Literary editor Antonia Harper had it all—the career, the man, the future. That was then. Now Antonia is jobless, alone and at a crossroads. What better time to travel the world? A solo honeymoon on the Emerald Isle will be like hitting the reset button. No distractions, no drama.
Add some luck o’ the Irish
Aiden Byrnes may be a literature professor, but words fail him when he meets the woman staying in the cottage next door. Tully Cross is meant to be a sleepy little village, and he’s meant to be on a working holiday—not a vacation, and most definitely not with his beautiful neighbor.
And you get some mighty good craic
They say laughter is the best medicine—and as it turns out, superhot sex isn’t so bad either. Antonia and Aiden’s spark quickly grows into what could be something special, if they’re willing to take the leap. Ending up an ocean apart is unthinkable, and when real life comes calling, there’s no ignoring that leap anymore…
One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!
This book is approximately 91,000 words
|File size:||2 MB|
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A nearby explosion sent a tremor beneath Augusta's feet, causing her to stumble on the sidewalk. She was uncomfortably close to her story. Perhaps it would have been smarter to follow the more skittish journalists back to the press hotel. There, she could sit at the bar and piece together the Sidi Bouzid story through the passionate Twitter accounts of young activists. But something big would happen in Tunisia that winter, something that could change the Middle East forever. Augusta ignored how her hands shook and pushed onward as an anxious crowd swelled around her. When her phone vibrated against her breast, she fumbled for it in a vest pocket.
Bryon. She sighed before answering.
Antonia bit down on her ink pen and stared at the screen. She was disconnected from the words she typed. "But does she really want to talk to him?"
"Talk to who?" asked the voice in her ear. "What are you talking about?
Antonia jumped in her seat, forgetting she was still on the phone with her mother. Another mom phone call during work hours. Luckily things were moving slowly at Wild Hare Publishing. So slowly, that she was arrogant enough to break out her own novel and talk to her meddling mother at the same time. "Nothing, Mom." Her hands fell away from her keyboard as she sank against her chair. Antonia closed her eyes. "What were you saying?"
"I'm just telling you the truth, baby." Whenever Diane Harper started any sentence with I'm just telling you the truth, it usually ended with something she was proud to be honest about. And Diane's truth usually hurt Antonia's feelings. "Did you ever think this whole affair is running a little too fast?"
The pit in Antonia's stomach sank lower as her mother continued. The "affair" Diane referred to was Antonia's wedding. An event happening in four days. Her mother loved to dabble in dramatic flair and her poor timing didn't make a wit of difference. Antonia slumped deeper into her office chair and stared at the floor. "Mama, what are you talking about?"
Diane let out a tired sigh. "You've been dating this boy for less than a year, Antonia. What do you really know about him?"
"His name is Derek; you've met him several times," Antonia said. "And we've been dating for a little over a year. I mean, you married Charlie after he changed your tire." It was a low blow, but her mother always took her there. When Diane Harper sent a flaming arrow into the battlefield, Antonia returned with several cannons.
"Tuh! Things are different when you're my age, Toni. After your daddy died, I didn't know if I'd ever get married again. And girl, I knew Charlie from back in the day."
Antonia shook her head. She didn't want to delve into the particulars of how her mother, who was in her sixties, "got her groove back." She and her sister, Octavia, lost their father when Antonia was twelve-years-old. When their mother announced her hurried courthouse nuptials, they were adults who were shocked, but ultimately supportive. Charlie was an easygoing stepdad who stayed out of the way when Diane went on a warpath with either daughter. Even during her phone call, Antonia pictured Charlie somewhere in the background quietly reading the morning paper. "Your problem with Derek is ... what? Why don't you like him?"
"Well if you want the honest answer, I'll just say this: I don't like how you act when you're with him. When you brought his bougie-ass down here, you worried over him like he was the King of Saudi Arabia."
