
Annie focused on her food again. "Whatever."
His amusement left him. She looked ... sad. He couldn't think of a time in the last five years that he'd seen her sad. Annie O'Connell didn't let things get to her. She wasn't a Pollyanna by any means, but when a problem came up, she tackled it and moved on. She didn't dwell, but she had been dwelling. "What happened?"
"Look, I know when something is wrong with you, and right now, there is definitely something wrong. You can tell me to piss off if you don't want to talk about it, you can tell me I'm your subordinate and it's none of my damned business, but don't lie to me. You've been withdrawn all day. I'm concerned."
She sighed. "My kid is graduating college tomorrow, Marcus. I'm feeling old."
"You are so full of shit."
She stared at him, appearing to debate what to tell him.
"What is it?" he pushed. He wouldn't get anywhere if he didn't. The woman had never exactly been forthcoming with personal information. Marcus had worked for her for nearly a year before even knowing her birthday, and he only found out because her brothers, Paul and Matt, had sent her a huge bouquet. Her threats to do unseemly things with those roses had amused Marcus for days.
"Sometimes I get to thinking about things that I'd rather not think about. Mallory's graduation is stirring the memory pot a little. But I'm fine."
Mallory's "dad" hadn't been in the picture since Annie had told him she was pregnant.
"He hadn't even crossed my mind. Until this moment. Thanks for that," she said flatly.
"Can't we just enjoy dinner? Please?"
"Not when you're sulking."
"Spill it." He stabbed his meatloaf.
She pressed her full lips together in the way she did when she was irritated, but he knew it also meant she was having an internal debate.
Finally, she shrugged. "I never went to college. My mom died when my brothers were young and ... well, you know this story."
He did, but again, it'd taken him years to learn that her dad had been a drunk and her mom had died in a car accident. Sixteen-year-old Annie had been the closest thing her younger siblings had to a responsible adult. Her childhood ended when their mother died. Annie started working for a real estate agent before graduating high school and was the breadwinner, primary caregiver, and everything else her brothers had needed.
"You're regretting that," he said quietly.
"No. Absolutely not. If I'd gone to college, Paul and Matt wouldn't have. Paul wouldn't be a successful attorney and Matt wouldn't own his own business. They needed me to help them."
"You're wondering what life would have been like if your mother hadn't died, and you'd gone to college."
Annie laughed softly. "Even if my mother hadn't died, I wouldn't have gone to college. We couldn't afford it. The only reason I got it in my head that my brothers would earn their degrees, was because I didn't want them to follow in Dad's footsteps. Working odd jobs to earn just enough to stay drunk? No. I wasn't going to let them go down that road." Pushing her green beans around, she exhaled loudly.
"You were a good sister."
She looked up and smirked at him. "Past tense?"
"Are. But I was referring specifically from the time your mother died until you stopped financially supporting your brothers."
"You mean until I got knocked up?" she snapped.
When their dad died from liver failure, Paul was just starting his career in criminal law, Matt was finishing college, and Annie got mixed up with the completely wrong kind of guy — the kind that would leave a woman pregnant and alone. Even that didn't stop her from becoming successful enough to own her own real estate agency. Annie might appear aloof and career-driven, but Marcus saw the truth. She was driven by a need for security, and her business had become her security.
She blinked several times and cleared her throat, and he wondered if she were fighting tears. He almost regretted pushing, but then she lifted her face and the grief in her eyes let him know she'd been bottling this up far too long.
"I didn't mean it to sound like that. I would be lost without Mallory. Sometimes I just feel like I never had a life, you know? My own life. That's selfish —"
"No, it's not. You were a kid when your mom died, and you were this close to being free from the burden she'd left you with when Mallory was born. It's perfectly natural to feel like you missed out on something. You did, Annie. And it's okay to think about it from time to time. We all think back on our lives and wonder if we made the right decisions."
"I made the right decisions," she said firmly. She wouldn't say it any other way. She wasn't prone to doubting herself. She stuck her fork in her meatloaf and pushed the container away. "Thank you for dinner."
"I owed you. You bought burgers last week. Remember?"
She nodded. "Yes. I guess we really do have to stop meeting like this."
"I actually kind of like this type of dinner over eating in the restaurant."
"Because when you have the menu in front of you, it takes you forever to decide what you want."
Annie cocked a brow, and he laughed.
