Don’t miss this brand-new romance in New York Times bestselling author Lee Tobin McClain’s Hometown Brothers miniseries!
Running a bookstore on a quaint Chesapeake island is exactly the life Deena Clark would have chosen for herself. But helping billionaire businessman Luis Dominguez figure out fatherhood is part of the package. Can bonding over books and one little girl help them open their hearts to each other?
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“Have you ever considered slowing down?” The doctor’s words were as out of place as his white coat in Luis Dominguez’s busy corporate office. Mergers and acquisitions were what they did here, and at a fast pace. No one slowed down, ever. “What are you trying to tell me, Doc?” Luis attempted to ignore the text messages that kept pinging into his phone. “I’m only twenty-eight. I can’t have something wrong with me.” Dr. Henry fastened the blood pressure cuff on his arm. “My understanding is that you got dizzy at a board meeting. And that you live on coffee and nachos.” He tightened the cuff, studied the numbers and frowned. “It’s 130/90. That’s concerning. Family history of heart or kidney disease?” “I don’t know.” Luis didn’t want to go into his family medical history, or lack of one, in the middle of a regular work week in mid-April. “I’ll try to take it easier. Eat better.” Even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t true, but he needed to get on with his day. “I hope you will. Your board members are worried. Apparently, you’re indispensable.” The man patted Luis’s shoulder. “I’ll see you next week. We’ll need to talk about medication, unless I see significant improvement.”
“You’ll see it,” Luis promised. Ever the overachiever. He was a bit touched that his board of directors was worried enough about his health to set up weekly inoffice checkups. He’d built a life where no one had to worry about him, and he didn’t have to worry about anyone else. That was how he wanted it, but every now and then, it was good to know someone cared. He went to the door and gestured for his assistant, Gunther, to come in. “Everything ready for today’s presentation?” “Slides are all cued up and people are arriving.” Adrenaline surged. “Good.” The doctor clicked his medical bag closed. “How about getting a hobby? Starting a family? Being married is good for your health, you know.” “Not gonna happen.” Luis had already made peace with his single status, mostly. He was no good at forming and maintaining relationships. Didn’t want the responsibility. Didn’t want to fail at the responsibility, the way his parents had. Plenty of women were up for a no-strings fling with a millionaire. The trouble was, that lifestyle got old fast. “Come on,” he said to Gunther, heading for the door. “Let’s start the party.” The offices of Dominguez Enterprises buzzed with energy, people leaning over computers, the elevator pinging, voices speaking rapidly into phones. This was Luis’s hobby. This was his family. He was on track to reach his financial goals by age forty, but his lifestyle didn’t leave room for coaching Little League or cutting the grass.
“Excuse me, Mr. Dominguez?” A gorgeous blonde woman came out of the reception area and intercepted him. She was holding a toddler dressed in pink, a bow in her dark curls. Cute. Luis liked babies. He reached out and tickled the little one’s chin, clicking his tongue, and the child giggled. “Can I speak to you for a moment, sir?” the woman asked. He refocused on the blonde. “Not now. Make an appointment with Mrs. Jackson, there at the desk.” He gestured toward her then headed into the conference room, smiling at the sight of the suit-clad men and women around the table. Men and women from whom he’d soon make a bundle of money. Fairly and legally, of course. The small tech firm that was being acquired by the larger one would get a boost of capital and be able to keep all its employees on payroll, and the bigger firm would benefit from the diversification. Ideally they’d all leave as happy as he was. In fact, two hours later they did leave happy. Everyone shaking hands, his own people congratulating him and him thanking them for their hard work. Who’d have ever thought that a kid from his background would end up making deals with some of the most important businesspeople in Washington, DC? Then again, maybe his career was at least a little predictable. As a young teenager, he’d borrowed a few bucks from a friend and bought a case of high-caffeine soda, then sold it at a markup on test days. With the profit, he’d bought two more cases and expanded his business from the middle school to the high school. Of course, he’d had to skip class to do that.
