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Once More From the Top
SERIES: The Women of Willow Bay, Book 1
GENRE: Small Town, Second Chance/Divorced/Widows
ENDING: HEA (They’re a couple and live Happily Ever After)
WORD COUNT: 60,000 to 74,999 (average book)
HERO’S AGE: 40-49
HEROINE’S AGE: 40-49
HEAT LEVEL: Steamy (Talk Dirty To Me)
GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: Some (The occasional “F” bomb, lots of smack talk, some explicit sex)
What do you do when the one who got away . . . comes back?
Carrie Halligan never regretted the choice she made sixteen years ago to raise her son Jack by herself in Willow Bay, Michigan. A successful photographer by day, at night Carrie satisfies her musical passions by playing piano at a hotel bar, maintaining a balance that works for her and Jack. Walking away from Maestro Liam Reilly without telling him she was pregnant with his child may have been the hardest thing she’d ever done, but it was definitely the right thing.
When Liam shows up in town to perform a benefit concert with the local symphony, however, Carrie’s carefully crafted life spins out of control. After sending Jack to summer camp, she realizes she can’t keep Liam in the dark forever. Telling the truth to the man she once loved more than life itself isn’t near as hard as spending time in his presence and realizing that the years haven’t diminished his power over her heart. Will her lie be too much to get past, or will the spark of passion between them overcome everything?
READ AN EXCERPT
Carrie Halligan’s fingers tickled the keys of the ebony grand piano, finding the notes almost without conscious volition. She’d played “Misty” so many times in this bar, she didn’t even have to think about the music. Instead, she focused on the low rocks glass just to her right. One last slip of paper, only one more request, and her shift was over.
The click of silverware against plates, the chink of glasses being bussed, and the murmur of a dozen conversations overwhelmed her music. Didn’t matter. Carrie wasn’t there to be the center of attention. Her job was to provide the background and that suited her just fine. A smattering of applause broke out as she played the final notes and tossed a smile over her bare shoulder. If it weren’t for the can lights shining down on the piano, she’d have been freezing in the strapless black dress.
She pulled out the last slip of paper and unfolded it; Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” She recognized the spiky handwriting—the Dugans were in the audience. The couple came in every other Saturday and stayed for hours listening to her play. Sometimes they danced, snuggled close in each other’s arms. Their obvious infatuation warmed Carrie’s heart. That kind of devotion was rare these days.
“This one’s for Suz from Peter,” she announced and began the haunting ballad amid a collective sigh from the crowd.
“Thanks, Carrie,” a deep voice called and she smiled as she played on.
Tired and ready to go home, she frowned when Rudy, the bartender, appeared over her shoulder and dropped another slip of paper into the glass. Holding up one finger, he backed off the tiny stage, mouthing, “One more?” With a nod and a wink, she played the last notes of the old ballad.
It happened sometimes. A late-night request, usually from a sad barfly dredging up old memories or some couple who wanted one last dance.
She rolled her neck and stretched her fingers before reaching into the glass. When she opened the slip and peered at it under the soft glow of the piano light, her breath caught.
Haydn’s Concerto in C Major.
Her pulse pounded in her ears, shutting out the chatter in the bar as she gazed uncomprehendingly at the paper. She squinted, blinking at the square black letters unable to make sense of what was written there.
Dear God in heaven. Who requested this?
Her fingers shook and the words on the paper blurred. Only one person would ask her to play that particular piece, and there was no way on earth he was in this bar. She tensed, afraid to even turn around. Closing her eyes, she released a long, shuddering breath before glancing as casually as she could at the crowd.
Is he here? Is it possible?
Heat rose into her cheeks and perspiration dampened the back of her neck as she scanned the room. The lighting was so dim she could barely make out individual faces in the crowd. People were already beginning to stand up to leave, assuming, no doubt, that she’d finished playing for the night. Carrie didn’t see him, but would she even recognize him? It had been so long—a lifetime ago.
