To paraphrase Hillary Rodham Clinton, every book takes a village. With each new book, I’m only even more grateful to the people who make it happen.
Endless thanks to my editor, the talented and fabulous Esi Sogah. I gave you a bit of a run for it with this one. You were nothing but gracious and supportive, assuring me we’d get it on track. With your suggestions and feedback, I think I did. I hope I did! Thank you for all of it.
Thank you, Stephany Evans of Fine Print Literary, my wonderful agent. I’m always able to relax knowing you’re in my corner and looking out for me.
Thank you to everyone at Kensington who has been involved with me and my books—my copy editor, the art department, publicity, marketing—and in particular, Jane Nutter, Lauren Jernigan, Ross Plotkin, and Vida Engstrand. I very much appreciate what you do. You guys all make me feel like a rock star.
Thanks and love to my immediate family: my mom, Linda; my dad, Rob; my brother, Jamie; Natasha, Kyle, Teri, and Stevie. The past year has been so full of challenges for me, and you stuck by me like an army of warriors. Thank you so much for your support, now and always. And to my vibrant, amazing sons, Josh and Danny—you’re my reason for everything, and I’m so proud and lucky to be your mom.
To all of my friends, both in person and online, your unwavering support, enthusiasm, and kindness buoys and sustains me more than you know, and I’m beyond grateful for all of you. Thank you, thank you. Also, thanks to Team Gracen on FB and LIRW for your support.
Special hugs and shout-outs to: my local Long Island writing sisters, the Hive tribe, who can fill up a group thread with 50+ texts faster than I can blink. Love you all. And to my online writing group that’s become something of an eclectic online family: the FB group The Phoenix Quill. I adore you all in this merry group; thanks for being out there.
And most of all, an endless thank you to my readers. That you carve some time out of your busy lives to read my books means the world to me, and I am deeply touched and grateful. Without you, there is no wonderful ride. Thanks for taking it with me.
The last thing in the world Charles Harrison III wanted was a big party for his fortieth birthday, but it wasn’t like he’d had much choice in the matter. His sister Tess had told him that she wanted to have a little family get-together for his upcoming birthday, and he’d agreed to let her. But when he’d showed up at the Kingston Point Yacht Club, the “little family get-together” was actually a huge surprise party, with more than two hundred relatives, friends, and business associates crowded into the largest ballroom.
He truly appreciated Tess’s efforts and intentions . . . but Jesus Christ, he did not want to celebrate his big milestone birthday. He’d been swatting away flashes of uneasy angst about it for weeks.
Even now, nursing the one scotch he allowed himself at public gatherings, he looked around the packed room and couldn’t shake the feeling that had gripped him recently with a vengeance: the sense that something was missing.
“Tripp!” His father’s steely voice boomed from a few feet away. Only his father and his father’s old friends still called him that. Charles turned to see his father waving him over to where his father stood with four older men, all equally distinguished and polished. A pack of sharks, Charles thought fleetingly as he made his way to them. His father, Charles Roger Harrison II, didn’t have friends; he had business cronies. It was hard to keep friends when you were a multibillionaire in charge of an international conglomerate, and heir to a family legacy of four generations. Hard to trust anyone, and hard to know if you were genuinely liked. Charles knew that better than anyone, because it held true for him as well.
“Still can’t believe my oldest is forty years old,” Charles II said, giving his son a hearty slap on the back. “Especially when I’m still only thirty-nine.”
The other men laughed as Charles commented, “Ah now, Dad, you don’t look a day over thirty-eight.”
“Atta boy.” The patriarch tapped his glass of scotch to his son’s. “Listen. We were just discussing the Benson Industries merger. I was thinking—”
“Do we have to discuss this now?” Charles asked, a stab of annoyance piercing him. “It’s my birthday. Tonight, I’m off the clock.”
“You’re never off the clock, Tripp.” Charles II’s voice was light, but his gray eyes glinted like blades. “You’re COO of Harrison Enterprises. Sun never sets on our empire. Want to keep it that way, you’re never off the clock. God knows I’ve never been. Now”—he held his son’s gaze for a long beat—“about the merger.”
Charles bit back a sigh and let his father continue. At times like this, Charles wished he allowed himself more than one drink at a party. But the heir to the throne had to be in control and proficient at all times. Above reproach. There was no room to ever be even slightly drunk in public, or to be drunk enough to be gossiped about negatively, or to be off the clock, or to just . . . be.
His entire life, since childhood, Charles hadn’t been able to think about much of anything but his place in the family company. As his father droned on about business in the middle of what was supposed to be a party, Charles longed for the ability to just walk away. Of course, he never would. He’d been too well trained. Groomed to be proper, reputable, capable, sophisticated, and most important, to be the shining example of the next generation of Harrisons. From the day he was born.
Charles took a long sip of his scotch as his father’s associates launched into the pros and cons of the merger. He gazed at his father’s face, the wrinkles and deep frown lines etched into his skin, and thought, Forty years down . . . forty or so to go.
* * *
Lisette Gardner sat quietly at the round table in the corner with the three kids, who were all completely consumed by their handheld electronic devices. Being the live-in nanny to Charles Harrison III’s children was a full-time, arduous task, but she truly loved her job. She glanced at each of them, their dark heads bowed over their games. They were often difficult, but she understood why and had tried to be a source of warmth for them since her first day on the job.
The oldest was feisty Ava, nine going on nineteen, her tongue already as sharp as a teenager’s; then sullen Thomas, who already at seven and a half barely swallowed his resentment every day; and little Myles, just turned six a few weeks before, who was rambunctious, but as sweet as they came. They were never boring, that was for sure. Myles was the friendliest of the children—probably because he had only been eighteen months old when his parents had divorced and his mother had moved across the country, so he’d never known a different life. The other two remembered what it was like to have their mother in their lives, and felt the absence more keenly.