Appleby Book 1
Jake & Molly
Life in a pretty English village isn’t always a bed of roses.
Molly King learned this the hard way when her boyfriend jilted her and her home was sold from beneath her. Now she’s heartbroken, homeless and desperate to keep herself and her grandmother off the streets.
But her troubles have only just begun.
Billionaire Jake Hennessy is escaping from a love that shattered him. And a rundown mansion in a sleepy village seems the perfect distraction. But Molly turns out to be an even greater distraction, a stubborn, provocative and oh-so-tantalizing one.
Now all he wants is a few nights with her. No love. No complications. And he always gets what he wants.
But Molly is fighting to resist Jake. His golden charm and mesmerizing eyes may promise sinful pleasure, but he offers no future. And when he leaves her, he will have demolished not only her home but also her heart.
– STANDALONE contemporary romance with steamy love scenes (readers 18+)
– Long novel: 346 print pages.
Read sample chapters below.
“Never Too Late was a sweet, addicting read that I definitely didn’t want to put down. I loved the town setting in this novel! The characters were delightful too. I absolutely loved it. I look forward to reading more from this author.” (Amazon US, August 05, 2016)
“This book was so addictive I just couldn’t put it down the style of writing is fabulous very detailed and captivating that takes you right into the heart of the story. I had to stop and reflect a few times and think wow this author really has a great imagination. It was just such a comfortable and pleasant read.” (Amazon UK, August 06, 2016)
“It was well written and edited. The author did a great job with the details and imagery. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book with vivid details like this. It made me want to go and visit the town.” (Goodreads, July 31, 2016)
One fine summer evening, Molly King’s life crashed to the floor and shattered into a million pieces.
The sharp buzz of whispers filled the vicarage’s reception room. Fine teacups clinked back on to matching saucers. And sensing scandal, expectant eyes turned first to her and then to the handsome couple at the door.
Disbelief numbed Molly. She couldn’t rip her gaze from the two newcomers.
Then the man she loved slipped one arm around his stunning companion’s waist and kissed her red lips.
Molly screamed inside.
“Brian. Abby. We’d almost given up on you.” Kathleen Harrington, their hostess, hurried over to the couple, her high voice a piercing trill that scraped across Molly’s jagged nerves.
Kathleen knew this woman?
“So sorry, Aunt Kath.” Brian kissed Kathleen’s angular cheek. “The traffic down from London was awful. But it’s great to be back in the old place and see everyone again.”
He said it loud enough for the room to hear, backing it up with that charm-infused grin of his. People murmured their approval and smiled back, and then like happy little bewitched sheep, gathered around him at the door.
Her only way out was blocked.
Molly huddled in on herself at the opposite end of the large room, trapped by the tall arching windows behind her and dreading the moment he saw her.
God, what a fool she was. He’d been gone three months and she’d wanted to wow him. She glanced down at the figure-hugging silk of her brand new turquoise dress. Its delicate lace sleeves graced her slim arms and its sweetheart neckline presented her small cleavage like a gift. The soft silk tightened into a jewel-studded gathering at her hips before flowing mermaid style to her knees. What had she been thinking? She’d garnered plenty of looks when she’d entered the vicarage earlier. The sort of looks a call girl collects in church. But she’d wanted to show him she wasn’t frumpy, that she could be everything he wanted her to be.
It had looked perfect in the boutique mirror yesterday, the turquoise colour making her light-blonde curls and light-blue eyes shine. And the matching high heels had raised her diminutive five-foot-four to something decent.
It wasn’t so perfect now.
Was it on purpose the beauty with him was the exact opposite of everything she was? The woman stood nearly as tall as Brian’s six foot in her baby-pink heels. Her matching pink sheath dress moulded her slender curves as if cut for her, and a curtain fall of chestnut-brown hair swished around her face, framing the luminance of her skin.
With a trembling hand, Molly smoothed back her wild nest of blonde curls. How did she even compete? She must look like a tacky cake-topper. Her only saving grace was that she wasn’t making a complete laughing stock of herself right now, because the turquoise heels had been unfamiliar and she’d stepped out in a comfortable pair of flat shoes instead. But that was hardly any consolation.
