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That Thing Called Love

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He’s the last man on earth she should want…

For a guy she’s fantasized about throttling, Jake Bradshaw sure is easy on the eyes. In fact, he seriously tempts inn manager Jenny Salazar to put her hands to better use. Except this is the guy who left Razor Bay—and his young son, Austin, who Jenny adores like her own—to become a globetrotting photojournalist. He can’t just waltz back and claim Austin now.
Jake was little more than a kid himself when he became a dad. Sure, he'd dreamed of escaping the resort town, but he’d also truly believed that Austin was better off with his grandparents. Now he wants—no, needs—to make up for his mistake. He intends to stay in Razor Bay only until he can convince Austin to return with him to New York. Trouble is,  with sexy, protective, utterly irresistible Jenny in his life, and his bed, he may never want to leave…

That Thing Called Love

July 31, 2012

Harlequin • ISBN-10: 0373776918
ISBN-13: 978-0373776917

Here's a peek at sunset:

This book had a boatload of great elements, writing wise, for me. There was the always fun push-me/pull-me dynamic between the sexes, of course. But I also got to write about two things I love and know well: brothers and a very specific location on Hood Canal. I grew up with brothers and boy cousins and it was fun to draw on some of that experience—and all the battles and trash talk that came with it.

Then there’s beautiful, beautiful Hood canal, which is actually a 65 mile long saltwater fjord. I’ve been going there since I was literally a babe in arms and my folks bought property and built a little cabin there when I was nine. This spot is one of my all time favorite places in the world and I literally plunked down the entire fictitious resort town of Razor Bay right on top of our cabin and its environs.

Susan with brothers
Me and my brothers, circa I don't even wanna think
how long ago. And yes. I was born a blonde.

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Forward National Literature Awards

That Thing Called Love took first prize in the romance category of the Forward National Literature Awards.

(posted 12.17.12)

That Thing Called Love spent one week on the New York Times bestseller list in August, 2012!

(posted 8.20.12)

That Thing Called Love spent two weeks on the USA Today bestseller list in August, 2012!

(posted 8.20.12)

That Thing Called Love featured on Harlequin's Love You Can Believe as a featured books for August, 2012!

(posted 7.31.12)

That Thing Called Love will be a Featured Alternate in Rhapsody and Doubleday Book Club! Catalogs with the book listing available August 3rd, 2012.

(posted 7.31.12)

"Laugh-out-loud humor, heart-wrenching emotions, gripping sexual tension, and superb,insightful characterizations of both the adults and teens make this story of ordinary people facing tough issues with courage and grace a cut above the rest. VERDICT: Realistic, sexy, funny, and tender, this heart-warming charmer is classic Andersen and is sure to leave you smiling."

Library Journal Review (posted 7.31.12)

"This warm summer contemporary melts hearts with the simultaneous blossoming of familial and romantic love. Selfish young Jake Bradshaw left his newborn son, Austin, in the care of his dead wife’s parents, Kathy and Emmett Pierce, and escaped the small resort town of Razor Bay, Wash., to become a world-traveling photographer. Thirteen years later, the Pierces die and newly mature Jake decides to step up as a dad and take Austin across the country to big city life in Manhattan. But teen Austin and his temporary guardian, petite Jenny Salazar, an orphan raised by the Pierces as Austin’s big sister, are hard to convince. Sexual tension builds as Jenny succumbs to intense attraction to Jake and the lack of other prospects in Razor Bay, and Jake tries to prove he’s grown up and learned how to be a dad.... Andersen’s mastery of the heartstring tug makes this light story emotionally satisfying. "

Publisher’s Weekly (posted 6.26.12)

"Andersen again turns in a solid romance featuring regular people, her signature characterizations shining. Her ability to take those horrible moments of youth and project the grownups of 15 years later is really remarkable. And she does it with humor, grace and affection. For a fun read, with a story everyone can identify with, check this one out. "

RT Book Reviews (posted 6.26.12)

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That Thing Called Love

February 23rd
Razor Bay, Washington 

“Jeez, Jenny, are they ever gonna go home?”

