It was the friends-with-benefits proposition he never saw coming…
While Arran Adair might have followed the call of wanderlust in his younger years, it isn’t the reason he stayed away from Ardnoch. Home now, desperate to put the sins of his past behind him, and rebuild his life in the Scottish Highlands, Arran could never have predicted Eredine Willows. The Ardnoch Estate Pilates instructor is a complicated mystery and one Arran can’t help but want to solve.
Eredine has spent the last eight years hiding in Scotland and building walls between her and the people she cares about. Arran is the first Adair who doesn’t treat her as if she’s fragile and demands a genuine friendship. Yet, the attraction sizzling between them is undeniable. So when she realizes she trusts him, Eredine surprises them both by offering Arran one night of no-strings passion.
Arran knows one night will inevitably lead to a desire for more and he’s willing to stay by Eredine’s side for as long as it takes to convince her there’s something real between them. However, just when Arran thinks they might build a future together, Eredine’s past returns to stalk her. And Arran won’t just have to battle her demons to keep them together. He’ll need to battle his own.
Release date: July 12, 2022
Publisher: Samantha Young
Print pages: 338
Content advisory: explicit language; sexual content
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Be With Me
Eight years ago
Los Angeles, California
Staring at the map of Scotland on the laptop screen, I tried to picture myself in the place labeled Ardnoch, right on the northeastern coastline of the mainland. Having never been there, it wasn’t a simple task.
“Ardnoch,” I murmured, trying out the sound of it in my mouth.
And yet, what Lachlan Adair offered was a life there, not completely unlike the one I lived now. Just safer. Much, much safer.
You trust him? the voice, a memory, asked in my head.
Yes. Despite everything I’d been through, I trusted Lachlan Adair. I trusted my gut. If there was something I’d always been able to trust, it was my gut instinct. Granny called it my sixth sense, said I inherited her gift of perceiving a person’s goodness or wickedness. My friends used to say I caught a person’s “vibe” because, eventually, my instincts about someone usually turned out to be true. I’d only been wrong once or twice in my entire life.
Those people I’d been wrong about had a gift too—they could make you believe in their goodness, so you never saw their wickedness coming.
It unnerved me to know that my sixth sense didn’t always get it right, but I knew deep in my soul I was right about Lachlan Adair.
Life was so surreal. One minute, I was hopeless, feeling angry and powerless, and the next, a Hollywood actor, of all people, offered me a chance to start over. It wasn’t like he and the bodyguard who went everywhere with him were my saviors. Nah, screw that. They were just presenting an opportunity. I’d pay them back.
I’d work my ass off to live life on my own terms again.
Granny always said there was no shame in taking help when you needed it, as long as you had exhausted all other avenues. Well, I’d exhausted them all.
This was what I had left. And I hated it. I hated I had to rely on a wealthy man to get me the hell out of Dodge, especially when it was a rich male (he wasn’t a man) who had—
Furious tears thickened my throat, and I threw the thought of him out of my mind.
He’d taken too much already.
I wouldn’t let him turn me into an angry, bitter woman.
Concentrating on the map, I scrolled over Scotland, taking in the place-names I’d never heard of, some beautiful, some unpronounceable … all thousands of miles away.
A knock sounded on the door. “It’s Lachlan,” he called out in his lilting brogue.
My pulse picked up as the hotel room door beeped and Lachlan entered with Mac, his bodyguard, at his back. Well, not his bodyguard anymore. Mackennon Galbraith was now the head of security at Ardnoch Estate.
Lachlan had explained that he’d renovated his family’s castle and estate in the Highlands and turned it into a members-only club for TV and film professionals. It only opened a few weeks ago, and Lachlan was in LA to spread the word among his peers. Our meeting had been by chance, and thank the Lord, because I didn’t know what might have happened if he and Mac hadn’t appeared in my life when they did.
I didn’t know why Lachlan was so determined to help me, but he offered me a position at his estate. He needed a yoga/Pilates instructor, and I was one.
Both men wore small smiles as they sat across from me in the hotel suite’s living room. Lachlan hid me here after I’d uncharacteristically blurted my entire story to him. With everything I’d been through, I wanted to fight against my instinct and remind myself that no one was this kind. Yet, that wasn’t true. Granny was. She’d have helped a stranger on the street.
What other choice did I have? So many had been taken from me.
Lachlan sighed and leaned forward. “How are you feeling?”
A little tired of that question. “Okay. What now?”
“We’re ready to get moving.”
“Just one last thing,” Mac said, searching my face with a concerned frown. “Name change. You need to do that before we can get you out of here.”
“Do you have a new name in mind?” Lachlan asked. “Something far removed from your real name or any family member’s name. Something he can’t figure out.”
