All John Beauchamp wants is a simple life. He's happy running his Louisiana sugar cane plantation and doesn't want more than that. Then Shelby Mackey breezes in, announcing that she's pregnant. Their one crazy night of passion has changed everything.
Except Shelby insists John doesn't have to be involvedshe'll raise the baby herself. But John can't let her go that easily. Even without the baby, Shelby is a breath of fresh air. Her call-it-as-she-sees-it attitude intrigues and attracts him. So when Shelby agrees to stay temporarily, John's determined to make that stay permanentand as sweet as can be.
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The Sweetest September
By Liz Talley
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2014 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All rights reserved.
Shelby Mackey had experienced a lot of bad sex in her lifetime, but she'd never made a man cry.
Sitting on the sink of a run-down bathroom in some Louisiana hole-in-the-wall grocery store/bait stand/bar, she focused on the man in front of her, who was breathing hard and blinking away honest-to-God tears. The yellow glow of the naked light-bulb over his left shoulder kept bobbing ... or maybe it didn't. After all, she'd had two glasses of wine before moving on to gin and tonics. Shelby couldn't remember how many of those drinks the tall stranger had bought her, but they likely were responsible for the disgusting bathroom spinning.
He had dark hair—a sort of brownish-red that a poet might describe as a sunset sinking into the horizon. But he'd covered the rusty-brown with a well-worn cowboy hat. That damn cowboy hat had made her lose every inkling of good sense she had.
Or maybe the five—or six—drinks had done that.
Results were the same—she teetered on a chipped sink, her panties nowhere in sight. A faded country ballad still played in the background, and as she watched the man grapple with what they'd done against the bathroom sink, she noted he had a thin white scar along his chiseled jawline.
The sex hadn't been bad. But not good, either. Sort of desperate and fast. Shelby hadn't cared, because for a brief moment she'd felt desired. And being wanted had been way more powerful than even the deadly combination of cowboy hat and booze.
Green eyes looked down at her, swimming with a flurry of emotions—a sort of "oh, hell, look what we just did." She released the fists she'd knotted in his simple white button-down shirt and slid to the linoleum.
"Wow," she muttered, which was totally inaccurate. Not wow at all. She tugged her cashmere sweater over the bra he'd not even managed to unhook and gave him an embarrassed smile.
No. This wasn't awkward.
He didn't say anything. Just looked like she'd smacked him in the head with a baseball bat. Mechanically, he turned, dealing with the absurd pink condom she'd handed him minutes earlier. He tossed the wadded napkin in the waste bin and stayed with his back to her.
"Uh, you okay?" she asked, looking for her pesky watermelon-pink panties he'd tossed ... somewhere.
Shaking his head, he said, "Oh, God."
"What? Are you okay?"
He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done this."
Jeez. He apologized like he'd just tossed his cookies on her grandmother's wedding china. Or like he'd accidentally stepped on a kitten. Or tracked dog shit in the house. Like it was ... something bad.
He spun and his eyes reflected anguish.
"You don't have to apologize," she said, trying on another smile, pretending like this wasn't what it was—a guy apologizing for having sex with her. "But if you can help me find my panties?"
If anything, he grew even paler at the suggestion. Wild-eyed, he glanced around. "We're in a bathroom."
"Ding. You're correct," she said with a decided slur. Gin did that to her. Okay, gin did that to everyone.
She didn't want to look back at him. Didn't want to see the despair and guilt in his eyes. He regretted this whole thing. Wished he hadn't gotten wasted and agreed to help her in the bathroom, which she'd made code word for screwing me against the lavatory. It was almost as if ... her gaze flew to his left hand.
"Oh, crap." She grabbed the tanned hand with the noticeable white stripe on the ring finger. She hadn't noticed it in the dark bar, but could see very well in the blinding reality of the ladies' bathroom. "You're married?"
He glanced at the hand she held in hers and jerked it away, using it to tug up worn jeans that still gaped. The sound of his zipper was deafening. Shaking his head, he closed his eyes and exhaled. "Not anymore."
He opened those pretty eyes and their gazes met. A sheen of tears remained, but there was more—sadness over the words he'd just uttered. The regret made Shelby feel even worse. Head swimming, gut rolling, she stepped away and spied her panties hanging on the paper towel dispenser over his shoulder.
"I'm so sorry," he said again.
Shelby ignored her panties and instead turned away from him. The water came out of the faucet ice-cold. Why had she turned on the water? No clue. She needed something to do, something to prevent her from telling—oh, cripes, what was his name again? Josh? Joe? Did it even matter?
Shelby stuck her shaking hands under the water and splashed her face, not even caring that it would make her mascara run. She didn't want to look at him. Didn't want to see the utter abhorrence for her and for what they'd drunkenly done.
After the past few days, she felt close to losing it. Close to doing something like ... screwing a stranger?
Too late, sister.
The sound of music roared into the bathroom before muted silence fell again.
He'd left. Just flippin' walked out after an apology she didn't even want. What an ass.
Shelby looked at herself in the speckled mirror and tried hard not to let her tears join the water coursing down her face. Not only had she impulsively gotten drunk and laid, but the guy she'd chosen for such an honor hadn't even bothered to stick around and buy her a drink for her trouble.
Not that she needed another drink.
The sound of crickets came from somewhere in the bathroom. Her phone. Crap. Where had she left her purse? Shelby swiped her face with a paper towel, grabbed the panties she'd bought last week thinking her now ex-boyfriend Darby might like them and searched for her purse.
She found it on the window ledge next to the only stall, the torn condom package sitting right beside it. At least she hadn't been too drunk to remember to protect herself. She'd bought a box in Baton Rouge, hoping she and Darby could finally take their relationship to the next level.
