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Coming Home to Sugar Lake (previously published as Sugar’s Twice as Sweet)
Includes a Bonus Novella
By Marina Adair
Formats and Prices
- Mass Market $8.99 $12.99 CAD
- ebook $5.99 $7.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
- Mass Market $6.00 $7.00 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 27, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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He's trouble she doesn't need…
Thanks to a cheating fiancé, Josephina Harrington's perfect life just crashed and burned. Moving in with her overbearing parents is definitely not an option. No, she needs to prove she can make it on her own. And she will-by turning her great-aunt's old house into a destination getaway. She's just not expecting her contractor to be so hands-on-and so totally irresistible.
…but everything she wants.
Bad-boy golf champion Brett McGraw figured his hometown of Sugar, Georgia was the perfect place to lay low and get his life back up to par. The leggy blonde with a pint-sized pup is the kind of sweet 'n sassy trouble he never saw coming. She doesn't know a nut from a bolt and before long, he's renovating her house . . . as she steals his heart. Can he convince Josephina that his womanizing ways are in the past and he's ready for forever?
Includes the bonus novella, Kiss Me at Sweetwater Springs, from Annie Rains!
I would like to thank my fabulous agent, Jill Marsal, for guiding me through my first year of being a published author. And what a year! You are a fairy godmother, savvy agent, and dear friend all wrapped up in one.
A special thanks to my editor Michele Bidelspach for taking a chance on my work and pushing me to make this story the best it could be, and to the rest of the team at Grand Central for all of the amazing work and support.
I am forever grateful for the amazing women whom I am lucky enough to call friends: Hannah Jayne, Kori David, Diana Orgain, Marni Bates, Barbara Halliday, and, of course, you, Boo.
Finally, and most important, to my fabulous daughter and husband, for understanding that this is more than just my dream and believing in me no matter how crazy things got.
Josephina Harrington had barely pulled on her pink lace panties and already she knew it was a mistake.
It wasn’t the nearly naked part that had her worried. Or the pair of strappy stilettos, which had her teetering in the confined space. What had her sweating was how the hell she was going to stand back up.
Who knew joining the mile-high club could be so dangerous? Okay, so the jet was on the tarmac, but still.
Between her fiancé’s high-profile life and orchestrating a Manhattan social front to ensure that Wilson’s “career-making moment” went off with flawless perfection, Josephina and Wilson had hardly seen each other, let alone found time to talk about the wedding. So if engineering a totally out of the ordinary sexcapade got Wilson out of his business briefs and into hers, Josephina was more than willing. Especially since lately, “kinky” had consisted of her on top.
Grabbing a pink negligee from her bag, she tugged it over her head, braced her hands on either wall of the minuscule bathroom, and slowly walked her way back up. A fluff here, a swipe there, and a few seductive kissy-faces in the mirror later, the normally professional Josephina was ready for Mission Get-the-Sizzle-Back.
Cracking open the door, she whispered in her steamiest come-hither voice, “Wilson, can you help me a minute?”
She pulled the door closed and smothered a nervous giggle. Wilson was going to flip, she was sure of it. One look at her in this and he would forget the contract, forget his conference call with the senator from New York, forget his pressing emails. Forget everything but them.
Muffled footsteps sounded outside the door and Josephina sucked in a breath. For the first time in—God she couldn’t even remember—she felt hope swell.
The jet suddenly shifted as if someone had slammed a door in the underbelly. Had she been in sensible shoes, she wouldn’t have been flung backward, wedging her butt between the toilet and the sink. Nor would she have, upon freeing herself, crashed through the bathroom door and flopped into the aisle.
Josephina froze on all fours, fanny up, and swallowed down embarrassment. All of the blood rushed to her cheeks as she took in the five surprised faces staring down at her.
She didn’t remember getting up or the distinguished-looking businessmen quickly exiting onto the tarmac. But the look on Wilson’s face would forever be seared into her memory.
“Jesus.” His eyes raked over her and Josephina no longer felt sexy or seductive. She was no longer a woman claiming her destiny. She felt stupid and silly.
“Surprise,” she choked out, resisting the urge to grab an in-flight blanket and toss it over her head. This was bad, she told herself. But not the end of the world. At least she hoped not.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Before Josephina could answer, Wilson held up an exasperated hand. “Never mind. Because that’s the problem, you weren’t thinking. You never think, you just do.” He shook his head in a manner that she knew all too well. She had disappointed him—again.
