It’s party time!!!
I’m thrilled that my fifth book, Winning Over the Heiress, officially releases today (February 3) in North America! To celebrate, I’m giving away a print copy (worldwide, wherever The Book Depository delivers) on my blog today.
Winning Over the Heiress, Sean and Julia’s story, is the second book in my Sydney series.
Can Sean Mitchell be redeemed?
His new boss, Julia Radcliffe, isn’t so sure. A year ago, Sean walked out on his brother’s wedding—and her. Now the bad boy with the surfer good looks is back and determined to make a new life with Julia. She wonders whether she can truly trust that he’s a changed man.
It took time and faith, but Sean is finally on the right path. And his feelings for Julia have only grown stronger. But when Sean’s past threatens to jeopardize their future, can he convince Julia they both want the same thing—a love that can overcome every mistake?
CHAPTER ONE Excerpt:
Julia Radcliffe signed on to the computer at the reception desk in the Beachside Community Church office, ready to start her workday by updating the member database. She tucked her auburn hair behind her ears and skimmed through the list of names, noting Cassie and Ryan Mitchell’s new Queensland address. They had recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary in their new waterfront home, which came complete with a private mooring for Ryan’s yacht.
An image popped into her head: Sean Mitchell, Ryan’s brother, dressed in a tux at her best friend’s wedding. Her face warmed at the memory of her encounter with Sean at the posh Sydney hotel. A year ago, he’d walked out on her at Cassie and Ryan’s wedding.
Julia sipped the latte she’d picked up at a Manly café on her way to work. Cassie claimed Sean, her old friend and brother-in-law, had changed. Was it possible for someone with Sean’s history to turn his life around that drastically in just eighteen months?
The phone rang, and she transferred the call to Simon, the assistant pastor. Simon was a great boss, and he’d helped her settle into her new office manager maternity-relief role. She was blessed to have the opportunity to work at her church and support the paid staff in their various ministries.
The automatic external sliding glass door opened. Liam, a guy she had dated last month, walked hand in hand through the reception area with a slender blonde girl.
Her stomach sank. No wonder he hadn’t called her after their second date.
Liam approached her desk. She greeted him, pasting a polite smile on her face. “Can I help you?”
“Sally and I have an appointment with Simon at nine.”
Julia nodded. “Please take a seat on the sofa. I’ll let him know you’re here.” She picked up the phone handset, professionalism overriding her curiosity. When had they started dating—before or after Julia’s second date with Liam a few weeks ago?
Simon didn’t answer his phone, and she swallowed hard, realizing she’d dialed the wrong extension. She pressed the correct number and, in a calm voice, told Simon his next appointment had arrived.
Liam sat close beside the blonde. They seemed co-cooned in their own little world, reading something together on his phone. He attended a different church, and had told Julia all about his plans for Bible college. Plans that now appeared to include his new girlfriend.
Julia slumped in her seat and logged back in to the database. Her French-manicured nails clicked on the keys as she entered Cassie and Ryan’s new address. Lord, will I ever meet my future husband? Should I quit dating and accept my lot in life as a single woman?
She pressed Enter to accept the final changes in the database. Liam and the blonde were now in Simon’s office. She glanced at the open sliding door, her pulse quickening.
Sean. What was he doing here? Dressed in a casual shirt and jeans, his gaze darted around the empty reception area before homing in on Julia.
She held her breath for a moment, catching the flicker of recognition lighting up his face. His hair had grown long. He looked like a surfer boy, with his golden tan and sandy locks that curled over his ears.
He stopped a few feet away from her desk. “Hey, Julia, I didn’t know you worked here.”
“I started only a couple of weeks ago.”
His smile widened. “Is Simon around?”
“You know Simon?”
“Ryan introduced us at church recently.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you were attending services here.” Sean had moved to Queensland with Ryan and Cassie not long after their wedding, and Ryan often travelled back to Sydney for work. Julia had chatted with Cassie on the phone last night, and she’d done her best to steer the conversation away from Sean.
His eyes, the exact color of the sky on a sunny day, sparkled. “I moved into Ryan’s old apartment last week, and he suggested I come here.”
“Okay.” Maybe Cassie was right and Sean did share her faith now. A dramatic turnaround from his attitude and behavior at the wedding. “Simon’s in a meeting, and he shouldn’t be too long.”
“No problem.” He remained standing by her desk.
She should tell him to take a seat—she had work to do—but her overflowing email account could wait. Why did she let his smile dominate her thoughts? She should be immune to his charm. “I love the harbor views from Ryan’s apartment.”
“Me, too. I can walk to the beach for my early-morning surf. Do you work here full-time?”
“Yes, I’m covering my friend’s maternity leave, and right now there’s more than enough work to keep me busy.” Some days she wondered if she’d ever get through the backlog of admin work she’d inherited.
