Harrison Dare stepped into the ballroom at the Meridian NYC Hotel which was heavily decorated for Halloween. He scanned the room, telling himself he was admiring the décor and not looking for the elusive woman he couldn’t get out of his head.
Winter Capwell, a brilliant reporter, and a sexy siren in one delectable package. They’d met at his company’s Hampton offices this past summer for an in-depth interview with the K-Talent Productions team. The sparks had been immediate and hot.
He hadn’t felt that kind of connection with anyone before. Not even with Sharon McNally, his one-time girlfriend, a woman with whom he thought he’d had a future. Instead she’d used him for his Hollywood connections, betrayed him, and taught him the value of no emotional entanglements.
He shook off those memories and returned to thinking about Winter. They’d tried to keep things professional but their chemistry had been too strong to ignore. Add in the fact that she’d asked him many personal questions, and since they’d spent so much time together, in bed and out, a part of him felt like he’d revealed things to Winter, the woman, not the reporter.
He knew better, of course, and had kept his head when answering, giving her the practiced answers necessary to keep his privacy.
For a man who liked no strings, Winter had seemed like the ideal woman. She hadn’t been interested in a relationship any more than he had and they’d agreed to a casual relationship while she was in the Hamptons interviewing his team this past summer.
It was perfect.
She was perfect.
A hookup that was nothing more than a warm body in his bed. He told himself she would satisfy a need, the same as any other female he’d been involved with in the past. Except Winter had quickly become more, and Harrison didn’t know what to make of that.
True, his siblings were settling down, all but Zach, but Harrison had ruled out marriage and kids for himself. Any thoughts of having his own family had been derailed by the girlfriend he’d hoped to propose to. Sharon had no problems with the notion of using the casting couch to secure better roles despite having a serious boyfriend at the time.
Winter had come into his life and she’d been an unexpected treat but he’d kept to the plan and their time together came to an end when the interview had. These days, Harrison’s production work kept him busy as did his large family, most of whom would be here tonight.
With a groan, he looked around the room. Since Winter was nowhere to be found, he focused on the event itself. The Kingston and Dare families used any excuse to raise money for charity and tonight was no exception. The funds donated would go to Future Fast Track for foster children, the charity Aurora, married to Harrison’s brother, Nick, had founded to help kids about to age out of foster care.
The event was full, the entry fee and plate cost were high, and the décor was elaborate thanks to Harrison’s sister, Jade, the event coordinator for the Dare family Meridian hotels. Keeping with a spooky theme, onyx and purple linens covered the tables. The centerpieces consisted of black pumpkins and white skeleton heads surrounded by long twigs, purple feathers, and similar-hued flowers. His sister had outdone herself tonight.
“What’s got you looking like a proud papa?” Dash Kingston, lead singer of the band, The Original Kings, strode up to him, holding one-year-old son, Freddie in his arms.
“Proud brother. I was just admiring Jade’s talent,” Harrison said, adjusting his bowtie. No matter how many parties and award shows he attended, he still hated the feeling of being strangled by the damn thing.
“You’re looking uncomfortable,” Dash said with a smirk. “Who are you supposed to be or is that penguin suit just a way to avoid putting on a costume?”
“Bond. James Bond,” Harrison said in a practiced British accent. He let his gaze skirt over the other man’s jeans and Original Kings band t-shirt. “What about you?”
“I’m Dash Kingston, rock star,” Dash laughed, knowing he was bending the rules by going as himself, and clearly not giving a damn. His sister, Aurora, wouldn’t give him too much of a hard time. “And this is Freddie Mercury. Give the crowd a wave,” he said to his son.
The little boy with his mother’s green eyes, his father’s dark hair, and famous dimple in one cheek waved a chubby hand. He gripped a blow-up guitar in the other and kept knocking Dash in the head with it.
“Good job!” Dash grinned indulgently at the young toddler. “Freddie pulled off his mustache, earlier. Didn’t you, little man?”
Harrison shook his head and laughed. “Freddie’s the greatest rock star ever,” he told the boy, a deliberate dig at Dash, both because his son wouldn’t understand and that’s how his and Dash’s friendship rolled.
Dash frowned at Harrison and moved the guitar that had bopped him in the nose. “Let’s go find your mom.” He leaned in so Freddie couldn’t hear. “Cassidy’s dressed as Madonna’s character from some 80’s movie. She’s hot.” He chuckled and moved the guitar away from his face again. “Talk to you later, Bond.”
The boy banged his plastic instrument against his dad’s head as they strode away.
“He’s a good father,” Asher’s familiar voice said, his brother sneaking up beside him.
