By Marina Adair
By Jen Gilroy
By Olivia Miles
By V. K. Sykes
By Jo Watson
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Format:ebook (Digital original) $15.99 $19.99 CAD
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Last Kiss of Summer by Marina Adair
Kennedy Sinclair, pie shop and orchard owner extraordinaire, is all that stands between Luke Callahan and the success of his hard cider business. But when the negotiations start heating up, will they lose their hearts? Or seal the deal?
Burning Moon by Jo Watson
When Lilly Swanson’s fiance leaves her at the altar, she makes an impulsive decision-she heads off to Thailand to spend her honeymoon alone. She quickly learns that everything in Thailand is very hot: the weather, the merchandise, and especially Damien-the sexy, spontaneous man she meets before her feet even hit the sand. After a week of letting go, indulging her every impulse and desire, Lilly must go back to the girl she used to be. Or can Damien convince her that their party doesn’t have to end?
One Week to the Wedding by Olivia Miles
In theory, Kate Daniels couldn’t be more excited to be planning her best friend’s wedding, but lately just thinking about gowns and centerpieces makes her want to hide. Maybe it’s because her fiance cheated with her younger sister, Charlotte. Or maybe it’s because her newfound reputation as a jilted wedding planner isn’t exactly doing wonders for her career. With the wedding only a week away, Kate expects a few surprises. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself believing…in the strength of family, and the possibility of finding love again.
Meet Me at the Beach by V.K. Sykes
Gorgeous Lily Doyle was the only thing Aiden Flynn missed after he escaped from Seashell Bay to play pro baseball. Now back on the island, memories rush in about the night of passion they shared long ago, and everything else washes right out to sea-everything except the desire that still burns between them.
The Cottage at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy
Eighteen years ago, Charlotte Gibbs left Firefly Lake-and Sean Carmichael-behind to become a globetrotting journalist. But now she’s back. Will the two have a second chance at first love? Or will the secret Charlie’s hiding be their undoing?
Kennedy Sinclair had taken only two steps toward her new life and already her toes were beginning to pinch.
"I don't think I have what it takes," she admitted, plopping down on the changing room bench to loosen the buckles on her new Comme Il Faut ballroom dance shoes, sighing as the blood rushed back to her feet. The red satin straps were trouble enough—looping tightly around the ankle and pulling across the tops of her toes, pinching off all circulation—but the heels were the real problem. Staggering toothpicks that added enough height to cause light-headedness and excessive teetering. A result, no doubt, of attempting to perform aerobic activity in depleted oxygen zones.
Or her body's preference for practical.
Too bad for her feet, she was done with practical. At least for the summer, she thought, taking in her matching cardigan set, glasses, and hair secured with a pencil at the back of her neck. Sure, right then, she supposed she resembled the bookkeeper that she was. But in a week's time, the summer semester at the culinary school she did bookkeeping for would end and she would be in Argentina—spending the next few months in the most exciting way possible.
"Engaged," she whispered to herself. A warm bubble of giddiness bounced around her stomach and tickled her heart.
Her boyfriend of four years, Philip, had been selected for an educational exchange program, teaching elevated Southern cuisine for the fall semester at one of the top culinary schools in South America. Not that anyone was surprised by the honor. Philip was handsome, charismatic, and the youngest master chef at Le Cordon Bleu School in Atlanta. In addition to being the perfect boyfriend—he scored a solid 9.9 on the compatibility test she gave him on their first date—he was so dedicated to his career that he'd elevated the school to worldwide acclaim.
Sometimes he was almost too dedicated. Not that there was anything wrong with that. Dedicated people tended to be reliable and stable. They had the ability to see things through—something her perpetually unemployed mother could benefit from. But lately Philip had spent so much time heating up his teaching kitchen, he couldn't even manage a simple tangled-sheets stir-fry when he got home.
