Family secrets, a gorgeous man with a wounded heart, and a young woman who is determined to get exactly what she wants...
Recently graduated from college with a Marine Archeology degree, Connie Hunt is the youngest child from the elite Hunt family. She is a contradiction of what the world sees: naive, innocent, and independent. She attends the debutante balls and the required "have to have fun" parties. So why is everyone pushing her to get married? Tired of society's games, Connie just wants to follow her career.
Reluctantly, Connie attends the town meetings with her sister-in-law Beth and friend Margaret Mason. Mrs. Mason is pushy, brash, and loves her nephew Mac McAuliffe dearly. Mac was Connie's biggest crush for more years than she would like to admit. Everyone agrees that he is attractive, smart, and a complete charmer. She finds herself being manipulated into spending time with Mac, a situation that takes no effort on her part. Connie and Mac join together to solve a conundrum, and both are pleasantly surprised at how comfortable they are with each other.
A Sneaky Peek at
Anthony McAuliffe … Mac, Mrs. Mason’s nephew, was notorious for his womanizing ways and wicked reputation. Most men behaved in the same manner. However, they were not in the public’s eye, handsome as all get out, a successful real estate tycoon, and a McAuliffe.
In elementary school, she had developed a wild crush on him; ending about the time she entered college and realized which direction Mac’s life was going. For years, just the sight of him had stolen her breath, his smile remaining in her memories the way no one else ever had. It had taken her years to get over him, to shake off the effects of his reckless appeal. Well, not exactly over him, considering that he had never shown her any sign of encouragement. Nevertheless, all through high school she had put him in a neatly labeled section of her memories where he belonged, sweet, romantic, young fantasies.
Mac was one of the most eligible bachelors and in high demand for escort to any red carpet function. However, he was most careful with whom he was seen, making sure that it was no one of proper marriageable qualities. If it was someone respectable, he was careful to keep it open in the public’s view and short-lived. Connie was quite sure that it was intentional and strategically planned. If he had given an inkling that he pursued a permanent relationship, it would be plastered all over the rags. The reporters would have been shrieking as though they were about to collapse at any moment, thrilled to be the one digging up such good dirt; beating their competitors, the first one to print an exclusive story.
Of course, the papers loved the gossip that was always ready to explode on the scene when father and son attended the same function. It was a well-known fact that Stephen McAuliffe andAnthony McAuliffe were estranged and had been for quite some time. However, no one knew the reason behind the estrangement. The entire situation created an air of intrigue to the already popular man. In Connie’s not-quite-so humble opinion, it captivated the ladies curiosity, making the chase a challenge. Who would be the lucky one to catch and tame him?
It was a peculiar situation to be sure. The fathers of the eligible ladies knew that in time Mac would be finished with his rakish ways soon enough and encouraged their daughters to establish a friendship. Some of the mothers pushed their daughters shamelessly at Mac, trying for the conquest, trying to corner him. The smarter mothers directed their daughters to a safer and more secure bond with bachelors that were more marriage conscious, more acceptable.
Mac’s brother had died a tragic death almost a year earlier, a victim of a robbery gone wrong. Steve was always a serious, determined young man, knowing what he wanted and how to go about getting it. Mac was the rebel, the black sheep in the family. Despite the difference in personalities, they were close, close friends as well as brothers.
Now he was the only heir to the McAuliffe fortune. It had only served to make him that much more of a catch. Last month, at the Sacred Heart Ball, a charity function for the hospital, Connie had observed young girls, their faces beaming, falling all over each other just to get a glimpse, or gain his attention. It was appalling, inexcusable for this day and age.
She attempted to explain to the young ladies that he had attended because his aunt had insisted; agreeing only when he realized his father was visiting the Hill. They knew he preferred singers and actresses, avoiding the ladies he might be forced into marrying if he compromised them. Nevertheless, the ladies gaped starry-eyed, practically swooning at his feet. Such behavior was intolerable.
She shook her head in disgust. This was the 21st century. Ladies should not be swooning at anyone’s feet. The suffragists of days gone by had to be turning in their graves. As for her, she was not ready for marriage. Besides, no one had shown interest in her. Her money? Yes. In her? No. That was fine with her. If the gentleman of New York could not appreciate a woman who knew her own mind … that was their problem.
“Connie …” Mrs. Mason squeezed Connie’s arm, frustration in her tone, “do you see him?”
Connie looked over at Mrs. Mason, mumbling, “I don’t hear any high-pitched screeching or see anyone fainting.”
Searching the room for her nephew, she queried distractedly, “Whatever do you mean?” Beth giggled.
“I don’t think he has arrived,” Connie said.
“He is not here yet.”
