Books

 

SUTTER CREEK, MONTANA miniseries

Spend a season in Sutter Creek, Montana, where the staff of Wild Life Adventures discover that taking a second chance on love is the greatest adventure of all.

 

Book One: From Exes to Expecting – Lauren and Tavish’s story (Feb 20, 2018 – print; Mar 1, 2018 – digital)

Book Two: Cadie and Zach’s Story (Coming 2019)

Book Three: Garnet and Caleb’s Story (Coming 2019)

 

BOOK ONE: FROM EXES TO EXPECTING 

This time there’s a baby on board… 

Dr. Lauren Dawson knows her brief marriage to footloose photographer Tavish Fitzgerald ended for a reason. That doesn’t mean their undeniable chemistry isn’t as potent as ever. And when Tavish returns home to Sutter Creek for his sister’s wedding, the sparks between them turn into a blaze. But when Lauren finds herself pregnant, these exes have nine months to build a forever family together…

Arriving February 20, 2018 in print, and March 1, 2018 in digital. Pre-order on Harlequin, Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Barnes and Noble, Chapters, or the iBook Store. 

FROM EXES TO EXPECTING is just the beginning of the Dawson family’s adventures in Sutter Creek. Stay tuned for updates on books two and three in the series.

 

Chapter One

Sneaking out the back door is self-preservation, not bad form, right? Biting her lip, Dr. Lauren Dawson glanced at the clock on the wall of the Sutter Creek Medical Clinic’s staff lounge. Five-oh-one. Yup, skedaddle time. After working a series of six-day weeks, her body ached for the cushy lounge chair on her lakeside deck. Getting to start her long weekend while the late-May sun still had heat left in it was worth the faux pas of creeping out without saying goodbye. She threw her leather flats into her messenger bag and slid on her flip-flops.

The door to the lounge creaked behind her. Her stomach sank and she stared into her locker, not wanting to turn around. If it was one of the nurses coming to nab her to treat another patient, she’d—

“Lauren. Glad I caught you before you left. Do you have a minute?”

Damn it. The longer she lingered, the higher the chance of getting asked to cover drop-ins for an extra hour or two. But no way could she slough off a conversation with the man who held the future of her career in his hand.

Squeezing her eyes shut for a second, she forced a smile and faced her boss.

“Hi, Frank.”

The fluorescent lights of the staff lounge yellowed Frank Martin’s gunmetal-gray hair as he took a seat on one of the couches arranged into a conversation pit. “Quitting time?”

Lauren nodded and pulled off her lab coat. “Yeah. Andrew’s still very understaffed at work, so I’m picking up some slack for him this weekend. He’s got his bachelor party, so he’s asked me to cover some zip-line tours, and I’m helping his fiancée with some wedding stuff.” As the Director of Safety and Risk Management and the head of summer operations for their family’s Montana ski resort, her older brother did more than his fair share of boosting their bottom line. Lauren pitched in where she could despite the clinic’s tendency to consume her waking hours. Once her summer holidays started in six weeks, she’d be subbing for her brother, letting him get away on his honeymoon. “Pretty sure I won’t get a moment to myself for most of the weekend. Though I’m hoping for a few hours to myself tonight. My dock is calling me.”

His mouth curved in understanding. “Well, I won’t keep you. But I wanted to make sure you got the partnership papers from your lawyer.”

Those cursed papers sat on her kitchen table, mocking her every morning as she ate her oatmeal and berries. Mocking her commitment to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Dampness bloomed on her palms. She’d wanted to have a practice in her tiny hometown since she was fourteen. Getting to buy in to the clinic her mother had founded was nothing less than her childhood dream. So why am I having so much trouble putting my signature on the contract?

She mentally flicked away the doubt and nodded at her boss. “Yeah, but I’ve run into a glitch getting the funds released from my grandparents’ trust. My lawyer’s busy arguing with their lawyers.” She gripped the strap of her bag and took a centering breath. Ugh, what she’d do to have her vacation starting today. Both the wedding and working for Wild Life Adventures would be a welcome change of scenery. She would get outside for a few weeks and come back to the clinic refreshed and ready to make her plan a reality.

“Did your lawyer indicate how long it would take to fix the problem?” Concern edged Frank’s words.

“She wasn’t specific, no. I’m sure it’ll be dealt with by the time I’m back from my holidays in July.”

“That’s two months from now.”

Swallowing her nerves, she nodded. “It’s not affecting the work I can do, though. So I’m hoping the delay isn’t a deal breaker.”

