Confirmed bachelor Gage Matthews had no intention of marrying George DiCarlo’s daughter–even if she was incredibly hot, fun, athletic, and great to be around. His two friends might have caved, but he wasn’t about to do so. Staying away from her, though became harder as the months passed, and though she never seemed to intentionally be in his path, Jonquil was everywhere he turned. When he realizes she’s the one woman he has to have, will she be willing to look past their troubles to make things work?
Jonquil hurried through the crowded Denver airport. Of course, the one time she’s running behind schedule, the plane would arrive early. Wasn’t there a rule against planes running on time or something? She grimaced as she saw her sister waiting at the baggage claim, checking her watch. Angela was almost unrecognizable; her blond hair had been cropped to chin length and dyed black. She pulled out her cell phone and started to dial.
“Hi, sorry I’m late,” Jonquil said as she rushed up. “I got stuck in construction behind a moving van.”
Angela smiled and threw her arms around Jonquil’s neck. “It’s so good to see you. We missed you at Christmas.”
Jonquil ignored the criticism and hugged her baby sister. She had gone home for a few days in January—the only break she’d allowed herself since arriving in Juniper Ridge, Colorado the previous summer. “I know. Things at the hotel have been crazy busy.”
“And all of those weddings in your new family haven’t helped,” Angela agreed. She shouldered her little carry-on and an enormous purse, and then grabbed the handle of one of her bags. “Will you grab the other one?”
Jonquil took the handle of the larger suitcase and attempted to roll it toward the door, but it tipped a little and slid against the floor.
“Sorry, one of the wheels broke off last time I flew,” Angela said over her shoulder, already moving toward the door. “Those baggage handlers are so irresponsible.”
Irritated, Jonquil hefted the bag, which was heavy enough it must have been pushing the weight limit. “So, how long are you staying? You didn’t mention when you had to return home.” She dodged a couple of teenage boys and paused to keep from running into an older woman in a wheelchair, struggling to keep up.
“You’re funny.” Angela laughed.
“What do you mean?” Angela’s response had made Jonquil feel stupid. She hated feeling stupid.
“Come on, I told you I was staying all summer. We talked about how I was doing summer stock.”
Jonquil thought back to their recent conversations as she scrambled to keep up with her new burden. “You mentioned in March that you were planning to do summer stock and sending out video auditions. You never said if you got a part.”
When Angela looked over at Jonquil, the expression was almost too innocent to be believed. “I told you I got hired at the Juniper Ridge theater, didn’t I? Our rehearsals for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying begin this afternoon and run most of every day until we open in a few weeks. I was cast as Hedy La Rue. I sent you an email with all of the details.”
Jonquil racked her brain but didn’t remember a hint of this. “If you sent it, I didn’t get it.”
Angela’s brow curved up questioningly. “No wonder you didn’t respond. Sometimes you just can’t trust those spam filters. They catch the weirdest things.” Angela smiled at Jonquil. “We’ll have the whole summer together. Of course I’ll be working a lot. We have afternoon performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays in addition to the dinner show so I’ll be really busy, but we’ll still have plenty of time to hang out and do stuff together. If I’m staying with you, we’ll see each other all of the time.” Her smile put off about 200 watts. “Well, compared to the past year, anyway. The director will keep us hopping.”
Jonquil managed to keep setting one foot in front of the other as panic took over. Angela was going to join them for the summer? She’d be around a lot? What was she going to tell the others? And then there was the fact that Angela had invited herself to stay in the house for the whole summer. Though Jonquil’s first reaction was to say she couldn’t stay—a stupid, irrational side of herself—she bit her lip and waited until they had exited to short-term parking and she had a moment to assimilate the information.
Was there any legitimate reason she shouldn’t let Angela stay with her? There was plenty of space at the house now. Most of the bedrooms were empty, since four of the six sisters had married and moved out. And maybe it would give Jonquil a chance to understand her flighty little sister a little better. Stop being so selfish. She’s part of your life every bit as much as the others are. This will be good for you.
