Unexpectedly hers sterli.., p.1

Unexpectedly Hers (Sterling Canyon #3), page 1

 

Unexpectedly Hers (Sterling Canyon #3)
 



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Unexpectedly Hers (Sterling Canyon #3)


  Praise for In the Cards

  “Infused with . . . fresh detail. Between the sweetness of the relationship and the summery beach setting, romance fans will find this a warming winter read.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Fans will love the frank honesty of her characters. [Beck’s] scenery is richly detailed and the story engaging.”

  —RT Book Reviews

  “[A] realistic and heartwarming story of redemption and love . . . Beck’s understanding of interpersonal relationships and her flawless prose make for a believable romance and an entertaining read.”

  —Booklist

  Praise for Worth the Wait

  “[A] poignant and heartwarming story of young love and redemption and will literally make your heart ache . . . Jamie Beck has a real talent for making the reader feel the sorrow, regret and yearning of this young character.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  Praise for Worth the Trouble

  “Beck takes readers on a journey of self-reinvention and risky investments, in love and in life . . . With strong family ties, loyalty, playful banter, and sexual tension, Beck has crafted a beautiful second-chances story.”

  —Starred review, Publishers Weekly

  Praise for Secretly Hers

  “[I]n Beck’s ambitious, uplifting second Sterling Canyon contemporary . . . Conflicting views and family drama lay the foundation for emotional development in this strong Colorado-set contemporary.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “[w]itty banter and the deepening of the characters and their relationship, along with some unexpected plot twists and a lovable supporting cast . . . will keep the reader hooked . . . A smart, fun, sexy, and very contemporary romance.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  ALSO BY JAMIE BECK

  In the Cards

  The St. James Novels

  Worth the Wait

  Worth the Trouble

  Worth the Risk

  The Sterling Canyon Novels

  Accidentally Hers

  Secretly Hers

  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 © 2017 Jamie Beck

  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

  www.apub.com

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.

  ISBN-13: 9781503942240

  ISBN-10: 1503942244

  Cover design by Shasti O’Leary Soudant

  This one is for my MTBs—plotting partners extraordinaire—Jamie Pope, Heidi Ulrich, Denise Smoker, Jane Haertel, Katy Lee, Tracy Costa, Gail Chianese, Jen Moncuse, Linda Avellar, and Jamie K. Schmidt. Many thanks for your unwavering support and for the encouragement to go out on a limb and make Emma’s story a little sassy and surprising.

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Chapter One

  Straddling her hips, Dallas smeared a handful of whipped cream across Ella’s breasts.

  “Like a sundae.” He bent over and licked her, then looked up with a lusty smile as his hand found the red curls at the top of her inner thighs. “This bit of red is the cherry on top.”

  He licked her again as she writhed with pleasure―her arms still tied to the bedpost―then his head disappeared between her legs.

  Bang!

  Emma flinched at the sound, then shoved the advanced review copy of her debut novel under her pillow before her mother marched in and caught her with smut. That’s what her mom would call it, anyway. She imagined everyone’s shock if they ever discovered that she was Alexa Aspen, the author of Steep and Deep, which many would deem “mommy porn.”

  Of course, no one would ever learn her secret. When her agent had negotiated her publishing contract, Emma had chosen to avoid the brunt of Sterling Canyon’s small-town scrutiny by assuming a pen name.

  It’d been so easy that, except at the moment she’d signed the contract, she hadn’t even winced. No one would ever believe quiet, conservative Emma Duffy would read a book containing smokin’ hot sex, much less write one.

  Emma smiled to herself while remembering one night in Aspen three years ago when she’d been checking out a recently renovated Victorian B&B. After a couple of single, sexless years, she’d taken advantage of her anonymity there and abandoned all caution. Donning new clothes and a fake name, she’d had her first and only one-night stand. That tryst had inspired the idea for her book and its hero, Dallas. To this day, she couldn’t explain what had possessed her to be so brazen . . .

  Bang, bang! A quick glance over her shoulder confirmed no one was entering her room. Actually, the noise sounded too distant to be her bedroom door. Grabbing her green, cable-knit cardigan, she went to investigate. Hopefully the porch posts weren’t cracking apart.

  Bang!

  She trotted down the staircase of her family’s ancient bed and breakfast, The Weenuche, named for a Ute Indian tribe that had once inhabited Southwest Colorado. Emma’s presence marked the third generation to run the inn, although technically, her mother ran the business while Emma managed the kitchen and concierge desk. The worn carpet beneath her feet sadly announced to the world that it had been decades since the place had been refurbished.

  She’d wanted to copy some of the upgrades she’d seen at that inn in Aspen, but who had money to splurge on redecorating when ancient plumbing, sagging roofs, and other emergencies cropped up every month? The unusual spate of monster-sized October snowstorms hadn’t helped, either. And while El Niño snowfall should bring more tourists to town, it also inevitably would cause more wear and tear on her battered inn.

  Jogging across the small lobby, she shoved open the front door, which creaked against a strong early-November wind. Had the gust not set her back, she might have crashed into the unfamiliar young men in skullcaps and combat boots who were nailing flyers to the posts on the front porch.

