They were just high school friends when they got married. Jill desperately needed a father for her unborn child and Vince wanted to give them both his name. But on their wedding night Jill walked out of his life. Eleven years later, Vince wants to meet his son and reclaim the love that should have been his.
Heat level: medium.
Edda Mae appeared at the corner of the garage. “I buzzed that casino man in the front gate.”
That’s what Jill got for trying to cut corners. The main gate intercom rang to Edda Mae’s caretaker’s cottage. It had been significantly cheaper to wire the gate controls to the cottage since it was one hundred feet closer than the apartment above the dining hall/kitchen where Jill and Teddy lived.
“Need I remind you to mind your manners?” Edda Mae asked as she melted back into the shadows. Edda Mae probably expected Jill to race down the road into Vince’s arms.
“I wouldn’t have to mind my manners if the gate stayed locked,” Jill mumbled.
Gravel crunched beneath tires on the driveway and headlights swung around onto them and then away as Vince parked out of sight in front of the garage. A fiercely smooth engine roared once before settling into silence.
He’d want a divorce. Jill spun her wedding ring with her left thumb. It wasn’t as if she was getting alimony or child support from Vince. A divorce shouldn’t be a big deal, but odd as it seemed being married to Vince was a part of who she was. But preserving the small town integrity of Railroad Stop was more important than a ring on her finger.
“Jill?” Vince’s voice was deep and oddly familiar when so much about her husband was a mystery to her.
A breath of cool mountain air made Jill shiver. “Over here.”
They’d gone to private school together since kindergarten. Vince was the class loner in high school, a situation he and his perpetual scowl seemed comfortable with especially when it didn’t seem to deter a certain type of willing girl. Jill was the brainy girl who didn’t quite fit in. Although they’d been friends of sorts since they were five, the older they got the less frequently their paths crossed.
Oddly, Vince had asked Jill to come watch the sunset on his boat on Senior Ditch Day. But by then Craig was coming over to her house and Craig was so perfect – captain of every sports team, class president – no girl would be stupid enough to turn Craig down. Whereas Vince…Vince was the kind of boy her parents warned her about.
Jill struggled to fill her lungs with air. Turns out Craig wasn’t so perfect after all and Vince –
Teddy balanced his paint brush on the edge of the can and leaned against Jill, bringing her back to the present. “Is it Batman?” he whispered.
They both giggled. Jill draped an arm over Teddy’s shoulders as Vince came around the corner, looking every inch the heir to a grand casino in Las Vegas in his custom made suit and tie, draining the laughter from in her throat. The rebellious boy who wore a leather jacket and pierced his ear was nowhere to be seen in this man. Jill, on the other hand, had gone from put-together, studious debutante to harried, working single mom. Her stomach flip-flopped.
“It’s good to see you, Jill. You look great.” As Vince approached his gaze drifted over her, no doubt registering the extra pounds she’d put on over the years.
“You, too.” She didn’t have to tell Vince he looked better than great. He probably knew it. She could imagine the plastic babes roaming Vegas fell regularly at his feet. If only Jill could just as easily imagine Vince turning them down. He must think she was a pathetic pushover for hanging onto him for so long.
Vince held Jill immobile with his dark gaze as he continued to narrow the gap between them. Hugging had become de rigueur in the business world in the last ten years. Surely he didn’t…
Part of her rejoiced. That unexpected emotion was immediately quelled by a stronger, more predictable desire for self preservation which usually gave Jill the strength to step back, raise hand and smoothly utter an excuse for the man to keep his distance.
Only this time self preservation faltered. Jill could barely remember her own name, much less his. She wanted to put up her guard, but she couldn’t lift a finger. And her feet…her feet weren’t moving either.
He wasn’t stopping. Jill’s heart thudded against her chest.
By shear force of will Jill managed to take a jerky step back. Surely he’d see. He’d always been good at picking up on her body language, but it had been so long he probably didn’t realize. Long arms reached for her. Large hands settled on her shoulders and drew her to him.
Don’t, don’t, don’t don’t… “Don’t!” she cried, her feet suddenly obeying her command. Her butt hit the remaining sawhorse and she would have flipped over, but Vince held her tight.
The Story Behind the Story
When I wrote Count on Love, the hero, Sam Knight, had a friend, Vince, who was a bad boy - not that he'd chosen that path, but life had dealt him some bad hands. So, in my mind I knew Vince wasn't such a bad guy, just misunderstood by most people. I thought he'd been jilted by the one girl who had the power to make him whole again. Unfortunately, when these two originally met they were both a bit wounded and not ready to help each other heal.
But I had to set these two up to meet again. Since Vince was part of a casino owning dynasty, I was able to look in my own backyard. Many Indian tribes are partnering with larger gambling companies to open their local casinos. Vince wants to broker a deal with a tribe in the California foothills, where he rediscovers Jill, who doesn't want a casino to come to her small town.
I had been to a writing retreat up in the mountains above Columbia, CA, which I used for inspiration for Jill's business. It felt like a small dorm had been set down in the mountains. I must admit that the road to get there is narrow and curvy and oh-so-fun to drive if you like that kind of thing (I do! And so did Vince!).
Cover buzz: This is one of my favorite Superromance covers. There is chemistry here and a beautiful background. I'm glad they didn't take my cover direction literally - Vince would have been wearing an Italian suit and sunglasses. And Jill, who never wore a dress in the book, looks fabulous!
It's always a challenge to write a marriage of convenience in modern times. This was a fun book to write. Hope you enjoy it!