Yours to Love (ebook)
Yours to Love (ebook)
Charlotte Kincaid is ‘Miss Perfect’. She’s a smart lawyer, works hard for the community and is drop-dead gorgeous. At least that’s what everyone else sees. But, inside, Charlotte is an emotional wreck. She believes her secret is safe because no one can see past her glossy image to the real her, right?
Wrong. The elusive Cam Connelly returns (late) for his brother Rob’s wedding after traveling all over the world for years, refusing to put down roots. Because who needs a home and family? Certainly not the incredibly intelligent, stubbornly principled, eco-warrior Cam. But then he meets Charlotte who intrigues him with her combination of smarts and well-hidden vulnerability.
- Yours to Give
- Yours to Treasure
- Yours to Cherish
- Yours to Keep
- Yours Forever
- Yours to Love
- A Place Called Home
- Secrets at Parata Bay
- Escape to Shelter Springs
- What You See in the Stars
- Second Chance at Whisper Creek
- Summer at the Lakehouse Café
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READ A SAMPLE
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Charlotte Kincaid squinted at the screen of her phone, blinked, and brought it closer to her face. It couldn’t be.
“What’s up?” asked Rachel, taking a sip of her wine, oblivious to the glances in their direction from the other patrons of the Christchurch wine bar.
“I’m not sure,” said Charlotte, reaching into her Birkin bag for the glasses she rarely used in public. “It looks to be a message from…” She trailed off, biting her lip. What on earth could have made her father text her? She slipped on her glasses and re-read the message twice before she allowed herself to believe the ridiculously lengthy message, complete with perfect punctuation. Her father had always been a stickler for doing things correctly.
She placed the phone carefully on the table and looked up at Rachel. “William is coming for Christmas.”
Rachel frowned. “Who is William, and why is he coming to yours for Christmas?”
“William is my father, and I’m not sure why he’s coming for Christmas. He’s never come before when I’ve asked him.”
“You call your father William?”
“You mean, no one ever called him Dad, or at least Father, to you? Not even your mum?”
“Goodness, no!” She smiled as she imagined anyone calling her very formal and aloof father by such a familiar name.
Charlotte shrugged. “He’s not that kind of man, I guess. He’s a High Court Judge in Wellington and few people call him by his first name. At work he’s ‘The Right Honorable Justice Dempsey’, to acquaintances he’s ‘sir’ and to his closest friends he’s William.”
Rachel’s frown deepened. “But not Father. Never Father?”
Charlotte shook her head. “Never.” She pondered on the matter for a moment. She was so used to it that she’d never really questioned it. “I guess he’s not really a family man.”
“That’s tough for his only child, then.”
Charlotte didn’t answer this time. Because Rachel was right. It had been tough, and it still was.
“So,” continued Rachel, obviously realizing she’d touched a raw nerve. “Why is this so unexpected? It would be unexpected for us Connellys not to be with Dad for Christmas.”
“Yes, well, we don’t all have families like the Connellys. I usually spend Christmas at the Christchurch City Mission.”
Rachel raised an eyebrow. “I bet you’re the only helper wearing a designer outfit.”
“They’re just jeans,” said Charlotte, suddenly embarrassed, wondering what the others might think of her. “I guess they are designer jeans, though,” she mumbled.
“You know you’re always welcome to celebrate Christmas at Belendroit.”
“I don’t like to intrude.”
“I know, but you won’t be intruding. I promise.” Charlotte felt uncomfortable under Rachel’s thoughtful gaze. “And I also know you don’t like to be on your own. Ever.” Charlotte winced. She wished she hadn’t confided this weakness to her friend.
She gave Rachel a quick, forced smile. “I guess I’m not the only one.” She looked away again as her thoughts strayed to the only time she was ever alone. At night. When she found it hard to sleep.
“But back to the fascinating subject of your father,” said Rachel, sensitive as usual to the moods of others. “Have you invited him to visit you before?”
“Yes, of course! I invite him every year and every year without fail he declines. But…” She glanced at her phone and re-checked her message. Yep, it hadn’t changed. “For some reason, this year he’s accepted. I can’t believe it.”
“Well,” said Rachel, obviously struggling to understand what that must feel like. “I guess it’s going to be a great Christmas!”
