White beaches, blue waters...St. John is paradise for most. But not for Lora Bell. Her childhood home is a source of painful memories and obligation. And this visit isn't likely to change anything. She's here to deal with a mountain of trouble at her family's resort, her grandfather...and Heath Cannon, the guy she'd rather forget.
Being around Heath reminds Lora of another side of herself--the less serious, more carefree side. And while that might be a welcome change, this is not the time. She has to be strong to make the tough decisions required to save the resort. So these feelings need to stop. Now. But it may be too late. Because those beaches, the water and Heath seem to be changing everything.
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
May 01, 2012
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Excerpt from Like One of the Family by Kimberly Van Meter
The warm, salty breeze lifted Lora Bell's hair from her damp neck as she stepped from the ferry platform after docking in Cruz Bay, St. John. She knew the fierce humidity would wreak havoc on her carefully maintained cut and color so that by the time she reached Larimar, which was only a short drive out of town, the curl she fought to tame would spring to life with a vengeance.
Home sweet home, she thought sourly, pausing to quickly wrap her shoulder-length hair into a messy knot at the back of her head. Everywhere she looked paradise stared back--calm, azure water lapping at spun-sugar beaches, vibrant green foliage rimming the shorelines--but Lora really saw something different. She saw obligation, poverty, decaying infrastructure, greed and corruption leaking through the cracks in the cement and stinking up the air like the open-air Dump-sters that everyone used to dispose of their trash. And she was angry as hell that situations beyond her control had dragged her home against her will.
Although quieter and more low-key than St. Thomas, St. John still saw its share of tourists and Lora was reminded of this fact as she navigated the throng of people walking by with their coconut-rum concoctions, clutching at wide, floppy straw hats in an attempt to shield their skin from the tropical sun. Unlike them, Lora wasn't here on a pleasure cruise.
She jerked her Louis Vuitton rolling luggage over the worn plank dock and continued, her steps quick and purposeful, toward the man awaiting her by the Jeep Wrangler her family had purchased many years ago and that had begun to wear its age like an embattled war veteran. She didn't bother hiding her frown when she saw the Jeep but Lora knew it was pointless to complain. Island cars were a special breed. The more banged up, the more street cred they acquired. But it'd been quite a while since she'd lived on the island and she much preferred a smoother ride nowadays, such as her company's sleek Lincoln Town Car, which had always been at her disposal when she'd been the company darling.
How the mighty have fallen. She gritted her teeth against the unexpected sting of moisture in her eyes and focused again on the problems facing her in the here and now. The long flight had been excruciating enough with nothing but her rapidly deteriorating sense of self to keep her company; who was she without her punishing work schedule to keep her busy? Who was she if she wasn't out there making mincemeat of anyone who stood in her way? Just as she discovered that the answer was not to be found at the bottom of a Chardon-nay bottle, it was not here, either. All that awaited her in St. John was more problems. She could only hope her problems in Chicago would wait--the ones greeting her in St. John would not.
Her gaze searched and settled on the one man she'd hoped she wouldn't see. Given that her luck had been somewhere in the toilet region, she shouldn't have been surprised that Heath Cannon would be the one to pick her up from the ferry.
Coincidentally, he wore the same expression of put-upon pique as she felt. Great. So they were both pissed. This ought to make for an uncomfortable ride to the resort. She met his hard stare with one of her own--intimidation was a tactic she had perfected. "I still don't understand why you couldn't take care of this situation until I could get here when my schedule allowed," she said to Heath who neither offered to take her bag nor cracked a welcoming smile in spite of being her ride. Not that she'd expected or needed such niceties, of course. "I can't imagine that Lilah couldn't handle whatever is going on."
Lilah, the younger of her fraternal twin sisters, had moved back home three months ago with the intent to help their grandfather with the resort, but apparently the job was too much for her flighty little sis and all hell was breaking loose with some sort of calamity. She swore under her breath when the wheel of her luggage snagged again. When Heath still hadn't said a word, she gave him an irritated look. "Are you even listening to me? Why'd you come, anyway? Why couldn't Lilah pick me up?" she grumbled, mostly to herself. She hated feeling as if she were to blame for this mess simply because she'd failed to jump at the slightest mention of a shadow on the horizon. But Heath was making it quite clear that he blamed her. The knowledge pinched and in turn, angered her further. She wasn't to blame and she certainly wouldn't accept the burden just because others were incompetent. "Well?"
"Lilah had things to do," came his curt reply as he rounded the Jeep to the driver's side. "So that left me holding the short straw."
As in, neither had wanted to pick her up. Nice. They were in an all-fired hurry to get her here but now that they'd succeeded they wanted to avoid her like the plague? Real mature. And just like Lilah. The spoiled brat. Everyone made allowances for the twins but when it came to Lora, she was expected to be the iron maiden, impervious to every slung arrow. She bit back a sarcastic reply and instead ignored his statement. She wasn't going to waste her energy sniping at Heath. She had precious little of it after the exhausting travel day. It was too hot and humid and she wanted nothing more than to stand under a very cold shower for at least five minutes.
Heath, fit as a surfer with nothing better to do than ride the waves and pick up bikini-clad chicks, remained silent, which suited her perfectly. The less they interacted, the better. He looked as she remembered from her childhood and subsequent sporadic visits home, though she didn't quite recall the muscle cording his shoulders and the way his broad chest tapered to slim hips. She yanked her carry-on, lifting it onto the backseat of the Jeep before climbing in, still angry over the entire situation and the wretchedly bad timing in regards to her career.
Oh, wait, what career? She winced inwardly at the recollection of what had gone down only a handful of days ago when her boss had not-so-gently fired her after losing a major, multimillion-dollar account to a competitor. The memory, fresh and humiliatingly devastating, caused a sick roiling in her stomach that completely soured the airline-issue ham sandwich she'd choked down during her flight. And now this? Family issues were the last thing she wanted to deal with, but Lilah and her grandfather had made a right mess of the family business and she had to clean it up or else lose everything.
Reversing her decision to remain quiet for the drive, she said, "I know it's difficult for you to comprehend but this is the absolute worst timing for me." She needed to be doing damage control to find another job before news of her untimely and involuntary exit rippled through the grapevine. Marketing was such an incestuous little circle with everyone knowing everyone else's business because oftentimes, the person sharing the hotel bed was the same person you were trying to seduce information from about the competitor. Once word spread about her firing, one of two things would happen: either her former company's competitors would start sniffing around, making offers because--prior to her unfortunate lapse in judgment--she'd been the best in town; or they'd treat her like the plague because, in this economy, no one could afford to hire someone who lost accounts. Period. Thus the need for damage control. Closing her eyes for the briefest of moments to recollect herself, she opened them when she realized Heath was talking.
"He's your grandfather and he needs you," Heath said, his voice a strong yet low timbre that hinted at the temper he was holding back.
She glared even as a slight shudder, undetectable to anyone aside from herself, danced along her backbone. Since when was it okay for Heath Cannon to reprimand her like an errant child? Damn him for being so self-righteous. He had no idea what she'd been through in the past week. She was tempted to tell him to zip it but she held the impulse in check by the smallest grace.
"I've been trying to get you to come for months and you've ignored every call, every email, every letter. Until now."
"Well, excuse me for misplacing a little faith in my sister to handle what was happening here," she shot back, reaching up to hold on while Heath took the Jeep out of town and up the winding road to the resort. "How was I supposed to know that little Miss Butterfly Brain would flake when it mattered most?"