Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Ties That Bind

Jaci Burton

  Titles by Jaci Burton

  Riding Wild

  Riding Temptation Riding on Instinct Riding the Night Wild, Wicked, & Wanton Bound, Branded, & Brazen The Perfect Play Changing the Game Taking a Shot Playing to Win Anthologies


  (with Jasmine Haynes, Joey W. Hill, and Denise Rossetti) Exclusive

  (with Eden Bradley and Lisa Renee Jones) Laced with Desire (with Jasmine Haynes, Joey W. Hill, and Denise Rossetti) Nauti and Wild (with Lora Leigh)





  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 707 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3008, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi--110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books, Rosebank Office Park, 181 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parktown North 2193, South Africa * Penguin China, B7 Jaiming Center, 27 East Third Ring Road North, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100020, China Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England "The Ties That Bind" previously appeared in Unlaced, published by Heat, a division of The Berkley Publishing Group.

  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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


  A Heat book, published by arrangement with the author


  Heat Special edition / November 2012

  Copyright (c) 2008 by Jaci Burton Inc.

  Excerpt from Thrown by a Curve by Jaci Burton copyright (c) 2012 by Jaci Burton Inc.

  Cover design by Sarah Oberrender; cover photograph of young couple (c) Hemera / Thinkstock.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  ISBN: 978-1-101-60320-8


  Heat Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  HEAT and the HEAT design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.












  Special Excerpt from: Thrown by a Curve


  "You need a vacation, Mom. Actually, you need more than a vacation. You need a life."

  Leave it to Lisa Mitchell's eighteen-year-old daughter to state the obvious.

  Lisa sat at the old, scarred wooden kitchen table with her daughter, Kayla, Kayla's friend Wen, and Lisa's best friend, Connie, along with Lisa's ex-husband, Rick. A strange group, to be certain, but not at all unusual. Lisa and Rick, though divorced for nearly fifteen years, were still best friends. Rick and Lisa were Kayla's rock and co-anchors. Lisa would have never been able to raise Kayla to be the smart, competent adult she was without Rick's help. Getting divorced was the best thing they could have ever done for Kayla, and for each other. It had saved their relationship.

  She stared at the colossal mess that was her family room and kitchen, smiling over the remnants of the successful graduation party for Kayla. She couldn't believe her baby girl had graduated already. Lisa was only thirty-four years old and her daughter was already going to be heading for college in the fall. She felt old. And yet she still felt young. Her life was over, and yet it was just beginning.

  "Which is exactly why you need this trip, Mom," Kayla had told her. "You're free of me now. I'm eighteen. I'm going to be gone for the summer anyway, remember?"

  How could she forget? Lisa's older sister Amelia--the fabulous, successful sister--was going to take Kayla to Europe for a month. "Yes, I couldn't possibly forget you're going away for the summer since it's all you've talked about for a year." The trip was Amelia's graduation gift to Kayla. Lisa had balked. Amelia had insisted. Kayla had squealed. Rick said it would be good for Kayla, that she was a sharp kid with a sense of adventure.

  Lisa had had a sense of adventure once, too. It had landed her pregnant at sixteen.

  Of course, her sense of adventure had been a bit wild and out of bounds, totally opposite that of her oh-so-level-headed daughter, thank God. In many ways, Kayla was more like Amelia than Lisa. Which meant her child wouldn't make the same mistakes she had. She'd go to college, become a success, create a good life for herself instead of making bad choices.

  "So are you going to do it?"

  Lisa looked up at her best friend. "Do what?"

  "Mommmm," Kayla said, rolling her eyes. "Pay attention."

  "Sorry. I was thinking."

  "Are you going to do the vacation with Connie? You know, hit the beach, get naked. Drink fruity drinks. Party your ass off."

  "Watch your language, miss," Lisa warned. Kayla rolled her eyes again.

  "She's right, you know," Connie said. "You deserve this. No one works harder than you do, both at the hospital and at home. If anyone is screaming for a glorious week of tropical downtime, it's you."

  Lisa arched a brow. "I don't recall complaining."

  "You never complain, Lisa."

  Her gaze drifted to Rick. "I have nothing to whine about. My life is ideal." That was no lie. Kayla had never given her a moment's trouble, Rick had always been there to help out if and when she needed him, and she had a great job as a critical care nurse, working alongside her best friend Connie. All in all, she led a damned charmed life. And she owed a lot of that to Rick. He was the one who should be taking the vacation. The things he'd given up for her and for Kayla...

  "Your love life sucks, Mom."

  Wen snorted.

  Snapping a glare at her smart-mouthed daughter, she said, "There's nothing wrong with my love life."

  "Except that it's nonexistent."

  "I won't find one in the Caribbean."

  "It's a good enough place to start."

  "True, Mrs. Mitchell. You're still great looking. Even sexy, for a woman...uhh...your age," Wen said.

