He's back but for good?
Playboy Kellen Faust had it all, until a skiing accident turned his life upside down. Returning to his family's luxurious island resort to heal, he meets resort manager Brigit Wrightshe's pretty, she's blunt, and she has no problem putting her daredevil boss in his place!
The resort isn't just Brigit's home; it's her salvation. The connection she feels with new boss Kellen terrifies her dare she trust that the prodigal Faust heir will stay by her side forever?
About the Author
Jackie Braun is the author of more than thirty romance novels. She is a three-time RITA finalist and a four-time National Readers’ Choice Award finalist. She lives in Michigan with her husband and two sons.
Read an Excerpt
Fat thunderclouds rolled overhead and spat rain like machine gun fire as wave after wave battered Hadley Island's sandy beachfront. As it was on one of the barrier islands off the South Carolina coast, the sixteen-mile-long stretch of pristine shoreline was used to the abuse. Mother Nature's fury, however, was no match for the emotions roiling inside Brigit Wright.
Unmindful of the worsening storm, she continued to walk. In the pocket of the yellow rain slicker she wore, she fisted her hand around the already-crumpled piece of paper. Printing out the email hadn't changed its content.
Miss Wright, I will be arriving home the day after tomorrow for an extended stay. Please have my quarters on the main floor ready.KF
Two curt sentences that still had her blood boiling.
Kellen Faust, heir to the Faust fortune, was returningcoming "home" as he'd put itto continue his recuperation after the skiing accident he'd suffered four months earlier in the Swiss Alps.
If the news reports she'd read about his fall were even remotely accurate, then Brigit supposed she should feel sorry for him. Along with a concussion, dislocated shoulder and broken wrist, he'd snapped his ankle, mangled his knee and shattered the femur in his right leg. Four months out and the man was still in the midst of a long and very painful recovery. Even so, she didn't want him here while he did his mending, potentially meddling in the day-to-day minutia of running the exclusive Faust Haven resort. Brigit preferred to work without interference.
Kellen's family had a large home outside Charleston, as well as an assortment of plush real estate holdings sprinkled around Europe. Why hadn't he picked one of those places to do his recuperating? Surely they would be more accommodating to Kellen's large entourage and the other assorted sycophants who enabled his Peter Pan-like existence.
Why choose Faust Haven? This wasn't his home. It was hers, dammit! Just as Faust Haven was her resort, the name on the deed notwithstanding. While he'd spent the past five years hotfooting around Europe, living off what had to be a sizable trust fund and enjoying the life of the idle rich, Brigit had been hard at work turning a tired and nearly forgotten old-money retreat into a fashionable, five-star accommodation that offered excellent service and amenities and, above all else, discretion, in addition to its panoramic views. As such it was booked solid not only for the current calendar year, but for the next three. Brigit had made that happen. And she'd done so without Kellen's help.
Now the heir was returning and he wanted his quarters readied. His quarters? During the time she'd managed the resort, Kellen had never set foot on the island. It was Brigit's understanding that he hadn't visited the island since he was a boy. So she'd made the owner's private apartment on the main floor her own, and had turned the manager's rooms into a luxury suite that commanded a handsome sum.
Where was she going to sleep now? She might go to bed after most of the guests were tucked in for the night and rise long before they awoke, but that didn't mean she wanted to bunk on one of the overstuffed couches in the lobby or the big leather recliner in the library, no matter how comfy she found it to be for reading.
Muttering an oath that was swallowed by the wind, she stopped walking and looked back in the direction she had come. The cedar-shingled resort stood three stories tallfour, really, given the pilings that raised it another twelve feet above sea level to protect it from flooding. Natural sand dunes dotted with clumps of gangly grass buffered the structure from the worst of the Atlantic's abuse.
Kellen might refer to it as such, but for Brigit that truly was the case. It was here she'd come after her nasty divorce. Pride battered, feeling like an epic failure. The sea air, the sense of purpose, both had played a key role in ushering her back from the brink of despair.
