Authors: Jeannie Moon
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
Praise for Jeannie Moon and
“Jeannie Moon always delivers a feel good, warm-your-heart, can’t-stop-turning-the-pages story!”
New York Times
The Temporary Wife
“Jeannie Moon writes a sweet, sexy escape.”
New York Times
bestselling author Jill Shalvis
“Jeannie Moon immerses readers in an emotionally engaging and sexy story of lost love and new beginnings.”
New York Times
bestselling author JoAnn Ross
“A sweet, sexy, heartfelt debut.”
New York Times
bestselling author Virginia Kantra
A Forever Love Story
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
InterMix eBook edition / November 2013
Copyright © 2013 by Jeannie Moon.
The Wedding Secret
copyright © 2014 by Jeannie Moon.
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For Tim, my love story.
Caroline Rossi needed a new life.
The one she had was okay, but as she looked around the crowded and very trendy Midtown Manhattan bar, she wanted to do better than okay. She
better than okay. She’d been passed over for another project at work and once again she was spending a Friday night dateless because she couldn’t seem to attract a decent guy. Things had to change.
But the universe wasn’t cooperating and her heart just wasn’t into this social scene. “Don’t you think you should give Mark a chance?”
Caroline’s attention snapped back to the people buzzing around her, and specifically to the woman standing next to her. “Excuse me?”
“Mark. Strickland. Remember him? He’s not a bad guy.” Her friend Melanie was championing the guy in her office who should have been completely off limits. He was her boss. This wasn’t the kind of change she was talking about.
The damn universe could be a real bitch sometimes.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea, Mel.”
“Caroline, really. You haven’t been on a date in the two years I’ve known you. You’ve been in a serious drought and it’s time to make some rain.”
How would Mel know if she’d dated? They were work “friends” in the loosest sense of the word. They stuck together because they were two of three women engineers in a firm with over sixty men. Mel wasn’t a bad person, but she was pretty single-minded. Looking across the bar, Caroline saw Mark lift his glass and smile. She cringed. This had disaster written all over it. But it was times like this that Caroline wondered if she was too picky. Was she looking for excuses?
She shook her head. This definitely wasn’t about his looks. In fact, the guy was pretty cute. It was about how he acted; there was something off about him. Caroline knew, if nothing else, he couldn’t be trusted because in the past he’d wielded the information he gleaned about people like a weapon, taking out anyone who got in his way without a second thought.
So, even though he was a successful, handsome man, Caroline still didn’t want to date him.
“Caroline? Mark’s waiting for an answer.”
Her friend was tapping her finger against the stem of her martini glass, and Caroline processed what she’d just said. He’s
“What do you mean?”
Mel squirmed a little on her barstool and tilted her head toward the end of the bar. When Caroline glanced in Mark’s direction she saw he’d been joined by one of the new associate architects. What was his name? Cole? Chase?
Both of the men raised their glasses in salute. Turning on Mel, Caroline was now beyond pissed. “You don’t care about my love life. You need me so you can go on
date. A date where you get to ogle Mr. Hot New Architect.
“And you get the guy with the corner office and the big, fat bank account! Come on, Caroline, take a chance for once.”
Caroline shook her head and Mel looked away, annoyed that her plan was falling apart, and even more annoyed at Caroline. “You won’t come? But Mark is really hot for you and making this kind of connection with him could help your position at the firm. Do you want to be in a cubicle your whole career?”
Caroline did want to advance, but she stupidly thought she could do that without sleeping with her boss. Imagine that?
“You just need to give him some
, and he’d do anything you asked.”
Great. She didn’t want that kind of attention. Not now. Not when she wasn’t sure what she was doing there in the first place. Caroline was calming herself, figuring out how she could respond without getting really angry with her friend. Not that she didn’t think Mel deserved it, but Caroline still had to work with Mel. Unfortunately, she still had to work with all of them. At least for now.
Ready to feign a headache and leave, Caroline heard a deep, rich voice that broke through the noise and snapped her back to reality.
“Who’s Mark and what’s he going to do to you?”
“Mark’s not doing anything to me!” Caroline said, aggravated and wondering which ass from her department had said that. When she turned she got her answer, coming face-to-face with the man of her dreams, the subject of every bad love poem she’d written in her adolescence. Josh Campbell.
Now the universe was being a big tease.