  "Gee, thanks, Wen. I think," Lisa said, shaking her head.

  Connie laughed and laid her hand over Lisa's. "Trust me. Teenagers are ubercritical."

  Kayla giggled, then was immediately distracted by the ringtone of her cell phone, temporarily lost in the corner of the kitchen while she and Wen planned the night's activities.

  Lisa blew out a frustrated breath. A vacation would be nice. She needed a tan. Some time on the beach, sipping drinks with paper umbrellas, sounded like a slice of heaven. She never took vacations. Oka
y, she'd had a few, but they'd always been with Kayla and usually involved places like Disney World and Epcot Center and child-oriented functions, or something to do with Kayla's cheerleading or soccer. Never an adult vacation, never alone. The thought of going somewhere with another adult was...unfathomable.

  "Go, Lisa."

  She looked up at Rick. It was difficult thinking of sunning herself on the beach, possibly meeting or dancing with other men.

  There'd never been other men. There'd only been Rick. Since she was fourteen years old, there'd only been Rick. She'd dated now and then, but nothing serious. She just hadn't been able to be with anyone else. How could she, when the only man who made her panties wet sat across the kitchen table from her? And the last time she'd had sex with him was...something like fifteen years ago?

  God, she really did need a life.

  "You'd really go with me?" She cast a pleading look at Connie.

  Connie nodded. "Uh, you bet. Couldn't talk me out of it."

  How did she get so lucky to find a best friend and a dynamite coworker in one? "Do you think the hospital would let us both off at the same time?"

  Connie grinned. "Already asked and answered. Beth said she'd rearrange the schedule to accommodate us."

  "See? It's a done deal," Kayla said, a satisfied smile lighting up her gorgeous face.

  Her daughter was beautiful. Okay, maybe she was just a tiny bit prejudiced, but she and Rick had made one incredible girl. Five feet seven, curvy in all the right places, and thank God the girl liked to eat and wasn't model-stick-worry-your-mother-to-death thin. She was athletic, loved the arts, earned some amazing scholarships, and didn't make stupid choices about boys. She was going to Florida State in the fall to major in elementary education. She'd always wanted to be a teacher, ever since she was a little girl playing school with her friends. The kid had goals. Goals!

  "Finished with excuses?" Rick asked. "You don't even need me to watch over Kayla anymore. You're free, Lisa."

  Free. What a concept. Free of responsibilities for one entire week. Not having to worry about what Kayla was doing, no guilt over dumping Rick with the burden.

  She'd never have that guilt again. The ties that bound her and Rick together were slowly disintegrating.

  The twinge in her stomach intensified. She figured it was the cake, not the fact that her link to Rick was evaporating. They were divorced, had been for a very long time. They'd always be connected by Kayla, but it was long past time she let go of him. It was time she let him move on.

  Even at thirty-seven, he still took her breath away, probably more now than the day he walked into her life when she was fourteen years old and he was an oh-so-mature seventeen, tall and lanky with his midnight black hair falling over his face. He'd worn it long, shaggy, nearly covering his steely blue eyes. She'd gasped the first time she saw his eyes. No guy should have a face that beautiful, all those sharply angled cheekbones, full bottom lip, and eyes that could make a woman melt.

  She'd fallen in love on the spot, and they'd been inseparable after that.

  That had been the beginning of the end for her, and had altered the course of her life forever. And Rick's, too. She owed it to him to let him go now. He'd been by her side for all these years, devoted to her and Kayla in ways she'd never expected. He'd been the best father a girl could ask for and Kayla adored him. Lisa admired him for never once failing in his duties. He'd gone above and beyond his responsibilities to Lisa, too. She'd never have the career she had now if not for Rick.

  She owed him so much. She owed him a life, love of his own. Even if the thought of it made her stomach ache.

  "Speaking of someone who needs to get a life..." she said, hardly able to look him in the eyes without bursting into tears. Why was this so hard? She was probably just melancholy at the thought of Kayla growing up, moving off to college. This emotional mess had nothing to do with Rick.

  "Working on it," he said, his lips lifting in a sly smile.

  Her stomach tightened. "Oh, really? Well, that's...great...I'm glad."

  Kayla grinned. She knew about this, about whatever woman put the gleam in Rick's eye. "And it's about time, Dad."

  This was more than she could handle in one night. Lisa pushed back her chair. "Look at this mess. I think I'll start cleaning up."

  "Need me to help, Mom?"

  "Of course not. You've got your all-night graduation celebration at the high school tonight." She stopped, tilted her head down the hall. "You can take all your gifts to your room, then you'd better get packed."

  "I'll drop the girls off," Rick said.

  Lisa nodded, busied herself with picking up discarded gift wrap and paper plates. "Thanks. I appreciate it. I'll get her in the morning."

  When the girls were ready and Rick hustled them out the door, it was just her and Connie left behind. The three-bedroom house had never been oversized--just enough room for Kayla and her. Right now it felt like a huge, yawning mausoleum.

