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Passion on Park Avenue (The Central Park Pact), page 1

 

Passion on Park Avenue (The Central Park Pact)
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Passion on Park Avenue (The Central Park Pact)


  Copyright © 2019 LL Book Company

  Cover illustration © Connie Gabbert

  The right of Lauren Layne to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the

  Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  First published in this eBook edition in 2019

  by HEADLINE ETERNAL

  An imprint of HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP

  Published by arrangement with Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the

  Copyright Licensing Agency.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library

  eISBN 978 1 4722 6508 1

  HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP

  An Hachette UK Company

  Carmelite House

  50 Victoria Embankment

  London EC4Y 0DZ

  www.headlineeternal.com

  www.headline.co.uk

  www.hachette.co.uk

  Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  About the Author

  Praise for Lauren Layne

  By Lauren Layne

  About the Book

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgements

  Meet the Wedding Belles

  Discover the men of Oxford magazine

  Find out more about Headline Eternal

  About the Author

  Lauren Layne is the New York Times bestselling author of more than two dozen romantic comedies. Her books have sold over a million copies, in eight languages. Lauren’s work has been featured in Publishers Weekly, Glamour, The Wall Street Journal and Inside Edition. She is based in New York City.

  Join Lauren at www.laurenlayne.com to get news on her latest books, or keep up to date with her on Instagram: @laurenlayneauthor.

  Praise for Lauren Layne

  Just some of the reasons to indulge yourself in Lauren

  Layne’s irresistible romances:

  ‘Chic and clever! Passion on Park Avenue comes to life like a sexy, comedic movie on the page’ Tessa Bailey, New York Times bestselling author

  ‘I couldn’t put it down! Not only is the friendship between Naomi, Claire and Audrey refreshing and inspirational, the chemistry between Naomi and Oliver is off the charts! I love a sassy heroine and a funny hero and Layne delivers both. Witty banter and an electric connection between Naomi and Oliver kept me turning the pages late into the night. Lauren Layne knocks this one right out of Park Avenue!’ Samantha Young, New York Times bestselling author

  ‘Strong characters and relatable situations elevate Layne’s bighearted contemporary . . . This vivid enemies-to-lovers romance digs into class differences, emotional baggage, and the reality of dealing with aging parents’ Publishers Weekly, starred review

  ‘Featuring wine in coffee mugs, dinner parties with ulterior motives, and Naomi and Oliver being (almost) caught with their pants down, this is perfect for readers who love the dishy women’s fiction of Candace Bushnell’ Booklist

  ‘Layne is one of the best authors writing today and I was reminded of that as I read this book . . . It was hot and sexy and sweet. I laughed and shrieked and cried, exactly what I want from a book’ Obsessed with Romance

  By Lauren Layne

  The Central Park Pact Series

  Passion on Park Avenue

  Wedding Belles Series

  From This Day Forward (e-novella)

  To Have And To Hold

  For Better Or Worse

  To Love And To Cherish

  Oxford Series

  Irresistibly Yours

  I Wish You Were Mine

  Someone Like You

  I Knew You Were Trouble

  I Think I Love You

  Love Unexpectedly Series

  Blurred Lines

  Good Girl

  Love Story

  Walk Of Shame

  An Ex For Christmas

  I Do, I Don’t Series

  Ready To Run

  Runaway Groom

  About the Book

  They vowed to steer clear of Manhattan’s heartbreakers – but when it comes to love, some risks are worth taking . . .

  For as long as she can remember, Bronx-born Naomi Powell has had one goal: to prove her worth among the Upper East Side elite. Now, as the strongminded, sassy CEO of one of the biggest jewellery empires in the country, Naomi finally has exactly what she wants – but it’s going to take more than just the right address to make Manhattan’s upper class accept her.

  The worst offender is her new neighbour, Oliver Cunningham – the grown son of the family Naomi’s mother worked for as a housekeeper. Oliver used to torment Naomi when they were children, and as a ridiculously attractive adult, he’s tormenting her in entirely different ways. Let this sexy battle-of-wills commence . . .

  Filled with charm and heart and plenty of heart and wit, this entertaining series will hook you from the very first page. Look out for the next two titles, Love on Lexington Avenue and Marriage on Madison Avenue.

  Want more fun, fresh, flirty and very sexy rom-coms? Check out Lauren’s Oxford series and don’t miss her warm, witty and sexy Wedding Belles series and the I Do, I Don’t series, as well as the romantic standalones in the Love, Unexpectedly series.

  SATURDAY, JULY 21

  Naomi Powell figured there was no good way to discover that the man you’d been dating for three months was married to someone else. But of all the possibilities, learning about the existence of a Mrs. Brayden Hayes via the cheating bastard’s obituary?

  Definitely the worst.

  The taxi pulled to a stop outside Central Presbyterian, and Naomi nearly lost her nerve, her instincts screaming for her to tell the cabbie to take her back to the Lower East Side.