She looked up and her gaze collided with Brian’s. Satisfaction swept across his features, very much like a spider who’d spotted a fly, and she gasped. He was only a year older than her, but this wasn’t the laid-back lad who’d left Appleby three months ago. This Brian was polished, more in control. His usually tousled dark-brown hair was combed back in rigid perfection. His tall lean body was encased in a fine fitted navy suit. And the boyish charm of his lazy smile no longer made it all the way to his coal-black eyes. The city had swallowed up the country boy she’d known and spat out a cold sophisticated man.
He whispered something in his companion’s ear and the woman shot Molly a cool glance that gauged her from head to toe and dismissed her as irrelevant in the space of a second.
Sudden anger roiled through Molly, breaking through her numb shock and propelling her forward. How dare he… She didn’t have to stay here and take any of this. But she’d only moved a step when Brian and his new girlfriend pushed through the crowd and made their way towards her. Curious gazes followed them.
Damn him! He couldn’t let her keep a little dignity. He just had to make her the centre of attention. Reigning in her turbulent emotions, almost choking on them in the process, Molly managed to school her features into polite indifference as she waited.
“Molly, wonderful to see you.”
“Brian.” She didn’t return his smile.
“I’d like to introduce Abby.” He wrapped an arm around the brunette’s waist again. “My fiancée.”
Was she still on her feet?
Brian was watching her, sifting for her reaction to the ton of bricks he’d just dropped on her head. Hurt, shame, loss, all rioted in her, but she refused to give him the satisfaction. With a strength of will she was proud of, she forced a smile to her lips. “Fiancée? Congratulations.”
Her nonchalance hit the mark. Brian’s eyes narrowed and the rest of the room lost interest. Abby’s eyes had glittered with thinly veiled hostility, but now she visibly relaxed. Smiling, she raised her manicured left hand oh so casually, making the pebble-sized diamond on her finger glitter fiercely in the sunlight.
“And such a beautiful ring,” Molly muttered on cue, the words like gravel in her mouth. She didn’t need to be an expert on diamonds to see that Brian had bought something worth far more than what the average villager made in a year. Her heart constricted as if a merciless hand had squeezed it dry.
Abby simpered. “It was all so fast, but we couldn’t be happier.” Her cultured voice had a breathless girlish quality that sat at odds with the razor-sharp light in her slate-blue eyes.
The desperate need to put miles of distance between herself and this couple suddenly overwhelmed Molly. “I’m glad. If you’ll excuse me…?” And she moved to step past them.
But Brian’s quick hand on her arm stalled her. “Don’t run off yet, Molly. I told Abby you’d help with the wedding plans. You and Sophie and the other girls.”
What? No way! She snatched her arm back, glaring a warning at him. A warning he merely smirked away.
“Daddy insists we have a church wedding,” Abby said, seemingly oblivious to the tension. “Nothing else will do. But we don’t want to wait too long, do we darling?” She smiled up at Brian.
A flicker of annoyance shot through Brian’s eyes and Molly stared, but it was gone as quick as it had come and he returned Abby’s smile. “Of course not. Uncle Ian can arrange it in a matter of weeks.” He raised Abby’s hands to his lips. “You’ll make a beautiful summer bride.”
Giggling, Abby turned to Molly. “It’s so exciting! Daddy wanted somewhere bigger, of course, but I can’t wait to get married in an old church with bells ringing and apple trees outside.” Her expression shifted to winsome pleading. “Oh do say you’ll help with the planning. It would be just fabulous if you did.”
Molly gritted her teeth. Either the woman was a total airhead, or she was gleefully rubbing Molly’s face in the ruins of a failed relationship. A love that, in Molly’s dreams, had got as far as Appleby’s church altar to promise her life like her mother and grandmother before her. In despair, she glanced at Brian, letting the pleading reminder of all he’d ever promised her fill that look, but his expression was unyielding, impassive. Her shoulders slumped in defeat. It was as if he was gone from her forever.
On a steadying breath, she straightened. So be it. But she wouldn’t allow them to add insult to injury. She turned to Abby with all her dignity. “You’ll find plenty of other people to help you. Appleby’s a close-knit kind of place.”