“You’re right.” She took his hand. “And I’m sorry. I wanted to take your mind off work for a bit and maybe have a little fun. Besides, I bet those men have been in similar situations.”
“That was a U.S. state senator.” Oh, boy, this was worse than she thought. “And the man who will determine if I get the support I need for the new West Side resort. Not to mention a good chunk of the Japanese investors. And this . . .” Wilson’s gaze raked over her guaranteed-to-make-him-flip blush-colored lace. And he had flipped. Just not in the way Josephina had been hoping. “You know what? I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.”
He jerked his hand back and Josephina felt something inside hollow out.
“I was going to wait, but I think it’s better that we do this now.”
She wasn’t sure if it was her poor choice in footwear or the finality in his voice, but the plane suddenly began to tilt. She gripped the headrest of a leather seatback.
“I can’t do this anymore, Josephina. I can’t marry you.”
Josephina tilted her head, trying to clear her ears. Even though the jet hadn’t left the runway, she determined it must be the cabin’s pressure distorting his words. Because he couldn’t be dumping her. They were perfect for each other. Everyone thought so. Her friends loved him. Her parents loved him.
Sure, she could be impulsive, even flighty at times. But he said her creative side was cute. He had even said so in the wedding section of the New York Times.
“Damn it, don’t cry.” He handed her his handkerchief.
“I’m not.” But she took it anyway, surprised to find she was crying. She never cried. Wilson said it made her skin blotchy.
“We both know that this hasn’t been working for a while.”
“Oh, God,” she gasped, clutching the handkerchief, which was now a rumpled, snotty ball, to her chest. Everything was suddenly clear. “You said you didn’t want to do this now. As in you were going to do this later? Were you just going to wait until we got to Paris and then dump me?”
He ran a hand through his hair before meeting her gaze. “We thought it would be best if they were there. We all agreed that you’d need the support.”
“We?” The word caught in her throat, choking so bad it hurt to breathe. She’d thought this engagement was her first step in creating something of her own, something she could be proud of.
“Your parents agreed that—”
“My parents?” She stepped forward, jabbing a finger into his chest. “You talked to my parents before talking to me?” She poked him again—only harder, sending him backing away until he collided with an open tray table. “You broke up with my parents?”
She grabbed him by his shirt collar and pulled him close. “This is calm.”
A bitter taste filled her mouth. The only person she’d ever confided in had sold her out. Placed her in the position to look as if she, once again, couldn’t successfully manage anything through to completion. Her engagement—as her parents would immediately point out—was another failure in a long list of Josephina missteps.
“This is exactly why we thought to do it around the table,” he said. “You just feel and then act. You never take into consideration how it will affect anyone but yourself. I wanted to make this work. Our families get along, we have the same circle of friends. Every time you come with me I think, is today the day she does something that ruins what I’ve worked so hard to create?”
“I didn’t know love could be such a liability.” Her voice was small and pitiful. She winced at the sound.
Wilson swallowed and shifted his gaze. Oh, my God.
“Did you ever even love me?”
“I tried.” His voice was gruff. “But with you, everything is hard, even love.” Even if she had been able to form some kind of coherent sound, she never got the chance.
“Mr. Schmitt? I hate to interrupt, but if you want to make it to Paris in time for the meeting the pilot says we need to take off now.”
Josephina turned and there standing in the doorway, dressed in pressed barracuda blue and illuminated by a golden halo, stood Wilson’s head of business development, Babette Roberts. It was as if the heavens themselves had opened up to shine down on perfection. She was successful, polished, spoke five languages, and glided effortlessly down the aisle in her pencil skirt and Ivy League entitlement. Josephina looked down at herself and seriously considered jumping into a garment bag. And quite possibly zipping it up.
Babette smoothed her perfectly coifed hair and Josephina felt the room swallow her whole. She took a step back, then another, grabbing her purse and slowly making her way to freedom. When she hit the metal boarding plank she turned and bolted as fast as her wobbly legs would allow.
As the jet’s engines roared to a start, drowning out the slapping of her heels on the tarmac, Josephina wondered, for the millionth time in as many seconds, why she had grabbed only her purse and not her clothes. And how it took a seven-carat Cartier bracelet, with its couture, diamond-encrusted-hook-and-eye latch—the one she’d spied in Wilson’s briefcase last week—winking at her from Babette’s wrist to realize that she was a fool.