“He is.” Harrison turned to his oldest sibling, who wore a pair of Levi’s and a black mock turtleneck.
Knowing his Asher was the most serious of them all and the least likely to dress up, Harrison took an educated guess at his costume. “Steve Jobs?”
Their family had agreed to surprise each other tonight and no one knew what anyone else was wearing. Since Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, was known for sporting that same outfit day in and day out, it wasn’t a hard guess. The Apple CEO had once been quoted as saying he owned over one hundred Issey Miyake black turtlenecks.
Asher gave Harrison a once over. “Bond?” he guessed.
Harrison grinned. “Who else?” Knowing Asher wouldn’t be here alone, Harrison glanced over his brother’s shoulder in search of his fiancée and hopefully her side-kick.
“Winter and Nikki stopped at the restroom. They’ll be here in a few minutes,” Asher said.
Harrison opened his mouth to protest but Asher shook his head. “Don’t bother. We both know you’re looking for Winter.”
Caught, Harrison clamped his mouth shut.
“She came by tonight so the women could help each other with their costumes,” Asher said.
“Of course.” The women weren’t just, as close as sisters, Harrison thought. They were sisters. And the news had been the secret that had been eating away at Winter during Asher and Nikki’s engagement party over Labor Day weekend.
When Winter finally admitted her relationship to the Bettencourts, Harrison had understood why Winter had been so preoccupied that night. Why she’d had too much to drink and no doubt why she’d ended up in Harrison’s bed again. After they’d agreed the end was… the end.
“There they are.” Asher raised a hand, capturing his fiance’s attention.
Nikki waved back but Harrison only had eyes for Winter, entranced by her beauty. A little black dress hugged her curves while black heels accentuated her long legs. Legs he’d had wrapped around his waist and wanted there again.
He bit back a groan, staring instead at her beautiful features, her eyes covered by dark-tinted, black-framed sunglasses. Her dark, shoulder-length hair was pulled back with a comb on one side, revealing a multi-strand pearl necklace with a diamond brooch against her soft skin.
Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s reincarnated.
He drew in a sharp breath, causing Asher to chuckle.
“Fuck you,” Harrison muttered, sliding his gaze to Nikki. It was safer to look at his brother’s fiancé. It would give his sudden hard-on a chance to subside before the women crossed the room.
The sisters had obviously planned to coordinate because Nikki was also dressed as Holly Golightly from the movie but unlike Winter’s dressy outfit, Nikki opted for the bedroom scene costume. She wore a sleepshirt on top, tasseled earrings, and an eye mask pushed up on her forehead. On her feet, she’d slipped on pink, fuzzy bedroom slippers.
No doubt Asher would be escorting her home to remove that nightshirt as soon as they could politely escape. Considering Harrison wanted to do the same to Winter, his guess was beyond an educated one.
The women made their way across the increasingly crowded ballroom and walked up to them. Nikki slid into Asher’s waiting arms, snuggling against her fiancé.
Facing Harrison, she grinned up at him. “Hi, Harrison.”
He kissed her cheek before turning to … “Winter.” He smiled, his gaze lingering on hers as he did his best not to ogle her sensual curves.
“Harrison.” She looked him over, her emerald gaze darkening, telling him he wasn’t the only one affected. “Are you going to a premiere afterward or is this your costume?” she asked in a husky voice.
He gave her a mock bow. “James Bond at your service.”
She let out a laugh. “Oh, I love that.”
He did his best not to preen under her admiration. “You two ladies look gorgeous.” But his pulse only ran fast for one of them.
Nikki laughed. “It’s fun. I’m not surprised you know who we are, being an actor and all.”
He inclined his head. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a classic.”
“But not everyone knows the movie by name. I’ve been asked a few times already,” Nikki said.
A few seconds of silence followed, during which Nikki’s gaze shot from her sister to Harrison.
“Asher, would you come with me to get a drink?” she not so subtly asked her fiancé.
“Of course. Anyone else want something?” Asher asked.
“I’d love a club soda, if you don’t mind?” Winter’s hand went to her stomach and Nikki’s expression turned to one of concern.
Harrison narrowed his gaze, also worried. “Are you okay?”
“I didn’t eat much today. I’m just a little lightheaded.
“Still?” Nikki’s lips turned downward in a frown. “Okay well, we can grab you some appetizers, too. They might help. Be right back.” Nikki and Asher walked towards the bar across the room and Harrison decided to use the time alone with Winter.
“Is that all that’s wrong? Lack of food?” He’d hate it if she was sick.
She nodded. “I think so. That and stress,” she admitted.
Given her life lately, he understood. “How have you been, really?”
She drew in a deep breath and exhaled, then propped her sunglasses on top of her head.
