The Last First Kiss (Harlequin Special Edition)

BOOK: The Last First Kiss (Harlequin Special Edition)
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Made for each other? Hardly!

It’s been eighteen years since Kara Calhoun laid eyes on David Scarlatti, the one man who’d always gotten under her skin—the wrong way! That doesn’t stop a pair of matchmaking moms from believing their son and daughter are made for each other. So Kara cooks up her own scheme to prove them wrong. Even if it means temporarily dating the super-geek-turned-dedicated-surgeon…who’s much too good-looking for this video game tester’s good!

The bubbly blonde dynamo is the skinny tomboy who used to drive Dave crazy? Impossible! And agreeing to her plan is even crazier…especially when Kara awakens irresistible desire in the reserved physician. With their pretend romance flaring into something neither expected, Dave devises a backup plan: convincing Kara that that incredible first kiss won’t be their last....

He didn’t want to play it safe now.

Dave slipped his arms around Kara and drew her to him ever so carefully, a nurseryman with a new cactus he was still trying to determine how best to handle without getting pierced.

“I remember,” he replied, his voice low, his mind already trying to figure out how to survive the turbulent ride looming ahead.

Part of him was fervently hoping that the impact of that first kiss had been, for some unknown reason, all in his imagination.

Part of him was hoping it hadn’t been.

Dear Reader,

People are always asking me where I get my ideas for stories. Most of the time they are knitted together from bits and pieces that come from newspapers, magazine interviews, TV shows and conversations around me. It’s usually hard to trace an idea back to its origin. That’s not the case this time. This story has its roots in handwritten letters, then typed ones and finally emails, all of which have spanned the last thirty-plus years.

I first met Nancy, my oldest young friend, in third grade. She was poised and pretty and I idolized her. Slowly, because I was shy back then, we became friends. We never stopped. I moved to California, she remained in New York. We wrote sporadically. And then we both became mothers at the same time. She had a son, I had a daughter. Hers was born in April, mine in July. And over the years, one or the other of us has wistfully said, “What if—?” Luckily, from our kids’ point of view, there is not a chance in the world that our wistfulness will bear fruit, since three thousand miles divide the two homes. So I did the next best thing. I imagined it on paper. And hopefully, you will be entertained (and for the record, if you’re wondering, neither one of us is going to tell our kids about this book).

Thank you for reading and, as ever, I wish you someone to love who loves you back.

Best,

Marie Ferrarella

Marie Ferrarella

The Last First Kiss

Books by Marie
Ferrarella

Harlequin Special Edition

°
Fortune’s Just Desserts
#2107

A Match for the Doctor
#2117

What the Single Dad Wants…
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**
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The Last First Kiss
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~
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¤¤
The Baby Chase

Matchmaking
Mamas
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The Fortunes of Texas: Lost…and
Found
°°Forever, Texas
**Montana Mavericks: The Texans Are
Coming!
¶¶
The Fortunes of Texas: Whirlwind
Romance
~~
The Kelley Legacy

Other titles by Marie Ferrarella
available in ebook format.

MARIE FERRARELLA

This
USA TODAY
bestselling and RITA®
Award-winning author has written more than two hundred books for Harlequin
Books and Silhouette Books, some under the name Marie Nicole. Her romances
are beloved by fans worldwide. Visit her website,
www.marieferrarella.com.

To Nancy Parodi Neubert,
My Youngest Oldest Friend

Chapter One

“O
h, c’mon, Lisa, think about it. What have we got to lose?”

Maturity, for the most part, had been kind to Paulette Calhoun, leaving few of the customary telltale age lines on her face. Closing in on sixty, the tastefully dressed strawberry blonde with deep blue eyes leaned her still very trim body in, as if the proximity would add more weight to her urgings and win the other woman over.

Lisa Scarlatti, younger by three months, sat facing her lifelong friend across a black lacquer-top table for two. She held a cup of tea between her hands, the warmth just beginning to fade.

“Well, offhand, I’d say our kids. If Dave so much as smells a romantic setup, quiet though he normally is, he’ll read me the riot act. And, if memory serves, I’m pretty sure that goes double for your independent, outspoken Kara.”

Laughter sparkled in Paulette’s eyes. “They won’t smell a setup because they know that
we
know better than to try one, which is the beauty of all this.”

Lisa frowned. Her heart fought with her brain. Since they lived a good sixty miles apart, she and Paulette got together for lunch several times a year. More often now that they both found themselves unavoidably and sadly unattached. Paulette’s husband had died almost thirteen years ago, while Lisa’s had passed away after an accident eight years ago.

“I never thought of alienating my child as having anything to do with beauty,” she told Paulette. “For heaven’s sake, Thomas and I put that boy through medical school. I’m finally coming out from under that staggering debt. Let me enjoy Dave for five minutes before I do something that will have him renouncing me in the public square.”