When her sister, Meg, and Josh’s brother had married, Caroline had been thrown back into an adolescent hell. She and Josh were sort of like family now. They saw each other from time to time, but Josh still barely acknowledged her existence. He’d come to family functions, but he was still somewhat distant, aloof. But that hadn’t stopped Caroline from wishing for a little attention, a little acknowledgement that she was no longer the young daughter of his parents’ employees. A nod of the head would have been nice. Now here he was, holding what looked like a neat scotch, interjecting himself into a truly embarrassing situation.
She opened her mouth and couldn’t speak. The only thing that came out was a tiny squeak, and Josh smiled. Once he did that, Caroline felt her knees go weak and she realized she was still thirteen.
Josh had been the object of her affection from the first moment she realized there was a difference between boys and girls. He’d never paid much attention to her, mostly because he was six years older, so she wasn’t even on his radar when her family still lived on the Campbells’ estate.
Hell, she wasn’t on his radar now, either.
But as Josh stood there, grinning at her, waiting for her to verbalize a coherent thought, she drank him in. Big and broad, at six-four he towered over pretty much everyone in the bar. His hair was almost the same dark blond as hers, but his eyes were a crystal-blue color that lit up when he smiled. He didn’t have a thick, full beard, but he was one of those men who pulled off the casual scruff with perfection. He wasn’t just gorgeous; Josh was her personal Kryptonite.
Finally, she smiled back, cleared her throat, and just as she was about to speak, Mel jumped in. “Hi, I’m Mel.”
“Josh Campbell.” Josh folded his arms and leveled his most intimidating look in Caroline’s direction. “So, you still haven’t answered my question, Rossi.”
Caroline didn’t know what to say, but she knew her smile had vanished because she definitely didn’t love Josh’s tone. She wasn’t thirteen anymore and hotness aside, he was treating her like she’d been caught breaking curfew. Mark was nothing to her, and she wasn’t going to date her boss to get ahead. Fortunately or not, Mel jumped in once again. “I can answer,” she said. “I work with Caroline, and Mark is a man from our firm who wants to have dinner with her. He’s very nice. Quite successful.”
This was officially a nightmare.
“Is Mark here?” Josh turned his attention away from Mel and was addressing Caroline. At least that was a plus. She nodded and tipped her head at Mark, who was flipping a swizzle stick around his fingers.
Josh’s eyebrows shot up and his eyes narrowed. “The one who’s trying to stare me down or the manscaped one?”
“The one staring.” Caroline hated the feeling that she was being watched, and lately she caught Mark watching her a lot.
“He looks like the guy who lived next door to you who had the perfect house, with the manicured lawn, and then turned out to be a serial killer.”
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Caroline said. Mark could be overbearing, and a little creepy, but a serial killer? Probably not.
“Do you want to go out with him?”
Caroline shook her head. “No.” Glaring at Mel, she continued. “I never said I was interested.”
“But . . .” Mel was about to jump in, but Josh held up his hand in a halting motion. He’d obviously heard enough. But again, who the hell was he to be questioning her? Caroline didn’t know who she was angrier at now, Mel or Josh. He might be trying to help, but his attitude needed some work.
“Caroline will not be going to dinner with Mark because she’s going to have dinner with me.”
“She is?” Mel folded her arms.
Josh smiled and looped his arm around Caroline’s shoulder, and his power and warmth seeped right to her core. She didn’t know how she felt about him taking control of the situation, but his behavior wasn’t completely surprising. Josh was a take-control guy, and Caroline’s girly side responded happily to the attention of the big, strong man.
Ugh. She was weak. So weak. He was rescuing her and she hated it, but at the same time, this gorgeous, brilliant man was holding her close and he wasn’t treating her like a piece of furniture. So, even though he was being bossy and overprotective, she could get used to this.
She let the feeling swim around in her imagination, the one that was always getting her in trouble, and allowed it to take hold. She could use this. Most definitely.
Josh’s touch felt almost as good as watching Mel’s jaw drop and Mark grow pale.
Yup. Between the lust and the gloating, there was no doubt. Her inner thirteen-year-old was alive and well. It was obvious to Caroline that she hadn’t come as far as she thought. She was a well– educated professional living in New York City, but she still didn’t know how to handle the attention of an attractive man.
“Caroline, are you ready?”
She looked up into Josh’s eyes and let herself believe he was this sweet and caring.
