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Book 3 in the Green Mountain Series
I SAW HER STANDING THERE is a New York Times and USA Today Bestseller! Thank you readers!
“Marie Force has become one of my favorite go to authors and this series is one of my very favorites. It pulls you right in from the very first page and never lets you go. I devoured I SAW HER STANDING THERE in one sitting and loved every minute of it. I felt like I was up on that mountain with Colton and Lucy trying to figure out life. I could almost smell the pine trees. Their relationship is very new but also very hot. The teasing they do to each other is perfectly delicious. Will they figure out how to be together? Fall in love with the Abbott family as you read Lucy and Colton’s story to find out.”—Susan Dyer’s review on Fresh Fiction
There’s a budding romance on Butler Mountain, but in the hornets nest known as the Abbott family, keeping a secret is no easy feat…
Colton Abbott and Lucy Mulvaney have a secret. Colton’s nosy siblings have begun to put the pieces together, but it’s not like Lucy to keep things from those closest to her—especially her best friend, Cameron, who recently moved to Vermont to live with her true love, Will. But Lucy isn’t about to tell Cam she’s having a fling…with Will’s brother. Flitting between New York and Vermont is exhausting, so Lucy is looking forward to a long weekend with Colton at the Abbott family lake house in Burlington. Too bad Will and Cameron have the same idea, and once Colton and Lucy are caught red-handed (and red-faced), will their clandestine romance lose its appeal or will their secret beginnings be the start of something lasting?
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Colton Abbott had never considered himself a particularly private person—that is, until he had something big to hide from his loving but overly involved family. His six brothers, three sisters, two parents and one grandfather were dying to know how he was spending his weekends lately, and Colton was loving that they had no idea. Not the first clue.
A smile split his face as he drove across Northern Vermont, from his home in the Northeast Kingdom town of Butler to Burlington, where his family owned a lake house and where his “secret” girlfriend would be meeting him in a couple of hours. He wanted to get there early and hit the store for supplies so they could relax and enjoy every minute of their time together.
Colton had big plans for this weekend, the sixth one he’d spent completely alone with her. During that time, they’d talked about nearly every subject known to mankind, they’d kissed a lot, fooled around quite a bit and last weekend, they’d even gone so far as to take each other all the way to blissful fulfillment. But they’d yet to have sex.
He intended to fix that this weekend before he lost his mind from wanting more of her. He’d tried to respect her wishes to “take things slow” so they didn’t “get in over their heads” when they lived so far from each other and had so little time to spend together. Of course he’d heard people say for years that long-distance relationships sucked, but until he’d experienced the suckage personally, he’d had no idea just how totally the situation sucked.
It got worse with every weekend they spent together when he was left wanting more and having to wait a full week before he could see her again. They’d been lucky so far. Other than the weekend he’d stayed home for the funeral of his sister Hannah’s dog Homer, they’d had six weekends with no other commitments to get in the way of their plans, but he knew reality would interfere eventually. They both had busy lives and families and other obligations that would mess with the idyllic routine they’d slipped into over the last month and a half.
They’d met halfway the other times, and this would be the first time that she’d come to Vermont. Since he wasn’t quite ready to expose her to the austere life he led on his mountain, he’d asked his dad for the keys to the lake house.
And what an odd conversation that had been the day before . . . With time to think about it during the two-hour ride across the state, Colton had the uncomfortable suspicion that the one person he wasn’t fooling with his secret romance was his dear old dad.
Colton had planned his attack stealthily, coming down off the mountain on a rare Thursday to see his dad at the office. Waiting until most of his siblings had left for lunch—except for Hunter, who never seemed to leave the office for any reason except a fire alarm—Colton had sat in his truck and watched his dad step out of the diner and head back across the street to the office above the family-owned Green Mountain Country Store in “downtown” Butler, if you could call Elm Street a downtown.
Colton had emerged from his truck and followed Lincoln up the back stairs that led to the offices where he and five of Colton’s siblings ran the store. Colton kept his head down as he walked past Hunter’s office and knocked on his dad’s door.