“I bet it’s a nice change of pace from your stressful banking job in the city.”
“It sure is. My last couple of personal-assistant roles at the bank were crazy busy all the time, so I resigned from the bank when I got this job.”
“Really? That’s a big decision if this job is only temporary.”
“After eight years it was time for a change. I was only nineteen when I first started working there.”
“That’s a long time.” Sean’s phone beeped, and he checked the screen. “I’d better take a seat and let you get back to work.”
She nodded, and swallowed the dregs of her tepid coffee. Her gaze kept wandering in Sean’s direction as she checked her email. He flicked through a magazine, appearing more centered and relaxed than the last time she’d seen him.
Footsteps sounded in the hall, and Liam appeared with the blonde. She headed for the exit while Liam wandered to Julia’s desk.
She squared her shoulders, waiting for him to speak.
“Um, I should have called you,” Liam said.
“I can see you’ve been busy.”
A tinge of red shaded his face. “You’re a great girl, and you’ll meet the right guy one day.”
She groaned, her gaze sliding over to Sean.
Sean bent his head, studying an unopened magazine in his lap. He was close enough to hear every word.
She forced her mouth into a smile. “Well, then, I guess I should wish you all the best for Bible college.”
“Thanks. Sally’s waiting, I’d better go.” Liam turned away and hurried out of the building.
Sean met her gaze, his lips twitching in the direction of a smile. “His loss. You’re too good for him.”
More heat invaded her flushed face. “Did anyone ever tell you it’s rude to eavesdrop?”
He shrugged. “You’re better off without him.”
“You think so?”
“Yes.” His voice dropped an octave, a teasing lilt matching the playful glint in his eyes. “You’re way too good for him, but he’s not smart enough to work it out.”
Before she had a chance to respond, Simon appeared in the reception area. “Sean? I’m ready for you now.”
Sean jumped out of his seat, and the two men walked together down the hall toward Simon’s office.
Julia nibbled her lower lip. Sean’s flattering words and perceptive assessment of the Liam situation had soothed her battered heart. What else could happen to surprise her today?
Already this morning she’d found a letter regarding her adoption inquiry in her mailbox. The search for her birth mom had officially commenced, after the government agency had misplaced her initial application a few months earlier.
Fear curled in her belly. She loved her adoptive parents and Billie, her adopted younger sister. Billie had talked her into tracking down the location of her birth parents. Billie was keen to meet her birth mother, but Julia didn’t know if she was ready to meet the woman who had given her life. And then given her away.
Before long, Simon reappeared with Sean. She checked the time on her computer screen. What had they been discussing for the past hour? Not that it was any of her business. Instead, she should be thankful that Sean had found a church home.
“Have you taken your morning break?” Simon asked.
She shook her head. “I’m swamped with the news bulletin and website updates.” Her web skills were limited and she struggled to do basic text updates, let alone anything more complicated.
“You won’t have that problem for long,” Simon said.
She lifted a brow. “Who else is going to do it?” The church had advertised a new position for a website administrator last month. To her knowledge, they hadn’t found any suitable applicants.
Sean hung behind Simon like a shadow, checking out the office.
Simon smiled. “We have a plan, and I’ll let you know what’s going on when I bring back your latte and muffin.”
“Thanks, that sounds great.” She rummaged through her purse and handed over cash to Simon. They’d fallen into a routine of taking turns for the midmorning coffee run.
Simon left the building with Sean, walking outside into the sun-drenched paved courtyard.
She ran her fingers through her wavy hair, untangling a small knot. What was going on? It was as though Simon and Sean had become new best friends. Perplexed, she skimmed her email to see if she’d missed any news bulletin announcements.
Sean strolled beside Simon to the nearby café across the road, an energetic bounce in his step. His prayers for a new job had been answered this morning.
Simon halted at the pedestrian crossing. “Julia usually likes a tall latte with no sugar, although she occasionally wants a cappuccino. She likes her low-fat berry muffin heated, too. Blueberry is her favorite, followed by raspberry.”
“Okay, is this part of my job description?”
Simon laughed. “No, but she’s a hard worker, and we appreciate her willingness to fill the maternity-relief role. I assume you know Julia through Cassie.”
“We met at Ryan and Cassie’s wedding.” Julia had captivated his thoughts since he’d first glimpsed her walking down the aisle in the church. She’d worn a stunning bridesmaid dress, the silky fabric gliding over her curves. Filtered sunlight through the stained glass windows had brought out the red highlights in her glossy hair and bathed her pretty face in a soft glow.
“Weren’t you friends with Cassie years ago?”
Sean hung his head, distant memories of partying with Cassie leaving an unpleasant taste in his mouth. “Yes, but I met Cassie when I worked for her father’s company, and Cassie didn’t see much of Julia during that time.”
“That makes sense.”