Antonia straightened in her chair. Her mother was opening the full armory for this argument. "Now wait a minute —"
"— I saw you fix that boy a plate," Diane continued. "Now I didn't teach you girls to fix any man's plate like some sad housewife."
"I fixed him a plate to make him comfortable, Mom. It's called being nice."
"Was he that uncomfortable in my home? Was Florida too country for his delicate self?"
"Mom, we're from Chicago. Anyone would be wary of going to the Panhandle. I don't even know why you live there."
Her mother brushed off her comment and delivered the final blow. "The point is I don't like the little stuck-up brat who thinks he's too good for your family. He looks down his nose at me like I didn't break my back raising two successful daughters. I didn't raise you and Octavia to take any wooden nickels, and honey, you're about to marry one."
Antonia held her tongue and her breath. If she said exactly what was on her mind, the damage would be irreparable. But then every life-altering decision she made came with unsolicited advice from Diane. Whether it was jobs, boyfriends, or haircuts, her mother made certain to throw her two cents into any situation. For some reason, Diane's lectures only made Antonia anxious. Her sister, more self-possessed than she, usually shrugged these arguments off and continued doing what she pleased. Sensitive Antonia did her best to hold her own against Overbearing Diane. Nevertheless, she gripped her editing pen so tightly, her brown knuckles turned white. After a long beat and a deep breath, Antonia started again. "Mother, our wedding is in four days. Will you be Here ... or not?"
"I'm trying to tell you not to have the wedding, Toni. Aren't you listening to me?"
Antonia rubbed the space between her eyes, a stress headache was approaching. "You're being unreasonable and you know it," she said in a low voice. "Derek and I are happy together. Sure, he's a little bougie or whatever, but that's because he grew up with money. You can't hold wealth against him. He's been nothing but nice to you and you're just finding any little thing to criticize him for."
Diane heaved another sigh. "Toni, can we talk about this later? Charlie and I are already late for dinner." Shoving Antonia off the phone with a flimsy excuse? Classic Diane Harper move. "I'll call you tonight."
Antonia rolled her eyes upward, catching a glimpse of her friend and fellow editor, Eddie, standing in her doorway. He made a cautious gesture and Antonia waved him inside. As soon as he closed the door behind him, Antonia returned to her mother. "I can't talk tonight, Mom. Derek and I are meeting with the wedding planner and then we're having dinner with his parents."
She hoped her sneaky maneuver would pressure her mother into making a decision on the phone. Instead, Diane took the opportunity to start on Derek's parents. "Oh! Where is the judge and his siddity wife taking y'all tonight?"
"I don't know," Antonia said as she tapped her pen on her desk in irritation. Eddie glanced down at her nervous hand and arched a brow.
"I can come back," he whispered.
Antonia shot him a glare and shook her head.
"Well, you let his mother cut his steak, baby."
"Mom, don't you kick me off the phone without an answer. Are you and Charles coming or not? Because this wedding is definitely happening." Eddie appeared uncomfortable, like he'd much rather be anywhere than Antonia's office. She couldn't blame him. Antonia didn't want to argue with her mother either.
Diane paused, for effect, before saying: "If you're really going to do this, I should be there ..." Antonia released the breath she held and pumped her fist in the air. "... to talk you out of it in person."
It was still a small victory. "Please book your tickets for god's sake. I'll add you and Charles to the block of hotel rooms we've reserved."
"Fine, baby ... but we really do need to go."
"I love you, Mom."
"Love you too, baby."
She hung up and she rested her forehead against the cool surface of her desk. No matter how heated their arguments got, they always managed to end them on a civil note. The war wasn't over, but this battle went in her favor.
"Mom issues?" Eddie asked.
Antonia's mouth curled slightly as she exhaled a mirthless laugh. "She's the only one who can get under my skin."
"She hates Derek."
The pause, followed by a nervous throat clearing, made Antonia lift her head. Eddie's gaze had shifted to the wall hanging behind her head.
