Authors: Lee Kilraine
By Lee Kilraine
Bringing Delaney Home
Could This Be Love?
A Cates Brothers Book
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book.
LYRICAL SHINE BOOKS are published by
Kensington Publishing Corp.
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New York, NY 10018
Copyright © 2016 by Lee Kilraine
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
Lyrical Shine and Lyrical Shine logo trademarks of Kensington Publishing Corp.
First Electronic Edition: June 2016
Table of Contents
By Lee Kilraine
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
To Peter, for everything and for always.
To my editor, Esi Sogah. Your talent and amazing instincts elevate my writing. Thank you.
To all at Lyrical Press and Kensington Publishing whose hard work behind the scenes helped make this book shine. Thank you.
To Laura Bradford. I am grateful for your support, dedication, and all-around awesomeness.
To my friends, family, and critique partners who read and re-read this book. My thanks to Karen, Allie, Dani, Jenn, and Heatherly.
To my sister Terri, who went above and beyond. Your time and feedback were invaluable. Thank you.
To Jenn Hoopes because you make me laugh and help me reach for calm even when crazy is in my face and crossing its eyes trying to get my attention. Thank you and YKYMF.
To Fletcher, Allie, Dani, and Kent. Your support and encouragement mean everything. I love you guys! You are each my favorite ;)
very Danford needed some bone marrow.
Well, she didn’t. Her sister Tansy did. A kidney would have been easier, since she had two.
would have been easier.
“Why doesn’t she need sperm? Sperm would be a piece of cake. I probably know five guys that would give me sperm today,” Avery said, just barely noticing the woman at the table next to them sputtering on her sip of iced tea and throwing a wild-eyed look her way.
“Do not use sperm and cake in the same sentence.” Pia Stirling, her best friend and business partner, sat across the linen-draped table from her.
“Sorry. Is that a rule?” No wonder the woman had given her a look. Avery hoped she didn’t get them kicked out of their favorite Greensboro hangout, The Tea Totaler. The sunlit tea room filled with delicate antiques was such a peaceful place to talk over business. Or problems.
“It is now. I’m trying to eat here, Avery.” Pia paused, looked down at her dish of tapioca pudding, and then pushed it away with a sigh. “I guess I’m starting my diet today.”
“I still can’t wrap my head around it. I mean, fever, nausea, headache, fatigue. It all added up to the flu . . . until it didn’t. I’ve never even heard of aplastic anemia.” Avery picked up her fork, pausing to release the tension in her grip before methodically cutting her cupcake into bite-size pieces. “If I hadn’t been sitting next to Tansy when the doctor told her, I’d swear this was a nightmare.”
“Deep breaths, Av.”
She ate a piece, putting her fork down to slow herself between bites. “The doctor said the best donors are usually blood relatives.”
“So, not you. He also told you not all cases of aplastic anemia need the transplant. Let’s think positive. Lots of tests come back negative,” Pia said. “Even biopsies.”
“I keep telling myself that, but I can’t spend another week sitting around doing nothing.” The muscles in Avery’s jaw were so tense she wouldn’t have been surprised if she needed a tetanus shot to relax them. She started forking up bites of cupcake faster than her taste buds could register them. “I need to find my foster family.”
“It doesn’t make sense that Tansy wouldn’t have their current address.” Pia added two cubes of sugar to her cup of oolong tea before looking back up at Avery. “The way she tells it, Bob and Michelle doted on her.”
“They did.” Avery looked down at the lone crumb left on the stark white dessert plate, trying not to think about her childhood. That was baggage she couldn’t afford to unpack right now. Unfortunately, they don’t let you check childhood baggage on arrival to adulthood. Nope, you’ve got to tote that overweight crap around with you for life. “She hasn’t heard from them either since she moved in with me two years ago.”
“The PI you hired last year was a dead end, so I don’t know what options you have left.” Pia set her tea cup down with a clatter. “If I haven’t told you lately, your family really pisses me off.”
She wasn’t too thrilled with them herself right now. It made it hard to cling to the dream of a loving family when they up and moved without telling you.