“Yes, I guess it is.” Then it came to her, and she let out the kind of expletive she only ever heard everyone but her say. She followed it up with a wail which turned a few more heads their way.
“What is it?”
“Oh, no!” Charlotte rubbed her forehead. “I know why he’s coming!”
“To meet my fiancé.”
“Fiancé? You have a fiancé? This is the first I’ve heard of it!”
Charlotte shifted uncomfortably in her seat. To all the world, she was the woman who had everything, and that was how she liked it. But to her father, she always seemed to lack something. “Every time my father contacts me, he asks me when I’m going to get married. And, well, I’d had a few glasses of wine last time he asked and I told him I had a fiancé.”
“Why on earth did you feel you had to tell him that?”
Charlotte shrugged as if she didn’t know. But she did.
“Charlotte?” said Rachel, in a mock-threatening tone. “Why?”
Charlotte frowned as she searched for an explanation which would satisfy Rachel. “My father is…” She shrugged again. “Difficult to please.”
“Hm,” said Rachel, sitting back in her seat but continuing to observe Charlotte in a way which made her uncomfortable. Like all the Connellys, Rachel had an unnerving ability to read people accurately. “So your father isn’t pleased that you gained a first class honors degree, followed by a PhD in law at Oxford University?”
Charlotte remembered her father’s indifference and how he’d failed to turn up to any of her graduation ceremonies.
“Or that you’re the only person I know who has no taint of scandal, who has never put a foot wrong, who has, in fact, led a model life of industry and integrity?”
“I’m beginning to think a scandal would have piqued his interest more than the lack of one.” She sighed and took a sip of her wine.
“Right,” said Rachel. “And so you invented a fiancé.”
Charlotte mumbled her reply, taking another hasty sip.
“And you don’t have a fiancé.”
Charlotte shook her head and sighed. “Rachel, what on earth am I going to do?”
“Tell him the truth, maybe? Say, Dad, or in your case, William, I made up the fiancé bit to please you, but I now realize I’ve gone a step too far and need to tell you there is no such person.”
Charlotte felt the color drain from her face at the thought of saying any such thing. “I can’t tell my father I lied.”
“Why not? Being the perfect daughter hasn’t helped you so far, has it?”
Charlotte couldn’t argue with that.
Rachel leaned forward and took hold of Charlotte’s hands. “Charlotte, does your father’s approval really still mean so much to you?”
Charlotte nodded. “It does. I know it shouldn’t. But it does. I feel like there’s a big hole inside which needs to be filled by his approval and love.”
“You think he doesn’t love you?” Charlotte could see that the thought was alien to Rachel. Family equaled love to the Connelly family.
“I know he doesn’t. Why else would he never want to see me, never give me anything other than what would reflect well on him? Why else would he—”
“Okay,” interrupted Rachel. “Enough. I can see this is important to you.”
“It is. Rachel, what am I going to do?”
“Do? Why, that’s the easiest part.”
“Of course! All you need to do is get yourself a fiancé for the night. It shouldn’t be that difficult. You’re beautiful, accomplished, a real catch—you’ll be fighting them off.”
“Fighting who off?”
Rachel grabbed her phone and began searching for something. “The men who will reply to your dating ad.”
Charlotte was appalled. “I’m not the kind of woman who needs to resort to a dating app!”
Rachel looked at her with a smile. “It would appear you’re exactly the kind of woman who needs to use a dating app.”
“No, I can’t!”
Rachel sighed and put the phone down on the table. “Then the alternative is to find someone who would oblige.” She opened her mouth to speak but shut it again and shook her head.
Charlotte had a leap of hope. “What? Have you thought of someone?”
Rachel sucked her lips as she considered something. “I was thinking of my brothers.”
“But they’re married, except…” The last word disappeared into a sigh as Charlotte thought of a tall man of lean but wiry build with long curly blond hair and the face of an Adonis.
“Cam,” finished Rachel. “He’d help, I’m sure.”
“With all respect to your brother, Cameron isn’t exactly the kind of man my father would approve of.”
“Well, that’s good, because he’s not going to be posing as your father’s fiancée.”
Charlotte looked away. She couldn’t meet Rachel’s gaze. She knew what Rachel was saying, but she couldn’t do anything about it. She’d spent her whole life trying to please her father and she couldn’t seem to stop now, no matter what she did—which included moving thousands of miles away from Wellington to build a new life for herself in Akaroa. She knew she had to change, but knowing and truly believing seemed to be two different things.