"Is there something you'd like to say?" she asked, propping her chin on her knuckles.
"Megan and I will certainly be at your wedding," he said. "You don't have to worry about that."
Antonia shook off her uneasiness as she swept a loose curl behind her ear. "I know you didn't come in here to talk wedding plans," she said, taking the conversation to safer grounds. Since their stressful days in graduate school, Antonia could always pick up on Eddie's pensive expressions. "What's going on, Ed?"
He ran his slender fingers over his sandy beard and sighed. Eddie leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I've been hearing a lot of stuff about our finances, Toni. Like we might not have enough to last the year. People are talking about layoffs."
She frowned. "I don't know about all of that, Ed. I mean, we still have Peterson's book release. From what I was able to read, I think it's got a DaVinci Code vibe that readers will enjoy. Plus, acquisitions was lucky enough to snatch him from Sixpence Publishing after his debut mystery. William Peterson is the ticket."
"I heard he wants to pull his book," Eddie said. "It's been six months and we haven't received a finalized proof from him. Antonia, he's getting cold feet about sending it to print."
She shook her head, wanting to dismiss her friend's gossip. "Richard is working on his manuscript and he hasn't said anything that would worry me. As far as I know, Peterson contacts Richard often enough." Antonia was thinking out loud, trying to make sense of what she hoped was ridiculous. But Eddie wasn't a dummy and if he felt like something was off, something was probably off. "He already signed the contract for Hallowed Ground and two follow-ups. I'm sure legal would advise him against breaking contract."
Eddie shook his head. "Yeah, but we may not have the money to back up legal. I think Peterson knows what kind of slump the company is in."
Antonia sat for a moment to take in Eddie's theory. Wild Hare employees had doubted Richard's judgement when he signed his own nephew, Greg Dobbs, for a sci-fi thriller set on Mars. Editing the novel had been a struggle that left her anxious and exhausted. Each time she'd emailed Greg with new edits, Antonia had girded her loins for a fresh wave of disappointing work.
"Come on, Toni, think about the last batch of titles we released," Eddie continued. "They had a shit reception and now they're idling at the bottom of Amazon."
Eddie was right: reception was still shit. Plus, the cost to market Starman had been excessive, surpassing the normal budget for a boutique operation like Wild Hare Publishing. Greg Dobbs hadn't even had an author's blog or a social media following when they first signed him. He'd also insisted the book be called Starman despite Antonia's repeated warnings that the title sounded too much like a David Bowie interstellar romp.
She had the sneaking suspicion Richard was keeping her out of the loop when it came to these important decisions. Several months ago, he gushed over Antonia's "untapped potential" for leadership and promised to mentor her. But that was after she slaved over his nephew's project and before he decided to keep Peterson's Hallowed Ground series for himself. Antonia sat back in her chair and stared at her own incomplete manuscript, all two chapters shining bright on her desktop. Since her projects had decreased noticeably, she had been able to turn her attention back to those two chapters. But instead of pushing the plot forward, Antonia obsessed over piecemeal edits here and there. She'd change her protagonist's name six times before forcing herself to move on to something equally trivial.
"What else have you heard?" she asked wearily.
"Brenda told me that she's fielding a lot of skittish phone calls from the board. They've had about four conference calls in the last month," Eddie said. "She claims he's fending off accusations regarding the company's budgets."
Antonia was nervous. Brenda, Richard's secretary, was like Eddie. She kept her head down, worked hard, and didn't participate in idle gossip. If she was concerned about Richard's behavior, they should all be concerned. If Richard was grooming her for a leadership role, Antonia should have been privy to those conference calls. She wondered how she had managed not to keep her ear to the ground like Eddie. What else had she missed, while planning her wedding, these past months? "Do you think they're looking for a way to fire him?" Antonia asked in a hushed voice.
Eddie shrugged. "That, or maybe they shut down operations."