But then she'd found out Darby was married. Okay, so the man hadn't realized he was married to his high school flame when she'd started dating him. The whole thing was a big shocker for everyone involved. But by the time Shelby made it down to Louisiana to try to talk him into coming back to Seattle and the interview with her father's firm, her perfect prospect had fallen in love with his, uh, wife.
Yeah, another married man in her life. It was becoming a thing with her.
"Shit." Shelby sighed, picking up the bright red package, her heart aching at the thought of being back at square one. She felt like a blooming fool ... even if none of it was her fault. Guess falling in love was like contracting measles. Bam. Just happened despite one's best efforts. Darby was off the menu.
No more visions of her in a wedding dress smiling at the dark-headed Southern boy with the alligator grin.
Stick a fork in her dream of respectability.
The phone went silent just as the self-loathing took over. This was what her life had come to—driving the memory of heartbreak away with random stranger sex in a backwater crap hole. She'd never sunk so low.
"Perfect, Shelby," she whispered, leaning onto the stall door. The bathroom still spun a bit but she remained upright. The worst of it was she couldn't drive in the state she was in, and she was utterly alone on her little venture out to tour Louisiana plantations. She'd either have to sit at the bar and drink water until the drunk wore off ... which could be a good five or six hours, or swallow her pride and call Darby and ask him to come get her. Neither one appealed to her, but she guessed that was too damn bad.
She'd come to terms long ago that if she waited on Prince Charming to arrive on a white steed, she'd be worm food before he showed up.
As always, it was up to her to figure out a solution.
She dug her phone out of her purse, noted her missed call was from Delta Airlines and asked Siri about cab service. What good was having a couple of million bucks sitting in a bank if you couldn't pay an exorbitant cab fare once in a while? But no dice on a cab. Wasn't even a taxi service out this far.
So she dialed the number to Beau Soleil, Darby's childhood home. The man owed her a ride back to Bayou Bridge. Time to go back to Seattle.
So long, life she thought she'd have.
John Beauchamp cloaked himself inside the pickup truck that had seen better days, tossing his beat-up cowboy hat onto the bench seat and leaning his forehead against the steering wheel.
His chest felt like he'd been hit with a wrecking ball, tight and achy, the way it had been the entire day of his wife's funeral a year ago. He needed to cry. He needed to punch something until his knuckles bled ... until the pain went away.
What in the name of Jesus had he been thinking in there?
That was the problem.
He'd come to Boots Grocery to drink away the pain and ended up screwing some blonde chick in the bathroom. Like it meant nothing. Like he hadn't just betrayed the vows he'd made eleven years ago last month. Like that would lessen the hurt.
No. The pain never abated, and trying to extinguish it with some bar bunny had done nothing more than release crushing shame.
John felt in his pocket for his keys, pulled them out and reached toward the ignition, but then remembered—he was drunk as a sailor and couldn't drive.
Since his younger brother, Jake, was on a fishing trip, he'd have to call his older brother to pick him up.
No. He didn't want to see the pity in Matt's eyes, nor the unstated disappointment that would quickly follow. Getting drunk wasn't something they did in the Beauchamp family. Hell, naw. Praying was what they did in the Beauchamp family.
But that hadn't gotten him anywhere, either.
Nothing took away the damaged part of himself, nothing healed the open sore, erased the knowledge he hadn't been there when she died ... hadn't even had a chance to try and save her. How could God let that happen to Rebecca, the sweetest, most wonderful person in all of Magnolia Bend? Hell, in all of St. James Parish. Why her and not someone else?
Why not him?
John tilted his head back and punched the dashboard. "Ow."
He shook his hand out and sank back onto the worn leather, the world tilting crazily. He needed to buy a new truck. This one reflected who he was—dinted, dinged and worn out. He had the money, but something stopped him every time. Because he didn't want to change, didn't want to move forward.
And now he'd not only drunk himself sick on the anniversary of that day, but he'd shamed himself with Shelby.
That had been the bar bunny's name.
She'd had nice straight teeth, a big laugh and sugar in her smile. He'd thought maybe she could make the dull throb go away. Someone named Shelby ought to bring sunshine, but in the hard light of that bathroom, he'd seen the same emotion reflected back in her eyes—sadness.
"Shit," he said into the darkness, wiping the moisture from his eyes. He allowed his head to slide from the headrest, and listing sideways, he flopped onto the bench, knocking his old hat to the floorboard. The seat belt jabbed him in his back, but he ignored the discomfort and instead fastened his eyes on the stars twinkling out the window in the deep purple Louisiana sky.
All his life he believed in heaven. In God. When your daddy's a pastor, it's pretty much expected. But for the past year, John had stopped believing in anything except the morning sun and the pale moon. Except the rain that fell straight onto the cracked earth and the tender shoots stretching up from the ground. He'd believed in nothing but what he could see.
An empty house.
A made bed.
A lonely man.
And then he didn't care if the tears came. He only cared that he'd loved Rebecca and she was gone.
Gone like the whiskey he'd just used to numb himself.
Just plain gone.
Excerpted from The Sweetest September by Liz Talley. Copyright © 2014 Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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
When john is derating his wife anniversay. And shelby is upset about breaking up with her boyfriend. That is really married.they meet at boots and have sex in the boots bathroom. Then shelby finds she is pregnant. She goes to john to and tell him him he doesnt have to do anything about the baby. But john asked shelby to stay on the sugar cane farm.
I just finished wiping the tears from my face. What an exceptional book. I could not put it down. Made me want to pull out my journal again! No wonder this is a RITA finalist! Well done!
One of the best overall feel good books I have read in a while. It has the effect of wanting more at the end and many sequels just have to follow. The characters were so well-developed, you feel as if they are all your new BFFs! Looking forward to the next in the series (I hope it's a series) and crying happy tears along with the characters once again.