Harrison studied her more closely, seeing now that her porcelain skin was pale.
She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the lack of dark lenses. “That’s so much better than staring into darkness.” She tipped her head towards an empty corner of the room. “Let’s move over there to talk.”
Understanding she wanted privacy for this conversation, he grasped her elbow and led her to where she’d indicated.
“Anyway,” she said, once no one was walking past them. “I’m okay. It helped that the DNA test came back quickly, and Nikki and Derek were understanding.” She pulled her lower lip between her teeth and he withheld a groan, wanting to taste those plump lips himself.
“I’m glad they took it well,” he said.
She nodded. “They did. Mostly. Derek was upset I didn’t come clean as soon as I grew closer with Nikki but I’m learning he’s protective of his sister.” She stepped back and leaned against the wall.
“Understandable.” Nikki had been through a lot and that was before the sister-revelation.
“But they both get why I waited. I was looking out for Nikki. First the scandal, then the engagement. It never seemed like the right time. And I didn’t want to burst her bubble with life-altering news.”
The reminder of the engagement party had her blushing because that was when they’d indulged in a repeat of the summer. Something he couldn’t regret and he hoped she didn’t either.
He and Winter hadn’t spoken for a couple of weeks but the minute she’d walked into the room, he’d sensed something was bothering her. Knowing how independent and capable she usually was, he’d sensed a vulnerability underneath that typically strong journalistic exterior.
He’d asked her what was bothering her but she hadn’t been in a talking mood. He’d volunteered his Hamptons home for the party and they’d wound up naked in his bed. He’d intended to find out what was wrong in the morning, but when he’d woken up, Winter was gone.
Harrison had taken the hint and left her alone. Until the bombshell news broke.
She drew a deep breath and let it out again. “I’m just grateful I have family now.”
Her soft smile did something weird to his insides. Jesus. She got to him on so many levels, Harrison thought. Sex was easy. Emotions … just fucking weren’t. He’d shut his down after Sharon had hurt him but Winter had dug in deep. Though he’d tried to get her out of his head, hitting the bar his brother, Zach, owned and going out with the guys in search of fun and women like he had in the past, his dick hadn’t been interested.
Because other women weren’t Winter.
“I’m happy for you,” he said. Coming from a large family – four adult siblings from his father and mother, and another four with his father and Serenity, his former nanny, he knew the importance of having people in his corner.
He hadn’t appreciated what he had when he was younger. After he’d graduated high school and before leaving for college, he’d been discovered by a talent agent while hanging out on a movie set courtesy of a friend’s father. Going across the country had appealed to him because home was chaotic. He had four young siblings and he needed space and quiet to figure out who he wanted to be. He wasn’t shallow but the Hollywood lights had beckoned. He’d loved the life… until it grew old and he missed his family.
“Thanks.” Winter smiled but she appeared tired. There were dark circles she’d tried to hide under her eyes and it was obvious the wall held her up. He hoped Nikki and Asher returned quickly with food.
“What about the senator?” he asked, keeping the conversation flowing. “Have you heard from him since you told him who you were?”
She winced. “And trashed his marriage and chances for the presidency?”
Harrison touched Winter’s shoulder, offering comfort. “You didn’t cause any of that. He had the affair and his wife did the rest. You just told your truth.”
She nodded. “I appreciate you thinking that way. And Harrison, thank you for checking in… you know, after it all happened.”
“I wanted to make sure you were okay.” In fact, he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her and wondering how she was holding up under the strain.
“We’re back!” Nikki and Asher strode up to them. Nikki had appetizer plates in her hands while Asher held the drinks.
“Oh, good. Winter, here.” Nikki held out a plate to her sister. “This is tea-smoked duck, whatever that is.”
Winter’s eyes opened wide and she shook her head. “No thanks.” Her pale face turned even whiter. “I’m really not feeling well. I need to go home.”
“I can take so you two can stay,” Harrison offered, placing a hand under her elbow for support.
“No. I –“
“I’ll go.” Nikki cut Harrison off. “Nobody wants to get sick with anyone but family or a good friend around.”
Harrison tried not to be offended by the comment, knowing what Nikki meant.
“We’ll take her,” Asher said. “My driver is waiting.”
“No!” This time, Nikki’s voice rose. “You stay. Your family is here. Let me handle it.” She patted Asher’s shoulder and turned to her sister. “Come on. I’ll get you home, make you toast and jelly …” Her voice trailed off as she led Winter away.
Concern filled Harrison as he watched them walk off. He glanced at his brother. “What the hell was that about?” he asked.
Asher lifted his shoulders, looking as confused as Harrison felt. Nikki had seemed determined to get her sister out of the room.
