Don't Break My Heart (Return to Redemption, Book 6)

BOOK: Don't Break My Heart (Return to Redemption, Book 6)
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Don’t Break My Heart

 

The Return to Redemption
Series—Book 6

 

by

 

Romance
Writers of America
®

Golden Heart
®
Award-winning author

 

Laurie Kellogg

 

Remember Luke
and Sabrina from
A Heart Decision
?

 

Catch up with old
friends at their wedding,

and join the town
of Redemption celebrating!

 

Architect Justin
Riverá recently lost his best friend and business partner to cancer. Before his
widowed buddy died, Justin agreed to become his fifteen-year-old goddaughter’s
legal guardian. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know a thing about raising a teenage
girl or have the slightest clue how to cheer up Haley, who’s facing her first
Christmas without her parents. When his brother’s family (
which includes Haley’s best friend
), are invited to Luke and
Sabrina’s Christmas Eve destination wedding—which involves a three-day vacation
at a mountain ski resort—his brother insists they should join them for the
holiday. For Haley’s sake, Justin agrees, never suspecting one of the other
guests is his first and only love, who, for some mysterious reason, disappeared
sixteen years ago, deserting her family and all of her friends—including him.

 

When high school
counselor Trisha Mason sees her unforgettable college boyfriend at a wedding,
she’s tempted to run the other way. Much to her dismay, he’s hunkier than ever,
and his goddaughter is a determined matchmaker. Consequently, when Justin
attempts to resume their relationship by seducing Trisha, she can’t resist
falling into bed and in love with him all over again. She’s always had a soft spot
for troubled teens, and would love to be Justin’s wife and Haley’s stand-in
mom. But despite being eager to spend more time with her in and out of bed,
Justin still seems as anti-marriage as he was in college. Regrettably, Trisha
has no choice but to end their fling after their vacation. Otherwise, she’ll be
forced to confess her secret.

 
 

Don’t Break
My Heart

Copyright 2014
Laurie Kellogg

LK Books

All rights
reserved

ISBN-13: 9781938618154

 

This book or any portion thereof may not be
reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written
permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations. Thank you for
respecting this author’s hard work.

 

This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to
real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locations are used only
to provide authenticity and are used fictitiously. All other characters,
places, incidents, and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and
should not be construed as real. Any resemblance between the novel’s characters
and setting and actual individuals or places is completely coincidental. All
inaccuracies or mistakes are the author’s and accidental. The author apologizes
for any factual discrepancies or typographical errors. If you find any, please
contact the author so she can correct them for future copies.

 

Editor

Gwynlyn MacKenzie

 

Copy Editor

Heidi Luchterhand

 

Beta Reader

Elizabeth Walls

 

Proofreader

Kristi Judd

 
 
Author’s
Note

Many
readers have e-mailed me and expressed an eagerness to see more of the characters
from previous Return to Redemption books. When I wrote the ending for
A Heart Decision
, I thought, what better
way to give readers a chance to visit with the citizens of Redemption than at a
destination wedding and holiday getaway.

Consequently,
when I planned Justin and Trisha’s reunion story, I knew I had to bring them
back together at Luke and Sabrina’s reception.

To
avoid any confusion for those who haven’t read previous stories in the Return
to Redemption series, I’ve included a reference guide at the back of the book
to help identify the characters and which books they’ve appeared in. This guide
will also help refresh the memory of readers who have already enjoyed the
previous books in the series.

 
 

Dedication

 

Since
this novel includes all the past Redemption heroes and heroines—who my editors
worked tirelessly to ensure remained heroic and in character—I’m happy to
dedicate this story to the two women who help polish my stories.

 

To Gwynlyn and
Heidi, the wind beneath my wings.

I wouldn’t
want to do this without you!

 
CHAPTER 1

“I get why
you’re
going to this stupid wedding, but why do I have to go, too?” Haley whined as
her overnight bag thumped down the steps behind her. “I’ve never even met these
freakin’ people.”

Justin Riverá gritted his teeth and paced the living room
while mentally counting in reverse from a hundred. “You
have
met the bride. She was Dani’s nurse during the induction phase
of her chemo.”

