CHILD OF MINE
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “A romcom set in BOSTON in the 80s?? Yes please!” NYT bestselling author Erin Nicholas
a nostalgic romantic comedy
BOSTON CLASSICS #4
The bigger the secret, the harder it is to hide.
Single mom Isabella York was a celebrity before she had her first kiss, her first date, or her first sip of alcohol. Playing the bad girl—both on and off the set—allowed her to make up for lost time. Back home in Boston, with her “checkered past” behind her, all she wants is to raise her little girl far away from the spotlight, because revealing her secrets could mean losing everything, or gaining more than she’d ever hoped.
For her, and her daughter.
It’s not that Henry Smith hates kids—they don’t like him. Meanwhile, he’s stuck producing children’s TV, so he’ll try to tone down the grumpiness that’s dogged him since his life imploded seven years ago. After all, not everyone gets a second chance to chase his dream. If he plays his cards right at this new gig, he can move on to making television that will change the world, not just entertain a bunch of brats.
Maybe he can charm the woman he never thought he’d see again into a do-over while he’s at it.
In this sexy, heartwarming, not-quite-historical romance—the latest Boston Classics standalone romcom—a sunshine/grumpy pair has to face the past to before they can find a future… together.
Content guidance for this book can be found at http://bit.ly/ContentGuidanceKarenGrey
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “5 ’80s loving’ stars for this fourth installment of Karen’s Boston Classics!!”
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “The perfect continuation of a series I hope lasts forever… serious, sweet, saucy, and sexy, sexy, sexy all rolled into one.”
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “If you are a fan of a nostalgic 80s romance with a hot grumpy yet caring man, a determined strong single mama, a sweet and smart little girl (secret baby!), the perfect touch of steam, forced proximity, a little bit forbidden workplace romance, catching up with some favorite past characters, some dark issues, and a swoon-worthy heartfelt HEA, then you will absolutely adore this book.”
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Delivers every single one of her characters with so much care and love and you can feel that as you turn the pages.”
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “The emotions–the feelings her characters are going through–rock your world.”
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Grey has a way with words that instantly sucks you in and keeps you eagerly turning the pages till the very last word.”
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Second chances, undeniable attraction, well-written characters, the ugly and unforgiving side of fame and success, and love that spans time and space.”
“SERIAL UPDATES: Actress Isabelle York had a nice run on As the Earth Revolves. In fact, she found herself to be quite popular as the incorrigible villainess Quinn Carter. She won’t say why she’s leaving the show, just that she looks forward to some projects she’s keeping under her hat for now. She did confess to me that “If I couldn’t act, I couldn’t live!” We wish her well in her promising future…” Daytime TV News, November 1982
I’ve put off cleaning out this dressing room for a couple of reasons. One, it’s been my home away from home for the past nine years. Two, I’m kind of afraid of what I’ll find.
I’m not worried about dust bunnies or mildewed makeup sponges lurking in the corners—the TV network’s cleaning staff is too thorough to leave anything like that behind. It’s the tokens of past selves that might be tucked beneath fan mail in drawers, between shoeboxes on the shelves, or behind the boxes of wigs. My villainous character Quinn donned a variety of disguises when she snuck around trying to poison, kidnap, entrap, or you-name-it other characters in the soap-opera town of Elmwood.
Surprisingly, though, the process is somewhat therapeutic. When I come across an old marketing photo from my days on the kids’ show Boom, it’s hard to believe the girl in the photo is me. Izzy, the name I went by back then, was thirteen when she wowed the cameras on Boom’s very first season and had girls across the country working on their back walkovers.
She—that is, me—was an innocent. A free spirit. Fun.
All things this twenty-three-year-old hasn’t felt for a long time.
My public persona, Isabelle York, may be wrapping up a successful soap opera career with what my agent calls good prospects for a leap to prime-time TV, but my heart is as selfish and self-destructive as Quinn Carter’s. Being in the public eye during one’s formative years will do that to a girl.
I consider hanging onto the Izzy memento for about three seconds before balling it up and tossing it into the garbage. Angry letters to Quinn I thought were funny when I first got them go in there, too. I’m ready to trash both identities because neither has served me terribly well. Izzy—too optimistic. Quinn—too hedonistic.
“Isabelle” is the name on my résumé, but the name I adopted last year feels more me. Initially, I used it to keep my presence in rehab a secret, but since my return to the real world a few months ago, I’ve been wondering if “Bella” is the name I could be a grown-up with. I’ve been a party girl since I was fifteen, even while working full- time. Maybe it’s time to be responsible. Reliable.
The voice in my head that cuts off my own thoughts? That’s Quinn talking. I guess she’s not quite ready to be packed away with all these pretty clothes.