Jennifer Salazar heard the half angry, half plaintive query beneath the rise and fall of conversation coming from the dining room. Outside, gusts of wind, howling down out of Canada, chased rain from the Olympic mountains rising across the water to ping and rattle against the venerable old Craftsman on the bluff.

Turning around from the momentary break she’d taken to watch water drops fracture into prisms against the leaded glass porch light, she looked down the hallway.

Thirteen-year-old Austin stood between her and the doorways to the kitchen and the dining room. He was curved in on himself, his newly wide shoulders in that grown up black suit coat looking out of proportion to the rest of his verging-on-skinny body--even hunched up around his ears as they currently were.

Moving quickly, she reached out to pull him into her arms. He hugged her tightly in return.

“They will,” she assured the teen. “And pretty soon, I imagine, given how fast the weather is turning.” She pulled back to smile into his tense face. “But Emmett was an institution, pal. People want to pay their respects.”

Austin was the closest thing she had to a brother, but lately she hadn’t known quite how to deal with him. It killed her to see his pain as he struggled with the loss of the grandfather who’d raised him. Emmett Pierce’s death had tromped on the heels of Austin’s grandmother’s, who had preceded her husband just a few short months ago, blasting the barely turned teen with a double whammy.

But he was so volatile these days. A well adjusted kid one minute, unhappy or angry the next. And he rarely shied away from mouthing off the rest of the time. Emmett and Kathy had spoiled him shamelessly, up to and including a brand new Bayliner Bowrider—a boat she’d argued against--for his thirteenth birthday.

“I swear I’m gonna pop the next person who calls me ‘You poor boy,’” he muttered. “And Maggie Watson pinched my cheeks like I was four years old or something!”

She didn’t know whether to commiserate over the misguided insensitivity or laugh at the indignation in his voice. “I imagine they just want to express their sympathy but don’t know what to say.”

“And they think I do? I mean, am I supposed to say it’s okay or somethin’ when they tell me Gramps’s in a better place? Cause it isn’t. Plus, what genius thinks I’d jump at the chance to be “you poor Boy” to a bunch of people who’ve known me since birth? And I’m sure as hell not gonna talk about how it feels to lose him.” His voice cracked and he cleared his throat angrily. “My feelings are— They’re. . .“

“Yours and no one else’s,” she supplied with an understanding nod when he stalled. She had experience with the phenomenon. She’d only been a few years older than he was now when her own world had fallen apart.

“’Zactly,” he mumbled.

Realizing she’d stepped back to give her neck some relief from looking up at Austin, Jenny dug at the bunched muscles in her nape and gave him a rueful smile. “I’m still not used to you being bigger than me—let alone so much bigger. The last time I checked you had maybe three, four inches on me. But I’m wearing four-inch heels today and you’re still way taller!”

For the first time since Emmett’s passing last week, Austin flashed her the wholehearted smile that until recently had been his default expression—the endearing grin that crinkled his pale green eyes and carved little crescents around the corners of his lips. “I hate to break this to you, Jenny, but crickets are way taller than you are.”

“Why, you little smartass.” She smacked his arm, but refused to be sidetracked. “When did you get to be, though? I know you’ve been bigger for a bit, but I swear you weren’t this tall yesterday.” She had begun to fear he might, in fact, turn out as height challenged as she. Heaven knew she wasn’t thrilled to have ended up a scant five-two in a default thirty-two-inch inseam world--and that only if she practiced really excellent posture. She couldn’t help but think the same outcome for a boy would be even harder.

But considering the kid had apparently grown three or more inches overnight, her worry would probably be better directed at something that actually required it.

Austin’s momentary good humor visibly fading, he merely shrugged at her question, “What’s gonna happen to me now, Jenny?”

“Well, for starters, you’ll continue living with me at the resort. Or, if you’d rather. . .” She faltered a moment, hit with her first uncertainty “--I suppose I could move in here with you.”

