Authors: Kate Hoffmann
What was forbidden then...has become irresistible now
The last thing police chief Devin Cassidy needs is for Elodie Winchester to return home and remind him of all he's been denied. But they're not teenagers now, and she's no longer a wealthy heiress. There's nothing stopping him from taking what he wants, what he's always wanted: her.
Elodie came home to deal with the Winchester mansion, the only inheritance she has left. She didn't expect to encounter a very grown-up Dev, or to want him as much as she ever did. He makes it clear that he's not going to let anything stand between them again. But in this town, name is everything. And to protect a Winchester, Dev will be forced to sacrifice his reputation...including his unexpected tie to the Quinn family.
“[Kate] Hoffmann always does a great job creating different stories for the members of the Quinn clan.”
RT Book Reviews
The Mighty Quinns: Rogan
“A winning combination of exciting adventure and romance... This is a sweet and sexy read that kept me entertained from start to finish.”
The Mighty Quinns: Malcolm
“[Hoffmann] continues to do a wonderful job with her beloved Quinn family saga. A perfectly paced page-turner, this setup novel for the New Zealand Quinns is firmly in place and off to a great start.”
RT Book Reviews
The Mighty Quinns: Malcolm
“As usual, Hoffmann has written a light yet compelling tale with just enough angst and long-term background story to provide momentum for the next member of the Quinn family we are most certainly going to meet.”
RT Book Reviews
The Mighty Quinns: Ryan
“This is a fast read that is hard to tear the eyes from. Once I picked it up I couldn't put it down.”
The Mighty Quinns: Dermot
One of the best things about being a romance writer is the ability to travelâin my mind. When I really need a vacation, I choose a setting that appeals to me and start to write.
As I write this, it's the middle of winter here in Wisconsin. The weather bounces between brutal (-30 windchills) to balmy (above-freezing days). I woke this morning to more snow. But later today, I'll be comfortably sitting in July humidity on a veranda in a small North Carolina town. It almost makes winter bearable.
I hope you enjoy the next installment in the Mighty Quinns series. By the time this hits the shelves, it will be summer in Wisconsin and I'll probably be writing a book set in the middle of a snowstorm!
The Mighty Quinns: Devin
twentieth anniversary as a Harlequin author in August 2013. She has published
over eighty books, novellas and short stories for Harlequin Temptation and
Harlequin Blaze. She spent time as a music teacher, a retail assistant and an
advertising exec before she settled into a career as a full-time writer. Her
other interests include genealogy, musical theater and vegan cooking. She lives
in southeastern Wisconsin with her two cats, Winnie and Gracie.
don't chew with your mouth open, and say âthank you' when they give you your gift.”
Devin Cassidy glanced over at his mother as they strode down the icy sidewalk. Mary Cassidy's gaze was fixed in front of her, her lips pressed into a hard line. She'd worked as a housekeeper for the powerful Winchester family for as long as Dev could remember and she took her position in the household very seriously.
Every morning except for Sundays, she'd leave the house before sunrise, dressed in a simple gray uniform, and return an hour before he went to bed. She was usually too exhausted to do more than acknowledge his existence before flopping down onto the sofa in the corner of the living room with a glass of whiskey and cool washcloth for her head. Dev would prepare supper for her and place it on a tray table next to the sofa, then turn on the television before retreating to his tiny bedroom.
When he was younger, he'd wondered why he didn't have a normal family as many of his friends didâa father, a mother, a few siblings, even a pair of grandparents. But when he'd questioned his mother, his inquiries had always been met with stony silence. “I'm your mother,” she'd say. “I provide for you. You won't need anyone else in the world.”
He didn't ask anymore. He'd lived without a father for this long. They didn't need some undependable guy walking into their lives and turning everything upside down. They got by fine just the two of them.
