- READ AN EXCERPT
- TO KNOW HER IS TO LOVE HER
Book 1 in the Green Mountain Series
“Marie Force has written a memorable love story full of great humor, a wonderful town of quirky characters and a fantastic HEA! Entertaining to say the least! The best part? This is just the beginning and Marie Force will have fans clamoring for her next release after reading All You Need Is Love!” —Tracy Marsac, ReaderToReader.com
“If you’re looking for a heartwarming, feel-good story to lose yourself in for a few hours, than this is one book you should look into!” —5 stars, Reviewer Top Pick from Night Owl Reviews. Read the full review here.
The family-run Green Mountain Country Store is cherished by locals as a reminder of simpler times. The Abbott children are determined to keep it that way—but their father has different plans… When Cameron Murphy heads to Vermont to build a website for a new client, she imagines a more relaxing trip than she gets. After wrecking her car by colliding with the town moose, she meets the most handsome hero she’s ever seen. Unfortunately, her savior, Will Abbott, is also the son of her client—and he wants nothing to do with the new website or the city girl creating it. For all Will cares, Cameron can march her fancy boots right out of town and out of his family’s business. But he can’t seem to get her out of his head. As his family’s dispute heats up, so does the chemistry between the two, leaving them wondering if simple is better after all—especially when it comes to matters of the heart.
“Ms. Force managed to give each Abbott child their own space in the family dynamic and their interactions with each other were wonderful each sibling having a different bond with the other. Ms. Force has me craving a story for each one. As I sit here, I can name all 10 and what they do for a living, this is some masterful writing.”—Denise, 4 star review form Shh Mom’s Reading. Read the full review of ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE here.
The review on Just Booked of ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE states, “the dynamic of these two characters (Will and Cameron) is so heart warming and sensual.”—Dani, Just Booked, a romance reader blog. Read the full review here.
“You can’t help but love the Abbot Family and I can’t wait to see what happens with Will’s widowed sister and the sweet mechanic who has been waiting in the wings, or brother Colton up on his mountain with no electricity making his maple syrup.”—5 star review by Lucy Dosch, Ebook Obsessed. Read the full review here.
“This book is a great romance. It has some sexy hot scenes, a great story that felt real and the promise of more from the Abbott family. It’s a must read for the romance lovers out there.”—4 star review by Stuck in Books. Read the full review here.
In her review, Pam from Ramblings of a Chaotic Mind said of the Abbotts, “I love when a series encompasses a large family in the story; the interaction is always fun and entertaining as we get to meet the different personalities and their role in the family.” Read the full review here.
“How can you not love the Abbotts? What an awesome, loving family. I can’t wait for the rest of the series! And the gospel according to Elmer Stillman was both hilarious and insightful.”—Review from Criminal Minds, Romantic Hearts.
“It’s the least UGLY of the good bad and ugly: This is a totally different type of book from the fast paced detective books from this author that I’m familiar with. I’m inspired to take a vacation in Vermont after reading about all the wonderful things to see and do there.”—B grade review from The Good, The Bad and The Unread. Read the full review here.
“All You Need Is Love introduces a new series from Marie Force, and based on this beginning, I predict that it is going to be a smashing success. I fell in love with Will, the Abbott family, the country store, and Butler, Vermont, right along with Cameron.”— 4.5 star review from The Romance Dish. Read the full review here.
“Marie Force, once again, has created an amazing world in the mountains of Vermont. Just reading one book, I am hooked on the Abbott Family and the town she’s given us.”—Review from Turn the Page
A hard job is like forty miles of rough road.
—The Gospel According to Elmer Stillman
“Apparently, there’re a lot of them around here. Signs every two minutes.” Cameron’s stomach tightened along with her fingers on the wheel of her gleaming cherry red Mini Cooper, purchased yesterday with this trip in mind. “What do you suppose I do if I happen upon one?”
“Um, I guess you hit the gas and jump it?”
“Thanks. That’s really helpful.”
His loud yawn had Cameron choking back one of her own. What should’ve been a leisurely five-and-a-half hour trek up the scenic Taconic State Parkway had turned into seven tense hours as her paltry driving experience had proven no match for the twists and turns of mountain roads.
“Are you almost there? I’m getting tired.”
“The GPS says twenty more minutes.” All at once, the phone made a series of weird clicking noises. “Troy? Hello? Ugh!” Colleagues had warned her that mountain cell phone reception was spotty at best, but she’d refused to imagine a scenario in which she didn’t have the world at her fingertips. It didn’t bear thinking about.
Cameron hit Redial on the smart phone and reached Troy’s voicemail. At least he was trying to call her back.
She put down the phone and focused on driving. In addition to the frost heave signs, the frequent moose-crossing warnings were also unsettling. What were the rules of the road when it came to moose? Who had the right of way? The questions reminded her that she had lots more research yet to do about her destination.
When the phone rang, she pounced on it. “Are you there?”
“Good,” Cameron said, relieved to hear his voice. “Reception sucks up here.”
“How long do you have to be there anyway?”
“If they hire us, and that’s a huge if at this point, hopefully just a week, maybe two. I’ll pacify my father, and then get back to civilization.” Cameron didn’t like to think about what was riding on her landing this big job.
“Sounds like a plan,” he said, yawning again.
“Stop that, will you?”
Cameron had never driven on such a dark road and had visions of missing a turn and pitching off the side of a cliff. Her fingers ached from gripping the wheel so tightly. “Talk to me,” she said.
“What do you want to talk about?”
Over the course of their ten-year friendship-that-defied-definition, they’d covered every subject under the sun. “I don’t know. Think of something.”
“You never did tell me much about the project.”
She released a rattling deep breath, seeking to calm her nerves. “The Green Mountain Country Store needs a website. From what I hear, they’re still living in the early-twentieth-century dark ages. My dad went to school with the majority partner, and they ran into each other at their Yale reunion. Dad told him what I do, and one thing led to another.”
“You mean one thing led to frost heaves and moose crossings.”
Despite her tension, Cameron laughed. “God, Troy, what am I doing here?”
“Taking one for the team the way you always do.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Her father was one of her weak spots, and he’d taken full advantage by all but ordering her to meet with his old friend. But since her website development company was still recovering from the economic downturn a few years back, any new business was welcome—even if it required a trek into the wilderness. “It’s so dark I can barely see where I’m going.”
“You’re talking hands-free, right?”
“Since both my hands are surgically attached to the wheel at the moment, yes.”
“I should’ve driven you up there,” he said, sounding regretful.
“You’ve got court this week.” Her friend was an up-and-coming attorney in Manhattan, and Cameron was proud of all he’d accomplished—and appreciative of the pro bono work he did for her company.
“Still, we could’ve gone up yesterday. I would’ve been back in time.”
“That’s sweet of you, but I wanted to do this on my own.”
“Had something to prove to yourself, huh?”
“Well, when was the last time I drove? Or even left Manhattan? I’m almost thirty, and until yesterday I’d never owned a car.”
“I’m proud of you, Cam. You could’ve said no or sent one of your employees. It says something about you that you decided to take this on yourself.”
Touched by what he’d said, she released a nervous laugh. “We’ll see how proud you are of me after I’m here a week and going through ugly city withdrawals.” Her eyes darted from the dark road to the GPS. “Only five more minutes. I guess I can take it from here.”
“Positive. Thanks for keeping me company.”
“Anytime, kiddo. Call me tomorrow?”
“I will. Good luck in court.”
Cameron looked down long enough to end the call. When she returned her attention to the road, something large and black was in her path. A shriek escaped from her clenched jaw as she jammed on the brakes. The tiny car skidded perilously, and she was certain she’d be spiraling into the abyss at any second.
Instead she smashed straight into the immovable object, deploying the car’s airbags. That was the last thing she saw before everything went black.
Cameron didn’t think she lost consciousness. Rather, she lost her headlights, which pitched her into inky darkness unlike anything she’d ever experienced. In the city that never sleeps, it didn’t ever get totally dark. Not like this anyway. With the headlights went the heater, and within minutes she was trembling from the cold and the fear of being alone in the middle of nowhere with something blocking her path. And smacking her face on the airbag hadn’t helped. Her nose hurt, and her eyes were watering.
She reached for her phone and managed to drop it. Rooting around on the floor, she finally found it, but when she turned it on she had no service. “Ugh! You gotta be kidding me!”
Squinting, she tried to make out what was blocking her path, but it just looked like a huge black wall. She pushed the airbag aside and turned the key. The engine clicked in response but didn’t turn over.
“Fantastic.” Who did one even call out here? Did the auto club send tow trucks into the middle of nowhere? She was powering up the phone to try again when the flash of headlights coming toward her caught her attention.
With fumbling hands, she managed to get the door open. Her legs didn’t want to cooperate as she forced herself out of the car, sinking ankle deep in something cold and wet. Thinking of the five-hundred-dollar cinnamon suede boots she had lusted after for months and finally bought with a gift card from her dad, she whimpered.
On the other side of the big black wall, which was now partially lit, she heard a voice.
“Are you okay, Fred? Does anything hurt?”
The wall let out the deepest “moo” she’d ever heard and began to move.
If her feet hadn’t been encased in something nasty, Cameron would’ve taken a step back when she realized “the wall” was alive. “What the . . .”
Ambling slowly into the woods, the animal’s departure allowed Cameron to see a large man standing in the silhouette of headlights, his truck running behind him. At well over six feet tall, his shoulders were broad and his posture menacing—or so it seemed to her. All he needed was a chain saw to complete the Texas Chainsaw Massacre image that was forming in her overly active imagination.
She wondered if they had chain saw or axe murderers in Vermont. Judging from the number of trees she’d seen on the way up here, they had plenty of use for both tools. Glancing down to her right, she gasped at the smashed-in front of her new car, illuminated by the truck’s headlights. “Oh no! My car!”
“You hit Fred,” the would-be axe murderer said.
Without taking her eyes off the front end of her once-pristine car, she said, “Who’s Fred?”
“The town moose.”
She stared at him, agog. “The town has a moose?”
“That’s right,” he said as if such things were perfectly normal, and she was the crazy one for asking the question.
“What about my car? Look at what he did to my car!”
“Didn’t you see the moose-crossing sign a mile or so back?”
“I saw it and a thousand others, but I didn’t think it meant a moose would be stupid enough to stand in the middle of the road where it could get hit by a car.”
“Are you calling Fred stupid?”
As cold, wet muck seeped into her lovely boots, Cameron wanted to shriek. This whole thing was beyond stupid! She wished she could close her eyes and be back in her SoHo apartment, in a world where everything made sense to her. A “town moose” standing in the middle of a road definitely did not make sense.
If she could manage to extract her feet from the goop, the first thing she’d do was click her heels together three times and hope for instant transport home. Hey, it had worked for Dorothy, right? Thinking about her favorite movie of all time buoyed her flagging spirits.
“Are you hurt?” he asked, almost sounding concerned.
“I don’t think so.”
“Where you heading?”
“I know. The GPS said I was minutes away before Fred got in my way.”
“Looks to me like you hit him, not the other way around.”
“Tell it to the insurance company,” she said, wondering if her insurance covered mooseastrophies. This really couldn’t be happening. Maybe she’d fallen into a dream the way Dorothy had, and when she woke up she’d laugh about the guy who’d been more concerned about a moose than he was about the smashed-in front of her brand-new car.