“God, no!” He shook his head emphatically. “It was hard enough staying here when grandma died--and we’d at least been kinda prepared for that.”

True. The elderly woman had been failing for the past couple years.

“But with Gramps. . .” Austin surreptitiously knuckled away a tear, then scowled at her when he saw she’d noticed. “I keep expecting him to show up every time I turn around—ya know? I’d rather be at your place.”

“Then my place it is.” She hesitated, then said, “The estate lawyer is doing his best to contact your father.” She’d have preferred to keep that information to herself for the time being, but Austin had a right to know.

His mouth flattened and his eyes went hard. “Like he’ll give a shit.”

She didn’t have the heart to chastise him for his language, because in all the years she had known him she had not known his father to show a speck of interest in him.

Still. “Apparently he’s on a National Explorer shoot somewhere. No one seems to know quite where at the moment, but Mr. Verilla said he hopes to track him down soon.”

“Yeah, I’ll be sure to hold my breath waiting for him to show up.” Austin’s voice resonated with knife-sharp teenaged sarcasm. But his angry eyes had taken on that stricken cast they adopted whenever the topic of his father came up.

And for one red-hot minute Jenny wished she could get her hands on the man who had disappointed this boy so many times over the years. It just sucked so bad that she couldn’t.

What she could do, however, was run interference when Kate Ziegler stuck her graying head out the kitchen door, focused faded blue eyes gone watery with sorrow on Austin and said,  “Oh, you poor, poor b—,”

Jenny strode right up to Kate with such authority she cut herself off mid-word and took a startled step back.

“Mrs. Ziegler!” Jenny exclaimed warmly, grasping the older woman’s arm to firmly guide her to the crowded dining room across the hall. “I’ve been meaning to compliment you on that wonderful ambrosia salad you brought. Why, if I’m not mistaken, it was the very first thing to go.”


Chapter One

That Thing Called LoveJake Bradshaw blew into town almost two months later, at a quarter to three on a blustery, sunny April afternoon.

Not that Jenny was keeping track or anything.

Hell, who kept track of those things? She was busy minding her own business, washing the window over her kitchen sink and thinking the shutters on the Sand Dollar, the luxury cottage across the shared parking lot from her small bungalow would benefit from a new coat of paint, when the doorbell rang. She just happened to check her watch. Then, looking down at her seen-better-days cropped T and raggedy jeans, she sighed. Why didn’t anyone ever drop by unexpectedly when she was dressed to kill?

Murphy’s Law, she supposed. Shrugging, she set aside the old tea towel she’d been using, paused her iPod, pulled out the earbuds and went to answer the summons. School had let out for the day; it was likely a friend of Austin’s, although Austin himself wasn’t home yet.

When she pulled the door open and saw the man on the other side, her mind went blank. Holy Krakow, how wrong could one woman be--this was no teenaged kid. This was a total stranger, something you didn’t see very often this time of year–unlike during the summer tourist season.

And the guy was a god.

Okay, not really. But he was definitely the next best thing. His hair, which she’d mistook at first glance for blond, was actually a medium brown that had either been burnished by the sun or was the product of some world class stylist.

She’d vote for the former, given that every man she’d ever known would  choose castration before they’d be caught dead over at Wacka Do’s wearing a head full of little tinfoil strips. And although she could honestly say she’d never met an actual honest-to-gawd big city metrosexual, she was pretty sure this guy wasn’t her first.

His tanned hands were too beat up looking, his skin a little to weathered. He had muscular shoulders beneath a nice gray suit jacket worn over an olive drab hoodie that in turn was worn over a silky silver gray t-shirt. And solid thighs that were molded by a pair of button fly Levis that had seen hard wear.

She couldn’t see his eyes behind the shaded lenses of his sunglasses, but he had the most gorgeous lips she’d ever seen on a man, full yet precisely cut. If she were a different type of woman, in fact, she might almost be able to imagine lips like those kissing h—

“Is your mother home?”