My stomach flipped unpleasantly as I stared down at the laptop screen. This was it. I really was rewriting my life. Leaving everything behind. So much pain and grief … but it also meant leaving behind who I’d been before the horror overtook everything. And I’d liked that girl. She had a good life.
Tears stung my eyes and nose as a pretty-looking place-name caught my attention on the map. I turned the laptop and pointed to it. “How do you pronounce this?”
Lachlan leaned forward to peer at it. “Eredine? It’s pronounced Ery-Deen.”
My lips twitched. He pronounced it differently from how it looked, but I liked it. Weirdly, somehow, it fit. “That’ll do.”
“It’s bonny.” Mac gave me a sympathetic smile.
“Willows,” I said without thinking. The Wind in the Willows had been one of Granny’s favorite children’s books. “Eredine Willows.”
“It’s perfect.” Lachlan stood up. “We’ll get you out of here … Eredine.”
I tried to pull the name on like a sweater. Make it fit. Sighing past the tightness in my chest, I stood too. “I’m going to pay you back.”
“I don’t want that.”
“I do.” I lifted my chin stubbornly. “I have my granny’s house I can sell. If you help me sell it, I can use the money from that to pay you back for this. I need to. And I’m not asking.”
Everyone thought because I was soft spoken and reserved that I was a pushover. They soon found out they were wrong.
Lachlan’s eyes sparked with understanding. “Okay.”
“Okay, then.” My hands shook as I reached to close the laptop. “When do we leave?”
I moved to close the bedroom door when Lewis called out sleepily, “Light!”
“I got you, buddy,” I answered softly, pulling the door almost shut. A crack of light from the hallway filtered into Lewis’s bedroom. Having already put a sleeping Eilidh to bed, I made my way quietly downstairs to Thane’s open-plan living room and kitchen.
It had been a good night with the kids. Since it was New Year’s Eve, I let them stay up a little later, but I could tell by ten they were fighting sleep. We were watching our second Disney movie of the night when Eilidh fell asleep on the couch and Lewis drowsily agreed that it was time for bed.
The wall clock above the dining table said it was just past eleven. I grabbed a drink from the fridge and settled into Thane’s massive sectional to watch the New Year’s Eve shows broadcasting from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Memories of New Year’s parties in LA prodded at me, but I shook them off, and the accompanying dread, and tried to concentrate on what the Scots called “Hogmanay” celebrations. The TV flickered in the room’s dim light, the images flashing in a blur. The volume was low so as not to wake the kids, and my ears pricked up at a noise from the laundry room.
It sounded as if the laundry outer door had just opened and closed.
Pulse pounding in my ears, I swiped the heavy paperweight from the coffee table and crept toward the laundry room. I couldn’t hear anything but the blood rushing in my ears.
Maybe it was Regan?
But why would it be? She’d left now that she and Thane were no longer seeing each other.
I wanted to speak, call out hello, but fear closed my throat.
Determined, I stepped into the doorway of the laundry and slammed my hand down over the light switch.
The long, narrow room illuminated, but there was no one, nothing. The outer door sat closed, untouched.
My pulse slowed.
So I was jumpy these days. What was new?
Shaking my head at myself, I placed the paperweight back on the coffee table and retrieved another drink from the kitchen.
I heard it too late.
As I was crossing to the couch, the floorboards creaked at my back. My heart leapt into my throat as I spun around.
This was when everything should go dark.
That was how it happened.
Instead, I faced him.
Terror froze me to the spot.
I couldn’t scream. Couldn’t run.
“I finally found you,” he said lovingly. “All these years, and I finally found you.”
Then he grinned, and my mouth opened on a silent scream at the sight of his teeth, all sharpened into vicious points. My pulse raced so hard, I was sure I would die.
He lunged, teeth to my throat, sinking in—
Jaymes Young’s song about loving someone until infinity blared in my ears, and my eyes flew open as I let out a strangled cry.
Daylight streamed into my bedroom, and the rushing in my ears slowed as I came out of the nightmare.
Just a nightmare.
My limp hand fell to my forehead. I was clammy with sweat.
“Shit,” I whispered.
At the continued sound of one of my favorite songs ringing through the room, I realized it was my ringtone—someone was calling me. I scrambled for my phone on my bedside table and saw it was my friend Arran. “Hey,” I answered quickly.
“Thank bloody goodness,” Arran grumbled in his Scottish accent. “I was about to break down the door.”
“What?” I sat up. “Where are you?”
“Where I am most days at six o’clock in the morning. On your stoop, waiting for you.”
“What?” On my porch? “What time is it?”
“You slept in,” he answered, amused.
“Oh, Lord.” I launched out of bed, hurrying out of my small bedroom, down my tiny hallway, and out into the main living space of my lodge.