“That was like a zillion years ago.”

In reality, less than five years had passed since his niece
developed leukemia and he spent several weeks preventing his brother, Nick,
from strangling the doctors because they couldn’t guarantee his daughter would
survive. Although, to be fair, Justin supposed gross exaggeration was typical
for a hormonal teenager.

Haley jammed her arms into the down-filled parka he held for
her. “You expect me to remember some woman I met at a hospital when I was
eleven and my best friend was about to die?”

Eighty-seven, eighty-six,
eighty-five
....

When he’d assumed custody of his best friend and business
partner’s orphaned daughter six months ago, his patience countdowns had begun
at ten. He’d always had a soft spot for Haley, but while caring for her through
her dad’s illness and death, he’d grown to love her as much as if she were his.
Nonetheless, after weeks of arguing night and day with
F. Lee
Haley, his cool-off time had stretched to fifty seconds.
Then last month, she’d secretly begun cutting school to lie in bed all day and
stare at the ceiling, and he’d had to raise it to a hundred.

Today, counting down from a thousand might not be enough to
keep him from exploding.

His nails bit into his clenched palms while he reminded
himself what Jake Manion, the psychologist who lived across the road from Nick,
had said. ‘
Your job as her guardian is to
set limits and make her feel safe and loved—not to make her like you.

“And what do you mean you ‘
get

why I’m going?” He
pulled his gloves on. “Why do you think I’m attending this wedding?”

“There’s gonna be a lot of single, desperate bridesmaids for
you to hit on, aren’t there? You haven’t dated anyone since you moved in to
take care of my dad.”

He’d actually moved in to supervise her after Marc became
too ill to handle the job. But he’d never tell her that.

“Dani told me her dad calls you
Justin-One-Night
because you date women and break up with them in
less than twenty-four hours. Dani thinks you’ve lost your touch as the king of
one-night stands. If I stay home, you’ll have a chance to get lucky.”

He didn’t even want to contemplate what she knew about
getting lucky
. “I’ll worry about my own
love life, thank you. I don’t need your help.” Besides, she’d be sharing a
hotel room with Dani, so even if the opportunity to hook up with a woman
presented itself, having Haley along would be no real obstacle.

“Come on! I’m almost sixteen. Why can’t you just leave me
here and go by yourself?”

And come home in three days to find her overdosed on
sleeping pills or in the bathtub with her wrists slit? No way. She’d scared the
hell out of him the previous week. He’d had trouble waking her one morning because
she’d taken a heavy dose of Benadryl at three a.m. because she couldn’t sleep.

He’d been taking her for grief counseling with Jake once a
week to make sure her understandable depression hadn’t made her suicidal. Even
though Manion had assured him she was coping and showed no signs of wanting to
die, Justin still had his doubts. If anything happened to her, he would never
forgive himself.

If any teenager had cause to consider killing herself, Haley
did. She’d experienced way too much loss for a kid her age. First, a drunk
driver had killed her mother, Lindsey, when Haley was only thirteen, and more
recently her father had died of asbestos related lung cancer.

Despite Dani’s leukemia being in remission long enough to
make a relapse highly unlikely, he knew Haley still feared losing her best
friend in addition to her parents.

“Well?” She waved her hand in front of his face, proving
he’d zoned out. “Why can’t I stay home?”

Before he could press his lips together, the four final
words of authority he’d hated as a kid rushed out with a little more volume
than he’d intended. “Because I said so!”

For several seconds, her mouth opened and closed like a
rainbow trout’s, suggesting she was struggling to find a new angle to continue
her argument. Finally, she tossed her hands up. “Fine. But the only reason I’m
goin’ is ‘cause I promised my dad I’d obey you.”

“I don’t care why you go as long as you do.” He yanked open
the front door and hauled their suitcases out to his silver Tacoma while she
dragged her feet, following him.

It wasn’t as if he was keen on going, either. Still, it was
Christmas Eve, and his brother and sister-in-law really wanted to attend
Sabrina’s wedding, not just because they’d become good friends, but also to express
their gratitude for the extra TLC she’d given their daughter in the hospital.