* * *
Brett McGraw gaped at the screen on the opposite side of the bar, unable to believe his eyes. There, playing in fifty-five inches of HD glory, right below some antlers and next to the neon John Deere sign, were he and a Texas bombshell, twisted like a couple of pretzels. She was partially hidden by a wave of sweat-tangled hair but he was unmistakable, wearing only a black FCC censored tag and a Stetson. She was giving him the ride of his life, panting his name and swinging a distinctively green jacket over her head like a lasso.
Brett squinted at the screen. He remembered the night, remembered the hotel room, remembered winning his first PGA Masters. But he had a hell of a time remembering the girl’s name. Until he read the ticker tape running across the bottom of the screen.
And damn near spit out his beer.
Brett leaned in for a second read: Bethany Stone, daughter of Dirk Stone and heiress to the Stone Golf fortune, was par for the course when she decided to take her family’s endorsement of PGA’s bad-boy cowboy, Brett McGraw, from corporate to private with a single hole in one.
Dirk Stone and Brett’s older brother Cal were golf buddies, which was how Brett landed Stone Golf as his official sponsor. If he lost Stone, he’d lose a good quarter of his revenue and, he was afraid, Cal’s respect. The last thought sent a bunch of shitty emotions rushing over him.
“In every way that counts,” Jace McGraw, Brett’s kid brother and as of late roommate, said sparing a glance at the television before sliding onto the bar stool next to him.
Jace waved over the bartender, a sexy redhead who was all legs and cleavage in a tissue-thin tank, red bra, and golf-bunny tattoo that peeked out when she leaned over the bar, gifting him with an impressive view.
She looked at the screen, back to Brett, and gave a welcoming smile. “My, my, my, mister Brett, that’s a mighty large censored tag you got there.”
Mister Brett flashed his million-dollar spokesman grin and Jace groaned.
“Two beers and a hundred bucks if we get out of here without being noticed,” Jace said, waving her off.
“You got it.” The pretty redhead tucked the bills in her bra and walked away, hips swaying as if she knew he was watching. And he was. So was Jace. Although Brett was looking more out of habit than interest, which was something he’d had a hard time mustering up lately. Being wanted for his drive, on and off the course, was starting to get old.
“I was hoping to get here before it hit the networks,” Jace said.
Brett looked around the bar, noticing all eyes were on him. Especially the fluttering ones.
Resisting the urge to pull his Stone Golf hat lower, he turned to Jace, tilting his head back slightly to meet his dark gaze. His kid brother was built like a bull, had more tattoos than fingers, and with his buzzed head and bad-ass attitude people often mistook him for an ex-con instead of ex-military with one of the best mechanical minds in professional racing. Rather, had been in racing, until some journalist, looking for dirt on Brett, exposed Jace’s past.
“You could have at least given me a heads up.”
“You’re lucky I didn’t just give them your location myself. Hell, Brett, I haven’t even been able to piss without some dill-rod shoving a camera in my face.”
“My place is about as bad,” a voice said from behind. Brett didn’t have to turn to see who it was.
Cal sank down onto a stool on the other side of Brett, his shoulders shoving and his elbows jabbing, pressing all his older-brother bullshit into Brett’s space. His brothers were range-tough, bad-ass, and overprotective as hell. And Brett couldn’t help but grin because, man, he was glad to see them. Cal and Jace were the only two people in the world who had his back, no matter what.
“Any idea how bad this will get?” Jace asked.
“Not sure what the fallout will be yet,” Cal said, picking up Brett’s beer as though he wasn’t sitting right there. “He needs to lie low and disappear for a couple of months.”
The media had been hounding Brett for years, ever since he won his first Masters at twenty-three. This story, Brett’s gut screamed, felt different.
“What about Illinois?” Jace asked.
Cal drained the beer. “I think he should skip Illinois.”
“The John Deere Classic? They’re one of my biggest sponsors. I’m already on the roster. Hell, my face is on the fucking ad. It doesn’t get more southern than a tractor, Cal. And McGraws don’t hide.”
Jace went on as if Brett hadn’t even spoken. “What about the playoffs?”
“He’s done well enough in the first part of the year. Even if he skips June and July he should still have enough points to make it into the FedEx Cup,” Cal said, looking disappointed as hell.
“Wait! You want me to lie low until the end of August? That’s ten weeks!”
Not gonna happen. The last few months Brett’s focus had been shit and he didn’t know why. There wasn’t any one thing he could point to, he just felt indifferent—about everything. Not a good place to be. But if he stood a chance at taking the FedEx Cup this year, he needed to be on top of his game. He needed a win in Illinois.