 “Seriously?” All right, not the politest response. But, please. She hadn’t almost imagined what his lips could do--a Marvin Gaye song she remembered her mother forever listening to when she was a kid had started playing Let’s Get It On in her head. And having him talk to her as if she were a child was like ripping the needle across a vinyl record, bursting her pretty, if where-the-hell-did-that-come-from, fantasy.

That Thing Called LoveAfter a startled look, he studied her more closely. Those lips curved up in a faint, wry smile. “Oh. Sorry. Your size fooled me for a minute. But you’re not a kid.”

“Ya think?”

His smile deepened slightly. “I’m not the first to make that mistake, I’m guessing.”

Okay, get a grip, sister. What was her problem, anyway? She didn’t lust after strange men. And she’d been in the hospitality business since she was sixteen, for pity’s sake, so rarely, either, was her first inclination to unleash snide sarcasm on people.

At least not on people I don’t know.

She gave an impatient mental shrug. Because even if she was in the habit of lusting or unleashing, this guy could be a guest at the inn for all she knew. It was the dead lowest part of the low season, which was why she’d felt comfortable enough leaving Abby to man the front desk while she took a rare day off. But Abs was still green and it wasn’t a stretch to imagine the girl blithely drawing directions on one of the resort maps to help a complete stranger find Jenny’s place on the back grounds of The Brothers Inn.

She plastered a pleasant expression on her face. “Is there something I can do for you?”

He looked down at her. “Yeah, I was told I could find a Jenny Salazar here?”

“You found her.”

“I’m here about Austin Bradshaw, regarding his guardianship.”

Jenny’s heart picked up its pace, but she merely said, “You don’t look like a lawyer.”

“I’m not. But Mr. Verilla said you’re the person I need to talk to.”

She sighed and stepped back. “Then I guess you’d better come in. You’ll have to excuse the mess,” she said, leading him inside. “You caught me in the middle of cleaning day.”

Her place was just under six hundred square feet of recently weatherized cottage, so it took a total of five seconds to reach the middle of her living room. She turned to face him and saw that he’d removed his shades and was hooking one temple arm into the neck of his t-shirt. Raising her gaze from his strong, tanned throat, she met his eyes for the first time.

Shock jolted through her. Oh, God. Only one other person in the world had eyes that pale, pale green—that exact same shade as the summer shallows in the fjord that was Hood Canal.


Anger was deep, immediate and visceral. And it had her drawing herself up to her not-so-great greatest height. “Let me guess,” she said with ice-edged diction. “You must be Jake Bradshaw.”

When she looked at him now, she didn’t see that compelling face or the abundant sex appeal. Instead, she pictured all the times Austin thought his father might call, might show up, and the stark disappointment each and every time that didn’t happen. Disdain she couldn’t quite disguise tugged at her upper lip.

“Mighty big of you to finally decide you could spare your kid a minute of your precious time.”

For over a decade, Jake had dealt with all manner of people. He’d long ago perfected the art of letting things slide off his back. Yet for some reason the contempt from this little female dug barbed needles under his skin.

It didn’t make a damn bit of sense. The woman was all of five- foot-nothing, for cri’sake, and her shiny dark hair, plaited into two thick little-girl braids, with a hank of long bangs pulling free from the left one, didn’t exactly promote a grown-up vibe. She had spare curves, clear olive skin and brown eyes so dark it made the surrounding sclera look almost blue-white in comparison. Dark eyebrows winged above them, and her slender nose had a slight ethnic bump to its bridge.

His brows met over the thrust of his own nose. “Who the hell do you think you are, lady?”

Okay, not what he’d intended to say. But being back in Razor Bay, the place he’d spent most of his teen years plotting to see the last of in his rearview mirror—well, it put him on edge. Plus, after the thirty-two-hour trip from Minahasa to Davao to Manila to Vancouver to Seattle to here, he was so dead on his feet he was all but punch-drunk. Not to mention seriously tense at the thought of seeing his kid after all these years. Of having full responsibility for him for the first time.

So excuse the hell out of him for reacting to the contempt in her voice and his own flicker of temper that here was yet someone else who thought they could dictate to him about his son.

