My children were left without a father. I was without a husband and a provider. Instead of wallowing in my grief, I buried myself in my work at Dovetail Enterprises. Landing the promotion as the CEO’s right hand was exactly what I needed.
Getting saddled with Milo Huxley as an assistant is exactly the opposite.
I can’t stand him.
He’s arrogant, irresponsible, and out for my job. As if that’s not bad enough, he has to be devastatingly sexy, and have a posh English accent that makes me squirm on top of it all. I’ve had enough unpredictability for one lifetime, thank you.
But soon enough, we’re fighting less and laughing more. He’s there for me when no one else is. And those good looks aren’t the only panty-dropping thing about him.
If I only knew what to do about it . . .
There are four standalone novels in The Second Time Around Series.
We Own Tonight (Heather & Eli)
One Last Time (Kristin & Noah)
Not Until You (Nicole & Callum)
If I Only Knew (Danielle & Milo)
Release date: January 28, 2019
Publisher: BAAE Inc.
Print pages: 318
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Listen to a sample
If I Only Knew
“I’m getting married!” My sister, Amy, screeches into the phone as I’m driving home from grocery shopping.
“What?” I ask, almost veering off the road.
“Javier proposed, and I said yes!”
“Oh! Wow! That’s . . . great! Yay!” I say with fake enthusiasm.
My sister is the last person in the world who should be getting married. First, she’s never had a job, paid a bill, or been a contributing member of society. Second, I’m pretty sure her now fiancé . . . is gay.
“Javier picked out the most amazing ring, Danni. Like, it sparkles in the light and sends these rainbows everywhere when I move. Oh, and he wants to get married in a month!”
“What’s the rush?” I ask.
She sighs, and I picture her staring at her ring. “He thinks it would be better to do it now instead of waiting.”
I roll my eyes and bite my tongue. Today isn’t the day to have an opinion on this. She’s clearly excited and nothing good will come of me telling her that he doesn’t love her, and there’s some ulterior motive—like a green card.
So, for now, I’ll be the good sister and keep my trap shut.
“Well, I love you and I know Peter and the kids will be excited,” I say, staring at the traffic ahead of me.
I look at the clock and start to worry a little. I have to get my fifteen-year-old hellion daughter, Ava, and my sweet five-year-old son, Parker, from school in twenty minutes. Plus drop this stuff back at home so all my frozen food doesn’t thaw. My thumb taps on the wheel as I barely move an inch.
“I love you too! Gah! I’m just so happy!”
My phone beeps, “Amy hold on, it’s Peter’s cell.”
I swap the call over, thankful that I can stop trying to pretend my sister is making an even halfway decent decision. I love her to the moon, but she lives in the stars. Peter and I have never understood her. “Hi, babe. I can’t wait to tell you my sister’s latest bullshit. She’s getting married to that idiot! Can you even believe that? How dumb is she?”
“Umm, is this Mrs. Bergen?”
“Yes? Who is this?” I ask when it’s not my husband’s voice on the other end.
The male clears his voice. “This is Officer VanDyken with the Tampa Police department.”
My heart starts to race and my throat goes dry. “Is everything okay?”
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to come down to the station.”
A sense of dread fills my veins. Peter works with some shady people and there have been times when he’s done some things that I’ve thought were a little weird, but he says it’s for the protection of his clients.
He tells me the address and I make a quick U-turn to head that way. I have no idea if Peter is in trouble, but I range from worried to pissed off. I hate his job. It was part of the reason we almost divorced three years ago. Well, that and Parker, who unexpectedly graced us with his presence and sent our lives into a tailspin.
I send a quick text to my best friend, Kristin.
Me: Can you get the kids? I just got a call from the TPD asking me to come down. I have no idea what happened but I’m freaking out because I won’t make it to pick them up.
Kristin: Of course. I have to get Finn and Aubrey anyway, I’ll swing and grab them.
Me: Thank you!
Kristin: Is he in trouble or arrested?
That’s the question of the day.
Me: I have no idea. I swear, if this is about the case he’s been working on and he got arrested for hiding the client or some shit . . . I’m going to kill him.
Kristin: Call Heather! Don’t talk to anyone until you’ve talked to her.
I didn’t even think about that. Heather has been a Tampa police officer for a long time. She knows everyone.
Me: Thank you! I’ll grab the kids as soon as I’m done.
Kristin: No worries. We’ll entertain them.
Or Ava will drive Kristin nuts, but she’s usually only the devil for me. She’s fifteen and a load of freaking fun. She knows everything. Hates everyone who is not her father, and thinks I’m the worst person on the face of the earth. Which has made for some lovely family dinners.
