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When You Are Mine

By:Kennedy Ryan

When You Are Mine
Kennedy Ryan

       Acknowledgments




I could probably fill every page of this book with thanks for so many  people. That is impractical, so I'll narrow it down to just a few, and  hope that I've told everyone else at some point how very grateful I am. I  have to thank my parents. My father for planting a love for words and  excellence in my heart, and even when he was busy, finding ways to water  them. My mother, who passed along a voracious appetite for reading,  always reminded me I was a writer and always whispered destiny to me. To  my first beta readers, my family Shelly and Rukel, who read this piece  by piece, chapter by chapter, and encouraged me to continue when I  assumed it was crap. To my agent, Nikki Terpilowski, for taking a chance  on me. To so many awesome writers I've met so far, but especially to  Kimberly Belle, Sofia Tate, and Katie Oliver, all strong, emerging  voices in this industry I'm pleased as punch to call friends.

To my son, Myles, who, though he speaks very little, has taught me more  than I could have imagined about perseverance and unconditional love  living with autism every day. Your life speaks to me and to so many  others.

And finally, to my best friend, champion, and the absolute love of my  life, my husband, Sam. It has always been you. It will always be you.





Chapter One



All eyes were on him, except the bride's. Walsh hadn't looked at Kerris  Moreton, his best friend's wife-to-be, for weeks. As two hundred wedding  guests waited, Walsh contemplated his glass of champagne and the toast  they expected from the best man.

"I met this scrawny, mean punk of a kid at camp thirteen years ago."  Walsh pieced together his most charming smile around the words. "We  pretty much hated each other on sight."

He paused for a ripple of polite laughter before focusing his attention on his best friend, Cam.

"But by the end of the summer, I had a best friend. I had a brother, and  that's never changed. We've been through a lot together, and you  deserve every happiness. I love you, man."

With a look, Walsh and Cam exchanged years of memories and emotions in a silent moment between them.

And then Walsh did what he had deliberately denied himself all day. He  looked at the bride. Really looked at her, full on, and every word he  had scripted fled his mind. His breath caught up in his throat at her  beauty, illuminated by the kindness and compassion he knew lay beneath  that gorgeous face. His tongue clung to the roof of his mouth for an  extra second before he wrenched himself from drowning in her amber eyes.

Kerris met his stare, her expression not guarded enough to disguise the  fear, the near-panic. He read the question in her eyes as if she had  spoken aloud.

What are you about to say?

"And what a girl you've found," he said, unable to look away from her solemn gaze.

"I saw her before I knew she was the girl you'd been telling me all  about. She was going out of her way to help someone. I knew then that  she was different, and that she deserved a special man."

He raised his glass to toast the bride, swishing champagne and disappointment in his mouth.

He'd wanted to be that man.

* * *



Eighteen Months Earlier



Walsh couldn't stop watching her. She stood too far away for him to see  her face clearly in the dim light, but he suspected it would take his  breath away. She peered up at the bus schedule, speaking with an elderly  woman. Her bright red dress in the almost empty parking lot drew his  eye like a silver lining in a dark cloud.

"Does it say when the B is coming?" The older woman's question carried  across the space separating them, her white hair gleaming in the light  from the street lamp.

"Oh, no. You just missed the last bus." The girl's voice was husky-hot and sweet. Honey burned to a crisp.

"Well, I only live a few blocks away. I'll walk."

"My car's over here. I'll take you."

"No, I couldn't put you out like that." It sounded like only half the  lady's heart was in the protest, and the other half didn't want to walk  in the dark. "You don't even know me."

"I know it's too dark for you to walk the streets alone. I won't sleep tonight wondering if you made it home. Come on."                       
       
           



       

Walsh wished she would turn around so he could see this Good Samaritan's  face, but he only glimpsed a delicate profile and a flower behind her  ear before she marched toward a battered Toyota Camry.

Walsh pushed the incident from his mind, crossing the parking lot and  entering the hotel across the street. He was late, but his mother  wouldn't care. She'd just be glad to have him home.

"Bennett!" a voice boomed as soon as he entered the beautifully  decorated ballroom. "What the hell. I didn't know you were coming  tonight."

"It's called a surprise."

Walsh warded off Cameron Mitchell's playful jabs before hooking an elbow around his neck.

Walsh watched his cousin Joanne approach, walking as fast as she could  in her prized Manolos, weaving through the food-laden tables and  well-dressed people. Her smooth skin glowed with health. The sleek,  chestnut-streaked bob fell around her ears, a glossy frame for her oval  face. Her full lips tilted up at the edges, hinting at the laughter she  usually reserved for her tight circle of friends and family. Jo wedged  herself between Cam and Walsh, throwing an arm over each man's shoulder.  She had been fitting nicely between the two of them since they'd met  Cam at camp thirteen years ago. Walsh had been fourteen and they had  been thirteen. That slim age difference had been about the only thing  separating them ever since.

"You didn't tell us you were coming." Jo nodded at Walsh's jeans and  polo shirt, her gray eyes sparkling, a cheeky grin lighting her face.  "Your mom will be so glad to see you. Even dressed like that."

Walsh gave Jo an affectionate squeeze and kiss, eyeing her brightly  patterned halter dress and Cam's sports jacket and slacks. He was  underdressed.

"She won't mind." Walsh cast a cursory glance around the ballroom. "Is Uncle James here?"

"Daddy?" Jo rolled her eyes, hand on the curve of her slim hip. "He was still at the office when I left, but he'll be here."

"Or Mom will have his head." Walsh shared a knowing look with his cousin.

Uncle James and Walsh's mother were not only siblings, but best friends.  They had always been partners in crime in everything, including running  the family foundation and raising their children.

Walsh spotted his mother working the room, trolling for donors.

"I'll see Unc when he gets here," Walsh said. "Going to go grab Mom now."

Cam laid a hand on Walsh's shoulder, his smile as broad as the Eno  River, which snaked through the small town of Rivermont, North Carolina.

"Okay, but don't forget I want to introduce you to my new girl. She's amazing."

"Can you believe this?" Walsh nodded his head toward Cam, but looked at Jo. "The certified player, wanting one girl?"

"She is pretty amazing." Jo offered a wry smile, bumping Cam's shoulder  with hers. "What's most amazing is that she wasn't running after him  like the swarm of girls he's used to."

"It took me six months to even get a date with this girl." Cam waved his  hand to indicate his olive skin, blue-gray eyes, and dark, wavy hair.  "Me!"

Jo rolled her eyes, shaking her head and setting her gold hoop earrings in motion. "She is something else."

"I'll meet her later." Walsh turned in his mother's direction. "Right  now, I gotta go kiss the most beautiful woman in the room."

He snuck up behind his mother and covered her eyes.

"Who is this?" She starched and pressed the words.

"How many people did you give birth to?"

"Walsh!" She whooped and turned around to hug him as tightly as he had  known she would. Her dark hair was pulled back in an elegant knot,  showing off her smooth, still-unlined skin. "I didn't know you were  coming tonight. Your room isn't even ready."

The ever-practical Southern hospitality. Kristeene Walsh Bennett had  never lost it, even when she'd been married to his father, living among  New York's most elite.

"I'll be fine." Walsh gave her an extra squeeze before pulling away.  "Just as long as there's a bed. Feels like parts of me are scattered  across three time zones. I just want to crash after this."                       
       
           



       

"But you will stay, right?" She rolled a threat and a plea into one tiny  frown. "You have to meet our Scholar of the Year. She's overcome so  much."

"Haven't they all?" Walsh thought of Cam and several of the other foster kids who'd come through the foundation over the years.

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