“Cam would be great,” continued Rachel. “He’s the most intelligent person I know—excluding you.”
“Brains don’t equal smartness.”
“They do in your case. But Cam? True, he can be a little… intense, and he does make some unusual decisions. And he’s never on time. And you never really know what he’s going to do next.” Rachel sighed. “I guess he’s kind of—”
“Quirky,” interrupted Charlotte.
“I was going to say that maybe he’s a little on the eccentric side. Maybe,” she repeated, as if she felt guilty about accusing her brother of eccentricities.
“Maybe? You think? He’s hopeless at conversation.”
“He just doesn’t like chit-chat. He only speaks if he’s got something to say.”
“Well, he doesn’t often have something to say to me, that much is obvious!”
Rachel looked at her shrewdly. Charlotte’s heart sank.
“You seem to be quite heated about my brother. In fact, you seem to have quite definite opinions about him. And yet I heard you called him, what was it, ‘the most handsome man I’ve ever seen.’” Rachel smirked and Charlotte huffed indignantly.
“I may have said that, but what you’re forgetting was that I’d had a few glasses of wine. It was at the end of Rob and Flo’s wedding reception, and I was obviously feeling not quite myself.”
“He is extremely handsome, in that English aesthetic way. Mum used to say he could have been a movie star.”
Charlotte laughed. “I can’t imagine your brother acting in any capacity.”
“True. He’s not like Dad, or me, come to that. How about it? I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”
Charlotte blushed despite herself. “Like he wants to argue with me? Because that’s all we seem to do on the few occasions we’ve met since Rob’s wedding.”
“No, like he wants to ravish you.” Rachel laughed at Charlotte’s expression. “Okay, okay.” She glanced at her watch, then finished her drink and stood up. “Leave the whole date thing to me. I’ve got to go. Zane’s picking me up.”
“And I’m going to see Rob about this new case I’ve taken on.”
“The Lake Waitahi case? Zane’s told me a little about it. Hope you know what you’re letting yourself in for,” Rachel said, as she stood up and smoothed down her summer dress. Charlotte noticed every man had his eyes on Rachel who, even if she hadn’t been well known through her TV cookery show, had the curvaceous figure which drew men’s attention like moths to a flame. Not that Rachel noticed. She only had eyes for one man now, her husband, Zane.
Charlotte hoped Zane hadn’t divulged all the details of the case to his wife. It was going to prove very contentious unless they all acted with discretion. But then Zane, as chair of the Ngai Tahu Tribal Council, was used to sensitive cases and was the model of integrity himself. Years before, he’d nearly lost Rachel by sticking to the letter of the law.
“I’m not sure I do. That’s why I’m going to see Rob. Zane thought that, even if he couldn’t help, he might know someone who could.”
“True. Anyway,” Rachel said. “Back to the important stuff. I’ll set up your profile on a dating app and we’ll go through them in a few days. See what we’ve netted.”
“Charlotte! Do you want to tell the truth to your father or not?”
On that one point, Charlotte was clear. She shook her head. “Not.”
“Then we will find you a man for the night.”
“How bad does that sound?”
“It doesn’t sound bad at all. Fun is what it sounds!” Rachel turned as Zane walked up to her, embraced her and kissed her deeply, as if they hadn’t just seen each other only a few hours earlier.
Charlotte didn’t groan again. Instead, she glanced away, farewelling them as she scooped up her phone and bag and walked toward the exit. It was one thing to find a man for an evening to look the part. It was quite another to be confronted with the thing she most wanted and, it seemed, couldn’t ever get—the love of a good man.
* * *
It had been a long day of meetings and discussions which had progressively depressed Charlotte even further. Normally, she felt completely in control of any situation. But, as Rachel had foreseen, she was regretting having taken on this case where it seemed there was no middle ground, nowhere for her clients to come to a mutually acceptable agreement. As mediator in the dispute, finding such a compromise was key to a successful outcome. And the high-profile nature of the case could well either make or break her career. Not to mention impact on similar cases all around New Zealand. As she slammed the car door outside Flo’s house, she couldn’t help wondering if, for once, she’d taken on more than she could handle.