“I’m sure. Such a quaint “little village.” Abby’s cut-glass accent was dismissive.
Brian’s expression showed he hadn’t missed the emphasis on the word ‘little’. “You’ll love Appleby, darling. I’ll take you on a tour tomorrow.”
Molly smiled inwardly at his defensive tone and the imp of mischief rose in her. “Just be careful,” she said to Abby. “Those cowpats get everywhere. And those runaway goats? My god, but they’re a menace! They’ll gobble you whole, diamond ring and all.”
Abby’s expression cooled.
“It’s not like we’ll be living here once we’re married, darling,” Brian soothed, shooting Molly a quelling look.
Molly hid another smile. She’d exaggerated, but little Miss Precious more than deserved it. Then as suddenly as it had come, the lightness evaporated.
She shoved past them. “Excuse me. It’s getting late.”
“How’s your Nan, Molly?” Brian asked as she passed.
She stopped and turned back with a frown. “Fine. She’s fine.”
“I heard she had an operation a month ago. Her leg, was it?”
“I didn’t know you still took an interest in things here, Brian.”
He shrugged. “I’ve missed the place.” His dark gaze captured and held hers. “And it is good to see you again, Molly.”
Hope beat in her chest like a crazed butterfly, and her yearning heart grabbed at the possible hidden meaning in his words before she could stop it. In desperation, she searched his eyes for something more.
“Darling.” Abby placed a hand on his chest, and his attention was at once hers. “It was such a long drive and I’m tired. Couldn’t we find somewhere quiet for a while?” Her tone held a hint of promise.
Smiling, Brian bent to place a lingering kiss on her pouting lips. “Aunt Kath has our room prepared. Come on.”
Abby brightened like the cat that just got the cream, and clinging to the crook of Brian’s arm, she swept past Molly.
Molly stood paralyzed, watching them walk away. He’d been toying with her. He’d wanted to force a reaction from her, and naive clod that she was she’d delivered it to him on a platter.
How could she have been so weak?
How could she still want him back?
She would never be so gullible again. And raging at herself, she rushed from the room.
Kathleen’s gatherings were informal enough that people came and went as long as the tea and cakes lasted. Molly pushed the vicarage’s kitchen door open. No one would care if she slipped away early through the back.
But as she walked into the kitchen, Appleby’s vicar pulled his head out of the low cupboard he’d been rummaging in. “Ah, Molly. Do me a favour, will you?” Ian Harrington’s owlish glasses were wonky, his dark pointy beard ruffled, and his permanent expression of fierce surprise, fiercer than usual. “Kathleen wants to toast her nephew’s latest achievement, and I’ve been dispatched on champagne duty.” He unfolded his tall body from the floor and stood up, plonking a couple of champagne flutes on the kitchen counter, next to a large bottle. “Take these through for me please, my dear. I can’t bear the fuss.”
She groaned inwardly. Of all the people he should be asking…
But Reverend Harrington made being oblivious into an art form. He’d probably forgotten she was ever in a relationship with Brian, let alone how much it hurt her to be here now.
But his fierce glare pleaded with her from behind his round lenses and she gave in. “Of course, Ian.”
He beamed. “Thank you, my dear. I need to show Colonel Edwards my prize marrows before he leaves. Wouldn’t want him to suffer the impression he’s going to win at the fair this year.” He strode towards the back door, then paused, his hand on the handle. “And if my wife asks, I’m in my office, horrendously busy and not to be disturbed.” He pulled the door open and disappeared into the large back garden beyond.
With an impatient sigh, Molly bent to the task of gathering champagne flutes together. Just great. But if she was quick enough, she could finish this and be out of here before bumping into Brian again. Though from the look on Brian’s and Abby’s faces as they’d left her, she probably had plenty of time. Heat flooded her cheeks at the thought of what they must be doing upstairs right now. She shoved the image aside. She didn’t care anymore what Brian did, or who he did it with.
Frowning, she reached into the cupboard for the last two glass flutes.
“Molly, I’m so sorry. None of us had any idea about Brian and Abby.”
