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Book 4 in the Green Mountain Series
He loves her. She loves his brother. He can change her mind, right?
Hunter Abbott is a fixer. As the eldest of the ten Abbott siblings, he takes care of things for his family and their many business interests. As an accountant, things need to add up or they don’t make sense to him. The one thing he can’t seem to reconcile is his undeniable attraction to Megan Kane, the cranky waitress at the diner across the street from the Abbott family’s Green Mountain Country Store. Megan has made no secret of her abiding love for Hunter’s brother Will. But with Will happily in love with Cameron, does Hunter now have a chance to show Megan that she’s had her eye on the wrong Abbott brother all along?
Megan Kane is heartbroken and frustrated—and yes, often extremely cranky. But watching your one true love fall in love with someone else would make anyone a little cranky, especially when everyone else seems to love HER as much as Will does. For years Megan has avoided other relationships in the hope that Will would someday look her way. In all that time, she held on to a go-nowhere job as a waitress at her sister’s diner in the go-nowhere town of Butler, Vermont. When her sister and brother-in-law inform her they plan to move and sell the diner, Megan panics at the thought of losing that go-nowhere job and the go-nowhere town she’s called home for most of her life. Until Hunter Abbott comes up with the idea for his family to buy the diner and hire Megan to run it for them. Suddenly, Hunter seems to be underfoot a lot, offering all kinds of helpful and annoying advice while slowly working his way into her affections. Can Megan forget that she once yearned for his brother and give Hunter a chance to show her what real love might be like?
Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.
—Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group
When her sister and brother-in-law said they wanted to talk to her at the diner Monday evening, Megan Kane assumed they were going to tell her they were finally expecting the niece or nephew she’d wanted for as long as they’d been married. But the words that came from Brett and Nina in stuttering, halting sentences had nothing to do with babies.
“Selling the diner.”
“So sorry to do this to you.”
“It was an amazing opportunity.”
“We couldn’t say no.”
“You can come with us.” Nina seemed crushed to be delivering this news to her “baby” sister, who was almost twenty-eight and hardly a baby anymore. “I’d love that. We could run around and explore together while Brett is at work. It would be so fun.”
Megan shook off the shock and found her voice. “No. You’ve been taking care of me since you were twenty-two, Neen. It’s time to go live your life. I’ll be fine.”
“We really do mean it when we say you should come with us,” Brett said. He was always so kind to her, never once in all these years acting as if her tight bond with his wife was a problem for him.
“I can’t do that. I can’t crash your party. I’ve been around your necks long enough as it is.”
“You’re hardly around our necks, Megan,” Nina said. “We could have so much fun! Would you think about it before you automatically say no? Please?”
“Fine.” Megan said what her sister needed to hear. “I’ll think about it.”
“Great!” Nina said, beaming with pleasure at the small victory.
“If you decide to stay here, we’ll help you find another job,” Brett said. “Maybe the new owners of the diner would want to keep you on. They’d be crazy not to.”
He’d been a terrific brother-in-law to her since he married her sister nine years ago. A teacher at a nearby boys’ prep school, he’d apparently applied for overseas positions in the past but they’d never materialized until now.
Work at Nina’s Diner without Nina? Unthinkable. “I’ll figure something out. You guys don’t need to worry about me.”
“Of course we’ll worry about you, Meg.” Nina reached for her sister’s hand across the table. “I don’t know how not to worry about you.”
“It’s probably time I got a life of my own.” Megan tried to stay calm even as she panicked on the inside. Not see Nina every day? Unbearable. “Mom and Dad would be horrified if they knew I was still living in the garage apartment.”
“They’d be proud of you.”
“No, they’d be proud of you, but you deserve it. You’ve created such a wonderful business here, and now you have this fantastic opportunity to travel. I’d never hold you guys back from doing what you want.”
Brett’s relief was so visible he practically sagged under the weight of it. Obviously, they’d worried about telling her their news. “You really can come with us if you want to, Megan,” he said. “It would be great to have you in France.”
“I’d love to come visit while you’re there, but this is home.” In reality, Nina was home to her, not Butler or the house where they’d once lived with their parents, but Megan kept those thoughts to herself.
“You said you’d think about it!” Nina said.
“Neen, I can’t just go traipsing off to France, as fun as that sounds. I need to figure out my life and what I’m going to do with it. I can’t do that in France. I don’t want either of you to worry about me. I swear I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?” Nina asked tearfully. “You’d tell me if you didn’t mean that, wouldn’t you?”