As soon as she opened the gate and two pairs of male eyes looked up at her from behind the garage where their owners were sitting, drinking beers, she knew she had. One pair of eyes belonged to Flo’s father, Ian, who spent every weekend in the rooms and terrace which Rob had built onto the garage for him. The terrace looked more like an outdoor room, with its bright Tibetan prayer flags strung around the pergola, and furniture which lived permanently outside. It was here that he sat drinking beer with the other pair of male eyes—Cam’s. The difference between them was that Cam’s were focused on her with a laser-like focus. She could practically feel the prickle of heat on her skin as his unrelenting gaze followed her as she walked along the path to the house.
She waved and called out in acknowledgement of Flo’s father’s greeting, and gave Cam a quick, cool nod of the head. She quickened her pace, stumbling slightly on the uneven paving stones which led to Flo’s front door which, apparently, only she used. It was open as usual. She glanced up at the newly constructed porch, perfectly in keeping with the rest of the colonial house. Despite the open door, she rang the bell.
Half-way along the hall, Flo popped her head out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. Charlotte didn’t think she’d ever seen Flo’s hands not busy. If they weren’t floury, wet, or handling piles of linen, they had gardening gloves on or were holding a child’s hand.
“Come in, Charlotte!” Flo called. “No need to stand on ceremony with us.”
For a moment Charlotte saw herself as Flo saw her. As someone who always did things properly, someone who stood on ceremony, even, as she’d overheard once, as Miss Perfect. If only Flo knew the truth.
They exchanged small talk as Charlotte followed Flo into the kitchen where Flo was baking yet more cakes for Amber’s café, besides the usual catering for her guests. Even after receiving enough money to do whatever she liked with her house and life, and marrying Rob Connelly, it seemed Flo refused to give up what she loved—nurturing people. And that included her stepson, Olly, who sat in the sunny window-seat ostensibly doing his homework, but really playing with a large white cat who flicked his tail, obviously irritated by the attention. Charlotte blinked. She was moving from one perfect family to the next. And they thought she was perfect! She’d do what she had to do and then leave—as soon as she could.
“Is Rob around?”
“Yes, he’s expecting you. I think he’s just gone out with the boys. I mean Dad and Cam. Those two have been inseparable since they’ve met. You go on outside if you like. Have you eaten?”
Had she? It took a few moments for Charlotte to realize she hadn’t eaten since breakfast and then it hadn’t exactly been a feast.
“You haven’t, have you?” said Flo reprovingly. “I’ll bring something out to you.”
“No, I’m fine thanks. Honestly.” She was a little hungry but refused to be mothered by Flo. “But thank you,” she said firmly, before stepping outside before Flo could remonstrate.
“Charlotte!” Rob said, appearing from inside Ian’s rooms with a beer. He kissed her on the cheek while Ian jumped up and offered his chair next to Cam. “I’m glad you made it. I invited Cam to join us. I think he’ll be able to help you out more than I will.”
Charlotte looked askance at Cam. She knew he worked with plants, but, apart from that, knew little about what he did. She’d always made her excuses to leave whenever he was around. Cam’s intense gaze hadn’t shifted from her, and she could feel the heat rise in her cheeks as she forced herself to meet it.
“I get the feeling the very beautiful Charlotte Kincaid can’t quite see what I can contribute to the problem with which she’s confronted.” He sipped his beer as he narrowed his eyes, which still held her gaze.
She cleared her throat, determined to ignore the fact that he’d just called her very beautiful. “Perhaps you could enlighten me,” she said, refusing to lean back against the soft cushions. She sat up straight instead, her ankles crossed and her hands lightly clasped in front of her, desperately trying to adopt a professional attitude to defend herself from his charm.
“Sure.” He smiled, as if realizing the cause of her discomfort and liking it. It was as if he knew exactly how much she was attracted to him. She felt humiliated that he should know this, but was determined to ignore it. “From what Rob tells me, you’ve been appointed mediator in the Lake Waitahi case. And you’re an experienced mediator, so that must mean you’re stuck between the rich and powerful farmers who are polluting the lake on one hand, and the Maori owners of the lake on the other.”
