A Serendipity Novel
Book # 2
Nash Barron might be cynical about life and more recently about love, but even he normally enjoyed a good wedding. Today’s affair had been an exception. The invitation had requested the presence of close friends and family. Nash wondered if he was the only one in the group to notice the irony.
The groom’s two brothers, Nash included, were a step short of estranged and they’d only known the flower girl, their newly discovered half sister Tess, for six weeks. The bride’s father was in jail, which left her flamboyant decorator friend to give her away, while her mother spent the afternoon downing wine and bemoaning the loss of her beloved home, which just so happened to be the site of the wedding. The landmark house on the hill in their hometown of Serendipity was now owned by the groom, Nash’s brother, Ethan.
Come to think of it, the irony of the situation might be the only thing Nash had enjoyed about this day.
That and Kelly Moss, the woman sipping champagne across the lush green grass of the back yard.
Tess was Nash’s half-sister, a product of his father and Tess’s mother’s affair. Kelly, Tess’s half sister on her mother’s side, was a sexy woman who by turns frustrated him, intrigued him and turned him on. Complicated yet simple enough to be summed up in one sentence: Kelly Moss was a beautiful woman and they were in no way blood related.
Which didn’t make his desire for her any more acceptable. A simple acquaintance-like relationship seemed the safest route yet Nash had been unable to find comfortable ground with either Kelly or Tess in the time since they’d been in Serendipity. Nash had no idea why he couldn’t connect with his fourteen year old sister who seemed determined to freeze him out.
As for Kelly, at first Nash blamed his frustration with her on the fact that she’d unceremoniously dumped Tess, a sister the Barron brothers knew nothing about, on Ethan’s doorstep back in August. She’d demanded he parent the out of control teen. Nash hated to give Ethan credit for anything, but he had to admit his older brother had turned the wildly rebellious kid around in a short time. But Nash still had issues with Kelly’s methods. So when she’d resurfaced and moved to town, he’d been both understandably wary and shockingly attracted. And she’d been getting under his skin ever since.
Nash turned away and his gaze fell on Ethan, his brother whose luck seemed to have done a one-eighty since he’d abandoned his siblings ten years ago. He had chosen the perfect day for a wedding. Though early October, the temperature had hiked into the low seventies, enabling him to have the wedding outdoors. Ethan stood with his arm around his wife, Faith, talking to their youngest sibling, Dare. Even he had forgiven Ethan for the past.
Nash couldn’t bring himself to be so lenient.
He glanced at his watch and decided his time here was over. The bride and groom were married, cake served, bouquet thrown. He finished what remained of his Ketel One, placed the glass on a passing waitress’s tray and headed toward the house.
“Leaving so soon?” a familiar female voice asked.
“The festivities are over.” He turned to face the woman who’d hijacked his thoughts just moments before.
Kelly, her hair pulled loosely behind her head, soft waves escaping and grazing her shoulders, stood close beside him. Her warm, inviting lemony scent enveloped him in heat.
Nash was a man who valued his personal space. Kelly was a woman who pushed past boundaries. Yet for a reason he couldn’t fathom, he lacked his usual desire to find safer ground.
“The band is still playing,” she pointed out.
“No one will realize I’m gone.”
Or care. His leaving would probably ease any tension his presence created.
“I would.” She gazed at him with perceptive brown eyes.
Intelligent chocolate colred eyes that seemed to see beyond the indifferent façade he presented to the world. One he thought he’d perfected in his late teens, when his life had been turned upside down by his parents’ deaths followed quickly by Ethan’s abandonment of both Nash and their younger brother Dare.
“Why do you care?” he asked, even though he knew he’d be smarter to walk away.
She shrugged, a sexy lift of one shoulder that drew his attention to her soft looking skin.
“Because you seem as out of place here as I am.” She paused. “Except you’re not a stranger to town or to this family.”
Out of place. That one comment summed up his entire existence lately. How had she figured him out when no one else ever could?
“I need to leave,” he said, immediately uncomfortable.