  Instead, she handed the driver a twenty, shoved open the door, and stepped onto ritzy Park Avenue as though she belonged there. She pulled her Gucci sunglasses out of her bag and slid them onto her nose—the overcast July day didn’t quite warrant the shades, but she was walking into a funeral. People would hopefully think the purpose of the sunglasses was to hide red, puffy eyes rather than what it really was:

  A disguise.

  Screw that, Naomi thought furiously, pushing the sunglasses back up into her dark red hair and marching with purpose toward the stately Gothic-style church. She didn’t need a disguise. At twenty-nine, Naomi had spent most of her lifetime dealing with people trying to make her
feel inferior, and she’d be damned if she let a turd of a playboy succeed from beyond the grave.

  She had just as much right to be here as anyone else. It’s not like she’d known he was married. She hadn’t even known he lived in Manhattan. Naomi wasn’t sure she knew a single damn thing about the real Brayden Hayes, but even around all her anger, she still wanted the chance to say goodbye.

  The man had made her life better, for a while at least. Even if he was making it a hell of a lot worse now.

  She sighed and slid the sunglasses back onto her face. Not to protect herself, but to protect Brayden’s wife. Naomi had no idea if Claire knew of her existence, but on the off chance she did, Naomi didn’t want to make this any harder on the woman than it already was.

  Naomi walked up the steps to the church as Brayden’s obituary rattled around in her brain, the way it had for days. The victim of a tragic yachting accident, Brayden Hayes is survived by wife, Claire Hayes . . .

  A yachting accident. Really? Really?

  Wasn’t death by luxury boat just a little too good for a womanizer with the morals of a lump of coal?

  The only saving grace of the situation, and Naomi had had to look really hard to find one, was that Claire and Brayden hadn’t had any children. Thank God for that. It was the only thing that had kept Naomi from breaking completely when she’d learned of Brayden’s double life. She knew all too well the havoc a philandering asshole could wreak on a child’s life.

  Naomi stepped into the dark, quiet church and walked toward one of the back pews. Several people turned and looked her way, and her footsteps faltered.

  On a rational level, Naomi knew they were merely turning instinctively at the sharp click of her Louboutin stilettos against the church floor. Some maybe even recognized her as the Naomi Powell from the latest 30-under-30 list, or from her interview on the Today show.

  But everywhere she looked, Naomi saw only disdain. As though they could see beyond the conservative Chloé dress to her Bronx roots. As though they knew she was the other woman. The very identity that had destroyed her mother and that Naomi had sworn to avoid.

  She sucked in a breath, trying to gather the defiance that had turned her from a nobody into one of the city’s wealthiest women. She tried to gather the confidence that had earned her a spot on every “women to watch” list in the nation. But today, she didn’t feel like a bright up-and-comer in the business world. Today she felt small. Worse, she felt dirty.

  Naomi watched as a woman pursed her lips and turned away, as though unable to look any longer upon Brayden Hayes’s whore. That’s what he’d made her. A lifetime of trying to avoid her mother’s footsteps, and one Upper East Side scumbag had turned her into her own worst nightmare.

  Naomi didn’t even realize she’d turned around and left the church until she felt the warm summer breeze whip at her hair. Didn’t register what direction she was walking until she hit the eastern edge of Central Park.

  Only then did she let herself truly breathe, sucking in big lungfuls of air. But she didn’t cry. Naomi had promised herself a long time ago she’d never cry because of a man.

  She was hardly dressed for a stroll, but the trees and winding path calmed her as she entered the park. A welcome respite from the nearby neighborhood and all its snobbery. In Central Park, it didn’t matter what street you lived on, what borough you came from. Central Park belonged to all New Yorkers, one glorious shared backyard.

  The park was mostly quiet. Most tourists entered at the south side, so she saw only a couple of joggers, a few elderly couples out for a walk, two moms on a stroller date, and . . .

  Naomi did a double take at the blonde sitting alone on a park bench, and her stomach dropped out. Are you kidding me with this right now, God?

  The first thing Naomi had done after the shock of reading that Brayden Hayes was freaking married was to google the crap out of his wife, desperate for an indication that the Times had been wrong about his marital status. That it was a misprint or he was divorced. The paper hadn’t been wrong. There really was a Mrs. Brayden Hayes.

  And she, too, had chosen Central Park over Brayden’s funeral.

  Nearly even with Claire Hayes now, and with the sunglasses still providing Naomi anonymity, she dared to sneak a look at the other woman out of the corner of her eye.

  Brayden’s widow looked pretty much like the picture Naomi had rummaged up online: a thirty-something Upper East Side WASP. Like Naomi, she wore oversize sunglasses, the Chanel logo glinting in a stray ray of sunshine. Naomi’s trained eye pegged the basic black sheath as St. John, and the basic black pumps Louboutins—identical to Naomi’s.

