About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Garrison Richards's secretary, Anthea, walked into his office and put an envelope on his desk. He looked up from scribbling on the yellow legal pad, surprised at the darkness that had fallen outside his windows.
He didn't dignify her comment with an answer. But she apparently didn't need him to say anything.
"Your train ticket and other essentials are right here." She tapped the envelope with a manicured finger. "The weekend at the resort is already paid for. Your train leaves at eight in the morning."
He put down his pen and glanced at his watch, frowning. It was much later than he thought. Nearly ten o'clock. New York, a bright and glittering jewel, flashed in its beautiful finery from his twentieth-story view.
"Are you kicking me out of my own office on a Thursday night?" he asked.
"Yes, I am. With the help of your mother."
Garrison assumed that his mother had paid for the resort and train tickets, while Anthea made sure his schedule was clear. With help like this, who needed a wife?
Anthea stood at his desk with the warm overhead light spilling over her still features, looking more motherly than his actual mother, in her practical gray pantsuit, the spectacles sitting on her gently lined face. She clasped her hands at her waist and watched him with endless patience.
"You have the cabin at the resort for the weekend," she said. "I already had your snowboarding equipment delivered." Anthea lifted a finger to forestall his complaints about missing work. "Since you've been trying to meet with Mrs. Taylor-Rodriguez about the latest draft of the agreement, I also arranged a meeting with her on Sunday afternoon before your train home in the evening."
Garrison considered being firm with his secretary. Putting on the more serious than usual face that had his associates and junior attorneys scurrying to do his bidding. It rarely worked on Anthea, but she would at least know he was serious.
That was one of the reasons he hired her. She was efficient and effective, yes. But he enjoyed immensely that she reflected his inner calm, the calm he wanted to reflect in his office. In nine years, he hadn't once regretted his decision. Even when she insisted on mothering him when no one else was around. Now wasn't the time, though. As usual, he had a lot of work to do.
"All the other work can wait." She pressed the button on the remote that controlled the windows, darkening them so he could no longer see outside to the brilliant nighttime Manhattan skyline. "You've been distracted lately. Your work hasn't started to suffer yet, but it might if you don't take a break. You haven't had a proper vacation in over a year."
Garrison's lips tightened at her observation. Part of her effectiveness lay in that she knew how to reach him. His work was precise and thorough, very efficient, which was one of the reasons he was the top divorce attorney in the state. The idea that he could slip up and compromise his usual standards of excellence gave him pause.
"That's not very fair." He felt like a twelve-year-old boy debating the merits of a punishment.
"Life is not fair, as you're always fond of reminding me." Anthea withdrew to the door. She had left the office earlier at her usual time of five-thirty, but apparently came back to ambush him.
"Go, Garrison." Her faint smile chided him. "These broken marriages can wait until Monday morning."
And so the next morning found him doing what she directed, getting on a train heading north to the Adirondack Mountains. With his overnight bag over one shoulder and a briefcase in hand, he looked like the only person in the first-class car with work in mind. His fellow passengers sat back with drinks already in front of them: mimosas, Bloody Marys and some with just plain coffee.
He passed three women getting themselves settled into a quartet of seats. They were beautiful, he noticed automatically, well-made-up and expensively dressed. The kind of women he'd seen at New York society and industry parties he'd been invited to over the years. He idly wondered if they skied or were simply heading north to bask by winter fireplaces while carefully trained servants tended to their every need. When he passed them, his idle wonderings disappeared.
Garrison tucked away his bag and claimed his seats, two sets facing each other that Anthea had arranged just for him, knowing he didn't like to be crowded. Soon the train began to move, and he sat back to make the most of the ride.
Up ahead of him, he noticed that a fourth woman had joined the group of three he'd passed earlier. This woman was sitting with her back to him and speaking animatedly with her hands. She wore her shoulder-length hair in natural curls that brushed the back of her neck. When she stood to put something in the overhead luggage rack, Garrison noticed that she was tall, maybe even six feet, a height he'd always found compelling. He admired her voluptuous shape, the way she filled out the long green sweater and the jeans she wore beneath it. His eyes returned to her again and again.
Very occasionally, he thought he heard her low voice above the soothing rumble of the train moving over the tracks. There was something about the woman's voice that pricked an awareness of familiarity in him. But she never turned around.
He wondered if it would be too ridiculous of him to walk past the four women then turn back around just so he could get a glimpse of the mystery siren. He dismissed the idea as quickly as it had come. He wasn't the type to get worked up over a woman, especially one he'd only seen from behind and hadn't even talked to.
When the attendant arrived, he ordered a black coffee and opened one of the files he'd brought with him. Just to have something to work on during the train ride, of course.
"Reyna, I need you to cut his damn name off my body!"
Marceline made a sound of frustration and looked at the inside of her wrist, where she had tattooed her soon-to-be ex-husband's name nearly three years before. Her normally beautiful and serene face was tight from stress. The long hair, twisted at the top of her head and fastened with silver chopsticks, only emphasized the unhealthy gauntness of her features.
Sitting opposite Marceline, Reyna shook her head. "Sorry. I only put them on. I don't take them off." She smoothed her fingers over her friend's wrist then squeezed it with a reassurance she was far from feeling. Marceline's eyes were dark with a pain Reyna hoped never to experience.
