The man she can never have . . .
Kerris Moreton should be the happiest woman in the world: She has a successful business and is about to start the family she's always wanted. But the man of her dreams-the one whose green eyes see straight into her soul and whose gentle hands make her body hum with pleasure-is not hers.
Each secret moment with Walsh Bennett serves to remind Kerris of what she's missing. And every stolen hour makes it harder to see her future without him. But being with Walsh would betray a sacred promise and upend her perfect life. When tragedy strikes, the razor's edge between love and loyalty grows sharper than ever. And Kerris must decide where her heart will fall . . .
Don't miss the first installment in The Bennett's Series...When You Are Mine.
Release date: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Forever Yours
Print pages: 258
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Loving You Always
Walsh Bennett scowled at the teetering tower of paperwork overwhelming his desk.
“Trish, last time I checked we were in the twenty-first century,” he yelled through the open door connecting his office to his assistant’s. “What’s up with all this paper? Nineteen ninety called and wants its dead trees back.”
Trisha snickered and sauntered into his office, her matte red smile a vibrant slash in her golden brown face. She gestured to the offending paper pile, one hand on her curvy hip.
“The board expects your John Hancock on all these dead trees, so I hope 1990 sent pens.”
Walsh grinned, shaking his head before obediently plowing through the documents requiring his signature.
“Do we still have coffee around here?” He tried to keep a straight face while he growled, but it hadn’t taken Trish long to figure out he wasn’t the slave driver everyone expected Martin Bennett’s son to be.
“Would you like coffee, Walsh?” Voice saccharine sweet, Trish arched her brows at him, one of the little tricks she used to remind him that he might be the boss, but she wasn’t his gofer.
“Why, yes, Trish. Now that you mention it, a cup of coffee would be delightful.”
“Make him fetch it himself.”
They both looked to the open door, where his cousin Jo Walsh stood like a queen paying a royal visit. Her chestnut hair waved in an angled bob past her shoulders, a studied, tousled, beautiful mess. Her black leather and tweed panel dress may as well have been poured over Jo’s long, elegant body, its lines liquid against every firm curve. She strode deeper into the office, tossing her clutch onto Walsh’s desk and lowering herself inch by inch into the seat facing him.
“Jo, to what do I owe this pleasure?” He looked away long enough to catch Trish’s eye and send her on her way. “Coffee.”
“I’m here for Fashion Week.” She pointed to the dress. “Zac Posen show this afternoon. Donna Karan later.”
“Ah, I’d forgotten that was this week. Moneyed fashionistas descending on New York City. One of your favorite times of the year.”
When she remained silent, he looked up from the paper he was reading over before signing.
“Right? Don’t you usually waste obscene amounts of money and spend the week hobnobbing with all the other wealthy women who just have to have this season’s whatever? You and Mom always…”
Walsh let his words peter out, dropping the pen to give his cousin his full attention. He looked past the glistening surface; he looked at her eyes beneath the smoky eye shadow and mascaraed lashes and saw grief, a twin to his own.
He and his father had spent the last month since his mother’s funeral conducting business in Hong Kong. It had distracted him from the yawning hole in his heart, but every time he stopped for even a minute, the wailing monster inside reminded him his mother was gone. She would never return.
“It’s my first Fashion Week without her.” Jo straightened out the wobble in her voice before continuing, fixing her eyes on the large hourglass his father had given him, in its place of pride on his desk. “I know it seems flighty to you, but fashion was our thing. One of our many things. Doing this without her feels empty and foolish, but not doing it—”
“She’d want you to.” Walsh stood and crossed around his desk, settled on the edge, and reached for Jo’s hand. “Enjoy it as much as you can. We’ve gotta find joy wherever possible. Dad and I used work to survive the last month. You can certainly use fashion.”
Jo ran the tips of her dark, square nails over a leather patch on her dress before looking back up at him.
“I miss you, cuz.”
