The heart is the best guide. Unless we ignore it…
Eager to open her high-end inn on Martha’s Vineyard, Carla Bellini has enough on her plate and won’t waste precious time or energy looking for her soulmate. They only exist in romance novels, anyway. Besides the small, but vital, fact that the only man she’d ever desired is the one she’d bossed around for the past year—and the one who told her he’d had just about enough of her whims. Oops.
Damian Foster’s professional skills and seductive charm opened many doors for him in hip SoCal—as a trendy architect and into women’s arms. After returning to his native New England, however, Damian faces a conundrum. Work is brimming, but his bottled-up feelings for his best buddy’s sister are flaring up like tinder, threatening to damage more than Damian’s emotional well-being.
When an unexpected rival for Carla’s attention throws his hat into the game, though, Damian needs to decide quickly: quench his attraction to Carla for good—or break an old promise and go after her.
What will it take for Carla and Damian to find their once-in-a-lifetime happiness?
CANDIDLY, CARLA is a story about pursuing dreams and making choices.
Read: e-Book, Paperback
Listen: Coming soon
“Something in my gut is telling me that things won’t stay the same…”
A tower of trifold brochures stacked precariously in the crook of her arm, Carla all but skipped out of the dining room, mangling the lyrics to “Top of the World” just a tad. The earworm evoked feelings she could easily identify with. Only hers weren’t for the love for a person. It was for a family legacy.
Faulkner’s Inn—the B&B she was about to open by week’s end.
Her deceased uncle’s vision for this inn varied significantly from how it turned out, but deep in her heart—and gut—Carla knew that Uncle Charles would approve that she blended his dream with hers.
At least she hoped so.
It would be up to her and Paloma, her almost-sister-in-law and business partner, to make him proud.
Reaching an exquisite hickory sideboard in the inn’s bright and spacious foyer, Carla opened the middle door—and instantly yelled, “Damian,” giving the stuck door three sharp tugs. One for each syllable of his name.
“Where is the darn man when I need him? I really don’t have time for this shit,” she muttered, already peeling a dollar bill out of her capri’s back pocket with her free hand. With a flick of her wrist, she dropped it in a gigantic mason jar sitting on the offending cabinet, where the crumpled note joined many other George Washingtons and even a few Abe Lincolns.
Putting the brochures down before she dropped them and they skidded all over the floor, she yelled again, “Damian!” with unparalleled naturalness, as if he should’ve foreseen that he was needed. Better yet—as if he should’ve expected the emergency and already fixed it.
“That’s technically two bucks.”
The deep voice gave Carla instant goose bumps—the good kind, caused by a pleasant sensation—and she whipped around so fast, the room spun.
Leaning against the doorjamb of the open front door, his long legs crossed at the ankles and sporting a shit-eating smirk, Damian took Carla’s breath away.
Oh, she wanted to squeeze herself into those sinewy arms he’d crossed so casually, longed to rake her hands through his thick blond hair while he held her against his chest, and—more than anything else—wished she’d be the reason his blue eyes shone so brightly.
“Mind if I ask you a question?” he said, pushing off the doorjamb and walking into the foyer.
“Yeah? I mean, no.” She fluttered a hand through the air. “Out with it, before you’re choking on it.”
“Do you think your guests will appreciate having a tip jar rubbed into their faces as soon as they walk through the front door? Last I heard, they’re paying big bucks to stay or celebrate an event here, so maybe a little more discretion is advisable.”
Forcing herself to sound unaffected by his gorgeousness, she said, “It’s a swear jar, not a tip jar, and you know it. And duh,”—she rolled her eyes for emphasis—“of course it won’t stay here when we officially open. It’ll probably get a prime spot in my bedroom.”
He grinned. “I’m sure Mimi appreciates your attempts to clean up your language. But don’t be too hard on yourself. Luna isn’t old enough to understand her auntie Carla’s foul words.”
Carla agreed that Damian made a good point, but she wasn’t going to wait until her six-month-old niece was starting to repeat her cursing, which was why she decided to part with a buck each time she swore out loud. What she uttered in her mind was nobody’s business. And what she would do with her exponentially growing cache was to be decided another time. At the rate she fed the jar, she’d be able to treat herself to a spa weekend soon—if she’d find the time for it, of course.
“Don’t you have anything better to do than slink around and tell me what to do or not to do?” Carla snapped.
