Paperback. Love, aged to perfection.
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Kathleen O’Brien is a former feature writer and TV critic who’s written more than 35 novels. She’s a five-time finalist for the RWA Rita award and a multiple nominee for the Romantic Times awards. Though her books range from warmly witty to suspenseful, they all focus on strong characters and thrilling romantic relationships. They reflect her deep love of family, home and community, and her empathy for the challenges faced by women as they juggle today's complex lives.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
For the Malone family, party meant pizza.
Because the family business was a string of pizza restaurants, the three Malone brothers had more or less started eating it in the cradle. For as long as Colby could remember, the family had celebrated every occasion—holiday, birthday, anniversary, whatever—with platter after platter of Diamante's signature hand-tossed Mar-gherita pizza. Their kids loved it, their friends loved it. Even their girlfriends loved it, or at least pretended to. Otherwise, they became ex-girlfriends in a hurry.
The only time anyone refused Diamante pizza was when one of the Malone wives was pregnant. It was half joke, half legend in the family—for the Malones, morning sickness took the form of an extreme aversion to pizza.
But today, at his brother Redmond's engagement party, Colby couldn't eat a bite. That was a first. Also a first: the chattering of the family and the chaos of the children irritated him.
After the toasts were raised—California zinfandel for the grown-ups, and lemonade for the kids who had graduated from milk—Colby found himself standing slightly apart from everyone, in the shade of an old leather oak, watching the black shadows of clouds try to smother the silver fire of sun on the bay.
Every few minutes, he'd check his phone to be sure the party noise hadn't drowned out the sound of its ringing. Finally, he put it on vibrate, then shoved the thing back into his pants pocket and cursed silently. That old bastard wasn't going to call, was he? This was simply another of Ben Watson's eternal manipulations.
After a few minutes, Colby saw Red lean down and whisper something to Allison. Then Red peeled himself away from her, something he rarely did, and ambled over to Colby.
Colby almost laughed at the casual air Red adopted. He'd used it himself a million times, to escape sticky situations, or to disguise his real intentions. At the moment, Red was obviously trying to hide the fact that he was worried about Colby.
"I'm fine," Colby announced as Red drew closer. His voice sounded a shade too tight, so he added a smile. "What part of kid overload don't you understand?"
Red laughed. "I hear you. Good thing the weather cooperated today. Where else could we have taken this thundering horde?"
It had been Nana Lina's idea to make the party an afternoon picnic, at her Belvedere Cove house of course, where the grounds swept down to the bay and everyone had plenty of room to run and scream and play. The family had expanded like wildfire over the past few years. Kids everywhere now, and not one of them had a single quiet, obedient gene in his DNA.
Matt and Belle's pair, Sarah and Sam, were miniature tornadoes, and had just about ensured the family was banned from any restaurant the Malones didn't own. Red's new fiancée, Allison York, had a little boy who didn't walk yet, but crawled as if he had a jet pack in his diaper.
And of course David Gerard, who had become like a brother, had two kids. Colin, just turned three, never stopped talking and acted like a Malone even without the blood tie.
Ten minutes ago, Red had been trying to teach Colin how to burp the alphabet. Good thing David's wife, Kitty, was busy tending their newborn, Tucker, and hadn't noticed.
Colby was the only male in the family without an offspring. The only one who didn't attend family functions accompanied by a U-Haul full of strollers, bouncers, pedal-operated zoom cars and dolls with glittering zombie eyes and high robotic voices.
Red leaned against the tree, the picture of innocence. After a moment of silence, as if the thought had just occurred to him, he spoke. "So. Did Watson call?"
"No." Colby resisted the urge to look at his phone again. "They might not have let him out of the hospital today after all. That might have been wishful thinking. You know how he is."
They all knew how Ben Watson was. An overweight drunk, who was closer to hitting seventy than anyone had ever expected him to be. A bad-tempered fiend who lived alone and didn't do anything but watch his sweet little Sonoma Valley vineyard go to rack and ruin around him.
Well, over the past few months, he'd done at least one other thing. He'd pestered Colby, trying to sell him information about Ben's daughter, Hayley, who had disappeared with her mother and sister seventeen years ago.
"He'll call," Red said softly. "If not today, then tomorrow."
Damn it. Colby didn't want pity. Not even Red's. He was already regretting opening up about the whole mess. He'd coped perfectly well, alone, with Ben Watson's first few calls. He'd even made an appointment to see the old guy—six appointments, in fact, over the past three months. Ben kept cancelling for one trumped-up reason after another.