“Correct.” She looked around at the three men and decided to risk sharing a little more information with them. “The farmers refuse point blank to change their farming practices and the owners of the lake are going to lose money hand over fist as they fight to clean up the lake. I’ve been researching the subject, trying to figure out if there’s some other means by which they could both get what they want. And then I read this article the other day about how planting could ease pollution problems and…” She hesitated, as she remembered the fizz of excitement she’d felt as she’d read the piece. Without thinking, she pressed her hand against her chest. “I don’t know, I just felt that it might be the way forward.”
For once, the aloof look on Cam’s face had gone. He glanced at her hand, which was still pressed over her heart. Suddenly self-conscious, she lowered her hand. He looked into her eyes and they met with a connection which shot straight through the attraction and became something very different.
“You’re passionate about it,” said Cam.
She nodded, realizing for the first time that she was. This was different to any other case she’d mediated. She wanted to resolve the crisis, wanted to find an outcome that would be satisfactory for both parties but, at the moment, the only clue how she could do this had come with the article she’d read.
“Then I’ll help you.” He leaned back against the wooden bench, framed by the prayer flags. His handsome, sensitive features and intense gaze made him look as wise as she felt ignorant. “The article you mentioned, I was one of the peer reviewers for it.” He waved his hand in a careless gesture. “It’s my thing.”
Rob grinned. “Talk about understatement of the year. What Cam isn’t telling you, Charlotte, is that he’s been working on the biodiversity of plants in marsh areas to reduce the impact of farming on waterways for years. He’s your man.”
Charlotte didn’t know why Rob’s last words struck her in such a personal way. She cleared her throat to rid herself of certain thoughts, which had been a feature of her daydreams ever since she’d first met Cam. Focus, Charlotte, focus.
“That, er, sounds exactly the expertise I need. Would you help us?”
“If I can do it before I leave, of course.”
“When are you going?”
“In the New Year.”
“Right.” His imminent departure shouldn’t have made her heart sink. “Well, at least we could get things started. Lay some groundwork. But I’m afraid the budget is limited.”
“Even Charlotte has waived her fees for this job,” said Rob.
“And so will I. Providing…”
Cam rested his arms on his legs and leaned toward Charlotte. She managed to stop herself from doing the same. He seemed to draw her to him like a magnet. She gritted her teeth and glanced at Rob and Ian, but they hadn’t noticed and were busy talking about Flo and how she worked too hard. She turned back to Cam.
“Providing?” She held her breath, her imagination running riot with what kind of proviso Cam would come up with.
“Providing I get to call you Charlie.” He leaned back against the cushioned chair with a grin, lifted one foot onto the opposite knee and took a swig from his beer bottle.
Charlotte’s smile faded instantly. “Charlie isn’t my name. Charlotte is.”
“You need to loosen up, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“I do mind,” she said, picking up her bag. She wasn’t going to sit around and be made fun of.
“And I reckon me calling you Charlie will be good,” continued Cam, as if he hadn’t been interrupted by her denial.
She rose with a tight smile. “Good for you or me?”
“Both, maybe,” he said in that low, sexy voice which never hurried. Cam wasn’t a conversationalist like his brother, Gabe, but when he spoke everyone stopped talking and listened to him, such was his magnetism. “If you play your cards right.”
“I don’t play cards,” she said primly, clutching her bag in front of her as if it would defend her from Cam’s flirtation. She stepped away, desperate to be outside Cam’s compelling orbit. “Anyway, I have to go now.” She paused as she remembered she needed him more than he needed her. “Perhaps we could discuss the matter tomorrow, to educate me on all the relevant facts.”
“Sure thing,” said Cam. He rose in an odd, old-fashioned, gentlemanly manner and, whether or not she wanted him to, joined her as she walked to the garden gate. He opened it for her and stepped aside. “I look forward to educating you tomorrow.”
“Sure, thanks,” she said, hurrying out the gate and almost running toward the car. It took her two goes to unlock the car door and then she jumped in and took off like a bat out of hell, without a backward glance.
Never in her life had she been so challenged, placed so out of her depth by a person. Not her father, not any friends or lovers. But this man, who’d turned up on Flo’s doorstep the night of Flo and Rob’s wedding, looking like a movie-star playing a drifter, had done just that. She had to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. If she had to make a list about why not, she’d have said (1) he was the opposite of everything she’d always wanted in a man, apart from his good looks and (2) he was leaving in a few weeks’ time. And both spelled danger. On that point, she needed no education.