Nick had laid a two-ton guilt trip on Justin, claiming if he
and Haley didn’t tag along on the family’s three-day vacation in the Pocono
Mountains, he’d be depriving Dani the chance to spend the holiday with her
favorite uncle and BFF. Talk about sucking up.

“I promise you’ll have fun. Ryan is coming, too,” Justin
said as she opened the pickup’s passenger door.

“And you think that’s a
good
thing?” She snorted softly.

Okay, so maybe she didn’t relish sharing his niece’s
attention with Dani’s boyfriend.

“Half the town is invited. Doc Foster and his wife chartered
a tour bus to transport everyone to the wedding and back to Redemption. We’re
all meeting at the library parking lot. It’ll be like a rolling town Christmas
party.” He hoisted the suitcases over the truck’s tailgate, climbed behind the
wheel, and waited while Haley scrambled in and buckled her seatbelt.

“If you had the slightest clue about me, you’d know I’m not
exactly thrilled about celebrating Christmas without my mom and dad.”

“I
do
know that.
And if you had a clue about me, you’d realize you’re not the only one who
misses them. That’s why this trip will be good for both of us. The resort has
snow tubing, skiing, and ice-skating. We’ll be having too much fun together to
think about what’s missing in our lives. You can consider your
presence
a Christmas gift to me and your
Aunt Samantha and Uncle Nick,” he said, borrowing the same lame reasoning and
bad pun his brother had used to coerce him into accompanying them.

“Dani’s parents
aren’t
my aunt and uncle.”

Fifty-four,
fifty-three, fifty-two....
“Technically, we’re not related, either, but
you’ve called me Uncle
Justin since
you learned to talk. And since we’ve become a family, that makes my brother and
his—”

“My parents only gave you that honorary title ‘cause you’re
my godfather. My godmother actually
is
my
aunt.”

Ouch
. From the
first time he’d held his goddaughter as an infant, he’d felt a special bond.
Apparently it was all one-sided. “You may not consider me your family, Pinky,
but that doesn’t alter the fact that I love you, and you’re stuck with me.” The
same way that kids had no choice about the parents they were born to.

She turned away to stare out the window. “I never understood
why my mother made her sister one of my guardians. Did she really think I’d
want to live in some third-world country with a missionary I barely know?”

“When you were born, your mother had no idea your aunt would
eventually become a globetrotting do-gooder.”

In fact, Haley’s aunt hadn’t been Lindsey’s first choice as
godmother to her baby. She’d originally planned to bestow that honor on her
best friend—the same woman he’d spent the last sixteen years trying to forgive
and forget.

~*~

“Wait. Let me get this straight,” Trisha Mason said as she
stowed her suitcase in the trunk of her friend’s Corolla. “Sabrina, the bride,
jilted her previous fiancé in order to marry your brother. And now the
ex-fiancé is paying for this huge Christmas Eve extravaganza at his home? What
kind of lunatic foots the bill for some other guy to marry the woman he loves?”

“A lunatic who has nine zeroes on the net income line of his
tax return. He’s also been one of Luke’s best friends since college,” explained
Frankie Connor, who’d been baptized Francesca and threatened to hurt anyone who
called her that. “Not only is BJ paying for the wedding, he’s also covering the
cost of the hotel, meals, and resort services and activities for all of the
guests for three days and nights—including spa treatments.”

“Seriously? She ditched a billionaire? Wait, are you talking
about BJ
Elliott
, the venture
capitalist?”

“Venture capitalist, investor, corporate raider—take your
pick. Ben’s a financial genius with a heart of gold to go with his Midas
touch.” Frankie handed her a to-go cup from Dunkin’ Donuts. The steam from the
coffee mingled with her breath’s vapor in the nippy December air. “Don’t worry,
I remembered you switched to decaf.”

“Thanks.” Trisha pulled off her gloves as she got into the
car, praying it wouldn’t be any colder in the mountains. “I was gonna offer to
pay for half of the hotel bill. Now I feel like a mooch. Are you sure it’s all
right for you to bring me as your guest?”

