I think some of the greatest love stories are the ones that happen between two people who think their chance at romance is already over and done. Getting swept off your feet by a handsome stranger is easy. What happens when you're navigating love in the messy everyday world of diapers, runny noses, post partum depression, and all those crappy little habits that take center stage in our married lives?
With the city of St. Louis and Clan McKinloch as a lively background, I hope you'll enjoy reading about two people who thought their romance was done. A guy who never said what needed to be said until it was too late, and a woman who desperately wants to know she matters.
Stacey is tired of sharing Donal with his job at McKinloch’s Pub.
She wants a husband who puts her first. Besides, sometimes being
married to the hottest guy in the room means you spend all your time
wondering who else is volunteering to warm his bed.
Donal has never wanted any woman but Stacey. There is no way he’s
letting her walk away from their marriage without a fight, even if he has
to step out of his comfort zone and sweep her off her feet. Fortunately,
chemistry is on his side, if only he can make Stacey understand that the
sparks they have in the bedroom could be carried over to the rest of their lives.
It doesn’t take Stacey long to realize that the guy you have might be exactly what you need. After all, nothing worth having comes easy. Worse, she’s starting to realize that she might have unfairly judged the one guy she needs to make her life complete.
An excerpt from the book
“Look, Mama!” Tyler cupped his baby palm around a shiny green beetle. “Look at the pretty bug!”
Stacey McKinloch crouched beside her son and tried not to feel as if every single person attending her brother-in-law’s wedding was staring at her. Although since they absolutely were staring at her, she was probably entitled to a little paranoia.
“What kind is it?” Tyler asked.
“It’s a june bug.” Stacey admired the way the torchlight shone on the beetle’s iridescent shell.
It was a beautiful evening. The twilight sky was a soft canopy over the outdoor dance floor and billowing white tents that had been set up for the reception. The air was balmy with just a touch of the humidity that would descend upon the St. Louis area like a suffocating haze come August.
“It’s May, Mama.” Tyler squinted his eyes at her as though he were trying to decide if she were pulling his leg or not.
Stacey chuckled, wondering how to explain to such a black-and-white thinker that the beetle’s name had very little to do with when he and his brethren descended upon the Midwest like a plague. Setting the abstract aside, she went with a logical explanation. “Maybe he’s early?”
Tyler giggled, his greenish-blue eyes lighting up his face and making her heart ache. Aside from his eyes, he looked so much like his father. The thick dark hair curling boyishly around his forehead and ears, his complexion, and even his smile reminded her of Donal.
As if the mere thought of his name could conjure him from thin air, Stacey caught a glimpse of her estranged husband leaning against the corner of the bar with his eldest brother, Oz. He was staring at her. It seemed as though lately all he did was stare at her. It was a pretty radical change considering he’d barely noticed her the last three years they’d been married. Three months after Tyler’s birth, Donal had started working endless hours and stopped paying any attention to his wife. Even their once active sex life had dwindled to nearly nonexistent.
Why couldn’t he pay this much attention to me while we were together?
She’d been a fool to come to the wedding in the first place knowing all her soon to be ex in-laws would be there. The whole lot of them probably thought she was a horrible person for filing for divorce from Donal, but then they hadn’t spent three years of a six-year marriage lying awake at night wondering if he was really at work or doing something--or someone--else.
Donal turned to say something to his brother, giving her a look at his handsome profile. She wasn’t ashamed to admit it had been his looks to catch her eye in the beginning. The first time she’d spotted him in a crowd at a high school soccer game, she hadn’t been able to stop staring. He’d been there to watch his younger brother play her school’s team in a matchup of long-time rivals.
He shifted abruptly, and their gazes locked. Stacey’s nipples peaked beneath her summer dress, and she felt a throbbing sensation between her legs. It had been like that between her and Donal when they first got together. The chemistry was explosive. Two kids, a mortgage, and their hectic life had changed things. Considering the lackluster state of their relationship in the last few years, she was surprised her body would react at all. Although her unpredictable hormones after the birth of their son three months earlier probably had something to do with that.
Stacey resisted the urge to fan herself. Donal would’ve known immediately, and giving him the idea she was beginning to change her mind about the divorce was on her short list of stupid things to do. Stacey wanted out. She wanted a relationship where she felt as though she were on equal ground. She didn’t want to look at every other woman who smiled at her husband and wonder if they’d spent the previous night flirting it up at McKinloch’s Pub where Donal worked. She didn’t want the “hot guy” anymore. She wanted the predictable, boring corporate executive. She wanted a perfect marriage like her parents had--a partnership where she ran the house and raised the children and her husband worked a steady, normal, nine-to-five job and came home every night for dinner.
A nudge against her arm brought Stacey back to the moment. “Hey, babe, I’ve got your drink.” Brett handed her a flute of champagne.
Stacey stood up and smoothed her skirt before offering her date a smile full of forced cheer. “Thanks!” She gulped the entire thing in one go. “Tyler and I were just checking out the june bugs.”