Sean closed his eyes for a moment, thanking God he was a changed man and able to make amends for his past bad behavior. He’d made a number of enormous mistakes, leading to years of misery and heartache, which had culminated in a stint in a gambling rehab program not long before his brother’s wedding.
The lights changed, and he crossed the road with Simon, welcoming this new chapter in his life. The opportunity to work with Julia was an unexpected bonus.
Fifteen minutes later, Simon and Sean returned to the church office. Julia spun around in her seat, thanking Simon for her latte and muffin.
The men pulled out chairs from under a nearby desk, making themselves comfortable.
Sean leaned back in his seat opposite her, cradling a small coffee cup in his hands.
“What’s up?” She opened her muffin package and sipped her coffee, aware of Sean’s intense scrutiny.
“I have some news,” Simon said.
She swallowed a delicious piece of the warmed muffin, the sweet blueberry flavor lingering in her mouth. “Good news, I hope.”
Simon smiled. “Sean’s going to be working with us.”
She gulped down a mouthful of coffee, the hot liquid scalding her throat. “You’re kidding?”
Sean shook his head. “I start tomorrow.”
She widened her eyes. “How’s this going to work?”
“Sean’s the successful applicant for the website admin job.”
“Wow.” She turned to Sean. “I didn’t know you’d acquired IT qualifications.”
Sean shrugged. “I have all the prerequisite skills needed for the job.”
“Yes,” Simon said. “He’s also going to help you out with general admin and reception when you’re super busy.”
She slouched in her seat, her mind whirling. How had this happened? Why had the church chosen to employ Sean?
She sipped her latte, switching her attention back to Simon. “What hours will Sean be working?”
“He’ll be here full-time. You’ll be his supervisor.”
No way. Her fingers trembled, and she placed her coffee cup back on her desk. All day, five days a week. Sean would be in her work domain. He’d be her responsibility to manage.
She pursed her lips, staring at the spare desk, less than ten feet away from her own. “And where will Sean be working?”
“Right here with you,” Simon said. “We’ll all feel happier when we’re out of the office, knowing Sean is with you.”
She nodded, recalling the problems they’d experienced with a few rowdy visitors last week. “Do you want me to put aside the web updates for tomorrow?”
“Absolutely.” Simon ate the last of his muffin and tossed the scrunched-up paper bag into a nearby trash bin. He stood. “I have a meeting in ten minutes I need to prepare for.” He turned to Sean, his smile broad. “I’ll see you at nine tomorrow.”
Sean shook Simon’s outstretched hand. “You sure will.”
The assistant pastor headed down the hall toward his office, drinking his coffee.
Julia picked at her muffin. “Would you like a piece? I have plenty.”
“No, I’m good.”
“You won’t be joining us in our coffee-and-muffin run?”
“Probably not.” He stretched out his jeans-clad legs, his feet inches away from hers.
The phone rang and she excused herself to answer it. She handled the request from a church member, and swung back around to face Sean.
He drew his eyebrows together. “You didn’t know I’d applied for the job? I’m surprised Cassie didn’t tell you.”
She shook her head. “Congratulations, by the way. Ryan and Cassie must be happy to see you settled.”
“Actually, it was Ryan’s idea I apply for this job.”
“You didn’t want to stay in Queensland?”
“Nope. There weren’t any job vacancies in my field, and I couldn’t work for Cassie at the resort, either.”
She nodded. Cassie’s father would veto any attempt by Cassie or Ryan to reemploy Sean in any of his companies. Sean had embezzled a large sum of money and disappeared, losing touch with Cassie and his family. A few years later, he had come out of hiding and they had discovered he’d taken the money to finance his gambling addiction.
“Ryan figured a church would be a good work environment for me.”
“That’s logical.” She drank her latte, inhaling the comforting and familiar aroma. She should have guessed Ryan had lined up the job. Ryan and Cassie had done whatever they could to help Sean overcome his problems.
Sean rubbed his hand over his clean-shaven jaw, frown lines forming between his eyebrows. “Are you okay with this?”
“Of course.” She studied her fingernails, putting on a brave smile. “An extra pair of hands will make my life easier.”
Why did it have to be his hands? The unique scent of his earthy aftershave mingled with coffee surrounded her. How could she concentrate with him sitting close by all day?
He cleared his throat. “Why didn’t you return my call?”
Her mouth gaped, and she was captured by his compelling gaze that demanded answers. “I was busy helping my sister move into my apartment, and you moved interstate a few weeks later.”
“My phone number didn’t change.” He pushed a couple of unruly locks off his face. “Obviously I was wrong to think we could be friends—”
“No, that’s not true.” If only it were that simple.
He shook his head. “At the wedding, you were the one person who I thought understood me. You stood by Cassie when she was struggling to overcome her issues. I could have done with a friend last year.”
Contest terms and conditions:
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