“Fred definitely got the better end of the deal,” she muttered.
“If you want to grab your stuff, I can give you a ride into town.”
Cameron, who’d spent a lifetime avoiding dangerous situations, who never left home without a can of mace, who rarely talked to strangers or made eye contact with people on the street, had no idea whether she should get into a car with a perfect stranger who could very well be an axe murderer. Then she remembered the can of mace in her purse.
“What about my car?”
“I’ll have Nolan bring it in for you.”
“He runs the garage in town.”
Cameron pondered her limited options and decided she really had no choice but to take her chances with him—as long as her mace was close in hand.
“No worries, I have all night to stand here and wait on you.”
“I, um, my feet seem to be stuck.”
“What is this crap all over the road?”
“That’d be mud,” he said with the first hint of humor in his deep voice. She had to admit it was a nice voice. Too bad it belonged to someone who cared more about a moose than he did about her poor car. “Welcome to mud season in Vermont.”
“Mud has a season. This just gets better and better all the time.”
He turned back to his truck, and for a heart-stopping second she thought he might be planning to leave her there. Instead, he fetched a long black object that resembled the billy clubs carried by New York’s finest and started toward her.
As the menacing music from Texas Chainsaw Massacre played in her head, Cameron’s heart began to pound. If she hadn’t been stuck in the muck, she would’ve been tempted to run into the far less threatening forest.
The axe murderer turned on a powerful flashlight, aimed it at her feet and let out a lusty belly laugh.
“What the hell is so funny?” In the residual glow from the flashlight she caught a glimpse of what might’ve been an arresting face if he hadn’t been so sanctimonious. Chiseled was the first word that came to mind. Rugged was the second. She hated herself for wanting a better look at him when she had much bigger problems at the moment.
The quicksand episode from Gilligan’s Island chose that moment to pop into her head as she realized she could no longer feel her feet.
“Are those suede boots?” he asked when he finally quit laughing.
“Um, just FYI, suede boots usually don’t fare too well in Vermont mud season.”
“Thanks for the advice, Cliff Clavin. Now maybe you could tell me how I’m supposed to get free of this crap?”
“Quickest way would be to step out of the boots and leave them.”
“Leave them? They’re five-hundred-dollar boots!”
“Ouch,” he said, wincing. “I hate to break it to you, but they’re probably a total loss.”
Cameron refused to believe that. Her dry cleaner in the city could get anything out of anything. “Where’s it coming from?”
He directed the flashlight beam to her left, the light scaling an imposing hill, tracing the path of mud flowing like a river down the slope and across the highway. “When the snow melts it makes mud.”
“After months of hip-deep snow, the mud is a welcome harbinger of spring around here.” He brought the flashlight back to her feet. “So what’s it going to be, princess? Save the boots or save yourself?”
“God, what a choice.”
The flashlight provided just enough illumination for her to catch his eye roll.
Annoyed, cold and furious over the loss of her favorite boots—not to mention the carnage that was her new car—she bent to unzip the first one. “Where do I, um, step when I take them off?”
“I’ll give you a lift to my truck.”
“But I need to get my stuff.”
“I’ll come back for it.”
Even though she wanted to dislike him for defending the moose over her car, she had to admit he was being sort of helpful—and condescendingly sanctimonious. She couldn’t forget that.
“Fine.” She unzipped the second boot and tried not to think about abandoning their soft loveliness to the Vermont mud bath.
“Ready?” He squatted before her, and Cameron stepped out of the boots and slid onto him piggyback style. A whoosh of air escaped her lungs as he lifted her effortlessly, as if she were a bag of flour rather than a one-hundred-and-thirty-pound woman. He deposited her into the front seat of his toasty warm truck with the finesse of a flour bag landing on the floor of a bakery. “Sorry,” he muttered after the hard landing.
“No problem.” Like heat-seeking missiles, her feet headed for the warm air coming from under the dashboard of the relatively new truck. It still had that smell. How would he feel if Fred crushed in the front of it?
Before she could pose the question, he said, “What do you need from the car?”
She looked up at him, lit by the overhead light in the truck’s cab, and her breath caught in her lungs. Arresting hadn’t been the right word to describe his face. He was beautiful. Prominent cheekbones and lush lashes and full lips that made her want to drool, even though they were flat with annoyance directed at her. His strong jaw was sprinkled with the perfect amount of stubble, just the way a male jaw should look. Since he was wearing a knitted cap, she couldn’t tell what color his hair was but she was picturing light brown based on the color of his brows. Releasing a long leisurely sigh, she realized she was staring at him.
“Any day now,” he said, snapping her out of the dream state she’d slipped into.
Clearing her throat, she said, “I need my purse, phone, GPS and both suitcases from the trunk.”
“Anything else, Your Highness?”
“What? You asked.”
“Stay put.” He stalked off into the darkness, leaving Cameron to fume at his surly disposition. Of course it was just her luck that he had the face of an angel and the personality of Ralph Kramden. Looking around the neat interior of the truck, she was relieved to find no sign of an axe or chain saw.
Her suitcases landed with a loud thud in the back of the truck a few minutes later. He got in and thrust her purse and electronics at her.
Cameron caught the items with an awkward juggle, and automatically clicked on her phone to check her messages. Still no service. She moaned. “Come on!”
“That thing won’t do you much good up here,” he said with that disdainful tone she was coming to expect from him.
“So I’ve discovered.” The flashing blink coming from the back of her car indicated he’d turned on the hazard lights so approaching cars wouldn’t hit it. At least the back end wouldn’t look like the front by morning. Propped up by the deepening mud, her abandoned boots resembled toy soldiers standing watch over the wrecked car.
Welcome to Vermont.
The short ride into town was full of awkward silence. Sensing his irritation with her, Cameron chose to stay quiet instead of peppering him with questions about the town, the state and what he might know about the Green Mountain Country Store.
“You got a name?” he asked.
“What kind of name is that for a girl?”
Instantly on the offensive, Cameron glared at him. “It’s the kind of name my parents gave me—and I had it long before Cameron Diaz was famous.”
Astounded, Cameron swiveled in her seat. “Tell me the truth—have I been abducted by aliens? It’s okay. You can give it to me straight. I can take it.”
“I don’t know about aliens, but I may as well tell you I have no idea who Cliff Clavin is either.”
Cameron’s mouth fell open. “The know-it-all mailman from Cheers? One of the top-rated shows of the eighties and nineties?”
“So you think I’m a know-it-all, huh?”
“You sound rather proud of that.”
“Well, you don’t have to be a know-it-all to get that wearing suede boots to Vermont in March isn’t the brightest idea you’ll ever have.”
“Pardon my ignorance, but I’ve never been here before.”
“All that technology lying in your lap, and you never got the 411 on the mud.” He snorted out a laugh.
“Anyone ever tell you that you can be somewhat insufferable?”
Arching an eyebrow, he smirked at her. “Only somewhat? I’ve fallen short of my goal.”
Exasperated, Cameron shifted to look out the passenger window.
“Was it something I said?”
She shook her head in disbelief. The guy was too much. “What’s your name anyway?”
That got her attention. “Any relation to Lincoln Abbott?”
“That’d be my dad. How do you know him?”
“I don’t actually know him. Yet. I’m due to meet him tomorrow.”
“For what purpose?”
“To build a website for his store.”
“Damn it!” Will slammed the heel of his hand on the wheel. “I can’t believe him! We told him we didn’t want it!”
“We?” Cameron made an effort to keep the waver out of her voice. Would this interminable day ever end?
“My siblings and I. We’re his partners.”
“Oh.” Since the company had no website, she’d found precious little information about it online and had planned to start from scratch once she got to town.
“Let me guess—when he hired you he never mentioned that his children voted against a website.”
“Um, no, that didn’t come up.”
“This is so typical. He brings one of his big ideas to us, we tell him we aren’t interested, and then he does it anyway.”
“If you’re partners, how does he get away with that?”
“Because he owns the majority—fifty percent. The other fifty percent is split between the ten of us. Five of us help him run the store and vote proxy for the others. The other five provide a variety of products to the store.”
“Ten of you?”
“I’m one of ten.”
“You have ten kids in your family?”
“I’ve never known anyone who had more than four kids in their family.”
“Well, now you know someone who has ten.”
As an only child, Cameron tried to wrap her head around what it might’ve been like to grow up with nine siblings. “What are their names?”
“You want to know the names of my siblings?” he asked, as if that was the stupidest question he’d ever heard.
“Yeah, I guess I do. If I’m going to be stuck in the middle of your family feud it would be good to know the people I’m dealing with.”
“Feud is kind of a strong word, but we do argue. A lot.” He sighed and tightened his grip on the wheel. “Hunter and Hannah are the oldest. They’re twins.”
“Ten kids and twins too?”
“Two sets of twins. Lucas and Landon are second from the youngest. They’re identical twins.”
“That’s so cool.”
He glanced over at her, seeming confounded by her interest in his family. But to Cameron, who’d grown up painfully alone, families like his only existed on the TV shows she’d glommed on to, looking for a family anywhere she could find one.
“I’m after Hunter and Hannah. Then comes Ella, Charlotte, Wade, Colton, Lucas and Landon and then Max.”
“Wow. That’s a lot of kids.”
“Is your mom in an asylum?”
His bark of laughter took her by surprise. “Nah. She rolls with it all. I’ve never met anyone as quietly efficient as she is. She always made it look easy.”
“How do you make ten kids look easy?”
“I don’t know, but somehow she did.”
“So which five are involved in the business?”
“That’d be me, Hunter, Ella, Charlotte and Wade. Several of the others are involved in businesses that feed products to the store. Colton runs the family sugaring facility that makes maple syrup, and Max helps him out when he’s able to between classes. He’s a senior at UVM. Landon has a woodworking business and oversees the volunteer firefighting department in town. Hannah makes jewelry. Lucas manages the family’s Christmas tree farm and helps Landon with the fire department. I think that’s everyone accounted for.”
“Just out of curiosity—why don’t you and your siblings want a website?”
“Because we don’t need one. We have a very nice business just the way it is. A website will bring a bunch of issues we aren’t interested in dealing with.”
“We’ll have to hire people to fulfill orders, set up a distribution center, figure out shipping. So many headaches.”
“But it could grow your business exponentially.”
“We don’t want to grow our business. It’s fine the way it is.” He drove into a quaint little New England town with a signature white-steeple church, a volunteer fire department, a combination café and gallery, and there, in the middle of everything, the Green Mountain Country Store.
In the dark, it was hard to see much, but it seemed small next to some of the other buildings and boasted a quaint front porch. They were past it before she could ascertain much of anything else.
Will pulled into a parking lot behind a large white Victorian house.
“Where are we?”
“I assume you’re staying at the inn since it’s the only place in town that takes guests.”
Cameron pulled out the confirmation message she had printed at home. “The Admiral Frances Butler Inn?”
“That’s it.” He cut the engine and got out of the truck.
By the time she emerged onto thankfully dry pavement, he’d fetched her luggage from the back. “Can you hand me the black bag? My running shoes are in there.”
He retrieved the bag she pointed to and dropped it in front of her.
“You don’t have to shoot the messenger, you know,” she said.
“What does that mean?”
“Just because you’re mad at your dad for hiring me doesn’t mean you have to be cranky with me.”
“You were irritating me long before I knew my dad had hired you.”