She straightened, clinging to her composure as she placed the two flutes on the counter, and then turned to face her best friend. “It’s all right, Sophie.”
But Sophie Harrington’s moss-green eyes brimmed with anxiety, and she nervously pushed a strand of dark-brown hair back from her pretty face. “I don’t know how mum managed to keep this so quiet and—”
“He’s engaged, Sophie!” The sharp sting of tears scorched Molly’s eyes and with a shake of her head she blinked them back. “I feel like such a fool.”
“Oh, Molly.” Sophie rushed forward and clasped her in a tight hug.
Molly slumped against her taller friend. “How could he say he still loves me, and then get engaged to her? That’s not love! I thought I knew what love was, but I don’t… I never did.”
“This isn’t your fault.” Sophie’s tone was fierce, then she sighed. “This relationship… it’s all so sudden.”
Agitated, Molly pulled away. “What if he was seeing her all this time he was in London?” She shook her head at her own naivety.
“Surely not. You visited him that first month he was there, didn’t you? You’d have noticed something.”
Molly grimaced. She hadn’t told Sophie, had put a brave face on it, but that weekend trip to London had been about as comfortable as jumping into a pit of vipers. She’d barely stayed on her feet the night at the club Brian had taken her to, and then was too ill to go out with him the next day. He’d shrugged it off and labelled her old-fashioned. But she’d suspected it was no joke and she’d returned to Appleby then and there, burning with embarrassment at her own uselessness.
“I didn’t see Abby, but then I wasn’t there long enough. And whenever I called Brian afterwards he’d say things at work were hectic and he wouldn’t be back in Appleby for some time. The last time, he… he wanted us to take things slow, and I said I’d wait for his call.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “That’s when he said he still loved me. And I believed him. But he never called again.”
Sophie gasped. “That stupid Brian, always so selfish. You have to forget him, Molly.”
Molly buried her face in her hands. “Oh god, Sophie, how can I? I never wanted to lose him. He’s the only man…” She raised desperate eyes to her friend. “I still love him.”
The kitchen door swung open.
“For goodness sake, Ian. How long does it take—” Kathleen Harrington stopped on seeing them.
She was a tall stringy woman and her fussing always put Molly in mind of a finicky hen.
Kathleen’s hypercritical gaze swept over the bottle and glasses on the counter. “Sophie, Molly, don’t just stand there. Bring those in to the reception room.”
Sophie frowned. “Mum, why didn’t you tell anyone about Brian’s engagement?”
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” Kathleen said, looking affronted.
“But surely you must have thought Molly would want to know.”
“Don’t fuss, Sophie!” Kathleen shot her eldest daughter a stern glance, before smiling placatingly at Molly. “Now, Molly, I know you and Brian were close this past year, but you weren’t really in touch for a few months and these things die out.”
Molly gritted her teeth. The nerve of the woman to make assumptions. “Did he tell you that? That things had died out for us?”
“Of course not. But to tell the truth, I never could see what the two of you had in common. You were both like apples and oranges really.” Kathleen gave a dismissive shrug. “Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge now. A good-looking girl like you won’t be lacking in eligible suitors for long, and it would be churlish of us not to be happy for Brian and Abby.”
“But who is she, exactly?” Sophie asked. “And don’t you think this engagement is a little quick?”
Kathleen frowned. “Abby’s a sweet girl, Sophie, and I want you and your sisters to take good care of her. Her father owns the investment company Brian works for, so we want to show her that we’re not all living in the sticks up here.” She paused, looking smug. “And I must admit, it is quite a match for our Brian.”
“I knew I heard someone say my name.”
He’d changed his clothes. Gone was the cool city man, and there in the kitchen doorway stood the Brian she knew so well, casual in jeans and a fitted grey t-shirt, his dark hair tousled, and a carefree smile on his face.
Molly simmered in silent anger, not letting her thoughts travel to what might have put him in such a relaxed mood.
Kathleen smiled at her nephew. “Brian, how’s Abby?”
“A bit worn out.” He said with a smirk. He strolled to the kitchen counter, picked up the champagne bottle and examined it.
