Authors: Tamra Baumann
ALSO BY TAMRA BAUMANN
It Had to Be Him
It Had to Be Love
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 Tamra Baumann
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
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Cover design by Eileen Carey
This book is dedicated to my father. Thanks, Dad, for serving our country for so many years. You flew into battle and risked your life for the freedom of others—that’s what I call a true hero.
You’ll always be mine.
asey Anderson-Bovier’s hands shook as she slowly lowered the letter from her ex-husband’s lawyer to her desk. How dare Tomas sue for full custody of their children? Based on some bogus claim that the boys would be better off in Europe with him and the rich socialite he’d run off with. Saying that the celebrities who stayed at the hotel she managed were a bad influence on his children.
Her ex, the hotel’s former chef, hadn’t given a second thought to
when he’d left a hasty note scrawled on a piece of stained butcher paper he carelessly tossed on the granite countertop in the kitchen.
“Sorry, babe. But I finally found true love. Gotta go with it. Be in touch.”
Later she’d found out that one of the dessert options on their room service menu had been her husband. She’d given Tomas her implicit trust and in return, he’d made a fool out of her.
The radio on her belt let out a loud buzz before her new chef’s voice called out, “Casey, can you come and approve this week’s menus, please?”
She blinked back the hot tears forming in her eyes and lifted the radio. “Be right there, Dax.”
Casey stood from her desk and pulled herself together—she still had a hotel to run—and then made her way to the kitchen. Dax handed her the menus as he teased her oldest son, Caleb.
He pointed to Caleb’s cereal bowl. “The milk at the bottom counts too. If you want muscles, Toothpick, drink up.”
“But it’s gross. It’s all warm and full of little chunks.
makes us chocolate chip pancakes, not stupid, good-for-you bran flakes.”
Casey said, “Well your
asks Dax to serve you healthy food for breakfast. So finish up and then get a move on, Caleb. It’s six forty-five. We have guests arriving soon.”
“Fine.” Her ten-year-old sighed, then lifted his bowl and slurped the last of the milk from his cereal. As he schlumped toward the rear door of the hotel to clean the dock, he muttered, “Dad
makes us do
Yeah, because his father—who’d emptied their joint bank accounts before he left—only had one goal in life: to have a good time, no matter who he hurt in the process.
But she’d made it a policy to never speak poorly of Tomas in front of their kids. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But maybe I’ll ask Dax to make our favorite dessert tonight if I don’t hear any more complaining.” Their new five-star chef’s Death by Chocolate cake was really to console
, but she could share.
Caleb twisted his chin over his shoulder and pasted on a big, fake grin. “Yay! Can’t wait to scrape the bird poop off the dock!”
She lifted a brow to show him she wasn’t amused with his sass. But something about his crooked smile combined with the adorable freckles sprinkled across the bridge of his pudgy nose was so cute it zapped her anger away completely. It’d been a long summer with Caleb and Ty away in France with their dad. She was so happy they were finally back it made her heart swell. She’d fight Tomas with all she had to keep her kids in Anderson Butte where they belonged.
Dax waited until Caleb was outside before he said, “Death by Chocolate cake is your go-to when you’re upset.”
“True.” She glanced at Dax, who looked more like a buff Navy SEAL than a chef.
When Dax first arrived, Casey’s sister, Meg, had told her he’d shown some interest in being more than just Casey’s new chef. But she and Dax had a professional, friendly relationship. And he seemed to be head over heels in love with Pam, the town’s hairdresser.
Besides, Dax wasn’t her type. She leaned toward tall and lanky. And he deserved someone great, not a perpetually tired single mother of two rambunctious boys, who worked her tail off to please her never-happy father.
“These look fantastic.” She handed the menus back. “And I need cake because Tomas is suing for full custody of the boys. He says the celebrities who stay here are a bad influence on them.”
Dax laughed. “Yeah, because Tomas is such a stand-up guy, running off with that French poodle and her millions, not speaking to his kids for the first three months after he’d left. And now all of a sudden all the celebrities he used to love to cook for are a bad influence on the boys? That’s a load of BS.”
“Yeah. But fighting his BS costs thousands in lawyer fees and keeps my bank accounts perpetually empty.” Luckily her dad, the mayor of their tiny celebrity hideout of a town, paid her a generous salary. But it didn’t come without a price. Her gruff father was no picnic to deal with.
Dax shrugged as he mixed a batch of cookie dough. “We have mostly rich business types and a few older celebrities on the books for the next few months. No one Tomas can use to prove his little theory.”
“That was true until a half hour ago. Kip called and asked us to keep one of his rocker clients for a few weeks until the trouble he’s gotten himself into dies down. The guy has a terrible reputation, so I made Kip sign a contract for five times our normal rate plus damages. But ten times the rate wouldn’t be worth it to me now.” That was all she’d need. For Tomas’s lawyer to get wind of their new guest. He’d smell the blood in the water and attack like the shark he was.
She couldn’t lose her boys.
Dax stopped mixing and frowned. “Who is it?”
She grabbed the remote and kicked the volume up on the muted TV that rested high in the corner of the hotel’s industrial but elegant kitchen. Tomas had insisted they remodel it before he’d stoop so low as to work for a small-town hotel—even if their kitchen had served some of the most famous celebrities in the world—instead of one of the Michelin-starred restaurants he’d been used to.