Paulette rolled her eyes. “And here I thought I was the dramatic one. Dave’s not going to renounce you,” she insisted. The subject of setting up their children had been on her mind ever since she’d heard about her second cousin’s overwhelming success in playing matchmaker for not just her daughter, but her friends’ daughters—and son—as well. Hell, if Maizie could do it, she could, too. And so could Lisa.

“Listen, this plan is perfect,” Paulette enthused. “You said your niece’s little boy has a birthday coming up, right?”

There was a trap here somewhere. Lisa knew Paulette too well for there not to be. “Right,” she replied cautiously.

“And what, according to you, does Melissa’s adorable son, Ryan, want more than anything in the whole world for his birthday?”

Lisa sighed. She saw where this was going.

“‘The Kalico Kid’ video game,” Lisa finally said because Paulette was obviously waiting.

Nodding, Paulette asked, “And what is impossible to get?”

Why were they playing this game? “‘The Kalico Kid’ video game.”

Paulette’s wide smile grew wider. “And where does my daughter work?”

Lisa closed her eyes. She was being sucked into this, but there was no other course open to her. “At the video game company that puts out ‘The Kalico Kid.’”

“Exactly,” Paulette declared with feeling, warming to her subject. “So, since Dave is a softhearted sweetheart who likes making his cousin’s little boy happy, and Kara has access to copies of the all-but-impossible-to-get game, it’s all very simple.” She paused for a moment for effect, then delivered her plan’s grand finale. “I ask Kara to get a copy and deliver it to Dave when he’s volunteering at that free clinic near where Kara works—”

“And just like that—” Lisa snapped her fingers, a touch of uncustomary sarcasm in her voice “—they’ll see each other, and angels will sing while the sound of heavenly music echoes everywhere.”

“No.” Paulette dismissed her friend’s convoluted scenario. “Dave’ll be grateful and offer to take Kara out to dinner to repay her for her kindness. You raised a very polite son, Lisa.” Paulette folded her hands before the still half-full teacup. “And then they can take it from there.”

“Maybe there’ll be no place to take it,” Lisa suggested.

She knew how stubborn her son could be. He hadn’t told her anything close to personal in more than ten years. The only way she deduced that he was unattached was that he kept coming back to his childhood home on his days off. Much as she loved seeing him, she wanted him to spend his days off with a woman worthy of him, nurturing a relationship.

“At least we would have tried,” Paulette insisted. She attempted another tactic. Putting her hand on top of her friend’s, she peered up at her, a silent plea in her eyes. “Don’t you remember how we used to all go on family vacations together when our husbands were alive, just the six of us? And you and I used to watch the kids play and dream about Dave and Kara getting married?”

“We used to watch them fight,” Lisa corrected. “And anyway, that was a long time ago. It hasn’t been the six of us for a while now,” she reminded Paulette. “Thomas and Neil aren’t around any longer.” The words weighed heavily on her tongue. All these years later, she still missed Thomas as if he’d died yesterday. She doubted that the ache would ever really go away.

“All the more reason to get our kids together,” Paulette pressed. “Neither one of them is getting any younger, you know.”

Lisa pointed out one glaring fact. “It’s not like we haven’t tried before.”

More than once they had attempted to get their grown offspring together, but something always came up at the last minute, preventing it. It had been
years
since Kara and Dave were even close to being in the same room at the same time.

Paulette waved her hand, dismissing the argument as not worth her time or effort to get into.

“That was for occasions—Christmas, Thanksgiving,” she specified. “One or the other always begged off, saying they had to work. I swear Kara logs in more overtime than any other human being on the face of the earth, with the possible exception of Dave. You ask me, they’re perfect for each other. All we need to do is get them to see that.”

Paulette beamed at her friend. “There was no pressure before. We kept it light. But this time, I mean business,” she announced. “This is going to be more like a sneak attack.” Her eyes glowed with anticipation. “They’ll never know what hit them.”

Lisa still didn’t like it. She enjoyed the relationship she had with her son. They didn’t speak as much as she’d like, but he did call her and he appeared on her doorstep on many of his days off, which were rare. She treasured that and didn’t want anything to jeopardize their relationship.

“But we’ll definitely know what hit us,” she countered.

Paulette stared at the friend she’d had for more than five decades. “Since when have you gotten so negative?”

Lisa shrugged. Then, because once again Paulette was waiting for an answer, she tried to explain.

“If we don’t try to get Dave and Kara together, I can always hope that someday it’ll happen. If we do get them together and it blows up in our faces, then it’s all over. The dream is gone. For good. I’d rather have a piece of a warm, fuzzy dream than a chunk of stone-cold negative reality.”

Paulette summoned a look of complete disappointment. “The Lisa I knew and went to school with was absolutely fearless. Where did she go? What happened to her?”

“The Lisa you knew was a lot younger. I like peace and quiet these days. And a son who calls his mother once in a while.”

The sigh that escaped Paulette’s lips could have rivaled a Louisiana hurricane. “So you’re not going to ask Kara if she can get that game from her company for Dave so that he can give it to Ryan?”

