"Oh, ouch. " Caroline rapped a fist against her forehead. "I'm such a moron. Brilliant author-bookseller relations. "

"Don't worry about it," Sam told her. He would. "Let's get you settled at the hotel. I think you're going to like your suite. "

An hour later, Sam braved the sting of hellfire and walked into Cafe Book.

"Upstairs," Lulu called out as she busily rang up sales. "And she's on a tear. "

He found her giving instructions to the part-time clerk at the auxiliary checkout counter. She didn't look like a woman on a tear, he thought, but like a coolly efficient business owner taking care of details. But then, Lulu knew her all too well.

She moved away to replenish stock that customers had already taken from her area display. "Is our VIP

settling in?"

"Yes, she's changing. I'm going back shortly to take her to lunch. "

"I hope our little signing doesn't interfere too much with the social aspects of your reunion. "

"Can we take this somewhere a little more private?"

"I'm afraid not. " She turned, beaming a professional smile as a woman took another book off the display. "Be sure to fill out the form for our prize drawings. We'll be pulling names throughout the event,"

she told the woman. "As you can see," she said to Sam, "I'm too busy dealing with my pesky event in my little hole-in-the-wall to chat with you. "

"She didn't mean to insult you, Mia. "

"Not to my face, in any case. There's no need for you to explain your friend to me. On any level. "

"I was going to suggest you join us for lunch. " He didn't flinch at the long, slow stare she aimed at him.

"Give her a chance to smooth over the awkward first impression. "

"Not only would it take more than lunch to manage that, but I don't have the time or the inclination. And I certainly don't intend to be part of any little menage a trois, however civilized. "

Okay, he thought. First things first. "Caroline and I haven't been involved in that way for a long time. And I don't appreciate having to explain something like that in the middle of the damn store. "

She nudged him aside so that she could speak to a group of tourists who were currently goggling. "Good morning. I hope you'll be staying for our event this afternoon. " She picked up a book to show them.

"Miss Trump will be here to discuss and sign her latest. "

By the time she finished her pitch and had the customers browsing the paperback display, he was gone.

"Dud, my butt," Mia murmured.

"I'm going to be so charming she's going to forget I ever had my foot in my mouth. "

"Stop obsessing, Caroline. "

"I can't. " She poked at her Cobb salad. "And it'll hurt my feelings if you've forgotten that about me. Obsession is like breathing for me. I'm going to win her over before I'm finished. You'll see. "

"Eat your lunch. "

"I'm nervous. She made me nervous. God, Sam! I couldn't stop babbling. "

"You always babble. " He nudged the coffee aside, nudged up her salad bowl.

"No, I chatter. Babbling's different. She's the one, isn't she?"

"The one what?"

"The one you were always hung up on. " With her head angled to the side, Caroline studied him. "I always knew there was the one , even when we were together. "

"Yes, she's the one. How's Mike doing?"

"Ah. " She wiggled her fingers so she could see the glint of her wedding ring. It was still new. And though it was the second she'd worn, she was determined that this one would stick. "He's great. Misses me when I'm on tour - which is good for my ego. I'm going to have to bring him back here for a vacation. It's wonderful. And," she added, "you changed the subject to distract me. You don't want to talk about Mia Devlin. "

"You look wonderful, Caroline. Happy, successful. I really enjoyed your new book. "

"Okay, we won't talk about her. You're really not coming back to New York?"

"No, I'm not coming back. "

"Well. " She glanced around the dining room. "You've got a hell of a place here. "

She studied the portrait of the three women, turned a questioning glance at Sam. But when he simply continued to eat, she tossed her napkin on the table. "I've got to get over there and make her love me or I'm not going to be able to settle down. "

"I don't believe I've ever seen you settled down. " But he rose, signaled to the waiter. "You've got time for a little walk around the village. "

"No, let's just do it. I'll go over to sign stock now and look around later. "

He led her through the lobby and out onto the sidewalk.

"Terrific building," she said, scanning Cafe Book. She squared her shoulders, sucked in a breath.

"Okay, let's do it. "

"She's not going to claw you, Caroline. " He waited for a break in the traffic, guided her across the street. "She wants this event to be successful as much as you do. "

"Brother, you don't know females. " Caroline stepped inside, blinked. "Wow! What a place! Dream bookstore. And I'm everywhere. Jesus, Sam, it's packed. I can't believe I called this place rinky-dink. "

"You didn't. Your term was 'hole-in-the-wall. ' "

"Right. Right. Did I mention I was a moron?"

"Yes, I think you did. Lulu, this is Caroline Trump. "

"Glad to have you. " Lulu bagged up a sale, stuck out her hand. "I've been ringing up your books like they were going out of style. I read the new one last week. It had a good punch. "

"Thanks. I love the store. " She turned in a circle. "I want to live here. Oh! Look at those candles. Sam, I need ten minutes. "

When she dashed off, he leaned back, watching fondly as she whipped through the aisles. It took fifteen minutes, but he managed to head her upstairs.

"Well, you made Lulu like you," he commented.


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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