Read The Sweetheart Secret Online

Authors: Shirley Jump

The Sweetheart Secret

Praise for

The Sweetheart Rules

“Brings together two flawed yet appealing single parents searching for love . . . [a] heartwarming and charming story.”

—Publishers Weekly

“As always, Jump's storytelling is a warm, irresistible invitation into a romance that will hold you rapt, and into a community you can't help but care deeply for. Her characters lure you in from line one, as does her clever, unassuming humor.”

—USA Today

“Jump's expert storytelling shines. . . . A solid plot, strong tension and steady pacing draws the reader into this delightful read.”

—RT Book Reviews

“I wish Ms. Jump's books weren't so darn addictive, because I just have to read them all!
The Sweetheart Rules
is snappy, seriously sensitive, and delightfully delicious.”

—Romance Junkies

The Sweetheart Bargain

“Shirley Jump's stories sparkle with warmth and wit and glow with strong, heartfelt emotions. This is real romance.”

—Jayne Ann Krentz,
New York Times
bestselling author

“A fun, heartwarming, small-town romance that you'll fall in love with . . . Shirley Jump is a true talent.”

—Jill Shalvis,
New York Times
bestselling author

“Emotional and unforgettable, thumbs up for Jump.”

—Lori Wilde,
New York Times
bestselling author

“Shirley Jump packs lots of sweet and plenty of heat in this heartwarming first book of her promising new series.”

—Virginia Kantra,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Carolina Man

“Fans will enjoy following the sisters' paths to love and the quaint and quirky setting.”

—
Booklist

“The story is inviting, intriguing, heart-tugging, and splendid in its sexiness.”

—
USA Today

Praise for the novels of Shirley Jump

“Fast-paced and filled with emotion and larger-than-life characters, this is a beautifully written, heartwarming story.”

—
RT Book Reviews

“Shirley Jump weaves a story that hypnotizes from the first page . . . I love it, absolutely love it.”

—
Coffee Time Romance

“Lots of sizzle, wit, love, and romance.”

—
A Romance Review

“A hilarious and passionate contemporary romance that I found impossible to put down.”

—
Romance Junkies

Berkley Sensation titles by Shirley Jump

THE SWEETHEART BARGAIN

THE SWEETHEART RULES

THE SWEETHEART SECRET

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

THE SWEETHEART SECRET

A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2014 by Shirley Jump.

Excerpt from
When Somebody Loves You
by Shirley Jump copyright © 2014 by Shirley Jump.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

BERKLEY SENSATION® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-60761-9

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / September 2014

Cover photos © Shutterstock/Thinkstock.

Cover design by MN Studios.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

To my children, who changed my life in a thousand ways, and who make me proud to be their mom every day of my life.

Acknowledgments

Writing a book is such a solitary venture, at least the writing part of it. The research, though, sometimes takes a whole lot of people who know a little of this, a little of that, or a whole lot about things I know nothing about. Like the life of a doctor. The symptoms an elderly patient might exhibit. I can barely diagnose a cold versus a fever (is it starve a cold, feed a fever? Or feed a fever, starve a cold? Ah, well, I'll just eat all the time and that'll solve it). Huge thanks to Bernie Moye, ARNP, who listened to all my stupid questions and gave me lots of great advice on how Colt would treat his grandpa. Thank you also to authors Kate Hardy and Scarlet Wilson who gave me all kinds of details on the moments in the hospital and what it's like to deal with geriatric patients.

Major Pain's name came from a reader—Melissa Swanson—who proposed the name in a dog naming conversation I had on my Shirley Jump author page on Facebook. It was so much fun and I loved the inventiveness of my readers!

Thank you to my family, because they are the ones who pick up the slack and throw some food my way when I'm on deadline and rarely emerge from the writer cave. My husband holds the house together and makes sure all the animals and people are fed and dispersed to their various activities. He's not such a bad short-order cook, either, and an amazing grillmaster.

Thank you also to the fabulous art department at Berkley. I love, love, love the way they've designed the covers for the Sweetheart Sisters series. And to my editor, Kate, who is an absolute dream to work with.

