He's the last man on earth she should want...
For a guy she's fantasized about throttling, Jake Bradshaw sure is easy on the eyes. In fact, he seriously tempts inn manager Jenny Salazar to put her hands to better use. Except this is the guy who left Razor Bay—and his young son, Austin, whom Jenny adores like her own—to become a globe-trotting photojournalist. He can't just waltz back and claim Austin now.
Jake was little more than a kid himself when he became a dad. Sure, he'd dreamed of escaping the resort town, but he'd also truly believed that Austin was better off with his grandparents. Now he wants—no, needs—to make up for his mistake. He intends to stay in Razor Bay only until he can convince Austin to return with him to New York. Trouble is, with sexy, protective, utterly irresistible Jenny in his life, and his bed, he may never want to leave....
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Susan Andersen is a bestselling author and proud mama of a grown son. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of over forty years and her cats Boo and Mojo. To be added to Susan’s email list to hear about upcoming releases, please visit her website at www.susanandersen.com and enter your email address on the contact page. Or become a member of her Facebook fan page at http://www.facebook.com/SusanAndersenFanPage.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Jake Bradshaw blew into town almost two months later, at a quarter to three on a blustery, sunny April afternoon.
Not that Jenny was keeping track or anything.
Hell, who kept track of those things? She was busy minding her own business, washing the window over her kitchen sink and thinking the shutters on the Sand Dollar—the luxury cottage across the shared parking lot from her small bungalow—would benefit from a new coat of paint, when the doorbell rang. She just happened to check her watch. Then, looking down at her seen-better-days cropped T-shirt and raggedy jeans, she sighed. Why didn't anyone ever drop by unexpectedly when she was dressed to kill?
Murphy's Law, she supposed. Shrugging, she set aside the old tea towel she'd been using, paused her iPod, pulled out the earbuds and went to answer the summons. School had let out for the day; it was likely a friend of Austin's, although Austin himself wasn't home yet. when she pulled the door open and saw the man on the other side, her mind went blank. Holy Krakow, how wrong could one woman be—this was no teenage kid. This was a total stranger, something you didn't see very often this time of year—unlike during the summer tourist season. And the guy was a god.
Okay, not really. But he was definitely the next best thing. His hair, which she'd mistaken at first glance for blond, was actually a medium brown that had either been burnished by the sun or was the product of some world-class stylist.
She'd vote for the former, given that every man she'd ever known would choose castration before they'd be caught dead over at Wacka Do's wearing a headful of little tinfoil strips. And although she could honestly say she'd never met an actual honest-to-gawd big-city metrosexual, she was pretty sure this guy wasn't to be her first.
His tanned hands were too beat-up looking, his skin a little too weathered. He had muscular shoulders beneath a nice gray suit jacket, worn over an olive-drab hoodie and a silky, silver-gray T-shirt. And solid thighs that were molded by a pair of button-fly Levi's that had seen hard wear.
She couldn't see his eyes behind the shaded lenses of his sunglasses, but he had the most gorgeous lips she'd ever seen on a man, full yet precisely cut. If she were a different type of woman, in fact, she might almost be able to imagine lips like those kissing h—
"Is your mother home?"
"Seriously? " All right, not the politest response. But, please. She hadn't almost imagined what his lips could do—Marvin Gaye had started crooning "Let's Get It On" in her head. And having him talk to her as if she were a child was like ripping the needle across a vinyl record, bursting her pretty, if where-the-hell-did-t/zat-come-from, fantasy.
After a startled look, he studied her more closely. Those lips curved up in a faint smile. "Oh. Sorry. Your size fooled me for a minute. But you're not a kid."
His smile deepened slightly. "I'm not the first to make that mistake, I'm guessing."
Okay, get a grip, sister. What was her problem, anyway? She didn't lust after strange men. And she'd been in the hospitality business since she was sixteen, for pity's sake, so rarely, either, was her first inclination to unleash snide sarcasm on people.
At least not on people I don't know.
She gave an impatient mental shrug. Because even if she was in the habit of lusting or unleashing, this guy could be a guest at the inn for all she knew. It was the dead lowest part of the low season, which was why she'd felt comfortable enough leaving Abby to man the front desk while she took a rare day off. But Abs was still green, and it wasn't a stretch to imagine the girl blithely drawing directions on one of the resort maps to help a complete stranger find Jenny's place on the back grounds of The Brothers Inn.
Jenny plastered a pleasant expression on her face. "Is there something I can do for you?"
He looked down at her. "Yeah. I was told I could find a Jenny Salazar here?"
"You found her."
"I'm here about Austin Bradshaw, regarding his guardianship."
Jenny's heart picked up its pace, but she merely said, "You don't look like a lawyer."