Her gaze skimmed the balconies that stretched out from every room to maximize the view. Even though it was early afternoon, the lights burned brightly in the windows, beacons of welcome to any guests who had braved the worsening weather and boarded the last ferry from the mainland before the storm halted service. Once travelers reached the island, of course, they would still have to navigate the winding roads over the hilly center of Hadley Island to the eastern shore where the resort was situated. But even accounting for the slow going, those guests would be arriving soon.
With a sigh, Brigit headed back. She had a job to do and she would do it. Right now, her priority was to see that all new arrivals were comfortably settled in their rooms. Once that task was accomplished, she would work on figuring out her own accommodations for the duration of Kellen's stay.
By the time she reached the resort, any part of her body not covered by the slicker was drenched. She had hoped to have enough time to change into dry clothes and do something with her hair before the first guests arrived, but a full-size black SUV was pulling up under the covered portico at the main entrance as she came around the dune.
The driver hopped out, as did another man, who came around from the vehicle's passenger side. Both were big and burly. Bodyguards? It wasn't a surprise. A lot of the inn's guests were important peopleHollywood A-listers, business magnates, politicians. Before either man could reach for the handle, however, the rear passenger door swung open.
Brigit covered her mouth, but a gasp still escaped.
Kellen Faust. The heir was early.
She'd never met Kellen in person. They exchanged emails and texts a couple times a month, and occasionally a phone call. But he'd never come for a visit. Now here he was. In the flesh. And he wasn't at all what Brigit had expected.
Every photograph she had seen of himand the guy turned up in print and online media reports with as much regularity as the tideshowed a handsome young man with sun-lightened brown hair, deep-set hazel eyes, a carefree smile and a body honed to perfection under what had to be the capable tutelage of a well-paid personal trainer.
Meanwhile, the man trying to exit the SUV's rear seat was thin, borderline gaunt, muscles withered away from long hours spent still and sedated. The dark smudges under his eyes made it plain he hadn't been getting much sleep as of late. He remained good-looking, but if his rigid posture and pinched features were any indication, he was far from carefree.
Vital, healthy, fit? None of the descriptions she'd seen in press clippings applied to the man now.
"I'll get the wheelchair, Mr. Faust," said the man who'd come around from the front passenger side.
"No! I'll walk," he bit out in an angry rasp that carried to Brigit despite the howling wind.
"But, Mr. Faust" the driver began, only to be shouted down.
"I said I'll walk, Lou! I'm not a freaking invalid!"
Kellen swung his left leg out the door without too much effort, but when it came to the right one, he had to use his hands to manipulate the limb over the threshold. Then, lowering himself to the running board first, he eased to the ground. He held a cane in one hand. He used the other hand to grip the door frame. Unfortunately, neither support was enough to save him. A mere second after both of his feet hit the driveway, his right knee buckled. The man he'd called Lou caught Kellen under his arms before he hit the pavement. Ripe cursing followed. The other man rushed forward, as did Brigit, determined to help.
"Who in the hell are you?" Kellen bellowed, shaking off the hand she placed on his arm.
She pushed back her hood and offered what she hoped was a professional smile. Wouldn't it just figure that she looked her absolute worst for the occasion? Despite the rain slicker's hood, her hair was damp, and the bangs that she was three months into growing out were plastered against her forehead. As for makeup, she doubted the little bit she'd applied that morning lingered on her eyelashes and cheeks now. Her feet were bare, her calves spattered with wet sand. It was hardly the professional image she'd planned to portray when she first made his acquaintance.
"I'm Brigit Wright." When he continued to stare as if she were something to be studied on a slide under a microscope, she added, "We've spoken on the phone and via email for, well, several years. I manage Faust Haven."
That news elicited not a polite smile, but a snort that bordered on derisive.
"Of course you do." His gaze flickered down in seeming dismissal. Although he said it half under his breath, she heard him well enough when he added, "I had you pegged right."
So, the man had preconceived notions of her, did he? That didn't come as much of a surprise. And to be fair, she entertained plenty of her own where he was concerned. Still, it irked her that, after a mere glance, he could so easily marginalize herboth professionally and, she didn't doubt, personally.