“No. Nothing you can do about banking complications.” He drummed his fingers on the arm of the couch. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, Lauren. Having a Dawson as a partner again is going to fill a void. You’ll be a great permanent addition to the clinic.” Permanent.

Normally a calming concept, but Lauren’s heart started to thud as if she were sprinting. She inhaled. Her mother had been proud of her calling. And Lauren was nothing if not a mirror of her mother.

She’d almost given up on their dream once. Never again. She could do this. Was meant for it.

Her heartbeat slowed, but the burn in her stomach refused to subside.

One of the nurses poked her head into the lounge. “Dr. Dawson? Can you take one more patient before you leave? Sutures. Exam room two.”

Son of a—Keeping her curse from spilling out, Lauren nodded to the nurse. She returned her satchel to her locker and shrugged back into her lab coat.

“Count me there.”

Frank touched his brow in a playful salute. “We’ll talk later, Lauren. See you Tuesday.”

“Have a good Memorial Day.” Lauren changed back into her flats, straightened her khaki capris and rushed out of the lounge to her patient. Stupid long weekends and the abrasions and lacerations that came along with them. She picked the clipboard out of the Lucite holder and glanced at the patient file.

Her already complaining gut lurched and the font blurred on the page.

No. N-fricking-O.

Feet frozen two feet from the door, out of view from the patient inside, she stared through the door frame. Only the patient’s legs were visible, goldentan skin over defined calf muscles. Muddy biking footprints marked up the white linoleum. A two-inch-thick black tattoo ringed one ankle. At first glance, it looked like a series of interwoven spirals, but she knew closer study would reveal the second and third stanzas of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Even marred by a fresh, index-card-size scrape, she’d recognize Tavish Fitzgerald’s legs anywhere. Difficult not to, given the nights she’d spent sliding her toes along those hard calves while he’d driven her out of her mind with ecstasy.

She leaned against the hallway wall and swallowed. He must be in town for her brother’s bachelor party. So much for him not coming home until a day or two before the wedding. The wedding where Lauren would have to once again stare at Tavish across the aisle. But as the maid of honor this time.

Not the bride.

Lauren’s brother was marrying Tavish’s sister on the Fourth of July weekend, and Lauren was thrilled to be getting a sister-in-law. She just didn’t want to have to see her ex-husband in the process.

Telling herself to get a Godzilla-size grip, she stuck the clipboard between her knees and took the time to redo her ponytail. After a quick wipe under her eyes to check for afternoon mascara remnants, she clutched her clipboard between both hands, threw back her shoulders and marched through the doorway.

A millisecond after she met Tavish’s gaze, her bravado tumbled into a heap around her feet. He regarded her with a simmering look as he lounged in the patient’s chair next to the examination table. His violet-blue irises pierced through her layers of preservation.

Eyes that color were wasted on a man. Ditto his thick, dark eyelashes and the sun-streaked, tawny hair he never bothered to keep tidy. A navy bandanna, rolled to a hand-width and tied around his forehead, kept the windblown strands from falling in his face. He wore a technical shirt and baggy cargo shorts over black Lycra bike shorts. It was enough to make a woman’s heart stop.

But no, Lauren’s pulse went into overdrive, thumping loud enough she’d have worried he could hear it except she knew was it impossible. Shrinking under his silent observation, she forced herself to snap into medical mode.

“You did a number on your leg,” she said.

Shrugging, he shot her a half smile. “An unruly pine.”

Judging by the scrape on his left cheek, the rip in the short sleeve of his shirt and the bandage on his arm, the tree reigned victorious. His chart noted that he needed stitches for a laceration already dressed by one of the mountain first-aid attendants, but her hands were shaking so badly she didn’t trust herself to pick up a needle quite yet, no matter how quickly she wanted him out the door.

“Tree, one, you, zero?” She forced out the joke.

“Yeah. Blew a tire. Landed in a snowberry bush, thankfully. Could have been worse. But where are our manners? Afternoon, Dr. Dawson.” He bit out her last name.

She flinched at the emphasis. Considering she’d once shared his last name and his bed, the use of her professional title seemed overkill. “Seems silly to bother with the formalities with me.”

“You’re working. I respect that.”

“I don’t think it matters where we are. I’ll always be just Lauren to you.” Her voice came out way softer than she’d intended. Fighting the need to get closer to his hard, muscled body, to offer to kiss him better, she broke her gaze from his and methodically counted the eleven parts of the ear illustrated on the poster over his shoulder.