She knew he wasn’t. Aside from the fact that he was known as a hard-nosed businessman, he’d been pretty cold toward her family before he stepped up and made amends last year. He probably still felt like he owed them. Yep, he was doing this out of some misplaced sense of family duty, but what the hell. It would get her out of there and she could forget this night ever happened.
“Yes, I’m ready.” Turning to Mel, she grinned. God, she loved the look on her face. It was perfect—somewhere between stunned disbelief and jealousy. “See you Monday.”
With that, Josh turned toward Mark and, putting two fingers near his brow, saluted. Caroline thought Mark’s head might be about to blow off, but she’d never know because Josh guided her out of the bar.
Once they were on the street and had walked about a block, he turned and faced her. “What the hell were you doing in that bar? If I had any sense I’d call your mother.”
He did not just say that. “My . . .excuse me?”
“Caroline, every asshole finance guy in Manhattan goes there looking for a Friday night pick-up.”
Pushing her glasses up to the bridge of her nose, she felt the anger boil up and her face heat. He was the epitome of the flashy Wall Street executive. His family’s private equity firm, Campbell Holdings, was into everything, most recently real estate development. Just looking him over she could tell his suit probably cost more than her monthly rent. “You mean asshole finance guys like you?”
“Yes. NO! It’s a good thing I was there. I kept you from going out with Mark the Serial Killer.”
“I had no intention of going out with him. I said no tonight, just like I’ve said no for the past two months.”
“He’s been hitting on you for six months? At work? Jesus.” Josh ran a hand through his hair. “Did you report him for harassment?”
“Since when are you my keeper, Josh? Good God, there are times I wonder if you know I’m in the same room. Now you want to tell me how to live my life?”
“I always—” She didn’t hear the rest of what he said because a car horn blared on the busy street and, having had enough of Josh’s overprotectiveness, she started walking away. Someone was always telling her what to do—her sister, her mother, her friends . . . and now Josh. Caroline wondered when her IQ had started dropping. When had she stopped being able to make her own decisions? It seemed no matter how smart everyone kept telling her she was, no one trusted her to make good choices. She considered herself an intelligent person, but maybe she was deluding herself about that as well. A stiff wind blew, reminding Caroline that if she didn’t do something soon, the life she was meant to lead would blow right past her in the same way.
Why was she so damned difficult? He’d always thought Caroline was the calm and reasonable Rossi sister, since she didn’t spin around everything like a whirlwind, but it appeared she was just as headstrong as her sister, Meg. And he’d gotten to know Meg a lot better over the six months since she’d married his brother. They’d had a rough start to their marriage, but things were starting to gel and now Josh was starting to feel comfortable and welcome at their house even though he still felt ashamed of his role in helping his parents try to break them apart.
Glancing at Caroline as she rushed down the street, he knew he had to go after her. He had no time for difficult women, but she was kind of like family, and that meant something to him. It always had.
He didn’t know why. Josh rarely dealt with the “why” of anything. He just acted, and so he didn’t question the surge of admiration that came over him as he skimmed Caroline’s retreating form.
From behind, he could appreciate her neat, compact frame. She was small, but with a nice, curvy body. Her ponytail was swinging wildly from side to side and she kept picking up speed, which was easier for her than most women because she wasn’t clicking along the street in designer heels.
No, Caroline sped down Fifth Avenue in her little flats, and Josh had to put some effort into catching her. But he started to close the distance and finally was right next to her when she stopped at a busy corner.
“You’re fast.” He grinned when she looked up at him with pure contempt burning in her eyes. Yeah, she was seriously pissed and he’d never seen her like this. He liked it. He liked that the kid who had been picked on unmercifully by her siblings had grown a backbone.
“What do you want now?”
“I said we were going to have dinner. And we are.”
“No we’re not. I’m going home.”
He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “Come on. Don’t make me eat alone.” After the day he’d had at work, dealing with one shitty thing after another, he liked the idea of spending time with someone who didn’t want anything from him, who didn’t have an agenda.
Her body was turned partially into his and all he could think when she looked up at him was that she was the cutest thing he’d ever seen. This wasn’t the first time he’d noticed how adorable she was. He’d noticed at Meg and Jason’s wedding that Little Rossi, as they once called her, had grown up—beautifully. The dark-rimmed glasses perched on her nose almost consumed her tiny face and her smoky brown eyes were wide, surrounded by inky dark lashes. He thought he felt her shiver, which was nice.