“You’re just full of charm, aren’t you?” she asked as she pulled on sneakers.
“So I’m told.”
He waggled his brows at her. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Actually, I really wouldn’t.”
“Suit yourself,” he said with a shrug as he led her into the back door of the inn. He seemed to know his way around, so she followed him through a series of hallways to the front desk where he rang the bell on the counter. The place smelled like potpourri and lemon-scented furniture polish.
An older woman came through the door wearing a housecoat, pin curlers in her hair and a warm, welcoming smile on her plump face.
“Hi, Will. What a nice surprise. What brings you in tonight?”
“Hi there, Mrs. Hendricks. I’ve brought you a guest. Cameron . . .”
“Oh,” the older woman said, resting a hand on her head as if she just remembered her curlers. “I look a sight.”
“You’re pretty as a picture, just like always,” Will said.
“Will Abbott,” Mrs. Hendricks said as her face turned bright red, “you could charm a bird out of a tree.”
Will sent Cameron a smug smile, as if to say “Told ya so.”
Cameron cleared her throat, hoping to remind Mrs. Hendricks that a paying customer was waiting to check in. “Cameron Murphy. Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Hendricks.”
The other woman finally looked at her and gasped. “Oh my! What happened to your face?”
Cameron raised her hands to her face, remembering the moment of impact and how her nose had hurt afterward. “What?”
“You have two black eyes,” Mrs. Hendricks said. “And your nose . . .”
Alarmed, Cameron looked around for a mirror. “What about my nose?” She walked across the small lobby to a framed mirror and shrieked at what she saw. Her nose was swollen and sure enough, dark bruises were forming under her eyes. “Oh my God!”
Turning back to find Will leaning against the counter and Mrs. Hendricks looking on with concern, Cameron marched back over to confront him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“That my face was all banged up!”
“Um, maybe because I figured you’d hardly need me to tell you that something had smacked you in the face.”
“It must’ve been the airbag,” she said, remembering that moment of utter blackness. Had she passed out? She’d been ignoring the pain in her face as she tried to get her bearings with Will, but now that they mentioned it, her nose was throbbing rather insistently.
“The airbag would also explain the burn on your neck,” Will added.
“Burn?” Her voice was a shrill squeak. “What burn?”
He leaned in closer to her, and she swore her heart skipped a beat as she caught a whiff of his outdoorsy scent. The touch of his finger on her neck sent a shocking bolt of heat straight through her, landing in a tingle between her legs. What in the name of hell was that about?
“There.” As if he’d touched something hot, Will pulled back his hand and straightened out of that insolent slouch he did so well.
The two of them stared at each other for a long heated moment.
“Was there an accident?” Mrs. Hendricks asked, interrupting the intense interlude.
“She hit Fred,” Will said gravely.
Mrs. Hendricks brought a hand to her ample chest. “Oh! Is he okay?”
“He seemed no worse for the wear,” Will said. “Good thing it was a small car.”
“It was a new car!” Cameron said, wondering if anyone in this godforsaken town would care that her adorable little car was no longer adorable.
“Well, as long as he’s okay,” Mrs. Hendricks said as if Cameron hadn’t spoken. Then she turned to Cameron. “I can call Doc Edwards for you, if you’d like.”
“Thank you, but that’s not necessary.” All Cameron wanted was a warm bath and an ice pack for her throbbing nose.
“Could I borrow the phone to call Nolan about her car?” Will asked.
“Of course.” Mrs. Hendricks handed him the portable phone, and he dialed a number from memory.
While Cameron completed the check-in paperwork and handed over her credit card, Will filled Nolan in on the accident.
“Yep, she ran smack into poor old Fred.” A pause. “He seemed fine, but we might want to send the doc after him in the morning to make sure.”
Glowering at him, Cameron whispered, “The car. Remember the car?”
He met her glower with a scowl. “Now, about the car.”
Finally, Cameron thought, signing on the dotted line for Mrs. Hendricks and accepting the key to her third-floor room.
Will handed the phone back to Mrs. Hendricks. “Nolan’s going to fetch the car tonight so no one hits it out on the road. He said to check in with him in the morning. The garage is across the street.” Pointing toward the front door. “That way.”
“Thank you.” Cameron forced herself to look up at him and all his beauty. “I appreciate your help.” His eyes, she realized were light brown, almost gold. Why did he have to be so spectacularly gorgeous and so outrageously cranky?
“You need help getting your stuff upstairs?”
The idea of him following her to a hotel room sent more tingling awareness rippling through her. “I can do it.”
But before the words were out of her mouth, he was already heading to the stairs with her bags. Uttering a quick thank-you to Mrs. Hendricks, Cameron scurried after him.
On the third floor, he deposited her suitcases outside Room 18. He stopped so suddenly that Cameron nearly ran into his broad back.
Turning, he caught her inches from his chest, and the awareness that had sizzled between them downstairs chose that moment to reappear. Cameron had never experienced such an overpowering need to touch another person. She rolled her hands into fists to keep from acting on the impulse.
“Listen,” he said, haltingly, “you seem like a nice enough person.”
“Wow, thanks.” Charming? Whatever.
His expression turned stormy. “What I was going to say is that things are apt to get a little heated tomorrow at the meeting. Don’t take it personally, okay? Our beef is with him, not you.”
“I’m here to do a job. Nothing about this is personal.”
“Good,” he said, apparently picking up on her double meaning as she’d hoped he would. “Let’s keep it that way.”
“Fine by me.”
“You might want to put some ice on your nose,” he said as he headed down the stairs.
Too bad he missed the gesture she made at his retreating back.
Get All You Need is Love now!
To Know Her Is To Love Her
A Green Mountain Series Novella
By: Marie Force
Copyright 2014. HTJB, Inc.
The scenic southern Connecticut coastline rushed past the window of the Amtrak regional train from Boston to New York City. Will Abbott watched the world go by on what felt like an endless trip after not seeing his girlfriend, Cameron, for more than a month.
He’d wanted to drive to the city, load up his truck with her belongings and head home to Vermont with all due haste. However, Cameron had convinced him it was a bad idea for someone who’d never been to New York City to drive into the city the first time. Then there was the matter of parking anywhere close to her SoHo apartment.
“No,” she’d said, “let’s hire movers and let them deal with the logistics while you come and hold my hand through the ordeal.” Thus Will was on the train from Boston where he’d left his truck at the home of his cousin Grayson, a lawyer in the city.
As Long Island Sound came into view, Will realized he’d forgotten how scenic this part of Connecticut was. A college friend had been from Old Saybrook, and Will had visited his home several times. But he now lived in California, and Will hadn’t had an excuse to come to southern New England in years.
Hell, he hadn’t had a good excuse to leave Vermont in years. Not until Cameron Murphy had come crashing into his life had he thought about what went on beyond the borders of the Green Mountain state. And now here he was heading for a city he’d never had any interest in visiting until the love of his life asked him to come. He’d travel to the ends of the earth if she were waiting for him at the other end.
After sixteen blissful days together that had changed his world in every imaginable way, she’d gone back to the city without knowing he loved her with every fiber of his being. He’d waited a long month to tell her that, when she and her business partner Lucy came to Vermont to present the first cut of the website they were building for his family’s store. Will had taken one look at Cameron, standing in his office chatting with his sister and their admin, Mary, and all the turmoil of the long month without her faded away. She was it, the only woman he’d ever love.
Thankfully, she loved him as much he loved her, and almost even more significantly, she loved his hometown of Butler, Vermont, and the entire Abbott family enough to want to relocate to live with him there. On many a morning, Will still woke up wondering if he’d dreamt the entire thing. It was almost too good to be true.
But she was real, they were real, and they had the whole rest of their lives to spend together. Now if only this freaking train would move a little faster. In hindsight, he should’ve sprung for the express train or a frightfully expensive commuter flight.
“Next stop, New Rochelle, New York,” the conductor announced.
“Finally!” Will muttered under his breath, thrilled to have crossed the state line into New York after a very long morning.
He’d be in New York for a week before they headed to Boston for a few days of vacation before continuing north to Vermont. When Cameron left the city with him, she’d be officially moving to his tiny cabin in the woods. Gnawing worries about whether his lifestyle would be enough for her after the excitement of the city continued to weigh on him. What if, after the initial excitement of their romance faded into everyday life, she decided Vermont wasn’t for her after all? What if she decided he wasn’t for her?
“That’s not going to happen,” he said out loud, almost as if saying the words would make them so. Luckily, he was sitting alone so there was no one to hear him talking to himself. “That can’t happen.”
After the blissful week they’d spent together once they’d confessed their feelings to each other, Will already knew that anything less than a lifetime with her would ruin him. He suspected she felt the same way and could only hope she still would after she settled into in her new home.
The closer the train got to New York City, the less scenic the landscape became and the more nervous he felt. As the city came into view in the distance, Will decided the outskirts were actually rather ugly and depressing. Everything looked dirty, and he couldn’t help wondering why anyone would want to live in such a place when they could just as easily live in the paradise called Vermont.
That thought made him laugh softly. You need to adjust your attitude, man. These people would hate Vermont as much as you’ll probably hate New York. I’m not going to hate New York. I’m going to do my best to see it through Cameron’s eyes and try to understand what she loves about it.
His stomach was in knots by the time the train descended into the dark underground that led to Penn Station. The conductor announced their arrival in five minutes. With his backpack on his shoulder, Will removed his duffel bag from the shelf above his seat and waited in a long line of people standing in the aisle.
The duffel contained new clothes his brother Hunter had helped him acquire before his trip. Hunter was Mr. GQ and had taken Will to the mall in St. Johnsbury to get him situated for a week in the big city. He wasn’t even off the train yet, and Will was already jonesing for the faded denim and flannel shirts that had been plenty good enough before Cameron.
Wait, he thought. That wasn’t fair. She liked him exactly the way he was. It’d been his big idea to get nicer clothes for the trip. Not hers. Thank goodness he was finally here before his overactive brain could spin any further out-of-control.
He stepped off the train into an absolute crush of humanity, everyone moving en masse toward the one small escalator that would deliver them from the bowels of the train station. People pressed against him from the front and the back, making it difficult to breathe.
How in the name of hell does anyone stand this on a daily basis, he wondered as he finally made it to the escalator. And how in the name of hell would he ever find her in this madness?
Turns out, she’d made it easy to find her by wearing a bright red coat, belted at the waist. She may as well have had a spotlight bearing down on her. That’s how completely she stood out among what had to be a thousand people in close proximity. Now, if only he could get to her.
He met her gaze, delighted by the thrilled expression she wore on her beautiful face, and widened his eyes with dismay that made her laugh. Just the sight of her was enough to ease the tension that had built inside him after a month without her and more than four endless hours on the train trying to get to her.
She came toward him, her jaw set with determination as she pushed through the crowd with the tenacity of a native New Yorker.
An array of unpleasant odors filled his senses. He wasn’t sure if it was fried onions or people in need of a bath or a combination of both, but he began to breathe through his mouth until the cloud of stink moved past him. And then the crowd parted, and Cameron was right in front of him, filling his senses with her unmistakable fragrance. Keeping a firm grip on the handle of his duffel, he hooked his free arm around her waist, pulled her in tight and kissed her.
Her arms came around his neck, and she held on just as tightly, oblivious to the pushing and shoving going on around them.