Mrs. Mason bottom lip projected in a pout, “No, the other statement.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“That is what I want to know.” Nothing raised Mrs. Mason’s hackles up more than feeling left out or not understanding a conversation.
“Just making comments about the ladies who swoon at your nephew’s feet.” The elderly lady’s face split in a proud grin.
An amused, melodious voice commented behind them, “Women swooning over me. What an antiquated honor.”
Connie groaned, turning slowly toward the chimerical voice. He had arrived. Mac McAuliffe had evidently overheard a considerable amount of their conversation.
“You sound remarkably like my aunt.”
“She does indeed.” Mrs. Mason looked over to her nephew. “She does bring me such joy.”
“Yes, a joy … to seeing a group of little Margaret Mason’s walking about New York.” His eyes creased with merriment.
“Sir,” Mrs. Mason leaned over Connie to speak to the gentleman sitting next to her, “do you mind moving one seat over so my nephew may join us?”
Connie moved over another seat. Coming around, Mac thanked the gentleman, and then sat down next to his aunt.
Mrs. Mason grinned in obvious glee.
Arching his brow, he wondered what she was conniving. “I am here, as requested.”
“You need to become more involved in town issues.” “A concession, difficult to debate,” Connie muttered.
Mac turned toward her and smiled, teasing her with a lopsided grin before he turned back to converse with his aunt.
He reminded her of a predator, the white tiger she had seen a few months back that had been restlessly pacing in its cage, filled with energy. Tall and as graceful as that beautiful cat, he had an athletic stride full of strength. Streaked with auburn highlights, his chocolate hair was styled to make him appear more rugged. He had a rugged look, not too much pretty boy, but just enough to have the imperfect handsome poster boy seduction. His eyes were startling blue, the deep blue you see just before sunset. She could get lost in those eyes. Connie inhaled sharply. She gave her head a little shake.
Good Lord, she had to stop staring at the man!
“And what brings you here, Miss Hunt?” He asked. “I had not realized that you were so involved with the town.”
“If she didn’t care,” his aunt chimed in, “she would never have been talked into attending.”
“Are you feeling left out of the conversation, Aunt Margaret?” He jabbed without malice, repressing a grunt.
“Elbow?” Connie asked sweetly.
“Her pen,” he grumbled.
Mrs. Mason poked him again and Mac turned toward his aunt, wrestling the pen from her hand.
Connie observed with interest and unfeigned amusement.
“Good to know that I can impress and amuse,” quite pleased that he snatched the pen from his aunt’s hand.
“Definitely.” Before she could stop herself, “Well, not impressed that you overpowered an elderly lady, but that you have the … um … I mean, that you …” She cleared her throat.
“I am humbled that I have impressed you.” Grinning, “So much so as to leave you speechless, surely something that never happens to you.”
Connie clenched her jaw. He was teasing her. She knew he was teasing her but she could still hear a smidgen of sarcasm dripping from his voice. She could not tell if he was adding the inflection for humor or if he was mocking her. Normally, she could tell, but with Mac McAuliffe, she was not sure. She leaned forward to see if Beth heard, but she was distracting Mrs. Mason, a determined look on her face.
Connie flinched, wondering why she felt as if she was being singled out for something, feeling set up. Had Beth joined in with her mother and Mrs. Mason in the quest to find her a husband? Mac had moved closer to her in order to avoid the jabbing blows of his aunt’s pen, but had not scooted back after he had relieved Mrs. Mason of the offensive weapon. Connie took her notepad and used it as a fan. Hot flash hot, Mac McAuliffe was radiating heat. Oh, and he smelled so good. Connie’s cheeks flushed pink.
“Hot, Miss Hunt?” He inquired, lip quirking in amusement.
“No,” she licked her upper lip. “Yes, it is warm in here. Don’t you think?”
His voice lilted in a singsong tone that told her he knew exactly what effect he was having on her. “I am quite comfortable.” Turning to his aunt, “Is it hot in here?”
“I am fine.” She tilted her head, “Are you comfortable, Beth?”
Mac turned back to her with a shrug, “Must be you.”
“Must be,” she pushed back her hair, a calcified smile plastered upon her face.
She could excuse herself and head to the restroom. Connie bit her lip. Beth would hunt her down if she left her alone with Mrs. Mason and Mac. She could use the need to cool off as an excuse. An honest excuse as any, Mac shifted in his seat, leaning against her in a way that Connie knew was intentional.
What kind of game was he playing?
“Can I get you something, Miss Hunt?” Mac offered.
She waved her hand. “No, I’m fine.” Connie shifted slightly away from Mac.
She was about to stand and make a quick exit when the chairman began the meeting. The slim moment of opportunity for escape was gone all too soon. There was no way she could bail out now.