Antonia still had a wedding to plan and pay for. The list of expenses slithered around her like a python, threatening to strangle her. Catering, the DJ, a reception at Shedd Aquarium, the rings, her dress ... Most of the things on her list were not her idea, but Derek's mother's. While Antonia did insist on having the wedding at Shedd Aquarium, it now seemed like an expensive petty swipe at Mrs. Rogers. Vivian was aghast when Antonia suggested her favorite childhood location for the wedding reception. Derek insisted he didn't care, so long as the place was large enough to host all of his business associates and former frat buddies. She remembered how embarrassing it was to tell Vivian Rogers, "I love the ocean. It's a vast area of exploration we've forgotten." Jesus ... She also recalled her fiancé's silence when she said it.
"You look tired," Eddie said, interrupting her thoughts.
"Yeah, you look like you haven't slept for days."
Antonia checked herself in the mirror that hung in her office. Eddie was right. Her skin, which usually shone in a healthy nutmeg brown, was dull and ashen. The dark circles under her eyes started to show beneath the hurried concealer job she did that morning. She'd make certain to do a quick touch-up when she met with Derek. She smoothed down the wild black curls that escaped her librarian bun and made a mental note to get her hair relaxed before the wedding. Vivian Rogers didn't approve of her natural hair and often noted back in her day, "black women kept their hair pressed and professional at the office."
"I don't think I like my in-laws."
"Duh," Eddie said with a grin. "No one likes their in-laws."
Her gaze flew to his before she chuckled. "No, I suppose that isn't unusual."
The tension of Wild Hare Publishing disappeared for a moment as she and her friend shared a laugh. "But you're not marrying his parents; you're marrying Derek."
Antonia gave her friend a weak smile. She'd love to believe that, but Derek's imposing father and harpy mother were a package deal. It was hard to argue with her mother about those two because Diane's observations were correct: they were the old money Talented Tenth who expected the best. Antonia often wondered if she had what it took to impress them with her common education and regular literary job. "Please, Eddie, tell me everything is going to be okay."
Eddie stood up and walked around her desk, his arms outstretched. "Toni, everything is going to be okay." She accepted his white lie as she stood and hugged him tightly.
"I'm doing the right thing?"
He returned her hug before pulling back to peer down at her. "Getting cold feet?"
Antonia shrugged. "You like Derek, right?"
Eddie gave a strained smile before replying. "Derek ... is cool. We don't exactly run in the same circles, but that won't stop me from supporting you guys."
"I do love him."
"I know you do," Eddie said quickly. "You two are great together. It's just the wedding that's stressing you out. And I'm sure I haven't made it any better with my speculation and conspiracy theories."
She nodded. Wild Hare business bothered her, but this wedding, which took only four months to plan, bothered her more. She loved Derek, but something about the whole "affair" nagged at her. Antonia let her mother's words settle in her brain.
"It's just a whole bunch of extraneous shit that's coming at you," Eddie assured her. "You're due for another drinking night with me and Meg anyway. She's the wedding expert who can talk you off the ledge."
He was right. His girlfriend had supplied Antonia with boxed wine and coaxed her into relaying all of the wedding plans in excruciating detail. Megan loved all the stuff that Antonia didn't want to think about. Why don't I want to think about the details?
She released Eddie and glanced down at her watch. "I've got to get going," she said in a tremulous voice. "I have a meeting with Derek and the wedding planner." As she gathered up her things, her hands shook. Antonia closed her eyes and inhaled through her nose. Get a grip, Toni.
"Make sure you save your document," Eddie said, gesturing to her computer screen.
"Oh! Yes, thank you." She quickly saved and closed the browser.
"By the way, when are you going to let me look at that?"
Antonia shook her head as she stuffed her files in her satchel. "It's really nothing."
"If you don't share it with anyone, it won't be. You're an excellent writer, Toni. At least you were in college."
She scoffed as she flung her bag over her shoulder. "That was a long time ago, Ed."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Write Escape"
Copyright © 2019 Charish Reid.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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