By the time they reached the Winchester mansion, his feet and fingers were numb with cold and his nose was running. His mother examined his appearance carefully, wiping his nose with her lace-edged handkerchief and smoothing his ruffled hair with her fingers. “The Winchesters believe children should be seen and not heard,” she reminded him.
“I'm not a child,” he muttered. Hell, he was nearly thirteen years old and he'd been making this same walk to the Winchesters every Christmas since he could remember. But his attitude about the party at the end of the walk had changed.
Used to be that the prospect of getting an expensive gift was all he could think about. There had never been much money for Santa, so the Winchester gift always made up for it. On top of that, there was foodâall sorts of treats that he'd never tasted. And he got to gaze at the beautiful Christmas tree that soared to the ceiling in the front parlor, and indulge in cups of punch that tasted like fizzy sherbet.
The Winchesters were different...special. Everyone knew they were rich, but with all that money came respect and undeniable power. One did not speak badly of the Winchesters. In fact, everyone in town was beholden to them.
Frederick Winchester owned the townâhe owned the huge textile mill that sat on the river, most of the businesses in the quaint downtown, many of the smaller homes that lined the quiet streets. If the family didn't like someone, it became impossible for him to live in Winchester.
Without her job in the Winchester mansion, Dev's mother had nothing. They paid rent on their little house directly to Frederick Winchester, they bought things on credit at the grocersâalso owned by Winchesterâand when someone was sick, they went to the Winchester Clinic.
Dev stood behind his mother as she rapped sharply on the ornately carved front door. A few moments later, one of the Winchester children opened the front door. There were no servants on duty that night. For one night a year, the family would wait on their staff.
It was a Christmas tradition, but even with the forced gaiety, it made for an uncomfortable evening. At no other time were the stark differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots” clearer.
“Good evening,” the young girl said.
“Good evening, Miss Elodie,” his mother replied. “You look lovely tonight.”
“Thank you, Mary. So do you.” She stepped aside, and Dev and his mother walked into the wide entry hall. Elodie turned to Dev and held out her hand. “Hello, Devin. It's nice to see you again. May I take your coats?”
Dev stared at her hand for a long moment, then gave it a quick shake. “Thanks,” he muttered. He slipped out of his jacket and waited as his mother handed the girl her coat, as well. Elodie disappeared for a moment, then returned without the coats.
“Let me take you in,” she said, leading them toward the huge parlor to the right of the sweeping stairway. Dev kept his eyes fixed on Elodie. He remembered her from Christmases past, but she'd grown up over the past year. She wasn't a little girl anymore but a confident young lady, tall and graceful andâpretty.
“Mama, Papa, look who's here. Mary and her son, Devin.”
The entire family surrounded them, offering Mary their holiday greetings. Dev did as was expected of him. He shook their hands and made his greetings. When the family pointed to the tables loaded with food, Dev politely chose some treats, then found a quiet place to sit near the butler's pantry. There were other children at the party, but they'd also been warned to mind their manners and they were sitting quietly, enjoying the cakes and candies near the Christmas tree.
The grand finale of the party would be the gift-giving, the part that Dev hated most of all. Frederick Winchester would present each of the children with an extravagant gift and then would wait for each of his employees to express their deepest gratitude to Winchester for giving them the job that fed their families and put a roof over their heads.
Of course, there were tears and long descriptions of the kindness that the Winchesters showed their inferiors. Dev had to wonder how his mother did it, year after year, never questioning her place in their world, never quibbling over her meager pay or her long work hours.
Dev wondered how much longer
be able to pretend that this was all right with him. Last year, he'd refused to open the gift he'd been givenâa brand-new PlayStation, he'd discovered when he'd opened it later that night. He didn't have the money to buy the games, but then, Frederick Winchester wouldn't have considered that.
He'd taken the gift out to the garage the day after Christmas and smashed it to pieces with a hammer. And when his mother had asked where it was, he'd told her that he'd donated it to the toy drive at school.
