West Coast Happily-Ever-After Book 5
A match made in heaven? In what universe?
Boston lawyer Gwyneth Jacobi’s perfect life is on the skids. First, she suffered a humiliating and very public loss in San Francisco and, now, her dad is dying. Being handed the ignoble job of helping a wealthy do-gooder with a Don Quixote complex save an old lady and her pig sounds like the punch line to a bad joke—until the day she meets Cuddles the pig and her handsome champion, Arley McNamara.
Can a man who has never lacked for anything—but love—convince a by-the-book lawyer to bend a few rules for the greater good? Or will Gwyneth make Arley’s “cause célébre” her shortcut to the top, leaving Arley and the family he’s determined to help behind? The laws of love demand the kind of truth only an honest heart can answer.
Some readers may have received a FREE copy of this story when it was a short Novelette. I’ve added new scenes and expanded the story to tie in more closely with A BABY AFTER ALL, where you first meet Gwyneth–the lawyer they call the “barracuda.”
First kiss: Tuesday Excerpt © Loner Llama Press:
She stood up, leaving her meal mostly uneaten, her drink untouched. Arley had invited Molly and T.J. to join them, but Molly had called to say she had a touch of the flu and needed T.J. to help. That left Gwyneth and Arley, as unlikely a pair of crusaders as you could ask for, to carry on the fight. Gwyn had done her best. She’d bought Molly some time, and now she was fought out. “I’m sorry. I have to go.”
“What? Wait. No. We’re celebrating.”
She was too frazzled, too emotionally depleted, to explain. She turned and walked out of Hooligan’s, the well-known and popular pub she’d always planned to visit. Her car was two blocks away. The evening air was cool and damp in that unique way that reminded her how much she loved this city.
Arley followed after her. “Gwyneth, what’s going on? Something’s wrong. I’ve felt it ever since you arrived at the hearing. Are you okay?”
She ignored his questions. Even one mention of the turmoil in her head would open a floodgate she might never be able to close. “It’s personal.”
His hand landed on her shoulder. “Screw personal.”
Anger–her emotional safety net–made her pivot to face him. “No. Screw you. My life is my own. It doesn’t involve you. You’re a client. I’m your legal advisor and representative in court. We’re not friends or buddies or pals. Now, excuse me, but I have to be somewhere.”
Screw you? Arley’s arms dropped to his side in complete and utter shock. Had anyone ever said that to him before? He doubted it. There might have been a time in his life when he would have been angered or upset by her dismissal, but this was Gwyneth–a cool, composed professional. For her to lose her temper so completely she’d risk alienating him–and the money he brought to her company–meant something bad–something very bad–was going on.
“We might not be friends, but there’s a good chance we’re soul mates,” he said, blocking her escape.
Her eyes widened with obvious incredulousness. “The office gossip was right. You are nuts.”
“I prefer eccentric.”
“Tough. I’m out of here.”
“Sorry. I can’t let you go. Not until I’m confident that you’re okay to drive.”
“I didn’t even touch my Cosmopolitan.”
“I noticed, but you’re upset. You can pretend that you’re upset with me, but we both know–”
She sliced the air between them with her free hand. “What part of ‘It’s personal’ don’t you get?”
He closed the gap between them in one step and put his arms around her.
He’d meant to hug her, only. Offer a little human compassion. But the moment his lips brushed hers, he knew a hug would never be enough between them.
He expected her to struggle, to push him away. She didn’t. She didn’t react in any way for a second or two then she gave a small cry and leaned into him. An instant later, he heard her briefcase hit the pavement and her arms returned his embrace.
Her scent, the taste of her lipstick, the wet heat of her mouth pushed him outside his comfort zone. He hadn’t grown up in a family that expressed their emotions casually or in public. But this wasn’t about a friendly touch–the need coursing through his brain quickly turned to pure desire. And more.
He was afraid to stop kissing her on the chance the chilly persona she showed to the world would return. As long as they were locked in each other’s arms they could avoid that nasty thing called reality.
He knew that sound.
He jerked back, and spun around, roughly shoving Gwyneth behind him.
Click. Click. Click. Even digital cameras make a sound that a private person like Arley dreaded.
“Evening, Mr. McNamara. Ms. Jacobi. Congrats on the win today. Give my best to the pig.”
Read on…. LOVE, AFTER ALL
“No. My God, no. Nolan, you can’t be serious. Is this retribution for what happened in San Francisco?”
Gwyneth Jacobi had suffered more than her share of setbacks in the past few months. Losing her firm’s largest West-coast client had topped the list, followed closely by watching the man she’d thought she might care for deeply cast her aside in favor of his wife. Was it any wonder she hadn’t handled the staff issues at the San Francisco branch of Silver, Reisbecht and Lane well? But the ensuing mutiny paled in comparison to the humiliation senior partner Nolan Reisbecht, her eighty-year-old mentor, was suggesting.
“Now, Gwyn, Arley McNamara is a very important client. We’ve served his family for forty-odd years.”
“You handled his divorce. The man caved.”
“He chose to be generous.”
“To a woman who knowingly signed a prenuptial agreement. I’m the barracuda, Nolan. I need something challenging. Don’t you have an ax murderer I could defend?” Something–anything–to keep my mind off Dad. “I know you were disappointed in how I handled things in California, but those people aren’t normal. They don’t think like we do. If you give me another chance, I won’t let you down.”
