Adam Lambright used to know how to smile, how to have fun, how to love, but that was before watching his best friend die and his wife wither away from cancer. Now, ticked off at God, he’s vowed never to love again. That doesn’t mean he can’t help out his best friend’s widow. Heck, her life’s more of a mess than his own.
Seeing no other possible option, Claire moves to London. In that exciting city, she faces the challenges of rebuilding her career — and the attentions of her sexy English publicist. But, it’s her growing feelings for Adam that present the biggest challenge: learn to forgive or face heartbreak once again.
The irritatingly dramatic voice drowned out the squeal of the espresso machine.
"Claire Gissler! Where have you been hiding yourself?"
Sometimes she cursed the day she moved to a dinky Pacific Northwest island. Couldn’t she get a stinking cup of coffee without running into half the people she knew? Okay, one person. Just her luck for it to be the biggest mouth in town.
Claire dug a five-dollar bill out of her jeans pocket, slapped it on the counter in front of the teenage barista and grabbed her extra-hot vanilla latte. “Thanks, Tyler.”
“Take care, Mrs. G.” Tyler gave her a sympathetic smile from behind the register as she turned to leave.
“Hi, Bea. Sorry. I’m in a hurry.” She attempted to brush past the large woman.
No such luck. A simple shift of weight was all it took for Beatrice Atwell to block her exit.
“But I’ve got wonderful news.” Bea leaned in confidentially, although her volume didn’t alter a bit. Apparently she’d never learned the difference between inside and outside voices that any sane mother taught her children. “I’ve found someone for you.” She bared her teeth in what was probably supposed to be a smile.
“A man. He’s taking over Dr. Wainright’s dental practice. I know several women who would love to meet him, but you’re at the top of my list.” Bea looked like she couldn’t have a more perfect gift if she had been Santa Claus himself.
The nerve of the woman! Who did she think she was, throwing random men at her — as if anyone could take the place of Mark? Claire narrowed her eyes and lifted her chin. "I’m not looking to be set up.”
Bea placed a fleshy hand on Claire’s shoulder. “It’s time, dear. And he’s perfect!”
Time? As if there were a limit on how long one could be alone? She bit back an angry retort and tried again. "I don’t date dentists."
"Nonsense. It’s a perfectly good profession. And I hear he’ll be offering Botox." Bea had the gall to point to the creases between Claire’s eyes. Creases that were getting deeper by the second. It was time to try a new strategy.
“Botox? That’s fascinating!” Claire’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I wonder if he’ll do it for free if I sleep with him? After all, it works for the plumber, the eye doctor, and my lawn boy.”
Bea’s bright pink mouth fell open. Good. That shut her up. Then the single clink of a teacup settling into a saucer alerted Claire to the general silence that had descended on the rest of the patrons. She looked around to find several pairs of eyes resting on her. Most faces wore expressions of shock or disbelief, with the exception of one man leering at her through a grizzled beard, hastily pulling out a business card.
So much for snappy comebacks. When would she learn to just bite her tongue?
Her cell phone rang. Thank heavens. Saved by the bell, for once. She grabbed her cell phone from the pocket of her fleece jacket and buried her attention in it while she made a hasty exit from the coffee shop.
“Well it’s about time you answer your phone.” Flo Liebowitz was her agent. Claire had been avoiding her calls for a week.
She stifled a groan. “Sorry, Flo. I’ve been busy.”
“Writing, I hope.”
She didn’t bother answering. They both knew that wasn’t the case.
“I’ve got bad news.” Flo never beat around the bush.
“What is it?”
“They’ve dropped you.”
And with those simple words, on a rain-soaked sidewalk overlooking the marina, her career ended.
“I heard you.” She sank onto a nearby bench and immediately regretted it. She’d have a cold, wet butt on her mile-long walk home. She sighed deeply.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t seen Flo’s news coming. Her publisher had been threatening to drop her for several months unless she presented him with a new manuscript for her Hetty Graham series. She’d tried, she really had. But without Mark in her life, the words just wouldn’t come.
“What about Emily? Won’t she fight for me?”
“Emily left to have her kid. You’ve got a new editor. And he thinks Hetty’s finished.” To her credit, Flo’s voice softened, as much as her voice ever did. “One more thing.”
“I’m not sure I can take one more thing right now.”
“Understandable. But I have to tell you.”
“They want their advance back.”
One hundred thousand dollars. She closed her eyes. How on earth was she going to pay that back? Unbidden, the stack of unpaid bills on her desk at home came to mind. Claire shook her head and opened her eyes. She couldn’t think about that now. She’d figure out how to pay that back another day.
“I’m sorry, Flo.” Brash though she was, Flo had stuck with her during these last two years of creative destitution. Claire hated to disappoint her.
“We’ll figure it out, hon.” The sympathy in Flo's voice made Claire’s heart swell with affection in spite of the bad news she was delivering. This woman had been there for her in her time of need.
“Now that I’ve dished out the bad, I’ve got good news for you, too.” Flo’s brisk tone meant she was back to business.
“I’ll take any good news I can get.”
“A London publisher is picking up the series.”
“Really? Someone’s finally taken us up on the foreign rights?”
“Yep. They want to publish in August.”
“Well, that’s something.” Claire cradled her coffee to keep herself warm while the sun struggled to shove aside the oppressive March cloud cover. Not likely. The words “sun” and “March” simply didn’t go together in the little island town of Friday Harbor.
“There's one condition.” Were those Flo’s acrylic nails she heard tapping on her desk over the airwaves?
“They insist you do a book tour.”
The gloom that shrouded Claire started to lift. She hadn’t visited London since college. It was one of her favorite cities. One that, sadly, she’d never experienced with Mark. They’d always planned to go, even talked about renting a place there once Anna went off to college. But that hadn’t happened. And now it never would.
Still, it was London. Claire almost smiled. “I could use an all-expense paid trip to London.”
“You’ll be lucky if I can get them to cover your airfare. I wouldn’t count on much more.”
“But, it’s work.”
“Everyone’s cutting costs these days, and you’re in no position to demand much.”
“Well, how on earth am I supposed to do that?” Claire sprang off the bench and stormed down the sidewalk in her frustration, paying no attention to where she was headed. “I’m broke. I have a daughter in college, remember? My credit cards are maxed out. I… oomph—”
She collided with a broad male chest.