January 26, 2017
May 30, 2017
New York, Actually
From Manhattan With Love Book #4
Meet Molly—New York's most famous advice columnist, she considers herself an expert at relationships...as long as they're other people's. Still bruised from her last breakup, Molly is in no rush to find happily-ever-after—the only love of her life is her dalmatian, Valentine.
Meet Daniel—A cynical divorce lawyer, he's hardwired to think relationships are a bad idea. If you don't get involved, no one can get hurt. Until he finds himself borrowing a dog to meet the gorgeous woman he sees running in Central Park every morning...
Molly and Daniel both think they know everything about relationships. But as they try—and fail—to resist their undeniable chemistry, they'll soon discover they just might have a lot left to learn...
Dear Aggie, I bought my girlfriend an expensive coffee machine for her birthday. First she cried, then she sold it on eBay. I don’t understand women.
Dear Decaffeinated, the important question to ask yourself in any relationship is what does your partner want? What makes them happy? Without knowing all the details it’s impossible to know exactly why your girlfriend cried and sold the coffee machine, but the first question that comes to mind is—does your girlfriend drink coffee?
Molly stopped typing and glanced at the bed. “Are you awake? You have to listen to this one. It’s obvious he is a coffee drinker and the gift was really for him. Why do men do that? I’m so lucky to have you. Of course, if you ever sold my coffee machine on eBay, I’d have to kill you, but that won’t be the advice I’m posting online.”
The body on the bed didn’t stir, but that wasn’t surprising given the amount of exercise they’d both had the day before. The hours they’d spent in each other’s company had left her sweaty and exhausted. Her body ached, a reminder that although her fitness levels increased since she met him, his stamina still surpassed hers. His relentless energy was one of the many things she admired about him. Whenever she was tempted to skip an exercise session, all it took was one look from him to have her reaching for her running shoes. He was the reason she’d lost weight since arriving in New York City three years earlier. Some days she looked in the mirror and barely recognized herself.
She looked slimmer and more toned.
Best of all she looked happy.
If someone from her old life walked in now, they probably wouldn’t recognize her.
Not that anyone from her old life was likely to show up on her doorstep.
Three years had passed. Three years, and she had finally rebuilt her shredded reputation. Professionally, she was back on track. Personally? She glanced at the bed again, feeling something soften inside her. She hadn’t imagined ever getting close to anyone again, certainly not close enough to let them into her life or her home, and definitely not her heart.
And yet here she was, in love.
She allowed her gaze to linger on the perfect lines of his athletic body, before returning her attention to her email. She was lucky so many men struggled to understand women. If they didn’t, she’d be out of a job.
Her blog, Ask a Girl, attracted a large volume of traffic and that, in turn, had attracted the attention of a publisher. Her first book, Mate for Life, Tools for Meeting Your Perfect Life Partner had hit the bestseller lists in both the US and the UK. That, in turn, had led to a second book deal, all under her pseudonym Aggie, which meant that she had both anonymity and financial security. She’d turned misfortune into a fortune. Well, maybe not a fortune exactly, but enough to enable her to live comfortably in New York City and not to have to limp back to London. She’d left one life and moved on to a new one, like a snake shedding its skin.
Finally, her past was exactly where it should be. Behind her. And she made a point of never looking in her rearview mirror.
Happy, she settled herself more comfortably in her favorite chair and shifted her focus to her laptop.
“Okay, Decaffeinated, let me show you where you’ve been going wrong.”
She started typing again.
A woman wants a man who understands her, and a gift should demonstrate that understanding. It isn’t about the value, it’s about the sentiment. Choose something that shows you know her, and that you listen to her. Choose something—
“And here’s the important part, Decaffeinated, so pay attention,” she muttered under her breath.
—something that no other person would think to buy her, because no one knows her like you do. Do that, and I guarantee your girlfriend will remember that birthday forever. And she’ll remember you.
Satisfied that if the man listened to her advice he might have a half-decent chance of pleasing the woman he loved, Molly reached for her glass of filtered water and checked the time on her laptop. Time for her morning run. And she didn’t intend to go alone. No matter how busy her working day, this was time they always spent together.
Shutting down her computer, she stood up and stretched, feeling the whisper of silk brush against her skin. She’d been typing for an hour while barely moving and her neck ached. She still had a stack of individual consultations waiting for her attention, but she’d deal with those later.