“Get a fucking room,” someone grumbled, making Will laugh as he continued to kiss her. He could happily stand there kissing her into the middle of next week.
“Sounds like a capital idea to me,” Cameron said, running her hand down his arm until she could curl her fingers around his. “Come on. Let’s get the hell out of this zoo.”
“Gladly.” Will held on tight to her hand as she expertly guided them to yet another escalator that led to Madison Square Garden. “Oh, hey, the Garden. Even I’ve heard of that.”
She smiled at him over her shoulder.
They emerged into bright sunlight that made his eyes water after the dark dungeon of the train station. The street was no less crowded than the train station had been, but at least he could get a lungful of relatively fresh air. He gazed up at the towering buildings in awe of the sheer massiveness of everything. The patches of blue sky visible between the skyscrapers were much-needed confirmation that he was still on planet Earth.
“I can’t even imagine what it must be like to see this for the first time,” she said as she led him toward a row of yellow taxicabs. “Normally, I’d take the subway from here, but I wanted you to see a bit of the city.”
“I think I might’ve already seen enough.”
Laughing, she shook her head. “Give it a chance. You may actually appreciate it when you see it through my eyes.”
“I’ll have to take your word on that,” he said as he followed her into a cab.
“Delancey and Pitt,” Cameron told the driver.
As the cab took off like a shot, Will took a moment to feast his eyes on the sight of her gorgeous face, the hazel eyes that looked at him with so much love, the silky blonde hair that fell in waves down her back and the sweet lips that curled into a warm smile directed at him. With her looking at him like she couldn’t wait to be alone with him, Will could finally relax after a long month of worrying that she might change her mind once she got back to her real life in New York.
“Why are your brows all furrowed?” she asked, tracing a finger over them.
“I was really anxious to see you.”
“I was just as anxious to see you.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“You were worried I wouldn’t be?”
He raised his right shoulder in the slightest of shrugs. “I’d hoped everything was still okay.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“You’ve had a lot of time to reconsider upending your life for me.”
“And I haven’t spent one second of that time reconsidering anything. I’m not just doing it for you. I’m doing it for me, too, and I couldn’t be happier to have you here with me. Well, I could be a little happier…” This last part was said with the sexy grin he’d yearned for during the long month apart.
Never one to pass up such a blatant invitation, Will hooked an arm around her shoulders and drew her into a deep, passionate kiss that went a long way toward assuaging his lingering concerns.
“No sex in my cab!” the driver said in heavily accented English.
Will laughed against her lips. “Do people really do that?” he whispered.
“Um, I’ll neither confirm nor deny the possibility of such things.”
“Welcome to New York.”
“I’m eternally grateful you’re coming to me rather than the other way around.” The city flew by in a blur as the cab driver darted through traffic with breathtaking speed. “I don’t know if I could handle this place on a permanent basis.”
“I had a feeling that’d be the case when I was making decisions.”
“I hope you know how much I appreciate what you’re doing. What you’re giving up…”
She leaned into him, her head resting on his chest. “I’m getting so much more than I’m giving up. I can’t wait to live with you in your cabin in the woods with your adorable dogs and your wonderful family.”
“Our cabin, our dogs, our family.”
Releasing a breathy sigh, she said, “You know how to make a girl all fluttery inside, Will Abbott.”
He slid his lips over the silk of her hair. “Mmm, that sounds promising.”
“Not in the cab.”
Chuckling, he wrapped both arms around her. “No chance of that.”
“You’re no fun.”
“You know better.”
“You’re supposed to be checking out the city.”
“I’d rather check you out.”
“You can check me out every day from now on.”
“It’ll never be enough.” He glanced outside to see more buildings and crowds and cars flying by. “How much further?”
“Are you in some sort of rush, Mr. Abbott?”
“I’m in a very big rush after a whole month without you.”
“Good thing I kept the bed in my place.”
“The floor would’ve worked just as well for what I have in mind.”
“Will,” she said with a slight tremble that fired him up even more than he already was. “Even though I talked to you every day, I missed you so much.”
“I missed you, too. I hate my place without you there. How’d you manage to do that so quickly?”
“The same way you managed to make every day I spend without you utterly miserable.”
“Good thing you’re coming to Vermont. We can’t have all this misery in our lives.”
“How’re you doing with Lucy and the business and your dad and everything?”
He had a feeling the single word didn’t tell the full story, but in the first hour they’d had together in more than a month, he had no desire to talk about anything other than how excited they were to see their plans through to completion. They’d have time to deal with the challenges later. Or tomorrow. Preferably tomorrow.
Cameron had never been so happy to see anyone in her entire life. His comical expressions in Penn Station had made her laugh as he experienced her city for the first time. After growing up in the midst of the madness that was Manhattan, she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else until she met Will and discovered a whole other world that appealed to her more than anything ever had.
She couldn’t wait to make the move to Vermont, to officially live with him in the town she’d grown to love, among the Abbott family she’d also grown to love almost as much as she loved him. Making plans to leave her life in the city hadn’t been without its challenges. But as long as she stayed focused on where she was going rather than what she was leaving Cameron had been able to cope with the difficulties.
The biggest obstacle had come from an unexpected place. Her longtime friend and former short-term boyfriend Troy had been adamantly opposed to her move. So much so that she hadn’t spoken to him in a couple of weeks after he told her—in front of several of their mutual friends—that she was a “fool” to give up her life in New York for a guy she’d known for two months.
Cameron hadn’t shared that with Will, knowing it would upset him to hear she was getting push-back from her close friend. Her business partner, Lucy, and Lucy’s sister Emma were hosting a going away party for Cameron on Friday night. Troy had been invited, but no one knew if he planned to attend.
Troy’s reaction had colored what’d been an otherwise joyful time for Cameron. She could only hope Will didn’t pick up on the tension with her friend because she’d hate for him to think she had any doubts at this important juncture in their relationship.
While she could see Troy’s point and would probably feel the same way if he’d gone off to Vermont for a couple of weeks and returned with a dramatically different life plan than he’d had when he left. But he hadn’t met Will. He hadn’t seen them together or had a chance to understand the connection she’d found with Will.
“Here we are,” Cameron said when the cab pulled up to her building. Before Will could do it, she paid the driver and jumped out at the curb. Her apartment was located on the third floor, above a dry cleaner and deli. She waited for Will to get his bag from the trunk of the taxi and then used her key in the street-level door. “We’re up two flights.” The stairs were steep and narrow, so she went ahead of him. “Can you see now why I wanted movers?”
“Absolutely. How do you get a sofa up here?”
“Through the balcony with ropes.”
“Serious as a heart attack.” She unlocked her apartment door and stepped inside where the place looked like the inside of a snow globe after the shake. It had high ceilings and crown molding, big windows and hardwood floors. Cameron had once loved the apartment, but over the course of sixteen extraordinary days in Vermont, a cabin in the woods had become home to her. She tossed her coat onto a stack of boxes. “Sorry about the wreckage. Moving is messy.”
“What’s with all the red and green sticky notes?”
“Red stays and green goes.”
“There’s a lot more red than green.”
“You don’t have room for my furniture, so I’m only bringing things I can’t live without like photo albums and books and stuff like that.”
He looked around her living room, seeming distressed. “I feel bad you can’t bring all your stuff.”
She went to him and rested her hands on his chest. “It’s just stuff. It’s not what matters.”
“It’s your stuff. It matters to you. Why don’t we put some of it in storage until we decide where we’re going to end up.”
“I can’t imagine you anywhere but in that cabin in the woods.”
“I own a lot of property out there. We can add on if we want to. Don’t get rid of things that mean something to you. I’d hate for you to regret that someday.”
“The only thing I would’ve regretted was not moving to be with you. But I’ll think about the storage option.”
“Good.” Will bent his head to place kisses strategically on her neck, where he knew they’d have the most impact. Sure enough, she shivered as her hands landed on his hips. “I missed you so much. I never want to be away from you again.”
She snuggled in closer to him. “I missed you, too. I’ve been like a crazy person trying to get everything done so I’d be ready when you got here.”
“I’m not going anywhere until you’re ready to come with me.”
“What about work?” she asked, feeling breathless from the combination of his lips on her neck and the fingers that had worked their way under her sweater.
“To hell with work. I haven’t taken a vacation in years. They can live without me for a week or two. I’ve got much more important things to do than work.”
“Mmm, yes you certainly do.”
Cameron unbuttoned the shirt Hunter had talked him into buying. It was white with pinstripes running horizontal and vertical to form tiny boxes. “You look really nice, by the way. Did you dress up for me?”
“Maybe a little.”
“You didn’t have to do that. I like you just the way you are.”
“I didn’t want to look like a country bumpkin and embarrass you.”
Cameron stopped what she was doing with his shirt and looked up at him. “You could never embarrass me.”
“Don’t be so sure,” he said with a laugh. “I’m like a fish out of water here.”
“No, you’re not. That’s the beauty of New York. Everyone fits in because no two people are the same. You could’ve worn overalls and a straw hat, and no one would’ve noticed because we’re accustomed to seeing all kinds here.”
“Damn. I wish I’d known that. I would’ve brought my overalls and straw hat.”
Cameron couldn’t help but smile at how adorable he was. “You would’ve gotten noticed in your overalls and straw hat, but not because of the clothes.” She pulled his shirttails from his pants and pushed the shirt off his broad shoulders, kissing a line across his collarbone and the bump of a scar from a snowboarding accident. “Every woman in this city will be looking at you for a whole other reason.”
“Because you’re hot.”
“Right,” he said with a snort of laughter.
“Mark my words. They’ll all be looking.”
“I only care that one woman is looking at me.”
Cameron narrowed her brows. “Who is she? I’ll kill her.”
“Don’t do that.” He cupped her bottom and lifted her right off her feet. “You’d break my heart.”
She folded her arms around his neck. “See? That, right there. Seriously hot.”
The smile that had stopped her heart from the very beginning unfurled slowly across his handsome face. “You liked that, huh?”
“How about you tell me where this bed you spoke of earlier is located.”
He kissed her the entire time he carried her across the living room, around the stacks of boxes to a small hallway that housed a bathroom on one side and a bedroom on the other.
“Left,” she said against his lips before resuming the kiss.
In the bedroom, he lowered her onto the bed and came down on top of her, the kiss taking on new urgency after the weeks they’d spent apart. They tugged at clothes and buttons and zippers.
“Jesus, I feel like a fifteen year old about to get laid for the first time,” he said when he couldn’t get the zipper to her jeans to open.
“Allow me, my randy teenage boy.” Cameron unzipped her jeans and wiggled out of them, leaving her in a pair of barely there panties and a low-cut bra.
“I need to just look for a good long time,” Will said, resting a hand on her belly, which quivered under the warmth of his palm.
Cameron’s legs moved restlessly as he devoured her with his eyes. “Not too long, please.”
“Is someone feeling a bit needy?”
“You have no idea. You got me completely addicted and then left me to my own devices for weeks and weeks.”
“Devices? There were devices involved?”
“I’ll never tell.”
He looked over his shoulder at the bedside table. “Where are they? I want to see them.”
“Could we maybe save that for later?” She cupped his straining erection through the khaki pants he’d worn for her. It had touched her heart to hear he’d been concerned about embarrassing her. As if he ever could. “This is the only device I’m interested in at the moment.” She flattened her hand against his cock. “In fact, it’s my most pressing concern.”