“What you need is to relax,” she countered and stopped him with one hand on his shoulder. “Let’s dance.” She playfully tugged on his tie.
He glanced over to where the rest of the family gathered next to the dance floor. “I’m not really interested in making a spectacle.”
“Then we won’t.” She slipped her hand in his and led him to the far side of the house beneath an old Weeping Willow Tree.
He could still hear the slow music but he could no longer see the dance floor and whoever was out there couldn’t see them. She tightened her hold on his hand and he realized he’d better take control or she’d be leading him through this dance. He wrapped an arm around her waist, slid his other hand into hers and swayed to the sultry sound of the music coming from the band.
A slight breeze blew through the long dripping branches of the tree. She shivered and eased her body closer to his, obviously in need of warmth.
He inched his hand up her bare back. “Cold?” he asked in a gruff voice as her body heat and scent wrapped around him him.
He looked into her eyes to discover an awareness that matched his own, glanced down and caught sight of her lush lips. As they moved together to the music, warning bells rang in his head but nothing could have stopped him from settling his mouth on hers. The first touch was electric, a heady combination of sparkling champagne and sensual, willing woman. Her lips were soft and giving and he wasn’t sure how long their mouths lingered in a chaste kiss they both knew was anything but.
His entire body came alive, reminding him of what he’d been missing in the two years since his divorce. That this woman could awaken him both surprised and unnerved him. It made him want to feel more. He trailed his hand up the soft skin of her back and cupped her head in one hand. With a sweet sigh, she opened for him, letting him really taste her for the first time. Warmth, heat and desire flooded through him.
“Oh, gross! Just shoot me now!” Tess exclaimed in a disgusted voice.
Nash jerked back at the unwanted interruption. “What the hell are you doing?” he asked, the annoyed words escaping before he could think it through.
“Looking for Kelly. What are you doing?” She perched her hands on her hips, demanding an answer.
Wasn’t it obvious? Nash shook his head and swallowed a groan. The kid was the biggest wise-ass he’d ever come across.
“You found me,” Kelly said, sounding calmer than he did.
Like that kiss hadn’t affected her at all. A look at her told him that unless she was one hell of an actress, it hadn’t. She appeared completely unflustered, while he was snapping at Tess because the hunger Kelly inspired continued to gnaw at him.
“Ethan and Faith want to talk to you,” Tess muttered in a sulking tone.
Obviously she didn’t like what she’d seen between him and her sister. Unlike Nash, who’d liked it a lot.
Too much, in fact.
From the pissed off look on Tess’s face, kissing Kelly and biting Tess’s head off had resulted in a huge setback in trying to create any kind of relationship with his new sister. And to think, if asked, he’d have said things between them couldn’t get any worse.
“Why don’t you go tell them I’ll be right there?” Kelly said patiently to Tess.
The teenager now folded her arms across her chest. “How about not?”
Kelly raised an eyebrow. “How about I’m the one in charge while Ethan’s on his honeymoon and if you don’t want to find yourself grounded and in your room for the next two weeks, you’ll start listening now.”
With a roll of her eyes and a deliberate stomp of her foot, which wasn’t impressive considering she was wearing a deep purple dress and mini-heels from her walk down the aisle, Tess stormed away.
“Well done,” he said to Kelly, admiring how she’d gotten Tess to listen without yelling or sniping back.
“Yeah, I did a better job than you.” She shot him an amused glance. “But I can’t take any credit. You saw what she was like before Ethan took over. This change is due to his influence not mine.” Her expression saddened at the fact that she’d been unable to accomplish helping Tess on her own.
He knew the feeling. “Don’t remind me about Saint Ethan.”
She raised her eyebrow. “There’s always tension between you and Ethan. Why is that?” she asked.
He definitely didn’t want to talk about his brother or his past. “Is asking about my life your way of avoiding discussing the kiss?” He deliberately threw a question back at her as a distraction.
An unexpected smile caught hold of her lips. “Why would I want to avoid discussing it when it was so much fun?” she asked and grabbed hold of his tie once more.