Lisa’s frown deepened several degrees. She knew when she was outmatched. Paulette could wield guilt like a finely honed weapon. “I hate it when you put on that long face.”

The long face was instantly gone, replaced by a wide smile of satisfaction. “I know.”

It was Lisa’s turn to sigh. “I think if anyone should do the asking, it should be you. Otherwise, Kara’s going to be suspicious. I don’t call her,” she pointed out. “So getting a call from me might alert her that we’re up to something. In any event, this’ll make it your fault when Dave and Kara decide to put us out to sea on a tiny ice floe.”

“They’ll have to interact with each other in order to do that,” Paulette concluded, grinning. “So, either way, it’s a win-win scenario. Okay, that’s settled,” she declared happily, adding, “Suddenly, I feel very hungry.” She picked up the menu.

Lisa’s eyes narrowed as she looked at her best friend. She’d walked right into that one, she thought. “Suddenly,” she countered, “I’m not.”

Paulette raised her blue eyes to Lisa’s face. “Eat. You’re going to need your strength.”

Which was exactly what Lisa was afraid of.

Something was off in the universe. She could just
feel
it.

Closing her eyes and taking a five-second break, Kara Calhoun, senior quality assurance engineer for Dynamic Video Games, tried to tell herself that she was allowing the game she’d been assigned to crack to get to her.

After working on this particular version, with its wizards, warriors and spell-casting witches, for close to twenty days straight—not counting the overtime she’d been forced to amass—Kara was beginning to feel as if she had become one with the game. Not exactly something she’d recommend to anyone wanting to maintain their hold on reality.

Luckily, her hold on reality was stronger than most. She’d loved video games ever since she’d wandered into her very first arcade at the age of four, when she’d become hooked on the whirling lights and noises. But most of all, she loved the challenge of defeating whatever adversary she found herself pitted against.

Even so, she was careful to keep it all in perspective. These were games she was working with and playing with, nothing more. In no manner, shape or form did they remotely represent real life.

Definitely not hers.

There was no way she was going to allow what happened to her coworker Jeffrey Allen to happen to her. He began believing that the people within his game were communicating with him, warning him of some imminent disaster. He’d clearly lost his grip on reality.

That being said, she couldn’t shake the feeling that there really was something off. That some sort of pending doom was shimmering on the horizon and it had her name written all over it.

Maybe she needed a vacation, Kara thought.

She began to play again and immediately discovered another glitch in the program. The Black Knight was not supposed to be able to ride his equally dark steed into the ocean, much less have the horse gallop
across
the waves.

Kara shook her head. It seemed that every time she pointed out one error and the programmers fixed it, two more errors would pop up, tossing another wrench into the works. To make matters worse, the company’s deadline was swiftly approaching, and she was beginning to have serious doubts that the game would be ready to hit the stores as had been promised.

But, ready or not, here it came, Kara thought, knowing how the market operated. Games were often sent out without having all their programming problems and bugs addressed with the fervent hope that the buyers wouldn’t find the glitches. Right. And maybe pigs would fly.

When the phone rang on her desk, Kara debated simply ignoring it. After all, she was deeply involved in trying to figure out exactly why the knight’s horse was veering off its path. Preferably before six o’clock tonight. The idea of actually getting home by something resembling normal time for a change seemed like a borderline miracle to her.

The phone continued to ring. Kara shot it a dirty look and sighed. With her luck, it was probably someone from Corporate calling, and she knew they would only go on calling until she finally picked up.

Might as well stop putting off the inevitable, she thought. Muttering an oath, she yanked the receiver from its cradle. “This is Kara. Speak.”

“My God, is that the way you answer the phone at work?”

“Hello, Mother.” Kara immediately thought of her feeling that something was off. Maybe there was something to this intuition stuff after all. “What can I do for you? Speak fast, I’m up against a deadline.”

She heard her mother make a noise and could just envision the disapproving look that came over the woman’s heart-shaped face.

“You’re always up against deadlines. That’s all I ever hear. I never see you anymore, Kara,” her mother complained.

Pointing out that, yes, she did, would do her no good and Kara knew it. “Get out the pictures you insisted on taking at Easter and look at them, Mom. I haven’t changed any since then.”

“You still haven’t gained any weight?” Paulette lamented.

Trust her mother to turn her remark against her. “That’s a good thing, Mother.”

Unable to concentrate on two things at once when one of those things involved her mother, Kara stopped working on the game and turned away from the monitor. She lowered her voice. This was not a conversation she wanted anyone in one of the other cubicles to overhear.

“Are you actually calling me to find out if I’m eating?”

“No, I’m calling to ask you a favor. Your company puts out that ‘Kalico Kid’ video game, doesn’t it?”

This was a trap of some sort, she could smell it. “You know we do,” Kara answered cautiously. She’d mentioned how hard her team had worked on getting the game out on time. What was her mother up to?

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