His lips were busy on her neck and chest, teasing the top slopes of her breasts. “Mmm, I love your pressing concerns.”
Cameron unbuttoned and unzipped him, sliding her hand inside to stroke the erection that lengthened and thickened in her hand. The feel of him hot, hard and heavy ramped up the urgency. “Get these off.” She pulled at his pants and boxers. “Hurry.”
They worked together to remove his pants, and then he focused his full attention on her panties, sliding them slowly down her legs, kissing her inner thigh, the side of her knee and along her calf before repeating the entire journey on her other leg.
Cameron was on fire for him. “Now, Will.”
He aligned their bodies and surged into her in one hard thrust that was nearly enough on its own to send her soaring. “God, that feels good,” he whispered against her ear. “So, so good.”
Nothing had ever been better than the feel of him on top of her, inside of her, surrounding her with his love and strength and desire. Cameron tightened her internal muscles around him, and he surged into her, over and over and over again, sweat beading on his brow, his face tight with tension. Then he wrapped his arms around her, making her feel treasured and safe in the midst of exquisite passion.
His fingers between her legs found the core of her desire. “Come with me, baby. I love you. I love you so much.”
Cameron detonated into a release that seemed to come from her very soul. She cried out from the sheer power of it, gripping his back as she rode wave after wave of incredible sensation. “Will…”
“I’ve got you, honey. You’re amazing. God…” He surged forth one last time, threw his head back and came with a groan before collapsing on top of her.
Cameron held on tight to the most precious thing ever to come into her life.
“I’m too heavy,” he muttered.
“You’re perfect. Don’t you dare move.”
“I feel like I can finally breathe again. I was going crazy without you.”
She smoothed a hand up and down his back. “Me, too.”
“I kept waiting for you to tell me you’d come to your senses, and you couldn’t possibly give up your whole life for me.”
“Is that what you think I’m doing?”
“Well, yeah… It is what you’re doing.”
“You just have no idea…”
He raised his head to meet her watery gaze. “What’s wrong?”
Cameron smiled at him and shook her head, closing her eyes in an effort to contain the tears that slipped from the corners anyway.
Will kissed them away. “Talk to me.”
“You think I’m giving up my whole life, but for the first time, I feel like I belong somewhere.”
“Where do you belong?”
“With you. In Vermont. Those first sixteen days and then the second week we had together there were the best days ever. And that was almost entirely because of you, but it was also your family and the town and Fred the moose and… Everything. It’s the home I’ve never had and always wanted. It’s the family I’ve never had but always wanted. I’m not giving up anything compared to what I’m getting in return.”
“Cameron,” he whispered as he kissed her gently. “You can’t possibly know how much it means to me to hear you say that. I keep feeling like I’m going to wake up from this amazing dream and discover you’re not real. How could something so amazing be real?”
“It’s real, and I love you with everything I’ve got. I can’t wait to be snuggled into your cabin in the woods with your dogs and the fire and our whole lives ahead of us. That’s all I’ve thought about over the last month.”
“It’s our cabin, and they’re our dogs now.”
“Keep reminding me.”
“The boys miss you as much as I did. They’ve been all mopey and sad since you left.”
“I can’t wait to see them.”
He bent his head to lave at her nipple, licking and sucking until it stood up at full attention. As he turned his attention to the other side, he hardened inside her. “Do you think we could spend the rest of the day right here? We’ve got a lot of time to make up for.”
She had forty million details to attend to before she left the city in a week, but none of those things mattered now. Filled with love and desire and overwhelming relief to have him back in her arms, Cameron sank her fingers into his honey-colored hair. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”
They spent the entire weekend holed up in her apartment, lost in each other. “This is not at all what I had planned for this weekend,” Cameron said, late on Sunday afternoon. She was sprawled across his chest where she’d enjoyed yet another two-hour nap. “And it’s exactly what I needed.”
“If I know you at all, you’ve been working eighteen hours a day getting ready to move and to make sure Lucy and the company are set before you go. Am I right?”
“When was the last time you took a full day off?”
“The last time I was with you. You ruin my work ethic.”
“Get used to it. Cameron is going to be much more play than work going forward.”
“Oh, that sounds promising.”
His arms were tight around her, his lips soft against her forehead, his sex hard against her belly. They’d been equally insatiable this weekend.
“I want to show you my city.”
“And I want to see it. Tomorrow is soon enough, right?”
“Since I’ve lost the will to move, I suppose it’ll have to be.”
“What else is on the agenda for this week?”
“Dinner with my dad tomorrow night. He wants to meet you before you take me away from him.”
“Is that what he thinks I’m doing?”
“Not really, but he’s laid a bit of a guilt trip on me. He’s never had much time for me, but suddenly he’s all pouty because I’m leaving him.”
“I hope he’s not giving you a hard time.”
“Nothing like that, but he’s been surprisingly sad about it.”
“Is he going to hate me from the get-go because I’m moving his little girl away from him?”
“I don’t think so…”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“If you say so. What else?”
“I’ve got tickets to Wicked on Tuesday night. It’s my all-time favorite show, and you have to see it. And then Lucy and Emma are having a going-away party for me on Friday night. You’ll get to meet all my friends and coworkers.”
“Do they hate me, too?”
“My dad doesn’t hate you, and my friends are happy for me.”
“All of them?”
“Most of them.”
“What aren’t you telling me?” he asked as he ran his fingers through her hair in a soothing rhythm that made her want to purr with contentment. Being with Will like this made all the struggles of the past few weeks worth it. He was the other half of her, and she had no doubt whatsoever that moving to be with him was the right thing to do.
“It’s something if it upsets you.”
She loved so many things about Will, but his insight was almost as sexy as his incredible body and his gorgeous face. “Troy has been a bit… vocal, I guess you could say, about how fast it all happened.”
“Didn’t you used to date him?”
“Ages ago, and it was never anything serious. We’ve been like a brother and sister to each other for years.”
“Still, he may not think of you as his sister. Is he jealous?”
“No. I think it’s more that he’s upset I’m breaking up our little family here in the city. I know how I’d feel if one of them had moved away from me, so I’m trying to empathize with him.”
“But,” she said with a sigh, “he’s not making it easy.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? We talked every day, and you never mentioned a word about this.”
“I didn’t mention it because it’s got no bearing on our plans. I’m sorry Troy is upset about me leaving, but I’m still going. I hope he’ll come around. Eventually.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“Then I’ll be sad that my very close friend was unable to be happy for me, but I’ll still have you and our amazing new life together.”
“Maybe once he meets me and sees us together, he’ll feel differently.”
“That’s my hope, but he’s out of town all week at a conference for work. And he’s yet to commit to attending the party Friday night.”
“And this guy is one of your best friends?”
“It kind of sucks that he’s doing this to you right now.”
“Lucy is going to talk to him. Let’s hope for the best but not let it ruin our time together, okay?”
“Sure, whatever you want.”
He said what she wanted to hear, but she could tell that the news about Troy’s disapproval had bothered him. Cameron could only hope her friend would come around before she left town. Going into her new life while at odds with her old life wasn’t the goal. She hoped Lucy would get through to Troy. Her heart ached at the thought of a rift with one of her closest friends.
On Monday, Cameron took Will on a boat tour of lower Manhattan that got them close to the Statue of Liberty as well as under the Brooklyn Bridge. After lunch at a sidewalk café, they visited the World Trade Center memorial. It was one of the places Will had told her he most wanted to see while in the city.
Will stared at the stark black marble that bore the names of the people who’d died there. “Where were you when it happened?”
“I was a senior in high school uptown. My dad’s office is down here in the financial district, and I couldn’t reach him for hours. It was a long, scary day. I’ll never forget that plume of smoke hanging over the south end of the city. Where were you?”
“I was a senior in college. My roommates and I watched the coverage well into the night. All I could think about was how it would affect Caleb,” he said of the brother-in-law who’d died in Iraq seven years ago. “He’d been commissioned into the army earlier that year, and after that, it was a whole new ballgame. It was frightening.”
“I bet it was,” Cameron said. “I like what they did here. There was so much debate about how best to memorialize the victims, but I think they got it right.”
“It’s simple but extremely powerful and overwhelming.”
“All these years later, it’s still hard to believe it happened.”
They walked arm-in-arm around one of the footprint memorials and then the other before departing the area to walk toward Greenwich Village where Cameron took him to the Creative Web Solutions office and introduced him to her coworkers.
“So this is where all the magic happens, huh?” Will asked when he stepped into her office.
Cameron stood in the doorway and watched him take in the rows of computer monitors on her desk. “Oh yeah, all magic, all the time.”
He picked up the framed photo of him that she kept on her desk and smiled at her. “From what I’ve seen of the site you’re doing for us, there’s some magic at work here.”
“Lately, I’ve spent an awful lot of time staring at that photo.”
“Is that right?”
“A lot of time.”
“Um, excuse me,” Lucy said as she joined Cameron at the doorway. “You don’t work here anymore, so I’m afraid you’re actually trespassing.” She had curly red hair, an impish smile and like Cameron, had battled attention deficit disorder. They’d bonded over the ADD and had gone on to found a successful business despite their mutual challenges.
“Haha, very funny,” Cameron said to her business partner and best friend as she slipped an arm around Lucy’s shoulders. “You’re so anxious to be rid of me.”
Lucy leaned her head on Cameron’s shoulder. “You’ve been baggage lately. Mooning over photos of him when you’re supposed to be working. Be gone with you.”
“Nice to see you, too, Lucy,” Will said with a chuckle as he returned the frame to Cameron’s desktop.
“What do you think of our fair city so far?” Lucy asked.
“He loves the smell,” Cameron said, smiling at Will.
“It’s quite… Fragrant.”
Lucy snorted with laughter. “Stay away from the open vents.”
“And the sidewalk vendors,” Cameron added.
“See, this is advice I could’ve used a couple of days ago.”
“It’s one of the city’s many charms,” Lucy said.
“I think the charms are largely lost on him,” Cameron said.
“Not entirely,” Will said. “You’re here, aren’t you?”
“Awww,” Lucy said. “I think I just threw up in my mouth.”
“Don’t be catty, Luce,” Cameron teased. “Come along, William. We’ve got things to do and places to see.”
“Where you heading from here?” Lucy asked.
“We’re going to check out Bleecker Street and the Village on the way home, and then we’ve got dinner with my dad.”
“Ohhh,” Lucy said to Will, “dinner with Patrick Murphy. Are you scared?”
“Terrified,” Will said.
Lucy’s lusty laugh made Cameron laugh, too. “Don’t worry, he’s a pussycat.”
“Sure, he is.” Will glanced at Lucy. “Will you send help if she comes back alone?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Let’s go.” Cameron held out her hand to him. “There’s so much I still want to show you before we leave.”
“Good luck with, Patrick,” Lucy said. “Take notes. I’ll need details.”
“Bye, Luce,” Cameron said as she tugged Will along behind her.
Late that afternoon, after a trip to the top of the Empire State Building that had blown Will away with the sheer height and view, he coaxed her into bed for an hour before they had to get ready for dinner. As he held her close to him, he tried not to think about meeting her dad. If he allowed his thoughts to go there, his stomach started to ache.