So when he asked Kennedy to go with him to Argentina, days after she'd found a sizing slip to her favorite vintage jewelry shop, she'd nearly exploded into tears. And had been walking around in a bliss-induced haze ever since.
She'd once read that traveling together ignites romance and intimacy between couples, opens the lines of communication, and builds healthy relationships. So it was the perfect time for them to reconnect, to take their relationship to that next level in an exotic land—to make that commitment into forever.
For her to have a long-overdue orgasm.
What better way to embrace what was to come, than with a new pair of shoes that made her feel sexy, spontaneous, and exotic. Daring even. There hadn't been a lot of opportunity for that in her life. She'd been too busy trying to find a safe harbor in an unpredictable childhood, which left her a little uptight. Okay, she was obsessed with organization and order, but now that she had a secure future ahead of her, and a stable man by her side, it was time to push the comfort of their relationship a little and experiment with new things.
Standing again, precariously balanced on her heels, she looked at her toes in the changing room mirror, then to the sensible cream flats she'd been dancing in for the past few months they'd been taking lessons. The flats matched her outfit—and her future if she didn't do something now to spice it up.
A loud thump sounded from the changing room beside her, followed by a low moan. Thinking someone had teetered right out of their heels, Kennedy pressed her ear to the wall.
"Is everything okay in there?" she asked, dropping to her knees when the only response was another thump, this one vibrating the wall between them.
A similar pair of mile-high red heels stood on the other side of the divider, fastened around a set of gorgeous tanned legs, which had a little gold anklet with an orchid charm dangling.
Oh my God! It was their tango teacher, Gloria. The woman who had inspired Kennedy to come to class early and try on the red shoes in the first place. The twenty-two-year-old Latin ballroom champion had legs to her neck, enough hip action to tempt the pope, and wore raw sex appeal like most women wore perfume.
And speaking of hip action!
Kennedy covered her eyes, then peeked through the cracks of her fingers to watch as a pair of black and white, very classy, very masculine, wing-tipped shoes stepped toe to toe with the red heels, one of which lifted off the ground to lightly trace up the outside edge of her partner's leg and wrap around in a perfect caricia.
The wing tips stepped even closer, another thump ensued, then Kennedy heard the telltale sound of a zipper lowering.
Frozen, Kennedy watched as the wing tips started rocking in a perfect T-A-N-G-O rhythm, working toward, what Kennedy knew, would be a standing O. Back and forth, they swayed as the soft moans turned louder and the panting drifted under the dressing room door.
Kennedy found her hands were a little sweaty because for the first time in her life, she didn't have the right answer. Should she sneak out of the room and run for it?
A good choice, except she'd never been all that graceful and didn't have a sneaky bone in her body. Even worse, the hinges on the changing room door squeaked when she had come in, and getting caught would make for an awkward class. And she really loved their class.
It was the one hour a week when she had Philip all to herself, his undivided attention as he'd swept her across the floor, making her feel elegant and feminine. For a woman born with the coordination of a gazelle in snowshoes, it was something of a feat—something she wasn't willing to lose.
Which left hiding until they finished. An option that rather intrigued her. In fact, Kennedy felt embarrassed, intrigued, and a little bit naughty all at the same time. She also felt a tinge of disappointment, which started in her chest and moved up into her throat, because leaving the lights on was as kinky as Philip got. So this might be as close as Kennedy would ever be to a standing-O-Tango.
With that sobering realization, she took a seat, pulled her knees to her chest, and stared at the wall. Which was all kinds of ridiculous.
It wasn't as if she could see anything through the wood divider, but sitting there in her red shoes gave her the courage to imagine. Only she didn't have to imagine much since the thumping got louder—and so did the dancing duo next door.
"Ai, papi," Gloria said, her accent making every vowel sound like a promise. "You are such a good lo-bar."
"Uh," was all Mr. Lo-bar said. A single release of air that was neither sexy nor expected from an experienced Latin Lover. It was more of an admission that he'd had all he could handle. Not that Kennedy was judging—she had crested her comfort level about two moans back.