Tyler heard his name and grinned up at them, lifting his chubby little hands to show Brett his new buggy friend. If his expression was anything to go by, Brett wasn’t impressed. His tailored slacks, dress shirt, and imported shoes didn’t suggest he spent much time doing anything but sitting behind a desk in his brokerage firm’s office. Stacey knew he played golf, but his physique certainly didn’t suggest he’d last the hike across eighteen holes with a golf bag slung over his shoulder. He was her height, and thick in the waist with no hint of muscle definition. That, along with his thinning blond hair, made him exactly what she was looking for in a man the second time around. Brett would be a steady provider who didn’t draw too much attention, and would be home for dinner every night because he could leave his work at the office.
“Wanna hold him?” Tyler offered, smiling up at Brett.
Brett awkwardly patted Tyler on top of the head. “Gee thanks, sport, but I’m good.”
Tyler went back to his beetle. His ring bearer suit was filthy, but the pictures were over and done with, and Stacey couldn’t imagine trying to keep an active little boy clean while attending an outdoor reception.
Brett took a sip of his champagne. “Shouldn’t you tell him to stop playing in the dirt?”
“He won’t be three until next month. He doesn’t understand why he shouldn’t.” Stacey was starting to feel a bit miffed. Didn’t Brett like kids? He was dating her, after all, and she had two boys. It wasn’t like she expected him to raise her sons, but still. There was going to be a ton of dirt in her future.
Brett shrugged. “They call that parenting. Or maybe we could look into hiring a nanny if you’re incapable of handling it. At this rate he’s going to need a bath before he can get back in my car.”
Stacey was stunned he could be so callous toward her and her son. Her heartbeat began to flutter madly as she bit back the torrent of words she wanted to say. She couldn’t be rude to Brett no matter how badly she wanted to be. He was her father’s protégé. The man her parents thought was so perfect for her. The man she thought was perfect for her.
She pasted a smile on her face. “I really appreciate you coming with me tonight, Brett, but I know you’re busy. I was thinking about staying with friends if you’d like to take off.”
Brett pulled out his phone and began scanning text messages. “Are you sure? I don’t want to leave you on your own, but if you’d like to have a girls’ night, I won’t get in the way of that.”
“Oh absolutely!” Stacey aimed a wave at a group of women on the other side of the dance floor. “I see a few people I’d like to chat with, so I’ll just head right on over.” That, of course, was a total lie. There wasn’t one person at this party she felt comfortable talking to now that she’d filed for divorce from Donal McKinloch. These days she was practically a pariah in the Soulard area.
Brett tugged her close to his body. He was younger than Donal. Thirty-two to Stacey’s thirty. Stacey wished his ice-blue eyes and blond hair appealed to her. Unfortunately if she were totally honest, they really didn’t. At least she never had to worry about other women staring at him or hitting on him while her back was turned. Plus, her parents approved of him.
When he kissed her, she held her breath in anticipation. His lips were always slightly damp. He smelled nice, but she didn’t like the way he made her feel so smothered when he moved in close.
Brett cupped her backside and gave it a squeeze, something entirely inappropriate considering the situation. He moved his mouth to her ear and gave it a nibble. “I was sort of hoping you’d come by my place later on, after you took the rug rat home to your folks.”
“That sounds--nice,” she lied. “I’m not sure what time I’ll be done, though. Don’t you have an early golf game tomorrow?”
“That’s right, I do.” He nuzzled her neck. “Although I’ve been looking forward to getting you naked since the first night we met.”
Another awkward fact since they’d been dating six months, but her parents had introduced them well over a year and a half ago when she had still been with Donal. Stacey wished she felt as happy about her and Brett as a couple as her folks did. It would’ve made things a lot easier. She gave him her broadest smile and hoped it didn’t look as insane as it felt. “I’ll do my best to get out of here sooner rather than later so I can make it to your place.” Not.
“All right, honey.” He gave her a big wet kiss. “Call me.”
He turned and walked off without saying a word to Tyler. He didn’t even look back, although Stacey wasn’t sure she cared about that. She was still mentally reeling after his announcement that he was officially trying to get in her pants. There had been little pressure about a physical relationship at first because she’d been pregnant. After that she’d managed to put him off. Apparently her excuses were running thin.
She should’ve been ecstatic at the prospect of having sex. She was hornier than hell these days. Still, as difficult as it was to admit, she was horribly conflicted about the idea of being with someone else. Donal had been her first. After two babies and six years of marriage, she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t scared shitless to have another man see her naked.
DONAL GRIPPED HIS whiskey glass so hard he was surprised it didn’t shatter. It was a special brand of hell to watch another man kiss his wife less than a hundred yards away from him and be unable to do a damn thing about it. Stacey’s rich bastard of a boyfriend didn’t even see the way Tyler was frowning while he watched another man paw his mother.
Not that Donal didn’t understand why a man would have the urge to put his hands on Stacey. She’d always been pretty, but having their children had given her a certain something that made her incredibly beautiful. Her body was round in all the right places with fuller breasts, curvy hips, and an ass he longed to cup. Throw in the perpetually tousled shoulder-length blonde hair, sleepy green eyes, and full, pouting lips, and his wife looked as though she were made for pleasure.