He could only imagine how he’d feel if he had a gorgeous daughter like Cameron who went on a business trip for two weeks and came back with a boyfriend and a whole new life plan. He’d probably be pissed and looking for vengeance.
“Why is your heart beating so hard?” Cameron asked.
Will had thought she was still asleep. “It always beats hard when you’re naked in my arms.”
“You’re sure that’s all it is?”
“All? You naked in my arms is everything.”
She ran her long, smooth leg over his, stopping just short of his groin and making him want to beg for mercy. “When you say those things, my heart beats fast, too.”
“We need to get moving. We wouldn’t want to keep him waiting.”
“If I’m a little late, he won’t disown me.”
“I don’t want to give him any more reason to hate me than he already does.”
“He doesn’t hate you, Will.”
“He probably should. I’m taking his beautiful daughter away from him. I’m sure that’s how he sees it, anyway.”
“Right before I went back to Vermont to demo the site for you guys, he came to visit me. Do you know when the last time I saw him before that was?”
Will shook his head. “When?”
“Christmas. I hadn’t seen him in more than three months.”
Will covered the hand she’d placed on his belly with his much larger one.
“I talk to him at least once a week. Most weeks anyway.” She moved so she was on top of him, her chin propped on her hands. “He loves me. He’s always taken care of me and done the best he could for me. But you’re not taking me away from him. I know that, and so does he.”
Will brushed the hair back from her face. “I never want you to feel lonely or alone again.”
Smiling, Cameron said, “How could I with you and all the Abbotts to keep me company?” She rested her cheek on his chest.
Will held her close to him for as long as he could. “We need to get going, babe.”
“But this is so nice.”
“We’ll have time for this every day for the rest of our lives.”
“Promise you won’t let anything he or anyone else says or does change your mind about me?”
“Cameron… Christ, there’s nothing that could change my mind about you.”
“Of course I promise. What’s this about?”
“I don’t want you having second thoughts.”
“No chance of that.”
“You say that now.”
“Look at me.” Cameron raised her head, and he took her face in his hands. “There is nothing anyone could say or do that would make me not want to be with you. After all we’ve had together, losing you would ruin me. So please don’t spend one more second worrying about me trying to get away. Okay?”
She blinked furiously as she nodded.
With his thumbs, he brushed away her tears and leaned in to kiss her. “You’re stuck with me.” He kissed her again. “And now we need to shower, because I can’t be late to meet my future father-in-law.”
Cameron gasped. “Will…”
“That’s a conversation for another day, my love. Now take me to meet your dad, will you?”
Will emerged from the bedroom wearing a navy blue blazer, a white dress shirt open at the throat and gray flannel trousers. He was so handsome he took her breath away. “Is this okay?”
“You look amazing, but that outfit has Hunter written all over it.”
Will tugged nervously at the cuff of his shirt. “He might’ve consulted. It’s not too much?”
“It’s perfect. My dad will appreciate the show of respect. He’s old-school that way.”
“Good to know.” His eyes traveled over her hungrily, seeming to appreciate the red wrap dress she’d chosen for this important occasion. “You’re beautiful as always.”
He held her coat for her and then wrapped his arms around her from behind. “I need a favor while we’re there.”
“I need you to find an excuse to give your dad and me a few minutes alone together. Can you do that?”
“For what reason?”
“That’s between us guys.”
“Are you going to talk about me?”
“Well, yeah. What do you think?”
Cameron turned and smiled at him as she slid her palms to his shoulders. “Thank you.”
“For whatever you plan to say to my dad to make him feel better about me leaving with you.” She went up on tiptoes to kiss him. “Even if he’s not thrilled about what I’m doing, what you say to him will matter. Thank you for knowing that.”
Will hugged her tightly. “Let’s get going so we can get back to bed.”
“You’ve got a one-track mind,” she said with a laugh.
“Only where you’re concerned.” Will escorted her from the apartment and down the stairs to the curb, where Cameron expertly hailed a cab. “That’s so freaking sexy.”
“What is?” she asked when he’d followed her into the car.
“You and the way you can get any male cab driver in this city to bend to your will by lifting your hand into the air.”
She elbowed his ribs. “Shut up.”
“It’s okay,” Will said. “They’re only human.”
“59th and Park,” Cameron told the driver.
“Jeez, Park Avenue. Even I know that’s an address and a half.”
“How do you know that?”
“They teach us to read in the great white north, and just because I’ve never been here, doesn’t mean I haven’t read about it.”
Cameron thought of the shelves in Will’s house loaded with books he’d read multiple times in many cases.
“So tell me what to expect at 59th and Park.”
“Let’s see… One of the doormen will greet us and escort us to the elevator that leads to the penthouse. The elevator has one destination and opens right into the foyer where we’ll be met by a member of the household staff. He or she will take us to the study, which other than the bedroom, is the only room in the apartment my dad actually uses.”
“So the place is big.”
“I think it’s eight thousand square feet or something like that.”
Will’s eyes bugged. “If he only uses two rooms, what does he need with all that space?”
“He’s Patrick Murphy. He needs eight thousand square feet.”
“Ahh, I see. That clears it right up.”
“It’s hard to explain his lifestyle to regular people,” Cameron said with a sigh. “Sometimes I suspect even he doesn’t quite understand how he ended up where he is.”
“So why does he stay there if it doesn’t make sense to him?”
“Because it’s all he knows now. I’ve heard him say that people who believe money can’t buy happiness don’t have money. He came from nothing, and the memories of growing up poor have driven him his entire adult life. That’s why he’s so obsessed with never letting anything go to waste.”
The cab driver swerved through late-day traffic, beeping madly and barely missing other cars and pedestrians as he spoke rapidly in a foreign language into a phone clipped to his ear.
“Is he allowed to drive like this?” Will whispered.
“Absolutely. It’s a jungle out there. Survival of the fittest.”
Will gripped the handle above the door like it was a lifeline. “I suppose if he kills us, I won’t have to meet your dad.”
“There is that.”
“I’ve never seen this many cars in my life, let alone all in one place at the same time.”
“It’s awesome, isn’t it?”
He grimaced. “Truly awesome.”
They squealed to a stop at a traffic light as a sea of people surged into the street in front of them while the driver continued his conversation.
“I can’t believe this place is in the same universe I live in, let alone the same country.”
“I had that same thought about Vermont with its renegade moose and mud season and icy mountain roads with guardrails that are no match for massive pickup trucks. Not to mention those sticks you strap onto your feet so you can sled standing up down a mountain. Yes, I know exactly what you mean.”
“Touché,” he said with a laugh. “I suppose that was as foreign to you as this is to me.”
“Indeed, but I’ve never felt more at home anywhere than I did there.”
“Thank God for that, because I don’t know if I could live here.”
“I knew that. It never occurred to me to ask you to come here. We belong there.”
The cab squealed to a stop in front of her father’s building, and Cameron punched the keys on the TV screen behind the front seat before running a credit card through the machine in the car while Will was still reaching for his wallet.
“I got it,” she said with a saucy smile.
Everything moved too fast for him here, Will decided as they were helped from the cab by a uniformed doorman.
Cameron greeted the older man with a hug. “How are you, Gerald?”
“Doing fine, Ms. Cameron. How are you?”
“I’m great. This is my boyfriend, Will.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Gerald said, shaking Will’s hand.
“I saw Patrick earlier. He told me you were coming tonight and bringing someone special to meet him.”
“He did? Really?”
“Yes indeed. He seemed a little nervous.”
Cameron stopped short at that news. “Patrick Murphy, my Patrick Murphy, seemed nervous?”
Gerald’s grin lit up his face, exposing a gap between his front teeth. “Sure did.”
“Well, that’s a first.”
Gerald walked them into the building to the elevator bank and used a key card to summon the one he wanted. When the doors opened, he held them for Cameron and Will. “You folks have a nice evening. I’ll be gone when you come down, but it’s always nice to see you, Cam.”
Will noticed how Gerald lowered his voice and dropped the formal address he’d used outside.
She kissed Gerald’s cheek and made him blush. “You, too.”
Smiling widely at her, Gerald released the doors. When they closed, the car began a rapid ascent.
“Another guy in love with my girl,” Will said.
“I’ve known him all my life.”
“And he adores you.”
She shrugged. “He’s a sweetheart.”
Will took her hand and brought it to his lips. “So are you.” He was still holding her hand when the elevator opened into the foyer of her father’s extremely elegant apartment. In the midst of the marble floor, a circular table held a massive vase containing a wide variety of yellow flowers. The ceilings were easily ten feet, the mirrors gilded, the artwork captivating.
He felt like he’d stepped into a museum rather than someone’s home. He’d never seen anything like it. A winding stairway caught his attention. “There’s another floor?”
“Yeah, the bedrooms are up there.”
A young woman appeared wearing jeans and a T-shirt. “You must be Cameron. I’m Lena.”
Cameron shook hands with Lena. “Nice to meet you. This is my boyfriend, Will.”
“Hi, there.” Lena shook hands with Will. “So nice to meet you. Patrick is waiting for you in the study. Right this way.”
“I know the way. Thanks, Lena.”
“My pleasure. Dinner will be ready soon.”
“Why do you suddenly seem pissed?” Will asked when Lena had walked away.
“I’ll tell you later.” She led him through a maze of rooms, each more incredible than the one before, until she arrived at a closed door. After a quick knock, she walked in, keeping a firm grip on Will’s hand.
The smaller-than-expected room was paneled in dark wood with a large desk and bookshelves lining the wall behind it. A gas fireplace provided a cozy atmosphere as Patrick Murphy rose from an easy chair by the fire to greet his only child with a kiss to her cheek. Tall and fit, he had blond hair that was going gray and wore a burgundy V-neck sweater with jeans. “You look lovely as always.”
“Thanks. Dad, I want you to meet Will Abbott. Will, my dad, Patrick Murphy.”
“Pleased to meet you, sir,” Will said with a firm handshake.
He had hazel eyes, the same color as his daughter’s. “You too, and please, call me Patrick.”
“Drink?” Patrick crossed the room to a small bar in the corner. “I got your favorite red, Cam. What can I get for you, Will?”
“A beer would be great.”
Cameron led Will to a loveseat where they sat together. He appreciated that she never let go of his hand.
“Coming right up.” He poured a glass of wine for Cameron and removed the cap from an imported beer Will had never heard of. Patrick went back to the bar for a refill of the amber liquid in his own glass and joined them in the seating area in front of the fire. “Cheers,” he said raising his glass to them. “So, Will, has anyone ever told you you’re the spitting image of your dad? You look just like he did when I first met him at Yale.”
“I’ve heard that a time or two. My brother Wade looks like him, too.”
“How is the old man?”
“Same as always. He never changes.”
Cameron laughed at the comment. “Lincoln drives his children crazy with all his big ideas for the store.”
“Is that right?” Patrick said. “Including the website?”
“That was the latest battle,” Will said.
“You all didn’t want it?”
Will glanced at Cameron. “We didn’t think we needed it until Cameron convinced us otherwise. She’s done an amazing job so far. I can’t wait to see the finished product.”
“Neither can I,” Cameron commented with a dry laugh.
Will grinned at her. “You’re incredibly talented. It’ll be fabulous.”
Cameron squeezed his hand and sent him a warm smile. “I’m going to hit the powder room and check on dinner.” She leaned in to kiss Will’s cheek. “Go easy on him, Dad.”
Both men stood when she did.
