EXCERPT: Tattered - Author Devney Perry

05/23/2018

EXCERPT: Tattered

Tattered, the first standalone in my all-new Lark Cove series, is available now! And here are both the Prologue and Chapter One for you as a preview.

Prologue

“What can I get for you?” I asked the man across the bar.

He flashed me a straight, white smile. “Macallan 18, if you’ve got it. Double. Neat.”

I nodded and turned to the shelves at my back, glad for the task. I needed a distraction from the heat. He’d turned the hotel bar where I worked into a sauna.

For the last three years, I would have argued that this room was always cold, even at the peak of summer. Even with the heat blasting through the vents, like it was now. But here I stood, sweating like I’d just run to catch the late train.

From the moment this handsome stranger had walked through the door, my heartrate had spiked. Not because of the way his dark hair fell in a soft wave around a part above his left eyebrow. Not because of the expensive suit that hugged his broad shoulders and draped down his long legs.

My heart was thundering because of the air.

He charged the atmosphere with his confident stride. His deep-brown eyes had taken me in with no more than a blink. He exuded class and power and heat.

He’d walked into my bar and claimed it as his.

And I was drawn to him, like shivering bones to a warm blanket.

I guess that was natural. People always wanted what was out of their reach. And this man was so far out of my reach, he might as well be standing on the moon.

He drank whisky that cost twice my hourly wage, while I splurged on cab rides every Saturday night instead of walking home at two in the morning. If my tip jar allowed it, I ate lunch on Wednesdays at the corner diner instead of nuking ramen noodles in my cramped apartment. I was just a bartender, surviving life one lick at a time.

He was probably a corporate raider with the world at his feet.

Still, I couldn’t resist pulling in a deep breath of his Armani cologne as I reached for his whisky on the top shelf.

Even in my mandated heels, it was a stretch to grab the bottle that I’d just cleaned yesterday. It wasn’t uncommon for rich men to stroll in and order our most expensive whisky, but it didn’t happen often enough to avoid a weekly dusting.

“Quiet night?” he asked as I came back to the bar with the bottle.

“Mondays are always slow.” I set out a glass on a black square napkin, then poured him two jiggers.

“Lucky me.” He took the glass. “I get your undivided attention.”

“Yes, you do.” I set the bottle aside, doing my best not to blush. Hopefully I wasn’t sweating through my cheap shirt.

Everything about this man was smooth. Sexy. Even his voice. Definitely the way he licked his lips after taking a sip.

But despite him being my only customer, I stayed quiet as he swirled the amber liquid in its glass. I’d been bartending since I turned twenty-one, and I’d learned these last three years to let the patrons do the talking. No one wanted a bartender who couldn’t shut her mouth—especially in a classy hotel like this. Especially when I was as far from classy as you could get.

My black slacks and white button-up shirt didn’t have a stitch of natural fiber—just a synthetic blend that was uncomfortably affordable. My tattered heels had gotten a new scuff tonight, one I’d have to cover with a Sharpie later.

He swirled his whisky a few more times, his gold cufflink peeking out from underneath his suit jacket. “I’m sure you get this question a lot in your line of work. What’s your drink of choice?”

I smiled. “I do get that question a lot. Normally, I answer with whatever was the first drink I served that day.”

The corner of his mouth curved up. “And today’s?”

“A local IPA.”

His mouth split into a full-blown grin. “What’s the real answer?”

That smile made my heart beat wildly again, sending my temperature up another notch.

“It depends.” I pushed off the bar and walked down to my gun, filling a glass with mostly ice, then water. “I’ve always believed in pairing drinks with the occasion.”

“I’m intrigued.”

I took a sip of my water. “Weddings, obviously champagne.”

“Obviously.” He nodded. “What else?”

“Bachelorette parties require anything fruity. Beer always goes with pizza—it’s one of my drinking laws. Margaritas on Tuesday nights because I don’t work on Wednesdays. And tequila shots if anyone says, ‘We need to talk.’ ”

He chuckled. “What about whisky?”

“I don’t drink whisky.”

“Hmm.” He took a long, slow sip from his glass, then set it down. “That’s a shame. A beautiful woman drinking whisky is my weakness.”