“Absolutely.” Frankie started the engine and waved her hand.
“The cost of this weekend is chump change to BJ. He loves treating people. Most
of my good pieces of jewelry were Christmas and birthday gifts from him. And
I’m just one of his buddy’s sisters.”

Trisha sipped her coffee. “Other than you, I don’t know a
soul involved in this wedding, so I think it’s a bit presumptuous to go along
for the free ride and let him pay for everything.”

“You’ll be doing Sabrina a huge favor. We grew up together,
and she’s always had it bad for Luke. She feels awful about hurting Ben. So
when she realized I, one of her bridesmaids, didn’t have a date, she begged me
to invite a single, pretty female friend instead. I think she’s hoping BJ will
meet someone tonight who’ll
console
him at his darkest hour.”

“I may be single,”—she peered into the visor’s vanity mirror
and finger-combed her dishwater blond hair—“and I can pull off attractive, but
Lordy, Miz Scarlett, I don’t know nuthin’ about bein’ pretty,” she said, doing
a bad imitation of Prissy from
Gone with
the Wind
. Currently
she
knew
nothing about birthin’ babies, either, although, she’d be learning soon enough.

“That’s ridiculous.” Frankie choked, nearly spewing a
mouthful of coffee. “You’re gorgeous. You have the creamiest complexion I’ve
ever seen. And I’d kill for your eyes. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear
Elizabeth Taylor was your grandmother.”

Trisha glanced over at Frankie’s lush breasts. “I might have
an okay face, but unlike you, I won’t win any wet T-shirt contests.”

“Nonsense. Without a bra, you’d beat me hands down. You’d be
surprised how many men prefer high and perky boobs. Don’t knock yourself. You
have a cute figure.”

“That’s today. You didn’t know me back in high school when I
had to stuff an extra twenty-five pounds in my wide-load jeans.”

“And you’ve never seen how many of the male students—and
teachers, for that matter—stare at your ass when you’re walkin’ away. Nor have
you heard the lewd comments they make to each other. But I have, and let me
tell you, every time one of them claims he’d like to
hit that
—”

“Why don’t you offer to be BJ’s consolation prize? You’re
not just passably pretty—you’re beautiful.” Frankie was one of those sultry
brunettes with dark soulful eyes and a body straight out of girlie magazine.
“Considering how little you make as an English teacher, it wouldn’t hurt your
financial future to snag a billionaire as your next husband.”

Frankie pulled onto the highway and shrugged. “I’ve known
Ben forever, and there’s absolutely no sexual chemistry between us. That’s not
something I would fake—especially with a nice guy like him.”

“But you think he’ll make
my
girl parts tingle?”

“You never know. You don’t earn much more as a school
counselor than I do as a teacher, so why not give him a whirl? Remember the old
saying about it being just as easy to fall for a rich man as a poor one?
Speaking as the estranged wife of one of her brother’s police force pals, I can
assure you that falling for a rich guy is actually easier. Ben’s big and blond.
The two of you would make gorgeous babies.”

Damn. If this wedding had been three months ago, she
would’ve been happy to give this billionaire a chance. Especially since her
libido had shifted into high gear in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, there
was no way Ben would be interested in her now.

“I don’t mean to be nosey, but when’s the last time you had
sex?” Frankie asked.

Trisha laughed. “With a guy or myself?”

“With a man, naturally.”

“Would you believe five years ago?”

“You’ve gone
five
straight
years without any nookie! What are you—a born-again virgin?”

“Practically.” Unlike a lot of women in this day and age,
she didn’t take sex lightly. Although, it wasn’t exactly hard to abstain when
only one man had ever taken her over the top. Incredibly enough, he’d been her
first and the only man she’d ever loved. “To be honest, I didn’t feel enough
emotional connection with the three guys I had relationships with since
college, so in the end they just left me frustrated and feeling empty.”

“Ben is sweet, and from the locker room talk I’ve overheard
about him, I doubt you’ll end up frustrated with him.”

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