by Jill Shalvis
This book is book one in a duet, but can be read as a stand alone story.
When Sean O’Riley shows up at the Hartford Bed & Breakfast for his older brother’s bachelor weekend, he’s just hoping to make it through the weekend. What he’s not expecting is to come face to face with the woman he lost his virginity to a decade ago—a woman he’s never really forgotten.
The last time Lotti Hartford saw Sean, she told him she loved him while he said nothing. Now, ten years later, she’s just looking for a good time. For once, she wants to be the wild and free one, and Sean – the good time guy – is the perfect candidate.
But as the weekend continues, Sean realizes that after a lifetime of being the hook-up king, he’s ready to find happily-ever-after, and he wants it with Lotti. But will she open her heart to him again? As Christmas sweeps through the little B&B, he can only hope love and magic are in the air.
To say Sean felt stressed was a huge understatement. Give him a cliff to scale or a bar brawl to break up. Hell, give him a freight train to try to outrun, anything but having to pull off being the best man for his brother Finn’s wedding—including but not limited to keeping said brother from losing his collective shit.
It’s not like Sean didn’t understand. Getting married was a big deal. Okay, so he didn’t fully understand, not really, but he wanted to. He really did. And how funny was that? Sean O’Riley, younger brother, hook-up king extraordinaire, was suddenly tired of the game and found himself aching for his own forever after.
“We almost there?” Finn asked him from the backseat of the vehicle Sean was driving.
“And you double checked on our reservations?”
“No, I’m serious, man,” Finn said. “Remember when you took me to Vegas and when we got there, every hotel was booked and we had to stay at the Magic-O motel?”
“Man, a guy screws up one time . . .”
“We had a stripper pole in our rooms, Sean.”
Sean sighed. “Okay, but to be fair, that was back when I was still in my stupid phase. I promise you that we have reservations—no stripper poles. I even double and triple checked, just like you asked me a hundred and one times. Pru, I hope you realize you’re marrying a nag.”
Pru, Finn’s fiancée, laughed from the shotgun position. “Hey, one of us has to be the nag in this relationship, and it isn’t me.”
Sean held up a palm and Pru leaned over the console to give him a high-five.
“Just so you know,” Sean said to Finn, “I didn’t pick this place, your woman did.”
“True story,” Pru said. “The B&B’s closed to the public this entire weekend. Sean booked the whole place for our bachelor/bachelorette party weekend extravaganza.”
“I superheroed this thing,” Sean said.
Finn snorted and let loose of a small smile because they both knew that for most of Sean’s childhood, that’s what he’d aspired to be, a superhero—sans tights though. Tights had never been Sean’s thing, especially after suffering through them for two seasons in high school football before he’d mercifully cracked his clavicle.
After that, he’d turned to fighting, and not the good kind either. Finn, physically older by seven years, mentally older by about a hundred, had single-handedly saved Sean from just about every situation he’d ever landed himself in. Thanks to Finn, there’d been a lot fewer situations than there should’ve been and it hadn’t been for lack of trying.
Fact was, everyone knew Sean had taken the slowest possible route on his way to growing up, complete with plenty of detours, but he’d hit his stride now. Or at least he hoped so because Finn was counting on him in a big way over the next week and Sean had let him down enough for a lifetime. He wouldn’t let him down now.
Sean pulled into the B&B’s parking lot and turned to face the crowd he’d driven from San Francisco to Napa. And he did mean crowd. They’d had to rent a fourteen-seat passenger van to fit everyone, and he was the weekend’s designated driver.
Oh, how times had changed. “Ready?” he asked.
Finn nodded. Pru was bouncing up and down in her seat with excitement. Willa, her BFF, was doing the same. Keane, Willa’s boyfriend, opened the door for everyone to tumble out.
It was two weeks before Christmas and the rolling hills of Napa Valley were lined with grape vines for as far as the eye could see, not that they could actually see them right now. It was late, pitch dark, and rain had been pouring down steadily all day, which didn’t detract from the beauty of the Victorian B&B in front of them. It did, however, detract from Sean’s eagerness to go out in the rain to get to it though.
Not Pru and Willa. The two raced through the downpour laughing and holding hands with Elle, Colbie, Kylie, and Tina—the rest of Pru’s posse—moving more cautiously in deference to the preservation of their heels. Sean, Finn, and Finn’s posse—Archer, Keane, Spence, and Joe—followed.
They all tumbled in the front door of the B&B and stopped short in awe of the place decorated with what had to be miles of garland and lights, along with a huge Christmas tree done up in all the bells and whistles. This place could’ve passed for Santa’s own house.
Collectively the group “oohed” and “ahhhed” before turning expectedly to Sean.
This was because he was actually in charge of the weekend’s activities that would lead up to the final countdown to the wedding happening next week at a winery about twenty minutes up the road. This was what a best man did apparently, take care of stuff. Allthe stuff. And that Finn had asked Sean to be his best man in the first place over any of the close friends with them this weekend had the pride overcoming his anxiety of screwing it all up.
But the anxiety was making a real strong bid right at the moment. He shook off some of the raindrops and started to head over to the greeting desk and twelve people began to follow. He stopped and was nearly plowed over by the parade. “Wait here,” he instructed, pausing until his very excited group nodded in unison.
Jesus. He shouldn’t have poured them that champagne to pre-game before they’d left O’Riley’s, the pub he and Finn owned and operated in San Francisco. And that he was the voice of reason right now was truly the irony of the century. “Stay,” he said firmly and then made his way past the towering Christmas tree lit to within an inch of its life, past the raging fire in the fireplace with candles lining the mantel . . . to the small, quaint check-in desk that had a plate with some amazing looking cookies and a sign that said: yes, these are for you—welcome!
“Yum,” Pru said and took one for each hand.
She hadn’t “stayed.” And neither had Finn. They both flanked Sean, munching on the cookies.
A woman sat at the check-in desk with a laptop, her fingers a blur, the tip of her Santa hat quivering as she typed away. She looked up and smiled as she took in the group. That is until her gaze landed on Sean and she froze.
He’d already done the same because holy shit—
“Greetings,” she said, recovering first and so quickly that no one else seemed to notice as she stood and smiled warmly everyone but Sean. “Welcome to the Hartford B&B. My name’s Charlotte Hartford and I’m the innkeeper here. How can I help you?”
Good question. And Sean had the answer on the tip of his tongue, which was currently stuck to the roof of his mouth because he hadn’t been prepared for this sweet and sassy redheaded blast from his past.
About the Author:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s sexy contemporary and award-winning books wherever romances are sold and click on the blog button above for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.