“He’s not the brightest kid, but he sure does have the Midas touch,” the teacher who’d caught him had said to his foster mom. And Luis had done his best to make the most of whatever talents and abilities he had. Now, as he walked out of the conference room, the woman who’d approached him before came toward him, this time accompanied by Mrs. Jackson. The woman looked a little disheveled, blowing the blond hair off her face as she shifted the now-sleeping toddler in her arms. She was still pretty, though. Maybe even prettier with her face flushed and her hair loose. “I’m sorry, Luis,” Mrs. Jackson said. “She wouldn’t leave.” “I really need to speak with you.” The woman’s voice was low, but determined. There was a sexy rasp to it. He’d have blown her off if it weren’t for those stunning slate-colored eyes that seemed to hold all kinds of secrets. But it had been weeks since he’d had a date, and he was feeling celebratory. “Come on back, I have a few minutes,” he said, gesturing toward the hallway that led to his office. He usually avoided women with kids. He definitely avoided women with husbands, so he stepped to the side and checked out her left hand as she passed him. No ring. She wore a dark skirt and vest and a white shirt, and there was a slight swing to her walk. He reached the office just behind her and held open the door. “Go ahead, have a seat by the window.” He kept his voice low so as not to awaken the child. He nodded an it’s okay to Mrs. Jackson, who tended to be a mother hen, and followed the woman inside. He knelt down by the minifridge. “Something to drink? I have water, soda. Juice if the kiddo wakes up.” Outside, he could hear people calling goodbyes to each other. He’d given everyone the rest of the day off. They worked late for him plenty of times, so he liked to offer perks when the occasion merited it. “Water, please.” The woman spoke quietly, too, but the child murmured in her arms and opened her eyes. “Juice as well, if you don’t mind.” He stood, holding two bottles of water in one hand and a juice in the other. He twisted the top off a water bottle and handed it to her, then did the same for the apple juice. Sitting on the edge of his desk, he studied the woman. “So what can I do for you?” She sipped water, cradling the child in one arm, and then looked at Luis with a level stare. “I’d like for you to meet someone.” “Tell me more.” So she did have an agenda. Probably some project she wanted him to finance. Bringing her kid was a rookie mistake, but because she looked so serious and earnest, he’d let her down easy. She nodded down at the baby. “This is Willow,” she said. “Hi, Willow.” Luis smiled at the little one, then sipped water. The woman’s skirt slid up above her knees in the low chair. He lifted his eyes to her face. “What’s your name?” “I’m Deena Clark,” she said. “But Willow is the important one.” The baby held a small rubber doll out to Luis. He took it from her, hid it behind his back and then held it out again, jiggling it, making her laugh. “Why is Willow the important one?” he asked. “Because,” the woman said, “she’s your daughter.” There. She’d gotten it out. Deena blew her hair out of her eyes and made soothing circles on Willow’s back, holding the apple juice for her to sip. She inhaled Willow’s baby-powder scent and patted her chubby leg. She loved the two-year-old fiercely, and she hadn’t wanted to give up even the modicum of control that would come with rich Mr. Dominguez knowing he was the child’s father. But she was pretty sure Luis wouldn’t want much, if anything, to do with the baby. He was too wealthy and entitled. His wealth would make it easy for him to pay some child support, though. And that would allow Deena to stop working so much, to spend more time at home and to get Willow the services she needed. Maybe this would go okay. Luis Dominguez wasn’t quite what she’d expected. True, he’d made her wait for two hours, but then again, she’d arrived unannounced. She’d heard him saying nice things to his workers, and he’d gotten her and Willow something to drink. So maybe he wasn’t as uncaring as Willow’s mommy had believed. He was hot, too. Deena didn’t do relationships, but if she did…well. Curly black hair, light brown skin, an athletic body and a dimple in his cheek when he smiled… No wonder Tammalee had gone for him. He took a sip of water, studying her. “I wouldn’t have invited you in if I’d known you were one of those women.” “What women?” She bounced the baby doll in front of Willow, who laughed and grabbed for it then held it to her chest in an adorable imitation of motherhood. “Women looking to pin paternity on a wealthy man.” Luis crossed his arms over his chest. She raised her eyebrows. “That happens?” “Pretty often.” He took another sip of water and then put the bottle down with a thump. He looked oddly disappointed. “I’m not falling for it, so why don’t you take your child and your scam elsewhere.” “This isn’t a scam. I’m serious.” “It’s a new twist,” he said in a