Beau Petty has been searching his whole life. Searching for a place that fills all the empty spaces in him. Searching for a way to tame the restlessness. Searching for answers to the secret he’s never stopped trying to solve. What he wasn’t searching for was a woman to claim all of him, but when Cora Silvera walks back into his life, he’s ready to search out all the ways he can make her his.
Cora has spent her life as the family nurturer, taking care of others. But now she’s ready to pass that job on to someone else. It’s time to make some changes and live for herself. It’s in that moment that her former teenage crush reappears and the draw and the heat of their instant connection is like nothing either of them has experienced. He craves being around her. She accepts him, dark corners and all.
Beau thinks Cora’s had enough drama in her life. He wants to protect her from the secrets of his past, even if it means holding back the last pieces of himself. But Cora is no pushover and she means to claim all those pieces.
About the Author
Visit Lauren on the web at www.laurendane.com
You can write to her at: PO BOX 45175, Seattle, WA 98145
Read an Excerpt
Pointed west home beckons. Waits for you like a lover.
Not too many hours after getting off an airplane, Cora approached Whiskey Sharp — a barbershop, and in the evenings, a bar. The lazily swirling red-and-white candy cane sign out front was illuminated and the interior lights cast a shine against the gold-toned flourish of the shop's title on the front glass doors.
Inside, it smelled of sandalwood and amber, two of the more popular scents of the products used in hair and beards. Music played loud enough to feel like an embrace but it didn't drown out the low hum of conversation from the people knotted around the bar area.
Alexsei Petrov, Maybe's husband, but also Cora's friend, owned and ran the place that had become another home for Cora. He saw her come in and smiled, tipping his chin to where Maybe stood, working at her station. Giving someone a shave by the looks of it.
Three months before, her friend's hair had been platinum blonde, but currently the tips were a brilliant teal blue that bled into a wash of purple.
It would have looked absurd on most people, but Maybe managed to make it seem retro and futuristic at the same time when she coupled it with high-waisted gray pinstripe pants and a crisp white button-down shirt.
Rachel stood, her hip resting against the table, a smile on her face reserved for the client who Cora now recognized as Rachel's man, Vic, sitting in Maybe's chair getting that shave.
The weight of the familiar was lovely and bloomed through her belly. This was another one of her places. Full of her people.
"You bitches are still the hottest chicks I know," she said as she approached.
Rachel looked over, her eyes widening in pleasure and recognition. "You're here!" "I told you I'd come by," Cora said, swallowed up into a hug.
"I know but you're here now. Yay!" Maybe took over the next hug, smacking a kiss right onto her lips before stepping back.
Laughing, she got hugs from the wild bearded Russians, as Rachel and Maybe referred to their dudes.
"Everyone missed you. Not more than us, naturally, but still," Rachel said after Cora had been loved up on by all her friends. "Three months is way too long to go without seeing you."
"It's nice to be missed." She was pretty sure she'd just finished her last extended trip with her mother. Yes, it was travel for work and she liked to go to new places. But these long stints meant she had avoided getting a dog or a cat. It wasn't fair to have to leave them with someone for weeks and weeks. It also meant that aside from one long-distance relationship that had ended two years before, Cora hadn't really seen anyone seriously.
She wanted more roots. And a dog. And maybe someone to go on dates with.
She'd settle for a drink and some food as she hung out with her crew to start.
"Wren said she already invited you to dinner," Maybe called out as she began to clean her station up.
"She informed me one of their friends is cooking and that there'd be cake. So naturally I'm in."
Gregori — another wild bearded Russian — was Vic and Alexsei's cousin. He also happened to be a hugely successful artist Cora had known for years through the local art scene. He and his wife, Wren — an artist in her own right — lived in a loft space above Whiskey Sharp.
"There's always cake at their place. It's like a little bit of heaven right upstairs," Maybe said.
"It's like what I imagine heaven to be, that's for sure," Cora answered.
"If there's no cake, how can it be heaven?" Rachel said it like a sacred prayer and Cora agreed utterly.
"I can't wait to hear all about your time in London but Wren said she wanted to hear it too and so not to visit too much without her." Maybe hooked her arm through Cora's. "I want to hear it now, so let's get going. I'm also hungry."
"You know how she gets when she's hungry," Alexsei said with a smirk at the corners of his mouth. Maybe rolled her eyes, but smiled as she did it, so Cora knew she wasn't offended.
And he was right because Maybe was lovely and sweet, but not when she was hungry.
They all headed out and down the sidewalk half a block to the doors leading to the small lobby, where the residents of the lofts had their mailboxes and the elevator.
The scent of garlic and onions swirled around her senses as they got out on the right floor. Gregori and Wren's door was painted bright, shiny red and flew open before they were able to use the doorbell.
Wren, wearing a huge grin, rushed at Cora and hugged her tight. "Hi! Come have champagne and eat yummy food while you tell us all how the last three months were."
"I can do that. You look fantastic," Cora told her as they headed toward the kitchen area. "Marriage agrees with you."