Like Dad. Who’d promised to take his meds religiously while she was in California. Who’d vowed to be in remission by the time she returned.
She considered sharing her father’s health crisis with Nolan but wondered if he’d even believe her. After all, she’d worked hard to appear invincible. People assumed she lacked a beating heart and most of her scruples.
“This is something entirely different. Arley wants to help an old woman who is being forced off her land.”
“Why does he care?”
“I don’t know. He’s a bit of a rogue. Takes after his grandmother. Arlene came from cotton mill money. Silver spoon shipped over from England and all that. Not that she acted the part, but she was the true force behind that family. By naming Arley after her, his parents secured the bulk of Arlene’s estate in his name.”
Great. A trust fund baby. Spoiled and entitled with a Don Quixote complex. “It doesn’t matter where the money came from. Tilting at windmills is a waste of my time and talent. Nolan, my friend, please. I beg you. Give him to somebody else.”
“Alas, my dear, you are not only low lawyer on the totem pole, you are persona non-gratis among the partners.”
Gwyneth got up and walked to his desk. She sat her fanny on the corner of the highly polished teak surface then crossed her left leg over her right. A surefire distraction that had never failed with men under the age of ninety.
Nolan looked down. Her vantage point gave her a perfect view of his freckled bald spot. But only for a second. His chin snapped back. “Now, don’t you try your sexpot tricks on me, missy. This is business.”
Make that men under the age of eighty.
She jumped to her feet, poised to stomp from the room. The old Gwyneth would have. The new Gwyneth couldn’t afford theatrics. She needed this job, now more than ever.
She drew herself up proudly. “Very well. I’ll contact him today.”
“I already took care of that. Meet him at Molly Murdock’s at ten. The address and directions are on your desk.” As she turned to leave, he added, “Oh, and, dear, you might want to change your shoes.”
She looked down at her favorite pair of Manolos. Not likely. High heels and Armani weren’t just her style, they were her armor.
* * *
The pig’s skin felt tough and bristly to the touch. Why had he thought it would be smooth? Because of his china piggy bank, perhaps? The one Arley had smashed when he was seven so he could give the money to a panhandler outside their Manhattan apartment.
His father had been appalled. “Give those people money and they’ll never quit asking for handouts.” But Arley tended to do the opposite of what people wanted him to do. The bum on the street had disappeared with his bounty, wrapped in one of Arley’s father’s monogrammed handkerchiefs, and never again appeared on their doorstep.
Probably because Father had him arrested, a cynical voice whispered. Arley hated that voice.
“Her name is Cuddles,” Molly called out.
The pig made earthy snuffling noises that seemed to generate from the underside of her belly, which was hanging just a few inches above the ground. Her eyes displayed a complete and utter lack of interest in him.
“She seems pretty lively to me,” Arley said to be polite. Actually the porcine pet lumbered after the tottering old woman like a dog at heel. The image would have been comical if the situation weren’t so dire. Molly was being told Cuddles had to go. Nobody seemed to care that Cuddles was here first, or that Molly had raised the animal from a bottle. The two were as close as his grandmother had been with her demented Yorkie, Fritz.
“Bring her a watermelon next time you come,” Molly said, motioning him to follow her to the house. “Then you’ll see her dance with excitement. I had to stop buying them. Luxuries like that are a little out of my budget.”
Arley’s heart did a familiar flip-flop. To his parents’ annoyance, he’d always been a sucker for the old, the weak, and the ones who just couldn’t seem to make sense of the world.
He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and hit the speed dial number for the offices of Silver, Reisbecht and Lane. “Arley McNamara calling for Nolan Reisbecht or whomever he put on my case.”
“That would be Gwyneth Jacobi. I’ll ring her for you now, sir,” the receptionist said.
Arley thought he detected a certain air of amusement in the woman’s tone. His speculation was sidetracked when a voice came on the line. “Hello, Mr. McNamara. This is Gwyneth Jacobi. I was just leaving for our ten o’clock. Has something changed?”
Her voice was a rich, throaty timbre. Businesslike. Falsely perky. And sexy as hell. Ridiculous as it was to make assumptions, he pictured her as beautiful, slightly exotic and wholly desirable. I need to get out more.
He cleared his throat. “Yes. I’d like you to pick up three or four watermelons on your way. Any variety.”
The line went suspiciously quiet.
“Hello? Did you get that? I’m on my cell and–”
She cut in. “I heard you. I just wasn’t sure I understood the request. Do you know how much you’re paying my firm for my time? Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to call a nearby market and ask for a delivery?”
She was irked. He grinned.
“One of the best parts of being filthy rich is never worrying about trifles,” he said. “Make it ten melons.”
Molly, her watery blue eyes alight with glee, clapped. “Did you hear that, dear girl? We finally have a friend who cares.”
She reached down and patted Cuddles, whose snout came up as if looking for more food. Arley held his breath fearing the animal might take off one of Molly’s gnarled fingers, but the pig gave Molly’s palm a little smooch then focused its attention on Arley’s shoes.
Arley stepped onto the porch. He cared. But not enough to sacrifice his favorite pair of loafers.
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