fake-thoughtful way, “approaching a man you never slept with. Creative.” That made her cheeks heat. She didn’t sleep with anyone, not that he needed to know that. “No,” she said, reaching for her phone. “You slept with my roommate.” She scrolled through her pictures, found one of Tammalee and held it up for him to see. He squinted at it. “Oh, yea-a-ah,” he said, his brows drawing together. “Sweet girl. But why are you coming here, not her, to claim this is my child?” Deena glanced at Tammalee’s smiling photo, swallowed hard and slid her phone back into her purse. “Tammalee is dead,” she said. His eyes widened. “What? Really?” She nodded. “An accident.” “I’m sorry to hear that.” He stared at the carpet for a minute and then met her eyes. “You realize I’m going to verify all this?” She blew out a sigh. “Look up Tammalee Johnson, obituary.” He studied her a moment as if wondering if there were even a chance her story was true. She must have looked honest, because he walked around his massive desk, bent over the computer and typed and clicked. He found what he was looking for. “She died two months ago?” He turned the computer so she could see. The large-size picture of her friend, the one that had accompanied her obituary, made Deena choke up. And that made her angry at herself, and by extension, at this guy. Neither reaction made sense, but then, grief didn’t make sense. The baby stiffened in her arms, probably sensing her tension. Or maybe she’d spotted the picture of her late mother. “Shh, it’s okay,” Deena whispered, rubbing her back again. But this time, it didn’t help; Willow wailed. The high, keening cry was a sound Deena had heard daily for the past two years, but it still grated on her. “Okay. Okay, honey. Want more juice?” Willow slapped the bottle away, spilling juice all over Deena, and the guy’s fancy carpet. “Sorry.” Although she shouldn’t apologize for what his own kid had done. She rocked Willow in the vigorous way that sometimes calmed her down, trying to gauge whether this tantrum was likely to be a long one. She looked at Luis from under the cover of her lashes. Tammalee had been sure he wouldn’t understand Willow, saying he only cared about money. Still, if this meltdown went on, he might require an explanation. But first things first. She needed to get him to acknowledge paternity before going into Willow’s issues. Willow’s cries were softening, to Deena’s experienced ear, but they were still grating. Luis looked uneasy, his forehead wrinkling. “Can’t you do something?”
“She’s hungry and tired,” Deena said by way of explanation. “You could have found a better time to talk to me about this, when you didn’t have to wait.” “You could have given me five minutes before your big important meeting.” But she could see that the baby’s crying was impacting Luis, and she didn’t want it to make him dislike Willow before even getting to know her. “We can leave,” she offered, “but only when you agree to the next step.” “Fine. I’ll do a DNA test.” He sighed. “There’s a doctor I can call.” “I have a test right here.” She fumbled in her purse and pulled out the drugstore version. “You just have to rub the swab inside your mouth for fifteen seconds.” It had cost a hundred dollars, which was a hardship, but for Willow, it was worth it. He was already opening it. “How long does it take?” “Two days from receipt. You mail it in, so…next week?” “I’ll take care of it.” He pulled out his phone. “Mrs. Jackson? Hey, before you leave, could you get a courier up to my office ASAP?” He listened. “Yes, I’m still here. I know. Soon.” He ended the call and looked at Deena. “I’ll have it sent to a better lab and try to get the results faster.” He studied Willow, still crying, and shook his head. She could tell he was hoping he’d get the good news that he wasn’t Willow’s father. Which, she supposed, was a possibility. Tammalee had enjoyed life, and men, and hadn’t been particularly choosy about who she’d spent time with—in or out of bed. But she’d insisted that Willow’s father was Luis, and Deena believed her.
She swabbed the baby’s mouth, making her cry again. Handed Luis the swab, and stood. “She’s a terrific kid and deserves the best,” she tossed over her
shoulder as she left.
Whether the best outcome would be having Luis as a father, or not having him, she didn’t know.
Excerpted from The Beach Reads Bookshop by Lee Tobin McClain. Copyright © 2023 by Lee Tobin McClain. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
Lee Tobin McClain is the bestselling author of more than thirty emotional, small-town romances described by Publishers’ Weekly as enthralling, intense, and heartfelt. A dog lover and proud mom, she often includes kids and animals in her books. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking with her goofy goldendoodle, chatting online with her writer friends, and admiring her daughter’s mastery of the latest TikTok dances. Learn more at www.leetobinmcclain.com.
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