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Authors: Carly Phillips

Summer Lovin

BOOK: Summer Lovin
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CARLY PHILLIPS
Summer Lovin'

To Brenda Chin and everyone at Harlequin—you gave me
my start and you worked hard to make sure I stayed home.
Brenda, who'd have thought when we started that one day
we'd be doing hardcover together? Thank you! You're the best!

To the Plotmonkeys—Janelle Denison, Julie Leto
and Leslie Kelly. Not only do we need a stinking plot,
but we need each other!
Happy 40th to us all. XXX OOO.

And a special acknowledgment to the Greek friends in my life:
my college roommate Ariane Economon Mastrototaro and
Tony and Lori Karayianni. Thanks for answering a question
or two, and please…don't hold any mistakes against me!

Chapter One

T
HE
C
OSTASES
'
BACKYARD
was packed with people all circling the capuchin monkey, who was performing on a makeshift stage set up on the green grass. Though a party would always draw a crowd, these folks had been excited to see Spank, a monkey with a fondness for mooning anyone in sight. Zoe Costas stood with her twin sister, Ari, and watched the capuchin perform in honor of their foster sister Sam's fourteenth birthday.

Sam missed the monkey since Spank had been forced to move out of the Costas family home after they discovered that owning a pet monkey violated the law. Since Sam had lost too many people and things in her young life, they still tried to maintain her strong bond with the animal, whom she loved dearly. Zoe kept in touch with the trainer who'd taken the monkey, and she made sure Spank was present on special occasions like today.

Zoe glanced at her foster sister and smiled. They were celebrating Sam's first anniversary as part of the family and Zoe was glad the teenager would get to experience a spirited celebration surrounded by people who cared about her. The young girl had come to Zoe's parents through Quinn Donovan, Ari's husband. They'd taken the young girl in and now Zoe's parents were on the road to adoption.

But Sam had been in foster care for six years, unwanted for too long and so distrustful she acted out and tested the family in every way possible. Only lately had she begun to trust and settle into the crazy Costas clan.

Someone in the audience whistled and Spank dropped her pants, then the monkey smacked her bottom with both of her hands.

Ari groaned and covered her eyes.

Zoe chuckled. “You lived with Spank last year. I would have thought you were way past being mortified,” she said, unable to hold back a grin.

Ari shrugged. “What can I say? Spank always takes me by surprise.”

“That's because you still expect everyone around you to be sane and calm.” Zoe waved a finger in front of her twin's face. “It's your shrink training,” she said.

“You say that like expecting normalcy is a crime.”

Zoe laughed. “Shame, shame, Ariana. You ought to know better than to expect the ordinary from anyone named Costas.”

“Frankly, accepting the family's unique qualities has done wonders to help my own sanity.”

After a period of estrangement, they could finally talk and joke about Ari's saner tendencies. Her twin had always been the straitlaced sister, the one who felt she didn't fit into their eccentric family. As a result she'd moved to Vermont, far from the Jersey Shore, and kept her distance from the Costas clan, Zoe included. But it was Zoe's recent so-called disappearance that had brought Ari home to stay. Zoe welcomed the chance to renew the closeness they'd shared as young children.

Suddenly Ari nudged her sister in the ribs and pointed toward Spank, who was spitting into the crowd.

Zoe cringed. “Like I said, ordinary and the name Costas do not go hand in hand.”

“Would it do any good to remind you that Spank the monkey is
not
a relative?” Ari ran a hand through the long, black hair she'd grown back after trying a bob a few months back. Now the twins looked even more alike again, something Zoe loved, since she felt it helped strengthen their bond.

“Look, Ari, the family may no longer perform their Atlantic City Boardwalk Addams Family Act, but Dad is still as bald as Uncle Fester, Mom still wiggles her hips like Morticia, and Aunt Dee swears that Great-Aunt Deliria was engaged to a chimp, which means Spank could very well be a long-lost relative.”

Ari sighed. “Spank's a capuchin not a chimp.”

“And your last name once was Costas. Nothing is as it seems,” Zoe said, laughing.

