Ours to LoveA Wicked Lovers novel featuring billionaire brothers
February Alexandria, Virginia
Catherine Ann Blackburn heard the grandfather clock on the landing chime twice and knew she’d delayed the moment long enough. She had a special visit to pay this afternoon. She’d better get moving. She saved her work, blew out the cinnamon- scented candle burning on her desk, and rose to leave her home of?ce. The phone rang, but she allowed the answering machine to pick up. She crossed the hall to her bedroom, where she stripped out of her jeans and George Washington University hoodie. Inside her walk- in closet, she stared at the racks of clothing and debated which of her cemetery dresses to wear. She had four from which to choose. Cat spent way too much time in cemeteries.
A year and a half ago she’d joined Arlington Ladies, an organization of volunteers who attended military services at Arlington National Cemetery in order to make sure that no soldier was buried alone. When she paid her respects to the fallen, Cat represented the thanks of a nation for the soldier’s service and sacri?ce, and she was proud to do so. No one should be laid to rest without someone there to note the passing of a life. Not a soldier, not an old man or woman. Not a baby.
Grief washed over Cat and she shut her eyes, accepting it. Today was a day for remembering, the one day of the year when she allowed herself to wallow in her heartache. Today she wasn’t going to Arlington, but to Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown, Maryland.
She scanned her closet’s contents again, but nothing felt right until she spied the red cashmere sweater. Forget the black dresses. Today, she’d wear red— the color of love.
She donned the sweater and a pair of gray wool slacks. She had just slipped into her shoes when she heard her doorbell ring. Immediately she tensed. Surely this wasn’t her dad, not after the lecture she’d given him last year. You’d think that after ?ve years, George Blackburn would get the fact that she needed to do this by herself.
Her bedroom window overlooked the front yard, so she glanced outside. The only car in her driveway was her white Mercedes convertible, a recent gift to herself for having won the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting for her series on fraudulent charities. Nor did she see her father’s eight- year- old Volvo station wagon at the curb. When the doorbell rang again, followed by three raps against the wood, a pause, then two additional raps, she relaxed. That was her next- door neighbor’s usual knock.
Marsha Wells, the bubbly stay- at- home mother of a second- grader and a toddler, stood on the stoop. She began speaking the moment Cat answered the door.
“You won’t believe this. It’s the most horrible thing.”
Concerned, Cat waved her inside. “What happened? Are your kids okay?”
“They’re fine. This isn’t about us. I spoke to Janie from Paw Pals a few minutes ago. Boy, was she furious.”
Janie Pemberton was the director of Paw Pals, the canine rescue organization that was another of Cat’s volunteer causes. “Something to do with Paw Pals?”
“Indirectly. She says she’s stumbled upon a dogfighting ring operating here in town. Some prominent people might be involved.”
“Mom! Hurry up,” Lori Reese urged, sounding more like a six-year-old than a young woman in her sophomore year of college. “We don’t want to be late!”
At the sound of her daughter’s voice, Sarah Reese rolled over in bed, buried her face in the thick, downy pillow, and contemplated taking up bank robbery in order to afford a return trip to this resort. She and Lori were nearing the end of their two-week all-expenses-paid Australian vacation, and the experience had given her a tantalizing taste of traveling in the lap of luxury.
“Ten more minutes.” This bed was heaven.
“It’s already six-fifteen.”
Their ride to the marina was scheduled to arrive at seven o’clock, and getting ready would take fifteen minutes, tops. She didn’t need to hurry. “Five more minutes.”
Indulgent frustration laced Lori’s voice. “When exactly did we switch roles? I think it must have been the first day of the trip, when you spent half of that interminable plane ride flirting with the man across the aisle.”
Sarah grinned into her pillow, then lazily rolled her head and looked at her daughter. Her heart melted with a potent combination of love and pride. Lori was a sophomore majoring in biomedical science at Texas A&M University and making excellent progress toward her goal of earning admission to A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She’d worked hard to work ahead and cleared an extra ten days of spring break with her professors. At twenty, she was taller than her mother by seven inches—a fact she loved to tease five-foot-nothing Sarah about at every opportunity. She had Sarah’s high cheekbones and dark hair, and her grandmother Ellen’s sweet smile. Her eyes were a beautiful blend of shades of green. Sarah’s late father had called them mountain eyes, because her eyes were a mountainside of aspen and fir and piñon and cottonwood.
Sarah didn’t see the mountains when she looked at Lori’s eyes. She saw Cam Murphy. Her daughter had her father’s eyes. She had Cam’s height and Cam’s eyes—two distinctive characteristics that provided Sarah an unwelcome reminder of the man she’d just as soon forget.
“I wasn’t flirting with the guy across the aisle. I was just being friendly. He was the one doing all the flirting.”
“Yeah, right.” Lori’s eyes gleamed with amusement as they made an exaggerated roll. “Okay, here’s the deal. I’m going to wander over to the lobby and get two cups of coffee. If you’re not out of bed by the time I come back, I’ll drink both of them.”
Sarah scowled and grumbled, “Obviously I didn’t spank you enough when you were little.”
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