“Take care of Caitlan and the baby. It’s mine.” Nothing could have shocked John Garmon more than his brother’s last request. He remembers Caitlan as the fragile girl mourning the death of her sister—John’s sister-in-law. Caitlan’s pain, and her haunting beauty, once stirred in John a flare of compassion and desire. But after this betrayal, duty compels him to confront her. He just never imagined how compelling the truth—and the woman behind it—could be.
Caitlan Downey can’t believe John has showed up on her doorstep. And she’ll do anything to keep him from interfering in her daughter’s life. The man doesn’t fit into their small beachside town. Domineering and much too serious, he’s a far cry from the white Stetson-wearing hero of her dreams. And yet Caitlan can’t deny how good it feels to be wrapped in his arms. John came to fulfill a promise. Can she hope he’ll stay for love?
Includes a special message from the editor, as well as excerpts from these Loveswept titles: Mistletoe and Magic, Claimed, and After the Kiss.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
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Take care of Caitlan and the baby. It’s mine.
John Garmon stood at the door with Jeffrey’s two-line note in his hand, turning it over and over. Though he’d seen little of it in the last five years, the handwriting was unmistakably that of his brother.
Caitlan Downey, the pregnant girl who had been so grief stricken at the funeral of her sister, Ann, and brother-in-law, Jeffrey, the girl who impulsively had hugged him and rested her head on his chest in an expression of shared grief, had been left in his care through Jeffrey’s will.
Oh, yes, he knew who Caitlan Downey was. She was the tiny, fragile girl with the doe eyes who had made an impact on his body with her touch and on his mind with her pain. Afterward she’d disappeared.
Two things struck John Garmon when Caitlan opened the door of the Florida beach cottage. She wasn’t pregnant any longer, and she could never be called a girl. The barefoot woman with wet hair and no makeup standing in the doorway was beautiful. The stubborn jut of her chin and proud tilt of her head marked her dismay as she looked up at him.
“Oh, Mr. Garmon, I’m sorry. I was in the shower.” She tried to make her voice sound casual but friendly. “What are you doing here?”
He set off a six-alarm fire bell in Caitlan Downey’s head, and she swallowed hard to push back the panic that swept over her. Wearing dark glasses and a butter-colored silk jacket, John Garmon looked like a model for the cover of some famous travel magazine. Just under six feet tall, he had the lean, powerful build of a swimmer. His burnished gold hair was layered short in front, longer in back, where it touched the collar of his pale blue shirt. A thick gold bracelet circled the tanned wrist of the hand in which he held an envelope.
When he spoke, his voice had a warm, moonlight-and-magnolias quality to it that made her toes tingle and sent chills up her spine.
“I think you know the reason for my visit, don’t you, Ms. Downey? May I come in?”
Caitlan shrugged her shoulders and motioned him inside. She was sunk, she thought. A posse couldn’t have corralled her any more completely than John Garmon had done by simply standing in her doorway. What a wonderful analogy. She was thinking like Billy the Kid when she was dealing with George Hamilton without a suntan.
Adjusting the tie at the waist of the white terry cloth robe she’d hastily pulled on when she heard the doorbell ring, she trailed the man as he walked slowly into her living room, thinking furiously as she walked. Six months had passed, and she still wasn’t ready to face the Garmon family—certainly not John Garmon. They were the reason why she’d fled Georgia.
John Garmon was silk shirts and Italian shoes. She was cotton sundresses and flip-flops. They had nothing in common except her secret, and she was bound to keep that, no matter what. Her thoughts whirled through her head like a crazy kaleidoscope of color as she watched the smooth, self-assured man walk around her little beach house.
“Will you excuse me for a moment while I get a towel for my hair?”
Caitlan didn’t wait for his answer. She ran into the bedroom and closed the door, leaning heavily against it. Her knees were weak and her breath was irregular. Oh, Lordy, she thought, the man was everything she remembered him to be and more, and she hadn’t even looked into his eyes yet. The only difference was that his effect on her was even more astounding than it had been at the funeral. Her pulse had raced for days after their first encounter.
“He isn’t the enemy, for heaven’s sake,” Caitlan whispered to herself, fighting the panic his presence evoked. He was just a man, Jeffrey’s brother. Ann had liked him. She’d even hoped that the estrangement between their two families would end—then the accident had changed everything. Caitlan threaded her fingers through her hair and considered her next move. At least little Caity was with the sitter.