Then there’s my sweet baby, Parker. He’s the angel to the demon spawn I birthed first. I know as a mother we’re not supposed to have favorites, but that kid makes it hard not to. He loves me, still thinking I’m wonderful, and I can’t imagine a world without him.
While he was never in the plan, he was the best mistake I ever made.
I push the button to send a voice message to Heather.
Me: Hey, can you meet me at the station? Something happened with Peter.
The roads going this way aren’t busy, and I make it there before Heather returns my text. Shit. I call Peter’s assistant’s cell phone, but it goes to voicemail. Figures. The one time she doesn’t have the damn thing permanently glued to her hand.
I decide I’m just going to have to go in and deal with it. I know where he keeps the extra money in case we ever need it for something like this. I’ll bail him out and then I’m going to beat him with his own torn-off arms.
When I get through the doors, Heather is standing there. “Hey!” I say, relief flowing through me. “I tried to message you.”
“Hey.” Her smile is small.
“Thank God you’re here. Did you find out what Peter did? I wasn’t sure the protocol on bailing someone out . . .”
She nods. “Danni,” her voice is soft. “I . . . it’s not . . . this isn’t like that.”
“What?” I ask as my throat goes dry. “Like what? I can’t get him out? Did he do something really bad? Jesus Christ! He did, didn’t he?”
Fear starts to fill my body as I wonder what the hell is going on. Heather doesn’t look me in the eyes. Instead, she releases a deep breath and her eyes fill will tears. This can’t be good. She’s not a crier and definitely not over Peter. My best friends accept my husband, but they’ll never forgive him for all that happened years ago.
If she’s on the verge of tears, this isn’t bad, it’s worse than bad.
Heather steps forward. “Danni, Peter was shot at his office earlier today and,” her lip trembles.
I hear the words, but I don’t want to believe them.
“Why am I here then?” I start to step back. “I should be at the hospital!”
“Danielle,” she says in her police voice. “He’s not at the hospital.”
“Why not?” I scream out. “Why didn’t you take him there? Why the hell am I here?”
“Because I wanted to be the one to tell you . . .”
One sentence says it all.
“Don’t say it,” I beg. “Don’t tell me because it’s not true. It can’t be true!”
“He’s gone, honey.” She steps forward and I start to crumble, but she catches me. We crumple to the floor as she holds me in her arms. “I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry. We tried everything. I got the call, I was on scene as soon as I could, but there was no saving him.”
Sixteen Months Later
“I like this property, Callum. The land is already partially cleared. It’s a prime location for this project,” I explain with my best authoritative voice.
The price tag may be a little bigger than he wants, but it’s a great piece of land. In the last year, I’ve found that my boss doesn’t often question me. He knows I’m good at my job, even if I only work part-time, and the fact that he happens to be my dear friend Nicole’s husband give us a sense of trust. My work ethic has only further solidified that.
“It’s a lot of money, Danni. A lot more than I told you I was willing to spend,” his eyes are hard, but with an edge of softness. His British accent makes him sound sterner than he really is. I imagine if I was anyone else, he’d have none of the kindness I see.
“I know.” I sit in the chair. “If you were to go with the other lot, I think you’ll lose money. There’s too much competition in that part of the town for the types of stores you’re looking to build, but this one has a thriving community that is desperate for options. The price tag might be a little higher, but the return will be as well.”
Living here my whole life, I have a great sense of the people. My job is to scour the surrounding area to find land for Dovetail Enterprises to develop on at the lowest price, and to assist on special projects like this one.
Normally, Dovetail would find an aging development, knock it down, and build a new high-rise or something fancy. This time, Callum wants to build a community by cleaning up one that’s a little run down. He’s a good man, and it’s part of why I wanted to work for him.
“I see.” Callum looks at the survey a little closer.
Instead of giving him the cheaper option, I hoped he’d see the value this one could offer. It was a risk, but he’s a smart man who can spot a good opportunity.
I lived here before my husband moved us out to the suburbs, when we could only afford to live in the crappy part of town. I remember our first place, which was only a few blocks from this property, with a new baby. We were so broke, being parents much sooner than we planned, and pretending we had our shit together. Peter was an associate at his firm and I had just started in real estate. We were making pennies, paying student loans, and then once Ava was walking, he insisted we get out of there and we became even broker thanks to our house payment.
As soon as I think of Peter, my chest aches. I miss him.
I miss him so much sometimes that I can’t breathe.
No amount of time has eased the pain that sits inside of me, festering, clawing up my throat until I choke on it. I’ve gotten very good at hiding my agony.