“Women,” Asher muttered and Harrison agreed.
Winter had taken one look at the duck, smelled the hors d’oeuvre, and needed to get away. She rushed to the Ladies’ Room, Nikki right behind her. Thank goodness the outer area was empty. At the sink, she turned on the cold tap and placed her wrists beneath the running water. The cold sweat and nausea began to pass.
“Are you okay?” Nikki put a gentle hand on Winter’s back.
“Yes. Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just needed some air.” She shut the faucet and picked up the hotel monogrammed paper towel and dried her hands, tossing it in the trash.
Turning, she faced her sister.
“Are you sick?” Nikki asked.
“I don’t think so.” Winter hadn’t lied to Harrison when she’d told him the same thing. “I didn’t eat a lot today and I skipped lunch. And the food we nibbled on while dressing didn’t do much to fill me up. That’s all.”
“Really.” Nikki studied her, hands on her hips. “Then what was your excuse the other morning when you bailed on our coffee date because you were exhausted and not feeling well?”
“Was exhausted and not feeling well,” Nikki finished for her.
Winter lifted her shoulders in a half-hearted shrug. “I didn’t realize it was becoming… a thing.”
Nikki patted the lounge chair beside the one she’d settled into and Winter sat down. “Maybe you need to go for blood tests? See if anything is going on? You’re nauseous, tired…”
Hearing the list, Winter nodded. She’d been busy finishing writing and turning in an article that was due and stressing about the upheaval she’d caused the man who was her father, not to mention worried about Nikki and Derek despite their assurances they were fine.
Winter hadn’t had much time to think about herself or how she was feeling. Now that she gave her issues serious consideration, she realized there were other symptoms.
“What is it?” Nikki asked into the silence.
Winter swallowed hard. “Well, I’ve gained some weight because this little black dress is a lot tighter than I remember,” she said, wishing she could loosen the material. “And my boobs hurt,” she admitted.
“Holy shit! Winter, could you be pregnant?”
She sat up straight and stared at her new sister, suddenly aware the symptoms she was experiencing could point in that direction. “I … I’m on the pill.” She rubbed her suddenly throbbing temple. “But I had strep before your engagement party and was on an antibiotic the week prior.” She thought back and tried to remember. “I think I was still taking it the night of the party… and I slept with Harrison but we used protection. I know we did.”
“You drank. A lot. Are you sure?”
She nodded. “But if the pill was ineffective because of the antibiotic and condoms aren’t one hundred percent. Oh God,” she moaned.
She peeked through her hands as she faced her half-sister, who at twenty-one-years-old, was more perceptive than Winter was at twenty-four. “I wasn’t just busy with work and my crazy exploding life, I was in deep denial.” She began to breathe too rapidly, the all too likely possibility settling in.
“Okay so forgive me but I have to ask. If you are pregnant, are you sure it’s Harrison’s?” Nikki’s squinted eyes and apologetic expression said it all.
Winter nodded. “There’s been nobody since … I can’t even remember right now. Definitely, before I ever met Harrison.” Which made her moan again because her potential baby daddy? He didn’t want kids at all.
She’d asked that very question during their interview session where she’d channeled her inner Barbara Walters in asking uncomfortable questions her audience would want to know the answers to.
“What do you see in your future? You come from an extremely large family. Is that what you want, too? Lots of kids?” Winter had asked.
He’d laughed, showing off those sexy dimples. “Oh, hell, no. I have four adult siblings and four younger ones. I grew up in a loud, busy house. I’ll take my single life of peace and quiet, thank you.”
She swallowed over the bile threatening to rise in her throat.
“Come on.” Nikki stood, grasped Winter’s hand and pulled her to her feet.
“Where are we going?”
“To your place but we’re stopping at a drug store and buying a few home pregnancy tests, first.”
At the same moment, the bathroom door opened and a group of women walked in, laughing and talking loudly. Any further personal conversation would have to wait.
“I can do it all myself,” Winter told Nikki. “No need for you to miss the party. You’re all dressed up and everything.”
Nikki rolled her eyes. “I know you’re accustomed to doing things alone, but get used to me being around. I wouldn’t leave you now if you paid me to go.”
Winter managed a smile and gratitude filled her. The last thing she wanted was to find out whether or not she was pregnant by herself. She just wouldn’t have thought to ask her new sister to stay.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
There was a chance she wasn’t pregnant… The stress surrounding her was real. She had her biological father trying to talk to her and the press attempting to interview the former senator’s illegitimate daughter. If it turned out Winter was carrying Hollywood’s Hottest Playboy’s baby, there would be no place for her to hide.
Narrated by Jason Clarke and Samantha Cook