“I’m very sure.” Megan kept her emotions out of it—for now anyway. “This could turn out to be a good thing for me. It’ll give me the kick in the butt I’ve needed to move on.” Megan had been marching in place for more than ten years, since the snowy night they lost their parents in a car crash during her senior year of high school.
Nina had been her rock ever since, acting as mother, father and big sister all rolled into one. The sisters had held on to each other for all these years, and the thought of everyday life without Nina was unfathomable to Megan.
“If you agree, we’re going to rent the house,” Brett said, “but the garage apartment is all yours for as long as you want or need it. We told the Realtor the garage wasn’t part of the deal.”
“Of course I agree. No sense the house sitting vacant when you could be making some money.” Her brother-in-law’s sweetness nearly broke her emotional dam, but she refused to cry in front of them. Since there were going to be tears—and lots of them—she had to get out of there immediately. No way would she make them feel bad about something they were so excited about. Knowing she was on borrowed time where the tears were concerned, Megan gathered up her belongings and stood. “I’ll see you guys in the morning.”
“Let me drive you home,” Nina said.
“That’s okay. I could use the fresh air after being inside all afternoon.” They’d used their afternoon and evening “off” to do their monthly deep clean of the diner.
“You’re sure you’re all right?” Nina asked.
Megan bent to kiss her sister’s cheek. “I’m fine, and I’m thrilled for both of you.”
Nina held her tight for a minute. “Love you, Meggie.”
Megan couldn’t remember the last time Nina had called her by her childhood nickname. “Love you, too.”
Feeling as if she’d been set adrift, untethered from the one sure thing in her life, Megan stepped out of the diner, taking a moment to breathe in the fresh, clean early-autumn air. The tears she’d managed to contain in front of Nina and Brett broke loose in sobs that had her looking for a place to hide until the storm passed.
She crossed the street and ducked behind the Green Mountain Country Store, planning to hide out until Brett and Nina left for home.
The last thing she wanted was for them to see her crying, and nothing short of a miracle would help her keep it together tonight.
After another twelve-hour marathon in front of the computer, Hunter Abbott stood and stretched out the kinks in his shoulders and back. As the chief financial officer for the Green Mountain Country Store and other Abbott family businesses, Hunter worked pretty much all the time. If it weren’t for the pressing need for food that his body demanded every few hours, he’d probably work around the clock.
It wasn’t like he had anything better to do. And wasn’t that a sad, pathetic fact of his life?
His stomach let out an unholy growl that had him checking the time on his computer. Nine ten. With the diner closed today, that left pizza as his only option in town at this hour. He dialed the number to Kingdom Pizza from memory and ordered a small veggie and a salad. If he was resorting to eating junk, at least it was somewhat healthy. Before his twin sister, Hannah, had remarried over the summer, Hunter might’ve headed for her house to bum some dinner and conversation. But with Nolan now living with Hannah and the two of them in starry-eyed newly wedded bliss, Hunter steered clear.
He turned off his computer and glanced at the stack of files still awaiting his attention. Bring them home or leave them for tomorrow? After a brief internal debate, he shut off the light and left them. His tank was running on empty, and tomorrow would bring more of the same.
In the outer office, he was surprised to find the light still on in his sister Ella’s office. He went over to knock on her door. “You’re working late.”
“As are you.”
“Except I always do. What’s your excuse?”
“Getting some new products entered into the system, and dealing with a pile of paperwork that never seems to get smaller no matter what I do.”
“I hear you there. So much for being self-employed, huh?”
She smiled at him, but he noted a hint of sadness in her eyes that caught him by surprise. Ella was one of the most joyful people he’d ever known—always happy and upbeat.
“Sure. Why do you ask?”
“You just seemed . . . I don’t know . . . sad or something for a second there.”
“I’m fine. No need to worry.”
“Okay then.” Hunter took a step back, planning to leave, but there it was again—the sadness he’d seen before. “You know if there’s anything wrong, you can come to me, right? We may see each other a thousand times a day, but I’m right over there if you need me. No matter what it is.”
“Thank you, Hunter. That’s very sweet of you. I know you want to take care of everything for all of us, but some things . . . Well, some things can’t be managed. They are what they are.”
More confused than ever, Hunter wasn’t sure whether he should stay and try to force the issue or give her some space to deal with whatever was bothering her. “I’m here, El. I’m right here. Don’t suffer in silence.”
Her smile softened her face. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Do you want me to wait for you so you’re not here alone?”
“No. I’ve got another hour or so, and I can lock up.”
“Give me a quick call to let me know you got home okay.”
“Hunter . . .”
“What? You’ll always be my little sister, so call me.”
“I’m only four years younger than you.”
“And I vividly remember the day you were born.”