Stuffing down every negative feeling that arose, however, he managed to moderate his tone when he inquired, “And you think you have the right to judge me, why?” God knew, he’d done enough of that on his own. He didn’t need some half-pint stranger’s condemnation on top of it.

He watched as she crossed her arms and raised her chin. “Well, let me see,” she said coolly. “Maybe because I’m the woman who’s been in Austin’s life for the past eleven years. And this is the first time I’ve ever seen you.”

Jake wanted to howl at the unfairness of her charge. Except. . .was she actually wrong? He’d had a series of come-to-Jesus talks with himself on the endless journey getting back here and was forced to admit that he’d been looking at his dad ethic through a pretty skewed lens for a long time now. The admission made not defending himself to Miz Salazar more than a simple matter of pride, more than an ingrained reluctance to plead his case to a stranger.

He couldn’t in all conscience smear the memory of Austin’s grandparents. Not only would it be too much like something his own father would have done—making it all about him and not giving a damn that his kid had loved the people he was trash-talking—but all that damn soul searching had made him realize thathe’d spent too many years blaming Emmett and Kathy for doing the job he himself had abdicated.

That Thing Called LoveThey’d protected Austin. And if it cut to the bone that they’d felt it necessary to do so from him. . .well, I guess it  sucks to be you, Slick.

Somewhere over Midway Island he’d dropped his defenses and admitted they had cut him a lot more slack than he’d deserved before they’d finally lowered the ax and cut him out of Austin's life.

 But that wasn’t the central thing here—at least not right this minute. That would be that he was finally doing what he should have done a long time ago: stepping up.

So, go him.

Not that any of this prevented the woman standing in front of him from scratching at his temper. He took an involuntary step in her direction. “The fact remains, I’m Austin’s father and I’m here now.”

Apparently that wasn’t what she’d expected to hear, because she blinked long, dense lashes at him, just a single slow sweep that lowered fragile looking lids over her almond-shaped eyes, then raised them again.

The action ate up a couple of seconds tops, yet somehow it was long enough to make him aware that he was standing a whole lot closer to her than he’d intended. It made him aware as well that, except for the blink, she’d gone very still. Had she seen his banked anger? Jake slowly straightened. Shit. She couldn’t possibly think he was going to hit her, could she?

He took a giant step back, shoving his hands in his levis pockets.

In the sudden silence, the back door slammed open—and from the way little Miz Salazar stiffened he knew exactly who it was. Heart beginning to kick hard against the wall of his chest, he stared at the opening to the kitchen.

“Hey, Jenny,” called a male voice from the other room. “I’m home.” The refrigerator door opened, then slammed shut and the lid of something rattled against a hard surface. “Dude! Leave a cookie for me.”

“Trade ya for that carton of milk,” came a second youthful tenor.

“You better be using glasses!” Jenny raised her voice to warn. “If I see washback in my milk you’re dead men.”

The cupboard opened, glass clinked and the cupboard slapped closed again. Silence reigned for a few moments after that, before being abruptly broken by the sound of stampeding feet. Two boys burst through the archway.

The boy in the lead was a gangly brunette who—sweet mother Mary—had the exact same all-bones-no-meat thirteen-year-old build Jake had had at the same age.

God oh God. All the moisture dried up in his mouth and his habit of being aware of everything around him--honed by years of knowing that otherwise he’d likely end up bitten by a snake, stung by an insect or mauled by an animal with way more tonnage, power and teeth than him--went up in smoke. The cozy little room and everything in it faded from his consciousness, leaving nothing but his son.



Awash with joy, with terror, with a raft of pain and regret, Jake stared. An emotion he’d never experienced suffused his chest, while panic clawed at his gut. Jesus. He was shaking.

He hadn’t thought it would matter so much, hadn’t expected to be struck so hard. Was this what love felt like?

The thought snapped his spine straight. Hell, no.

It couldn’t be. A: he was a Bradshaw and Bradshaw men’s version of the Big L was so fucked it gave the sentiment a bad name. And B: a man had to actually know someone before he could start slinging that word around.