The water glass in my hand bobbled and I nearly spilled it on my apron. I’d heard a lot of pickup lines standing behind this bar, and I’d mastered the art of turning down a man without bruising his ego—or losing his tip. But I’d be a fool to dodge that line.

“Then maybe I’ll give it another try.”

“I’d like that.” He smiled wider as he reached across the bar, his long fingers leading the way. “I’m Logan.”

I placed my hand in his, already lost in the fairy tale. “Thea.”

Chapter 1

Logan

Six years later . . .

“I hate Montana.”

Nolan rolled his eyes. “How can you say that when you’re standing in front of that view?”

I gazed past the tree trunks to the lake on the other side of the forest. I hated to admit it, but the view was rather stunning. The deep blue water had a glassy sheen. The summer sunlight bounced off its gentle, rolling waves. In the distance, the mountains still had white snowcaps. There was even a bald eagle circling the shoreline across the bay.

But I wouldn’t give Nolan the satisfaction of admitting the truth.

“What is that smell?” My nostrils flared as I sucked in a long breath.

Nolan chuckled. “That would be earth. Dirt. Trees. Wind. Also known as clean air. It’s what air is supposed to smell like without all the carbon emissions.”

“Always with the sarcasm.”

“I save it all for you.” Nolan Fennessy, my friend and the CEO of my family’s charitable foundation, loved to give me shit.

“Lucky me,” I deadpanned, turning away from Flathead Lake so he wouldn’t see my grin. Then I scanned the camp, giving it a more thorough inspection than the cursory glance I’d taken when we’d arrived ten minutes ago.

Beneath the evergreens, six small log cabins were scattered throughout the forest. Next to them was a building marked SHOWERS with a separate wing for boys and girls. The main lodge sat at the back, closest to the road and the gravel parking area. And as it was the hub for most camp activities, the lodge was as big as the six cabins combined.

It was a child’s paradise.

In Nowhere, Montana.

Personal experience had tainted the state for me, but I couldn’t deny this camp had a certain appeal. And it would be a perfect addition to the Kendrick Foundation.

“Five million?” I asked Nolan, confirming the purchase price.

“Yes.” He turned away from the lake, stepping to my side. “The price includes everything. Buildings. Furniture. Appliances. Though the bulk of the value is in the land.”

“Okay.” I nodded. “I’ve seen enough. Let’s go.”

“Logan, we can’t go until we meet with the director and hear her pitch.”

At the mention of the director, a flash of long, blond hair caught my eye. She came scurrying out of the lodge with a handful of pamphlets and a manila folder tucked under her arm. I knew without seeing that it contained the proposal she’d sent into the foundation three months ago.

“I don’t need to hear her pitch. I’ll approve the purchase and kick in another fifty thousand for improvements.” I glanced at my Bulgari watch. “It’s only two. Let’s say our hellos, give her the good news and head back to the airport.” We’d be back in New York tonight.

Nolan chuckled. “As much as I’d like to sleep in my own bed tonight, we can’t leave.”

“Why?”

He stepped past me—hand extended—ready to greet the director, then smirked over his shoulder. “It’s rude.”

Damn. “Well played, Fennessy,” I muttered.

Nolan knew I’d never let my personal hang-up about being in Montana impede my reputation as a philanthropist. As my father had taught me years ago, just as his father had taught him, the Kendricks—above all else—took the utmost care to preserve our appearance.

Which meant I was in Montana for the night.

I sloughed off my mood and gave the camp director, Willa Doon, a pleasant smile.

“Mr. Fennessy.” Willa’s smile widened as she shook Nolan’s hand. “Thank you so, so much for coming out here. I couldn’t believe it when you called. I’m just . . . it’s so awesome you even read my proposal in the first place.”

“The pleasure was mine. Your proposal was one of the best I’ve read in months.” Nolan released her hand and gestured toward me. “Let me introduce you to the chairman of the board for the Kendrick Foundation. This is Logan Kendrick.”

“Ms. Doon.” I extended my hand. “Nice to meet you.”

She blushed scarlet as our hands connected. “Mr. Kendrick.”

“Please, call me Logan. We’re looking forward to learning more about your camp.”

“Thank you.” Her smile was confident but her fingers were trembling with nerves. “I’m not sure, um . . . should I just go through the proposal again?” She fumbled the brochures in one hand as she went for the file folder. “I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read it or have questions. I, um—shoot.” A pamphlet dropped to the dirt.