"That's the first real go-to-hell look you've given me all day. I hadn't realized how much I missed it."
She chuckled. "You're so twisted."
"Listen, Annie —"
"This conversation is over, Marcus."
"No, it's not."
She gave him that look again, but this time it didn't have a playful edge. She really didn't want him to push this any further.
He shook his head. "You're not shutting down on me. Let it out."
"Let it out? Are you my shrink now?"
"I'm your best friend."
Wow, she mouthed as she widened her eyes. "Employee of the Year and my new best friend? You are really proud of yourself today."
He wanted to smile with her, but managed to keep his face deadpan. "You know I'm the only person who likes you."
She giggled. "That very well may be true."
He grinned. "You know better than that."
"Everybody likes you."
She snorted and leaned back in her seat. "Got your eye on Liar of the Year, too?"
"I am an overachiever."
"Should I be offended by that?"
He held her gaze until she cleared her throat and looked away. That had been happening with increasing frequency ... Like they somehow got lost in a moment. Those instances made his heart beat a bit faster.
The first time they got pulled into an intense stare, he'd damn near pulled her into a kiss, probably would have if they hadn't been setting up an open house. Annie was a great boss — so long as she was happy with the work he was doing — but crossing that line would have undoubtedly gotten him fired. And probably slapped. However, he was becoming more and more convinced that he wasn't the only one feeling the underlying tension between them. Tension was a bit of an understatement, at least for Marcus. His attraction to Annie was more like an addiction he hadn't realized he'd developed until it was too late, now that he'd recognized the attraction between them, it all but consumed him. He spent nearly as much of his work day trying to find excuses to be near her as he did actually working.
In those moments when she clearly felt the pull, too, Marcus forgot how stupid it was to fall for his boss, especially when she made a second career out of keeping people at a distance. Her family and daughter were the only people he'd ever seen her even remotely let into her heart. He liked to think he was chipping away at the wall she'd built, bit by bit, but the reality was for every brick he knocked down, she put up two.
Sitting upright, she busied herself closing her dinner container.
"Do you need help with anything tomorrow?" he asked.
"I don't think so."
"I thought I'd pick you up instead of meeting you there. If that's okay."
Her eyes widened as she turned them to him. "What?"
"For the ceremony."
She stared at him blankly for a few moments. "You're going to Mallory's graduation ceremony?"
"She gave me a ticket. I assumed you knew."
Annie opened her mouth, and Marcus realized she hadn't a clue that he was going to be attending the event.
"Uh. No. I didn't."
"If you don't want me to go —"
"No. It's Mallory's day. If she wants you to go ..."
"But do you want me to go?"
She hesitated as she looked at him. "Do you want to go?"
"Sure. She's the closest thing I'll ever get to having a kid." He didn't think it were possible, but Annie's eyes opened even wider. He damn near chuckled. "So you want me to pick you up?"
She slowly nodded.
"About noon? I'd like to get a good parking spot."
"N-noon is fine. Sure."
He tried not to laugh at her onset of the stutters, but it was so damned amusing when she was flustered. "Noon it is, then."
"So," Mallory drawled as she stepped next to her mother, "still mad I invited Marcus to my graduation?"
Annie cocked a brow, silently telling her daughter where she could go. She'd called before she'd even gotten home the night before, wanting to know why Mallory had invited Marcus — or more to the point, why she hadn't told Annie about it. Mallory had causally said about the same thing Marcus had — besides her uncles, he was the closest thing she had to a father figure. He was the only man who had been steady in her life. Marcus had worked for Annie for five years, and from day one he and Mallory had hit it off.
Sure, Annie had developed a good friendship with Marcus, and because of that he and Mallory had spent some time together, but a father figure? That seemed over the top.
"I ask," Mallory said lightly, "because you've barely stopped staring at him all afternoon. I wasn't sure if that was because you were offended by his presence or because he looks so darned cute in that suit."
Before she actually could tell Mallory to go to hell, her daughter laughed and walked off.
"Why do I get the impression she just bested you?" a deep timbre asked from behind Annie.
She closed her eyes as Marcus's voice rolled through her. She took a deep breath, but heat burned up from low in her gut and settled on her face. She had no doubt that her cheeks were deep red, but, short of being rude, she had no choice other than to face Marcus. She tilted her head, pursed her lips, and narrowed her eyes in an attempt to get him to back off.