Sure enough, Arran Adair stood outside my big front window, waving comically.
I hit the code on the alarm panel by the door to disarm night mode and let Arran in.
He grinned down at me and lowered the phone from his ear. I did the same, hanging up as I stepped back to allow him entrance. “Sorry. My alarm didn’t go off.” I hated sleeping in.
“No problem. I’ll make a protein shake while you …” He trailed off as his eyes moved up my body and locked onto my head.
“What?” I patted it frantically, finding only the silk wrap that protected my curls during sleep.
“So this is what you look like in the morning. It’s awesome.” The bastard’s grin couldn’t be any bigger.
I flushed, but not at his teasing. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to ignore it, Arran’s smile gave me butterflies. Like a kaleidoscopic monsoon of butterflies. A best friend should not give a girl butterflies. And he definitely should not make me tingle in my yoga pants, if you know what I mean.
I ignored his comment. “You make the shakes. I’ll hurry to get ready.” Every weekday, we ran along Ardnoch Beach for a workout. I’d been doing it alone for years. Arran ran early in the morning, like me, and when we bumped into each other that first time, he’d given me no choice but to become his running partner.
My step faltered as I became acutely aware of my tiny sleep shorts, tank top, and lack of bra. Almost feeling his eyes burning into my ass cheeks, I experienced a flare of arousal mixed with annoyance, a familiar feeling around Arran. Without looking at him, I flipped him the bird and disappeared down the hall to the sound of his rich laughter.
Even though I’d only have to shower again after our run, I rinsed off because I was sweaty from my nightmare. Not wanting to think about the bad dream where the past and my fear had merged, I dried and changed into running clothes—sports tank and yoga pants. It was pretty much my everyday uniform because of my work at Ardnoch Estate, a massive private property that belonged to Lachlan and Arran (and the three other Adair siblings). Lachlan, an ex-Hollywood action star, had turned it into an extremely lucrative members-only club for TV and film industry professionals. The level of privacy and security at Ardnoch made it the perfect place for me to work.
I’d just sat down at my vanity to fix my hair when there was a knock. “You decent?”
“Depends who you ask,” I quipped.
Arran laughed. “Was that a yes?”
I glanced around my room a little nervously. “Yes.”
The door opened, and he strode in with tall glasses filled with green juice, a barely palatable protein powder mixed with water. His eyes found me, and he placed mine on the vanity.
“Thank you. I’m sorry I’m making us late.”
“Don’t be.” Arran wandered around my room, and I tried not to tense up as he ran his fingers over my jewelry box and peeked into my wardrobe. No one had been in this space except me. I didn’t want to be uptight about him nosing around, but I fought the urge to spring to my feet as he reached for the handle on the built-in closet.
“Hey, nosy, there’s nothing in there for you.” I tried to keep my tone light, but I could tell by the way Arran’s lips pinched he heard the slight panic in my voice.
Whatever he saw in my face softened his expression. “Sorry. I am a nosy bastard. Just never been back here before.” He shrugged and sat on the end of my bed, gulping his drink and making a face.
I relaxed a little as his gaze darted around the room again. Though I was born in Chicago, I lived most of my life in California, so I’d brought a little California contemporary to my beachy bedroom. All whites, soft blues, and wood tones.
Our eyes met as he looked back at me.
He stared in that intense way of his.
Arran Adair looked a lot like his brothers. He was the youngest among the men, but Arrochar, their only sister, was the youngest of the Adair brood. Arran probably looked most like Lachlan, strange considering I’d never felt any attraction toward Lachlan. He was like a big brother to me. With somewhat slightly smoother features, Arran wasn’t as rugged as his eldest brother. But they shared the same striking azure eyes and dark blond hair. While Lachlan sported a short beard these days, Arran fluctuated between the smooth look and unshaven scruff. He was tall at six feet two, broad shouldered, slim hipped, a rangy, athletic physique that caused all those aforementioned tingles. I liked that he was taller than my five ten.
Not that he needed to be taller than me for any reason.
Especially not romantic ones.
I had no intention of becoming romantically involved with anyone.
Arran’s eyes narrowed slightly as he stared at me. “What are you thinking?”
Flushing, I turned away and quickly applied moisturizer. “Just wondering if you mean to stay and watch me like a creeper.”
“Aye, I was planning to,” he deadpanned.
My lips quirked as I reached to unwrap my hair from the microfiber towels I used to protect my curls from frizz.
A heavy tumble of twisted strands spilled down my back, and I caught Arran’s eyes in the mirror. “Seriously, you sure you don’t want to run without me?”
“Nope.” He took another sip of his shake. “I’m fascinated by your morning routine.”
“That’s because you’re weird,” I teased. Since we were going on a run, I decided not to waste time untwisting my hair and twisted it up into a ponytail.
