So in love, p.1
So in Love, page 1
So in Love
So in Love
Books by Darcy Burke
About the Author
So in Love
After a hot hook-up on New Year’s Eve, Crystal Donovan plans to avoid Jamie Westcott, which could be difficult, given the size of Ribbon Ridge. But she’s only there a few days doing research on the town’s history then it’s back to her glam life in LA. When his family holds the key to unraveling a century-old mystery she has to seek him out—and the sparks are still flying.
Jamie Westcott works his ass off to repay his college loans, which doesn’t leave much time for other commitments. Crystal’s a perfect fling: she’s fun and sexy and, best of all, they have little in common and she lives somewhere else. Only, the more time they spend together the closer they get, despite their intent to keep things casual.
When everyone learns Crystal sold a screenplay exposing the dark secrets of Ribbon Ridge—and Jamie’s family—she becomes the town pariah. Jamie won’t leave and Crystal can’t stay—can love show them another way?
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So in Love
Copyright © 2017 Darcy Burke
All rights reserved.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Book design: © Darcy Burke.
Book Cover Design: © Carrie Divine/Seductive Designs.
Photo copyright: © Wavebreakmedia/Depositphotos.
Photo copyright: © tycoon/Depositphotos
Photo copyright: © Tamara_k/Depositphotos
Editing: Linda Ingmanson.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.
Created with Vellum
For Heather Heyer
Love must always win.
Ribbon Ridge, Oregon, New Year’s Eve
“Three, two, one! Happy New Year!” The Archers’ massive living room erupted in a chorus of cheers quickly followed by everyone finding their significant other and kissing. Everyone but Crystal Donovan. She acknowledged there were a handful of other people who were singles, but the majority of the room was filled with married couples, or those about to be married, and a few in very solid, monogamous relationships. Crystal simultaneously wondered what that felt like and was grateful she had no idea. Events like this always made her lean toward the former, but she had to remind herself that she preferred the latter—independence was everything.
As she scanned the room over her glass of champagne, her gaze connected with one of the other few singles—at least she thought he was here as a single—Jamie Westcott. He wasn’t an Archer, but what she called “Archer-adjacent” since his half-brother was married to one. Crystal supposed she was technically “Archer-adjacent” since her oldest, best friend, Alaina, was married to one too.
The Archers were the first family of Ribbon Ridge, a sprawling family of kind, generous, hardworking people who knew how to party. And take care of their own. Yeah, Archer-adjacent wasn’t a bad thing.
Crystal’s gaze strayed to Alaina, who was snuggled in the arms of her adoring husband, Evan. Alaina was expecting their second child in the spring, so she sipped sparkling cider, as did a few other guests. Crystal counted and thought there were at least three, maybe four, pregnant women in the room.
Shit, she should skip out before it was catching.
She laughed into her glass, thinking, You kind of have to do something to make that happen, dumbass. And she hadn’t had sex in months.
Tossing back the rest of her champagne, she went into the kitchen, where a full bar was set up. The Archer patriarch, Rob, was pouring his special New Year’s Eve brew at the tap. Crystal wondered if it was maybe time to switch to beer. She’d had a few cocktails earlier in the night and now two glasses of champagne. She was comfortably warm and happy, so yeah, probably beer time.
She deposited her empty flute on the counter with the dirty dishes, then went to the other bar where Rob was standing chatting with George, who was actually a bartender at the family’s pub in downtown Ribbon Ridge.
“Happy New Year, Crystal!” Rob said. “Fancy a pint?”
“I do, thank you.”
“Dad, are you making fun of Sean?” Tori asked from the other end of the bar. Tori Archer-Hennessey was one of the famous Archer sextuplets—along with Evan—and her husband Sean was a Brit.
“Because I said ‘fancy’?” Rob asked as he finished filling a glass for Crystal.
“He could be making fun of me.” The comment came from over Crystal’s right shoulder. She turned and saw that Jamie Westcott had come into the kitchen.
“You’re not British,” Crystal said.
“No, but I lived in London for a few years. I admit when I hang around Sean too much, I revert back to some of their phrases.”
Crystal thanked Rob as she picked up her pint and pivoted toward Jamie. He was cute, with warm hazel eyes and brown hair that was just a bit on the long side. He was also young—too young—probably five years her junior. She now recalled that he’d gone to the London School of Economics. And was crazy smart. Crystal preferred men with street smarts.
“So, you like to say things like ‘cheerio’ and ‘down the pub’?” she asked.
Jamie nodded toward Rob, who pulled him a pint. “Sure. And wanker. I love wanker.”
Crystal had taken a drink of beer, and it went directly up her nose as she laughed. She immediately began sputtering and brought her hand to her face as her eyes watered.
Jamie took her glass and set it on the counter. “I’m a wanker, sorry.”