He drew a deep breath. It was probably just simple wonder that the kid could have gotten so big already. Jake’d had this image in his head of Austin at two, at four. Hell, at six even, which was how old Austin was the year Kathy had sent him the last picture.

But this was no little boy—this was an almost-grown teen. Not that Jake hadn’t known how old he was, of course.

He just hadn’t had a clear picture of it in his head.

He’d long ago convinced himself that he was doing the right thing—that Austin was better off with his grandparents, who could give him the stable, structured life that he, himself, could not. And he’d been right.

But now--face to face with what he hadn’t merely let slip through his fingers but had actively thrown away with no more than an occasional second thought--his carelessness felt like shards of glass hacking his gut to shreds.

Oblivious to the thoughts and feelings that threatened to swamp Jake, the boy crossed directly to Jenny without even glancing in his direction.

“Can I spend the night at Nolan’s?” he demanded. “His mom said it was okay.” His gaze passed incuriously over Jake, returned to Jenny. “She’s gonna order pizza from Bella T’s and Nolan has a new Xbox game we’re gonna try ou--”

With a neck-snapping double take, the kid’s gaze suddenly shot back to lock on Jake’s. He took a step toward him, making Jake’s overburdened heart leap into his throat.

Then Austin snapped upright and an ask-me-if-I-give-a-shit expression molded his young face. He looked at Jake through pitch-black narrowed lashes. “Who the hell are you?” he asked, even though his shuttered expression made it obvious to anyone with eyes that he knew.

Jake swallowed, fighting to sound calm in the midst of the fucking circus taking place inside of him. Automatically, he started forward. “Your dad. I—“

The teen made a wrong-answer-buzzer noise that stopped him in his tracks. “Like hell you are. In case you don’t know. . . and I’m guessing you don’t since this is the first time I’ve ever seen ya,“ he said, contempt coating his every word, “I’m thirteen. I don’t need or want a daddy in my life.” He turned back to Jenny, pinning her with angry eyes. “So can I stay the night at Nolan’s or what?”

Jake watched as she reached up to stroke the boy’s cheek, then visibly quelled the urge, clearly knowing he would hate the public show of sympathy. Instead she nodded. “Sure.”

Without another word—or so much as a quick peek in Jake’s direction—the teen turned and vanished with his friend into a room off the living room. When he reappeared less than a minute later, he was tucking a toothbrush into his jeans pocket. His other hand clutched a pair of flannel lounge pants.

“You need money for pizza?” Jenny asked.

“Nah,” the other kid answered. “Mom’s got it covered.”

Still ignoring Jake, Austin headed for the kitchen, Nolan tight on his six.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Jake stepped forward, but the two boys were already slamming out the back door.

Jake didn’t know if it was disappointment or relief that crashed through him. Whatever the sensation was, it nearly knocked him to his knees. God, he’d must have pictured this first meeting a hundred times since he’d received the news of Kathy’s and Emmett’s deaths, must have run as many scenarios through his mind. Not once, however, had he envisioned this. He’d been braced for his son’s anger, for a raft of pointed questions he wasn’t sure he could answer to the boy's satisfaction.

But how did a guy brace himself to be so utterly. . . dismissed? He turned on Jenny. “Are you kidding me? You let him just walk out?”

 “What did you expect?” Her voice was cool, her gaze even cooler. “Austin’s just discovered that the man who fathered him, the man who was never here when he wanted him most, has finally deigned to show up. Don’t you think he might need a little time to process that?”

Yeah. He supposed he did. The kid had said it himself: he was thirteen—not that many years from being grown. Jake had missed his opportunity to be a father.

No. He squared his shoulders. The hell with that. Austin was a good five years from the bare minimum of being grown, which was a helluva long way from full-out grown. Yeah, he was late to the party, but this was his opportunity to be the man he should have been. And the first order of business was to establish a relationship with his son.

That Thing Called LoveGiven Austin’s first reaction, though, it clearly wasn’t going to be easy. Well, tough shit. He wasn’t afraid of hard work.