She glanced through the window, watching as darkness slowly melted away to be replaced by a wash of sunshine. For a moment the view was filled with streaks of burnt gold and the dazzle of glass. It was a city of sharp edges and towering possibilities, its darker side masked by the shimmer of sunshine.
Every other city would be waking up at this time, but this was New York. You couldn’t wake up, when you’d never been to sleep.
She dressed quickly, swapping pajamas for a soft T-shirt, Lycra leggings and her favorite dark purple running shoes. At the last moment she grabbed a sweatshirt because an early spring morning in New York City could still bite through a layer of clothing.
Scooping her hair into a careless ponytail, she reached for a water bottle.
There was still no movement from the bed. He lay in a tangle of bedding, eyes closed, not stirring.
“Hey, handsome.” Amused, she nudged him. “Did I finally wear you out yesterday? That’s a first.” He was in his prime. Fit and shockingly attractive. When they ran together in the park, heads turned in envy and it made her glow with pride because they could look, but she was the one who got to go home with him.
In this world where it was almost impossible to find the right person, she’d found someone who was protective, loyal and affectionate, and he was all hers. She knew, deep in her heart, that she could depend on him. She knew, even without marriage vows, that he was going to love her in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, for better or for worse.
She was lucky, lucky, lucky.
What they shared was free of all the stress and challenges that so often marred a relationship. What they shared was perfect.
She watched, her heart filled with love, as he finally yawned and stretched slowly.
Dark eyes locked on hers.
“You,” she said, “are insanely handsome and everything I’ve ever wanted in a man. Have I told you that lately?”
He sprang from the bed, tail wagging, ready for action, and Molly dropped to her knees to hug him.
“Good morning, Valentine. How’s the greatest dog in the whole wide world feeling today?”
The Dalmation gave a single bark, licked her face and Molly grinned.
Another day was dawning in New York City, and she was ready to roll.
“Let me get this straight. You want to borrow a dog so that you can use it to meet a dog-loving girl? Have you no shame?”
“None.” Ignoring his sister’s disapproval, Daniel carefully removed a dog hair from his suit. “But I don’t see how that fact is connected to my request.”
He thought about the girl in the park, with her endless legs and that sleek dark ponytail swinging like a pendulum across her back as she ran. Since the first day he’d seen her, pounding her way along one of the many leafy trails that cobwebbed through Central Park, with her dog bounding ahead of her, he’d been smitten. It wasn’t just her hair that caught his attention, or those incredible legs. It was the air of confidence. Daniel was drawn to confidence, and this woman looked as if she had life by the throat and was strangling the hell out of it.
He’d always enjoyed his early-morning run. Lately it had taken on a new dimension. He’d started timing his run to coincide with hers even though it meant arriving in the office a little later. Despite those sacrifices on his part, so far she hadn’t even noticed him. Did that surprise him? Yes. When it came to women, he’d never had to try too hard. Women tended to notice him. However, the girl in the park seemed unusually preoccupied by her running and her dog, a situation that had led him to the decision that it was time to raise his game and tap into his creative side.
But first he had to talk his way past one of his sisters and so far that wasn’t looking good. He’d been hoping for Harriet, but instead he’d gotten Fliss who was much tougher to get around.
Eyes narrowed, she planted herself in front of him and folded her arms. “Seriously? You’re going to pretend you own a dog in order to hit on a woman? You don’t think that’s contrived? Dishonest?”
“It’s not dishonest. I’m not claiming ownership. I’m simply walking a dog.”
“An action that suggests a love of animals.”
“I don’t have a problem with animals. Can I remind you I was the one who rescued that animal from Harlem last month? In fact he would do fine. I’ll borrow him.” The door opened and Daniel flinched as an energetic Labrador sprinted into the room. He didn’t have a problem with animals unless they were about to get up close and personal with his favorite suit. “He’s not going to jump up, is he?”
“Because you’re such a dog lover.” Fliss caught the dog firmly by its collar. “This is Poppy. Harriet is fostering her. Note the ‘her’ in that sentence. She’s a girl, Dan.”
“That explains why she finds me irresistible.” Hiding his laughter, he lowered his hand and played with the dog’s ears. “Hello, beautiful. How would you like a romantic walk in the park? We can watch the sunrise.”
“She doesn’t fancy a walk in the park, or anything else. You’re not her type. She’s had a rough time and she’s nervous around people, especially men.”
“I’m good with nervous women. But if I’m not her type, then tell her not to drop hairs on my suit. Especially blond ones. I’m due in court in a couple of hours. I have a closing.” Daniel felt his phone buzz, pulled it out of his pocket and checked the message. “Duty calls. I need to go.”
“I thought you were staying for breakfast. We haven’t seen you in ages.”
“I’ve been busy. Half of Manhattan has decided to divorce, or so it seems. So you’ll have a dog here ready for me at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow?”
“Just because a woman goes running on her own, doesn’t mean she’s single. Maybe she’s married.”
“So?” Fliss scowled. “Even if she is single, that doesn’t mean she wants a relationship. It bugs the crap out of me when men assume a single woman is only single because she’s waiting for a man. Get over yourselves.”
Daniel studied his sister. “Which side of bed did you climb out of this morning?”
“I can climb out of any side I like. I’m single.”
“Lend me a dog, Fliss. And don’t give me anything small. It needs to be a reasonable size.”
“And there was me thinking that you’re secure in your own masculinity. Such a big, macho guy. You’re afraid to be seen with a small dog, is that it?”
“No.” Busy typing a reply to the message, Daniel didn’t look up. “The woman I’m interested in has a big dog so I need one that can keep up. I don’t want to have to carry the animal while I run. Even you have to admit that would look ridiculous, not to mention being uncomfortable for the dog.”
“Oh for—stop looking at your phone! Here’s a clue, Dan. If you’re going to ask me a favor, at least pay me a small amount of attention while you do it. It would be a sign of love and affection.”
“You’re my sister. I handle all your legal affairs and I never bill you. That’s my way of showing love and affection.” He answered another email. “Stop overreacting. All I want is one cute dog. The sort that’s going to stop a woman in her tracks and make her go gooey-eyed. I’ll do the rest.”
“You don’t even like dogs.”
Daniel frowned. Did he like dogs? It wasn’t something he’d ever asked himself. A dog was a complication and he kept his life free of complication. “Just because I don’t own a dog doesn’t mean I don’t like them. I don’t have time in my life for a dog, that’s all.”
“That’s an excuse. Plenty of working people own dogs. If they didn’t, Harriet and I would be out of business. The Bark Rangers is turning over—”
“I know your turnover. I can recite every number in your company’s balance sheet. That’s my job.”
“You’re a divorce attorney.”
“But I stay on top of my sisters’ business. Do you know why? Because it’s a token of my love and affection. Do you know how? Because I work a hundred hours a week. It’s barely a life for a human. It’s certainly not a life for a dog. And might I point out that your dramatically increased turnover came as a result of your new relationship with that up-and-coming concierge company, Urban Genie, a partnership I arranged through my friend Matt. You’re welcome.”
“Sometimes you are so smug I could punch you.”
Daniel smiled, but still didn’t look up. “So are you going to help or not? If not, I’ll ask Harry. You know she’ll say yes.”
“I am Harry.”
Finally Daniel looked up. He studied her closely, wondering if he’d made a mistake. Then he shook his head. “No, you’re Fliss.” It was a game the twins had played on him hundreds of time growing up.
His score was 100 per cent. They’d never fooled him yet.
Her shoulders slumped. “How do you do it?”
“Tell the two of you apart? Apart from the fact you’re as abrasive as an armadillo, I’m your big brother. I’ve had plenty of practice. I’ve been doing it for twenty-eight years. The pair of you have never fooled me yet.”
“One day we’re going to.”
“Not going to happen. If you really want to pretend to be Harriet you need to tone down the attitude. Try being a little softer. Even in your crib you were always the one yelling.”
“Softer?” Her tone had a dangerous edge. “You’re telling me to be soft? What sort of sexist comment is that, especially as we both know that ‘soft’ gets you nowhere?”
“It’s not sexist, and I’m not telling you to be soft. I’m giving advice on how you might be able to convince some poor fool you’re Harriet. And that’s not me, by the way, so don’t waste your time.” He looked up as the door opened.
“Breakfast is ready. I made your favorite. Pancakes with a side of crispy bacon.” Harriet walked into the room carrying a tray. She had the same hair as her sister, a smooth, buttermilk blond, but she wore hers pinned haphazardly at the back of her head, as if her objective was simply to move it out of the way so it didn’t interfere with her day. Physically, they were identical. They had the same delicate features, the same blue eyes, the same heart-shaped face. Temperamentally, they couldn’t have been more different. Harriet was thoughtful and calm. Fliss was impulsive and fierce. Harriet loved yoga and Pilates. Fliss favored kickboxing and karate.