My friends keep saying how great I’m doing, and how they’re proud of the woman they see, but they’re not there at night when I break. When I long for the smell of his cologne on the pillow next to me. When I can’t stop the tears and bury my head in my pillow to muffle the sobs.
Tears start to prick as my thoughts get away from me.
“Danielle?” Callum calls my attention.
“Sorry,” I shake my head, shoving down the emotions. “I think you’ll be making a mistake if you pass this one over, Callum, I really do.”
“Is that your professional opinion?” he asks.
“If you were sitting in my chair, you would pay the extra half-million dollars?”
If I had half a million dollars I wouldn’t ever want to part with it, but I know based on what Callum has paid for projects before, the high price tag won’t hurt him.
“Okay, get the offer in.”
My eyes widen a little that he listened and I didn’t have to push him harder. I was ready to start breaking out all kinds of statistics, comparatives, and where we could save cash in other areas.
“I’ll get this wrapped up for you today,” I say with a smile.
“There’s something else we need to discuss,” Callum says and steeples his fingers.
Callum Huxley is an intimidating man, even with our existing friendship. He’s fair, but at the same time, he puts up with zero bullshit, which baffles me daily on how he’s married to Nicole. She’s chock full of crazy bullshit, but they balance each other in a way that makes me jealous. Peter and I never had that.
Sure, we loved each other, but if it wasn’t for becoming pregnant with Ava, we never would’ve gotten married at twenty-three. However, our life was on track finally. We were doing great, happier than we’d been in years.
And then he was stolen from me.
I pull myself back to professional mode. “Of course, what’s going on?”
He leans back in his chair. “Are you happy at Dovetail?”
“Yes, it’s been a great experience.” I smile.
This job gave me purpose, a reason to fight each day, get up, shower, eat, and live again. Of course, my kids kept me functioning, but when they went to school . . .
I would curl in a ball on the couch, eat ice cream, and cry watching some horribly made romance movie that ended with people riding off into the sunset.
That was until Kristin showed up, smacked me around a bit, and made me get my shit straight. I was offered a position here, and it was like someone reminded me how to exist again.
“As you know, my brother, Milo, has stayed in London,” Callum says with a heavy sigh. “I hoped he would get his head of out his arse, but . . . Milo refuses to grow up. I’m looking to fill the position of Senior Vice President of Acquisitions and Logistics.”
“Oh, great,” I say. “Do you want me to help you find someone?”
He laughs. “No, I want you to take that role.”
My jaw falls slack. “What?” He’s crazy. I’ve only been here a little over a year. I’m freaking part-time. “Callum, you can’t be serious.”
He smirks. “I very much am. You’re qualified, smart, driven, and you bring me quality projects each time.”
“I haven’t been here long enough,” I tell him.
“That is not important to me.”
He leans back in his chair, watching me. I don’t know what to say. “I’m part-time here. I have the kids and . . .”
“I will need you to be full-time, but I’m very aware of your situation, Danielle. I’m perfectly accepting of you needing to work from home at times, but when I’m away on travel or holiday, I will need you to step in. There’s a generous salary boost, as well as other luxuries.” He hands me an envelope. “All of the details are in there. Think about it.”
I take it in my hands as I get to my feet. “I’ll think about it,” I promise.
I head home for my next job as an epically failing mother before their bus is due, pushing the conversation with Callum to the back of my mind. My daughter is let out of school an hour before Parker, and she watches him until I get there. Of course, she loves to remind me how she should be getting paid for “doing my job”. I fucking love teenagers. Dealing with Ava is much like being a bomb disposal officer. You approach the device, hoping it won’t go off before you’re able to contain it. However, I’m not trained like they are, and usually we have an explosion just by me smiling at her—or breathing.
The drive from Dovetail isn’t long, but I take my time, wanting to savor the small slice of quiet before I’m bombarded again. Between Parker’s karate, Ava’s dance classes, and having no help, I’m already ready for bed.
When I pull into the drive of the house I spent the last thirteen years in, I sigh. Small things are starting to become noticeable. The lattice on the front of the porch is falling to the side a little. Peter would’ve fixed that already. The gutters need to be cleaned after being filled with twigs and leaves from the last storm we had. And the yard has more brown patches than ever before. I never remember to water the stupid lawn. That was Peter’s thing. No matter how busy he was at the firm, he loved to have the winning green grass on the street.
The timer is set on the bomb.
I can feel it counting down with each step I take.
Please don’t detonate.
“Hi guys,” I say as I open the door.
“Mommy!” Parker yells as he runs towards me.
I catch him in my arms and kiss the top of his head. “Hi, my little Spiderman,” I try to put him down, but he clings to me. “Oh, you’re getting heavy.”
“I’m growing up.”
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