"Yes! Yes, papi," Gloria mewed and Kennedy closed her eyes. She had to. She was a private person by nature and tried her best to respect others' privacy, so the guilt began to build low in her belly. But before it could settle, Gloria cried out. "Just like zat, Phil-ep."
Kennedy's eves flew open and the guilt quickly faded to confusion and finally shock. She climbed on the bench to get a look at this Latin lover Phil-ep who uttered a simple "Uh" in the throes of passion.
Breath left her body as her heart tried to adjust, to make room for the familiar ache of disappointment pressing in. Because there on the other side of the divider, with his pants around his ankles and another woman around his waist, was the man she lived with, the man she'd planned to spend the rest of her life with, executing moves with Gloria that told Kennedy this wasn't their first tango.
No, it appeared that Phil-ep was just exotic people's talk for a cheating, rat bastard of a boyfriend, and suddenly the past few months made sense. His shift in schedule, his sudden interest in "extra" dance classes, the way he pretended to be asleep when Kennedy would snuggle up behind him at night.
She didn't remember making a sound, or maybe the blood rushing through her ears made it hard to hear, but suddenly Philip looked up—and froze. At least she thought it was Philip. Right height, right build, right piercing blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, but he looked different somehow.
"What are you doing here," was all he said. No "I'm sorry," or "Whoops, I tripped and accidentally ended up having sex with another woman," or "Please forgive me." Just "What are you doing here," as though this were somehow her fault.
Maybe it was. What kind of woman didn't know when her boyfriend was sleeping with someone else?
The kind who puts all her eggs in the wrong basket. A trait that had been passed down from Sinclair mother to Sinclair daughter for five generations. A trait that Kennedy had spent a lifetime trying to overcome, without much luck.
"You know what, Phil-ep? I have no idea what I'm doing here," she said then stepped off the bench.
Grabbing her purse, she walked out of the changing room, proud that she wasn't toppling over in the heels.
"Wait," Philip said and she heard a lot of rustling of fabric from his stall, but she didn't stop, refused to wait. She'd waited four years for him to pop the question, four years for him to take her on a vacation, to show her the world like he'd promised, and now she was tired of waiting.
Only Philip had always been an efficient dresser and incredibly quick, as Gloria must already know, so he was out of his stall and in front of her before she could make her escape.
"Let's talk about this."
"I am a visual learner, Philip, I think I understand. Tab A, slot B, no further explanation needed." Plus, there was nothing he could say that could make this any less painful—or more humiliating.
"I didn't mean for it to end this way."
Except that, she thought, her heart beating so fast she was afraid it would pop right out of her chest. He'd just broken up with her, in a public dressing room, with his fly down and his mistress listening to every word.
Part of her wanted to ask why? Why did everyone else always seem to move on before she got the memo that it was over?
"Well, it didn't end 'this way,'" she said. "Because I reject your pathetic breakup since I broke up with you the second you became Mr. Lo-bar."
He stuffed his hands in his pockets, only to remove them when he realized his fly parted. "I never meant to hurt you, Kennedy. It's just that we're so"—he looked at her starched pants and shirt and sighed—"solid."
"Most people would think that solid was a good thing." It was one of her biggest strengths, right along with reliable, steady, accountable.
The look he gave her said that he wasn't most people; that he was no longer looking for solid. Maybe he never had been. Maybe she'd been nothing more than someone to fill the gap between life's high points. A position Kennedy knew well.
"It is, but we've become so predictable"—he shrugged—"boring."
"Excuse me?" she said, the words getting caught on the humiliation that was clogging her throat.
"There is a color-coded, itemized itinerary for our Argentina trip on the fridge." He said it like that was a bad thing. "With Gloria, everything is fun and unexpected and new. Exciting."