“Have another drink, Donal.” Oz motioned to the bartender.
Donal shook his head. “No. I’m done. I’ve already had more than I should. A few more, and I’ll hunt that asshole down and rip off his balls.”
When Stacey’s new man walked away, Oz gave him a thorough evaluation from his designer-label shoes to the top of his overgelled head. “I’m not entirely sure he’d have any balls to rip off once you got him on the ground. Does he really think he can use product to paste hair over his bald spot? A dude who looks like that can’t possibly be a real man. He probably doesn’t even smell like one.”
Donal grinned in spite of himself. Stacey had always poked fun at the way Donal smelled. He didn’t have to wear cologne. He generally smelled like whatever sauce he’d been experimenting with last before he came home from the pub. She called it Eau de Yum.
The boyfriend strode off across the grounds toward the parking lot, leaving Stacey and Tyler all by themselves on the fringe of the party. Donal didn’t like it. He should’ve been glad her new man wasn’t treating her like a princess, but it didn’t sit well. He pushed away from the bar with the intention of moseying in Stacey’s direction.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Oz demanded.
“To talk to my wife.”
Oz snorted. “Ex-wife. She left you. Remember? Going over there is a bad idea.”
“I can be perfectly civil.” Donal threw his older brother a dirty look over his shoulder. “I seem to remember you’re the one who usually gets into fights at these things.”
Oz grunted, but didn’t respond. He hated weddings, loathed them in fact, though he’d never said why. The only reason he’d come to this one was because the groom was their youngest brother. You didn’t skip out on your baby brother’s wedding. At least a McKinloch didn’t.
Donal inhaled deeply of the soothing night air. It was unseasonably cool for June. More like a balmy autumn night. He could think of a million of those he’d spent with Stacey during six years of marriage. Why did this one seem as though the whole world rested on it?
Tyler spotted him first. “Daddy!” Tyler jumped up off the ground and wrapped his arms around Donal’s legs. “I found a june bug.”
Donal swung his son up into his arms, feeling the instant calm that always hit him when he held his children. “Let me see.”
Tyler opened his hand to show off his prize. “It’s green!”
“You must’ve caught the fastest june bug in the whole world, Chief.”
“Why?” Tyler demanded.
Donal pressed his face to his son’s tousled dark head and inhaled the familiar scent of childish sweat and the outdoors. “Because he got here a whole month early.”
Tyler dissolved into baby giggles until he spotted Donal’s mother across the garden. “There’s Gramma Ella!” Tyler squirmed. “I wanna go show her my bug.”
Donal set his son back on his feet. “Make sure you let her touch it, Chief. Gramma Ella loves bugs!”
Tyler bounded away as quickly as his short legs could take him. Donal watched him, waiting until he could hear Stacey shifting uncomfortably in the silence that lay so awkwardly between them. When he turned to face his wife, he was surprised to note she’d been watching him instead of their son.
Stacey gestured to Tyler and his grandmother. “He’s liable to put that bug right under her nose.”
“My mom raised four boys. She’s seen her fair share of bugs. It’s the snakes she could never handle.” Donal offered her what he hoped was a neutral smile. “I’m glad you came. It’s good to see you.”
She couldn’t hold his gaze. She kept glancing at a gaggle of women half a dozen yards away who seemed intent on staring at the two of them. Donal wondered why. Was she expecting him to head over and ask one of the women to dance, or was she waiting for her new Prince Charming to come back and whisk her off to his castle?
“Oh, uh--he had some stuff to do.” She began to edge away.
Donal hadn’t meant to chase her off. He just didn’t know what to say. He never did. Words weren’t his thing. He glanced around helplessly, desperate for inspiration. His gaze fell on the couples swaying gently to the rhythm of a lazy ballad beneath the glow of the torches.
He extended a hand to Stacey. “Want to dance?”
“Is that a good idea?” She glanced longingly at the smooth wood floor nestled into the green expanse of lawn.
At least she hadn’t outright refused. Dancing had always come naturally to them as a couple. Donal’s mother was the old-fashioned sort. She’d made her boys take dance lessons until they could move like Fred Astaire. Plus, dancing didn’t require that Donal come up with fancy words. “Come on, Stace. You know there’s a debutante in a white dress inside your soul just begging to get out there.”
She glanced up at him in surprise, reaching for his hand as though she truly couldn’t resist. Donal had meant the white dress comment as a reference to her coming out as a deb, not as a reminder of their wedding. Still, the first time they’d taken the floor as man and wife wasn’t something he’d ever forget.
“I guess we could dance one song, just to be polite,” she said hesitantly.
He threaded his fingers with hers and tried not to focus on how right it felt to pull her into the curve of his body as they walked toward the dance floor. It shouldn’t be like this. How could it feel as though nothing had changed when in reality nothing was the same?
Copyright © Kaitlin Maitland
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