“I–I’m sorry.” Her voice was barely a whisper. “I don’t know this one.”
“You knew it once. Play it.”
An icy chill settled in the pit of her stomach as she recognized the voice coming from across the bar. Her head whipped around and she peered into the shadows. A tall figure stood silhouetted in the entrance.
She didn’t need to see his face. Even in the dark, his towering height and that unmistakable halo of dark red hair identified him.
Maestro Liam Reilly.
He stepped into the light and their eyes met. His mouth curved into a hint of a smile that sent a spasm of longing through her. The cacophony in the bar dwindled to distant background noise as she gazed dumbfounded across the room. It was him. Silver threads shone among the thick hair that swept back off his forehead, except for that one stray strand that still fell to his brow.
The inanity of that thought occurred to the logical part of her stunned mind even as she tried to comprehend that he was standing less than thirty feet away.
Of course he’s older. It’s been sixteen years.
Helpless to do anything but gape, she closed her fingers around the scrap of paper, crumpling it into a tiny ball. Her stomach churned, and although the urge to flee was overwhelming, she knew her trembling legs would never hold her up long enough to escape. Not without tripping over the piano stool and falling flat on her face.
What is he doing here?
Heart pounding a rough rhythm, Carrie sat perfectly still for a moment, caught in his mesmerizing gaze. His smile broadened and that dimple, oh God, that killer dimple, creased his cheek as he gave her the barest nod.
At last she managed to pull her eyes from his and swallow the panic that rose in her throat. She could do this. She was a pro. Didn’t matter who walked in off the street. Hell yes, she could do this and without freaking out.
Hands trembling, she dropped the bit of paper, squared her shoulders, and began to play—tentatively, then more confidently as her fingers remembered the notes. First the Vivace, and suddenly his brawny frame, arms raised as he conducted, flashed through her mind. Her first glimpse of him standing tall on the podium in that little auditorium at McGill University. He took a group of musicians through a Rachmaninoff chamber piece while she watched, spellbound.
She banished the memory and focused on the Adagio—Un Poco Adagio—but there was their first kiss, gentle, just the touch of his mouth before turning deliciously erotic. They’d stood beneath a streetlight on the campus in Montreal, so wrapped up in each other they didn’t even feel the raindrops. Her memory conjured up such a clear picture that her lips burned and tingled as she bent over the keyboard.
Biting her lower lip, she leaned in, and the music poured from her fingers. Finally, she got to the Rondo, the Allegro. Memories of his bare chest, heaving as he rose over her, crept into her head, nearly causing her to lose focus. His whispered words, the fierce kisses… but she played on, shaking that scene from her mind as sweat prickled her ribs and plastered the curls to the curve of her cheek. By the time she was done and the piece flawlessly played, her carefully managed control snapped.
A moment of silence reigned before the burst of applause and whistles from the few remaining patrons. Panting and breathless, she searched the handful of people left in the bar.
He was gone.
She stood, craning her neck to see over the shadowed heads of the patrons as fear gripped her. The piano bench scraped when she shoved it back and raced off the stage and out the door. Wringing her hands, she peered around the hotel lobby, past the front desk and then to the bank of elevators, watching for his tall frame, his broad back. She didn’t see him anywhere.
But he was here. Liam was here… in Michigan.
Meet Nan Reinhardt
Nan Reinhardt is a USA Today bestselling writer of romantic fiction for women in their prime. Yeah, women still fall in love and have sex, even after 45! Imagine! She is also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last 22 years, she’s earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader.
But writing is Nan’s first and most enduring passion. She can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing–she wrote her first romance novel at the age of ten, a love story between the most sophisticated person she knew at the time, her older sister (who was in high school and had a driver’s license!) and a member of Herman’s Hermits. If you remember who they are, you are Nan’s audience! She’s still writing romance, but now from the viewpoint of a wiser, slightly rumpled, menopausal woman who believes that love never ages, women only grow more interesting, and everybody needs a little sexy romance.