Kennedy wanted to argue that she could be fun and exciting, too, try new things. She was the one who submitted his application for Argentina—not that she was going anymore. She had signed them up for dance classes. But then she thought of Gloria and her Latin moves and impulsive tendencies, and figured Philip wasn't willing to settle for classes anymore when he could have the real thing.
"With her, I'm exciting," he added.
"Exciting?" she asked, heavy on the sarcasm. The man thought golfing without a caddy was living on the edge. "You need a humidifier to sleep at night."
At one time Kennedy had thought he'd needed her, too. Just last semester he told her how he slept better, breathed easier, had less stress in his day knowing that she had his back at work and she'd be there when he got home.
Every cell of Kennedy froze in sheer horror because—oh my God—she was his humidifier. Kennedy Sinclair, winner of Berkeley's esteemed THE WORLD'S YOUR ABACUS award, was a certified life humidifier. Ironic because in that moment, with her whole solid world crashing down around her, she found it hard to breathe.
* * *
Whoever said one could never really go home obviously wasn't a Sinclair, because later that night, with all of her worldly possessions in the trunk, a bag of mostly eaten cookies in her lap, and a light dusting of powdered sugar everywhere in between, Kennedy pulled into her grandmother's drive. She'd made this journey a thousand times as a kid, the inevitable walk of shame to Grandma's house whenever her mother's world fell apart.
Only now that she was an adult, making the same pilgrimage felt so much worse. Maybe because it was her world falling apart or maybe because instead of packing for her first big adventure—which didn't come from a book or movie—she was once again packing up her entire life, forced to start over.
It was as if Sinclair women were destined to wind up alone and displaced. A disturbing thought, since Kennedy had done everything right, everything in her power to avoid ending up like her mother. The right school, right profession, right man. Yet there she was, single, homeless, and as of tomorrow, unemployed.
From a job she really loved. Balancing books at a culinary institute was the only way to blend her profession and her hobby—baking sweets.
Shoving another cookie in her mouth, Kennedy bent down to pop the trunk, crumbs falling out of God knew where and littering the floorboard. Wiping her mouth on the sleeve of her hoodie, she stepped out of the car, grabbed her suitcase, and walked up the brick pathway to the modest-sized Queen Anne–style house.
Even before her feet hit the landing, she knew Grandma Edna had stayed up and was waiting for her arrival. The "dreaming swing," which hung in the corner of the porch, was moving idly. Perched happily inside with Amos and Andy, her two cats, was Edna Sinclair.
All soft curves and frosted tips, she wore a teal house robe, matching crocheted slippers, and a warm smile. She also had a single strip of toilet paper wrapped around her curlers and secured with bobby pins.
"I'm home," Kennedy said, dropping her suitcase on the welcome mat, which read, WENT BIG AND CAME HOME.
"Figured it was either that or I was about to be robbed." Edna glanced at Kennedy's black hoodie pulled over her head and yoga pants. "Glad it's you, seeing as I made cookies and the boys don't like to share none."
The "boys" sent her their best disrupt our pet time and we will pee on your bed glare.
"I made cookies, too." She held up the bag, which was surprisingly light, and joined her grandmother on the swing. They both had to scoot down to accommodate Andy's swishing tail. "Snacked on them on the way over."
"I can see that," Edna said, brushing at Kennedy's shoulder and unleashing an avalanche of crumbs onto Amos's back. He growled, his little whiskers doing double time.
"Snowball cookies." Kennedy rubbed at a large cluster of crumbs that had collected in her cleavage, but it made only a white smear, so she shrugged and gave up. "They're Philip's favorite. I made a batch while I was packing."
"Did you leave him any?"
Kennedy shook her head. "Just a dirty kitchen. And my resignation."
"That was nice of you." Edna patted her knee and Kennedy's eyes started to burn. "Most women would have assumed letting the air out of his tires was word enough."
Most Sinclair women would have shot first, asked questions second, and then let him pull up his pants after they felt they'd been properly heard. But Kennedy had always been the more reserved one in her family.
