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Southern Heartbreaker: A Single Dad Romance, page 1

 

Southern Heartbreaker: A Single Dad Romance
 



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Southern Heartbreaker: A Single Dad Romance


  Southern Heartbreaker

  A Charleston Heat Novel

  Jessica Peterson

  Contents

  Also by Jessica Peterson

  Where to Find Jessica

  1. Eva

  2. Eva

  3. Eva

  4. Ford

  5. Ford

  6. Ford

  7. Eva

  8. Eva

  9. Eva

  10. Ford

  11. Eva

  12. Ford

  13. Ford

  14. Eva

  15. Eva

  16. Ford

  17. Eva

  18. Eva

  19. Ford

  20. Ford

  21. Ford

  22. Eva

  23. Eva

  24. Ford

  25. Ford

  26. Eva

  27. Ford

  28. Eva

  29. Eva

  30. Ford

  31. Eva

  32. Ford

  Epilogue

  Thank You!

  Southern Charmer Excerpt

  Acknowledgments

  Also by Jessica Peterson

  About the Author

  Also by Jessica Peterson

  THE CHARLESTON HEAT SERIES

  The Weather’s Not the Only Thing Steamy Down South…

  Available for FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

  Southern Charmer (Charleston Heat #1)

  Southern Player (Charleston Heat #2)

  Southern Gentleman (Charleston Heat #3)

  Southern Heartbreaker (Charleston Heat #4)

  THE FLINGS WITH KINGS SERIES

  Royal. Ridiculously Hot. Totally Off Limits…

  Available for FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

  Royal Ruin (Flings With Kings #1)

  Royal Rebel (Flings With Kings #2)

  Royal Rogue (Flings With Kings #3)

  THE STUDY ABROAD SERIES

  Studying Abroad Just Got a Whole Lot Sexier…

  A Series of Sexy Interconnected Standalone Romances

  Read Them All for FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

  Lessons in Love (Study Abroad #1)

  Lessons in Gravity (Study Abroad #2)

  Lessons in Letting Go (Study Abroad #3)

  Lessons in Losing It (Study Abroad #4)

  Where to Find Jessica

  Join my Facebook reader group, The City Girls, for exclusive excerpts of upcoming books plus giveaways galore!

  Follow my not-so-glamorous life as a romance author on Instagram @JessicaPAuthor

  Follow me on Goodreads

  Follow me on Bookbub

  Like my Facebook Author Page

  Published by Peterson Paperbacks, LLC

  Copyright 2019 by Peterson Paperbacks, LLC

  Cover by Najla Qamber of Najla Qamber Designs

  Photographer: Dany Fantoni

  Cover Model: Marco Boscolo Nale

  This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at [email protected]

  All characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.

  www.jessicapeterson.com

  Created with Vellum

  Chapter One

  Eva

  Edward, Marquess of Harborough, was certain of two things.

  One, he looked dapper in his new evening kit if he did say so himself.

  And two, love made fools of men and women alike. He only had to look to his parents for proof of that.

  Which was why he’d agreed to marry Lady Sophia Dudley, sight unseen. The daughter of an earl—and “a perfectly adequate player of the harpsichord”—she was doubtless a suitable wife of excellent lineage and appropriately bland temperament.

  A woman who posed no threat to his carefully guarded affections.

  Thanking his valet, Edward exited his dressing room and headed down the curving stair.

  That was when he heard it. A curse, whispered in a feminine voice. Followed by another curse. And another—

  “Damn you, you mustn’t—bloody hell, not on the mouth—your smell, Christ in heaven—”

  Edward’s heart thumped. What knave presumed to assault this poor—if foulmouthed—woman?

  He shot the cuffs of his black satin jacket, curling his arms. He hoped it would not come to blows. But he would do anything necessary to save a woman in distress.

  Rounding the last few steps, he drew up short when his eyes fell on said knave.

  It was his Irish wolfhound, Ophelia. She was standing on her hind legs in the middle of the entrance hall, licking an unfamiliar blond woman’s face. Massive paws propped on the woman’s shoulders.

  His arms uncurled. Edward’s heart thumped again at the sound of the woman’s laugh. It was deep. Big. A belly laugh, the kind he’d known only as a child.

  The woman tugged gently on Ophelia’s ears as she kissed the top of her head.

  “See, you bloody beast, that is the appropriate way to greet a stranger.” That laugh, again, when Ophelia replied with another lick to the woman’s lips. She took a paw in her hand, giving it a shake. “Ah, what a sweet, smelly girl you are. I think we shall get on just fine, you and I. I’m the new mistress of this house. The Marchioness of something or other. But you, my dear, may call me Sophie.”

  Edward found his tongue and lips silently forming the name. Sophie.

  Only he must’ve said it out loud, because the woman turned her head and looked at him. His stomach plummeted. Her eyes were lovely, dark and sparking with intelligence. Mischief, too.

  And her mouth—it was full. Soft looking.