She shook her head and managed to find words. “Stop saying that.”
The other people around the bar—Rob, Tori, and someone else whose name Crystal couldn’t remember—laughed. They held their glasses up in a toast. Jamie grinned and took his pint from Rob. “Cheers!”
He sounded quintessentially British. And that was a bit of a turn-on.
Crystal swept up her glass and took a quick drink. She probably should’ve given herself another minute to recover, but oh well. Better to dull any inconvenient attraction with alcohol. Not that she felt attracted to Jamie Westcott.
“Thanks, Rob.” She turned and left the bar with her beer, making her way back to the living room
“Hey,” Alaina said, stifling a yawn. “I’m sorry. I can’t stay awake. Evan’s grabbing our coats and we’re heading out.” Her gaze dipped to Crystal’s beer. “I hate to pull you away.”
When Crystal visited her bestie in Ribbon Ridge, she stayed in their guesthouse, so she’d ridden to the party with them earlier. “No worries. I’ll just catch a ride later.” The Archers had set up transportation for those who were drinking.
“You could spend the night too, if you wanted,” Alaina said. The Archers had raised seven children—eight, really, since they’d taken in one of their sons’ best friends after he’d been orphaned—in this house, each with their own bedroom, so they had plenty of space.
“Nah, I’ll get a ride.”
Evan came toward them with their jackets. “Okay,” Alaina said. “Be good.”
Crystal rolled her eyes. “What trouble could I possibly get into here? It’s Ribbon Ridge.” Crystal spent most of her time in Los Angeles, where she and Alaina had relocated after high school.
Alaina laughed and shot a look toward her confounded husband. “Yeah, what trouble could you possibly find?” She gave Crystal a meaningful stare tinged with amusement. “I am not a role model.”
Alaina had come to Ribbon Ridge three years ago to hide out from a tabloid story, met Evan Archer, fell head over heels in love, and got knocked up to boot. Trouble aplenty as far as Crystal was concerned. She didn’t have time or the inclination for love, and she sure as hell didn’t have time for procreating. She suppressed a shudder.
“No, you’re not.” Crystal turned to Evan. “Happy New Year. Kiss Alexa for me.” Her goddaughter had surely been asleep for hours, but Alaina and Evan would undoubtedly check in on her when they got home. They were the most doting parents Crystal had ever seen. Which was saying a lot because Crystal’s mom was pretty darn attentive. Or meddlesome. Whatever it was, she did it with love.
After Alaina and Evan left, Crystal went to talk to the friends she’d made on her frequent trips to Ribbon Ridge, Brooke Ellis and Kelsey McDade. They stood near the windows that overlooked the Archers’ expansive backyard. Lights shone on the patio below.
“Shame the pool’s covered,” Crystal said.
“It’s December,” Brooke said wryly. “In Oregon.”
“Actually, it’s January as of a few minutes ago, but your point stands,” Kelsey said.
“True,” Crystal said. “It’s moments like these that I miss my house in Los Feliz.”
Brooke sighed. “I love your house in Los Feliz.”
They’d had a girls’ weekend there a few weekends ago. “You’re welcome any time. Especially in the winter. This is Drearyville.” Though it wasn’t as bad as where she grew up.
Kelsey shook her head. She’d been born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and she loved the gray skies and rain. “You missed the snow last week. It was gorgeous.”
Crystal had to admit she would’ve liked to see that. Her tiny hometown in southern North Carolina didn’t get snow. “Maybe it’ll snow while I’m here this week.”
“Doubtful,” Brooke said. “It doesn’t snow very much, and what we had last week is more than we usually get all winter. Sorry to disappoint.”
“Fine. I guess I’ll just have to spend a weekend at Alaina’s house in Vail.” She winked at the other girls, who often ribbed her about her gold-star lifestyle. As assistant to Alaina Pierce, one of the most famous actresses in the world, Crystal had enough money and cachet to do just about anything or go just about anywhere she wanted.
Brooke groaned while Kelsey rolled her eyes.
Crystal held up a hand. “Hey! I’ve offered to take you both with me.”
“We have jobs,” Kelsey said. “In fact, some of us have two of them.”
Brooke nudged Kelsey with a smile. “Not for much longer. You’ll be full-time at the library in just a couple of weeks.”
Kelsey had opened Ribbon Ridge’s library last summer, and through grants had stretched the budget enough to allow her to work full-time, plus pay the part-time assistant she’d hired a few months back.
“Did you already give notice at the pub?” Crystal asked.
Kelsey had been waiting tables at the Archers’ pub in town for the past couple of years. “Yeah. It was bittersweet. And I’ll still help out in a pinch.”
“I think most of Ribbon Ridge does that,” Crystal said with a smile before sipping her beer.