“You’re never just anything, Lauren.”

The rough sincerity in his voice chafed at her still-raw heart. She froze, not able to look at his face, to see whatever emotion accompanied the sweet words. She grabbed a pair of latex gloves from one of the cabinets and pointed at the examination table. “Up on the bed.”

By the quirk of his mouth, the potential double entendre wasn’t lost on him. Mercifully, he left it alone and lay down as asked, stretching out his lean frame and propping his head with his good hand.

Pulling her stool alongside him, she positioned his injured forearm for the best access. With tentative fingers, she peeled back the rectangle of gauze and recognized her brother’s handiwork in the immaculate row of butterfly strips holding together the finger-length gash. The sterile material of her gloves did nothing to block the effect of touching Tavish. The moment her fingertips brushed his arm, the heat there threatened to melt the glove to her hand.

Ignoring her pathetic physical response, she continued undoing the bandaging. “Your sister’s going to smack you for getting scraped up so close to her big day. You should’ve held off on bodily harm until after the wedding.”

Lifting his other hand across his face to touch his abraded cheek, he tilted his lips in a sheepish smile. “I wanted to try a few of the new expert trails in the biking complex. Drew took me.”

“You took my brother on the double blacks? You’re as bad an influence on him as you were on me.” Her chest panged with immediate regret. Way to bring up how he’d made her want to veer so sharply from her life plan. To cover up her folly, she blurted, “At least he wasn’t idiotic enough to tackle a tree.”

Something crackled behind Tavish’s eyes. Probably not the medical tape tugging on the golden hairs of his arm, either.

“You really want to get into this, Laur?” His voice held threads of warning twined with wariness.

No, but probably best to hash things out before the wedding. “We’re due.”

“I’d rather wait until you aren’t in arm’s reach of a needle.” He glanced at the syringe on the rolling tray, gritting his teeth as she fussed with his laceration.

“Fine with me.” She took a breath and shoved the curious blend of shame, wanting and need for escape to the back of her mind. Only in rare situations would she choose suturing over a conversation. Wouldn’t be the first time Tavish had her doing something that went against instinct, though. “You’re going to need quite a few stitches to make sure this heals properly. The edges are snagged pretty badly.”

“Bled like a scalp wound, but doesn’t really hurt.”

She rolled her eyes and readied the syringe. “You’re such a guy.” “You used to like that about me,” he said under his breath.

“Used to.” She draped the wound and closed her eyes for a second, just long enough to push away the nausea that rippled whenever she had to pierce someone’s skin. Frustration flared over the surging acid. She’d learned to control her gag reflex back in the first month of medical school. But the minute her lawyer had given her the partnership papers to sign, it had come back with a vengeance.

Clenching her hands into fists, she breathed until her ears stopped buzzing and she was no longer on the verge of losing the BLT she’d had for lunch.

Then she grabbed the needle.

Tavish sucked in a breath and looked away as Lauren worked to numb the area. His brief display of nerves made her hand itch to put down the needle and caress his cheek. She ignored the ridiculous impulse and finished her task.

“Let that set. I’ll be back in five.”

“Not going to stick around and chat?”

“I have things to do.”

His lips twitched with saddened amusement. “Don’t let me get in your way.”

Half standing, she settled back onto her stool, meeting the challenge in his voice. “You’re not in my way.”

“That’s not the honest Lauren Dawson I know.”

She stared at him, trying to make her expression as unreadable as possible. “Fine. It’s weird having you in town. And if you’re insisting on small talk, where’ve you been since you were last home? When was that, March?” Not like she’d counted the fifty-seven days. Not purposefully, anyway.

Tavish’s expression flattened into impatience. “Here and there. New

Orleans for a few weeks. Italy. Brazil.”

“You’re definitely living your dream.” If only he’d been that committed to her. To them.

“Isn’t that the point?”

“Obviously. I’m doing the same.”

“Sure about that?”

“Even more than when I signed our divorce papers.” Though she’d had as much trouble scrawling her signature on that as with the documents for the clinic partnership. “I saw your Peru spread in Traveler last week.”

“Make you want to go there?”

She shook her head. “Not hardly.”

“Right.” A visible flicker of defeat made his mouth twitch. “It wouldn’t.”

“I’m happy here, Tavish.” Damn it. He’d made her defend her choices one too many times.

“Yeah, now you are. A year ago you were ready to come see the Great

Barrier Reef with me.”