  “Excuse me.” Emma approached them with caution, tightening her cozy sweater to buffer against the frigid air. “Who are you, and what are you posting on my property?”

  The one with the blond goatee and short ponytail smiled. “Disclaimer notices, so we don’t have to get specific waivers for people to be included in the documentary.”

  Documentary? She scanned the sheet of paper, which read:

  REEL DRAMA, INC.

  IS CURRENTLY VIDEOTAPING AND

  CABLECASTING SCENES AT THIS

  LOCATION FOR POSSIBLE INCLUSION

  IN TELEVISION PROGRAMS.

  IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE

  PHOTOGRAPHED OR TO APPEAR ON

  TELEVISION, OR TO BE OTHERWISE

  RECORDED, PLEASE LEAVE THIS

  LOCATION DURING OUR


  VIDEOTAPING.

  BY REMAINING IN THIS IMMEDIATE

  VICINITY, YOU ARE GIVING REEL DRAMA, INC. YOUR

  CONSENT TO PHOTOGRAPH, FILM, RECORD,

  AND CABLECAST YOUR PICTURE,

  LIKENESS, VOICE, AND STATEMENTS.

  Oh, good Lord. What the heck had her mother gotten them into now?

  “I’m sorry, will you please hold on a second? Don’t post anything else until I speak with my mother.” She turned on her heel and entered the lobby, calling out, “Mom!”

  “Don’t shout, dear. It isn’t very ladylike.” Her mother emerged from the back office with a large suitcase in tow. Freshwater pearls complimented her best twinset and wool slacks. She would’ve looked quite elegant if not for the Velcro orthopedic walking shoes. “I was just coming to say good-bye. I’m leaving now to pick up Vera for our cross-country trip. You’re in charge, angel.”

  The overwhelming scent of her mother’s beloved White Diamonds perfume enveloped Emma, making her cough.

  “You told me this would be a quiet month,” Emma accused, remembering when her mom had first informed her of the plans for Aunt Vera’s month-long sixty-fifth birthday vacation. She’d been happy to learn of it, because it would leave her more privacy to prepare for the book launch. “You said I’d only be dealing with a private party of five while you were away.”

  “That’s right. Apparently the freak October blizzards have made Sterling Canyon an ideal spot for that skier’s training.”

  Skier? Training? As usual, Emma had a hard time following her mother’s train of thought.

  Emma raised her arms toward heaven. “So why are there men outside posting notices about filming a documentary?”

  “It’s wonderful.” Her mother’s eyes lit. “People love a comeback story, so this film should be quite popular. The free publicity will bring all kinds of attention to our inn. When it airs, it’ll put us on the map so we can compete with Wade Kessler’s new hotel.”

  “What?” Her pulse beat hard at the base of her neck. The lack of communication astounded her. “Why is this the first I’m hearing of it?”

  “I’m sure I mentioned it.” Her mother patted her arm.

  “I think I’d remember if you mentioned a documentary.”

  “Emma, your head’s been in the clouds lately—perhaps you just weren’t listening.”

  Emma couldn’t deny that possibility. These past several weeks she’d lapsed into thoughts about her impending book launch, its early reviews, and her next story—the one on deadline. Perhaps her mother had mentioned it and Emma had just not heard it amid all her nattering.

  “Now that I have your attention,” her mother began, “all the paperwork and permits are on my desk with a big list of items they need. I took care of most things, although you should double-check the list from the nutritionist before you grocery shop this week. Also, I forgot to arrange for a yoga instructor, but you used to teach at YogAmbrosia, so you can do it.”

  “Me? Then who’ll be preparing breakfast, Mom?”

  “Oh, yes. That. Then call there and arrange for one of the instructors to come give private lessons here in the morning.” Her mom smiled and patted Emma’s cheek. “It’s lovely to know I can count on you, perfect girl. You always make me proud.”

  Normally Emma would bask in the glow of her mother’s praise. But the last thing she needed now was to be dodging a camera crew while juggling her duties to the inn and her burgeoning writing career. And what made her mother think The Weenuche could compete for the same customers as Wade’s soon-to-be-completed Bear Lodge—a five-star, state-of-the-art boutique hotel?

  The entire situation robbed Emma of her good manners. “So you’re taking off scot-free while I’m going to end up on camera at all hours, with flour on my clothes and wearing a hairnet?”

  “Don’t be so dramatic, Emma.” Her mother smoothed her own faded red hair. “Neither of us likes it when you act like your father.”

  As always, a chilly two-second pause followed any mention of her father, who’d left them both almost twenty years ago to chase fame in Hollywood. The fact that he’d only ever made the D-list pleased her mother, who’d never wanted to see him rewarded for his philandering and abandonment. Emma herself felt the sting of the comparison, because she disliked any part of herself that resembled someone who’d caused so much heartache.

  “Think of the film as a little adventure.” Her mother cleared her throat. “I spoke with the producer, Mari, who sounds like a very nice woman. You aren’t the subject of this movie, dear, so just smile and make the place inviting.” She pinched Emma’s cheek. “Maybe put on a little makeup, just in case you end up on film.”

