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 turned up with a new fiancee, and her childhood home was sold out 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 Appleby village in the beautiful English countryside seems the perfect distraction. That is until Molly turns out to be an even greater distraction. Now all he wants is a few nights with her. No love. No complications. And he always gets what he wants.
In the middle of village gossip and scandal, Molly is fighting to resist Jake and rebuild her life. But Jake is a dangerous temptation. His golden charm and mesmerizing eyes promise sinful pleasure.
But when he finishes with her, he’ll have demolished her home, her heart, and her future.
STANDALONE Contemporary Romance | Appleby Book 1
Full-length novel: 408 print pages.
Steamy love scenes (readers: 18+)
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.
Around her, the vicarage’s reception room sharpened with the buzz of whispers. Fine teacups clinked back onto matching saucers. And sensing scandal, people stared first at Molly and then at the handsome couple in the doorway.
Disbelief numbed Molly, and she stared too, unable to rip her gaze from the two newcomers.
Then the man she loved with all her heart slipped an arm around his stunning companion’s waist, dipped his head, and kissed her red lips.
Molly screamed inside.
“Brian. Abby. We’d almost given up on you.” Kathleen Harrington, their hostess, hurried to the couple. Her high voice was a piercing trill that scraped 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 relaxed, murmured their approval, and like happy little bewitched sheep, gathered around him and his new squeeze at the door.
Molly’s only way out was blocked.
Trapped by the tall arching windows behind her, she huddled at the opposite end of the reception room, dreading the moment Brian saw her.
God, what a fool she was. He’d been gone three months, and she’d wanted to wow him when he returned. She glanced down at her figure-hugging turquoise dress. She’d bought it for him. 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? It wasn’t the type of dress villagers in Appleby wore, and she’d garnered plenty of looks when she’d entered the vicarage earlier. The type of looks a call girl collects in church. But she’d wanted to show Brian she wasn’t frumpy, that she could be everything he wanted her to be.
The dress had looked perfect in the boutique mirror yesterday. The turquoise colour had made her light-blonde curls and pale-blue eyes shine. And the matching high heels had raised her diminutive five-foot-four to something decent.
It wasn’t so perfect now.
Molly glanced at the couple. Was it on purpose the beauty with Brian was the exact opposite of everything she was? The woman stood almost as tall as Brian’s six foot in her baby-pink heels. Her matching pink dress moulded her slender curves as if cut for her, and her curtain 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? Compared to the woman with Brian, she looked like a tacky turquoise cake topper. Her only saving grace was that she wasn’t making a complete laughing stock of herself by wearing the come-to-bed turquoise heels as well. She’d stepped out in a comfortable pair of flat shoes instead. But that wasn’t much consolation.
She looked up again, 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 hair was combed back in rigid perfection. His tall lean body was encased in a fine navy-blue suit. And the boyish charm of his lazy smile no longer reached his coal-black eyes. The city had swallowed the country boy she’d known and spat out a sophisticated cold man.
He whispered something in his companion’s ear. The woman shot Molly a cool glance that gauged her from head to toe and then 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 take any of this. But she’d moved only 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 had to make her the centre of attention. And reining in her turbulent emotions, almost choking on them, she schooled her features into polite indifference and 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 standing?
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 Molly, 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 shone with veiled hostility, but now she relaxed. With a smile, she ever-so-casually raised her manicured left hand. The pebble-sized diamond on her ring finger glittered 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 a diamond expert to see that Brian had bought something worth far more than what the average villager earned 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 blue eyes.
Suddenly, the desperate need to put miles of distance between herself and this couple 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 and glared a warning at him. A warning he 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 hand to his lips. “You’ll make a beautiful summer bride.”
Giggling, Abby turned to Molly. “It’s so exciting! Daddy wanted somewhere bigger, 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, 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 love. 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 looked 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.
Then on a steadying breath, she straightened. So be it. But she wouldn’t let them 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 twisted. 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. But then 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 beamed 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?
God! 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. “Molly, do me a favour.” Ian Harrington’s owlish glasses were wonky. His dark pointy beard was ruffled. And his permanent expression of frowning surprise was fiercer than usual. “Kathleen wants to toast her nephew’s latest achievement, and she’s dispatched me on champagne duty.” Unfolding his tall body from the floor, he stood up and plonked two champagne flutes on the kitchen counter beside a large bottle. “Take these through for me, my dear. I can’t bear the fuss.”
Molly groaned inwardly. Of all the people he should ask…
But Reverend Harrington made being oblivious into an art form. He’d probably forgotten she used to be in a relationship with Brian and that it hurt like hell to be here right now.
But his fierce glare pleaded with her from behind his round glasses, and she gave in. “Of course, Ian.”