“Hey,” Lincoln said with obvious pleasure. His father was always happy to see him, which was one of the many things in life Colton could count on. “This is a nice surprise. Come in.”
Colton shook his father’s outstretched hand and took a seat in one of his visitor chairs.
“To what do I owe the honor of a rare midweek visit from the mountain man?”
“I needed a couple of things in town, so I figured I’d stop by.”
“Everything okay up the hill?”
“It’s all good. Quiet and relaxing this time of year, as always.” Colton thought of early summer as the calm that followed the storm of boiling season, during which he produced more than five thousand gallons of the maple syrup that was sold in the store. After nine years of running the family’s sugaring facility, his life had fallen into a predictable pattern governed by twenty-five thousand syrup-producing trees.
“I’m glad you stopped by. I was going to come up to see you today or tomorrow.”
Lincoln rooted around on his desk, looking for something in the piles of paper and file folders. “Ah, here it is.” He pulled out a light blue page and handed it over to Colton.
As he scanned the announcement of a trade show in New York City, he skimmed the details until he realized what he was reading. “What the hell, Dad? Pleasure aids and sensual devices? What’s that got to do with me?” He nearly had a heart attack at the thought of his father thinking he needed such things to move the relationship no one was supposed to know about forward.
“I’m considering the line for the store, and I’m looking for someone to send to the show. Since this is your off-season, I thought you might be able to make the trip for us.”
While trying to wrap his mind around the idea of “pleasure aids and sensual devices” on sale at their homespun country store, he tried to keep his expression neutral. Though he was slightly appalled at the reason for the mission, the location appealed to him very much.
In the interest of keeping his big secret a secret, he kept his reaction casual and indifferent. “What do the others have to say about that product line?”
“I haven’t exactly mentioned it to them yet. I figured I’d let you check it out first and see what you think before I bring it to them.”
“Why not you? Everyone else is up to their eyeballs in work and life stuff, so it seemed to make sense to ask you now that your busy season is over for the time being.” Lincoln shrugged. “But if you’re not up for going—”
“Never said that.” He’d be a fool to pass up a chance to spend a whole week with her. “I’ll do it, but with the caveat that I think this product line has no business in our store.”
“And I think you’re in for yet another battle royal with your kids over it.”
“I live for a good row with my kids,” Lincoln said with a grin that made his blue eyes twinkle with mirth.
“Don’t I know it,” Colton muttered. The latest row had involved the website designer Lincoln had hired behind the backs of his children, who’d made it clear they had no interest in taking their store online. Then Cameron Murphy had come to town and won the hearts of the entire Abbott family, especially Colton’s older brother Will, who was now madly in love and living with Cam as she designed the website for the store. Lincoln Abbott had a way of getting what he wanted, and Colton and his siblings had learned to be wary of their father’s motivations.
In this case, however, Colton couldn’t care less about his father’s motivations. Not when he was looking at a full week with his lady.
“Talk to Hunter about getting you registered,” Lincoln said, clearly pleased with Colton’s capitulation.
“I will.” Colton folded the flyer into a square, with the images on the inside, and stashed it in his pocket. “Since you now owe me a favor, I was wondering if I could use the lake house this weekend.” When his father gave him an oddly intuitive look, Colton added, “I feel like doing some fishing.”
Lincoln didn’t move or respond for a long, uncomfortable moment.
Colton had begun to sweat under the steely stare his father directed his way.
“Of course, son,” Lincoln finally said, withdrawing a set of keys from his top desk drawer and handing them over. “You remember the code, right?”
Since the code was his parents’ wedding anniversary and had been for as long as they’d owned the house, Colton nodded and stood. “Thanks.”
“Have a good time.”
“Are you taking the dogs with you?”
“I thought I would if that’s okay.”
As Lincoln Abbott was the biggest “dog person” Colton had ever known, he wasn’t surprised when his dad said, “Of course it is.”