After switching to a news channel, she pointed to the screen. “Zane Steele.”
Zane Steele rolled over and grabbed the phone buzzing beside his head on the nightstand. Whoever was calling before seven a.m. better have a damn good reason. Cracking open just one eye, he read the screen. His business manager, Kip, knew Zane’s late night habits when in the middle of songwriting marathons. It couldn’t be good news.
“’Lo?” Zane cleared the sleep from his voice.
“Hi. Nick’s done it again.”
His identical twin brother had been on the fast path to destruction lately. “What now?”
“Turn on CNN.”
Zane searched the nightstand and then the floor beside his bed until he found the remote. After changing the channel from box scores blaring on ESPN to the news report on CNN, it didn’t take long before a clip with his brother in handcuffs—resisting arrest—appeared on the screen. The words “Zane Steele, Public Drunk and Disorderly—Again!” scrolled along the bottom of the screen.
Zane slumped back against the headboard. “I told you we should’ve put a stop to letting Nick impersonate me in bars. While you rubbed your hands together with glee that Nick’s antics finally helped me have a bad-boy rocker image, he’s turned into an alcoholic.”
Kip grunted. “It gets worse. He falsified his driver’s license so they think it’s you they’ve got in custody. After I realized he’d stolen your identity I had your financial advisor dig a bit. Nick’s been stealing money from you too. You’ve never been arrested, so they can’t make a fingerprint match. If we come clean, he could go to jail for a ton of charges your lawyers are saying he’d face. But maybe he needs to go to jail.”
“Out of the question. Nick needs to go to rehab, not jail.” After not speaking to his brother for over ten years, Zane had searched for Nick to tell him their mother was dying. Once Zane had convinced his brother to cut his long, stringy hair and shave his beard for their mother’s sake, he’d looked presentable for a change. And exactly like Zane again.
He thought he’d been doing Nick a favor by letting him live in the guesthouse in his compound and giving him steady behind-the-scenes work instead of watching him drift his life away from one construction job to the next. But Nick had always hated Zane. Had tried to be his opposite since high school, growing his hair long and sporting a full beard, so no one would know Zane was his brother. The press kits mentioned that Zane had an estranged sibling, but Nick had spent so much time wandering from one job to the next, the media always tired of trying to find him.
But after Nick had cleaned himself up and had all the money he needed from Zane, he soon figured out he could go to clubs and be Zane for the night. Get any woman he wanted. Have groupies hang on his every word. Things Zane had grown weary of years ago.
That Nick had stolen money didn’t matter. Zane had more than he could ever spend. Besides, he’d promised their mom he’d take care of his brother. “What are our options?”
“Not sure yet. I have the van waiting outside to take you to the airport. Your pilot is standing by. There’s a celebrity hideout I’ve sent clients to over the years. Anderson Butte, Colorado. You can’t be seen in public until we figure this out. Ask for Casey at the hotel. She has a suite waiting for you.”
The “delivery van” had served him well to fool the aggressive paparazzi. “How long are we thinking?”
“Don’t know. The lawyers are talking about copping a plea, maybe some community service, and then sending Nick, aka you, straight to a rehab close by in Malibu for a couple of months.”
A couple of months? “I can’t stay locked—”
“Hold up. That’s the beauty of this place. The town survives on the money celebrities who visit bring. They won’t let the media know you’re there. You can go anywhere you like. There’s a lake, whitewater rafting, hiking in the Rockies. It might do you good. Get you out of that rut you’re in.”
in a rut. He hadn’t written a decent song since his mom had died last year. And the touring and media appearances had gotten old. He’d taken a much-needed break from the road to write again while his brother kept the unknowing media happy with his antics.
“Fine. But keep me in the loop.” He punched the “End” button and closed his scratchy, tired eyes. Two months in hiding? That’d be tough to pull off. But he couldn’t stay home. The photographers would be camped out front soon, if they weren’t there already.
But would Nick be better off in jail? It’d sober him up. Might even straighten him out. It’d probably be the best thing he could do to
Zane grabbed his phone and was just about to hit Kip’s number when his thumb stopped midair.
He couldn’t send Nick to prison. His mother would’ve never forgiven him. He had to cover for Nick because of a deathbed promise to his widowed mom. She’d taken a second job to send Zane to Juilliard—he owed her anything she had asked. His mother had believed in him when no one else in the music industry had.
After she died he’d been left with a huge hole in his heart—and his pain-in-the-ass brother to deal with.
But it was her warning right before she’d passed away that still lingered in the back of his mind. At first he’d blown it off as sentiment, but a pit formed in his gut every time he recalled her words.
“Take care of your brother. Family and love are all that matter, Zane. One day the fame will be gone. And all you’ll have is scads of cold, hard cash—along with a cold, empty heart.”
Shaking off the memory, burying it deep where it belonged, he stood, grabbed a duffel, and threw in enough clothes for a week. Hopefully his legal team would figure something out. If it took longer his staff could ship him whatever he needed.
After showering, he changed into jeans and a T-shirt, packed up his favorite guitar, then stuffed his laptop into a backpack. He slid his shades on, pulled a baseball cap down low on his head, and was ready to roll.
Anderson Freakin’ Butte.