Her moist lips shimmered, beckoning to him as did her renewed interest and he shoved his hands into his pants pockets. Easier to keep them to himself that way.
“Kelly! We’re waiting!” Tess called impatiently, interrupting them again and reminding him of why he had to keep his distance from Kelly from now on.
“Coming!” Kelly called over her shoulder, before meeting Nash’s gaze. “Looks like you got a reprieve.” A mischievous twinkle lit her gaze.
A sparkle he found infectious. She had spunk, confidence and an independent spirit he admired. His ex-wife had been as opposite of Kelly as he could imagine, more sweet and in need of being taken care of. Kelly could obviously hold her own.
And Nash didn’t plan on giving her the upper hand. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied.
She patted his cheek. “Keep telling yourself that.”
He would. For as long as it took to convince himself this woman would only cause him and his need to have a relationship with Tess boatloads of trouble.
Kelly Moss stood at the bottom of the circular stairs in the house that was nothing short of a mansion and yelled up at her sister. “Tess, let’s go! If you want to have time for breakfast before school, get yourself downstairs now!” It was the third time she’d called up in the last five minutes.
“I said I’m coming!” came Tess’s grumpy reply.
Ethan and Faith had left yesterday morning for their honeymoon, one week on the beautiful, secluded island of Turks and Caicos, where they had their own villa complete with private butler. Talk about living the life, Kelly thought. Hers wasn’t so bad either, since she got to stay in this huge house with her own housekeeper while they were gone.
Tess’s door slammed loudly, startling Kelly back to reality as her sister came storming out of her room, then stomping down the stairs.
The old days, when Kelly had been raising Tess alone and doing a God awful job at it came rushing back and Kelly clenched her fists. “What’s wrong?” Kelly only hoped it was something easily fixable, not a problem that would lead Tess to turn back to running wild.
“This!” Tess gestured to the school uniform she wore, a navy pleated skirt, white collared shirt and high socks. “I hate it.”
Kelly knew better than to say it was better than the all black outfits the teenager used to wear, including the old Army surplus jacket and combat boots. “You’ll get used to it.”
Tess passed by Kelly and headed for the kitchen. “It’s been a month and I still hate it.”
The clothes or the school, Kelly wondered as she followed behind her sister. “Is it the skirt? Because you didn’t mind the dress you wore at the wedding.” In fact, she’d looked like a beautiful young lady.
“It’s the fact that I have to wear it. I hate being told what to do.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Kelly muttered, having been Tess’s primary caregiver for longer than she could remember.
“I heard that.”
Kelly grinned. Tess really had come a long way thanks to Ethan Barron. Kelly shuddered to think of what might have happened if she hadn’t taken drastic steps.
Both Tess and Kelly’s mother, Leah Moss, had been a weak woman, too dependent on men and incapable of raising Tess. She’d been different when Kelly was young or maybe that’s how she wanted to remember her. Or maybe it had been Kelly’s father’s influence that had made Leah different.
Kelly would never know because her father had died of a heart attack when she was twelve. And Leah had immediately gone in search of another man to take his place. Her choice was a poor one. Leah struck up an affair with her married boss, Mark Barron. Yet despite how wrong it was, for Kelly, her mother’s years as his mistress had been stable ones, including the period after Tess was born. But with Mark Barron’s passing ten years ago, Leah had spiraled and both Kelly and Tess suffered as a result.
She’d immediately packed up and moved them to a seedy part of New York City, far from their home in Tomlin’s Cove, the neighboring town to Serendipity. Leah said she wanted them to start over. In reality, their mother had wanted an easy place to search for another lover to take care of her. But Leah never found her next white knight, turning to alcohol and a never ending rotation of disgusting men instead.
Since Tess had only been four years old at the time, a sixteen year old Kelly had become the adult, juggling high school, then part time college with jobs and raising Tess. Fortunately, her mother had moved them into a boarding house with a kindly older woman who’d helped Kelly too.