  He attempted to straighten, but his feet tangled on the last tread of the stair. He pitched forward with a grunt.

  “My Lord!” Sophie darted across the hall with startling speed.

  And that was how Edward found himself in the arms of his new wife. Blinking back stars as he met those deuced eyes of hers. They were so big, and so honest…

  He started, grimacing when Ophelia planted several juicy, wet kisses on his mouth and nose.

  “Made you swoon,” Sophie said with a smile.

  “Ophelia. Ophelia, please.” He bolted to his feet, batting away his dog. The picture of unadulterated mortification. “I don’t swoon.”

  “There’s nothing wrong with swooning.” Her brow pinched. He was overtaken by the urge to smooth it with his thumb. “No great love story is complete without a good swoon. How refreshing it is that the hero is doing it for once.”

  “This is no love story,” he replied stiffly. “And I am no hero.”

  Her smile contracted. Puzzlingly, so did his heart.

  Edward was now certain of only one thing: that his wife was anything but suitable. Or bland.

  Bloody hell—

  I kill the ignition of my Honda, halting the narrator mid-sentence. I’m less than ten minutes into the audiobook of My Marriage to the Marquess, a regency romance my friend Olivia wrote. But it’s already making me smile.

  A smile that fades when I take in the familiar red brick front of my parents’ house. I’m here for Sunday night dinner, my first since being back in town. I notice my sister Alex’s car isn’t in the driveway yet. She must be running late, as usual.

  Taking a deep breath that does nothing to loo
sen the tightness in my chest, I climb out of my car.

  I’m immediately plunged into that special brand of oppressive humidity unique to Charleston, my hometown. I can literally feel my hair expanding. A frizzing-out that starts at the roots, no doubt making my blow out look like a clown wig in fifteen seconds flat.

  Ah, summer. Definitely not my favorite season down here.

  I recently moved back to Charleston after a five year-stint in Atlanta. I made the move mostly because I’ve been struggling to come up with the concept for a new cookbook—my second—and I’m hoping the amazing culinary scene here in the low country will kick-start my creative muse.

  I’ve already had my agent push back my deadline with my publisher once. With my next deadline looming in just two months, I’m kinda freaking out.

  Not only am I relying on the money and sponsorships this next book will bring in to help me keep my blogging and cookbook business afloat. I’m also a perfectionist when it comes to my work. It’s taken me over a decade of blood, sweat, and blog posts to build an engaged, passionate readership. I’ve also collected a dozen or so really great sponsors, or companies who pay to advertise on my blog. The money they bring in is vital to my business.

  Those readers and sponsors have been clamoring for book two ever since my first, Smokin’ In the Girls’ Room (named after my blog) hit a bestseller list last year. I can’t disappoint them. Just like I can’t lose the awesome momentum Smokin’ In the Girls’ Room gave my career. The longer I go between releases, the more likely it is that that might happen.

  So I made a promise to myself—and to my readers—that book two would go above and beyond book one, and that I’d release it “sooner rather than later”.

  The pressure to get this cookbook written is real.

  So is my anxiety that I won’t be able to make it happen in time.

  I try my best to shove the thought from my head as I climb the front steps. I work hard. I’ve overcome challenges in my career before. I’ll do it again.

  Opening the front door, I’m hit by a familiar, homey smell. Savory, a little sweet. Freshly fried corn tortillas.

  “Don’t tell me you’re making Pastel Azteca,” I say, my smile returning.

  Mom, who is Mexican, made the tortilla casserole all the time when we were growing up. It’s an old family recipe, one that was passed down to her by my abuela. It’s a dish she makes with alternating layers of tortillas, tomato and sour cream sauce, corn, and cheese.

  Mom glances at me over her shoulder. As usual, she’s bustling around the kitchen, the countertop covered in Pyrex dishes, cutting boards, and bowls full of fresh ingredients. She smiles, too.

  “Of course I am, mija,” she replies, giving me a hug. “I had a feeling you needed some comfort food. How’s the writing going?”

  I settle on a stool at the counter with a heavy sigh. “Horribly. I finally gave up and started reading a romance novel instead. I don’t know what my deal is. I just can’t seem to figure out what I’m trying to say with this book, you know? Like, who am I beyond the brisket? The ribs?”

  My dad owns Lacy’s Barbecue, an old school joint out on Sullivan’s Island. It’s no frills, the kind of barbecue place where pulled pork sandwiches are served up in plastic baskets and napkins are offered in the form of rolls of paper towels at picnic tables. He opened Lacy’s almost thirty years ago. Over the decades, Dad worked his ass off to build his reputation as one of the southeast’s best pit masters.

  After college, I followed in his footsteps and became a pit master myself. But instead of opening a restaurant, I decided to combine my two great loves—literature and smoked meat—and started a blog that was a mix of recipes, photography, and snippets of my daily life.