Damian strolled toward Carla, doing his irritating smirking again. “I’m not slinking, just so we’re clear. And I could’ve sworn I heard you call my name. Where’s the fire?”
Carla heard the unsaid “this time” loud and clear—and could hardly tell him to stay where he was, because he ignited a fire deep in her belly just by standing as close as he did now. Close enough to catch a distracting whiff of his aftershave.
“This fu—” She shut her mouth when he gestured locked lips. “This flipping door still catches. I’m sure you have a screwdriver with you. Can you adjust it quickly?” She flashed him what she hoped was an irresistible smile.
“Although carpentry isn’t in my job description, I happen to have a toolbox in my truck. But we should get you a basic toolkit. I won’t always be around when you have a loose screw.”
“When I have a loose—” She stemmed her hands on her hips and inhaled audibly, feeling her nostrils flutter like a moth before getting its wings singed on a flame.
“Chill, princess. No need to get into a tizzy. Let me take care of your dire emergency before I meet Jake as I’m supposed to.” Damian ruffled her hair like she was a dog or a little kid, winked—winked!—at her, and walked away.
Carla stomped a foot and ughed when she heard him chuckle.
His quip had merit, though. She’d gotten used to having him around. Like a magical genie, he materialized whenever she encountered problems in the Victorian house—and there’d been no shortage of snags—so who could blame her for calling his name without thinking?
Watching Damian stride to his truck, Carla helplessly admired his drool-inducing physique and swallowed hard.
Her old infatuation with him had not only been reawakened, but had intensified in the past year of working so closely with him.
And although the inn’s renovation was completed, including adding a tasteful extension for her private one-bedroom apartment without taking away from the building’s nineteenth-century charm, there were still several other ongoing projects Damian was involved in. Mainly Carla’s older brother’s houses, which were also being built on the forty-acre property the siblings had inherited from their uncle.
Jake and Mimi’s new construction on the eastern side of the estate was well underway, but Matt and Paloma’s redo of a former service building at the western end was still slumbering like Sleeping Beauty, waiting to be brought back to life. Which would be another year. At least.
Meaning… Damian and his building and landscaping crews wouldn’t go anywhere. And she, Carla, better find a way to reel in her distracting feelings for Jake’s best friend.
Feelings she’d harbored since she was a teenager.
Doomed feelings, because if Damian hadn’t shown any romantic interest in Carla by now, chances were, he never would.
Staring into the built-in toolbox on his truck’s bed, Damian uttered a string of curses that would’ve filled Carla’s swear jar to the top.
Ruffling Carla’s hair had been unnecessary. No. Worse. It’d been plain stupid.
Granted, it was nothing but a goofy gesture, but they’d known each other since they were teens, so he didn’t think it was weird or inappropriate. What was disconcerting, though, was that he’d wanted to find out how her hair felt for longer than he cared to admit. Even—or especially—to himself.
Now he knew.
And to his great discomfort, touching her soft hair caused a rather painful physical response of his body, which he tried to quash right now. With debatable success so far…
Damian was only glad that Carla had no idea about the effect she had on him. He admired her straightforwardness and ambitions, and although he frequently teased her about being a nuisance, he’d come to crave hearing her cheery laughter—and be the recipient of her adorable bossiness. It didn’t hurt that the lanky teenager she used to be had grown into a slender beauty with perfect curves in all the right places.
Curves that he wouldn’t mind exploring with the same attention to detail that he bestowed on his architectural designs and visions.
Having stalled long enough to be somewhat appropriate again, Damian pulled a screwdriver plus a piece of sandpaper out of the toolbox and turned around. Only for pride to jam his chest.
Faulkner’s Inn was a gem.
Visually, the two-story Victorian was a stark contrast to the multi-million-dollar glass, concrete and steel dwellings he’d designed for his affluent clientele in California and Arizona. Damian loved to integrate modern architecture into natural surroundings, the unorthodox structures reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater or David & Gladys Wright House.
But Faulkner’s Inn, with its red roofs and gables, adorned with not too whimsical ornamental woodwork, radiated sophisticated charm—and beckoned guests to step inside.
Making his way to the entrance, Damian noticed small homey touches: white rocking chairs on the porch, groupings of Adirondacks spread out on the rolling lawn, wind chimes and flower baskets hanging off the porch’s ceiling.