The truth of that smacked her in the face. Tears welled at the reminder of how her grandparents’ accident had turned her family upside down, had forced her to admit how her marriage would never work. Blinking away the moisture, she probed the edges of his wound. “This hurt?” Not meeting her eyes, he shook his head.

She flushed the gash, biting her lip as saline-thinned blood trickled under the drape. Hold it together, Lauren.

“I traveled enough as a kid. I’m good for life.” Why couldn’t he understand that being rooted in Sutter Creek didn’t stifle her as it did him? Besides, she had explored the globe in the past six months—via gorgeous, full-color magazine spreads. Vicarious living courtesy of Tavish himself.

She’d bought every issue featuring his work.

The wearied lines in his forehead told her he hadn’t changed his opinion about her choices, but he didn’t bother arguing further.

“Breathe,” she soothed, not liking the strain marking his stubbled jaw. “This won’t take long.” Thankful for something to focus on aside from the reasons her marriage had failed, she began to suture his wound.

“Getting stitched feels so weird. You probably live for this, though.”

Ha, right. She’d be happy if she never saw blood again. A necessary evil, though, in getting where she wanted to be career-wise. “Don’t look if it makes you sick.”

“I can’t not.”

“Ah. You’re one of those. Common enough.”

“Glutton for gore, I guess.”

“Checking off all the guy-stereotype boxes today.”

Conversation died as she continued her stitches, a neat row of fifteen. Once finished, she dressed the wound and examined his scrapes. “I’m surprised my brother didn’t cover up your other abrasions. He’s the most anal medic on the mountain.”

“I told him not to. I’ve had road rash so many times, it’s second nature.”

“It’s your face.”

He sent her a wry smile. “Worried I’ll wreck my good looks?” More like worried his good looks would wreck her sanity.

She shook her head. “We need to give each other space.”

“I’ll do my best to stay out of your hair until I leave town. I’m taking off on Sunday—I have jobs lined up until the wedding.”

She’d have to learn to pretend ambivalence in his presence by then. She wouldn’t let their ruined marriage impact Mackenzie and Andrew’s ceremony. “How long are you going to be in town that weekend?”

“Five days.” The blank look on Tavish’s face gave away nothing. “But, look, Sutter Creek’s not that small, right? We won’t be in each other’s pockets.”

Ugh. Sutter Creek was exactly that small. But she appreciated his optimism. “You haven’t spent that much time at home since college.”

“I know. But I have to, for Mackenzie’s sake. You’re okay with it, right?”

“It’s been a year.” Last May, embarrassed by her failure, she’d hidden her short marriage and speedy divorce from her family. The soul-sucking lie of omission ate at her daily. She never wanted to lie to a person she cared about again. And as much as she didn’t want to, she more than cared about Tavish.

He stared at her, eyes stark with honesty. His cheek flinched. “This still gets to me.”

So not admitting I agree with that one. Lauren brushed a thumb across his jaw, under the abraded skin. She wished she could chalk up the pang of concern to her Hippocratic Oath. But she knew better. “You winced. I’ll get you a cold pack for your face.”

Giving a one-shoulder shrug, he tossed her a smile. A delicious smile. One he’d used mercilessly when he’d spent hours with his mouth on her breasts.

On her stomach. Everywhere. “Don’t worry about me, sweetheart.” The careless endearment hung in the air long after he left the room.

She propped her elbows on the table and took the weight of her head in her hands. She could feel the imprint of his words on her skin.

Don’t worry about me…

That was the problem with Tavish Fitzgerald. She did worry about him— not for his sake, but for hers.

…sweetheart.

Knowing he’d be in Sutter Creek for the next couple of days, her muscles twitched with a sudden, and long-absent, urge to run away from home.

* * *

The last thing Tavish felt like doing after locking horns with the living reminder of his divorce was to go to a bachelor party to celebrate someone else’s impending bliss. And offering to pick up the happy groom from the Sutter Mountain base lodge did nothing to help clear his mind of the woman he’d never been able to love like she deserved. The minute he set foot into the rubber-floored hallway next to the ski school, he was thrown back to the summer he’d graduated high school. How many times had he sneaked kisses with Lauren in the staff lounge? He’d worked for Sutter Mountain Resort in his junior and senior years, teaching skiing in the winter and rock climbing in the summer. The work had been awesome. So had finding excuses to flirt with Lauren up at reception.

And if he was going to have even half a chance of enjoying Drew’s bachelor party tonight, he needed to get his mind off his high school girlfriend. His wife.