"I wrote it in Sharpie across all of his dry cleaning that I had just picked up," she admitted.
"There's that creative, passionate girl I know," Edna said and an unexpected flicker of excitement ignited at her grandmother's words. No one had called her creative and passionate since she was a girl. Instead of being embarrassed by her impulsive behavior, she gave in to it, surprised at how liberating it felt.
Almost as powerful an emotion as the choking fear of not knowing what was next. Of how she was expected to pick up and move on—again.
Torn between laughing and crying, Kennedy settled on staring out at the Georgia sky and letting the gentle evening breeze be her guide. Like Kennedy, Edna lived in the greater Atlanta area, which meant that the city lights snuffed out most of the stars, leaving an inky blanket over the city. But tonight, there were a few bold ones whose twinkle was bright enough to break through the night and be seen. And for some reason that made Kennedy smile.
"I miss that girl," Edna said, wrapping a pudgy arm around Kennedy's shoulder and pulling her close.
"I do, too." Without hesitation, Kennedy snuggled in deeper, wrapping her arms around Edna's middle and breathing in the familiar scent of cinnamon and vanilla and everything that was safe. One sniff and Kennedy felt her smile crumble and the tears well up.
"They were doing it during the light of day against the wall of a dressing room," she whispered. "With their shoes on. He's never asked me to keep my shoes on."
"Of course he didn't," Edna cooed. "You're a respectable woman who knows the value of a good pair of shoes."
Oh God. Even her grandmother thought she was respectable, and everyone knew that respectable was just another word for boring. And boring people wound up living in their childhood bedroom at thirty with the neighborhood crazy cat lady as their roommate. "What if I wanted to keep my shoes on?"
"With what he's been stepping in lately, you should count yourself lucky," her grandma cooed.
"Gloria's the lucky one. He's taking her to Argentina next week." And there went the tears.
She tried to hold them back, but sitting there in her grandmother's arms, once again being the one snuffed out by something—or someone—bigger and brighter, brought back every time her mom had taken off with some guy on some other adventure, leaving Kennedy at home.
"He's the one who cheated, the one who lied, and he still gets to go teach in Argentina, and cross something off his bucket list. And I am stuck in another life time-out." A realization that not only sucked, but also challenged every belief she'd ever held dear. Including the belief in herself.
"That just means you get to check something off your own list now."
"That was my list. Argentina was my dream." Then it became their dream, and somehow Philip would get to be the one to live it.
"Ah, child, then find a new dream, something fun that doesn't include listening to all that wheezing the jackass does when he gets excited," Edna said, stroking Kennedy's hair.
Kennedy chuckled. "One time he snored so loud, our neighbors thought we were doing it all night."
"Probably thought he'd taken one of those blue pills," Edna said in the same tone she'd read a bedtime story. "Philip doesn't strike me as the most resilient man."
He wasn't, but Kennedy hadn't been interested in sprinters; she was looking for someone who was slow and steady. Only her best chance at going the distance had handed his baton to another woman.
"How can I have any fun when I know he's out there living his life, having shoes on while making whoopee, and tangoing all over my future?"
A future Kennedy had worked so hard to make safe. With a man she thought she could trust.
Edna tsked. "Even as a little bit of a thing, you were so busy making checks and balances, you let the fun pass you by. Maybe this was God's way of saying you need to let go of the future you planned, and take some time to taste the icing."
The size of a large child, Kennedy still was a little bit of a thing who didn't know the first thing about life's icing. Hadn't had the luxury. Between her unstable childhood then working toward gaining fiscal stability, she hadn't had a lot of time for dreaming, let alone something that whimsical. Sadly, the closest she'd ever come to eating the icing was a fun four years working the morning shifts at a little bakery near campus to put herself through business school.
"I wouldn't even know where to start," she admitted, her voice thick with emotion.
"How about with one of these?" Edna pulled an old journal out from beside her and set it on Kennedy's lap. It was pink, pocket sized, had a well-worn spine and a picture of a cupcake with sprinkles on the cover.
