Nora Roberts Land

By: Ava Miles

Their waiter approached, but turned around when Tanner pinned him with a look.

Sommerville nudged the picture across the table. “Listen, it won’t be that bad. Trust me. Meredith is gorgeous. You’ll have some time off. Think of it as a vacation.”

Tanner picked up his steak knife, fingering the blade. He wanted to shove it in Sommerville’s neck. “You must really hate your ex.”

Sommerville veiled his eyes. “She wanted a life out of a romance novel—eternal fidelity, partnership, a family. That’s not me.” He picked up the paperback. “This stuff put ideas in her head. I’m only protecting my interests.”

Tanner dropped the knife. He would have to go along with this lunacy until he found a way out. “Are we done here?”

Sommerville reached into his briefcase for another file. “Here’s your ticket to Denver, your rental car information, your new address in Dare, your contact at the journalism department, and a complete account of Meredith’s likes and dislikes. Study it and get out there. She’s arriving tomorrow.”

“When does school start?”

“In two weeks, right after Labor Day.”

Tanner stood and reached for the file. He spread his legs in a fighting stance. “If you don’t hand over everything you have on my brother when I’m done, I’ll destroy you and any chance you have of being in the Senate. It’s not a promise. It’s a blood vow—like the kind I’ve seen in Afghanistan.”

He turned to leave, his mind already building scenarios of how to escape this deal with the devil before his reputation suffered and he hurt an innocent woman.

“And here I thought we could go back to the original agreement,” Sommerville replied in a voice laced with irony and malice.

Tanner’s boots pounded the floor.

“I’ll want weekly updates,” Sommerville called.

He unlocked the door and slammed it behind him.

He’d give that asshole an update.

Chapter 3


Meredith’s wince was as much from the nickname as the shriek in which it was delivered. Her sister ran off the family porch, red hair flying behind her like flames.

“Jillie Bean!” She set her purse on the hood of her car and braced herself. Her sister plowed into her, wrapping her arms around her, jumping like a pogo stick all the while.

“Mere, I’m so happy you’re back!” Jill leaned away, Hale green eyes sparkling, and then launched herself again. “Oh, you’re here, you’re here!”

Meredith squeezed hard. Even though her little sister had three inches on her, Jill was acting like a Labrador puppy—albeit dressed in a purple and white polka dot dress. Her heart lifted. Laughter erupted from her, dispelling the knots in her Pepcid-coated stomach.

“You idiot. Get off me.”

Jill leaned back and slung an arm around her waist. “Is this the Audi you bought with Rick-the-Dick’s money?”

“I leased it. I figured I’d need a car again if I’m going to be living out here for a while. Moves like a dream.”

Jill leapt away like a giant fairy, making footprints in the freshly mowed grass. “I can’t wait to go for a ride.” She bounded back toward Meredith and reached for her shirt. “Now, show me La Perla.”

Meredith swatted her hands away. “Stop it!”

Unphased, Jill tugged up her T-shirt. “Oh, a cranberry bustier. Ooh-la-la. My cotton-clad sister goes over to the wild side.”

Meredith waved as her parents shuffled down the porch’s steps, obviously a little uncomfortable with the strip tease that was unfolding in the front yard. “Shut up! Mom and dad are coming.”

Jill blew out a raspberry. “Like Mom wouldn’t want to see this. I see London, I see France, I see Meredith’s underpants. ”

“Behave!” Meredith said, socking her in the arm. “I’ll show you my new stuff later.”



Her sister ran across the lawn. “Mermaid’s here.”

“We can see that,” Linda Hale confirmed. Her lightly wrinkled face had that weird glow moms get when their kids come home. Her mom’s red hair had even more gray-streaks in it than when she’d seen her after her dad’s heart attack. “Thank you for coming, honey. It means the world.”

“You look wonderful,” Jim Hale commented with a wink. Deep grooves cut a trench around her dad’s eyes and mouth. “Love the hair. But while I’m thrilled you’re here, you didn’t have to come relieve me of duty. Jeez. Doesn’t anyone listen to me?”

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