She hoped it was true, anyway.
Jonquil hadn’t exactly been thrilled with the prospect of moving to Juniper Ridge the previous summer. Her father’s will had insisted she live with a bunch of half-sisters she didn’t know and work with them to open their father’s latest hotel. When they’d learned about each other at the reading of the will, she had been as shocked as everyone else to find out her father had so many daughters, but things had turned out okay, hadn’t they?
Then Jonquil realized something Angela hadn’t said aloud. “You don’t have a car. That theater is clear across town from the house.”
Angela looked over. “I know you live close to work. I hoped I could use your car or get a ride if I need it. I might be able to get rides from people I work with too. I mean, most of them live in the provided housing for the cast and crew, but there are so many of us in a couple of tiny barracks and I keep hearing about how you have that big place with lots of extra space. You don’t mind putting me up, do you?” She all but fluttered her eyelashes as she gave Jonquil her most hopeful, wistful expression.
Jonquil should have guessed. As long as she could remember, her sister had depended on others to take care of things for her. She got herself the job, great, but now Jonquil was going to end up playing taxi. She held in the irritation that zoomed through her. “We’ll see what we can work out. There’s always a bicycle.” She shouldn’t have said that; there was no way she’d make her sister ride a bike down that busy road to the theater. But she wasn’t feeling quite as generous about the situation as she could have been.
She rubbed her forehead, trying to massage away the headache that inevitably appeared whenever she spent much time with this particular sister. They were seven years apart in age, but sometimes Jonquil thought it may as well have been seventeen. She remembered helping to change Angela’s diapers, babysitting and later wishing they were closer. When Jonquil had been seventeen, the youngest of her siblings seemed far younger than ten. Her own self loathing hadn’t helped as she watched Angela be praised for her quick mind and adorable smile. The flighty way Angela acted as she grew up, always switching from one project to the next, changing her major every semester and never seeming to settle on anything, made Jonquil wonder if Angela would be any more settled at thirty-one than she was now at twenty-one.
“So, it’s just you and Delphi in the house now, right?” Angela asked. “Do you ever see the others outside of work?”
“Yes, to both questions. And Delphi’s not always there anymore.” Jonquil smiled a little as she thought of how happy her sister had been that morning at their executive meeting. “She got engaged over the weekend.” They stopped at the back of Jonquil’s silver Kia Rio and she popped the hatchback to put the bags away.
“Wow, they’re dropping like flies. Doesn’t that leave you as the last one?”
“Yep, but don’t count on me hooking up anytime soon.” The guy she was most interested in seemed to think she was pond scum—and how twisted was it that she liked a guy who obviously disliked her so much? It was another example of how stupid she was sometimes. She told herself that she would find someone else who could appreciate her talents. Such as they were. “The others wanted to meet you tonight, if you’ll be back from rehearsals before too late.” The anticipation of the introduction had left Jonquil anxious, but she knew Angela would have many more opportunities to spend time with everyone during the summer. That was worse.
“I should be done around nine. Will they bring their hot husbands with them?” She wiggled her brows and grinned. “And do any of them have hot single brothers?”
“The guys usually are there.” Had Jonquil mentioned that the husbands were all extremely good looking, each in their own way, or had Angela just assumed? They hadn’t really talked all that much since Jonquil had moved the previous summer—or all that much in the years prior.
“So you’re not dating anyone?” Angela asked. “You usually have no trouble attracting the men and it seems like you DiCarlo girls are all finding your perfect matches.” Angela set the last of the bags in the back and shut the trunk. She shot Jonquil a sideways glance the other woman was not sure how to interpret. “Can we stop for something to eat on the way to your home? I’m starving!”
“Sure.” Angela’s barbed comments about being dateless stung a little and Jonquil wondered if she was being overly sensitive. She forced her thoughts to the flower arrangements she’d left her staff to complete. When Angela had called with her flight arrangements the previous afternoon, Jonquil had been shocked that she was actually following through on the invitation to visit during the summer—there had been no comment about when she’d leave or reference to staying at Jonquil’s for months. The fact that she’d had to rearrange her schedule at work to pick Angela up was not a big shock, though.