A huge thank you to my running buddies, Eileen, Kathryn, Pauline, and Sharon, who have listened to me spin wild plot variations on our long runs and (hardly) ever told me to stop talking about the book. Those long runs and girl chatter kept me sane during the book-writing process, and you all make those miles pass by in a blip of time. Not to mention, the well-deserved pancake breakfasts we have afterwards!

If you are reading this, then I want to thank YOU, too. My readers are my favorite people, and I adore each and every one of you. Your letters and e-mails make my day, and it is truly an honor to bring you stories and hear that you enjoyed them, or that a laugh at Greta's antics helped you during a difficult time. Thank you—for without you, there would be no books to buy.

Contents

Praise for the novels of Shirley Jump

Berkley Sensation titles by Shirley Jump

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

 

Special Preview of
When Somebody Loves You

One

There were days when Colt Harper swore Greta Winslow had been put on earth solely to test his commitment to the Hippocratic oath.

Greta was an eighty-three-year-old firecracker—petite and wiry, but determined to sneak bourbon into her morning coffee and avoid all things green and leafy. She disproved his constant healthy-living lectures by having the constitution of a thoroughbred mare. He always saved her appointments for the end of the day, because if he started a Monday with a visit from the stubborn Greta, he'd end up barking at everyone else who followed.

And this week, he definitely didn't need the extra stress. His plan was to just get through the appointment, get out the door, and hope for the best when he got home tonight—to his other most frustrating patient.

Colt drew in a breath and refocused on Greta. “I'm sorry, Mrs. Winslow, what did you say?”

“I asked if it was possible to be allergic to someone.” Greta leaned forward and arched a thin gray brow. “As in the mere sight of his blindingly white head and ugly moon-pie face gives you the dry heaves.”

Colt bit back a laugh. No doubt, Greta was referring to her much-maligned neighbor, Harold Twohig. The feud between the two residents of Golden Years Retirement Village was part and parcel of Rescue Bay's daily gossip chatter. The sleepy Florida coastal town had a vibrant senior population, which kept Colt busy in his practice, but also insured a little soap-opera-worthy drama from time to time. Especially when it came to Greta and Harold's love-hate relationship. “As far as I know, that is not medically possible.”

“As far as you know. Which means there is still a possibility it could be true.” Greta sat back, crossed her arms over her pale blue sweater, and harrumphed. “Which means I need a prescription.”

He glanced down at Greta's chart—hard copy today because his tablet had met with an unfortunate family accident yesterday. As had the tablet he'd owned before that one. And his laptop. And his iPhone. Colt either needed to stop bringing electronics home or buy better accidental breakage coverage. Either that, or find a way to stop every conversation with his grandfather from derailing into electronic shrapnel.

“Prescription for what?” he said to Greta. “You seem to be doing pretty well lately.”

“A prescription ordering me to stay away from Harold Twohig for my mental and gastrointestinal health.” Greta put out her palm, expectant. “Just write that out, Doc. I'll sign it for you, save you some time.”

He chuckled. “All you need to do is turn the other way when you see him coming. He'll get the hint.” Rumor had it that Greta had a soft spot for Harold, even if she professed the opposite.

Greta pshawed. “That man is as dense as a butternut squash. He's got it in his head that he is in love with me. Lord help me, I think he's delusional.”

“Nothing wrong with a man determined to be with the woman he loves.” As he said the words, they sent a tremor of memory through him, a little earthquake fissuring another break in Colt's concentration. One woman, who had turned Colt's life upside down twice, once fourteen years ago, and then again a few months ago, after a bad day had led him to a New Orleans diner and a chance meeting with his past.

All followed by a bottle of wine, a platter of blazin' hot buffalo wings, and one night in a king-sized bed at a hotel on Bourbon Street. One misstep—but it was done, over, in the past, and he was moving forward, back on the prescribed, planned, straight path where he was simply Doctor Colton Harper, upstanding citizen of Rescue Bay.

Not Colt Harper, the motorcycle-riding dropout with a checkered past. No, not him. Never again.