As I drag a hand over the rack of outfits sheathed in plastic, I have to admit that I’ll miss network-funded shopping trips to the private room at Saks Fifth Avenue, but maybe the next job will offer me something even more glamorous. Before I gear up for pilot season in LA, though, I have amends to make. My mom is at the top of the list, so I’ve promised to spend the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s helping her at the family bookstore. Away from the prying eyes of the gossip rags, I certainly won’t need heels and sequins.
Once I’ve dragged the bags of trash out to the hallway, I take a quick shower, do my hair and makeup—all by myself for a change— and don a simple green dress. Long-sleeved, but with a flattering neckline and a stretchy fabric that hugs minimal curves.
Daytime TV News blast: “Isabelle York is still too skinny! Give that girl a milkshake.”
Thinking how refreshing it’ll be to have a break from the constant attention from the gossip pages, I take a last scan of the room, tuck my bag away, and gear up to make an appearance at the network’s annual anniversary party. It not only kicks off the holiday season, it’s the only time we actors have access to the writers. Get one drunk enough and she’ll reveal upcoming character twists. Or be susceptible to a suggestion or two. I’m pretty sure that’s how Quinn ended up switching the paternity test results of her baby’s with her sister’s.
The fallout of that escapade was a lot more fun than I’d like to admit.
However, playing a villain is one thing. Acting the villain in real life—well, I’m lucky I made it out alive. With that little reminder, I lock my past and the door behind me.
What I’m still not quite ready for? Getting through a work party without a drink. Or a pill. Or a line. I’ve only been back from rehab for a few months, after all. But I’m an actress. Maybe I’ll pretend to be drunk. Or maybe I’ll play the role of a confident young woman ready for the next chapter in her life. Pull up some of that Izzy energy, that girl the camera loved enough to rocket her from after‐ school-kid-show phenom to soap opera stardom.
Life’s an adventure is what long-lost Izzy would say. Life’s a bitch and then you die would be Quinn’s line. Whatever you want to call it—an adventure or a bitch—it’s all a game. As I stride into the sea of humanity that is a major network shebang, I channel both Izzy’s goodwill and Quinn’s nerve. I’m leaving chin high, no tail between my legs. They didn’t fire me. I’m just ready for something new.
Nodding and smiling, dodging the waiters and their trays of champagne, I make it through exactly seven and a half meaningless conversations. After squelching the memory of my first unchaper‐ oned network party at age sixteen—of being handed cocktails and getting just drunk enough to make it something I wanted to do again —I decide I deserve a break.
Instead of fighting my way back through the overheated room, I head for the little hidden balcony where I can literally chill out for a few minutes. But after I slip through the door—a No Exit sign has never been a barrier for a rule breaker like me—I have to stifle a gasp of surprise. Someone else has found my escape hatch, and he’s using it to do what looks like an extremely silly victory dance.
I know this party isn’t for me, but it sure feels like it.
Who’d’ve thought a Carolina boy with a state-school degree
could beat out not one, not two, but three other guys—all of whom have Park Avenue parents and Ivy League educations—for the highly coveted spot of assistant producer on the hottest investigative news program in the biggest of the big apples?
Not an assistant to a producer, mind you. That I’ve slogged away at for the past half of a year. That was several steps up from my first job as a page. Now, I’ll be running down my own stories. And before you know it, I’ll be producing my own segments.
Creating my own shows.
Running my own damn network.
Right now, though? I’m about to burst. I’ve nodded and smiled and accepted congratulations from so many people I need to take a run around the block. I also need to call home and tell my parents about the promotion. My dad never understood why I’d want to leave a perfectly good city like Raleigh, why I didn’t join the family landscaping empire like my siblings have. I can’t wait to tell him that despite his lack of faith, despite his opinion that—how did he put it?
You’re just spinning your wheels up there, wasting time and money.
Before I tell him just how wrong he was, I need a moment to myself to sit with the news, and I know just the spot. There’s a hidden balcony off this ballroom where I’ve escaped multiple times over the past two years. I swear the architect added it as a joke. Tucked between a stairwell and a garbage chute lies a gem of a spot with a view any exec would die for.
After dropping off a half-finished glass of bubbly on a server’s tray, I slip out the secret door. With all of New York spread out in front of me, I can’t help it. Fist in the air, I let out a “Yes!” and kick up my heels like I just ran the length of the football field to score a touchdown, dodging the other team’s defense the entire way.
Life is just too good not to celebrate.
I really should go back inside, say a few goodbyes, and finally get out of this place. The fact that someone else has found my sanctuary is probably a sign that I really am done here. Instead, I’m spellbound watching this nut dance.
I could join him, throw my body around in that goofy, herky- jerky way too. But I’m always afraid now. Afraid of losing hard-won control. Afraid of calling attention to myself and having whatever embarrassing thing I’ve done spread across the pages of Soap Chat or TV Tattler.