Ex-wife.

Trudging down the hall, he jammed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. The movement tugged on his bandaged forearm, making him wince. Making him think of Lauren again, of her struggle to stay unresponsive while she’d sutured his cut. Her cheeks had gone all pink and… Stop it. She’d been holding back distaste, not desire. He shoved open the door to the ski resort’s safety department headquarters. “Greetings.”

“Hey.” Drew, alone in the room, sat at his desk with his fingers in his dark brown hair. “Get stitched up?”

“Yeah.” He rolled his shoulder, hissing at the soreness caused by his dismount into the shrubbery. “Your sister did her level best to chastise me— us—for our stupidity.”

“Not surprising. Have a seat.”

“Uh, where?” Tavish blinked in surprise at the disastrous state of the office. Outdoor equipment and first-aid supplies covered every surface in the place. During the winter, the office served as the headquarters for Sutter Mountain Resort’s safety department. In the summer, it was the nerve center for Wild Life Adventures—or WiLA, as the staff nicknamed it—which offered everything from zip-line tours to rafting adventures. Drew and Mackenzie were damn proud of Sutter Mountain’s success. Even though it was one of the smaller resort towns in Montana, they’d been operating at capacity for the last five years. And his friend would be run over by the paraphernalia involved in all that success if he didn’t find a minion to organize his crap quick. “Tough to find office lackeys these days?”

“With both Zach and Mackenzie out of the rotation I had to promote my lackeys,” Drew grumbled.

“Raw deal. Still, no way should you still be working at seven on a Friday. We should get going. There’s a line of shots on the bar at the Loose Moose with your name on it.”

“I need another ten minutes.”

“All right. It’s your party. Guess we’ll be fashionably late.” Tavish eased his way past a stack of paddles leaning against a shelf and threw himself into the chair behind the other desk. He linked his hands behind his head and leaned back in the cushy leather seat, propping his booted feet on the corner of the desk. The seat springs complained with a metallic squawk.

The complaint from Drew was a hell of a lot more colorful. He yanked off his reading glasses and tossed them onto a stack of invoices. His eyes lit a livid blue. Put Lauren and her brother side by side and he’d barely be able to recognize them as siblings. Lauren, with her blond hair and hazel eyes, resembled their late mother. But temper-wise, the Dawson siblings shared a hair trigger.

“Quit it.” Drew spat the words out.

“What, this?” He leaned back again, eliciting one more metal-on-metal grind from his chair for emphasis. He shot his friend a cocky grin. “Invest in some WD-40. Problem solved.”

“Funny, lubricating the chairs hasn’t been a priority.” He waved a hand around the office. “We’re so short-staffed I barely have time to sleep. I need to find a replacement for Zach or else I’m going to lose it.”

“Shouldn’t you have replaced him months ago?” Drew’s assistant had been injured in a brutal ski accident during spring takedown and had been off since. Add in Tavish’s sister being almost seven months pregnant, and Drew was short two of his most experienced guides.

“I thought I’d be able to cover for him. Once Mackenzie started showing, she pretty much took over as my assistant in Zach’s stead. But he had a setback with his rehab. He won’t be back to work until well after the wedding. And without him—or someone to work in his place—Mackenzie and I won’t be able to go on our honeymoon.” Drew pressed his fingers into his temples.

“Jeez. Getting married makes you overdramatic.”

The other man glared before turning back to his computer. “You offering to step in?”

Tavish snorted.

“Then shut it. I’m just emailing a few buddies in Colorado who might be able to help me out. Then we can go.”

Him, work in Sutter Creek? Ha. Right. Tavish was about as capable of that as his father had been. Even if he didn’t have plans to hop on a plane to

Alaska on Monday—which he did—there would be no way he could cover for Zach once Andrew and Mackenzie were out of town. Being in Sutter Creek had always made him itchy to leave. Adding his divorce to the mix made that nagging itch intolerable.

But I have a few weeks off after the wedding. And Drew’s in quite the bind.

Not wanting to look too closely at the strain lines on his friend’s face, he stared at the ceiling and tapped his fingers against the arms of the chair. It would be super crappy if his sister couldn’t go on her honeymoon. She’d been talking about the two-week retreat to a nearby spa resort for months. The baby was due to arrive at the end of the summer, meaning it would be a long while before Mackenzie and Drew could get away again.

Tavish couldn’t imagine holing up in Sutter Creek with a kid and a wife. When he and Lauren had married last year, it had been because she’d decided to leave Sutter Creek behind, to split time between his assignments and her volunteering internationally. He just wasn’t built to stay in one place for long.