Her friends had come back from an impromptu trip right before Cora had left for London only to announce they'd gotten married along the way. After several years of living together, it had been the right choice for their relationship.
"I look exactly the same except for the ring part and the way his mom gives me, and then my belly, a pointed look every time I see her," Wren said.
"Welcome to my world," Maybe said. "Irena has now taken to telling me about all the baby clothes she saw but didn't buy because she had no grandchildren to wear them. I tried to get her obsessing about Rachel's womb, but she's too wily."
"Mind your own womb. You've been with Alexsei longer than I've been with Vic. It's your time to shine, bitch," Rachel said with a laugh.
"I'm so messed up. I missed you all so much." Cora hugged each one tightly.
"You're the perfect kind of messed up," Rachel said, linking her arm through Cora's.
This was good. The best, happiest part of her life.
Her stomach growled as she sucked in the scents all around. "I need food."
"We've got that covered," Gregori called out to them. "Come, I'm pouring champagne."
"No need to call me twice when there's booze involved," Cora murmured to Rachel, who snickered.
Fairy lights and candles made the loft glow. Plus it was the perfect light and her skin would look way better than the jet lag currently responsible for dark circles under her eyes.
"It's all romantical in here and shit," Cora said, and then nearly swallowed all her spit when she caught sight of who was standing at the stove.
There is wild joy in recognition. A leap of faith to let yourself be known. An old magic.
Well over six feet of hot-ass ginger celebrity chef, former model and childhood poster boy for a cult — and most notably one of her first really hard crushes — Beau Petty had aged really, really well. He had the kind of face that would only get better as he aged. At seventy-five, he'd still be searingly hot because it wasn't just that he was chiseled and taut and broad shouldered, his attitude seemed to pump out confident alpha male.
He'd been gorgeous when she'd been sixteen and he twenty-one or -two, but seventeen years later, he was magnetic and intense on a whole new level. It made her heart skip a little just looking at him.
Cora had to lock her knees when his gaze flicked from Rachel over to her and his expression melted from surprise into pleasure as he dried his hands on a towel and headed toward her.
And then he hugged her and holy wow it was better than a doughnut. He smelled good and was big and hard and, wow, he was hugging her and when he stepped back he said her name. "Cora."
It seemed as if the word echoed through her, plucked her like a musical note.
"It's really good to see you," he said as he stepped back, and she had to crane her neck to look up, and up, into his face.
"What an unexpected surprise," Cora told him.
"We have some catching up to do."
The lines around his eyes begged for a kiss.
"You guys know each other? I mean, duh. Obviously as you just said her name and there was a hug and stuff." Maybe smiled brightly, fishing for details in her cheerful, relentless way.
"First champagne and introductions, and then we will hear that story," Gregori said, interrupting Maybe's nosiness long enough to hand out glasses.
He'd knownback then that she'd had a crush on him, but she was still a kid. Then. Now? She still carried herself as if a secret song played in her head. But there was nothing girlish about her now.
Her hair — shades of brunette from milk chocolate to red wine — was captured back from her face in a ponytail, tied with a scarf that managed to look artsy and retro instead of silly. It only accentuated how big her eyes were, how high her cheekbones, the swell of her bottom lip that looked so juicy he wanted to bite it.
"Get started, if you're hungry." He indicated the long butcher-block counter where he'd set up some appetizers. "I was down at Pike Place earlier so the oysters are sweet and fresh. That's also where the octopus in the salad came from, caught today. Just a quick grill with lemon and olive oil and pickled red onions."
"Oh my god, really?" Cora cruised straight over and grabbed a plate.
A woman with an appreciation for food was sexy as hell.
"Update me on your life. What are you doing here in Seattle?" she asked, after eating two of the oysters and humming her satisfaction. "So good. This octopus is ridiculous. Is that jalapeño?"
"Good catch. Yes, in the olive oil I used to dress it."
"I like it. What else are you making? Not that this isn't really good, but I'm greedy."
Watching her enjoy his food was a carnal shot to his gut. It set him off balance enough that he focused on the food for a few beats.
"I'm working on a new cookbook so I'm trying out some seafood recipes. Scallop and crab cakes with a couscous salad," he said, pointing at the food.
"Yum! Ah, that's why you're in town?"
"I've been in Los Angeles for a long time." Feeling antsy. He had houses, but no home. "I felt a change would be good. A friend who owns a number of restaurants in the area has given me access to his kitchens so I can try my ideas out there, as well." He liked working around other chefs, found creative challenge in that atmosphere in a kitchen where the whole team loved to cook.
It was a good sort of competitive spirit. Pushed him to up his game, to be better. Far healthier for his liver and heart than all the drugs and alcohol that'd fueled his early twenties.
"That's excellent," she said. "Sometimes a change in surroundings is what you need to hit the reset button. Congratulations on your success. Every time I see your face on a cookbook or on television it makes me smile."
He'd come a long way since he'd left the religious group many called a cult back when he was just seventeen. When he'd met Cora he'd only been out of Road to Glory for three years. Barely more than a legal adult. Modeling and wasting his money on drugs and private investigators, trying to find the children that had been stolen from him when the remaining cult members not yet arrested had gone on the run.