“How about a tour?” Nolan bent to retrieve the paper for her. “We’ve both read your proposal, so if it’s all right with you, we’ll keep this informal and just ask you any questions as we walk.”

Willa nodded. “That sounds great.”

Five minutes into the tour, the nerves began to leave her voice. Once she began telling us stories from past camps and the children who’d spent countless summers here, her confidence rallied.

While Willa’s stories were endearing, they didn’t keep my mind from wandering back to my last visit to Montana. The visit where I’d come to surprise my then girlfriend—the one I’d proposed to twice without a yes in return.

I’d come to Montana to surprise Emmeline for a Thanksgiving weekend. The ring I’d bought for her had been in my coat pocket. My plan had been to propose and convince her to move home after she finished a year teaching kindergarten. Instead, I ended a five-year relationship when I learned she was still in love with a man from her past.

Her husband.

After our breakup, I’d gotten the hell out of Montana, flying back to New York without delay. The second the plane’s wheels had touched down, I’d ordered a courier to return Emmeline’s ring to the jewelry store.

It had been over six months since we’d broken up, and I’d spent that time working my ass off. Not only was I more involved than ever in the Kendrick Foundation, but I was also overseeing a large clientele as a managing partner at my law firm, Stone, Richards and Abergel.

I didn’t think of Emmeline much these days—there just wasn’t time. But being back in Montana dredged up a slew of unwelcome memories. Memories of what I’d lost.

And I hated losing.

“Have you ever been to a camp like this?” Willa asked me as we stood outside one of the smaller cabins.

“No, I haven’t.” I peered through the cabin door, taking in the wooden bunks inside. “Where are all the kids?” Sleeping bags were laid out neatly on the beds, backpacks on the floors, but no campers.

“Oh, they’re all on a hike today. We bussed them out early this morning. They’ll have a picnic lunch and then be back before the dinner bell.”

“I see.” I stepped away from the cabin and gestured toward the lodge. “Can we see the main building next?”

“Of course.”

I took a step to follow Willa just as a streak of dark hair and skinny limbs went flying past the cabin.

The young girl didn’t slow down a bit as she sprinted for the lodge. She looked over her shoulder, giving Willa a huge smile, but kept on running.

Willa waved. “Hey, Charlie!”

“Did she miss the bus?” Nolan teased.

“No, that’s Charlie.” Willa laughed. “Her grandmother volunteers in the kitchen so she spends her mornings and afternoons here.”

Charlie’s long hair streamed behind her as she ran, only trapped by the backward baseball cap on her head. Her sneakers were covered in dirt, just like the seat of her shorts. “Cute kid.”

“She’s adorable.” Willa smiled. “Should we continue the tour?”

“Actually,” I said, “I think I’ve seen enough.”

Willa’s feet stilled and her shoulders fell. “Oh. I see.”

“From what I’ve seen and read in your proposal, this camp would make a wonderful addition to the Kendrick Foundation.”

Willa blinked twice before her entire face lit up. “Really?”

I nodded. “Really.”

“Gosh.” Her hands flew to her cheeks. Pamphlets and her manila envelope dropped to the ground. “I can’t believe it. I just—oh my goodness.”

Nolan grinned at me as we gave Willa a moment to let it all sink in.

She was young, likely in her midtwenties, with a delicate face. Her wavy blond hair fell nearly to her waist. Her hands were constantly fiddling with something—the tie on her simple navy sundress or her papers. But despite her timid demeanor, it was clear that Willa loved this camp.

A camp we’d just saved from closure.

The local church that currently owned the camp was letting it go due to increased overhead and maintenance costs. Luckily for us, the church wasn’t looking to make a payday on the property; otherwise they’d be selling it off for private development. Instead, they just wanted to recoup their investment and find new owners who would continue it as a children’s summer camp. The only problem was, they hadn’t had any offers in a year and were looking at closing it down permanently.

Now it would be part of the Kendrick Foundation.

We’d keep the original charter intact but come in with fresh eyes and a bigger wallet. The foundation would make a few overdue improvements and teach Willa how to better manage expenses while increasing attendance. We’d ensure this children’s paradise would be around for many more years to come.