That other Colt Harper had made a lot of mistakes, mistakes that haunted him to this day, hovered over what was left of his family like thunderclouds. Mistakes he was determined not to repeat.

Uh-huh. Then what had that been three months ago, if not a repeat of mistakes best left in the past?

“Doc? Did you hear me?”

Damn. Once again, he'd lost track of his thoughts. “I'm sorry, Mrs. Winslow. What did you say?”

“My goodness, you are distracted today. I said that Harold Twohig isn't in love with anything besides his mirror.”

Colt bit back a laugh, then scanned the top sheet of the chart, double-checking he'd covered all the basics for Greta's checkup. Doing so forced his brain back into work mode, into the world of medical tests, diagnoses, and practicality. He glanced at his watch, and did a mental calculation of the minutes until he was home. If Colt was lucky, things would go well tonight.

Okay, given the way the last six months had gone,
well
wouldn't be a word to describe his evenings with Grandpa Earl. They were like two battering rams—with one of them being stubborn, uncooperative, and cranky.

And then there was Grandpa Earl, who was all that times two.

Maybe he should just face facts and find Grandpa Earl a bed in an assisted living home. Maybe living with his only grandson wasn't the best choice. For either of them.

And maybe Colt was trying to restore a past that was beyond resurrecting. Too many years, too many hurts, just . . . too many everythings to put it all back to rights again.

Despite all the arguments and broken electronics, though, Colt still had hope that he could build a bridge, one that would get them past the painful wounds of the past and maybe, just maybe, give Grandpa a way to forgive Colt. Maybe then Colt could forgive himself.

Maybe.

Colt signed off on the bottom of Greta's paperwork, then handed her the orange sheet, with an extra note scribbled at the bottom. “Good job on the walking. Same recommendation as last time—”

“Eat more vegetables, drink less bourbon.” Greta made a face. “You are a party pooper, Doc. You know, you really should try letting loose once in a while. Have some bourbon. Cheat at a game of cards. Not that
I
cheat, of course.”

“Of course not.” He grinned.

She flicked at his tie. “I just think you should loosen the reins. Step outside all those straight lines that do nothing but box you in.”

“Straight lines?” Colt scoffed. “I think straight lines keep you in order, which is a good thing.”

“How can they? Heck, lines aren't even a shape, for goodness' sake. In my considerable life experience, straight lines leave no room for fun, and we all need a little fun.” She leaned in and gave him a nod. “Some of us more than others.”

“I don't know about that.” Since the day he'd entered medical school, Colt had done his best to never deviate outside the lines and columns and tidy spaces where he lived his life.

That day, he'd finally grown up, instead of leaving common sense in the exhaust fumes of a '93 Harley Softail. He'd wiped his past clean, become a doctor, and buried all traces of the Colton Harper he used to be.

Until he'd found part of his past waiting tables in a diner in New Orleans, and upended his world. He wondered what Greta would say if she knew that three months ago her buttoned-up, straightlaced physician had done all the things he'd told his patients not to do. At the time, Colt had convinced himself he'd had a good reason to let loose, to have a little fun—

To take a trip down memory lane. More than a trip, more like an all-night journey.

“You are truly no fun, Doctor Harper.” Greta pouted.

“I'm your doctor, Mrs. Winslow. I'm supposed to be serious and attentive.”

“Serious and attentive, not the human version of
War and Peace.

“I'm sorry, Mrs. Winslow, but I like things quiet and serious.” As soon as he'd returned back to Rescue Bay, he had thrown himself into the predictable routine of shingles vaccinations, blood pressure checks, and glucose level tests, because the more he organized himself into straight lines, the further that one crazy weekend disappeared into his memory. The more he could tell himself it had been an aberration, nothing more. A crazy sidestep into a past he had left far behind him. A past filled with secrets no one here knew. Or ever would, if he had anything to say about it.

So he focused on his practice and his grandfather, and told himself he was happy. One day after another, following a predictable routine, with no surprises. Just the way Colt liked things.