Now as Colton drove to the lake with his dogs, Elmer and Sarah, asleep in the backseat, he pondered the odd look his father had given him when he asked to use the lake house and wondered what it had meant. He thought about the bizarre conversation with his older brother Hunter, who’d questioned what in the hell their father wanted with pleasure aids and sensual devices in the store, before he begrudgingly registered Colton for the trade show that would take place in New York in two weeks.
Colton had merely shrugged and refused to engage in the war of words that would no doubt take place between his father, the CEO, and his brother, the CFO. Let them duke it out. No way was Colton going to get in the middle of their dispute when he’d been handed a free pass to a week in New York.
He couldn’t wait to tell her the good news.
An hour later, he pulled up to the lake house that was one of his favorite places in the world. Made of timber and beam and glass and stone, the house sat on the shores of Lake Champlain, right outside Burlington. His parents had gotten a sweet deal on it about ten years ago when it was sold at auction after the previous owner defaulted on the mortgage. The Abbotts had enjoyed many a good time there in the ensuing years.
In fact, his older sister Hannah would marry her fiancé, Nolan, at the lake house in a few weeks.
The house was stuffy and hot from being closed up, so he walked straight through the massive living room to open the sliding door to let in the breeze coming from the lake. He never tired of that view of the lake with the mountains in the distance. Late on this Friday afternoon, a handful of Jet-Skiers and water-skiers were enjoying the warm sunshine and the all-too-short Vermont summer.
Relieved to be out of the truck after the long ride, Elmer and Sarah ran straight down to the private stretch of beach, where they frolicked in the water.
Colton smiled with pleasure and relief at being here, at having pulled off another escape from Butler and the Abbott family clutches, and at knowing he had four full days to spend at his favorite place with the woman who was quickly becoming his favorite person.
Three hours later, Colton had been to the grocery and liquor stores to stock up on necessary supplies, and he was beginning to worry.
While he waited, he made dinner—pasta with grilled vegetables, salad and bread, which was now keeping warm on the stove while he paced from one end of the big house to the other, filled with nervous energy.
When he got tired of pacing, he flopped onto the big sectional sofa that faced the two-story stone fireplace.
Sarah came over to give him a lick, which he rewarded with a pat to her soft blonde head.
“Thanks, girl. I know she’ll be here soon, and you and your brother are going to love her.” If anyone knew how often he talked to his dogs, he’d be committed. But they were his only companions on the mountain, and he kept up a running dialogue with them during the long days and nights he spent completely alone with them.
For his entire adult life, he’d lived by himself on that mountain, happily content with his no-frills lifestyle. He was the only person he knew who lived without running water, electricity, TV, an Internet connection or any of the modern conveniences most people took for granted.
He’d lived that way since he was seventeen, fresh out of high school and anxious to take over the sugaring facility that had been in their family since his grandparents—the original Sarah and Elmer—had bought the place as newlyweds. His mother had hated the idea of him living up there alone when he was so young, but his dad had encouraged her to let him be, and he’d been there ever since.
Rather than pine for what he didn’t have, Colton had preferred to focus on what he did have—a beautiful home in the midst of the majestic Green Mountains, two dogs whose devotion to him was boundless, a job he loved and was good at, a family he adored close enough to see at least once a week and a life that made sense to him.
For the first time in the nine years he’d spent on the mountains, what hedidn’t have had begun to bother him. For one thing, he wished he had a phone so he could talk to her every day. For another, a computer with an Internet connection would come in handy as he navigated a long-distance relationship.
He was twenty-six years old and forced to use his parents’ phone to call her because he didn’t own one of his own. That was one thing he planned to do something about soon. His mountain was one of the few places around Butler that had reliable cell service thanks to its clear proximity to the cell towers near St. Johnsbury.
But the rest of it, the electricity, the running water, the Internet connection . . . Those were things he needed to think about. He’d yet to bring her to his home on the mountain, mostly because he was afraid of what she might think of it. She was used to the city where she had everything she wanted or needed at her fingertips.
What did he have to offer someone who was accustomed to so much more when he didn’t even have electricity or running water? What modern woman would find his lifestyle attractive? And was he willing to change everything about who and what he was for a woman he’d known for only a couple of months?