  Luckily this was back in 2007, which happened to be a bit of a golden age for bloggers. My following exploded, and I was eventually able to fulfill my dream of making a full time career out of it. Two years ago, I landed a major book deal for my first cookbook. It did so well that my publisher contracted me for two more books.

  Which was awesome, until I realized I was fresh out of ideas. Inspiration, too.

  Mom’s smile gets wistful. Knowing. “You’ll figure it out, mija. You’ve always had a lot to say.”

  “That is true,” I say.

  I look up at the chirp of the alarm system, and Dad walks through the front door. He looks rumpled, like always, in his day old stubble, blue LACY’S BBQ hat, and scuffed up sneakers.

  “Hey, Dad.” I get up from the stool to meet him in the hallway. “I didn’t know you were coming home for dinner.”

  My dad works long hours, especially on the weekends, and he’s not home all that much for meals.

  “Wouldn’t miss it with you and Alex being here.” Giving me a tired smile, he wraps me in a hug. The scent of hickory chips and fried dough—Lacy’s famous hushpuppies—wafts off his shirt. “Good to see you, sweetheart. I’m so glad you’re back in town. How’s the cookbook goin’?”

  Dad’s always been my biggest cheerleader. When I graduated with a fancy degree and a bunch of corporate job offers, he was the one who encouraged me to choose my passion over a steady paycheck.

  The path I chose hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been insanely rewarding. It’s me. And I’m not sure I would’ve had the guts to follow that path if it hadn’t been for dad’s encouragement.

  “I was just telling Mom that I can’t get it started for the life of me. I’m hoping to find some inspiration while I’m home.”

  “I think we can help with that. Let me get changed.”

  Without saying a word to my mother, he disappears into the master bedroom.

  Beside me Mom swallows audibly, eyes glued to the frying tortillas in front of her. I notice her shoulders have slumped. The corners of her mouth turned down in a small frown.

  Tension permeates the air. Cut with a thick layer of resentment.

  My parents have been awesome to me in their own ways. But they are definitely not awesome to each other.

  “You see that?” she says quietly. “He doesn’t talk to me anymore. At all.”

  “It’s rude,” I say, glancing at the bedroom door.

  “It is.” She swallows again.

  My stomach clenches. It’s a familiar scene, one that’s played out a hundred, a thousand times in this house. Dad being…well. Dad, I guess. Mom swallowing a need, a feeling, a curse.

  How much she’s had to swallow to keep it together—to keep this family together—

  No wonder she’s so unhappy. I feel bad for her. Seeing my parents interact—or, really, not interact at all—is a painful reminder of why I’ve made the choices I have.

  As much as I love my parents, I don’t want to end up like them, lonely and resentful. I especially don’t want to end up trapped like my mom. Trapped in her role as mother and wife.

  Trapped in an unhappy, unfulfilling relationship.

  Deep down, I know it’s unfair of her to talk to me about my dad this way. It taints my relationship with him and that’s not okay. He may not be perfect, but he has done some pretty amazing things for me.

  Still. This is part of the reason why I moved back to Charleston. My parents have been having problems in their marriage for a while now, and I’m worried about them. I figure that, by being close, I can maybe help smooth things over.

  Help turn things around. Doesn’t hurt that I also get to see my sister Alex, who lives downtown, more often; we’ve always been close.

  “I’m sorry,” I tell my mom, not sure what else to say.

  She just shakes her head. “I’m proud of you, Eva. For a lot of things. But I think I’m most proud of the fact that you’ll never let anyone run you over like that. I’m stuck here. But you—I’m so glad I raised you differently. Just keep doing what you’re doing, keep chasing your dreams. Don’t give an inch. Because you give an inch, and then you give another, and then all of a sudden all those inches turn into miles.”

  My throat tightens. Mom’s given
me this speech a few times now. As much as I appreciate her support and all the sacrifices she’s made, hearing her say these things hurts.

  Mom had a promising photography career when she met my dad. Then she had me, then Alex, and then they moved away from their families in Raleigh so dad could open Lacy’s BBQ here in Charleston. He worked punishing hours to get the restaurant up and running.

  They had no money, no help, and two kids two and under. Mom cut back on her hours at the studio where she worked to look after Alex and me while Dad practically lived at the restaurant.

  Didn’t help that my sister got in a lot of trouble in high school. Completely overwhelmed, Mom had to give up photography altogether to look after Alex and get her the help she needed.

  That’s when things started to go south for my parents. They were relatively happy together, and then…I don’t know, I guess the stress of caring for my sister, coupled with the relentless sacrifices Mom made, took its toll. Resentment grew. Things started to fall apart.

  They’ve only gotten worse as the years have passed. Alex, thank God, is thriving these days.

  But my parents? Not so much.

  So I do what I always do. I try to help Mom feel better while silently telling myself my story will be different from hers.

  That my future won’t look like this.

  “Here.” I keep my voice bright. “How about I pour us some wine? I can make us a cocktail, too. Margaritas, maybe? Do you have limes?” I raise my voice. “Dad, would you like a margarita?”

 
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