  But unlike Naomi, Claire had a genteel poise about her. Like she’d never said darn, much less dropped an f-bomb. Naomi would bet serious money that Claire Hayes didn’t eat Kraft Macaroni & Cheese straight out of the pan when she was stressed and that Claire had never been so poor that she’d actually once considered taking home a neighbor’s discarded mattress, bedbugs be damned, simply because it was free.

  Claire’s placid expression betrayed nothing as Naomi passed her, the glasses too large to reveal any emotion on her face. For that matter, Naomi wondered if women like her experienced emotion at all. It didn’t seem it. The woman was the picture of calm, except for . . .

  Her hands.

  Brayden’s widow’s hands were clenched tightly in her lap, the fingers of her right hand white-knuckled around the fist of her left hand. But it wasn’t the subdued pink manicure that captured Naomi’s attention. It was the bright red crescent moons beneath the nails.

  Naomi had a lifelong bad habit of acting before thinking, and she did so now, crossing to the other woman and sitting beside her on the park bench.

  “That’s enough now,” Naomi said, using her CEO voice, calm and commanding.

  Claire didn’t move. Naomi wasn’t even sure the other woman heard her.

  Naomi hesitated only for a moment before slowly reaching over and prying the nails of Claire’s right hand away from her left hand. Little streaks of blood were left in the wake.

  Claire looked down in confusion, as though just now registering the pain.

  “Does that Givenchy have any Kleenex?” Naomi asked, nodding toward Claire’s clutch on the bench.

  Claire didn’t move for a long moment, then taking a deep breath, she calmly reached for her purse, pulling out a travel-size package of tissue.

  “We’re wearing the same shoes. Same dress, too,” Claire said, dabbing at the blood on the back of her hand with a tissue, using the same casual indifference of one dabbing up a drop of spilled water.

  Naomi nodded in agreement, though Claire’s St. John was a knee-length mock turtleneck, and Naomi’s Chloé was a boatneck that hit at midthigh.

  For a long moment, neither said anything.

  “I’m supposed to be at a funeral,” Claire said, balling up the tissue and dropping her hands back into her lap.

  “Why aren’t you?”

  Naomi was genuinely curious. She knew why she wasn’t at that funeral. But the widow being a no-show . . . that was some serious Page Six–worthy gossip right there.

  Claire opened her mouth to respond but shut it when a pretty young woman with dark brown hair walked past them. Naomi waited for the other woman to pass and, when she gave the brunette a closer look, realized the other woman was walking a bit too slowly, as though tempted to approach. She looked vaguely familiar. Naomi was fairly sure they’d crossed paths at a couple of events, though Naomi couldn’t put a name with the face.

  Brayden’s widow, however, could. Claire went rigid beside Naomi, even as she called out to the other woman, “Audrey.”

  Unlike Claire and Naomi, the brunette wasn’t wearing sunglasses, and Naomi saw her round eyes go even wider. “You know who I am?”

  “You’re Audrey Tate. I did a little digging after you called the house that night,” Claire said quietly. “I know you were sleeping with my husband.”

  Naomi’s head whipped ar
ound in surprise, and then surprise escalated to shock as she realized Claire wasn’t talking to her.

  What the . . .

  Audrey let out a hiccuping sob and walked to the bench, and Naomi almost laughed when she saw the other woman’s shoes. Black Louboutin pumps identical to hers and Claire’s.

  “I didn’t know,” Audrey was saying in a rush as she sat beside Claire and stared at her with a pleading expression. “I didn’t know until you picked up the phone that night that he was married. I swear to you, he told me his wife had left him, that he was separated . . . I never would have—You have to believe me. I didn’t know—”

  “Oh, honey,” Naomi interrupted, half-sympathetic, half-horrified. “You’ve got to get it together.”

  Audrey stopped her sniffling and gave Naomi what she probably thought was an icy glare, but the impact was diminished by the red nose and puffy eyes. “Respectfully, you don’t know the first thing about what’s going on here.”

  “Well now, that’s the thing,” Naomi said, looking down at her manicure. “I sort of do.”

  Both women were studying her now.

  “Who are you?” Claire asked.

  Naomi studied the other woman for only a moment before acting on the same instinct that had taken her from Bronx high school dropout to entrepreneurial superstar; she sensed that Claire Hayes was the sort of woman who deserved the truth. The full truth.

  Naomi pushed her sunglasses on top of her head and looked at Claire. “I’m Naomi Powell. The other other woman.”

  Audrey’s mouth fell open, but Claire didn’t react beyond a slightly too long blink. “What?”

  Damn. She’d thought she’d been pretty clear.

  “Your husband was putting his pickle into one too many sandwiches,” Naomi announced plainly. “Well, two too many if you count her.” She jerked her chin toward Audrey.

  “Did you just compare . . . pickle . . . oh my God, sandwiches,” Audrey said, lifting a hand to her forehead.

  Claire’s head dropped forward, her chin resting on her chest, and Naomi winced. Perhaps she could have phrased it slightly differently . . . sticking his noodle in the wrong casserole? Cucumber into multiple salads?

 
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