She wasn't a risk-taker. She was always absolutely sure a step was completed before she took the next. It was part of her personality—at least it had been for nearly ten years. She'd trained herself to be practical, to be cautious. Megan O'Riley was a woman who double-checked the locks at night.
To prepare for the flight from Oklahoma to Maine, she had meticulously packed carry-on bags for herself and her son, and had arranged for the rest of their belongings to be shipped. It was foolish, she thought, to waste time at baggage claim.
The move east wasn't an impulse. She had told herself that dozens of times during the past six months. It was both a practical and an advantageous step, not only for herself, but for Kevin, too. The adjustment shouldn't be too difficult, she thought as she glanced over to the window seat where her son was dozing. They had family in Bar Harbor, and Kevin had been beside himself with excitement ever since she'd told him she was considering moving near his uncle and his half brother and sister. And cousins, she thought. Four new babies had been born since she and Kevin had first flown to Maine, to attend her brother's wedding to Amanda Calhoun.
She watched him sleep, her little boy. Not so little anymore, she realized. He was nearly nine. It would be good for him to be a part of a big family. The Calhouns were generous, God knew, with their affection.
She would never forget how Suzanna Calhoun Dumont, now Bradford, had welcomed her the year before. Even knowing that Megan had been Suzanna's husband's lover just prior to Suzanna's marriage, had borne Baxter Dumont a child, Suzanna had been warm and open.
Of course, Megan was a poor example of the classic other woman. She hadn't known Suzanna even existed when she fell for Baxter. She'd been only seventeen, naive, and ready to believe all the promises and the vows of undying love. No, she hadn't known Bax was engaged to Suzanna Calhoun.
When she'd given birth to Baxter's child, he'd been on his honeymoon. He had never seen or acknowledged the son Megan O'Riley had borne him.
Years later, when fate tossed Megan's brother, Sloan, and Suzanna's sister Amanda together, the story had come out.
Now, through the twists and turns of fate, Megan and her son would live in the house where Suzanna and her sisters had grown up. Kevin would have family—a half brother and sister, cousins, and a houseful of aunts and uncles. And what a house.
The Towers, Megan mused. The glorious old stone structure Kevin still called a castle. She wondered what it would be like to live there, to work there. Now that the renovations on The Towers Retreat were completed, a large portion of the house served as a hotel. A St. James hotel, she added thoughtfully, the brainstorm of Trenton St. James III, who had married the youngest Calhoun, Catherine.
St. James hotels were known worldwide for their quality and class. The offer to join the company as head accountant had, after much weighing and measuring, simply been too good to resist.
And she was dying to see her brother, Sloan, the rest of the family, The Towers itself.
If she was nervous, she told herself it was foolish to be. The move was a very practical, very logical step. Her new title, accounts manager, soothed frustrated ambitions, and though money had never been a problem, her new salary didn't hurt the ego, either.
And most important of all, she would have more time to spend with Kevin.
As the approach for landing was announced, Megan reached over, brushed a hand through Kevin's hair. His eyes, dark and sleepy, blinked open.
“Are we there yet?”
“Just about. Put your seat back up. Look, you can see the bay.”
“We're going to go boating, right?” If he'd been fully awake, he might have remembered he was too old to bounce on his seat. But he bounced now, his face pressed to the window in his excitement. “And see whales. We'll go on Alex's new dad's boat.”
The idea of boating made her stomach turn, but she smiled gamely. “You bet we will.”
“And we're really going to live in that castle?” He turned back to her, her beautiful boy with his golden skin and tousled black hair.
“You'll have Alex's old room.”
“And there's ghosts.” He grinned, showing gaps where baby teeth had been. “So they say. Friendly ones.”
“Maybe not all of them.” At least Kevin hoped not. “Alex says there's lots of them, and sometimes they moan and scream. And last year a man fell right out of the tower window and broke all his bones on the rocks.”
She shuddered, knowing that part was sterling truth. The Calhoun emeralds, discovered a year before, had drawn out more than a legend and romance. They'd drawn out a thief and a murderer. “That's over with now, Kevin. The Towers is safe.”
“Yeah.” But he was a boy, after all, and hoped for at least a little danger.
There was another boy who was already plotting adventures. It felt as though he'd been waiting forever at the airport gate for his brother to arrive. Alex had one hand in his mother's, the other in Jenny's— because, as his mother had told him, he was the oldest and had to keep his sister close.
His mother was holding the baby, his brand-new brother. Alex could hardly wait to show him off.
“Why aren't they here yet?”
“Because it takes time for people to get off the plane and out the gate.”
“How come it’s called a gate?” Jenny wanted to know. “It doesn't look like a gate.”
“I think they used to have gates, so they still call them that.” It was the best Suzanna could come up with after a frazzling half hour at the airport with three children in tow.
Then the baby cooed and made her smile. “Look, Mom! There they are!”
Before Suzanna could respond, Alex had broken away and made a beeline toward Kevin, Jenny hot on his heels. She winced as they barely missed plowing into other passengers, then raised a resigned hand to wave at Megan.
“Hi!” Alex, having been schooled in airport procedure by his mother, manfully took Kevin's carryon. “I'm supposed to take this 'cause we're picking you up.” It bothered him a little that, even though his mother claimed he was growing like a weed, Kevin was still taller.
“Have you still got the fort?”
“We got the one at the big house,” Alex told him. “And we got a new one at the cottage. We live at the cottage.”
“With our dad,” Jenny piped up. “We got new names and everything. He can fix anything, and he built me a new bedroom.”
“It has pink curtains,” Alex said with a sneer.