"I'm not. But Mr. Verilla said you're the person I need to talk to."
She sighed and stepped back. "Then I guess you'd better come in. You'll have to excuse the mess," she said, leading him inside. "You caught me in the middle of cleaning day."
Her place was just under six hundred square feet of recently weatherized cottage, so it took a total of five seconds to reach the middle of her living room. She turned to face him and saw that he'd removed his shades and was hooking one temple arm into the neck of his T-shirt. Raising her gaze from his strong, tanned throat, she met his eyes for the first time.
Shock jolted through her. Oh, God. Only one other person in the world had eyes that pale, pale green—the exact same shade as the summer shallows in the fjord that was Hood Canal.
Anger was deep, immediate and visceral. And it had her drawing herself up to her not-so-great greatest height. "Let me guess," she said with ice-edged diction. "You must be Jake Bradshaw." when she looked at him now, she didn't see that compelling face or the abundant sex appeal. Instead, she pictured all the times Austin thought his father might call, might show up, and the stark disappointment each and every time that didn't happen. Disdain she couldn't quite disguise tugged at her upper lip.
"Mighty big of you to finally decide you could spare your kid a minute of your precious time."
For over a decade, Jake had dealt with all manner of people. He'd long ago perfected the art of letting things slide off his back. Yet for some reason the contempt from this little female dug barbed needles under his skin.
It didn't make a damn bit of sense. The woman was all of five foot nothing, for crissake, and her shiny dark hair, plaited into two thick little-girl braids, with a hank of long bangs pulling free from the left one, didn't exactly promote a grown-up vibe. She had spare curves, clear olive skin and brown eyes so dark it made the surrounding sclera look almost blue-white in comparison. Dark eyebrows winged above them, and her slender nose had a slight bump to its bridge.
His brows met over the thrust of his own nose. "who the hell do you think you are, lady?"
Okay, not what he'd intended to say. But being back in Razor Bay, the place he'd spent most of his teen years plotting to see the last of in his rear-view mirror—well, it put him on edge. Plus, after the thirty-two-hour trip from Minahasa to Davao to
Manila to Vancouver to Seattle to here, he was so dead on his feet he was all but punch-drunk. Not to mention seriously tense at the thought of seeing his kid after all these years. Of having full responsibility for him for the first time.
So excuse the hell out of him for reacting to the contempt in her voice and his own flicker of temper that here was yet someone else who thought they could dictate to him about his son.
Stuffing down every negative feeling that arose, however, he managed to moderate his tone when he inquired, "And you think you have the right to judge me, why?" God knew, he'd done enough of that on his own. He didn't need some half-pint stranger's condemnation on top of it.
He watched as she crossed her arms and raised her chin. "Well, let me see," she said coolly. "Maybe because I'm the woman who's been in Austin's life for the past eleven years. And this is the first time I've ever seen you."
Jake wanted to howl at the unfairness of her charge. Except. .was she actually wrong? He'd had a series of come-to-Jesus talks with himself on the endless journey back here and was forced to admit that he'd been looking at his dad ethic through a pretty skewed lens for a long time now. The admission made not defending himself to Ms. Salazar more than a simple matter of pride, more than an ingrained reluctance to plead his case to a stranger.
He couldn't in all conscience smear the memory of Austin's grandparents. Not only would it be too much like something his own father would have done—making it all about him and not giving a damn that his kid had loved the people he was trash-talking—but all that damn soul searching had made him realize that he'd spent too many years blaming Emmett and Kathy for doing the job he himself had abdicated.
They'd protected Austin. And if it cut to the bone that they'd felt it necessary to do so from him...well. I guess it sucks to be you, Slick.
Somewhere over Midway Island he'd dropped his defenses and admitted they had cut him a lot more slack than he'd deserved before they'd finally lowered the ax and banished him from Austin's life.
But that wasn't the central thing here—at least not right this minute. That would be that he was finally doing what he should have done a long time ago: stepping up.
So, go him.
Not that any of this prevented the woman standing in front of him from scratching at his temper. He took an involuntary step in her direction. "The fact remains, I'm Austin's father and I'm here now."
Apparently that wasn't what she'd expected to hear, because she blinked long, dense lashes at him, just a single slow sweep that lowered fragile-looking lids over her almond-shaped eyes, then raised them again.
The action ate up a couple of seconds tops, yet somehow it was long enough to make him aware that he was standing a whole lot closer to her than he'd intended. It made him aware as well that, except for the blink, she'd gone very still. Had she seen his banked anger? Jake slowly straightened. Shit. She couldn't possibly think he was going to hit her, could she?
He took a giant step back, shoving his hands in his Levi's pockets.