Damn. He had to add “asshole” to whatever titles his father and the board of directors wanted to bestow on him. How could he have neglected Jo? Sure, things had been strained between them before his mother had passed. All the drama with Kerris and Cam had managed to slither into his relationship with Jo, but she had needed him. Hell, he had needed her, and neither of them had reached for the other. Until now. He’d castigate himself as a self-centered so-and-so later. Right now he needed to fix this.
“Jo, I’m sorry we’ve barely talked. I didn’t mean to abandon you. There was too much in Rivermont I needed to get away from. Mom’s funeral and…”
Walsh didn’t need to finish that sentence. Jo had stood witness to the Pompeii-like destruction of the scene with Kerris and Cam at their cottage. One kiss. It had leveled his friendship with Cam like a city, standing strong one minute, and nothing but rubble and ash the next.
Too many emotions tangled in his chest, a toxic helix of grief and regret and frustration. He missed his mother. He missed Jo. He missed Cam.
He missed Kerris.
In a matter of months, his closest relationships had disintegrated. If it hadn’t been for his father—irony acknowledged—he would probably have been drowning in one-night stands, vodka, and his own vomit. In the past, tough times had coaxed out his darkest side like a serpent from a basket, snake-charming him into a mire of bad decisions. Not this time. The last two years had changed him. How could they not have? Meeting Kerris. Falling in love with her. Alienating Cam. And to some degree, Jo. Losing his mother. Building a relationship with his father. And he’d experienced most of it without the close friendship that had always anchored him.
Walsh stroked his Hermès Pele Mele tie between two fingers, training his eyes on the subdued blue pattern instead of looking at Jo. She let him stew in that silence until he finally looked at her. A wile she’d learned from his mother.
“He’s okay.” Jo crossed one long leg over the other, leaning one elbow on the back of the seat. “Like you. Like me. Managing the pain, I guess. The baby helps…”
Walsh narrowed his eyes against the glare of horror in Jo’s gaze when she realized what she had let slip. Caution, too late, tightened Jo’s lips.
“Ah, that awkward moment when you realize the woman I love is pregnant with my best friend’s baby.”
“You know about…”
“That Kerris is pregnant? Yeah, I know.”
“And you’re okay?”
A bitter imitation of a laugh spilled across Walsh’s lips. His heartbeat quickened. Probably because of the hot poker slicing through it when he considered Kerris having Cam’s baby.
“Do I have a choice?” He pulled himself out of his own ass long enough to note the sadness filling Jo’s eyes. Separate from grief. Personal. “And you?”
“What about me?” Jo jerked a shade down over her pretty face, cording off her emotions beyond his reach.
“Do you still love Cam?”
He was a son of a bitch for asking her that, but they hadn’t discussed her feelings for Cam since the eve of his wedding to Kerris. Inquiring minds wanted to know.
Jo raised her brows and sat up in her seat, scooting to the edge. She rested her elbows on the armrests and impaled him with the blaze of her silvery eyes.
“I don’t poach.”
Just a few words, but a recrimination. A condemnation. A judgment he deserved. He clenched his jaw around shame and guilt and the defiant words that still, after everything he’d promised himself he’d forget about Kerris, lay on the tip of his tongue. Their eyes and wills dueled across the small space separating them until Jo eased the haughty lines of her face into something softer. A distant cousin of sympathy.
“What do you want me to say, Walsh? Do I have feelings for Cam? Probably for the rest of my life, if the last fifteen years are anything to go by. Would I ever do anything about them?” She shook her head, but held his eyes steady. “No.”
How he missed those absolutes. Those black and white certainties that didn’t account for tornadic emotion sweeping through and ripping at your convictions until they were negotiable with the promise of the thing you wanted more than life itself. He didn’t say that. He barely breathed, lest he reveal how shaky his foundations were even now when it came to Kerris. Having her. Taking her. Keeping her for himself.