Hunter chuckled at the predictable comment. His family teased him every day about his photographic memory and ability to recall facts and figures from years ago that should’ve been impossible to remember. Sometimes he wished he could forget some of the crap that rattled around in his brain, but it was his lot in life to be a walking, talking data warehouse. “See you in the morning.”
“Have a good night.”
Hunter went down the stairs thinking about what Ella had said about him wanting to take care of things for everyone. Perhaps it was also his lot in life as the oldest of the ten Abbott siblings, but he wanted the people he loved to be happy and their problems to be few, even if that meant taking on more than his share of the load.
Hannah had been after him recently to work less and play more. If only he could think of something he’d rather do than work.
Totally pathetic. He knew it, but damn if he could figure out how to snap out of the rut he’d fallen into. When had he become an all-work, no-play stick in the mud? If he were being honest with himself, he’d been in the rut for a long time, probably since he graduated from college and joined the family business full time. College had been the last time he’d been truly free of responsibility and obligation.
Thinking about the blissful college days had him remembering his late brother-in-law Caleb, Hannah’s first husband, who’d died in Iraq seven years ago. If he came back to life and saw how ridiculously out of balance Hunter’s life had become, he’d raise holy hell.
Raising holy hell was on Hunter’s mind as he stepped into the cool darkness and waited for the motion-sensitive light to come on. Once it did, he turned to lock the door behind him. Ella would see to setting the alarm system. Leaving her alone at the store made him anxious, but he would check on her if she didn’t remember to call him.
A sound to his left had him stopping to listen. Was that sniffling? “Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Megan. I’m sorry to scare you.”
That voice . . . It cut through him like a knife slicing butter. Every nerve ending in his body stood up to take note of her nearness, which happened every damned time he came into any kind of contact with her. “Megan,” he said in a voice that was barely a whisper. “What’re you doing here in the dark?”
“Why? Are you hurt? What’s wrong?” True to form, he wanted to make things right for her, no matter what it took. His heart beat quickly, as if he’d been running for miles, and his hands were suddenly sweaty and clammy. He’d never understand why this particular woman provoked such a strong reaction in him every time he laid eyes on her—or in this case, heard tears in her voice as she spoke in the dark.
“Nothing’s wrong. I just needed a minute. Sorry to trespass on your property. I’ll get out of your way.”
“Wait. Don’t go.” The words came out sounding far more desperate than he’d intended. “At least let me drive you home.”
“That’s all right. I can walk.”
“I wouldn’t mind at all.”
She stepped into the light, and the sight of her tear-ravaged face broke his heart. What could possibly be so wrong?
“It’s out of your way.”
“I’ve got nowhere to be.” He watched her expressive face as she pondered his offer. Her lips pursed, which brought her cheekbones into sharper relief against the pale skin on her face. Exquisite was the word that came to mind whenever he looked at her, which was as often as he could. Until recently she’d had a major crush on his brother Will, but that had no bearing whatsoever on how he felt about her. He looked at her, and he wanted. It was that simple.
Except she barely knew he was alive, which was a problem.
“If you’re sure you don’t mind,” she said after an impossibly long pause.
“I really don’t.”
She walked with him to his silver Lincoln Navigator and stood by his side as he held the passenger door and waited for her to get settled.
As he got into the driver’s side, his growling stomach reminded him of the take-out order. “Have you had dinner?” The words were out before he could take the time to overanalyze the situation.
“I have a pizza and salad on order. I’d be happy to share.”
“I don’t know if I could eat.”
“Come along and keep me company?”
“Um, sure. Okay.” She reached into her purse, withdrew a tissue and wiped her eyes.
“Are you going to tell me why you were crying?”
“Do I have to?”
“Of course not.” He was surprised that she would think he’d try to force it out of her. “But I’m told I’m a good listener.”
She had no reply to that, so he turned the key to start the engine, lowering the windows a bit to get some air.
“I probably stink from cleaning the diner,” she said.
“No, you don’t.” As he drove, he thought of a thousand things he’d like to say to her, but none were the sort of things a guy blurted out when he finally had a moment alone with the woman he desired.
How exactly did you tell a woman who barely knew you were alive that you thought about her constantly? That seeing her upset killed you. That wanting her kept you awake at night. How did you tell her it didn’t matter if she had once been obsessed with your brother? That there was nothing you wouldn’t do to see her smile, to see her pale blue eyes light up with joy?
How could he say any of that and not sound like a total creep?
He couldn’t, so he kept his mouth shut and hoped he wouldn’t do something embarrassing like hyperventilate from the overwhelming effort it took not to say all of it.
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