Once and Again
Return to Briarwood # 1
Return to Briarwood # 1
By: Elisabeth Barrett
Releasing July 14, 2015
For readers of Shannon Stacey and Susan Mallery, the heartfelt new Briarwood series begins with a tale of forbidden love, broken promises, and second chances.
Growing up in Eastbridge, Connecticut, Carolyn Rivington was a young debutante who did whatever her parents asked. So when her father demanded that she break things off with the boy from the wrong side of the tracks or else, she did. Now Carolyn’s family is deep in debt. She’s no longer a member of the Briarwood Golf and Yacht Club, she’s an employee. And the tanned, tattooed, dangerously handsome stranger who saunters into her lobby isn’t just her new boss . . . he’s also her first love.
The last time he saw Carolyn, Jake Gaffney was in the back of a police cruiser, handcuffed and humiliated. But seeing her again stirs other memories: a blanket on the beach, the moon above their heads, and the most expensive bottle of wine he could afford. Now the tables have turned. As a real-estate magnate and Briarwood’s new owner, Jake doesn’t have to answer to anyone. But now that he’s back home, he’s finding it hard to live down his old reputation.
Before they can move forward, Jake and Carolyn must face their pasts. But it’ll take more than sizzling chemistry for them to heal old wounds and return to the love they once shared.
“C’mon, Carolyn. I used to work here, remember?” His voice had dropped a pitch. “You can tell me what’s going on.”
He was close now. So close that she could reach out and touch him if she wanted. See if underneath the bulge of muscle and intricately inked flesh he was the same man he’d always been. Would he smell the same? Taste the same?
Then she remembered his place. And hers.
“ isgoing on.”
“What are you doing here, Carolyn?” His voice was quiet and hard.
“Working,” she informed him.
There she was, laying it on the line. And damned if he didn’t know it.
Jake didn’t speak. Just let the silence draw out until she thought she was going to scream. He was toying with her, and she hated that the boy she once loved had so much power and she so little. She should apologize or subjugate herself. Beg.
In her own twisted way, she already had.
At long last, he scrubbed a big hand over his face. “I should fire you, but I’m not going to.”
The breath she’d been holding escaped her lips. “Why not?”
“Because I need you and as far as I can tell, you need me. Otherwise, why would you, of all people, be working in this washed-up club?”
“Yes, I need you,” he snapped, his face a mask. “I have to modernize this place without alienating any of the existing members. They can’t stand me, but they relate to you. To that.” He gestured at her.
She frowned and crossed her arms under her breasts. “So what, exactly, do you want me to do?”
“Work them any way you can. Get them excited about the renovations I’m going to do.”
“I wouldn’t know what to say.”
“Talk about improvements—a new spa, a new golfing range, a new boathouse, whatever. They’ll listen to you. You’ve been director of events for only half a year, but your work is responsible for increasing overall club revenue by seven percent. You’ve made this club a destination for members looking for a venue to host parties. You know what a big deal that is? We’re still in a recession and membership has been falling for the past five years. You’ve clearly got a head for this kind of work.” He paused. “Plus, you’ve got that whole lady-who-lunches thing going for you.”
Carolyn lifted her chin. “This suit was my mother’s,” she said, then blanched. She hadn’t meant for that to slip out. It was none of Jake’s business that she was wearing her mom’s clothes. Or that she’d sold off her couture months ago to pay the utility bills.
He ignored that. “I also want you to plan an event for me,” he said.
Carolyn took a deep breath. So he wasn’t going to fire her, and he wanted a party. She could do a party. What kind of event would he want? “A welcome party?” she guessed.
“Exactly,” he said. “My introduction to our current members and our neighbors, to showcase what kinds of services Briarwood has to offer. It needs to happen fast. No later than May.”
Okay, he really need her. No one else at Briarwood could do the job, and for him to find someone else on such short notice would pretty much be impossible without paying through the nose. With relief, she kicked her brain into party-planning mode. “It would also be a way to get those neighbors involved in the club before the refurbishment happens, and to emphasize the perks of early membership,” she observed.
“Yes. I want to talk about the new architectural plans for the clubhouse, the boathouse, and the golf course. I got Walter Williams, the famous course designer, to sign on to work with us. If that doesn’t make people want to be a part of this place, I don’t know what will.” He actually smiled a little, light laugh lines forming brackets around his mouth. When he didn’t have his angry face on, he really was beautiful.
“It will. I have this, Jake. I’ll make sure it’s exactly what you want. Thank you.”
“Jesus, Carolyn,” he said, his scowl back full force. “Don’t fucking thank me.”
She blinked and drew back. “I—I won’t, then.”
His brows creased, and then, surprisingly, his expression softened. “Why are you here?”
She was so tempted to blurt it all out. To tell him everything—mostly that she desperately needed the money since Charles Worring, her dad’s financial advisor, had made off with the entire Rivington portfolio—along with the investment portfolios of her father’s friends who he’d referred to Worring. But she couldn’t bear the shame. So she told him a version of the truth. “I guess because it felt like home.” Because it was the one place that would still have her, even though this world—the old world and everything Briarwood represented—was fading fast.
Jake had such a lack of expression on his face, she honestly couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Did he believe her? Did it matter? The Jake she remembered wore his heart on his sleeve. New Jake kept every emotion except anger in lockdown.
Jake stared at her for another long minute. His jaw clenched and unclenched. A little muscle rippled high on his cheek. “Thursday. Eight thirty. Be ready to present your plans for this event.”
“I will.” She held out her hand.
He reached out, too, and when skin touched skin, an electric current sizzled up her arm. He gripped harder. The sizzle intensified and was joined by a tingling sensation near the base of her spine that worked its way up her body and settled right in her core.
Quickly, she glanced up at Jake. He was watching her intently, giving her the same hungry look he’d given her countless times during that summer so very long ago. For the briefest of moments, she caught a glimpse of that proud, beautiful boy he’d been reflected in his face, and then a split second later, it was gone.
She didn’t shrink under his scrutiny, but nor could she speak. She couldn’t tell him how badly she needed this job. She couldn’t tell him how desperate she was to catch a break—any break—in her family’s case against Worring. And she certainly couldn’t tell him how, if they hadn’t been interrupted, she’d willingly have given him everything—body and soul—that night, fifteen years ago on the pebbly sand underneath the Briarwood docks. So Carolyn did the only thing she could.
She tore her hand from his grasp, gave him a short nod, and with her head held high, marched down the corridor and out to the staff parking lot.
The author does a great job of introducing the characters for future books, but at times it felt like it was too much information about secondary characters instead of Jake and Carolyn. It starts out and ends strong, but the middle drags a bit. Both Jake and Carolyn have changed in the fifteen years they've been apart, but they are now more prepared to deal with their feelings for each other. I loved the way Jake takes care of Carolyn's needs - even if she doesn't know he's doing it. I only wish there would have been more of them rekindling their romance without so much of the extra information that seemed unnecessary. I still enjoyed the story and I am looking forward to the next book.
I received an ARC via NetGalley for the purpose of an honest review. I was not compensated for this review, all conclusions are my own.
Elisabeth Barrett lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and spends her days teaching, editing, writing sexy contemporary romance, and enjoying time with her sometimes-bearded husband and three spirited children. She is constantly perfecting her home-work-writing juggling act, but in her free time she loves to hike open-space preserves, grow orchids, bake sweet things her husband won’t eat, and sing in grand choruses. For more about Elisabeth, please visit her website.