Knowing a brawl was dangerously close, Suzanna neatly stepped between her two children. “How was your flight?” She bent down, kissed Kevin, then straightened to kiss Megan.
“It was fine, thanks.” Megan still didn't know quite how to respond to Suzanna's easy affection. There were still times she wanted to shout, I slept with your husband. Don't you understand? Maybe he wasn't your husband yet, and I didn't know he would be, but facts are facts. “A little delayed,” she said instead. “I hope you haven't been waiting long.”
“Hours,” Alex claimed.
“Thirty minutes,” Suzanna corrected with a laugh. “How about the rest of your stuff?”
“I had it shipped. This is it for now.” Megan tapped her garment bag. Unable to resist, she peeked down at the bright-eyed baby in Suzanna's arms. He was all pink and smooth, with the dark blue eyes of a newborn and a shock of glossy black hair. She felt the foolish smile that comes over adults around babies spread over her face as he waved an impossibly small fist under her nose.
“Oh, he's beautiful. So tiny.”
“He's three weeks old,” Alex said importantly. “His name is Christian.”
“ 'Cause that was our great-grandfather's name,” Jenny supplied. “We have new cousins, too. Bianca and Cordelia—but we call her Delia—and Ethan.”
Alex rolled his eyes. “Everybody had babies.”
“He's nice,” Kevin decided after a long look. “Is he my brother, too?”
“Absolutely,” Suzanna said, before Megan could respond. “I'm afraid you've got an awfully big family now.”
Kevin gave her a shy look and touched a testing finger to Christian's waving fist. “I don't mind.”
Suzanna smiled over at Megan. “Want to trade?”
Megan hesitated a moment, then gave in. “I'd love to.” She cradled the baby while Suzanna took the garment bag. “Oh, Lord.” Unable to resist, she nuzzled. “It's easy to forget how tiny they are. How wonderful they smell. And you...” As they walked through the terminal, she took a good look at Suzanna. “How can you look so terrific, when you had a baby only three weeks ago?”
“Oh, bless you. I've been feeling like such a frump. Alex, no running.”
“Same goes, Kevin. How's Sloan taking to fatherhood?” Megan wanted to know. “I hated not coming out when Mandy had the baby, but with selling the house and getting things in order to make the move, I just couldn't manage it.”
“Everyone understood. And Sloan's a terrific daddy. He'd have Delia strapped on his back twenty-four hours a day if Amanda let him. He designed this incredible nursery for the babies. Window seats, cubbyholes, wonderful built-in cupboards for toys. Delia and Bianca share it, and when C.C. and Trent are in town—which, since The Retreat opened, is more often than not—Ethan's in there, too.”
“It's wonderful that they'll all grow up together.” She looked at Kevin, Alex and Jenny, thinking as much about them as about the babies.
Suzanna understood perfectly. “Yes, it is. I'm so glad you're here, Megan. It's like getting another sister.” She watched Megan's lashes lower. Not quite ready for that, Suzanna surmised, and switched subjects. “And it's going to be a huge relief to hand over the books to you. Not only for The Retreat, but for the boat business, too.”
“I'm looking forward to it.”
Suzanna stopped by a new minivan, unlocked the doors. “Pile in,” she told the kids, then slipped the baby out of Megan's arms. “I hope you say that after you get a look at the ledgers.” Competently she strapped the baby into his car seat. “I'm afraid Holt's a pathetic record keeper. And Nathaniel...”
“Oh, that's right. Holt has a partner now. What did Sloan tell me? An old friend?”
“Holt and Nathaniel grew up together on the island. Nathaniel moved back a few months ago. He used to be in the merchant marine. There you go, sweetie.” She kissed the baby, then shot an eagle eye over the rest of the children to make sure seat belts were securely buckled. She clicked the sliding door into place, then rounded the hood as Megan took the passenger seat. “He's quite a character,” Suzanna said mildly. “You'll get a kick out of him.”
The character was just finishing up an enormous lunch of fried chicken, potato salad and lemon meringue pie. With a sigh of satisfaction, he pushed back from the table and eyed his hostess lustfully.
“What do I have to do to get you to marry me, darling?”
She giggled, blushed and waved a hand at him. “You're such a tease, Nate.”
“Who's teasing?” He rose, grabbed her fluttering hand and kissed it lavishly. She always smelted like a woman—soft, lush, glorious. He winked and skimmed his lips up to nibble on her wrist. “You know I'm crazy about you, Coco.”
Cordelia Calhoun McPike gave another delighted giggle, then patted his cheek. “About my cooking.”
“That, too.” He grinned when she slipped away to pour him coffee. She was a hell of a woman, he thought. Tall, stately, striking. It amazed him that some smart man hadn't scooped up the widow McPike long ago. “Who do I have to fight off this week?”
“Now that The Retreat's open, I don't have time for romance.” She might have sighed over it if she wasn't so pleased with her life. All her darling girls were married and happy, with babies of their own. She had grandnieces and grandnephews to spoil, nephews-in-law to coddle, and, most surprising of all, a full-fledged career as head chef for the St. James Towers Retreat. She offered Nathaniel the coffee and, because she caught him eyeing the pie, cut him another slice.
“You read my mind.”
Now she did sigh a little. There was nothing quite so comforting to Coco as watching a man enjoy her food. And he was some man. When Nathaniel Fury rolled back into town, people had noticed. Who could overlook tall, dark and handsome? Certainly not Coco McPike. Particularly not when the combination came with smoky gray eyes, a cleft chin and wonderfully golden skin over sharp cheekbones—not to mention considerable charm.