But last year, their mother had run off with some guy, abandoning her youngest daughter and something in Tess had broken. Angry and hurt, she’d turned into a belligerent, rebellious teenager, hanging out with the wrong crowd, smoking, drinking and ultimately getting arrested. Desperate, Kelly had turned to the only person she remembered from their years in Tomlin’s Cove, Richard Kane, a lawyer in Serendipity who’d put her in touch with Ethan Barron.
Kelly’s heart shattered as she basically deposited her baby sister on a stranger’s doorstep and ordered him to step up as her brother. But it was that, Kelly sensed, or heaven knew where Tess would end up. So here she was months later, starting her life over but still rushing Tess out for school, she thought, grateful things were finally looking up.
She and Tess ate a quick breakfast, after which Kelly dropped off Tess and headed to work. Another thing for which she owed Richard Kane, her job, working for him as a paralegal, in downtown Serendipity.
She stopped, as she did daily, at Cuppa Café, the town’s version of Starbucks. Kelly had worked hard all her life and she’d learned early on to save, but her entire day hinged on that first cup of caffeine. It had to be strong and good.
Kelly stepped into the coffee shop and the delicious aroma surrounded her, instantly perking her up as if she were inhaling caffeine by osmosis.
She was pouring a touch of milk into her large cup of regular coffee when a familiar woman with long curly blonde hair joined her at the far counter.
“You’re as regular as my Grandma Emma wanted to be,” Annie Kane joked.
Kelly glanced at her and grinned. “I could say the same for you.”
“Good point.” Annie laughed and raised her cup in a mock toast.
Small town living offered both perks and drawbacks. Running into a familiar face fell in the latter category. Kelly and Annie frequented Cuppa Café at the same time each morning and they’d often linger and chat. If pressed, Kelly would say Annie was the closest she had to a real friend here, if she didn’t count Faith Harrington, Ethan’s wife.
Annie was Richard Kane’s daughter, though from the pictures on Richard’s desk, Kelly noticed Annie looked more like her mother than her dad. From the first day they’d met at her father’s office, Kelly had liked the other woman.
Kelly took a long, desperately needed sip of her drink.
“So what’s your excuse for being up so early every day?”
“Routine keeps me young,” Annie said.
Kelly rolled her eyes. “You are young.” She looked Annie over, from her slip on sneakers to her jeans and light cotton sweater. “I bet we’re probably close to the same age.”
“I’ll be twenty seven next month,” Annie said.
“And I’ll be twenty seven in December.”
Annie raised her cup to her lips and Kelly couldn’t help but notice her hand shook as she took a sip.
Kelly narrowed her gaze but didn’t comment on the tremor. Instead she dove into cementing her life here in Serendipity. “Listen, instead of quick hello’s standing over coffee, how about we meet for lunch one day?” She was ready for a real friend here, someone she could trust and confide in.
Kelly adored Tess but a fourteen year old hardly constituted adult company.
“I’d like that!” Annie said immediately. “Let me give you my phone number.” As she reached into her purse, her cell phone rang and she glanced at the number.
“Excuse me a second,” she said to Kelly. “Hello?” she spoke into the receiver.
Kelly glanced away to give Annie privacy but she couldn’t help but overhear her end of the conversation.
“I’m feeling better, thanks. Yeah. No you don’t need to stop by. I called the plumber and he said he’d make it to the house by the end of the day.” Annie grew quiet, then she spoke once more. “I can afford it and you don’t need to come by. You weren’t good with the pipes when we were married,” she said, amusement in her tone.
Some more silence, then Annie said, “If you insist, I’ll see you later,” she said, now sounding more annoyed than indulgent.
She hung up and put the phone back in her bag. “My ex-husband,” she explained to Kelly. “He thinks because I have M.S. I need his constant hovering.”
The admission caught Kelly off guard and she felt for Annie, being diagnosed so young. Richard liked to talk about everything and anything when he was in the office, but he’d never mentioned his daughter’s disease. Kelly didn’t blame him for omitting something so personal. In fact she was surprised Annie had mentioned it at all.
“I’m sure you noticed my hand shaking earlier and if we’re going to be friends, you might as well know,” Annie said as if reading Kelly’s mind.