Why should she panic over the fact that John Garmon had come after her. She’d known the possibility existed that he or someone in the family would find her, but she’d hoped the someone would be a stranger, some strictly-business attorney who’d say he represented the Garmon family interests and had come to straighten out an unacceptably tangled situation. She paced back and forth considering her defense.
Business, strictly business, that’s how she’d handle this meeting. It wouldn’t take long.
“Hello, Ms. Downey? Are you all right?” John called from the other room.
All right? No, she most definitely was not all right. But there was precious little she could do about it except face the inevitable. One thing Caitlan Downey had never been was a coward.
“Caitlan, are you still in there?”
His voice was growing insistent. She knew how thorough he was, how organized, how insistent. Jeffrey had told her. Any minute now he’d probably break down her door and …
Caitlan grabbed a towel and returned to the living room, rubbing her hair vigorously. At least she could cover her face and keep a guarded watch on him as they talked. She didn’t have a lot of time to talk. She had to get back to work. “Certainly I’m still here. Where else would I be?”
John Garmon frowned at her as though he wanted to say something stern. The minute he’d seen her, he knew he’d made a mistake. He should have sent Lint, his attorney. John glanced casually around the room, then walked over to the bedroom door and peered inside. Business, it was simply a business matter, he told himself. Focusing on the problem was how he’d handle the woman wearing only a white robe standing primly before him.
Oh, hell, he was in big trouble and he knew it. He hadn’t expected her to look like some fragile siren from the sea. His body’s reaction indicated that what he wanted to do was wrap her in his arms and take care of her.
“Where else would you be? That’s a laugh. You’re like quicksilver, Ms. Downey. You seem to be very good at disappearing. It’s taken me six months to find you. Are we alone?”
“Why? Aren’t your intentions honorable?”
John jerked around to look at her. Her voice was deep with a Garbolike hoarseness. He’d thought about that voice. He’d wondered if its depth came from the emotional loss she’d experienced or whether it was normal. For weeks the memory of the sound of her voice had drifted around him like some kind of elusive perfume, like a half-remembered show tune that refused to leave his head.
“Frankly, my dear”—he forced himself to respond lightly, as he leaned back against the door frame and folded his arms across his chest—“I left my Jack-the-Ripper bag back in Savannah.”
Could the man have a sense of humor? Or was he mocking her? “Please sit down, Mr. Garmon.” Caitlan suddenly dropped to the floor and sat with her legs crossed. She leaned forward to rub briskly at her thick, black hair, which hung down like a velvet waterfall. “I don’t believe in formality or beating around the bush, so state your intentions. I don’t have much time.”
“Fine!” He dropped to the floor beside her, feeling a distinct rise in the temperature on the way down. “Neither do I.” He’d better keep his mind on the problem he’d come to solve, before his thoughts got out of hand, he told himself.
“Well?” she prompted.
“Let’s talk about you and my brother,” he said sharply, trying not to see the soft swell of bare breast peeking from the vee of her robe as she rubbed her hair. “Did you love him?”
He didn’t know why he’d asked the question. He hadn’t intended to take such a direct approach, but the woman had confused him. He admitted that he wanted—no, needed—to know the answer to this question.
She flung her hair back across her shoulders. Her smile this time was bittersweet and even more brief. “Oh, yes. Everybody loved Jeffrey. He … he was … special,” she stammered.
He should have looked stern and out of place, sitting on the sand-colored carpet in her living room in a jacket and tie, but he didn’t. He simply looked as if he’d struck a different pose for another magazine cover. He leaned closer as though he was waiting for her to say more.
“Why did you come here?”
“Because I have friends here,” she answered, “and I think you ought to know that they’ve probably already passed on the information via their beach hot line to my gang that I have a strange man in my cottage.”
She seemed uneasy, but she definitely wasn’t afraid. As absurd as it sounded, he thought she might even be teasing him. The soft smile she’d given him when he asked about Jeffrey made her look elfin, almost innocent. And he already knew that she was anything but innocent. In fact, he was becoming more certain that she was somehow putting him on with her warning.
Caitlan had the feeling that if he’d had a mustache he’d have twirled it.