IMAGINARY LOVER is the second book in a two-book series called SUMMER LOVIN’.
Still reeling from painful news that would irrevocably change her life, Candace McCall didn’t want to attend her father’s annual Christmas-in-July party at his mansion on the island – or pin on a smile to deal with his colleagues, even the dashing Connor Holt. But it’s Con who becomes intrigued with Candace, when he sees a woman in a silvery dress standing at the edge of a rocky point looking like she’s about to jump. Then Con realizes who Candace is and all his own past mistakes come rushing back: he’d fallen once for the boss’s daughter and he’d be damned if he was going to do it again! But history may be doomed to repeat itself because Con catches glimpses of the vulnerable woman hiding behind her icy façade and he finds he cannot turn away.
Lake Chinook’s water rippled green and black beneath the rocky ledge. Candace McCall stared down at it and drew a long breath. What she wouldn’t give to dive into its murky depths and forget about her father’s party.
But that was wishful thinking.
She glanced behind her at the island mansion, at the mullioned windows glowing mistily in the hot summer night. Music swelled around her, echoing across the lake, but all Candace could think was that she wanted to break down and cry.
She glanced at the paper held tightly in her right fist. Moonlight made it glow ghostly white. What bitter irony that she should receive both dreaded letters in the mail today. Closing her eyes, she tried to forget the words of this particular missive, but they were burned into her brain.
She moved sharply, her silver dress sparkling, her teardrop diamond earrings quivering. Glancing again at the paper in her hand, she was overwhelmed with sorrow.
I can’t go back, she thought unhappily, then looked again at the restless water.
Connor Holt stopped short at the edge of the narrow torch-lit bridge and exhaled on a sound of disgust. Disgust at himself. He felt as if he’d stepped back fifteen years to a time in his life he’d rather forget. Chest tight, he jerked impatiently on his tie. Why did it seem he was always standing on one side, staring at the other?
And what in God’s name was he doing at Forsythe Island?
Suddenly he laughed aloud. He was out of his mind to even think about coming here tonight. The last thing he wanted to do was hobnob with lake people.
With a grimace he stepped onto the bridge, walking across in a half a dozen ground-devouring strides. The island itself was no more than three acres – a jagged rock thrusting through jade-colored water, capped by pruned hedges and riotous flowers. Toward the west end stood the Forsythe home, a bluestone mansion that sprawled over the rocky hillside. He could see Christmas lights blinking on and off behind the arched windowpanes.
Christmas lights. Only this wasn’t Christmas. It was the twenty-third of July, and the outside temperature was hovering in the eighties.
Shedding his jacket, Con tossed it over his shoulder. He wasn’t comfortable with lake people. He never had been. Yet he’d had to compete with them all his life.
His jaw hardened as he thought back. He’d grown up in a cottage on the outskirts of Lake Chinook. Run-down, with a sagging porch in a backyard that had gone to seed long before he’d been born, his home had been a far cry from the immaculate mansions that graced the lake. As a kid he’d wondered what it would be like to live in one of those homes, to have fancy cars and status and loads of money. Those fantasies had nearly become reality, and it had taken him a fast-lane career as a Los Angeles lawyer and a failed marriage to make him realize he wanted nothing to do with that kind of life. He was happy being plain old Connor Holt.
Hot and sweating, he stopped halfway up the hill. From an open window he could hear the strains of “Silver Bells” hanging in the night air. He shook his head. Christmas in July. Weren’t there enough holidays already without tacking on another one?
Determined to make the best of it, Con gritted his teeth. He didn’t want to go to the party, nor did he want to meet the man who was such an icon of the Portland social scene. Yet an invitation to one of Forsythe’s parties was not to be taken lightly; the other attorneys in his office had looked as though they would gladly have killed their own mothers to be in his shoes.
Con moved purposely forward. What the hell. It was only for a few hours.
He chose a long way toward the house – up a row of carved stone steps that wrapped around one end of the island. He was on the farthest curve when he saw a flash of something bright and silver.
Con squinted. Sparkles of light glanced off a woman’s dress. She was standing at the edge of a rocky point above the water, one hand clutched tightly around a sheaf of papers. His breath caught. She was so still she could have been a statue.
Distantly he heard the lapping waves of the lake. The woman was staring fixedly down at the water. “My God,” he whispered in disbelief. She was going to jump. “Hey! Hey, you!”
He was running toward her even before he realized he was moving.