The minute she released his hand and left the room, Will missed the heat of her palm against his. God, he had it bad for her.
“Was that a strategic exit?” Patrick asked after Cameron closed the door behind her.
“I asked for a few minutes alone with you. I’m sure you have questions. About me and my…” Will cleared his throat. “Intentions.”
“What are your intentions?”
Will forced himself to meet Patrick’s intense gaze. “I love your daughter, and I plan to spend the rest of my life with her, if she’ll have me.”
Relaxed in the chair with his legs crossed, Patrick projected lazy insolence. But laser-sharp eyes told the true story. “Seems to me that by packing up her life here and moving up to the frozen tundra she’s saying she’ll have you.”
“Yes, I suppose she is, but it matters a great deal to her that she has your blessing. It matters to me, as well.”
Patrick seemed surprised to hear that. “Cameron has never seemed all that interested in my blessing of anything she’s ever done.”
“She’s interested. Trust me on that.”
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes where she’s concerned, but despite me, she’s turned out to be a daughter any man would be proud of.”
“You might want to tell her that,” Will said.
Despite the flurry of nerves that invaded his gut, Will cleared his throat and forced himself to say, “Umm, I don’t think she does.”
Patrick took a sip of his drink as he pondered that.
“I know this is awkward since we’ve only just met, but I was hoping to ask for your permission to propose to Cameron at some point. Not any time soon, but when the time is right.” A bead of sweat rolled down Will’s back while he waited to hear what Patrick would say to that.
“Under most circumstances, I’d want to reserve judgment of a man I just met who’s asking me to hand over the most precious thing in my life. But I know your parents. I know what you come from, and I have tremendous respect for both of them. That said… You’ll understand my desire to protect Cameron in light of what she comes from.”
Will wasn’t sure where Patrick was going with this. “Of course.”
“So you wouldn’t be opposed to signing a pre-nup, if it should come to that?”
“I wouldn’t be opposed,” Will said, making an effort to keep the anger out of his voice. “I’m not at all interested in her money—or yours. I have everything I need.”
“That’s exactly what I hoped you’d say,” Patrick said approvingly. “I’m sorry if I offended you, but you have to understand there’re people who’d be more interested in what she has than who she is.”
“I’m in love with who she is. What she has is of no interest whatsoever to me.”
“Fair enough.” Patrick rattled the ice cubes around in his glass as he looked at Will for a long moment. “If and when you decide to propose, you’ll have my blessing, Will.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Will released the deep breath he’d been holding and smiled. “Thank you, Patrick.”
“I don’t know about you,” Patrick said as he rose, “but I’m starving.”
“I could eat,” Will said as he stood.
Patrick hesitated, seeming uncertain all of a sudden. “You’ll… You’ll take care of her, won’t you?”
“Always.” Will tried to decide whether he dared to say what he was thinking. But then he thought of Cameron and how starved she’d been for her father’s approval and attention. “She also doesn’t know she’s the most precious thing in your life.”
“How can she not know that?” Patrick asked, seeming truly stunned.
Patrick extended his hand to Will. “I’ve never seen her so happy. Thank you for that.”
Will shook his outstretched hand. “Believe me when I say that every minute I’ve gotten to spend with her has been my pleasure.”
Even though she was dying to know what had transpired between her dad and Will, Cameron forced herself to relax and enjoy dinner with her two favorite guys. Whatever had occurred between them, they seemed comfortable and easy with each other, which was a huge relief to Cameron. She desperately wanted her dad to like Will and to approve of her decision to move to Vermont to live with him.
Before dinner was served by Lena, Cameron had taken Will upstairs to show him her childhood room, which was still exactly the way she’d left it with Duran Duran posters on the wall and framed pictures of her with high school friends in their private school uniforms. Will had asked if she still had the uniform, which made her laugh.
Judging by the easy banter as Will and her dad discussed the rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees, they’d broken the ice during their time together.
“The next time the Sox are in town, you should come down for a game,” Patrick said. “I have a box at Yankee Stadium.”
“I’d love to,” Will said. “My brothers and I get to Fenway once or twice every year, but I’ve never been to Yankee Stadium. That’d be cool.”
“Bring your brothers with you.”
“He has six of them, Dad,” Cameron reminded her father.
“The more the merrier.”
“Ahh, the Abbott family motto,” Will joked, drawing a laugh from both of them.
“Ten kids,” Patrick said with a grimace.
“Ten kids,” Will said, smiling.
“His parents are the coolest people I’ve ever met,” Cameron said. “Nothing fazes them.”
“How could it after raising ten kids?” Patrick said. “If you come to a game, I hope you’ll bring your dad, too. I always enjoy his company.”
“I’m sure he’d love that.”
“I hate to say it, but we’ve got to call it an early night, Dad. I still have a ton of packing to do before the movers come on Saturday, and I’m trying to make sure Will gets a good taste of New York while he’s here, too.”
“Not to worry. I’m on an early flight in the morning anyway.”
“Will you be back by Friday?” Cameron asked. She didn’t want to sound too hopeful, lest she make him feel guilty for missing her going-away party.
“I’m cutting the trip short to get back for the party.”
“Oh, good,” she said with a sigh of relief. She wouldn’t want to leave town without seeing him again.
“Maggie’s coming, too,” he said of his longtime assistant.
“Great. I told Emma to invite her.” Cameron often felt like she had a more substantial relationship with her dad’s assistant than she’d had with him.
Patrick walked them to the elevator where he hugged Cameron and then surprised her by hugging Will, too. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Will.”
“You, too. Thanks for dinner. It was great.”
“I’ll see you both on Friday.”
Cameron went up on tiptoes to kiss her father’s cheek. “Have a safe trip.”
The elevator arrived, and they stepped inside. After hours of decorum in front of her father, Cameron snuggled into Will’s embrace the second the doors closed. “Ahh, that’s better.”
“So much better,” he said, brushing his lips over her forehead.
“I liked him. He’s a cool guy. Easy to talk to.”
“He was easy to talk to because he liked you, too. If he hadn’t, he would’ve been much more reserved. Chilly even.” She looked up at him. “Tell me everything that happened when you were alone with him, and don’t leave out a single thing.”
“Suffice to say we bonded over our mutual love for you. That’s all you’re getting.”
“Oh come on!”
He quieted her by kissing her until the elevator dinged to announce their arrival at the ground floor.
“Don’t think I can’t recognize a delay tactic when I see it,” she said as they left the elevator hand-in-hand. Cameron didn’t know the nighttime doorman who held the door for them and wished them a good evening as they exited the building. “Do you feel like walking for a bit? I’ve got another landmark I want to show you on the way home.”
He put his arm around her. “Sure.”
Cameron loved that he needed to keep her close to him. She loved the way he’d interacted with her dad. She loved how handsome he looked in the clothes Hunter had picked for him. She loved the effort he was making to fit into her world even though it was as foreign to him as it could possibly be. She loved everything about him.
“You want to tell me why you seemed pissed when we were talking to Lena?”
“She called him Patrick.”
“He’s sleeping with her.”
“How can you tell that?”
“They always call him Patrick when they’re sleeping with him. It’s Mr. Murphy and a uniform until the sex starts. After the sex, it’s casual attire and ‘Patrick.’ They’re all the same—young, sexy, willing to work and willing to sleep with him to get closer to the money. He keeps them around for a year or so, then gives them a decent severance and moves on to the next one.”
“That sounds like a lonely, depressing way to live.”
“I’ve come to realize he does it because he doesn’t want to get too involved after losing my mom the way he did. Her sudden death broke something in him that’s never been repaired, and he’s been unwilling to risk a deeper connection after that. It took me a long time to figure that out. When I was younger, I just thought he was an ass for the way he went through women.”
“After having what I’ve had with you, I can understand how losing your mom broke him.”
“So can I. Still, after all these years, I wish he’d take a chance on something deeper and more lasting.”
“Maybe he will when the right woman comes along.”
“I can only hope so. I’d love to see him with someone who truly loved him for him and not his money.”
“I bet it’s hard to tell the difference.”
She looked up at him. “Actually, it’s not hard at all. In the past, I’ve always secretly wondered if a guy’s interest was about me or my daddy’s money or gaining access to him. In the time you and I have been together, that thought has never once crossed my mind.”
His smile made her tingle in all her most important places.
They strolled south at a leisurely pace, walking down Park to 53rd and then over to Fifth Avenue, past Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center.
“That’s where the skating rink is in the winter,” Cameron said, “and over there is where you see the people outside at the Today show.” On Fifth Avenue, they walked past high-end designer stores whose names even Will recognized as well as St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
At 46th Street, she guided them toward the west side until they picked up Broadway.
“Where’re you taking me?” he asked.
“You’ll see in a minute.”
“Are there always this many people out and about at this hour?”
“Yep. This is what we mean when we say New York is the city that never sleeps. The streets are busy around the clock. Something’s always going on.”
“There’s a frenetic energy to the place. That’s for sure.”
“People either love that about the city or they hate it.”
“I bet you love it.”
“I don’t hate it, but I don’t need it to survive the way some native New Yorkers do.”
“Holy shit,” he exclaimed as they approached the madness of Times Square. Looking up, he took in the sky-high billboards that advertised everything from pizza to socks to makeup to underwear. “It’s like broad daylight with all the lights. And the people… Jesus, I’ve never seen so many people in one place in my entire life.”
“I know, right? It’s the center of the universe.”
As they melded into the crush of people, he held on even tighter to her. She pointed out the various theaters, mentioned some of her favorite shows and stopped to give him a look at the famous naked cowboy as he strummed his guitar and posed for pictures with gaggles of silly women.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” Will asked with a laugh. “Is that guy for real?”
“Oh yeah,” Cameron said, strategically steering him to ensure he caught the back view of the guy’s buns in all their naked glory. “He’s very real.”
“Oh my God,” he whispered, making Cameron giggle madly. “This place is insane. That’s all there is to it. I’ve never been so thankful for a guitar.”
That set her off all over again as his dry sense of humor gave her a whole new view of the city through his eyes.
They walked all the way to 40th before Cameron hailed a cab to take them the rest of the way downtown. When they arrived, Will was ready, swiping his credit card before she could do the honors.
The move earned him a big smile from Cameron.
He took her hand, helped her out of the cab and led her straight upstairs to her apartment. Once inside, he removed his blazer and her coat and took her directly to her bedroom. “I need you right now,” he whispered urgently.
“Like right now or like in five minutes after I have time to brush my teeth?”
“As in right now.” He ran his hands up her legs, under her skirt and cupped her bottom, lifting her to deposit her on the bed.
Her skirt ended up bunch around her waist as he freed himself from his pants, pushed her thong aside and entered her in one thrilling thrust that nearly launched her off the bed.
“I love how you’re always ready for me,” he whispered gruffly against her ear.
“All I have to do is look at you, and I’m ready.”
He groaned as he took her fast and hard, driving them to a simultaneous release that had them clinging to each other until the storm had passed. “Sorry,” he said lightening his grip on her as his chest heaved from exertion.
“For what?” she asked, brushing the hair back from his sweat-dampened forehead.
“I was rough with you.”
“I loved it.” She went to work on the buttons of his shirt as he tugged at the tie that held her dress together. When they were finally naked, he made love to her all over again, slowly this time, drawing out her release for so long she was begging him by the time he finally took her over the edge.