Brigit cleared her throat and drew herself up to her full height of five foot six. Since he was hunched over, it put them nearly at eye level. When their gazes connected she didn't so much as blink. Using her most practiced "boss" tone, she told him, "I wasn't expecting you. Your email, which I received only this morning, said you wouldn't arrive until the day after tomorrow."
"I changed my mind."
"I was in Charleston visiting " His words trailed off and his expression hardened. "I'm here now. I trust that's not a problem, Miss Wright."
"None whatsoever," she assured him with a stiff smile. "I just wanted to explain that your quarters, well, they are not ready at the moment."
"Am I expected to wait out here until they are?" he demanded irritably.
Standing under the portico, they were protected from the worst of the rain, but the wind pushed enough of it sideways that it splattered them every now and again.
"Of course not," she replied as heat crept into her cheeks. What was she thinking, keeping a guest of his position, much less his current condition, out in the elements? She turned on her heel and marched toward the lobby entrance, calling over her shoulder, "Right this way, gentlemen."
Kellen didn't follow the ever-efficient Miss Wright inside to the elevator. Rather, he allowed Lou and Joe to half drag, half carry him in the direction of the door. He'd ticked her off but good. No surprise that, since he'd been so rude. Another time, he would have felt bad about the way he'd treated her. Unfortunately for her, both his usual good humor and his abundant charm had gone the way of his right leg. That was to say, fractured beyond repair. Or so the doctors claimed. They were wrong. They had to be. He couldn't spend the rest of his life like this barely able to walk. A mere shadow of the healthy, active man he used to be.
The elevator doors opened after a bell dinged, announcing their arrival. The lobby looked different than he remembered from the last time he'd been to Faust Haven. Gone were the deep green, gold and maroon that had always struck him as more suited to a Rocky Mountains cabin than an ocean-side resort. Varying shades of blue and turquoise dominated the color scheme now, accentuated with weathered white and a pale yellow that reminded Kellen of sand. Overhead lights, along with the glow of table lamps, gave the lobby a warm, welcoming ambiance despite the storm that raged outside.
He exhaled slowly, and some of the tension left his shoulders. He remained a long way from relaxed, but he knew one thing for certain. He'd been right to come here.
He'd been second-guessing the decision to leave Switzerland ever since his plane touched down in Raleigh and the only one to greet him at the airport had been his mother's ancient butler holding a hand-lettered sign bearing Kellen's name. Orley hadn't changed much, but Kellen apparently had. The older man hadn't recognized him. Of course, it had been nearly a dozen years since Kellen had set foot in his boyhood home in Charleston.
And it had been longer than that since he'd been to the island.
He glanced around again. "This is this is nice," he said to no one in particular.
"The remodeling was completed last fall. All of the guest rooms have been updated in a similar color scheme." She cleared her throat. Her tone was just this side of defensive when she added, "I emailed you numerous photographs."
He didn't remember the photos. He probably hadn't bothered to open the attachments. Too busy burning through his trust fund to care, he thought with a mental grimace. Well, he was done with that. In a way, the accident had forced his hand. He couldn't ignore his responsibilities any longer. It was time to put his degree to use and start earning his keep.
"They didn't do it justice," he murmured.
Nor, Kellen admitted, had the image he'd had in his head done her justice, despite what he'd just said about having her pegged.
For the past five years, he'd signed her paychecks, given the reports she'd dutifully sent on the first of each month a quick skim and approved her capital improvementsall while offering minimal input. This had been accomplished remotely. He'd never laid eyes on the woman to whom he'd entrusted what was now all that was left of to his birthright until now.
She'd shed the old-man-and-the-sea rain slicker and stood in front of the reception desk wearing an aqua-blue polo shirt adorned with the inn's logo and a pair of white shorts that skimmed to mid-thigh. Nice legstanned, toned and surprisingly long for someone who probably topped out at five and a half feet. His gaze lifted to her waist, which was small, before rising to her breasts, which were just the right size to fill a man's hands.