Dev hated having to bow and scrape to the Winchesters just because they were rich. But this job was important to his mother, and for her, Dev would do anything. It was the only thing that stood between them and poverty. Someday, he'd have an important job that paid well and they'd be able to walk away from Winchesters and their money.
Dev looked up from his plate and noticed a small opening in the door to the butler's pantry. The door opened a bit farther and he recognized Elodie's face.
“What?” Dev asked.
“You want to see something?” she asked.
He glanced around, but no one was paying any attention to him sitting alone in the corner of the room. “What?”
The door opened a little farther. “Come, I'll show you,” she said.
Dev set his plate down on a nearby table, then quietly slipped from the room. When he got inside the dark butler's pantry, her hand gripped his, and he followed after her as they ran through the kitchen to the servants' stairway. He'd been in the house a number of times over the years with his mother, but he'd never ventured upstairs.
“Are you sure we should be up here?” he asked.
“Of course, silly. This is my house. I can go anywhere I want.”
They seemed to climb stairs forever, the last flight narrow and twisting. Finally, Elodie threw open a door and turned on the lights.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“A secret room,” she said. “In the attic.”
“What's up here?”
“Come and see,” she said, drawing him inside.
The wide room was dominated by a huge table, but it was impossible to distinguish what was on top, as the contents were covered with a sheet. And then, suddenly, Elodie ripped off the sheet and flipped a switch. The table lit up and toy trains began to circle a series of winding tracks.
Dev stepped closer, fascinated by the sight. There had to be at least ten trains, all winding their way through a number of trestles and tunnels and passing through towns with tiny houses all lit up from the inside. Miniature cars sat at the crossings, waiting for the gates to rise when the trains passed.
“Holy shit,” Dev muttered.
“Yeah. Holy shit,” Elodie repeated.
He glanced over at her and laughed. “Is this yours?”
She shook her head. “No, it belonged to my grandfather. When he was alive, he used to let us play with it every Christmas, but now my father keeps the door locked.”
“How did you get in?”
“I know where the key is,” she said. “I sneak up here all the time. I just have to remember exactly where the trains were when I started and I put them back before I leave.”
“Why won't your father let you play with it?”
“He hates these trains. He and my grandfather never really got along. I miss him.”
“Where is he?”
“He died when I was seven,” she said. “He was living in California with my aunt Charlotte.”
“I'm sorry,” Dev said, surprised to see tears in her eyes. He reached out and took her hand, giving it a squeeze.
“Me, too,” she said. “I'm sure my grandfather would want me to play with the trains, though. It always made him laugh.”
Elodie showed him the controls and watched as he operated the trains by himself. She walked around the table, pointing out all her favorite train cars and buildings. He set the controls down and followed her, listening to her voice, caught up in the magic of the moment.
And then, it was over. She glanced at her watch and cried out. “It's time for the gifts,” she said, hurrying to the door. “Come on, we have to get back.”
“Don't you have to fix the trains?”
“I'll sneak up later,” she said, flinging the sheet over the table.
They rushed down the three flights, then hurried through the kitchen to the butler's pantry. Elodie peeked through the door. “You go first. If they ask where you were, just tell them that I helped you find the bathroom.”
Dev turned to face her, then, taking a chance, he leaned toward her and kissed her cheek. He'd never kissed a girl before and was surprised at how easyâand enjoyableâit was. “Thanks,” he said. “I had fun.”
Elodie smiled. “Me, too.”
As he stepped back into the dining room, Dev realized that he'd never think of the Winchesters' Christmas party the same way again. He'd always remember this night and the moment he kissed Elodie Winchester on the cheek.
When it came time for the gifts, she was the one who handed him his elaborately wrapped present.
“I picked it out especially for you,” she whispered.
He watched her for the rest of the night as she mingled among the guests. If he could have kissed her again, he would have. But he knew the dangers of crossing that invisible line. As much as he might enjoy Elodie's company, this was just one night.
It all would begin and end right here.