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Julie Ortolon

St. Martin’s Paperbacks

To Mom

For teaching me that family matters

Chapter 1

Scott figured if a guy couldn’t get lucky on Galveston Island during tourist season he had to be a loser. And luck was exactly what he needed right now—in more ways than one.

The thought made his grip tighten on the steering wheel as he pulled the black Jaguar to a halt before the Pearl Island Inn. The inn sat on a private island on the bay side of Galveston Island. He hadn’t been to Galveston in years, and hadn’t particularly wanted to come back now. But his situation had grown so desperate he was willing to try anything. “Take a break,” his agent had told him. “Go somewhere and relax. Get laid if that’s what it takes. But for God’s sake do something to get your old charm back before your career goes down the toilet.”

Get your old charm back. The words had brought the mansion on Pearl Island instantly to mind. Setting the brake, he looked up at the three-story Gothic structure with its gargoyles and gables, surprised at how much the place had changed since the last time he’d seen it. It seemed odd, seeing the old monstrosity with clean windows, fresh paint, and baskets of ferns hanging on the stone veranda.

Staring up at it, he wondered if he was nuts for coming here, nuts to believe in old legends about good-luck charms, and even more nuts to think a vacation fling would cure his recent bout of writer’s block. If he had any sense left in his brain, he’d turn the car around and head straight back for his townhouse in New Orleans and force himself to write. Discipline was what he needed— not luck.

He reached for the gearshift—ready to call the whole plan off—but stopped when a movement on the veranda caught his eye. There in the shadows he swore he saw the figure of a woman. Her pale, gauzy dress gave her an ethereal quality that brought to mind every ghost story he’d ever heard about “the Pearl.” Then the figure faded deeper into the shadows, making him wonder if he’d imagined her.

Stepping out of the air-conditioned car, he lowered his sunglasses and squinted against the glare of afternoon light. The salty breeze off the nearby cove ruffled his shirt and hair, relieving the humid heat along the Texas gulf coast.

The figure appeared again, this time stepping fully into the light. Definitely not a ghost, but a flesh-and-blood woman with the face of an angel and hair as black as French lace. The ghostly attire was actually a white cotton sundress that left her arms bare as she raised a pitcher to water one of the hanging baskets.

As she lowered her arms, she spotted him and smiled. “Hello” she called. “Are you Mr. Scott?”

Hello yourself, he thought as he gave one curt nod. Maybe his agent didn’t have such a crazy idea after all. A little quality time relaxing on a beach with a beautiful woman might be just what he needed to clear the cobwebs from his brain.

Grabbing his laptop from the passenger seat, he headed up the oyster-shell path to the wide sweep of stone steps. “Yes, I’m Scott,” he said as he mounted the steps to stand before her. Soft, shoulder-length waves framed her face, and he saw her eyes were a pale shade of blue, almost gray. “Although it’s not Mister. It’s just Scott.”

“Oh, sorry.” A blush tinted her cheeks. “My sister Rory took the reservation, so I wasn’t sure. I’m Allison St. Claire.” She held out her hand. “Welcome to the Pearl Island Inn.”

Her Southern-lady accent gave his gut an interesting tug, even though he normally preferred women with voices like smoky blues on Bourbon Street, not mint juleps served on a veranda. Her handshake was friendly but impersonal. An innkeeper welcoming a guest.

“Come on inside, and I’ll get you checked into your room.” She took a moment to carry the pitcher to a shadowy alcove, then led the way to the ornate front door. Her walk was as ladylike as her handshake, nothing sultry about it. Even so, he tipped his sunglasses down again to better appreciate the feminine sway of hips beneath her loose-fitting dress.

“Do you want to bring your bags now?” she asked over her shoulder. “Or get them later?”


As they stepped inside the wide, central hall, the cool air enveloped him. He noticed the large space had been converted into a lobby with Victorian sofas and chairs set before one of several fireplaces in the house. Rather than cobwebs and dust covering every surface, sunlight poured in through the doorways of the outer rooms, adding a soft, welcoming glow.

The stillness of the place seemed almost reverent with the three tall stained-glass windows that lit the stairway at the far end. The room to the left, the old library, had been turned into a gift shop.

“We have you booked into the Baron,” Allison said as she led him into the parlor to their right. She took a seat at an ornate desk before a rose marble fireplace. “It’s one of our larger rooms, and the only one with a desk, which Rory says you requested.” She glanced at the computer screen. “You’ll be staying through the end of the month?”

“Correct.” One month, he thought, remembering his agent’s advice and hoping that would do it. Although he never should have confessed to Hugh Ashton how long he’d been without a woman. Two years was an embarrassingly long time for a healthy man to stay celibate. Well, that was about to end. Hopefully.

The thought must have shown on his face since Allison St. Claire glanced up and froze. For a moment she stared back at him as awareness warmed the air between them. She was everything he liked in a woman: attractive face, slender body, a spark of intelligence in her

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