Sensing an atmosphere, Harriet stopped and glanced between them, her expression changing. “Have you two had a fight already?”
How, Daniel wondered, could three siblings from the same family be so different? And how could twins, who on the surface were indistinguishable to most people, bear no resemblance on the inside?
“Us? Fight? Never.” Fliss’s voice was heavy with sarcasm. “You know how much I adore our big brother.”
“I hate it when you fight.” The anxious look in Harriet’s eyes made him feel guilty and he exchanged glances with Fliss. It was a glance they’d shared a million times over the years. A tacit agreement to suspend hostilities until Harriet wasn’t in the room.
They’d all developed their own way of coping with conflict. Harriet’s was to hide from it. As a child, she’d hidden under the table to avoid the screaming fights that had been part of their early family life. On one occasion Daniel had tried dragging her out to remove her from the fallout. Her eyes had been squeezed shut and her hands over her ears, as if not being able to see it or hear it might mean it wasn’t happening.
Remembering how impatient he’d felt at the time, Daniel felt a needle of guilt. They had all been so self-absorbed, his parents included, that none of them had understood what was going on with Harriet. It had become apparent in the most public way possible and even now, twenty years later, he couldn’t think about that evening at the school without breaking into a sweat.
On the surface Harriet didn’t appear to be particularly tough, but he and Fliss had learned that there were different kinds of tough. Despite appearances, Harriet was made of solid steel.
He watched as she set the tray down and carefully unloaded plates of food and napkins.
Napkins. Who bothered with napkins for a casual breakfast with family?
Harriet bothered. She was the architect of all domestic comfort in the apartment she shared with her twin.
There were times when he wondered if the three of them would still be a family if it weren’t for Harriet.
As a child she’d had an obsession with her dolls and her dolls’ house. With the insensitivity of an eight-year-old, he’d dismissed it as a typically girl activity but now, looking back, he could see that she’d been constructing something she didn’t have, clinging to her image of home and family when their own had fallen short. She’d found some semblance of stability in her own private world, whereas he and Fliss had found other ways to dodge the cracks and the shifting emotional landscape of their parents’ marriage.
When Harriet and Fliss had moved into the apartment, Harriet had been the one to make it a home. She’d painted the walls a sunlit yellow and chosen a rug in muted shades of green to soften the wooden floor. Hers was the hand that arranged the flowers on the table, plumped the cushions on the sofas and tended the plants that clustered together in a junglelike profusion of green.
Fliss would never choose to own a plant. Like him, she wouldn’t want the responsibility for something that required care and attention. It was the reason neither of them had any interest in a long-term relationship. The only difference between them was that Fliss had tried. Only once, but still it was enough for Fliss to feel she had proved her point. Been there. Done that.
None of them talked about it. The Knight siblings had learned that the only way to make it through a bad day, a bad month or a bad year was to keep moving forward.
“We weren’t fighting.” Daniel kept his tone slow and easy. “I was giving her brotherly advice, that’s all.”
Fliss narrowed her eyes. “When the day comes that I need your advice, I’ll ask. And, by the way, hell will have frozen over at least eight times before that day comes.”
Daniel stole a piece of bacon from the plate and Harriet slapped his hand gently.
“Wait until I’ve set the table. And before I forget, Fliss, we had two more jobs sent through from Urban Genie. We have a busy day ahead.”
“So does Daniel.” Fliss stole a piece of bacon too. “And he’s not staying for breakfast.”
“You’re not?” Harriet handed him a napkin. “But I thought that was why you were visiting.”
Daniel frowned at the implication that he only saw them whenever he wanted to be fed. Was that true? No. He visited because despite, or perhaps because, of his combative relationship with Fliss, he liked seeing his sisters. And he liked to keep an eye on Harriet. But it was true that his visits almost always coincided with food. As long as that food was prepared by Harriet, he was happy. Fliss could burn water.
“I had a message from the office, so this is a flying visit. But it’s good to see you.” On impulse he stood up and hugged his sister and heard Fliss mutter something under her breath.
“Yeah, right, use affection. Harry will fall for that.”
“I’m allowed to hug my sister.”
Fliss gave him the eye. “I’m your sister, and you don’t hug me.”
“I don’t have time to spend the rest of my day removing thorns from my flesh.”
“Fall for what?” Harriet hugged him back, and Daniel felt a rush of protectiveness. He knew she had found her perfect niche in life, but still he worried about her. If Fliss had a problem, the whole of Manhattan would know within minutes. Harriet kept things to herself.