“Yeah, ten weeks, playboy,” Jace said. “Time for the sponsors to settle down and the news to move on to someone or something else.”
“Hold up. You are all acting like you’ve never had a wild one-nighter. She was ready, I was horny, and the rest of it is none of your damn business.”
“Actually, when Grandma Hattie started playing the video for her Bible group, in my living room, it became my business.” Cal’s mouth turned up a little at the edge.
Brett tugged his hat down this time, wishing he could crawl right into it. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but Grandma Hattie had been like a mama to him and his brothers. After his parents had died, she’d stepped in and singlehandedly raised all three of them. Not an easy task, since Brett and his brothers were a handful.
“Ah, hell.” Who wanted their grandma to see them getting it on? Plus, Hattie had the biggest mouth in Sugar, possibly the entire South. “Knowing her, she’s set up a paying peep show, complete with popped corn and sweet tea.”
“Since it has over a million downloads on YouTube, I’m guessing that’s the least of your troubles,” Jace said, looking amused enough for the entire bar.
“Again, two consenting, single adults blowing off steam. Not five o’clock news material.”
“It is when you sleep with Dirk Stone’s daughter. His only daughter.”
Yeah, he got that part.
“First off, that video was taken two years ago,” Brett defended. “And before you ask, no, I didn’t know she was taping it. And no, I had no idea who she was.”
“Yeah, too bad none of that matters. All the press will see is your play-it-loose reputation,” Jace pointed out, knowing full well how a reputation can be more convincing than actual evidence.
Brett swore, because Jace was right. Even though Brett didn’t talk, women usually did. And he’d never bothered to deny the rumors.
“Damn it, Brett,” Cal said. “You’ll be lucky if all you lose is Stone’s endorsement. If he jumps it won’t be long before others follow suit.”
“He can’t dump me, we have a contract. And as long as I keep winning the others will stick.”
“According to Stone, he can and says he will,” Cal confirmed. “Your contract is up for renewal after this season. Plus, any sponsor can pull their endorsement if they can prove you acted in a way that could adversely affect their image.”
“The man made his fortune selling golf balls. How much morality can there be in golf balls?”
“This is Georgia,” Jace pointed out. “A God-fearing, Bible-thumping state. What the hell did you think would happen?”
“Not this.” Brett was always so careful. He might look as if he played life fast and loose, but persona and reality didn’t always mesh. He took into account every action, knowing his life was made up of perception and percentages. It was never just his career on the line. A lot of families were dependent on his swing and ability to sell ad space.
Even the residents of Sugar, Georgia, weren’t above cashing in on his name, and that income source would dry up real quick if his sponsors bailed. Which was exactly why he took his responsibility seriously. The people of Sugar might live for gossip but they took strong exception to outsiders butting in on their business. They also protected their own—and that meant he had to do whatever it took to ride out the scandal.
He just wished like hell he were enjoying this ride half as much as the girl still gyrating on the screen.
The bartender came back, carrying a tray of beers and swinging her hips in the universal sign for I’m game. “Figured your friends would be thirsty, too.” She offered up three beers, a bowl of peanuts, and a seductive wink. “If you need me, you just let me know. I’m always available to whet your thirst, Mr. Brett.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Seems like you have some thirsty customers over there,” Cal said shoving his beer to the side and giving the waitress a polite kiss-off.
She puckered her lips up in a pout and mouthed for Brett to call her before heading off to the other side of the bar.
Cal glared and Brett didn’t see the big deal. He was upfront with women, always made sure they knew it was a no-strings situation, always left them more than satisfied, and always acted like a gentleman.
Bottom line—he loved women. And they loved him right back.
“Wipe that smug-ass grin off your face,” Jace said, sounding equally amused and pissed.
“The only reason you’re still standing is because Payton made me promise to bring you home in one piece.” Cal ran a hand through his hair and looked every bit the stressed, single dad of a teen girl.
“Payton saw it?”
“No, I got her out of the room before it got good, but she’s already asking questions.”
“What did you tell her?”
“Nothing yet, but I have to come up with something. She’s twelve. Twelve, Brett. Do you think she won’t hear about it at school? Or from Hattie and her Bible group?” Cal leveled him with a glare. “Hattie’s already saying she’s going to tan your bare hide. Right below and to the right of that tattoo of yours.”
“Wait? Did you say home? As in Sugar?”
“Yup.” Now it was Cal’s turn to smile.