I then applied a little makeup, nothing too heavy since sweat would melt it off. Just enough where I didn’t look like Arran had woken me from a nightmare. Arran watched the process of me fixing my hair and makeup as if it truly captivated him.
“I’m done,” I announced and took a long drink of my shake, only to get caught in Arran’s striking eyes again.
Sometimes he stared at me like he was visualizing me naked. If any other guy gave me those vibes, I’d feel violated. The thought of Arran being attracted to me, however, made me feel too hot, my skin too tight.
I raised an eyebrow at him as he continued to stare.
His lips quirked, but the intensity in his expression didn’t dissolve. “I think I enjoyed this behind-the-scenes peek into your routine a little too much. I’m a wee bit hot and bothered.”
Watching me do my hair and makeup?
Rolling my eyes, I stood and strode past him. “Stop flirting.”
This was our routine. Arran Adair was an even bigger flirt than his slightly older brother Brodan. I threw out the thought of Brodan because it made me feel guilty—being attracted to brothers—and hurried into the kitchen to collect my purse and keys.
Anyway, Arran was just like his brother. They both flirted with women all the time. Arran’s flirting with me meant nothing, just as Brodan’s flirting with me had meant nothing.
We were all friends.
Brodan and I were just friends.
Arran and I were just friends.
Arran. And. I. Were. Just. Friends.
I hadn’t really wanted to be friends with him considering my attraction, but Arran Adair was the human equivalent of a boundary bulldozer. Unlike every other member of the Adair family who didn’t want to push or intrude on my personal space, Arran was all about that.
And weirdly, it didn’t bother me.
I’d grown to trust him these last six months.
Which was a big deal.
Believe me. Once upon a time, I’d relied on that sixth sense, the one Granny said I could trust until my last breath. But then Lucy Wainwright happened. No one had ever fooled me like Lucy had. It was beyond unnerving. And suddenly, even the people who I knew cared about me seemed like a threat.
Arran … I had to believe my instincts about Arran were right.
“I can’t stop flirting with you.” Arran wandered into the living room, placing both our glasses in the sink. “You’re stunning, and sometimes it dazzles me.” He approached with a wicked grin. “Looking at you is like looking at the sun.”
Ignoring the warm feeling he evoked and the racing of my pulse, I grimaced. “Stop wasting such excellent material on me, Arran. We’re just friends.”
He gasped in dramatic outrage, hand to his chest. “Best friends.”
I fought a laugh and lost. “Are we in kindergarten now?”
“It’s called nursery school,” he corrected and then kissed me quickly on the tip of my nose, the scent of his cologne surrounding me for a brief second. “And friends can flirt.”
“I suppose it’s good practice,” I said to his back as I locked up.
“Sure.” He shrugged, throwing his keys up and catching them as he bounded down my steps with the energy of a teenager. More times than I’d care to admit, I’d wondered what all that energy in bed would be like.
I missed sex.
Groaning under my breath, I hurried to my car and was glad for the fifteen-minute drive to Ardnoch Beach that counted as a reprieve from Arran and his sexiness.
My phone connected to my car, and I hit my favorite playlist. But as I followed Arran out of my driveway and through the woodlands surrounding my place, my phone rang, cutting off the music. The car screen announced the caller.
“Yes?” I drawled.
“I’m calling because I missed you,” Arran teased.
I laughed at his nonsense. “You missed me in the ten seconds we’ve been apart?”
“Aye. Also, I had the sudden urge to once again ask, why the hell are you driving that thing?”
I shook my head as we turned onto the main road. “Hey, this car is environmentally friendly and gets me from A to B.” After my old Defender broke down beyond the point of repair, I’d done the sensible thing and bought a Smart car. But I’ve been longing for something bigger.
Arran did not fail to make fun of my car at every opportunity.
I mock glared at his fancy Range Rover. All the Adairs drove Range Rovers because of the deal Lachlan got for using the cars as the estate’s official fleet. Lachlan had offered to provide one for me, but he’d done enough as it was.
“How do you even fit? Your gorgeous legs are longer than the entire car.”
Not true. But okay, it wasn’t the best car for a tall person. And Arran was even more flirtatious this morning than usual—it was discombobulating.
“I’m hanging up now.” I reached for the End Call button on my steering wheel.
“No, I’ll stop, I’ll stop.”
“Arran, I’ll see you in ten minutes.”
“But I like your voice.”
He said it with such seriousness that for a second, I wondered if he was being genuine or if it was just his usual flirting.
Arran couldn’t help himself.
“See you soon.” I hung up, my music filling the car once more.
I didn’t know how I allowed this friendship to develop into something I’d come to rely on, but I did know that believing Arran’s flirtations to be real was a surefire way to hurt us both.
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