Will I ever be able to let go of these fears? Will moving on to prime-time TV or movies just make it worse?
“Hey! Look at that! A beautiful woman on my secret balcony!”
His drawl is charming, but he’s obviously been drinking, so I give him a polite wave and beat it for the door.
“Nooo. No, don’t leave. I just—agh!”
His entreaty is cut off by a thud behind me. Just keep going, I tell myself.
But he’s so sexy, Quinn’s voice sighs. And what if he fell off the roof? Wouldn’t you feel terrible?
Quinn can be a master manipulator, so I probably shouldn’t turn around. But I do, just to make sure he’s okay.
After brushing off the seat of his pants, his grin is sheepish. “Oops.”
I’d kiss that mug, Quinn says.
Squashing that dangerous thought, I keep my voice politely distant. “Are you okay? Can I get you some help?”
Hands on his hips, he just grins. “Nah, I’m fine. My buddies inside poured me a few shots and I came out here to escape and”—he sweeps an arm through the air—“can you believe this view? It’s like I’m in my own movie. I just got the job of my dreams, and New York before the holidays is like a fairy land and—Hey! Dance with me!”
With Quinn shouting Hell yeah in my ear, I have to make myself take a step back. “I’m good, thanks.”
Despite my tone and the frown I’m wearing to match it, he takes another step closer. When the light falls across the planes of his face, I’m treated to quite a view, like somebody mixed Kurt Russell with Leif Garrett and served up a perfect blend of both. High cheekbones and a strong jaw delineated by an amber-tinted beard, hair that curls over his temple in an effortlessly sexy way, and eyes that match them both. Desire flares for an instant, but then his expression shifts from delight to recognition.
Shit. He’s a fan. Alone with a Quinn admirer on a hidden balcony? Not good.
“Oh. My. God,” he whispers.
The reverence in his voice has me stepping back faster, right into a large planter. Brushing branches out of my way, I step to the side to get around it, but he grabs my hand. When I snatch it away from him, his go up in surrender. “I’m sorry. I just can’t believe it. You’re Izzy.”
My childhood nickname on his lips stirs to life the girl who wouldn’t hesitate to dance on a rooftop in the moonlight.
“You were my first crush. Ever.” When he takes a step back and raises a single brow, the smile that takes over his face could talk me into anything. “Dance with me?”
I don’t remember saying yes or no. He holds out a hand, I float into his arms, and we’re dancing. Waltzing. I can practically hear a Viennese orchestra. Adding to the magic of the moment: I’ve never been held like this. Respectfully. Gentlemanly. No grabbing or grop‐ ing. Sure contact at my waist and a gentle palm guiding me through the small space.
It’s sexy as hell.
Before I can say a word, he stops, steps back, and bows. Like it’s 1782 instead of 1982. When he meets my gaze, his eyes are clear. “Thank you. For a perfect end to a perfect day.
I just stand there, muted by surprise. He’s almost to the door by the time I manage a “Wait!”
And then Quinn takes over. “Wanna fool around, big guy?”
Hey, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I nod and let this gorgeous wisp of a woman grab my hand—hers small in mine but surprisingly strong—and tug me toward a door I hadn’t noticed before.
“Where are you taking me?”
Her eyebrows waggle, making her more Goldie Hawn than Cheryl Tiegs for a moment. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” She presses a finger to my lips, setting off an electric buzz that zings directly south.
You’d think six months as a page giving tours of this iconic New York building would mean that I knew all her secrets, but Izzy—I still can’t believe that it’s her, the girl that literally gave me my first wet dream—leads me through hallways I didn’t know existed. We’re sparingly lit by the bare bulbs, so our shadows are long on the stained concrete. “How did you know about this back route?”
She slips me a secret smile. “I’ve worked here a long time.”
“Right out of school, huh?” If she’s my age, a long time can only be a couple years.
“Pretty much.” Her eyes shutter briefly, but she grips my hand more firmly. “Almost there.”
A metal door leads us to a loading bay, which opens into the scene shop. Now I know where we are. She picks up the pace as we cross the enormous space. When we reach the other side, she bites her lip and tries a door that I know leads to the costume shop. “Damn. I thought maybe we could cut through. We’ll have to go another way.”
“If you tell me where we’re headed, maybe I can help. I used to be a page.”
“You were?” She narrows her eyes at me. “I never saw you.” “Where do you work, anyway?”
“Never mind.” Tugging on my hand again, she pulls me toward
the door that leads back into the public realm. In the small reception area outside the shops, we run into a security guard. He flicks a ques‐ tioning gaze at me. “Everything all right, miss?”
The smile she flashes the older man is respectful but familiar. “All good, Charlie. I’m just picking up a couple things.”
He purses his lips as he gives me another assessing look. “You take care of yourself, sweetheart.”