“Okay, Mrs. Winslow,” Colt said, “don't forget to make an appointment with Frannie for—”

The exam room burst open. Colt started to chastise his nurse—a new one, who had started just last week and often ran around like a harried chicken—and stopped himself when he saw who it was. Just like that, Colt's mostly predictable, mostly perfect life turned upside down, the chart in his hands fluttered to the floor, the pile of multicolored papers scattering like leaves in the wind, scuttling beneath the swivel chair, the exam table.

In the doorway stood the last woman in the world he expected to see, the one woman he'd vowed never to see again after that night in New Orleans. Judging by the fury on her face, he wasn't high on her friends and family list, either.

“What the hell is this?” She waved a manila envelope in his face.

“Daisy? How did you . . . where did you . . . what are you . . . ?” His brain misfired and the words got lost in his throat.

Frannie, Colt's receptionist/assistant/right-hand woman, squeezed past Daisy and into the room. Her florid face was blotched with red and her normally neat auburn chignon had come undone. “Doc, I'm sorry. I tried to stop her, but she was like a wildcat—”

Wildcat.
That was the perfect word for Daisy Barton. She stood there, brunette hair cascading down her shoulders, a figure-hugging red dress that made the word
hourglass
seem like a sin, and full crimson lips that could tempt a man into doing things he knew he shouldn't.

Colt knew that firsthand. He'd tangled with Daisy—
willingly
—twice. Even though he knew any encounter with her was bound to end with a fight and regrets, seeing her again made his chest tighten and those straight lines begin to curve. Damn.

He cleared his throat. “It's okay, Frannie. I'll handle this.” He returned his attention to Daisy. “Please wait outside. We can talk about this later.”

Daisy put her hands on his hips. “Talk? Honey, you were never interested in
talking
with me.”

Across from him, Greta's mouth formed a surprised O. She glanced at Daisy, then at Colt. “Why, Doc Harper, it seems I have misjudged you. You have surprised me, and so few people do that at my age. No wonder you've been so distracted lately.”

Damn. If he knew Greta, this little encounter with Daisy was going to be all over the Rescue Bay gossip channel before the end of the day. That was the last thing he needed.

“I'm with a patient right now, Daisy,” he said, forcing a cool, detached, professional tone to his voice, when all his brain could do was picture her naked and on top of him, that wild tangle of hair kissing the tops of her breasts, and tickling against his hands. “Please wait for me in the lobby.”

She eyed him, her big brown eyes like pools of molten chocolate. “You're going to make your
wife
wait?”

Oh, shit. Now he knew why Daisy had come in like a tornado.

“Hold the phone. Did you say . . .
wife
?” Greta kept glancing between Daisy and Colt, as if she'd just realized Big Foot and the Abominable Snowman were involved in a clandestine affair.

Colt could feel those straight lines dissolving into a tangled, messy web. He glared at Daisy. “Please. Wait. In. The. Lobby.”

Daisy took a step forward, placed the envelope in his hand, then pressed a hard, short, ice-cold kiss to his cheek. “I'll be outside, dear,” she said, with a slash of sarcasm on the
dear
. “But I won't wait long.”

Then she was gone. The door shut, leaving behind the faintest trace of her dark, smoldering perfume. Colt jerked into action. He bent down, gathering the papers he'd dropped earlier, stuffing the envelope Daisy had given him to the back of the pile. He straightened, then let out an
oomph
when something—or someone—slapped him on the back. “What the—”

“How could you not tell me you're married?” Greta asked. “And to a beautiful girl like that, too.”

“I'm
not
married. Well, technically, maybe I still am, but . . .” He pushed his glasses up his nose. What was he doing? Confiding in Greta Winslow? “I don't share my personal life with my patients, Mrs. Winslow.”

“I think your personal life just shared itself, Doc.” Greta waved toward the closed door. “Where have you been hiding her anyway?”

“It's . . . complicated.” Yeah, that was the word for it.
Complicated
. And crazy. And a mess he didn't need right now. “I would appreciate it if this . . . incident stayed between us.”

She propped a fist on her waist and eyed him. “Are you going to give me a prescription to keep Harold Twohig away?”

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