After spending time with his father for the last month, one thing he’d realized was that he was more like him than he had ever suspected. They shared more than dark hair and green eyes. Like his father, a predator lay in wait inside of him, relishing the hunt and capture. That beast would possess, careless of the consequences. With that legacy living inside him, he wasn’t sure he could ever be around Kerris and Cam again.
Jo stood up and settled beside him on the desk, pushing her shoulder into his.
“They’re happy. I want you to be happy.”
Walsh leaned his head against hers, reaching for her hand. Letting himself be soothed by the familiarity of the closeness they had always shared.
“Besides,” Jo continued, looking up at him with her smart aleck grin. “This is much too Dawson’s Creek. Do you want to be Pacey in this scenario?”
Walsh laughed outright, slipping his arm around her slim shoulders. How had he forgotten how Jo made him laugh?
Suddenly the laughter melted from her voice and her eyes.
“Don’t be Pacey. Joey’s not worth it.”
“What do you have against Joey?”
“She could never make up her mind and jerked those poor guys around for years. I hate indecisive women.”
“Don’t hate her, Jo. Kerris, I mean. It’s not her fault.”
“Who should I blame?” Jo glanced at the rose gold ALOR strapped around her slim wrist and picked up her clutch. “We were fine before she showed up.”
“No, they were fine before I showed up.”
Even after Jo had gathered her things and headed off for her front-row runway seats, Walsh echoed that statement back to himself.
They were fine before he showed up. And they’d be fine without him.
* * *
“How ya feeling?” Kerris Mitchell settled onto the bench at the kitchen table beside her husband, Cam.
The month since the funeral had been just as hard as she had imagined it would be. Cam missed Kristeene terribly. How could he not? She had been like a mother to him. Kerris had done everything she could think of to soothe him and take his mind off the dull pain. Cam had been shocked and incredibly moved by Kristeene’s generosity in her will, as Kerris had been. She had left Cam a small fortune in stocks, along with the Land Rover he’d always loved so much. She’d willed a significant portion of her wardrobe to Kerris for Déjà Vu, the high-end consignment shop she owned with her best friend, Meredith.
“How do I feel? Like the king of the world.” Cam touched her stomach, his hand a warm weight through the silk of the kimono she wore after her shower.
Kerris smiled at how gentle and considerate Cam had been since she’d told him about the baby.
“I mean about Kristeene.”
“It’s like having the worst day and the best day of your life…on the same day.” Cam pulled his dark brows together even as the corners of his mouth turned up. “Ms. Kris would be so happy for us. You’re happy, right?”
“Of course.” She leaned her shoulder into his. “This is what we’ve talked about since the beginning. A family of our own.”
“And you don’t…you don’t regret anything?” A small storm brewed behind Cam’s blue-gray eyes, but the hand resting on her stomach remained steady.
Kerris knew, of course, what he was asking; the image he couldn’t shake. There were moments when her mind would, of its own volition, revisit that moment, too; when her guard would slip, and she would be in Walsh’s arms again. Feel his touch. Smell him. Taste him.
“I don’t regret anything.” She placed one hand over his on her still-flat stomach and ran the other hand over the silky dark hair hanging past his ears. “I’m as excited about this baby as you are.”
His eyes plumbed hers, looking for the truth. She hoped what he saw satisfied.
“I wonder how she’ll look.” Cam finally spoke, a goofy grin at odds with his handsome face.
Kerris wondered, too. Since there was no record of either of her parents, she had no idea which ethnicities had collided to create her ambiguous looks: amber eyes, dark, silky hair, and skin the color of pale honey. Cam knew his parentage, though it wasn’t much of a lineage. His prostitute mother had been half black and half Hispanic. His father, a white man. Some random john. He was routinely mistaken for everything from Italian to Puerto Rican. With their mishmash of a gene pool, there was no use trying to peg their daughter.
“Did you say ‘she’?” Kerris laughed and ran a fond hand over the unruly spill of Cam’s hair. “You know something I don’t?”
