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Between You and Me

By:Jennifer Gracen

Between You and Me
Jennifer Gracen

       ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

As always, I am grateful beyond words to the village of magnificent  people that got me to this point. But I'll try to find adequate words.

Never-ending thanks to my editor, the wonderful Esi Sogah. I don't know  how many writers look forward to their editor's feedback, but I always  look forward to yours-like, with glee-knowing you're going to polish my  rough gem into a shining diamond. Working with you is always a pleasure.

Thank you to my agent, Stephany Evans of Ayesha Pande Literary. Your  support and level-headed calm always anchor me and make me feel better  about all things writing-related. Glad to have you in my corner.

Thank you to everyone at Kensington who has been involved with me and my  books-my copy editor, the art department, publicity, marketing-with  specific shout-outs to Jane Nutter, Lauren Jernigan, Norma  Perez-Hernandez, and Ross Plotkin. I really appreciate what you do.

Thanks to my immediate family: my mom, Linda; my dad, Rob; my brother,  Jamie; Natasha, Kyle, Teri, Stevie, and of course my kids. Thank you so  much for everything. That you guys are proud of my writing career is  pretty cool. I love you all very much.

I'm so lucky to have a network of amazing friends. To all of you, both  in person and online, your support, enthusiasm, and kindness helps get  me through the days more than you realize. A million thank yous from the  bottom of my goopy heart.

Thank you hugs to Nika Rhone, my beta reader extraordinaire. Your  insightful feedback combined with your obvious enthusiasm for the story  helped me more than you know.

Special hugs and shout-outs to: my online writing group-slash-pseudo  family: the FB group The Quillies. To have writing friends who get it,  who support and cheer you on, who you can truly trust and be vulnerable  with, is a gift. Plus you're all naughty and make me laugh every day-you  are my people, and I love you. Thank you Jeannie Moon and Patty Blount;  we have each other. Thank you to the FB group Team Gracen!

Most importantly, boundless thanks to my readers. That you take some  time out of your busy lives to read my work means the world to me, and I  am deeply grateful. Thank you for your support and for taking this  amazing ride with me.





Chapter One

Tess Harrison surveyed the festive scene around her. It was Christmas  Day, and over sixty relatives were celebrating at her father's enormous  estate. The mansion, set atop a hill on hundreds of acres beside the  Long Island Sound, was filled with the sights and sounds of a  picturesque holiday gathering. The grand main living room was decorated  elegantly, beautifully, as the staff did every year. No lights-that  would be gauche-but red ribbons, garland, holly, and faux white candles  made the whole ground floor look like something straight out of a  Christmas movie. Bright flames crackled and popped in the enormous stone  fireplace, and the eight-foot-tall tree stood majestically in the  corner. That did have white lights, and decorative ornaments that went  back four generations. Tess suppressed a yawn. She was officially over  the holidays.

She cradled her china cup of eggnog and watched her eldest brother,  Charles, and his wife, Lisette, sit together on one of the longer sofas  as they played with their infant daughter, Charlotte. Tess adored her  newest niece, and had spent a lot of time with her. Bonding with that  baby had wakened things in Tess she hadn't known existed. Now five  months old, the dark-haired cherub squealed as Charles's strong arms  raised Charlotte up, then back down to kiss her sweet face, over and  over, as Lisette smiled brightly at his side. They'd married in May, and  the love they shared was tangible. Tess was so glad for them. But oh,  how she adored that little girl. Every time Charlotte squeaked, she felt  it in her core. Such pure love, such pure joy.

Across from them, Tess's middle brother, Dane, and his wife, Julia, sat  together leisurely and smiled along as they watched too. The baby's  giggles were infectious, and everyone around Charlotte was under her  spell. Tess relaxed against the lush cushions of the armchair and sipped  her drink. She loved all four of Charles's kids deeply; they'd brought  the kind of light to her life that only children could.

She longed for that kind of light in her life, the kind that children brought.                       
       