Jonquil weaved her way through traffic, headed for the interstate. “So, tell me how things are going back home.” There was no point getting upset until she knew how things were going to go, but it took all of her energy to keep her insecurities at bay.
It was nearing eight that night when Jonquil greeted the last of the DiCarlo sisters in the house their father had built for them. Cami came hand-in-hand with her husband Vince. Rosemary brought a big bowl of some dip she had been tweaking the recipe on. Her daughter, Cleo, who was ten, followed behind with tortilla chips, and Rosemary’s husband, Harrison, brought up the rear.
Sage, Harrison’s half-sister by their mother, and Jonquil’s half-sister by their father, came with her former Navy SEAL husband Joel in tow. She was six months pregnant and really starting to show.
Delphi and Jeremy were already snuggling on the couch, the newest couple, still reveling in their love, and finally Lana came in with her newborn baby son, Ash, and husband, Blake.
Family time always meant a crowd of people.
All of them worked at the hotel in some form or other, though rather than regular staff, Vince’s crew was contracted to handle the landscaping and Jeremy was a photographer they often booked for events. Jonquil’s father apparently had visions of happily-ever-after for his girls and made romantic plans for them in addition to coercing them into working at the resort. The fact that the others had all fallen into line had been happy luck, as far as Jonquil was concerned. The guy she had recently learned her dad picked out for her wasn’t so amenable.
None of the girls had known about the unwritten part of their father’s will—mainly the love and marriage clauses—when they had moved there, and some of the men had been less than willing to begin with as well. George had been right about his daughters, though, and the couples found love despite any previous objections.
Jonquil checked her watch as everyone milled around. She hoped Angela wouldn’t be seriously late. Of course, hanging out with the family wasn’t exactly a chore. The guys joked with each other and teased Cleo, who loved the attention, and several of the women cooed over Ash. Cami and Vince had just announced they were going to have a baby as well, which was fun, sweet and a little depressing.
Jonquil forced a smile and went to sit with Rosemary and Delphi.
“So, Rosemary, you’re next in line to announce a pregnancy,” Delphi said.
Rosemary’s eye’s narrowed. “I have a kid. When you pop one out, I’ll think about it again.”
Everyone seemed to pause for a moment when the doorbell rang. Jonquil jumped up. “That should be Angela.” She smiled in relief when she was right.
“Come on in,” Jonquil said, reminding herself to have a key made for her sister. “Everyone’s excited to meet you.”
She had dropped Angela directly at the theater when they reached town that afternoon, so this was her sister’s first look at the house. Angela breezed past her, looking around the room at the wood railings and soaring ceilings, seeming to approve.
Jonquil couldn’t blame her. The house had an open floor plan with a large entry, dining area and enormous kitchen on the main level, and then a huge sunken living room on the left. On the right was a set of floating stairs leading to a railed balcony that fronted the area where the upstairs bedrooms were located. A set of stairs led down to the other three bedrooms, a smaller family room and an exercise room. The house was all done up in wood and tile with deep-pile carpets and a large fireplace in the living room. It was impressive and beautiful. Jonquil had loved the house on sight.
“Welcome to the family.” Blake was first to stand and introduce himself, greeting Angela as she made the rounds. As always, he oozed Southern charm.
“Wow, so this is how the other half lives. No wonder you dumped us for your new family,” Angela said to Jonquil as she grabbed a snack after she’d made the rounds of the room. She walked off to talk to Delphi some more.
Jonquil wondered if Angela resented her. Did she have a right to be upset if Angela did? She watched her baby sister move around the group, becoming chummy with the others right off, giving the right kinds of compliments and asking the right questions. She always had a way with people that Jonquil envied.
Jonquil did fine most of the time. She paid attention to body language and intonation, watching others so she could fit in, but it had taken her a few weeks to start to get a handle on what made her five new half-sisters tick. Something Angela managed in about two minutes.
Just another reason to feel like the stupid sister.
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