Seventeen years and it had been more than one lifetime. And he still hadn't found his sons, who were adults by that point. Wherever they were now, all Beau could do was hope they were all right.
He shoved it away, into that well-worn place he kept his past, and went back to her compliments. "Thanks. What are you up to these days? I know your mom is still working because I listen to her stuff a lot when I cook."
"She and I just got back from three months in London as she finished up a project."
Rachel wandered over to them to add her two cents. "And she pretty much runs the gallery. Plus she holds the tattoo shop together. And keeps Walda out of trouble, which is a full-time job. She writes poetry and takes amazing photographs. Oh, and she's an amazing knitter."
"I keep books for my sister from time to time. That's hardly holding the shop together," Cora said with affection clear in her tone.
"And the marketing. You set up the new network too. So, yeah, holding things together. It's what she does. How do you and Cora know one another?" Rachel repeated Maybe's earlier question more firmly, clearly taking his measure.
"At first glance you think it's Maybe who's the pushiest. But Rachel is way sneakier," Cora told him with a shrug. "Beau and I met when he and Walda lived in the same building in Santa Monica. I was fifteen or sixteen at the time. He was a model so Mom kept herself between us. As if he even noticed me when he was surrounded by gorgeous models."
He hadn't noticed Walda getting between him and Cora, but Cora had been correct that he hadn't seen her in that way. For a whole host of reasons, chiefly that she was simply too young.
Then. Not so much now.
"We were there a year so I had a tutor, who, if I recall correctly, Beau definitely noticed." Cora snickered.
Beau hadn't learned algebra until he was an adult. Hadn't read a single classic literary novel until he was twenty-one. Education was a tool, something to dig yourself out of a bad spot — especially if you didn't have the face and fortune to be a model while you got your education — so he was glad Walda snapped to it when it came to being sure her daughter got what she needed.
He honestly couldn't even remember the tutor, just the sweet kid who'd grown up well.
"Anyway, that's how we met, and in the intervening years he's been a supermodel and now a celebrity chef and cookbook author." Cora smiled at him. "Go you."
"How do you know Gregori?" Rachel asked once they'd settled in at the long table in the main room.
"Beau and I were young men with more money than sense in the art scene," Gregori said. "He was one of the first friends I made here in the US. We've been in contact on and off since. I had no idea of the connection between him and Cora."
"It was a pleasant surprise," Beau told them with a shrug. "I know many people. I'm friends with very few, so those I like to keep around."
"I didn't even know crab and scallop cakes were an actual thing. I vote yay," Cora said as she put another two on her plate.
In addition, there were brussels sprout leaves roasted with parmesan and walnuts, fruit and cheese with honey, wine, champagne and at the end, not just one cake, but two.
Not a lot satisfied Beau more than seeing people enjoy food he'd made. Cooking was his way of pleasing others. Of being worthy.
Even as fucked-up as he was, he'd managed to substitute out the most harmful ways of feeling worthy and pleasing others. His life was his own now. No one made his choices. He owed no one anything he didn't want to give.
A far cry from his days in Road to Glory, when every bit of his life had been chosen for him and the others in the group.
"You're having a very intense conversation in your head," Cora said quietly.
He shrugged. "Not really," he lied.
She sniffed, like she wanted him to know she saw right through him. Defensiveness rose in his gut, warring with fascination and no small amount of admiration that she would not only see the truth of it, but also let him know she got that he was evading.
But she let it go and he appreciated it a great deal.
A few hours in, Vic and Rachel peeled off. Gregori explained that Vic worked in a bakery, the same one that had provided some of the sweets they'd eaten that night, and had to be up by four-thirty.
He realized, as they cleaned up, that he didn't really want his time with Cora to end. Which was unusual. Unusual enough that he paid attention to it. She was a gorgeous, creative, interesting woman and an old friend. That was it. Probably.
Still, when she headed to the door, he followed. "Hey, where are you off to?" "Home. I've been up well over twenty-four hours at this point and the travel has just sort of smacked me in the head. Now that my belly is full and I've been loved up on by my friends, I'm going to head back to my place and sleep for many hours."
"Where are you parked? Do you need a ride home?" Wren asked Cora, and then Gregori sighed. Clearly he'd noticed the chemistry between Cora and Beau all night.
Cora hadn't seemed to hear Gregori's sigh as she replied, "I'm just parked right around the corner at the lot near Ink Sisters. I'm good. Thank you though." Cora hugged Wren, and then tiptoed up to do the same with Gregori.
"I'll walk with you," Beau said, grabbing his coat. "If that's cool with you."
Cora shrugged. "Sure. You don't have to. It's not that far."
"And then you can give him a ride," Gregori told her. "He's staying in a flat in the Bay Vista Tower so he's on your way home anyway."
Gregori gave him a very slight smile. Beau owed his friend a beer for that little suggestion that allowed him more time with her.
Excerpted from "Whiskey Sharp: Torn"
Copyright © 2018 Lauren Dane.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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