For readers of Shannon Stacey and Susan Mallery, the heartfelt new Briarwood series begins with a tale of forbidden love, broken promises, and second chances.Growing up in Eastbridge, Connecticut, Carolyn Rivington was a young debutante who did whatever her parents asked. So when her father demanded that she break things off with the boy from the wrong side of the tracks or else, she did. Now Carolyn’s family is deep in debt. She’s no longer a member of the Briarwood Golf and Yacht Club, she’s an employee. And the tanned, tattooed, dangerously handsome stranger who saunters into her lobby isn’t just her new boss . . . he’s also her first love.The last time he saw Carolyn, Jake Gaffney was in the back of a police cruiser, handcuffed and humiliated. But seeing her again stirs other memories: a blanket on the beach, the moon above their heads, and the most expensive bottle of wine he could afford. Now the tables have turned. As a real-estate magnate and Briarwood’s new owner, Jake doesn’t have to answer to anyone. But now that he’s back home, he’s finding it hard to live down his old reputation.Before they can move forward, Jake and Carolyn must face their pasts. But it’ll take more than sizzling chemistry for them to heal old wounds and return to the love they once shared.
The conference room was bustling when she arrived. After grabbing a cup of coffee from the sideboard, she took a seat at the enormous table in the center of the room, next to Eric Lefoute, the head chef of Waves, the club’s restaurant. Unsurprisingly, the handsome Frenchman was scowling. Eric hated answering to authority and made no bones about the fact that attending such a meeting was going to take away from the prep time he needed for this afternoon’s luncheon.
Sinking back into one of the slightly worn but still functional chairs, she glanced around and took a bracing sip of black coffee. Everyone was seated now, impatiently waiting for the new owner to appear. Orwell Tippett, the athletics director, tapped a pen over and over again on his notepad. Even Summer Lawrence, the spa manager who’d found a seat on Carolyn’s other side, looked less-than-Zen as she twisted her straight, light brown ponytail into a tight corkscrew.
Summer leaned over to whisper in her ear. “What kind of changes do you think the new owner will make?”
Carolyn shrugged. “I’m not sure. We’ll have to wait and see.”
“Do you think everyone will get fired?”
“God, I hope not.”
Getting canned was her biggest worry right now. Despite the fact that members and staff seemed to like her—both personally and professionally—her family’s reputation and the fact that she was the new kid on the block both weighed against her. Now that the family fortune was decimated and the Rivington name was mud, it didn’t matter a whit that her maternal great-grandfather had been one of the club’s original investors.
Just as everyone’s anxiety was reaching a fever pitch, the door to the conference room opened. Her heart skipped a beat just before Richard stepped inside. Beside her, Eric emitted a sharp breath. He was just as worried as anyone else about the changes that might come.
She’d almost collected herself before he stepped in.
Everything kind of slipped sideways for a minute while she sat there, barely breathing. He belonged here, didn’t he? And she’d tried to kick him out! It was impossible for this day to get worse.
And then it did.
He removed his sunglasses, and familiar deep-blue eyes swept the room, sizing up everything and everyone. When his gaze finally met hers, his lips curled into the merest hint of a smile and his eyes narrowed.
“Hello, everyone,” he said in a deep voice. “I’m Jacob Gaffney, Briarwood’s new owner.”
At that moment, her heart stopped. Actually stopped, just like her dad’s had last week when he’d suffered a massive heart attack brought on by the huge amount of stress he was under. But Carolyn wasn’t having a heart attack, because her organ kick-started up almost immediately.
It had been the best summer of her life—until everything had come crashing down. As she stared at him, trying to morph these new, hard, masculine features onto the boy she knew, Jake stared back. A complicated mix of emotion passed over his face—awareness, desire.
Sure that her cheeks were turning a furious crimson, she looked down at her fingers, now twisting in her lap. For a long time, she’d put up a wall to stop the ache, telling herself it was for the best. That she had been too young. Too inexperienced. But she was just fooling herself. Regret, sadness, and not for the first time, the intense desire for a do-over coursed through her in a wave of emotion. But in life, there were no do-overs, were there?
This hardened, transformed-to-the-point-of-unrecognizability Jake wasn’t going to give her one. Why would he, considering what she and her family had done?
Jake was now introducing himself and laying out the game plan for the staff for the next couple of weeks. The words, the room, even the walls were a blur. She was screwed, utterly and completely.
Because as soon as Jake got her alone, he was going to fire her ass, and then she’d be back where she started: a former socialite with crippling debt and a family on the brink of collapse.
Not that Jake would care, given that the last time she’d seen him, he’d been handcuffed in the back of a police car.
And her father was the one who’d put him there.
Elisabeth Barrett lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and spends her days teaching, editing, writing sexy contemporary romance, and enjoying time with her sometimes-bearded husband and three spirited children. She is constantly perfecting her home-work-writing juggling act, but in her free time she loves to hike open-space preserves, grow orchids, bake sweet things her husband won’t eat, and sing in grand choruses. For more about Elisabeth, please visit her website.
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