“Thank you,” Willa whispered as tears filled her eyes. “Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome.” I looked to Nolan. “Anything you want to add?”

“I think you covered it all,” the corners of his mouth turned up, “boss.”

Smug bastard. As CEO, he had just as much authority to approve this purchase as I did. He just liked to toss that word around to remind me who was really in charge here.

“I’ll have the attorneys contact the church and start drafting a contract,” he said. “We’ll get everything transferred over to the foundation as soon as possible. And Ms. Doon, we’ll expect you to stay on as director.”

Willa gasped. “You don’t have to do that. I mean, I’m grateful, but it wasn’t about keeping my job.”

Nolan smiled. “We know. That’s why you’re the best choice for our camp director. And as long as things are going well, the job is yours.”

“I just—I can’t believe this is happening. It was a long shot, sending that proposal. I never . . .” She pressed her hands to her cheeks again. “Thank you.”

“Congratulations. Let’s celebrate.” Nolan clapped me on the shoulder. “Willa, now that we’ve got business out of the way, would you mind giving us the rest of the tour?”

She nodded, composing herself once again. “I’d love to.”

“And afterward, would you mind showing us around town a bit?” I asked. “We’d love a recommendation for dinner and drinks.”

Willa nodded again, her face beaming. “I know just the place.”

“Then lead the way.” Nolan waved her on, then leaned close as we followed. “Now aren’t you glad we stayed?”

Days like today were the reason I stayed so in tune with the foundation’s activities. Outside of the countless hours I put in at the firm, I didn’t have hobbies like my friends did. I didn’t golf or own a yacht.

I worked.

Hard.

Nolan didn’t need me along for these foundation trips, but the truth was, I didn’t want to miss out. I didn’t want to miss the chance to make someone’s dream come true. Or the opportunity to put my family’s fortune to a better use than buying my mother diamonds or my sister divorces.

“Fine. I’ll admit, this place isn’t so bad. Once you get past the smell.”

***

An hour later—after we’d finished touring the camp and Willa had driven us around town—Nolan and I followed her through the steel door of the Lark Cove Bar.

“This is . . . quaint,” I muttered. Were those peanut shells all over the floor?

“They have the best drinks in the area and their pizzas are amazing.” Willa smiled over her shoulder but it fell when she took in my grimace. “But there’s a fancier place up the road in Kalispell. It’s about forty-five minutes, but we can go there. I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

“This place is perfect.” Nolan placed his hand on my shoulder, his dark skin a stark contrast to my white shirt. “We don’t need fancy.”

“Okay. Good.” Willa relaxed and walked over to a table.

“We don’t need fancy,” I whispered to Nolan. “Just sanitary.”

“Shut up.”

“You’re fired.”

He chuckled and looked at his Rolex. “That’s the first time you’ve fired me today, and it’s past four. Usually you fire me before noon on these trips. Maybe the Montana air agrees with you.”

I huffed. “I can’t wait to say ‘I told you so’ after we get food poisoning.”

“Let’s get you a drink.”

“Finally, he says something intelligent.”

We were both grinning as we joined Willa at a tall, square table in the middle of the bar.

“Is this okay?” she asked.

“Great.” I smiled as the wooden stool creaked under my weight. With my back to the door, I studied the room.

The ceiling was high, with exposed iron beams running from one side to the other. Much like the floors, the walls were paneled with battered wood. Though instead of being covered in peanut shells, they were filled with signs and pictures. It reminded me of those chain restaurants—the ones all ending in an apostrophe s. Applebee’s. Chili’s. Bennigan’s. Except this decor hadn’t been staged but pieced together naturally over the years.

The L-shaped bar was long, running across both of the back walls. There had to be at least twenty stools along its path, and judging by the wear and tear on the foot rail, it was the place most people chose to sit.

Including the five patrons seated near the bartender.

“Welcome, folks. Be right there.”

Willa looked over her shoulder, giving the guy a shy wave. As she spun back to the table, her fingers tugged at her hair in an attempt to hide her red cheeks.

Nolan and I shared a grin, then each continued silently scrutinizing the bar as we waited to place our order.

Neon signs advertising various beers and liquors littered the windows facing the parking lot. Next to a large flat-screen on one wall, a set of antlers was adorned with a bunch of hats. Wait. Is that a bra?