Unfortunately, he had no good answers to any of these questions, and the more time he spent with her, the more muddled his thinking became on all of them.
And then there was the fact that she was happy in her life, settled in her work and home, living close to her own family and not at all interested in uprooting her existence. He knew this because she’d told him so. But knowing that hadn’t kept him from seeing her almost every weekend lately. It hadn’t kept him from wanting more of her every time he had to leave her. It hadn’t kept him from lying awake at night and wondering what she was doing and if she missed him between visits the way he missed her.
What if she didn’t? What if she never gave him a thought from one weekend to the next? He had no way to know if she did or not because he didn’t talk to her very often between visits. That had to change, and getting a cell phone would be the first thing he did after this weekend.
Maybe by then he’d have a better idea of how she really felt about him and what’d been happening between them. He had this niggling fear that for her it was just a fun interlude with someone different from the guys she normally dated, while for him it became something more involved every time he was with her.
He was determined to get some answers this weekend, to figure out what this thing between them was and where it was going. Then the doorbell rang and every thought that wasn’t about her finally arriving fled from his brain as he sprinted for the door.
Yeah, he had it bad, and he had a feeling it was about to get a whole lot worse.
Sugar season is an exercise in giving up control, starting with the weather. Above all, sugaring is a privilege.
—Colton Abbott’s sugaring journal, February 17
Colton threw open the door and had to hold himself back from grabbing her and dragging her inside so he could kiss her senseless. He forced himself to show some restraint and act like a gentleman when his inner caveman was trying hard to break free.
“You made it.”
“Somehow.” Lucy Mulvaney’s tone was filled with aggravation as she pushed past him into the house, dragging a suitcase behind her.
As she went by, he relieved her of the shoulder bag that was so heavy he assumed it contained her laptop. She’d warned him she would have to do some work while she was there.
“The GPS took me the craziest way. I think I was on forty-seven different roads on the way up here.”
“Well, you made it, and that’s what matters.”
“Yes, it is,” she said with a warm smile for him.
As always when they were first reunited, he sensed her shyness and was grateful for the diversion of the dogs dancing around at their feet, waiting to be noticed by the new arrival. “Lucy, I want you to meet my best friends in the whole world, Sarah and Elmer. Sarah has the pink collar.”
She bent to give the dogs her full attention, which earned her tons of points in his dog-loving heart. “Hi, guys. Aren’t you beautiful? I’ve heard so much about you! Your daddy talks about you all the time.” She let them smell her and kiss her and Elmer even dropped to his back and gave her his belly to rub. Lucy did as directed, laughing at his shameless appeal for attention. “They’re adorable.”
“They’re spoiled rotten, but I love them.”
“This place is incredible.” She rose to take a good look at the house while Colton leaned against the counter and indulged in a long look at her until she brought her gaze back to him.
“Took you too long to get here.” He smiled and held out a hand to her.
She took his hand and let him draw her into his embrace. “You live too far away.”
During the five weekends they’d spent together, he’d learned to go slow at first, to ease her back into their relationship rather than going right to where they’d left off, the way he’d prefer. Haste wasn’t what she needed, and since he wanted her to keep coming back, he aimed to give her what she needed.
Colton couldn’t deny that the two steps forward, one step back approach to dating Lucy was sort of frustrating. He’d found someone he enjoyed being with, and for the first time in his adult life he was interested in a genuine relationship. But he wasn’t sure she wanted the same thing, thus his approach to following her lead when he’d much prefer to take charge and make things happen for them.
“Something smells good,” Lucy said after a long moment of silence as he held her.
“I made dinner.”
“I was talking about you,” she said, looking up at him with big blue eyes.
Without giving much thought to what he was about to do, he bent his head and kissed her. He knew a moment of pure satisfaction—and relief—when her arms came up to curl around his neck and her mouth opened to welcome his tongue. They didn’t normally get right to it like this, preferring to ease into the physical stuff after some food and conversation, but Colton wasn’t about to complain.