  “You’re really something.” Emma rolled her eyes.

  “I’ll take that as a compliment.” Her mother waved dismissively and popped up the suitcase handle. “Now help me load this into the car. It’s parked out front.”

  Emma strode out the door, rolling the bag behind her while trying not to be insulted by her mother’s assessment.

  “Can we continue?” Goatee Guy asked as she and her mother breezed past him and his cohort.

  “Apparently.” Emma heaved the bag down the few porch steps. “Careful, Mom, there’s still some ice.”

  “I see, Emma.” Her mother tsked. “You really must get on this sooner.”

  “Andy will be here soon to clear it.”

  “Well, you and Andy have to clear all the snow and ice in a timely fashion so we can impress our guests and look good on camera. Remember, perceptions are everything—in life and in business.” Her mother kissed her good-bye. “I’ll send pictures and gifts from each city. I can’t wait to see Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York. Did I tell you we have tickets to Hamilton?”

  “Only thirty times.” Emma hugged her ridiculous yet lovable mother good-bye.

  It’d been just the two of them for a while now. Several years after her father had bolted, her beloved Grammy had died right here in the dining room. Choked on chicken, of all things. Aunt Vera lived in Denver, so they only saw her a few times a year.

  Emma and her mom had nursed each other through broken hearts and broken dreams. Although the woman could verge on the absurd, Emma loved her mom and would never, ever want to let her down, so she would bite her tongue now and do her best to make her mother happy.

  “Drive safely, Mom.”

  “I will.” Emma’s mother hugged her again. “This reminds me of the first time my mother left me in charge of the inn so she could go to Santa Fe for her sixty-fifth with her book group ladies. Do you remember that? You were so dependable, even as a teenager. I trust that the inn is in good hands with you, sweetheart. Hopefully this month will pass without a major incident.”

  “Yes, let’s do hope.” Emma smiled as she helped her mother into the car, thinking about her mother’s trust. Emma was dependable, yes. But trustworthy? She’d been deceiving her mom for the past few years, so maybe that word no longer applied.

  Her mother waved good-bye just as a van pulled into the parking lot. Emma assumed that it was ferrying more of the crew, possibly even the star of the dreaded documentary. Hopefully he wasn’t a prima donna.

  Another brisk wind blew a cloud of snow in Emma’s face, forcing her to seek warmth. She hustled inside, past the guys on the porch, and scampered up to her room to run a brush through her hair, knot it into some kind of lumpy bun, and hide the box of her books under her bed.

  She drew a breath, enjoying a rare moment of freedom. Her mother didn’t crowd her, per se, but her presence could turn suffocating now and then.

  Emma had grown up well aware of her mother’s and Grammy’s expectations. She’d been privy to more than one lecture about the dangers of loose morals. Not that she’d needed it. She’d seen firsthand how lust and temptation screwed up people’s lives—from politicians’ to her own father’s.

  Having helplessly watched her mom spiral into a major depression right after he left had certainly changed Emma’s perspe
ctive on life and love, and on her mom’s ability to cope with disappointment. Faith in God and Emma’s endless acts of appeasement had pulled her through, but Emma never wanted to see her mom tested again.

  So she’d clamped down on any part of herself that resembled her father, even though sometimes the bottled-up passion simmering beneath her skin burned like fingers caught on an oven rack. Her secret fling in Aspen had been necessary to avoid spontaneous combustion.

  On her way back downstairs, she heard the murmur of voices and the scuffle of bags coming into the lobby. She dashed around the corner to the welcome desk and then froze. It. Can’t. Be!

  Dallas, er—Wyatt. Wyatt Lawson—famed slopestyle snowboard International Games and Rockies Winter eXtreme Games gold medalist, among other titles—stood in her lobby.

  She vaguely registered other people, too, but her gaze locked on Wyatt’s exotic face. Although born and raised in Vermont, he looked Brazilian with his wild, wavy black hair that hung to his jaw, his bronzed skin, his dreamy hazel eyes set deeply beneath straight, thick brows. She couldn’t actually see those eyes while staring at his profile, but she still remembered them from their one incredible night together. The one she’d relived over and over while writing and editing her book.

  Her heart lodged itself in her throat. Please, God, don’t let him recognize me.

  Emma had never told a soul about that night, and would be mortified if her mother or friends ever learned about her brief walk on the wild side. If they knew she’d acted like some kind of cougar, picking up a guy six years her junior. Even she still couldn’t believe she’d done it.

  Of course, Wyatt wouldn’t associate Emma with Alexa—the alter ego she’d adopted for a few hours to break free from being Emma Duffy.

  Unlike Emma, Alexa had no qualms about her sexuality. Alexa had confidently worn a silky black dress that barely covered her chest and butt. Alexa had rocked high-heeled, knee-high boots, had had her thick, red hair professionally styled, and had worn smoky makeup and loopy earrings. Yes, Alexa had been a bona fide siren that night.

 
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