He doesn’t say a word as she marches through the doorway to the dressing rooms—forbidden territory for tours. There’s a dummy dressing room that we’d show off, but I’ve never seen the real ones. Stars need their privacy.
“Are you on a show here?” I’m in the news division, and I rarely watch the other daytime or primetime fare the station churns out.
Her step falters, but she responds with a “Pfft. Just because I was on Boom for a season? Nah, I’m a—Hang on.” She opens the door to an office and reaches under the cushion of a chair. “People are crea‐ tures of habit. This is where Nancy always hides her… Ah, got ’em.” She holds up a ring heavy with keys. “For a script supervisor who’s supposed to be on top of all the details, she’s super lax.”
“Are we breaking and entering?”
“It’s not breaking and entering if you have the key, is it?” Moments later, she’s unlocking a dressing room door that, unlike
the others we passed, isn’t labelled with an actor’s name. She flicks on a lamp instead of the overhead lights, tosses the keys on the counter, pulls me all the way inside, reaches around me to lock the deadbolt, and then crowds me up against the door until there’s nothing between us but fabric.
“You are something,” I say with what little air is left in my lungs, her touch amplifying the feeling that anything is possible.
“Shhh.” When she presses her index finger to my lips, I can only lean in to her touch. “I happen to know that this actress is leaving,” she whispers with a conspiratorial grin. “She’s all packed up and out of here, so let’s take advantage of that. As much advantage as humanly possible.”
This day just keeps getting better.
Just once, just once let me have my way with a guy in real life, Quinn whispers.
At least, I think it’s her. Something about this guy has resuscitated parts of me that I thought my drug-filled days and nights buried six feet under. But I’m aware of every inch of my skin, of heat building in my core, of the need to be touched. Simply being held by—“Wait. What’s your name?”
He grins. “I wondered if you were ever going to ask. Hal. Hal—”
I stop his lips with mine before pulling back to say, “Let’s just keep it to first names.”
He frowns, so I add a brow waggle. “More fun that way.”
That’s what I want—no deserve—right now. Pure fun. Simple desire. To enjoy the physical pleasures of sex while completely sober.
Which would be a first, Quinn notes.
Banishing that thought—and all thought for that matter—I unbutton his coat and press my breasts against hard pecs. Strong hands glide down my back. When they stop inches above my ass, I grind my hips into his.
Before he can ask or say anything that might break this spell, I cover his mouth with mine again. This time, slightly chapped lips open to give me room to roam. Tug. Devour. Then, finally, he gives as good as he gets.
When he breaks the kiss, panting, his light brown irises are almost entirely eclipsed by black-as-night pupils. Grasping both sides of his face, I whisper, “I want more of… whatever that was on the roof. Just touch me how you touched me when we were dancing. But with our clothes off. Can we just do that? No talking?”
I give him a few seconds before taking his silence as permission, then shove the sport coat off broad shoulders. He wriggles out of it while I unbutton his shirt, but before I get to the bottom, he stops my shaking fingers.
“Wait, how old are you?”
I can’t help but roll my eyes. “I’m in my twenties.”
“Oh, same as me.” Thankfully, he finishes taking off the dress
shirt. “I guess since I saw you on Boom, I think of you as younger…” “I’m getting older by the minute, mister.” After pointing at the undershirt and pants he’s still wearing, I lower the side zipper of my dress and ease my arms out of its sleeves. “One request, though. Don’t talk about this. To anyone, ever. Okay? If you do, I will find you and… do something bad to you.”
Saluting me, he grins before taking off his T-shirt. “I never kiss and tell.”
“I want more than kissing,” I say as I shimmy the clingy fabric down my torso and past my hips. “But absolutely no telling.”
He stares wordlessly at the skimpy bits of lace covering my non- existent butt and boobs. Not sure what he thinks of what he sees, but I’m loving my own view. I’ve been up close and personal with the naked chests of some of the hottest young studs of daytime TV, but this one beats them all. Golden skin with a dusting of tawny curls. Tight pecs and ridged abs. My fingers ache to appreciate the contrast of soft skin and hard muscle, but he stops them mid-reach. “I would like to get to know you a little before going further, if that’s okay.”
I shake my head. “You know the best version of me: that girl you watched on TV every weekday afternoon. My body may have changed since I was thirteen, and I may have learned a few tricks since then, but believe me, the rest of me isn’t worth getting to know.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
“Believe me, it is.” When both your parents leave you in the lurch before you turn sixteen, you know better than to believe in fairy tales.
His grip on my shoulders is firm, but his eyes still carry uncer‐ tainty. “I just want you to be comfortable.”
Turning in his arms, I capture his hands to press one over a breast, the other atop the lace barely covering my heated center. Leaning back, arching my neck so that I can nip at his jaw, I whisper, “I just want you to blow my mind.”
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