Two weeks, though. That would be a heck of a present for Mackenzie.

Better than the set of wedding portraits he’d planned on taking for her. Ignoring his conscience as it chomped a hole in his stomach lining, Tavish picked up a pencil to doodle on a piece of scrap paper. “What kind of work?” “Supervising sites, occasional guiding. Assistant crap.”

“Maybe I could help out.” He’d have to avoid Lauren, but that wouldn’t be hard. She was married to her job at the clinic.

“Uh…you’re not the most reliable. No offense.”

Tavish bristled. Knowing he was genetically incapable of sticking around Sutter Creek for any length of time was one thing. Having his best friend confirm it was another. “No, man, I think it would work. I’ll leave Monday to hang out with the polar bears, then come back for your wedding, hit on the bridesmaids—”

“Hey! My sisters are the bridesmaids.”

“Right. Sorry. Scratch that. Still, I’ll pitch in here and be gone the minute you’re back.”

Drew didn’t need to worry about his sisters’ honor when it came to Tavish. Given Tavish’s relationship with Lauren, he’d never seen Cadence, the baby of the family, as eligible. And Lauren? Well, tried and failed there.

Seeing her today had made his brain spin, a clicking whir not unlike the ancient slide projector of his grandmother’s that he credited with getting him hooked on photography. Except instead of pictures of his mother being schlepped across the country in her family’s old woody station wagon, the images that flashed across his brain starred Lauren’s creamy skin against white hotel sheets and the lights of the Las Vegas Strip glinting off the gold band on her left hand. A gold band Drew knew nothing about. Tavish had promised to keep that secret, even though hiding something so monumental from his best friend made him feel like a pile of bear crap.

And when he’d promised secrecy to Lauren, he’d also made a promise to himself—that he’d stop thinking about his ring on that gorgeous hand that somehow knew just the right way to grip him.

More than that—she had a total grip on his heart.

Helping out Mackenzie and Drew ran the risk of having to fight those thoughts from surfacing daily. Hourly. But what kind of brother would he be if he didn’t facilitate a final kid-free trip for his sister?

“I can’t let Mackenzie give up her honeymoon. She’s already had to compromise by rushing the wedding. Thanks to your not having paid attention during tenth-grade sex-ed,” Tavish added lightly.

A crumpled-paper ball bounced off his head.

“Asshole. But you’re serious about filling in, aren’t you?” Drew asked.

He nodded, curving up one side of his mouth in his own disbelief. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to help Mackenzie.”

“It’s been a while since you’ve been willing to help her, you mean.”

Ouch. The accusation reverberated in his chest. He rubbed at the resulting ache. “Guess I can’t argue with that.”

Drew blew out a breath. “Add on the few days you’d be here before the wedding and you’d have to be in town for over two weeks. You sure about that?”

Tavish picked up a hunk of shale that served as a paperweight and passed it back and forth between his hands. “Thanks for the math lesson, but I know what I’m offering.”

“Do you still have your EMT cert?”

“Yeah. I’m not stupid enough to enter war zones without knowing what to do in an emergency,” he said. “Warning—this offer will self-destruct in five seconds unless you accept it.”

Drew tugged at the collar of his polo shirt. “Okay, then. I’ll fill Lauren in on the plan tomorrow. She’ll be relieved, to say the least.”

Every cell in Tavish’s body froze. “Huh?”

“Well, you’ll be replacing Zach, but Lauren’s replacing me. Looking forward to it, or so she says. So you’ll be helping her out.”

Clenching his fist around the rock, he resisted the impulse to hurl it through the glass pane of the hallway door. Working with Lauren would kill him. She’d consider his involvement the antithesis of help. And he couldn’t back out of the commitment now. If he did, Drew would ask questions.

Lauren’s inevitable freak-out when her brother informed her would also result in raised eyebrows. Better to avoid any possibility of suspicion. “She and I should start communicating about how I’m going to best support her while you’re gone, so let me tell her.”

Drew shrugged. “Whatever. I’m just happy that Mackenzie doesn’t have to go on our honeymoon without me.” His smile turned wicked. “Two weeks of being alone.”

“Dude. Sister.”

“Dude,” his friend mocked. “You have to know what you’re facilitating.”

“I know you have to shut up about it.”

Mackenzie better enjoy her holiday. Because by making the most important woman in his life happy, he’d be making the woman who should have owned that title miserable.