The hurt and disappointment had settled so deep inside, it had turned into aching numbness by the time she'd walked out of her downtown loft for the last time, so she assumed any more pain would be impossible. Yet as she clicked open the gold-plated latch, which was rusty from years of neglect, and saw the swirly handwriting at the top, her chest tightened further.
This disappointment felt different, as though it originated from someplace old and forgotten, and it packed the kind of punch that made speaking impossible.
Kennedy wasn't sure how she managed to let herself stray so far from her life's goal. She hadn't felt the kind of hope and excitement that was apparent in the words she'd written since she discovered that while most people were looking for a copilot to happiness, not everyone had what it took to be more than just a brief stopover. Sadly for Kennedy, she'd figured out early on which category she fell into.
"'Life's short so eat the icing first,'" she read as her finger traced lightly over the words on the first page. Edna had given it to her the summer she'd turned thirteen, when Candice Sinclair had taken off with a truck driver from Ashland, leaving a brokenhearted Kennedy behind with her grandmother.
Kennedy was still naive enough to believe that one day her mother would take her along. That one day the two of them would see the country together like Candice promised. By July, Kennedy had realized that if she were going to live an exciting life, then she'd have to make it happen herself. And she took the icing first rule to heart and entered an apple and rhubarb pie in the State Fair. She'd found the recipe in an old cookbook, and Edna had spent hours with her in the kitchen helping her perfect it. Her entry won third place in the junior category, earning her two tickets to the theater in Atlanta. Something she'd always wanted to do, but her grandmother could never afford.
"Look at you, set to take on the world," Edna said, pointing to a photo of Kennedy as a teen. She stood in front of a table filled with winning cakes, lanky and still finding her feet, but the smile she wore was so bright, it burned Kennedy's heart.
She was wearing her favorite blue summer dress that her grandmother had made especially for the fair, and pinned to the front was a third place ribbon.
"I thought I lost this recipe," Kennedy said, looking at the swirly writing on the adjacent page. She'd also forgotten how excited she'd felt when she'd won that ribbon. It was as if she'd finally found some kind of tangible proof that maybe she was special.
Kennedy turned the page and a watery smile spread across her face. There was a photo of her grandma dressed like the queen, wearing pearls, white gloves, and a hat fit for a royal wedding.
"I borrowed the pearls from Pastor Cunningham's wife, and the gloves from Mabel," Edna said, nostalgia lacing her voice.
"You made me that dress," Kennedy said. She'd loved that dress, wore it until it went from midi to mini, and Edna said she was giving too much away for free.
"It's still in the attic."
Beneath each photo was the sweet creation that made that moment possible. A three-tier coconut cake, a recipe straight from her grandmother's Southern roots, that she made the following year. It took second place and she won high tea at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta.
It was her fourth attempt, though, a perfect Southern apple and red currant pie with a Georgia pecan crust, that took first place, then took her on a six-week Down Home Sweets journey at the local culinary school, cementing her fascination with small town living, Southern eats, and a deep love for baking.
Kennedy carefully thumbed through the pages of photos capturing some of the most precious moments of her childhood, the respective recipes that made it all possible. Ignoring the photo of her and Edna cooking snowball cookies in their pajamas on Christmas morning, since that recipe would now forever be connected to that rat-fink lo-bar and his pathetic "Uh" in the throws of passion, she stopped when she found what she was looking for. At the back of the journal was an extensive and itemized list she'd assembled, her LIFE'S ICING list, which indexed every recipe she wanted to try, every competition she wanted to enter, and every goal she wanted to accomplish, complete with coordinating check boxes.
Not a single one was marked off.
With a shaky breath, Kennedy flipped the page and scanned each item, stopping midway through when her heart gave a little stir.
☐ 39. Make a Rogel torta with dulce de leche.
- On Sale
- Jun 1, 2018
- Page Count
- 1200 pages