He beamed. “Thank you.” And checking his watch, he strode towards the back door. “I need to show Colonel Edwards my prize marrows before he leaves. Wouldn’t want him to suffer the impression he’ll win at the fair this year.” He paused with his hand on the door 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.
Just great! Molly bent to gather champagne flutes. Maybe if she was quick enough, she could finish this and be out of here before Brian showed up again. Though, judging from the look on Brian’s and Abby’s faces as they’d left her, she probably had plenty of time. Bile rose at the thought of what they must be doing upstairs right now. She shoved the image aside. She didn’t care what Brian did, or who he did it with.
Scowling, 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,” A voice said behind her.
Clinging to her composure, Molly straightened. She placed the two flutes on the counter and turned to face her best friend. “It’s all right, Sophie.”
But Sophie Harrington’s moss-green eyes brimmed with anxiety, and she nervously tucked a strand of dark hair back from her pretty face. “I don’t know how mum kept this so quiet. We—”
“He’s engaged, Sophie!” Sudden tears stung, and Molly 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 in London?” She shook her head at her naivety.
“You visited him that first month he was in London, 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 at the nightclub Brian had taken her to, and then she’d been too ill to go out with him the next day. He’d labelled her old-fashioned and shrugged it off. But she’d returned to Appleby, burning with embarrassment at her uselessness.
“I didn’t see Abby in London,” she said. “But then I wasn’t there long enough. And whenever I called Brian afterwards he’d say work was hectic and he wouldn’t be back in Appleby for some time. The last time we spoke, he… he wanted us to take it 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. 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 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 you must have realized 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 in touch for a few months, and these things die out.”
Molly glared. The nerve of the woman to make assumptions. “Did Brian 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.” 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?” 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 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 was tousled, and there was a carefree smile on his face.
Molly simmered in silent anger, not letting her thoughts travel to how Abby might have put that smile there.
Kathleen smiled at her nephew. “Brian, how’s Abby?”
“Worn out.” He said with a smirk. He strolled to the kitchen counter and picking up the champagne bottle, examined it.
Kathleen tutted. “Yes, of course. Quite understandable, the poor dear. The two-hour drive from the city can be so exhausting. Do you think she might join us once she’s rested?”
“Sure.” He put the bottle down and turned his attention 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 roamed 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.”
Molly 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.”
“Aunt Kath must have thought it would be easier for Abby to meet you here at the vicarage.” A small smile touched his lips. “Saves on gossip.”
“Easier for Abby? What about me, Brian? Or did I never matter?”
“You’ll always matter.” 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 knocked 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.” His lips curled in disdain. “It was never about me, was it? You’ve got your life in Appleby laid out, and my role was to play happy families here with you, no matter what I wanted.”
Molly stared at him. “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. It’s boring, Molly.”
Hurt stung deep. “I wasn’t boring for you when we were together here. But now Abby is the excitement you want?”
“You wouldn’t understand. It’s not about washed-out summer fairs out there in the rest of the world. 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.
Molly glared. “Oh, I see. Like you loved me? Sounds 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.”
“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? Enough to leave your precious Barrowdene, your Nan?”
She stared at him, lost for words. Was he right? He’d left Appleby, and she’d wanted him to come back, but she hadn’t tried harder to be with him.
His laughter was mocking. “I thought not.”
“You never asked,” she whispered.
“I already knew your answer.” He reached out and cupped her cheek, his dark eyes intent. “I loved you, Molly. But I wonder if you ever loved me?”
Always, she wanted to say, but the word stuck in her throat. Had it been her fault? Could she have tried harder for them? If only she hadn’t stayed back in their village…
The accusation in his eyes burned into her. And in a silent plea for understanding, she covered his hand with hers, and pressing her cheek against his warm palm, breathed in his clean citrus scent.
A light sparked in Brian’s eyes, and his gaze dropped to her lips.
Molly’s breath faltered, and she stared up at him. Reality mingled with memory and transported her back to a time before Abby, a time when there had only been her and Brian.
He dipped his head and 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 to pull her into the hard heat of his groin.
Molly’s 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. Molly 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.
OTHER APPLEBY BOOKS
(Lilayni and Damon)
Appleby Book 2
Lilayni Perrot is determined to win back the man she loves. But steely billionaire Damon Solarin never forgives and won’t be won back. A vicious nemesis and a beautiful rival threaten from the shadows. Can Lilayni convince Damon of her love before her time with him runs out forever?
(Sophie and Marc)
Appleby Book 3
No man has ever chosen Sophie Harrington. Then one day fate throws the hottest man ever at her. But wealthy Marc Lewis needs a wife. A duchess or countess will do, but village girl Sophie will not. Can Sophie win him for a lifetime rather than just a few nights?