           



       

Charles's three older children from his first marriage sat huddled in  the far corner of the room, playing hand-held video games with some  other cousins close to their age. The youngest Harrison, Pierce, and his  wife, Abby, were absent, and Tess felt it keenly. But Pierce would  rather die than spend a family holiday with their father, and gladly  went to Abby's family for every major holiday. Tess couldn't fault him  for that, given the tumultuous history, but she still missed her baby  brother.

At least Pierce and Abby had been at Charles's house the night before.  Charles always hosted Christmas Eve, and it had been a lovely gathering.  Only twenty people, only closest family, with the exception of the  Harrison patriarch . . . which was why it was a lovely gathering. No  vitriol, no stress, no walking on eggshells waiting to see who'd fire  the first verbal shot that would kick off a horrible fight. Last night  had been even more special, though, as Pierce and Abby-who'd just been  married in a lavish ceremony in August-shared their surprise news: Abby  was pregnant. They'd only found out a few days before and were bursting  with it. It was a lot sooner than they'd planned, but they were excited  and their joy was palpable. Tess was thrilled for them.

She sipped her eggnog again and gazed at the Christmas tree. The lights  blurred as she zoned out and slipped deeper into her thoughts. More than  anything, she wanted a baby of her own. There was no reason that she  couldn't make it happen. She was thirty-seven, healthy, wealthy . . .  but she lacked a candidate for the father. She had always believed in  love, and been deeply in love twice in her life. The second time, she'd  come close . . . and then had to break her engagement after being  betrayed. In the years since then, she'd hoped to find someone else, but  she knew the truth of it: she didn't trust enough to open her heart  that completely again. She dated perfectly nice men, and some not so  nice . . . none were a father-to-her-future-children candidate.

And over the last few months, spending time with Charlotte had driven it  home more than ever: she wanted children of her own, and time was  ticking away.

By Thanksgiving, she'd decided to take matters into her own hands. She  had the means, so why not? This was one of the times that being born  into a ridiculously wealthy family, along with making her own strong and  vital career, gave her benefits and options that other single mothers  didn't have. And while a part of her wanted to talk about it with her  brothers . . . most of her wanted to keep it to herself until she was  actually pregnant. They'd all have something to say, and for once, she  didn't want to hear it if it was negative. Not from any of them.

"Hey, Tesstastic." Dane's jovial voice interrupted her thoughts. "You  sure Julia and I can't convince you to spend a few days with us in  Cancun?"

Tess smiled but shook her head. "You're both sweet to ask, but I don't  need to be a third wheel during your three-week jaunt in paradise."

"Don't be ridiculous," Dane scoffed. "You're no such thing."

"Colin is coming for the whole second week," Julia pointed out. Her  grown son from her first marriage was a quiet, kind young man. "We won't  be alone. He's not worried about being a third wheel."

"He's twenty-four," Tess reminded them. "He's not worried because he'll  be at the bars and clubs every night trying to pick up women, I'm sure."

"God, I hope so," Julia said. "But it's not a good reason for you not to  come too. Come on, who wants to be in New York in January? It's  miserable. Come down for a week."

"Again, I thank you both," Tess said. "But I . . . have plans of my own. They would overlap."

"You do?" Dane arched a brow. "Why didn't you just say so?"

"I tried, brother dear." A grin tugged at the corners of Tess's lips. "You keep asking anyway. Which is sweet, but . . ."

"I think I smell a deflection tactic," Dane said.

"I think you should leave her be," Charles piped in. Lisette bit down on her lip.                       
       
           



       

"It's so wrong that I want my sister to have some fun?" Dane asked him.

"Of course not," Tess said.

"You just finished months of hard work, pulling off another massively  successful Harrison Foundation Holiday Ball," Dane said to her. "You  need a real vacation. To go somewhere and be pampered. I offered to make  that happen, since you don't do it enough for yourself. Sue me."

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