Pia fidgeted with her napkin, then looked up, her face somber. “I hate this idea, but you could go to the press.”
“I thought of that too.” Her gut twisted, but the thought of losing Tansy sent fear slicing so sharp and deep in her chest she had trouble getting a full breath. She reached out for her glass of iced tea, hating that her hand shook. “I’m willing to give up my peaceful life if it means helping Tansy.”
Pia’s gaze focused like a laser beam on the drops of iced tea splashed onto the white table cloth before rising to examine Avery’s face. Their eyes met, and the deepening frown on her face meant they were both thinking about the past.
“I need another cupcake.” Avery looked around for their waiter.
“That is not a good sign.” Pia shot her one of her “mama hen” looks. “Find your inner Buddha.”
“Trust me, my inner Buddha wants a cupcake too.” She knew it was the stress talking, a voice she hadn’t heard from in five years. Holy heck, had her breath just hitched?
“Hey, we don’t have to go there yet. You said the biopsy results will take at least four days. And Tansy’s boyfriend took her off to the beach for the week, right?” She sipped her tea and looked at Avery over the rim of the delicate china cup. “We’ve got time to figure something else out.”
“Right. We have time.” Avery nodded, able to take a calming breath for the first time all morning. “Let’s go get this audition out of the way.”
“We can totally cancel the audition.”
“No. Staying busy will keep me from worrying about Tansy.”
Pia raised her eyebrows at her.
“Okay, fine. I’ll still worry, but all the worrying has locked up my brain. I’m hoping a bit of distraction helps.”
Two hours later, it was clear to Avery, and probably everyone else, distraction wasn’t helping at all. Worry and stress had her body tense like a rubber band stretched taut and ready to snap. A headache sliced sharply behind her eyes. She pinned a stiff smile on her face and focused on work anyway. They were an hour into an open audition for the next animal spokesmodel for a new all-natural floor cleaner.
“Thank you, Ms. Welks. Mr. Meow isn’t right for—”
“Meeooow,” Ms. Welks said.
“Excuse me?” Avery kept a straight face, ignoring the muffled cough next to her. She knew what Pia was thinking:
crazy cat lady.
“Meeooow. It’s Mr. Meeooow, with two e’s and three o’s. He’s just that handsome.”
Avery smiled at the woman and her cat. They could be perfect clients: a well-trained animal and an owner who loved it. “He is a handsome cat, and very photogenic. Unfortunately, he isn’t right for
job, but we’d like to keep his headshot on file and work with Mr. Meeooow in the future.”
“That would be fine.” Ms. Welks nodded and lovingly gathered Mr. Meeooow into her arms. “If you could make a note in his file, Mr. Meeooow doesn’t work on Tuesdays as that’s the day he sees his therapist. Not Fridays either, because he refuses to give up his art and music lessons. Thank you.”
Avery sighed as she watched the crazy cat lady wander out the door. She and Pia sat at a long folding table in the rented old barn they used for an office and studio. “Remind me again why I didn’t cancel this audition.”
“Because you thought staying busy would keep you from worrying about Tansy.”
“Right. Well, it’s not working. Next time I have a stupid idea, just tell me, okay?” She huffed out a breath. “Next applicant, please!”
“Will do.” Pia’s attention moved to the next applicant. “But I have to say, it’s not looking so stupid from this angle. Wowza, what a face. Meeooow.”
Avery turned to look, her gaze held prisoner by the face in front of her. “It’s the eyes. Look at those eyes.”
“Oh, I am.”
“They’re begging me. Begging me, I tell you.”
“I do like when men beg.” Pia’s voice had down-shifted into her husky hot-man-walking tone.
“What? Oh. No, I wasn’t talking about him. The pig.”
“Hey, he might be a very sweet Southern boy.”
“No. The pig standing next to your sweet Southern boy. Look at the pig’s face.”
“Oh. I had no idea a pig could look so sad.” Pia shook her head. “You’re right. He is begging you. What’s he begging you for?”
“Help.” Occasionally they’d get an actor thinking they’d get “discovered” through a commercial. It never worked out well for the animal. Darn it, she may not have figured out a way to help her sister yet, but she could help this poor pig.