Cameron drifted off to sleep in his arms, happier than she’d ever been in her life.
They spent the next day packing and making plans to store some of her furniture in Vermont. Cameron went around changing red tags to green as Will stacked boxes against the wall in her living room.
The movers were coming early on Saturday, and they would head north to Boston in her car later that afternoon. They planned to spend a couple of days there before continuing home to Vermont in two separate vehicles. It was the longest vacation Will had taken since he graduated from college and joined the family business. But he couldn’t think of any better way to spend his vacation time than helping Cameron prepare to move in with him.
He had some concerns about where in his tiny place they would put even the small amount of things she was bringing initially, but they’d worry about that on the other end. For now, his goal was to make this move as smooth for her as it possibly could be.
Tuesday evening they went to see Wicked, which Will enjoyed far more than he’d expected to. He’d laughed his ass off at the antics of Glinda and Elphaba, and had even suggested they consider the name Elphaba for their future daughter.
“Only if she comes out green,” Cameron had replied in full deadpan.
The rest of the week passed in a blur of packing, sorting, planning and visiting with friends who stopped by Cameron’s apartment to offer help and food and other support that Will knew she appreciated. Each of her friends greeted him warmly, if a bit cautiously, no doubt looking for the ulterior motive that wasn’t there. He loved her desperately, and he could only hope her friends would realize that—preferably before he and Cameron left the city.
On Friday, he went with her to pack up the last of her belongings at the office, including her array of computers that they hauled to her apartment in two separate cabs so they could be shipped with the rest of her stuff.
By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, they were exhausted but ready for the movers.
“I never could’ve finished this in time without your help,” Cameron said as they “napped” before the going-away party.
“I’m glad I could help.”
She turned on her side to face him, her hand flat on his belly. “Where are we going to put my stuff at your place?”
“We’ll figure it out. I’m not worried about it.” He’d never admit to having had the same concerns.
“Well, don’t. The only thing that matters to me is that you’re there. The rest is just details.”
“Have I mentioned how happy I am that I don’t have to say goodbye to you again?”
“A time or two. Have I mentioned how happy I am that you aren’t going to leave me, crushed and heartbroken until I get to see you again?”
She raised a brow. “Crushed and heartbroken?”
“Oh yeah. Totally.”
“Both times? Even after we worked everything out?”
“The second time was almost worse because I knew how you felt and you knew how I felt, and I still had to let you go. It was hell.”
“Sometimes I still think I’m going to wake up and realize I dreamed this whole thing.”
“I’ve thought that same thing, but it’s not a dream, baby. It’s as real as the naked cowboy’s bare buns, and it’s going to stay that way forever.”
Cameron laughed softly and rested her hand on his face, turning him into her kiss. “Thank you for being my dream come true.”
“You and your Mini Cooper that slammed into Fred and your fancy suede boots that nearly got ruined by the mud were the best things to ever happen to me.”
He spent the rest of the afternoon showing her just how much he loved her.
They emerged from her building into a downpour on Friday evening. Lightning slashed across the sky, and the roar of thunder echoed in the street. Under an umbrella, Will ventured out to hail a cab at the corner and directed the driver to where Cameron waited for them in the vestibule of her building.
The cab delivered them to the restaurant in the Village that Lucy and Emma had chosen for the party, and Will once again beat Cameron to the cab fare.
“You’re getting good at that,” she said as she took his hand and emerged from the taxi under the umbrella he held for her.
“I can be trained,” he said, keeping an arm around her so they could share the umbrella.
“Good to know.”
They were escorted to a room in the back of the Italian restaurant where most of Cameron’s friends had already gathered. A quick scan of the faces told her Troy wasn’t among them. Regardless, she decided to enjoy the evening two of her best friends had arranged for her.
She talked and laughed and drank champagne and introduced Will to the people he hadn’t met yet.
“He is h-o-t,” Emma whispered in Cameron’s ear. She was tiny like Lucy but as blonde as Lucy was redheaded.
“I think so, too.”
Emma’s eight-year-old daughter Simone clamored for Cameron’s attention.
Cameron bent at the waist to pick up Simone, who wore a blue party dress and shiny Mary Janes. She had auburn curls like her Aunt Lucy and big blue eyes. She was almost too heavy for Cameron to pick up these days. “I love your dress, Pumpkin.”
Simone wrapped her arms around Cameron’s neck and squeezed, bringing tears to Cameron’s eyes. She’d been part of Simone’s life from the day she was born and would miss seeing her on a regular basis. “Don’t want you to go,” Simone said.
“I know, honey. But I’ll be back to visit all the time. You won’t even have a chance to miss me.”
“Your boyfriend is cute,” Simone whispered in Cameron’s ear.
“I know, isn’t he? Want to meet him?”
Simone nodded and turned on the charm for Will who was halfway in love with her by the time Simone scampered off to get something to drink.
Patrick came in a short time later with his assistant Maggie and waved to Cameron across the room as he hugged and kissed Lucy and Emma.
Cameron kept Will close by her side as they visited with her friends, ate dinner and sat through the toasts that Lucy and Emma had obviously put lots of time into crafting. Through it all, Cameron ached at the realization that Troy wasn’t going to come.
After all they’d been through together, that he could let her leave without even saying goodbye was the only blight on an otherwise blissful time in her life.
It was close to eleven when Cameron’s dad approached and asked for a minute before he had to leave.
“Be right back,” she said to Will.
“Take your time.”
“Will, I’ll see you again soon I hope,” Patrick said as the two men shook hands. “In the meantime, take good care of my daughter.”
Patrick nodded and put his arm around Cameron to escort her to a corner of the big room. He held a chair for her and then sat next to her at a four-top table. “So I guess this is it,” he said.
“For now. You know where I’ll be any time you want to come visit.”
“You’re going to make me go all the way to Vermont?”
“Need I remind you that since I last saw you, you went all the way to London and back?”
“You make a good point.” He reached for her hand and shocked her when he held it between both of his, bending to rest his forehead on their joined hands. “I know I haven’t been the father you deserved, but I hope you know how very much I love you, how proud I am of all you’ve accomplished and how much I like seeing you so happy.” He looked up then, his eyes full of the kind of emotion she’d seldom seen in him. Patrick fixed his gaze on Will, who was talking to Lucy and Emma. “He’s a really good guy like his dad. It didn’t take long for me to understand why you’re willing to give up everything for him.”
The words and the feeling behind them were all but unprecedented. “I’m not giving up everything, Dad. I’m gaining far more than I’m losing.”
“I won’t keep you from your friends, but I couldn’t let you get away without telling you that despite my many, many failings, you’ve always been the most precious thing in my life. And you always will be.”
Stunned, overwhelmed and overjoyed, she hugged him tightly as tears fell from her eyes. “Love you, Dad.”
“Love you, too. Now go be happy in the tundra. Call me once in a while?”
“All the time. I’ll text you the landline number at Will’s place and the office so you can always reach me. The cell service up there sucks.”
Patrick shuddered, his expression one of abject horror. “And you’re going there willingly?”
Cameron laughed and wiped up her tears. “Extremely willingly.” She looked up and gasped in surprise when she saw Troy come into the room, his eyes darting around until they landed on her. Relief softened his face. “I’m going to speak to Troy,” she said with a last kiss for her dad. “I’ll call you when we get to Vermont.”
“Have a safe trip, honey.”
Cameron got up and looked down at him. “What you said, just now… It means a lot to me. Thank you for telling me that before I left. There’s nothing you could’ve given me that would’ve meant more.”
He squeezed her hand and smiled. “It was long overdue.”
“Better late than never.” She bent to kiss his cheek again. “I’ll talk to you soon.” Still processing everything her dad had said, Cameron crossed the room to the bar where Troy was waiting for her. His dark hair was wet from the rain, his brown eyes full of questions and maybe a bit of contrition. No matter, she was thrilled and relieved to see him. She stepped into his outstretched arms.
“I’m so sorry I’m late.” He wore a suit that had been cut to fit his tall, lanky frame. “My flight from Chicago was delayed because of the storm.”
“I’m just glad you’re here.”
“I’m so sorry for what I said the last time we talked. I’ve made this whole thing about me when it’s actually about you.”
“I know how I would’ve felt if you were the one leaving.”
He gave her a small, sad smile. “We’ve had a nice little thing going with our merry band of misfits. It won’t be the same without you.”
“I’m not going all that far, and you’ll still see me.”
“You’re going far enough.”
“Will you come visit?”
“If I have to,” he said with pretend annoyance.
“You have to.” She leaned in close enough to whisper. “Will has some really beautiful single sisters.”
Troy barked out a laugh. “Is that right?”
“Speak of the devil,” Cameron said, holding out a hand to Will as he came over to join them.
“Why am I the devil now?” Will asked.
“Because you’re taking her away from us,” Troy said with a smile that told Will he was teasing. “Troy Kennedy.” He held out a hand to Will.
“Will Abbott.” Eyeing Troy with an aura of trepidation, Will shook his hand. “Any relation to the president?”
“I wish,” Tory said with a laugh. “Sorry I’m late to the shindig. Thunderstorms screwed up my flight.”
For the second time that night, Cameron said, “Better late than never.”
The party dwindled to her closest friends. Simone was sent home with her grandfather, who’d come to give Cameron a hug and a kiss before she left town. Mr. Mulvaney had been like a second dad to Cameron, and he made her cry when he wished her well in her new life.
Will, Cameron, Lucy, Emma and Troy stayed until the restaurant closed right at two.
“I think I’m a little drunk,” Cameron announced when they stepped into the chilly nighttime air.
“Only a little?” Lucy said. “We’ve failed you.”
“No, you haven’t.” Cameron hugged Lucy and Emma. “Thank you both so much for such an awesome last night in the big city. The party was amazing.”
“I can’t believe this is it, and as of tomorrow you won’t live here anymore,” Lucy said, fighting tears.
“It’s goodbye for now, not forever,” Cameron said as she hugged her best friend. “You’ll be coming to Vermont in a couple of weeks to help with the website, and you guys should come, too,” she said to Troy and Emma. “We’d love to have you.”
“Any time,” Will said. He stood back as the four of them engaged in a group hug that ended in tears for all of them.
“Love you guys,” Cameron said when they finally let go.
“Love you, too.”
“We’ll miss you.”
“Come back to visit all the time.”
Troy flagged down a cab for Lucy and Emma and another for himself. He left Cameron with one last kiss to her cheek and another hug.
Cameron waved until both cars were out of sight, and then Will wrapped her up in a tight hug as she wept silently into his coat.
By noon the next day, her apartment was empty, and the moving truck had pulled away from the curb. Will had been fascinated watching furniture be lowered over the small balcony to the street.
Cameron did one last walk through, her heels echoing through empty rooms as she made sure nothing had been overlooked.
“Do we need to clean or anything?” Will asked when she returned to the living room where only her suitcase, laptop bag, purse and coat remained along with his bag and backpack.
“No, I paid the super to get it done for me. All that’s left to do now is turn in the keys and hit the road.”
“Are you ready?”
She took one last look at the place she’d called home for nine years, until she met Will Abbott and found the home of her heart. “Yeah, I’m ready. Let’s go home.”
The smile she’d fallen in love with was no less potent all these weeks later. He picked up his backpack and duffel as well as her computer bag, opened the door and held it for her. “After you, my love.”