Things had gotten pretty hot and heavy last weekend, and he was glad to know they might be able to pick up where they’d left off rather than taking the usual step backward. He loved how she felt in his arms, the way her soft curves pressed against him and the taste of her on his tongue. Framing her face with his hands, he focused entirely on the kiss, not touching her anywhere except for the tight press of his body against hers.
By the time they finally came up for air, Colton wanted to drag her to the nearest bedroom and see this through to the conclusion they’d been heading toward for weeks now. But again he chose restraint, afraid to scare her away by showing her how badly he wanted her. He kept his arms around her as he kissed her neck and made her shiver.
“What a long-ass week,” he whispered, breathing in the scent he’d become addicted to.
“Mmm. A very long week.”
“I couldn’t wait to see you.” He’d never come right out and said that before, even though he’d certainly felt it.
“Are you hungry?”
Serving dinner gave him something else to focus on besides how it felt to kiss and hold her, how amazing she smelled, the way her shorts hugged her sexy ass and how great her hair looked.
“What happened to your curls?” he asked as he dished up the pasta, vegetables and bread while she opened the chilled bottle of chardonnay he’d gotten for her.
“They met a straightening iron.”
“I like it, but I like the curls, too.”
“I hate the curls. They make me look like a five-year-old.”
“Not to me they don’t.”
Her cute smile exposed the dimples he’d come to adore. “You’re racking up all kinds of points, Mr. Abbott. This pasta is amazing.”
“Don’t be too impressed. It’s about the extent of my culinary expertise.”
“I’m very impressed, and it’s very good.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
Over dinner they talked about the week they’d had at work, and Lucy shared some more insight into what it had been like to run her web design company alone since her partner, Cameron, moved to Vermont to live with Colton’s brother Will.
“You know when you blow up a balloon and then let it go and it flies all over the place?”
Nodding, Colton refilled their wineglasses.
“That’s me since Cam left. I’m all over the freaking place trying to plug all the holes with only ten fingers.” She looked up at him, a faint blush occupying her cheeks. “And that’s kind of a gross sentence.”
Colton laughed. “Have you talked to Cam about it?”
She shook her head. “What would be the point? She’s thrilled with her new life with Will. I’d never do anything to take away from her happiness. God knows, she deserves it.”
“What about your happiness? Don’t you deserve it, too?”
She propped her chin on her upturned fist and smiled at him. “I’m happy enough. Work is crazy, but we’re in transition. I suppose that’s to be expected.”
“And here I am taking up all your weekends when you’ve got so much going on.”
“The weekends are keeping me sane, so keep them coming.”
“How would you feel about a whole week?”
She raised a brow in question.
He told her about the trade show and watched her eyes go wide with surprise and then laughter. “Your dad is seriously considering offering that stuff in the store?”
“I’m not really sure what he’s up to, and once he said ‘a week in New York’ I didn’t ask a lot of questions. Although now I’m wondering if I should’ve asked you before I committed. I know how busy you are.”
She reached across the counter for his hand. “I’d love to have you in New York for a week. That’d be awesome.”
Colton bent his head to kiss the hand she’d wrapped around his. “I’m glad you agree. I thought it sounded pretty damned good, too.” He looked over at her and gave her hand a gentle tug, encouraging her to come closer. “You know what else sounds good right now?”
She stepped between his legs and flattened her hands on his chest. “What’s that?”
“More of this.” He kept his eyes open as he tipped his head and kissed her softly. “And some of this.” More kisses to her neck. “And then there’s this.” He raised his hands from her hips to cup her breasts, running his thumbs over nipples that tightened in response.
Lucy sighed and relaxed against him.
“How does that sound?”
“Really good. Exceptionally good.”
“I’m glad you agree.” He kissed her again and withdrew from her reluctantly to deal with the dishes as quickly as he could while she finished her wine.
“I can help, you know.”
“No need. I got it.”
“Good with his hands and good in the kitchen.”
Amused, he waggled his brows at her. “And you haven’t even seen the full extent of my bedroom work yet.”