  Connie laid a cup of coffee in front of Lisa. She glanced up and smiled at her best friend. "Thanks."

  "You look like you need it. Just like you need this vacation."

  Lisa dragged a hand through her hair. "Yeah. I do need it. Both the coffee and the vacation."

  "Kayla leaves in three weeks. Beth said the schedule is open. I've already talked to a travel agent."

  "This is all so sudden."

  "Not everything in life needs a six-month plan, Lisa. Just go with it."

  She sighed. "I don't know, Connie. I don't have tropical wear."

  "We'll go shopping."

  "We don't have flights."

  "My cousin is a travel agent. One phone call and I'll get her working on a deal for us."

  "Where would we go?"

  "I hear Saint Thomas is nice."

  She shivered, sank into the thought of turquoise water, sunny beaches, and time to do absolutely nothing. "God, that sounds like the Garden of Eden right now."

  "One whole week. That's seven whole days you won't be mooning over Kayla being gone and you alone in this house by yourself."

  She glared at Connie. "You, my friend, know me all too well."

  Connie winked, her green eyes sparkling with mischief. "That's the truth."

  "I'm not going there to find a man. The last thing I need is some disastrous vacation romance."

  Connie leaned back in the chair, taking her cup of coffee and cradling it between her hands. "Lisa, you're thirty-four years old, gorgeous, with a body I'd kill for. When was the last time you had sex?"

  She gave Connie a blank stare. "I don't remember. I'm sure it was sometime this millennium."

  Connie shook her head. "Oh, fuck. Be sure to pack condoms."

  "Jesus, Connie."

  "Honey, I'm thirty pounds overweight, ten years older than you, and divorced three times, and I get way more sex than you do. There's something wrong with that picture."

  "Your kids are both off on their own."

  "Bad excuse."

  Lisa lifted her chin. "It is not. I couldn't very well bring men back to the house with my kid here."

  "There are hotels. And what about when Kayla was staying at Rick's?"

  Well, hell. She shrugged. "Good guys are hard to find."

  "Not that hard. And maybe you're still carrying a seriously flaming torch for your ex-husband."

  "I am not."

  Connie rolled her eyes. "Honey, if any one of my exes looked or acted like Rick Mitchell, I'd never have divorced him, and I'd be jumping his seriously sexy bones every chance I could. I don't know why you and Rick don't fuck each other blind whenever you can."

  The thought of it heated her. She so didn't need those visuals in her head right now. "Our relationship isn't like that. We're friends."

  Connie snorted. "Bullshit. I see the way you look at him."

  "What are you talking about?"

  "Those big brown eyes of yours just eat him up every time he walks into the room."

  Denial hovered on her lips,
but Connie knew her too well. She laid her head in her hands. "God. Is it that obvious?"

  "Uh, yeah. To me it is anyway."

  "Shit. I didn't mean for it to be. I don't want it to be. Oh, Connie, I want to have a life. I want to move on. I don't want to be dependent on Rick. I don't want to feel what I still feel for him. It's not right. Not after all this time."

  She hated the tears that welled in her eyes. They made her feel weak and helpless, and she hadn't been weak and helpless in a very long time.

  But Connie understood. Thank God for friends. Connie laid her hand over Lisa's. "I wasn't kidding when I said Rick is the type of man most woman would slit another woman's throat to have. He's one in a million."

  "I know," she said, her voice choked with emotion. "But he's not mine anymore. Hasn't been for years. And you heard him tonight. He's met someone."

  Connie couldn't look at her. "So it seems."

  "Which means I have to let him go."

  "Then let's have a vacation."

  Lisa nodded, determination firing her blood. "You're right. It's time I grabbed my own happiness."

  "Now you're talkin'. So are you in?"

  Why the hell not? The alternative was growing old alone, feeling sorry for herself, and becoming a pathetic woman holding on to the past. No way was she going to allow that to happen. She swiped away the tears and grinned. "Hell yes, I'm in."

  Wen hopped out of Rick's car with a rapid-fire thanks. Kayla told her to get in line and she'd be there in a sec.

  "Dad?" She twisted in the front seat to face him. He knew she'd want to talk after what went down at Lisa's.


  "Are we doing the right thing? To Mom, I mean."

  "Are you having second thoughts? Because we can put a stop to it. All you have to do is say so."

  She shook her head. "No. This is the right thing. You and Mom belong together."

  Rick leaned back against the seat. "I've always thought so." He turned so that Kayla could see his eyes, could read the honesty in them. "I love your mom, Kay. I never stopped."

  Kay's eyes brimmed with tears. At that moment she looked so much like her mother it was uncanny. They both wore their emotions on their faces.

  "I know you do, Dad. That's why I think this is the right thing. Sneaky," she said, letting that characteristic Kayla-giggle slip in, "but it's the only way to shock her into facing reality."