Kathleen tutted. “Yes, of course. Quite understandable, the poor dear. The two hour drive from the city can be exhausting. Do you think she might join us once she’s rested?”
“Sure.” He put the bottle down and turned his attention fully on Molly.
Molly stared back, silently daring him to say anything to her.
“Yes. Well.” Kathleen fluttered over and picked up the champagne bottle. “Sophie help me with these glasses.”
With a last worried glance in Molly’s direction, Sophie gathered up several champagne flutes and hurried out of the kitchen after her mother.
Brian’s gaze dropped to roam over Molly’s silk dress. “You look beautiful, Molly. I’m glad you’re here. Coming home wouldn’t be the same without seeing you.”
She sucked in a sharp breath. “Believe me, Brian, if it hadn’t been for your aunt’s conniving today, I wouldn’t be within a mile shot of you.”
“She must have thought it would be easier on Abby to meet you here.” A small smile touched his lips. “Saves on gossip.”
“Easier on Abby? What about me, Brian? Or did I never matter?”
“You’ll always matter, Molly.” He took a step towards her.
The hungry look in his dark eyes threw her. “H–how can you still say that?”
He frowned then, looking off balance for a moment. “Look, what we had… there was nothing here for me.”
“I’m here, Brian. I’ve always been here for you.”
“That’s just it. You’re here for your Nan, and she hates my guts. You’re here for Barrowdene, and that damn house isn’t even yours.” He shook his head, his lips curling in disdain. “It was never about me, was it? You’ve got your life laid out, and my role was to play happy families here in Appleby with you, no matter what I wanted.”
She stared at him wide-eyed. “But you were happy here. Appleby is your home. Everyone here dotes on you.”
“What use is that to me? I’m bigger than this place. I’m not ready to shut myself off from what the world can give. Look at you. You’re twenty-five and you’re stuck here acting like you’re fifty, for chrissake. It’s boring, Molly.”
Mortified heat burned her cheeks. “And Abby is the excitement you want?”
“You wouldn’t understand. It’s not about washed-out summer fairs out there. Out there, it’s throbbing with life, and it belongs to those who seize opportunity with both hands.”
“Do you love her, Brian?”
“Sure I do.” A ghost of a smirk hovered over his lips.
She glared. “Oh, I see. Like you loved me? Sounds to me like you’re just seizing a new opportunity.”
“Abby’s perfect for me,” he bit out. “I’m going places, and I need someone who can keep up with that.”
“You disgust me. Love isn’t a business deal, Brian. I may be boring, but I loved you once, and—”
“Love! And did you love me enough to stay with me? Leave your precious Barrowdene, your Nan?”
She stared at him, lost for words. Was he right? He’d left and she’d wanted him to come back, but why hadn’t she tried harder to be with him?
His laughter was mocking. “I thought not.”
“You never asked,” she whispered.
“I already knew your answer.” Reaching out, he cupped her cheek and looked deep into her eyes. “I loved you, Molly. But I wonder if you ever truly loved me?”
Always, she wanted to say, but the word stuck in her throat. Had it actually been her fault? Could she have tried harder for them? If only she hadn’t stepped back…
The accusation in his eyes burned into her, and in a silent plea for understanding, she covered his hand with hers and pressed her cheek into his palm, breathing in his warm, clean citrus scent.
A light sparked in his eyes and his gaze dropped to her lips.
Breath faltering, she stared up at him, unable to move as reality mingled with memory and she was transported back to a time when there had only ever been the two of them together.
Lowering his head, he brushed his lips over hers. A gentle touch. And her eyelids fluttered close on a small sigh of relief.
But all of a sudden his seeking lips demanded more, and his hands spanned her waist pulling her into the hard heat of his groin.
Her slumbering mind jerked awake and she wrenched her mouth from his. “No! Oh god. Don’t!” Hands, arms and elbows shoving against his chest she yanked free from his hold.
“What the hell?” Brian stared at her in disbelief, his face flushed.
Cold shame drained the blood from her cheeks, leaving her trembling. She raised a hand to her lips. “I’m sorry. I can’t…” With a shake of her head she spun away, and yanking the back door open, ran out into the sharp evening sunlight.