Colby had finally called his bluff and told the old bastard to go to hell. But then, a week ago, Ben had phoned one last time, like a desperate poker player raising the stakes, going all in. He'd said he not only knew how to find Hayley, but he also had information about the people who had adopted Hayley's baby.
That had come out of the blue, like a sucker punch. As soon as Colby could breathe again, he knew he had to talk to someone. Nana Lina was the obvious choice. She was the only one who had known there ever was a baby in the first place. But Nana Lina wasn't strong these days. A year or two ago, she'd been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, A-fib, a heart condition that they were trying to control with medication.
But she still had mystery spells, days when she didn't get into Diamante at all. They hadn't yet been able to persuade her to consult another doctor. She said her regular internist Dr. Douglas was fine. It was nothing but the slowing down of age. Maybe she was right. She was almost eighty now.
Still, he wasn't going to upset her with what might just be another false alarm.
And so he'd told Matt and Red instead, enduring their quiet shock as best he could. They'd both advised him to go see Watson, to get the information at any cost, and decide later what, if anything, to do with it.
Then Ben Watson had a heart attack, and he'd been in the hospital ever since. He refused to talk to Colby over the phone, refused to say anything until he was released.
Which was supposed to happen today. But even though it was nearly six o'clock, the phone still lay like a useless stone in Colby's pocket.
"Why the hell can't he just write a letter?" Red sounded irritable, defensive for his brother, as of course he would be. They'd been each other's safety nets since they were orphaned as teenagers.
Shrugging, Colby tugged a leaf off the oak. Its brown center spread out in blotches of red and yellow, ending in green tips that he tore off with sharp twists, as if they were a surrogate for Ben Watson's throat.
The smoky odor the leaf released smelled like every October of Colby's life. This month, that smell, had always reminded him of Hayley. And if it still reminded him of her now, after seventeen Octobers spent with countless other women, he had a feeling it always would.
Red was still ranting. "Watson always was a control freak. Frankly, I don't know how his wife stood it as long as she did."
Colby made a noncommittal sound. He didn't like to think about the years Mrs. Watson had endured in that mission-style vineyard house. Colby should have called the police. He should have guessed that those bruises Hayley always attributed to tussles with her younger sister must have been something more sinister. But he'd been a privileged eighteen-year-old from a loving family. He'd never seen domestic violence.
He'd been so lucky, though he hadn't realized it at the time.
"I was just wondering..." Red glanced over at Colby. "I wonder if Ben even knows anything, really. I wonder if he's stringing you along, enjoying getting your hopes up. And, even if he does, who says it really concerns you? I mean...at the time, you didn't think the ba—"
"Allison is looking for you, Red," Colby interjected before his brother could finish that sentence. He wasn't going to consider the possibility that Ben Watson was lying. That the old man didn't know where the child was.
That Hayley's unborn child might not even have been Colby's baby.
After carrying guilt around all these years, surely he wasn't going to get this close to an answer, only to have it ripped out from under him, like some stupid cartoon character standing on a nonexistent ledge.
This week, waiting for Ben Watson's call, had been difficult. He wanted to believe Ben had real information to sell. He had to believe it. He looked out at his family, spreading across the sloping green lawn, laughing, dancing, eating pizza... They all looked so damn contented. Even little Colin, who had eaten a slice too many and was holding his stomach and crying, was one lucky kid surrounded by love.
So many happy endings. And endings that hadn't been easy to find. Once upon a time, David's romance had seemed impossible, and Matt's road had been pretty bumpy, too. And Red—well, that relationship was nothing short of a miracle.
So the idea that Colby might be able to atone for his one supreme sin, the idea that he might be able to salvage something from the wreckage his younger, arrogant, teenage self had created...
Was that so much to ask?
His hand went toward his pocket one more time. Just as his fingertips touched the metal, he felt it vibrate. As he pulled the phone out, he glanced up at Red, who frowned, obviously aware this might be the moment.
Colby answered it, angling his side to Red, away from the party, needing at least a fraction of privacy. He listened for a minute, then hung up with cold fingers.
Red leaned in closer, his voice tense. "What, damn it? Was it Ben?"
"No," he said....
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Descripción Harlequin. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Estado de conservación: New. 0373606907. Nº de ref. de la librería FU-486H-W4FR
Descripción Harlequin, 2012. Mass Market Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Lgr. Nº de ref. de la librería DADAX0373606907
Descripción Harlequin, 2012. Mass-market paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Mass market (rack) paperback. Glued binding. 362 p. Harlequin Larger Print Superromance, 1766. Audience: General/trade. Nº de ref. de la librería Alibris_0020750
Descripción Harlequin, 2012. Mass Market Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. book. Nº de ref. de la librería M0373606907