“She's got a point,” their mother, Elena, said, joining her daughters just as Spank's first act ended.

“Hi, Mom,” Ari said.

“Hi,” Zoe echoed.

“My beautiful girls.” Elena enveloped them in a hug, made more suffocating by the long, flowing sleeves of the kimonos she favored now that she'd packed away her Morticia Addams black dresses.

Zoe supposed the outfits had something to do with owning a spa and working as a licensed masseuse. But she wasn't certain what that connection was any more than she knew why her mother had decided to wear her geisha-girl outfit to Sam's birthday party. And darned if she'd ask. Nobody could stop Elena's wacky ways and, in truth, nobody tried. In their small hometown of Ocean Isle, New Jersey, everyone expected the Costas family to act, well,
odd.
Zoe had long since stopped trying to figure out their eccentric mother. She'd rather just love her instead.

“I've come up with the perfect name for your new business,” Elena said to Zoe.

After years of working for the Secret Service, protecting government officials visiting New Jersey, she'd begun to chafe under the tight rules and regulations. No surprise there since she was a Costas and liked to do things her own way. Her new business would give her the opportunity to do just that. She and her partners would be protecting visiting stars and dignitaries on their trips to Atlantic City's casinos.

“I heard that.” Quinn, Ari's ex-cop husband, came up beside his wife and pulled her against his side. “What wacky idea have you got this time?” he asked his mother-in-law.

Elena raised her arms, as though on stage. “Safe Sex—protection is our business,” she said, punctuating each word with her hands. “So what do you think?” her mother asked, smiling proudly at her idea.

Quinn blinked. His hazel eyes focused on Elena as if she were insane, although he knew better. He'd married Ari knowing full well the family was merely eccentric.

Connor Brennan, who Zoe hadn't realized had joined them, choked on his cola. Connor was Quinn's best friend. They'd grown up in the same foster-care system and had worked together as detectives for the police department. As partners with Zoe in the new venture, both Connor and Quinn had a vested interest in the business Elena wanted to name.

Zoe knew better than to dignify her mother's idea with a response or she'd start expanding on it and before Zoe knew it, a Safe Sex sign would be hanging over their new office space and the cops would arrive to shut them down.

“Mom, don't you have more important things to do? Like corralling Sam's friends for cake?” She pointed to the group of teenage girls gathered in the yard.

“Good idea. I'll get the kids,” Ari said, escaping while she had the chance.

Elena patted Zoe's cheek. “Okay, I can see you aren't ready to talk business. Later, then. But you should think about registering the name before somebody else takes it.”

“Like who? A porn shop?” Zoe asked, raising an eyebrow.

Quinn shook his head and laughed. He'd always enjoyed his in-laws much more than any man should. “I think I'll go help Ari gather the troops.”

“Not yet.” Elena waved an arm in the air, her long sleeve blowing in the summer breeze. “I have one more game for the girls to play before we sing ‘Happy Birthday' and open presents,” Elena said.

Connor adjusted his sunglasses on the bridge of his nose. “What game is that?”

“You'll be sorry you asked,” Quinn promised his friend.

Zoe nodded.

Undeterred, Elena pulled out a red cut-out heart from one of her kimono pockets. “Since they're too old for Pin the Tail on the Donkey, they're going to Pin the Heart on Orlando Bloom,” she said, pronouncing
heart on
so quickly the phrase sounded like
hard-on.

This time Connor spit out his drink. “Pin the
what
on
whom?

Thankfully, his fiancée, Maria, came up behind him and pulled him away, rescuing the poor man from any more of Elena's antics.

“They're happy,” Zoe said of the couple.

Quinn nodded. “Connor was a goner the first time he laid eyes on Maria working as a cocktail waitress at the casino. I was just amazed he so easily accepted that she had a kid.”

Foster care and their rough upbringing had scarred both Connor and Quinn, Zoe thought sadly. But they had each come around in the end, accepting that the future could be much better, if only they gave it a chance.

“The things people do for love,” she said lightly. More lightly than she actually felt.