“I just always think of the baby as a girl. I’ll be happy with whatever, though. Healthy is what’s important, right?”
Kerris nodded and smiled. Cam kissed her before standing to his feet.
“I’ll be late for work if I don’t get outta here. Not that I’ll be working there much longer.”
“Cam, you have to be careful with that money Kristeene left you.”
“I’m not staying in that shitty graphic design job when I have stock worth millions, baby.”
“I get that, but you don’t have it yet.” She walked over, grabbing his hands between hers. “It’s a huge estate that’s incredibly complex, and it’s still being settled, papers have to be executed. I think it’s good. Gives you some time to really think about the best thing to do with the money.”
“You know what I’ve always wanted to do.” He leaned down to kiss her nose. “I want to paint. Sebastian—you remember Sebastian, right? You met him at Kristeene’s birthday party the night we got engaged.”
“I remember him.” Kerris walked over to clear their breakfast dishes from the table. “Every time I’ve swung by his gallery, he’s never there.”
“Been in Paris.” Cam threw his voice over his shoulder as he moved toward the office to grab his backpack and laptop. “He’s back. He thinks I should take a year to study in Paris. He says I have a lot of raw talent, but I need it refined. I need to train and study.”
“A year?” Kerris’s hands froze over the sink waiting for their breakfast dishes. “What would we—you mean live in Paris for a year?”
“Yeah, babe. Think about it.” Cam came up behind her at the sink to wrap his arms around her. “The three of us in Paris, where some of the greatest artists did their best work. I could study at the Sorbonne. If I apply now, I could be accepted in the next six months.”
“Six months.” Kerris turned to face him, her back against the sink. “I’m only six weeks pregnant. Déjà Vu is just getting off the ground. I want to have our baby here in the States with a doctor I trust, surrounded by our friends. Our life is here.”
Cam’s smile dissolved into a straight line.
“Working that dead end job isn’t much of a life. This money from Kristeene is a godsend. It’ll give me the freedom to pursue my dream.”
“I’ve always been your biggest cheerleader, you know that.” Kerris evened her tone and placed a calming palm against his chest. “I’m just saying the timing may be a little off. Maybe in another eighteen months or so?”
“Eighteen months.” Cam stepped back and stalked over to lean against the granite countertop, facing her with arms folded across the muscles of his chest. “You expect me to stay in Rivermont for eighteen months when I’ll have money in the bank to pursue my dreams?”
“And my dreams?” She deliberately quieted her voice, not wanting this to explode between them. “What about the things I want to do? The business I just started? The family we’re just starting? Are you considering any of that?”
“You know, maybe I’m missing something.” Cam leveled his creased brows, his face giving nothing away. “Maybe there’s something else you want to stay in the States for. Or should I say someone.”
Kerris reached behind her to clutch the rim of the sink. She turned her back to him, rinsing out the dishes she had left there. The muscles of her back tightened under the unrelenting burn of Cam’s stare. They hadn’t spoken of that moment again since that first night, but she knew it was still between them. He was a wounded animal secretly nursing his hurt.
“Cam, do we need to talk about Walsh again? I always thought we should have. We can’t sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen.”
“Oh, I know it happened.” His voice frosted over with fresh bitterness like new snow. “Do you think I will ever forget seeing you in my best friend’s arms?”
“I told you it was only a kiss,” she whispered, knowing that he would hear it in the eerie silence surrounding them. “We got emotional talking about Haiti—”
“Don’t give me that shit again!” His voice erupting into the quiet made her jump. “Do you think I don’t see how Walsh looks at you?”
Kerris, the way my son looks at you is like a starved man. It’s like he can’t bring himself to look at anything else in the room.
Kristeene’s words in the hospital room that last day before she went home for good drifted back to Kerris. It had been months, but it felt like yesterday. Kerris tunneled her hands into the dark hair on either side of her head before turning to look directly at her husband. She clasped her hands together over the tightly coiled dread in her belly.
“And how do I loo. . .
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