He’d rather face a whole course of pissed-off sponsors than that town. When Brett left for college it was on a scholarship set up by the good people of Sugar. When he made the PGA they threw a parade in his honor. After his first Masters win they’d named a highway after him.
At the thought of going home with this scandal surrounding him, Brett felt that familiar churning in his gut. It happened whenever he thought about letting people down. Which was why he’d kept his visits home short and sweet.
“Sorry, guys. I can’t go home.” Even the word felt wrong. It no longer referred to the aged farmhouse they’d been raised in. With his first Masters purse, Brett had built Hattie her dream home on the back side of the family property, which butted up to Sugar Lake. The ridiculous McMansion, with is marble floors and sweeping staircase, was situated right off the newly named Brett McGraw Highway and served as a painful reminder of all that had been lost. “I’ve got the John Deere Classic.”
“We already decided, you’re skipping Illinois,” Jace reminded him.
Cal put his hands up, effectively cutting off any argument Brett could have made. “What you need to be worrying about is Stone’s daughter, especially since she is getting married in a few weeks and tensions in the family are now probably running high. Let’s give Stone a chance to lie low. Cool down. Forget about you and his precious baby girl. And give your agent a chance to fix this without having you screw it up by parading around town with a herd of horny golf-bunnies in your wake.”
“Cal’s right. Giving it a few months to let the media frenzy die down wouldn’t hurt,” Jace added, and Brett felt like an ass. The earlier stress Brett was picking up wasn’t just for him, the stations were probably playing all the footage from Jace’s arrest. Every time his kid brother moved on with his life—new job, new town, new girl—his past always seemed to resurface and fuck it up. Brett’s career was a big reason it kept resurfacing. That Jace was crashing at Brett’s place in Atlanta only made it worse.
If he went home the hype would fizzle. No photos, no story. And in Sugar no one would make it easy on the press. Last time the media had come to town sniffing out a story the locals had, with a southern smile and a Bless your heart, rolled up the welcome mats.
“You were thinking about helping Cletus host the Sugar summer golf program for the kids this year anyway,” Jace offered, trying to polish the obvious turd that was Brett’s predicament. Brett had been one of those kids. Actually he was the flagship student. As far as Brett was concerned, Cletus Boyle was one of the reasons he was a professional golfer and not in jail.
“So basically you two came here to tell me it would be a great place to lie low for the next few months?” Beyond a better grip, Brett doubted he had anything positive to offer these kids other than how to fuck up your life in one night.
“I came down here to kick your ass. Cletus came up with the idea of you helping out for the summer,” Cal said, piling on the guilt. “Full time.”
Full time? “Crap, he saw the video?”
“Called a few minutes after it broke. Thought you could use some time dredging the lake for golf balls and figuring shit out. I happen to agree,” Cal said.
Great, Cletus wasn’t looking for a mentor for the kids. He was looking for a way to save Brett from himself. Again.
“And Hattie said you promised to MC the Sugar Ladies’ summer concert in July.”
“I said I’d try to make it.” Which in Hattie terms meant she was free to leverage his name for a good cause. This time it was the Sugar Medical Center’s new pediatric ward. The town had spent the better part of the year trying to raise funds to finish the project—and Brett was their secret weapon.
He squeezed the bridge of his nose, not seeing any way around this. He was already here, in the great state of Georgia, with apparently nowhere pressing to be until the playoffs. Which meant that he had to go back to the one place that made him feel like that scared fourteen-year-old kid who’d just lost his parents, looking like a coward with his tail between his legs.
“Fine, ten weeks,” Brett groaned.
* * *
“Aren’t you even curious about what Wilson is up to?” Russell, the delivery boy for Big Wang’s, asked, leaning against the door frame of Josephina’s New York high-rise, a bag of takeout dangling from his finger.
“Nope.” Curiosity had faded the second Wilson’s jet had pulled away, leaving her half naked and stranded on a corporate tarmac. She was curious, though, about how long a woman, who was clearly wearing the same wrinkled slacks and chocolate-stained blouse from three days ago when she tried to leave the house, could live on Chinese food before she began to look pathetic.
“Because his Facebook status says engaged.”
“It’s said engaged for the past two years.” Two years, seven months, and eleven days. Josephina dug through her wallet and pulled out two bills.
“To Babette Roberts,” Russell threw out.
Josephina froze. Her eyes flew to Russell’s.
“How do you know?” she whispered, hating the way her voice shook.
“Sherman told me when he let me up.”
- On Sale
- Dec 27, 2022
- Page Count
- 448 pages