After all, she really wouldn't know what love would do to a person. She'd never fallen hard for any man. After growing up witnessing the intensity of her parents' relationship, their love and their fights, most of the time she was glad Cupid had passed her by. Experience showed her that her mother often caved in to make her father happy, and Zoe couldn't imagine sacrificing her independence for any man. As for a family of her own, Zoe wasn't holding her breath, because without love, there would be no family, no babies. It wasn't something she gave much thought to, perhaps because her immediate family took up so much of her time and energy. She was never alone unless she wanted to be.

“You'll see for yourself one day,” Quinn said, an amused smirk on his face. “In the meantime, why don't we meet tomorrow morning at the new office and discuss business there?” he suggested.

“Sounds like a good plan.” Better they talk when there were no prying eyes or ears and nobody to offer their well-meaning, off-the-wall suggestions on how to run the new venture.

Zoe had been out of work for almost a year, and it had been Costas meddling that had gotten her into trouble in her former job. To help her mother, Zoe had taken a gig as a showgirl for a casino owner to whom Elena owed money. Within a few hours, she'd realized her mother was up to one of her tricks, this time matchmaking between Zoe and the casino owner. Unfortunately, despite his good looks, the man oozed slime and Zoe's instincts had kicked in. In no time she'd discovered a money-laundering scheme, which had put her in danger and the cops already investigating the case—namely Quinn—in a foul mood. He'd forced her into protective custody until their investigation was over and they'd had to tell her family she was missing and presumed dead.
Not
Zoe's finest hour.

Meanwhile her superiors had been royally ticked that she hadn't come to them as soon as she'd uncovered the illegal operation and had suspended her. She'd quit instead. She hated the rules and restrictions that were part and parcel of government work, so as soon as the case had ended, she'd returned home and settled back into her life, surrounded by her chaotic family. All her time in the safe house had made her realize she didn't enjoy her job as much as she should. Not when the job was all she had. For a while she'd helped her parents in their new spa business venture but playing bookkeeper and receptionist didn't suit her. She missed the action and day-to-day surprises on the job.

The action had drawn her to the FBI to begin with. The training at Quantico and subsequent job had more than filled her need for excitement. Too bad rules and regulations had been part of the package. She hoped her new business would give her back the satisfaction of thrills on the job. And she looked forward to working for only herself and her partners, planning and implementing security detail.

Once the business was established, she could turn her attention to finding a place of her own. Residing with her parents had worked while she'd been on the road on assignment, living out of hotels more often than being home. But she'd turn thirty next week and it was past time for her to grow up and move out.

Her parents accused her of being afraid of committing to anything, any man or any place. She didn't like to think of herself as afraid of anything.

“We'll talk tomorrow. Right now I'm going to find Ari,” Quinn said, interrupting her thoughts.

Zoe cleared her throat. “Good idea. Maybe
she
can talk Mom out of embarrassing Sam with this Pin the Hard-on game, or at least get it over with before the social worker gets here.”

Despite the seriousness of the caseworker's visit, she and Quinn couldn't help but laugh. They both found the Costas clan uniquely amusing. They were one big family, including Sam, whom they were intent on protecting and making happy.

Zoe understood how important it was for Sam to feel loved and she had to admit, for all their oddball tendencies, love was what the Costas family did best.

 

A
LMOST THERE
. Ryan Baldwin glanced at the directions supplied by the private investigator and turned right. Two more blocks and his search for his runaway sister's child would finally be at an end. A bittersweet end after a long, nearly fruitless search.

Faith had left home when she was seventeen—hopelessly hooked on drugs—but Ryan hadn't been able to begin searching for her until five years later, when he'd turned eighteen. By then her trail had turned cold. He hadn't given up looking, but Faith had changed her name so many times that the P.I. had had one hell of a time finding out what had happened to her.

Only recently had his P.I. stumbled onto information from a convict who had some link to Faith, and more facts had come to light. Ryan was still reeling from the painful discovery that his sister had been shot and killed six years ago by a bullet meant for her drug-dealer boyfriend, a guy now serving a life sentence. Ryan was also floored by the news that Faith had had a child.

BOOK: Summer Lovin
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