Lucy’s face turned bright red, forcing her to turn away from him. She wandered to the windows that overlooked the lake.
Regretting that he’d embarrassed her, Colton wiped his hands on a dish towel and went over to her. When he wrapped his arms around her from behind and kissed her neck, he noticed how tense she seemed. “What’s wrong, Luce?”
“Come on. I made a joke and you went all tense on me. Talk to me.” He encouraged her to turn and face him and was shocked to see tears in her eyes. “Lucy . . . What’s wrong? I didn’t mean to upset you. I was only joking.”
“I know you were, and you didn’t upset me.”
“Then what is it? And don’t say it’s nothing when I can see it’s something.”
He could also see that she was trying to summon the courage to tell him, and watching her struggle made Colton ache.
“After last weekend, when things got kind of. . . heated . . .” She cleared her throat and looked away.
Hearing her describe the previous weekend as “heated” made him hard as he remembered the feel of her hand stroking him. Shaking his head, he willed those memories from his mind to focus on what was happening right now. “What about it?”
“I’m not very experienced at all of this, Colton. I know I should be at twenty-nine, but I’m not. I’ve had a few boyfriends and done some stuff, but I don’t really know a lot about, you know . . . Any of it.”
His mind raced as he tried to process what she was saying. “By ‘some stuff,’ does that mean you haven’t—”
“I have. A few times with less-than-stellar results.” Her face got even redder, if that was possible. She quickly added, “I’ve been really busy with my work and my family and friends. And I’m shy. Painfully, awkwardly shy. With guys.” She looked up at him, slaying him with the open, innocent look she gave him. “I don’t want to disappoint you.”
“Jesus,” he muttered as he pulled her in tight against him, not caring that she would immediately feel what her sweetness did to him. “You could never disappoint me.”
“Still . . . You probably know more than I do.”
“No one’s keeping score here, Luce. Least of all me. I told you before—we don’t have to do anything. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready. I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not looking to pressure you.”
“You haven’t pressured me. You’ve been amazing and very patient.”
He kissed her forehead and looked out at the lake as he held her. “I hate that you’ve been stressed out about this. You should’ve told me.”
“Fine,” he said, laughing. “Have it your way, but don’t be embarrassed around me. I think you’re amazing, and I love being with you.”
“I love being with you, too, but . . .” She looked up at him. “Before this goes any further, I feel like I should say again that I’m not going to move, and I understand that you can’t either. Just because Cameron did—”
“I get it. What worked for them won’t necessarily work for us.”
“I don’t want anyone to get hurt here, Colton.”
“Neither do I. Let’s just have fun, like we have been, and not let it get too serious. Okay?”
“All right . . .”
“Why do I hear more questions in there?”
“I just wondered . . . If not getting serious means not getting serious.” Her coy smile was positively adorable, and he couldn’t refrain from smiling back at her.
“Doesn’t that count as fun?”
“I suppose it could. It’s never been particularly fun for me.”
“Oh, honey, we need to fix that.”
“Right now?” she asked hesitantly.
“Whenever you want.”
“I’d love to take a shower.”
“Follow me.” He took her by the hand, picked up her bag and led her to the spacious master bedroom that was located down a short hallway from the kitchen.
“This house is so beautiful. I can see why you love it here.”
“We all do. We’ve had some really fun times here. You’d be surprised how this big house starts to feel awfully small when all the Abbotts are in residence.”
“That must be crazy.”
“You can’t even imagine.”
“Isn’t this your parents’ room?”
“When they’re here, yeah. But they don’t care if the rest of us use it.” He went ahead of her and flipped on the lights in the bathroom.
“Oh, wow. Is that a hot tub?”
“Sure is. The window above it opens. It’s pretty cool. You want to check it out?”
“Only if you do, too.”
“You’re on.” Colton turned on the water and opened the window to let in the soft evening breeze off the lake. “Go ahead and get changed. I’ll be right back.”
He left her with a kiss and closed the door behind him as he left the room.
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