Kelly met Annie’s somewhat serene gaze. Obviously she’d come to terms with her situation. “Thanks for telling me.”
“Hey if I go M.I.A. one day, at least you’ll know why.” She shrugged, as if the notion were no big deal.
Kelly didn’t take the other woman’s confidence or situation as lightly. “Well if you ever need anything, just let me know.”
Annie smiled. “Thanks. But I think my ex will always be around to handle things,” she said through lightly clenched jaw.
“That could be a good thing,” Kelly mused, having someone at your beck and call when you need something?
“Not when you’ve told them you want to be independent,” Annie muttered.
The frustration in the other woman’s voice was something Kelly understood.
Like Annie, Kelly didn’t need or want a man who felt the need to take care of her. She was determined to be smart and self-sufficient, the opposite of her mother in every way. No matter how many obstacles life threw in her way. And unfortunately, there were more to come. Utter humiliation loomed in the not so distant future courtesy of a man she’d once loved. The affair was long over. The fallout was not. Kelly could handle the mess. Her younger sister could not. And Kelly did not want Tess exposed to gossip and innuendo just as the teenager was doing well and making better choices. Kelly only hoped the distance between Manhattan and Serendipity would spare Tess when trouble hit.
“Men just don’t get us women, do they?” Annie asked, a welcome interruption from Kelly’s troubling thoughts.
Kelly shook her head and sighed. “No, they do not.”
“First hand experience?” Annie asked.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Kelly frowned, the memory of spending the last year getting over having her heart and trust betrayed, still fresh.
“I’m sorry.” Annie blew out a long breath. “I don’t know about yours but my ex means well. He just takes the word responsibility to the extreme.”
Kelly swallowed hard. “And my ex boyfriend took the word commitment way too lightly.”
“Excuse me,” an older man said, indicating he needed to get to the counter so he could pour milk into his coffee.
“Sorry.” Kelly stepped out of the way and with Annie, walked toward the exit.
“So how about I call you at my father’s office later today and we’ll exchange phone numbers and make lunch plans?” Annie asked.
Kelly nodded. “Sure. That’s fine.”
They parted ways and Kelly headed toward Richard’s office in the center of town. The buildings stretched along the road, stores on the main level, small apartments above, like hers over Joe’s Bar. The small town appealed to her coming from the overcrowded city with tall buildings and too many people.
Using her key, Kelly walked into the office of the man she credited for helping to save her sister and her family. “Richard?” she called out.
The small office was empty. Obviously she’d beat him here which was unusual. Richard was an early to the office, late home kind of man, though his wife had been trying to get him to work fewer hours, maybe take in a partner to lighten his load.
Kelly settled in to her desk in a small room with a window that she appreciated. She already knew which case she had to work on and what she needed to do today but she pulled out her calendar anyway. As part of her work routine and a way to make sure she never forgot an assignment, Kelly glanced at today’s date and the list she’d made on Friday before leaving work for the weekend.
Seven P.M. – Parent Teacher Conference for Tess.
Which she was attending with Dare since Ethan was away. Better Dare than the other Barron brother. The one she’d she’d deliberately put out of her mind since the kiss on Saturday.
And what a kiss it had been.
Kelly prided herself on her poker face but she still wasn’t sure she’d pulled off being nonchalant after Tess interrupted them. Her sister had sulked all the way home, but hadn’t mentioned what she’d seen, nor had she brought it up the next day. If Tess wasn’t going discuss it, neither was Kelly.
And considering she hadn’t heard a word from Nash, neither was he. Which bothered her. A lot.
Sure, she’d been a little tipsy and a lot aggressive but she’d felt his body heat and obvious reaction first hand. He’d obviously liked the kiss, but he’d been hard to read afterwards.
She told herself she shouldn’t care what Nash thought or felt. She’d learned from her mother’s choices and her own past not to rely on anyone but herself. So though she might be attracted to Nash, his feelings on the subject didn’t matter. Even if he was equally interested, a brief affair would be disastrous because it would hurt Tess. And short term was all Kelly would let herself believe in from now on.