The hydrangeas in front of the large wrap-around veranda had yet to grow into the massive bushes they’d be in a couple of years, just like the roses in the sensory garden on one side of the house, but Damian knew they’d soon be bursting with dark blue flowers.
Deceptively modest at first glance, Damian knew the house’s real beauty lay inside its walls. Once guests entered the spacious foyer, they saw wide-planked, honeyed hardwood floors and elegant area rugs and runners, walls painted in shades of taupe and champagne with white trim, and a stunning staircase leading to the five luxury suites on the second floor. Tall windows allowed natural light to flood the interior, bringing the outside into the house—and vice versa.
Considering himself a man with an open mind, Damian enjoyed merging building styles, which could so easily go wrong. And, admittedly, he’d been guarded about a few of Carla and Paloma’s interior design visions. But what some would call a slightly risqué décor mix—antique sideboards and cabinets sharing the space with modern leather chairs and colorful throw pillows, all complemented by tasteful contemporary wall art and vintage maps of Martha’s Vineyard—was atmospheric. The clichéd slogan, “home away from home,” was certainly true for Faulkner’s Inn.
One of Damian’s favorite features, however, wasn’t visible from the front. Added to the back of the house was a four-season room that opened to the sprawling backyard and pond in the distance, allowing Carla and Paloma to host larger events than what the B&B could accommodate indoors. Like the upcoming wedding of friends, which would mark the unofficial opening of Faulkner’s Inn on Mother’s Day weekend.
Wiping his boots on the door mat, Damian saw Carla kneeling in front of the sideboard, her right arm squeezed into the narrow opening.
“What are you doing now?” he hissed, more curious than frustrated.
“What does it look like to you? I’m fixing this stupid hinge,” she said and looked at him with her big emerald eyes. “You took forever to come back, and I can’t wait until tomorrow to open this cabinet door. Apparently, I have to do everything myself around here.”
He smirked at her exaggerated New England accent that she often used to convey her annoyance.
“Forever? I was at my truck for less than five minutes. One of these days, someone better teach you about patience, princess.”
“And you think that’s gonna be you?” She glared at him. “By the way, what’s up with the princess shit?”
“That’s another buck for your jar,” he nodded toward it. “But yeah, you’re acting slightly spoiled lately, and I’m not the only one who’s had it with your whims.”
“Excuse me?” Carla pulled her hand out of the cabinet, clutching a knife.
He grumbled, “Move over,” took hold of the knife and put it on the buffet. “Grrr, a butter knife. What were you thinking?”
“Didn’t you hear me? I need to fix this cabinet,” she enunciated, as if needing to spell it out for him, and crouched so close to him that he was about to count the cute freckles on her nose.
“Do I really need to tell you that kitchen utensils are to fix sandwiches, not furniture? Be glad your grandpa didn’t catch you using that knife on this gorgeous antique. By the way, the hinge isn’t the problem.”
“Oh, really? After I fiddled with it yesterday, it worked,” she challenged him.
“Maybe stop fiddling,” he said and slid the sandpaper over the bottom of the door a few times, then opened and closed the door without problems. “There. Fixed.”
Standing up, he smirked at Carla, “Are there any other disasters to take care of or am I dismissed?”
She smiled at him. “That’s all, I think. Thank you.” She stood too quickly and stepped back when her foot caught on the curled edge of the thick rug.
Damian’s hand shot out and before he knew what happened, he pulled Carla to him, his arm wrapping itself around her waist.
His heartbeat quickened.
A wave of sensations crashed over him and pulled him to Carla.
Their faces only a whisper apart, their gazes locked as he searched her eyes in a silent question.
His lips brushed her forehead, trailed lower, reached her mouth, then…
A startled moan escaped Carla, and Damian backed away. Reaching for the screwdriver and sandpaper, he muttered, “I’ve got to run.”
Carla swallowed hard and said, “Yeah, you better. Jake has the patience of a gnat when it comes to his house or his family. Or pretty much anything lately.”
“Must be a family trait,” Damian mumbled. He turned and walked away, but stopped halfway to the front door. “Hey, princess… I’m sorry,” he squeezed out.
But Damian wasn’t quite sure what he was sorry for.
To have attempted to kiss Carla?
Or to not have gone for a deeper, longer kiss?