The Fourth of July was over a week ago, but the decorations were still up. A red, white and blue banner hung above the jukebox, and a handful of tiny flags sat in a cup on the bar.

This place was as far removed from my favorite bar in the city as you could get, but at least they had alcohol. Though, I doubted the Lark Cove Bar carried my preference.

“Gentlemen. Willow.” The bartender appeared at our table, depositing three cardboard coasters and a paper boat of peanuts.

“It’s Willa. Actually.” She tucked her hair behind an ear, sitting taller. “With an a.”

“Damn. Sorry.” He shrugged off his mistake—one I had a feeling he’d make again. “What can I get for you?”

“I don’t suppose you have Macallan 18,” I said.

It had been a long day, flying out early this morning and then being assaulted with reminders of Emmeline once my feet had touched the Montana soil. Today called for whisky.

The bartender grinned, then ran a hand over his blond buzz-cut hair. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Nice.” The Lark Cove Bar might not be pretty, but whoever stocked their shelves had good taste. “I’ll have a double. Neat.”

“I’ll have the same,” Nolan said.

“You got it.” The bartender smiled at Willa. “And for you?”

“Just, um, a beer. Anything is fine,” she stuttered, blushing again as she stared at the stubble on his jaw. “Thanks, Jackson.”

“Be back.” He tapped his knuckles on the table, then ambled back behind the bar.

“How long do you think that bottle has been up there?” Nolan leaned over and asked as Jackson stretched to pull down the Macallan from the highest shelf.

I opened my mouth to comment on the cobwebs in the upper corner, but stopped when a swish of dark hair caught my eye.

From out of a back room, a woman emerged and smiled at Jackson, then at one of the regulars as she set down a pizza pan.

Her simple black tank molded to her breasts and flat stomach, leaving her tanned arms bare. Her jeans sat low on her hips, cinched tight with a black leather belt that was just a shade darker than her long, thick hair. Her white smile was full of straight teeth, except for one in the middle of the bottom row that sat slightly off-center.

It had been over six years—nearly seven—since I’d spent the night with my hands wrapped up in that hair. Since I’d memorized that smile while I’d held Thea in my arms.

Years, and she looked exactly the same.

“Logan, do you want pizza?”

I shook my head, sliding off my creaking stool. “Excuse me for a moment.”

At my movement, Thea’s dark eyes—nearly black, like her hair—swept the room. She smiled at me for a second, but the expression fell away and the color in her face drained as recognition dawned.

She remembers me. Thank god, she remembered me. I was man enough to admit that it would have crushed my ego if she hadn’t remembered me. Remembered that night.

I still thought about it now and then—whenever I was in the neighborhood of that hotel. Did she ever think about it? About me?

I’d gone back to her hotel bar once, months after we’d hooked up. But she hadn’t been there. The staff had told me that Thea had quit and moved out of the city. I’d been disappointed and pissed at myself for waiting too long—I’d been busy with work. Then life had moved on. Not long after I’d tried to find Thea again, I’d met Emmeline.

Still, I’d never forgotten Thea, even after all these years.

I’d never forgotten how those dark eyes had lulled me under her spell. How her amazing body—the perfect balance of toned, lean muscle to soft, feminine curves—had felt beneath mine.

As I crossed the room, I held her wide, unblinking stare. “Thea.”

Her body jolted at my voice. “Lo-Logan.”

“It’s been a long time. How are you?”

She opened her mouth, then closed it without a word.

“Hey, Thea,” Jackson called. “We’re finally cracking that bottle of Macallan you insisted on buying.”

I grinned. That was why the Lark Cove Bar carried Macallan. She’d bought my favorite whisky for her bar, even if it had never been served.

“I . . .” Thea took a long breath, shaking her head and closing her eyes. When she opened them, the shock of seeing my face was gone.

But instead of the confident, sexy woman I’d expected to see once the surprise had faded, I saw fear.

Why would Thea be afraid of me? I’d treated her with nothing but respect during the night we’d shared. Hadn’t I?

Before I could say anything else, she sprang into action, grabbing a shot glass and slamming it on the bar. Then she reached behind her, swiping a bottle of tequila from a middle shelf. With a flick of her wrist, she poured the shot, not spilling a drop.

“Drink that,” she ordered. “We need to talk.”

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