Beyond the long windows of the train, the landscape was awash in whitesnowcapped mountains, pine trees heavy with late-winter white and gracefully twirling flurries drifting from the sky. Despite the turbulence in her friend, Reyna tried to hold on to the sense of peace the snow gave her.
The train, taking them on their annual single women's trip into the Adirondacks for Valentine's Day, rattled soothingly over the tracks, a sound Reyna had always found meditative. But Marceline, still in the middle of divorce proceedings from the man she thought was the one true love of her life, looked uneasy. As if she'd rather be hidden away in her big Long Island house than heading to a ski vacation with three of her closest friends.
"You can see my skin guy in Manhattan," their friend Bridget said as she came back from the rest-room, catching the tail end of their conversation. She had ears like a cat. With her short, coiled hair and big amber eyes, she even looked like one. "He's a dermatologist. I'm sure he can take care of that for you." Bridget wrinkled her freckled nose.
"And how would you know that?" Louisa, who had gone to the restroom with Bridget, walked up behind her. She raised an eyebrow, half in inquiry, half in challenge. Her straightened, shoulder-length hair swung down to hide her face for a moment, then she shoved it back, revealing features that had stopped more than one man in his tracks.
Bridget made a vague gesture to her face. "I had skin issues when I was younger. You all remember that, I'm sure."
"Oh, yes. We remember." Louisa smirked.
The four women had known each other since they were preteens at the same exclusive New York private school. They shared over fifteen years of friendship that had been through just about everything under the sun. Reyna, on scholarship that she and her blue-collar Brooklyn parents had worked hard for. Marceline, newly orphaned and recently arrived from Haiti. Bridget, a trust-fund baby looking for the next exciting thing. And Louisa, already cynical and frighteningly brilliant, intrigued at the idea of friendship with girls so different from her.
With the arrival of the two women, Reyna excused herself to make her own way to the bathroom. The train rocked under her as she walked and lightly touched the seats of the other passengers without stumbling into them. The early-morning train from Penn Station to Saratoga Springs was fullafter all it was the Friday before Valentine's Day weekendbut it wasn't overwhelming. The last few seats before the bathroom were even empty.
She loved trains. It was because of her that the four of them took the train up to the resort every year instead of flying. But it was because of Bridget's expensive tastes that they traveled in the first-class car with its wider aisles, Wi-Fi and attendants who regularly came through the car offering everything from coffee to newspapers.
As Reyna neared the bathroom, she noticed a man standing in the aisle. With his back turned to her, he leaned his shoulder against the wall of the moving train, looking as comfortable as if he were in his living room. Or office.
Despite his casual clothesthe gray sweater across his broad shoulders, jeans that lovingly skimmed his bodyeverything about him shouted business. He held a cell phone to his ear and spoke into it in a low, intent voice that stroked a delicate place deep inside Reyna. An unexpected flutter of attraction took wing in her belly. The man's dark jeans draped over a backside that would be envied in any fitness magazine. Or a woman's bedroom. She bit her lip at the thought.
"I find it extremely difficult to care what he doesn't want to do. He had those children with the woman he's leaving behind, and so he has to help support them." His tone rumbled with casual power.
Reyna came up behind him. "Pardon me," she said. "Are you waiting for the bathroom?"
The man turned, and Reyna nearly lost her breath. His intent dark eyes swept her from head to foot in a single, scorching glance that was at odds with his cool demeanor. His face was not handsome; instead it was distractingly sexy with its full mouth, sharp cheekbones and dimpled chin. She knew him.
Memories she'd long ago put behind her came rushing back. Garrison's impassive face as he sat next to her ex-husband at the conference room in his downtown law office. Ian watching her with the eyes of a stranger as if they hadn't spent the past eight years of their lives as man and wife. Reyna's horror when she'd realized just what it was that she had signed in those divorce papers.
She flushed, mortified that she had just been lusting after Garrison Richards. That afternoon when they met five years ago, there had been nothing sexy about him. Only an off-putting sternness and judgment that left her cold.
In the rocking car of the train, Garrison's gaze raked over her. She felt it from the tips of her snow boots to her shoulder-length curls that she'd sworn had been presentable when she'd left her apartment. She fought the urge to rearrange her hair. Instead, she touched the necklace at her throat, sliding the silver star along the chain. A habit she had when she was nervous or uncertain.
He tipped the phone away from his ear and replied to her earlier question.
"The bathroom is empty. You can go ahead." Directed toward her, his voice was even more compelling, a deep and seductive rumble.
He moved back to allow her to walk past him and into the bathroom. The door rattled shut, and the lock clicked. Reyna took a deep breath as she stared at herself in the mirror. She looked calm and in control, but her cheeks were blazing with heata combination of embarrassment and the unwelcome attraction she felt for the man who had represented her husband in their divorce.
She quickly used the bathroom and pushed Garrison from her mind. Afterward, Reyna splashed some water on her face and took her time toweling her skin dry. She desperately hoped he wasn't near the bathroom anymore.
But when she walked out, he was still nearby and still on the phone. But he had stepped away from the door to give her some room. He stared intently at her again and said something to the person on the other end of the phone before speaking to her.
"You look familiar," he said. "Do I know you?"
Reyna ruthlessly shoved the attraction aside and gave him her most scornful look. "No, you don't."
With that, she walked past him and made her way back to her friends.