“How are you doing?”
Fliss snorted. “Charm alert. He wants something, Harry.” She forked a generous portion of bacon onto her plate. “Cut to the chase, Dan, preferably before I throw up my breakfast.”
Daniel ignored her and smiled at Harriet. “I need a dog.”
“Of course you do.” She smiled back, delighted. “Your life is so focused on work, so emotionally empty, I’ve been telling you for years that what you need is a dog. It will give you permanence, something you can really love and connect with.”
“He doesn’t want a dog for any of those worthy reasons.” Fliss waved her fork, her mouth full of bacon. “He wants a dog to help him score.”
Harriet looked puzzled. “How does a dog help with that?”
Fliss swallowed. “Great question, but this is our big brother we’re talking about so there’s the biggest clue right there. He wants a prop. A canine prop. He yells ‘fetch,’ and the dog brings him the girl.” She stabbed another piece of bacon. “Even if you managed to meet this woman with your dog plan, you’d never keep her. What happens when you invite her back to your place and she discovers the dog doesn’t live there? Have you thought about that?”
“I never invite women back to my place so that isn’t going to be a problem. My apartment is a dog-free, woman-free, stress-free chill zone.”
“Even so, sooner or later she’ll find out you’re not a dog person, and then she’ll leave.”
“By then I’m sure we’ll both have had enough of each other, so that sounds perfect to me. It will be a mutual parting of ways.”
“Mr. Heartbreaker. Don’t you ever feel guilty that you’re leaving a trail of sobbing women around Manhattan?”
Daniel released Harriet. “I don’t break hearts. The women I date are exactly like me.”
“Insensitive and obtuse?”
“He isn’t insensitive.” Harriet tried to keep the peace. “He’s a little afraid of commitment, that’s all. And so are we. Daniel is hardly alone in that.”
“I’m not afraid of commitment,” Fliss said blithely. “I’m committed to myself, my happiness, my personal growth.”
“I’m not afraid either.” Daniel felt sweat prick the back of his neck. “Am I cautious? Yes, because that’s the job I’m in. I’m the type of guy who—”
“—makes a woman decide to stay single?” Fliss helped herself to another pancake.
“I don’t want to be single,” Harriet said. “I want to love someone and be loved by them. But I’m not sure how to make that happen.”
Daniel caught Fliss’s eye. Neither of them was in a position to offer advice on that subject.
“Given that I spend all of my extremely long working week unraveling the lives of those who didn’t choose to stay single,” he said, “I’d say the female race should be thanking me for remaining commitment-free. If you don’t get married, you can’t get divorced.”
“Well, that’s a positive outlook.” Fliss tipped maple syrup over her pancake. “One of these days, some very smart woman is going to teach you a few lessons about women. These are delicious, Harry. You should open a restaurant. I’d help out.”
Harriet flushed. “I’d muddle up all the orders and much as I love you, I wouldn’t let you near a kitchen. It wouldn’t be fair to the New York Fire Service.”
“I don’t need lessons about women.” Daniel stole a piece of bacon from Fliss’s plate. “I already know everything there is to know.”
“You only think you know everything there is to know about women, which makes you a thousand times more dangerous than the man who admits to being clueless.”
“I’m not clueless. Growing up with you two was an intensive training course in how women think and feel. For example, I know that if I don’t get the hell out of here right now you’re going to explode. So I’m making my exit while we’re still friends.”
“We’re not friends.”
“You love me. And when you’re not scowling, I love you back. And Fliss is right—“ he smiled at Harry “—you’re an incredible cook.”
“If you loved me,” Fliss said between her teeth, “you’d be staying for breakfast. You use me, in the same way you use all women.”
Daniel reached for his jacket. “Here’s a tip from inside the mind of a guy. Stop being cranky or you’ll never get a date.” He watched his sister’s face turn puce.
“I’m single through choice—” She spluttered and then sighed and glared at him. “You’re winding me up. Why can’t I see when you’re winding me up? You drive me batshit crazy and then I can’t think straight. It’s one of your tactics and I know that, but I still fall for it every time. Are you this annoying in court?”
“No wonder you always win. Opposing counsel probably wants to get as far away from you as quickly as possible.”
“That’s part of the reason. And for the record, I don’t use women. I let them use me, preferably after dark.” He bent to kiss her cheek, thinking that teasing his sister was his second favorite game after poker. “So what time can I pick up this dog?”
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