Still. It’s a damn shame the kid’s too old to buy a pony.

He cleared his head and turned his attention to Jenny. “I agree, he does need time to process. But let me make myself clear. I’ve spoken with my lawyer and matters are well in the works to have my parental rights returned to me.”

No.” She stared at him as if he’d told her he got his jollies mutilating puppies.

“Yes. My attorney is drafting the documents as we speak. I only need to sign them when I get back to Manhattan. Once they’ve been filed Austin will be where he belongs. With me.” Okay, probably not smart to tell her that—she looked as though it might not be beyond her to stage an “accident” before that happened.

No. That wasn’t murder in her eyes; she looked. . .crushed. Bereft. Sick to her soul.

And because he knew exactly how that felt, he gentled his voice. “Look, I don’t intend to grab Austin and run.” Okay, so his initial reaction when he’d heard both the Pierces were gone had been exactly that--to get back here, command Austin to pack up, then drag the kid back to where Jake had built a life for himself—at least for the part of each year he was in country.

But he wasn’t gonna be that guy. He wasn’t going to be his father. “I’m not here to yank the rug out from under him that way. I know he needs time to adjust, to get to know me.”

She sagged in patent relief and it bugged him that he was so attuned to her, that he harbored an urge to relieve her mind. It would be better for all concerned if no one entertained any false hopes.

    “Make no mistake,” he instructed in his coolest voice, “my life is in New York and we will be moving there. This is to give my son time to get accustomed to the idea. While he does, I’ll find out what, if anything, needs to be done about Emmett’s estate.”

Suspicion entered her eyes and he narrowed his own in response. “Don’t even go there. I’m not after Austin’s money—I’ve got plenty of my own.”

 “And I should believe you because. . .”

 God! Why did that look, that tone, make him want to loom over her, to step too close, crowd into her space and see how she dealt with it?

The urge startled him, because, really, where the hell had that come from? He’d never manhandled or acted threatening toward a woman in his life.

And looking into her fierce little face, he almost snorted. Mighty Mouse here would probably call the sheriff’s department if he even looked like he was about to make a misstep. And rightly so, considering she was a woman alone with him in her house--and him a stranger she didn’t know from Adam and mistrusted the little she thought she did know.

But wouldn’t that just be the cherry on his fucking cupcake if his half brother Max showed up to arrest him? It would probably make the bastard’s day to haul his ass to jail.

 He drew a steadying breath. “I don’t require that you believe me, but in the interest of playing nice with others I’ll give you a freebie.” He pulled his wallet from his hip pocket and fished out a card, which he handed to her. “This is my assistant—call her with your fax number and I’ll have her send you my latest bank statement.” He gave her a level look. “We have real issues to get through. Me stealing from my kid isn’t one of them.”

She folded her arms beneath little breasts. “What do you want from me?”

The reasonableness of her tone released some of the tension from his shoulders. “Austin clearly cares about you. I want you to be the conduit between us.”

She laughed in his face. “Why on earth would you think I’d do that?”

“Because while I’m willing to stay here for the next two or whatever months to let him finish the school year, in the end we will move to Manhattan.” He thrust a hand through his hair. “I’m going to be taking him away from everything familiar and I don’t fool myself it’ll be a popular decision. If you care about him, you’ll make the transition easier for him. Or you can keep your mad-on going with me and make it hard. I guess it’s up to you.”

That Thing Called LoveShe looked at him a long time. “All right. I’ll think about it.” Her extravagant eyelashes narrowed until her eyes were mere coffee-dark glints shining between them. “For Austin’s sake,” she stressed. “Whatever I decide, I won’t be doing it for you.”

“No, shit,” he muttered, but thrust out his hand to shake on the deal. Her narrow fingers were warm skinned as she slid them across his palm, her grip firm.

He was caught unprepared for the spark of electricity that shot through him at the contact. But he buried his response, countering it with his all-purpose wry smile.

“Trust me, I didn’t assume otherwise for a minute.”

End of Excerpt.
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