In the sudden silence, the back door crashed open, and from the way little Ms. Salazar stiffened, he knew exactly who it was. Heart beginning to kick hard against the wall of his chest, he stared at the opening to the kitchen.
"Hey, Jenny," called a male voice from the other room. "I'm home." The refrigerator door opened, then slammed shut and the lid of something rattled against a hard surface. "Dude! Leave a cookie for me."
"Trade ya for that carton of milk," came a second youthful tenor.
"You better be using glasses!" Jenny raised her voice to warn. "If I see washback in my milk, you're dead men."
Glass clinked and a cupboard slapped closed. Silence reigned for a few moments after that, before being abruptly broken by the sound of stampeding feet. Two boys burst through the archway.
The boy in the lead was a gangly brunette who—sweet mother Mary—had the exact same all-bonesno-meat thirteen-year-old build Jake had had at the same age.
God oh God. All the moisture dried up in his mouth and his habit of being aware of everything around him—honed by years of knowing that otherwise he'd likely end up bitten by a snake, stung by an insect or mauled by an animal with way more tonnage, power and teeth than him—went up in smoke. The cozy little room and everything in it faded from his consciousness, leaving nothing but his son.
Awash with joy, with terror, with a raft of pain and regret, Jake stared. An emotion he'd never experienced suffused his chest, while panic clawed at his gut. Jesus. He was shaking.
He hadn't thought it would matter so much, hadn't expected to be struck so hard. Was this what love felt like?
The thought snapped his spine straight. Hell, no.
It couldn't be. A: he was a Bradshaw and Bradshaw men's version of the Big L was so fucked it gave the sentiment a bad name. And B: a man had to actually know someone before he could start slinging that word around.
He drew a deep breath. It was probably just simple wonder that the kid could have gotten so big already. Jake'd had this image in his head of Austin at two, at four. Hell, at six even, which was how old Austin was the year Kathy had sent him the last picture.
But this was no little boy—this was an almost-grown teen. Not that Jake hadn't known how old he was, of course.
He just hadn't had a clear picture of it in his head.
He'd long ago convinced himself that he was doing the right thing—that Austin was better off with his grandparents, who could give him the stable, structured life that he himself could not. And he'd been right.
But now—face-to-face with what he hadn't merely let slip through his fingers but had actively thrown away with no more than an occasional second thought—his carelessness felt like shards of glass hacking his gut to shreds.
Oblivious to the thoughts and feelings that threatened to swamp Jake, the boy crossed directly to Jenny without even glancing in his direction.
"Can I spend the night at Nolan's?" he demanded. "His mom said it was okay." His gaze passed incuriously over Jake, returned to Jenny. "She's gonna order pizza from Bella T's, and Nolan has a new Xbox game we're gonna try ou—"
With a neck-snapping double take, the kid's gaze suddenly shot back to lock on Jake's. He took a step toward him, making Jake's overburdened heart leap into his throat.
Then Austin snapped upright and an ask-me-if-I-give-a-shit expression molded his young face. He looked at Jake through pitch-black narrowed lashes. "Who the hell are you?" he asked, even though his shuttered expression made it obvious to anyone with eyes that he knew.
Jake swallowed, fighting to sound calm in the midst of the fucking circus taking place inside of him. Automatically, he started forward. "Your dad. I—"
The teen made a wrong-answer-buzzer noise that stopped him in his tracks. "Like hell you are. In case you don't know...and I'm guessing you don't since this is the first time I've ever seen ya," he said, contempt coating his every word, "I'm thirteen. I don't need or want a daddy in my life." He turned back to Jenny, pinning her with angry eyes. "So can I stay the night at Nolan's or what?"
Jake watched as she reached up to stroke the boy's cheek, then visibly quelled the urge, clearly knowing he would hate the public show of sympathy. Instead she nodded. "Sure."
Without another word—or so much as a quick peek in Jake's direction—the teen turned and vanished with his friend into a room off the living room. When he reappeared less than a minute later, he was tucking a toothbrush into his jeans pocket. His other hand clutched a pair of flannel lounge pants.
"You need money for pizza?" Jenny asked.
"Nah," the other kid answered. "Mom's got it covered."
Still ignoring Jake, Austin headed for the kitchen, Nolan tight on his six.
"Hey, wait a minute!" Jake stepped forward, but the two boys were already slamming out the back door.
Jake didn't know if it was disappointment or relief that crashed through him. Whatever the sensation was, it nearly knocked him to his knees. God, he must have pictured this first meeting a hundred times since he'd received the news of Kathy's and Emmett's deaths, must have r...
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Buchbeschreibung Harlequin, 2012. Taschenbuch. 384 Seiten Auflage2012 2567,43 Sprache: Englisch Gewicht in Gramm: 204. Artikel-Nr. 65013