Instead, he laughed with the same enjoyment at her expense that Mallory just had. "Damn. Whatever she said must have been good. I'm sorry I missed it."
Annie started to brush past him, but he put his hand to her upper arm and stopped her retreat. She jolted a bit — not from his touch, but how she felt the skin-on-skin contact all the way down to her toes. What the hell?
"Come on," he pled, "you have to share."
"She thinks she's smart."
"Well, she did just graduate college cum laude."
Annie's irritation faded and pride filled her. She couldn't help but smile. "Yes, she did."
He toasted her. "Congratulations."
"Oh, I can't take credit for that. She did it all on her own."
"She has your brains."
Annie shook her head. "I didn't even go to college, remember?"
His face softened, and he looked at her in that way that made her breath catch. "You would have if you hadn't been saddled with other obligations."
She didn't open up about her past often, but something about Marcus had made her drop her defenses. She hadn't intended to, but she'd opened her mouth and spewed her emotional mess all over him. Who cared if she hadn't gone to college? Who cared if she'd had a rough go of it? Paul and Matt were grown and successful, and Mallory had just taken one more step along that path. But that hadn't stopped Annie from dwelling on things she shouldn't have, and leave it to Marcus to dig in and make her feel all those ... feelings.
She shrugged, just the slightest bit. "It all worked out."
"Yes, it did," he said with quiet sincerity. "You've done amazingly well for yourself. And your family."
He tightened his fingers on her arm and ran this thumb over her bicep, as if to reassure her. Instead, it set her on edge, and she felt as if she were about to fall over. Damn it. What kind of voodoo was this man doing to her?
Annie's focus shifted to her daughter in an attempt to undo whatever it was that had made breathing nearly impossible. Her smile returned as Mallory squealed and hugged a friend who had just arrived at the party.
"I can't believe it," he said. "Our girl just graduated college."
Annie's attention snapped back to him. "Our girl?"
"I know I didn't have any part in raising her, but we've gotten close over the years. Like I said last night, she's the closest thing I'll ever have to a daughter."
Marcus smiled and, as tended to happen these days, her chest tightened and warmth spread through her. His gaze softened as he stared at her, and she sighed.
She actually freaking sighed.
His deep blue eyes were like an abyss that she fell into every time he looked at her like that. Like that being with a tenderness he shouldn't have for his boss.
She didn't need anyone to tell her how inappropriate that was. She'd told herself a thousand times. That didn't stop her breath from catching whenever he touched her or their gazes stayed locked a few seconds too long — like they were right now.
Thankfully, an obnoxious round of laughter pulled her from his gaze. Annie glanced at her brothers. "I was, um, on my way to the kitchen. Excuse me."
She forced her feet to move her away from the tall drink of temptation in her living room. Alone in the kitchen, she shook her head and leaned against the island where the extra chips and platters were piled. She closed her eyes and let her head drop forward like it weighed a hundred pounds.
"Get a grip," she muttered.
The door behind her opened, and she nearly laughed. She didn't have to turn around to know Marcus had followed her.
"Need help with anything?" he asked.
"No. I was just ..."
Excerpted from "The Forgotten Path"
Copyright © 2017 Marci Boudreaux.
Excerpted by permission of Marci Boudreaux.
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
The Forgotten Path is the third book in the Stonehill Romance series by Marci Boudreaux. It is the story of Annie O'Connell, the owner of O'Connell Realty and Marcus Callison, an employee of Annie's. Marcus is desperately in love with Annie who is fiercely independent and too stubborn to allow herself to have the love he promises to give. When a terrible accident forces Annie to reevaluate her life, will she allow her true love to help overcome the obstacles ahead of her? This story captivated me from the very beginning. I had previously read the first two books in this amazing series and can honestly say without a doubt that this is my favorite so far. I think that with each book this author writes the closer I come to saying I have found my favorite author! What I have really enjoyed the most about this series is that in each book the author introduces characters that are easy to relate too. They are characters that I have fallen in love with, cried with and care deeply about. I can't wait to continue on this journey with "Jessica's Wish" which is the next book in this incredible series. I highly recommend not only this book but the entire series to anybody who enjoys extremely engaging and well written romance at its finest. I received this book from Juniper Grove Book Solutions in exchange for an honest review.