Brooke nodded. “Although we’re doing our best to steal people to help at the winery from time to time.” Brooke worked with her fiancé, Cameron Westcott, at the winery he owned with his two brothers and the youngest, non-sextuplet Archer, Hayden.
Kelsey finished her champagne. “Speaking of the winery, the archaeology team says they’re going to finish up excavating Bird’s Nest Ranch next week. I’m still hopeful they’ll find something exciting.”
They were all pretty invested in discovering everything they could about the ranch. Their “project” had started when a brick had been unearthed on the property. Etched with the letters BNR and the year 1879, Crystal, Brooke, and Kelsey had worked to find out what BNR stood for: Bird’s Nest Ranch.
It had been built in 1879 by a couple, Hiram and Dorinda Olsen. They didn’t know a lot about the Olsens, just that Hiram had been ill by 1881 and died in August of that year. The farm wasn’t doing well, and sometime after that, Bird’s Nest Ranch had become a brothel.
The archaeologist had determined that the house had burned down around 1902. Dorinda’s death certificate indicated she’d died that same year, but they didn’t know for sure if she’d died in the fire. However she’d died, it seemed a tragic end for someone Crystal and the others had inexplicably grown to care about. She’d been a single woman in a relatively isolated town—they’d been rooting for her.
“I doubt we’ll discover anything that will fill in the blanks of Dorinda’s life,” Crystal said.
So far the team had only found bits of pottery and a brooch, nothing that could tell them anything specific.
Kelsey exhaled. “Probably not. But you’re not giving up. I know you.” Kelsey flashed her a smile. “When are you heading back to the historical society?”
“Day after tomorrow.” Crystal had taken a break from research over the holidays but was eager to get back to it.
Luke Westcott ducked into their circle and dropped a kiss on Kelsey’s cheek. “We’re heading down to play pool for a bit. You good?”
Kelsey nodded as Cameron Westcott also invaded their group to kiss Brooke. Crystal had never felt more like a fifth wheel.
Cam inclined his head toward her. “Hey, Crystal.”
He looked around at the group. “Why don’t you come down? Tori and Sean are playing too.”
Brooke snuggled closer to his side. “Sure.”
“Let’s go,” Kelsey said. She looked to Crystal. “You coming?”
Crystal loved pool. “Absolutely. Be warned: I plan to kick your ass.”
“Are you good?” Kelsey asked. “If so, we should do girls against guys.”
“I have three older brothers, and we had a pool table. I’ll leave it at that.” Crystal chuckled before sipping her beer.
Cam glanced around. “Did Sara leave? Please tell me she left. If she joins you, we’re screwed.”
Brooke’s eyes lit. “Nope, she’s still here. Be right back.” She took off, and Cam groaned.
Crystal grinned. “Things are about to get interesting.”
Ten minutes later, they were downstairs. Luke and Kelsey were racking the balls and everyone else was choosing cues from one of three wall-mounted racks.
“Why is everyone taking from this one?” Crystal asked.
Cam gestured toward the racks that no one was touching. “Those are the Archer cues. They’re personalized to each family member. They had to add a second rack after everyone got married.”
Luke chuckled. “You don’t know the half of it. The Archers take their pool very seriously.” He smirked toward Tori, who grinned.
“It’s true. I can’t deny it,” she said.
Crystal was the last to choose a cue and noticed that one had writing on it. Curious, she took it from the rack and read the Sharpie-penned inscription: sod off you manky pillock. “Someone wrote on this one.”
Everyone turned toward her, and there was a collective groan.
Hackles raised, Crystal blinked at them. “What?”
“You chose The Humiliator,” Sean said, shaking his head. “Bad luck. Especially since Sara isn’t here to help out your team.” It turned out that she and her husband, Dylan, who was Cam and Luke and Jamie’s half-brother, had opted to go home. They had an infant daughter who would be up with the sun.
“What the hell is The Humiliator?” Crystal asked.
“It humiliates the player who wields it,” Tori said with a wince. “Sorry.”
“You should be. What sort of sadist keeps a cue like that lying around?” Crystal glowered at the stick in her hand and frowned. “Why hasn’t this made its way into the fire pit by now?”
“That is a very good question,” Cam said.
Crystal went back to the cues to replace The Humiliator and select another. “No problem, I’ll just pick a different one.”
“No!” Sean and Tori said this in unison, both coming toward her.
Tori shook her head emphatically. “You can’t do that. It’s the rules.”
“Enforced by who? You can’t seriously want me to use this if it’s cursed. Aren’t we on the same team?”
Tori winced again and apologized again. “Archer rules.”
“Nobody here is an Archer,” Crystal said. “Except you, and like I said, it only hurts you if I can’t use another cue.”
by Darcy Burke have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes