Pierce Harrison remembered all too well how the hazy humidity in New York could smother a person in the summer. He’d felt sticky almost as soon as he’d exited the air-conditioned terminal at JFK Airport. He hadn’t missed that, the feeling of needing a shower ten seconds after you stepped outside.
Familiar sights assailed him as he looked out the window of the town car he’d hired for the almost hour long drive to his sister’s house. Belt Parkway to Cross Island Parkway to the Long Island Expressway. The farther north and east they got, the greener the landscape beyond the parkway even though it was early September. People drove like road warriors in New York, as bad as in London, if not worse—just on the other side of the road.
He stretched out his long legs in the backseat, and his thoughts wandered to his family, as they had for much of the overseas flight. Of how they’d react to his surprise visit home. To what he’d left behind in London. To how it had been growing up a Harrison.
Most of the time, it sucked. At least, it had for him. No one would have believed it; all others saw was the billion-dollar legacy that four generations of Harrisons had created. The empire they’d built from selling state-of- the-art medical supplies to major hospitals and medical centers around the world, the cushy lifestyle, the mansions on the North Shore of Long Island. All people saw were the extraordinary perks and prestige that money brought. But not the emptiness that could, and had, come with it. Pierce had been bucking at the tethers, trying to get away from the Harrison legacy for most of his life.
And yet, here he was in the backseat of a hired luxury car, crawling along the LIE to surprise his family with the news that he was moving back home. At least, until the scandal back in England died down and he figured out what the hell his next step would be.
He’d played professional football in the Premier League for most of the thirteen years he’d lived abroad. He’d made a damn good life for himself, completely separate from the Harrison name and its ties. And yes, he’d had a lot of fun. Wicked fun, living the good life with lots of drink and lots of women littering his past. But one of the few women he’d ever said no to had been the cause of his undoing. The cause of his newly tarnished career. All because of her vicious lie and bastard of a husband.
He scrubbed his hands over his stubbled jaw and rubbed his eyes. It had been over six weeks now; he
had to somehow let it go. What’s done was done, and carrying the anger was pointless. He’d made his decisions, given his limited choices. Then he’d left England altogether. All he had to do now was figure out what to do with the rest of his life. No big deal.
With a disgruntled sigh, Pierce rested his head back against the leather seat. From behind his sunglasses, he scanned the blurred scenery outside. The unforgiving sun blazed in a hazy blue sky, and tall, lush trees canopied the streets of the North Shore. He checked his watch. Almost eight P.M.? No, that was London time. He set his watch five hours backward to New York time and sipped from his water bottle before popping a piece of gum into his mouth, letting the mint wake him a bit.
Soon the car was going through Kingston Point, the secluded town where he’d grown up. One of the most affluent communities in the entire country, its gorgeous and decadent houses were set back by long driveways and surrounded with trees. Pierce glanced at them with mild distaste. He had loathed this place as a child, with its ultra-snotty residents. Of course, his family was one of the wealthiest in all of Kingston Point—hell, in all of New York State. So many times, as a surly teen, he’d used that fact to tell people to kiss his ass. But in truth, he’d never really felt he belonged there. He’d gotten away as soon as he could.
Heading toward the water, Pierce relaxed a little. The sight of the Long Island Sound had always been a comfort and a pleasure. That the Harrison estate had been built directly on the Sound was one of the only things he’d loved about being there. His bedroom window on the third floor had faced the water, and he’d spent endless hours staring out at it, daydreaming.
“Turn here, sir?” the driver asked politely, slowing in front of a driveway with the sign next to it: PRIVATE PROPERTY: NO TRESPASSING.
“Yeah, this is it,” Pierce sighed. “Go ahead. The driveway’s about a quarter of a mile through the trees, but then it opens up to the property.”
The driver edged up the dirt road and along the seemingly endless driveway.
“You won’t be able to miss the mansion,” Pierce said, “but that’s not where you’re taking me. A little farther along is a smaller guesthouse. That’s where I’m going.”
“No problem, sir.”
Pierce sat back again and stared out the windows. Home again. He scowled. When he’d left Long Island immediately after graduating high school, he’d gone as far as he could, and where the real soccer action was: out of the United States. He’d headed for England first, since at least he spoke the language, figuring he’d try there before going to Europe. He was lucky. After a few tryouts, he’d gotten onto a decent second-tier football team, and the rest was history.
The day he escaped Long Island, he’d sworn he’d never come back. Yet here he was, practically with his tail between his legs. Damn.
There it was, the whole lavish compound, a ridiculous amount of land for one family to call home. The mansion was set back on the ornately landscaped Harrison estate, where he had been raised with his three siblings. He’d never been close with his two older brothers. Part of it was the age gap—Charles III was eight and a half years older than him, and Dane more than six. Pierce had always known they saw their much younger brother as a nuisance to be tolerated. Tess, the only girl, his sweet sister whom he adored, was only four years older than him, and had always, always been there for him. She was the only Harrison Pierce truly felt any kinship with.
His parents? A joke. His self-absorbed, wayward mother had left to travel the world when he was six years old, after their father threw her out. And his father . . . Pierce’s tumultuous relationship with Charles Roger Harrison II wasn’t a secret. Some of their nastier fights had been the stuff of family legend.
He swallowed hard, both amazed and infuriated at how the very thought of his clan still could reduce him to feeling like an unwanted, frustrated child. He reminded himself he was thirty-one now, not a kid, but a grown man. A strong, successful man, one with some power of his own. Power that had nothing to do with the Harrison name, legacy, or funds—just his own skills and talent with a soccer ball.
But God bless his sister. Tess always welcomed him back with open arms, no matter what he did. He was grateful for that unconditional love and acceptance, now more than ever. The car came to a stop in front of the guesthouse that no longer housed guests, but Tess herself since she broke off her engagement three years ago.
Pierce helped the driver take his duffel bag and two suitcases out of the trunk, tipped him generously, and then watched as he drove away. Tess’s car was in the driveway. Taking a deep, calming breath, he rang his sister’s doorbell.
“Pierce!” Tess threw herself into her younger brother’s arms with a yelp of astonished joy. “Oh my
God, what are you doing here? What a fabulous surprise!”
Her long mane of dark curls tickled his forearms as he returned her warm embrace and kissed the top of her head. “Hey, Tessie.” She pulled back and gave him a quick once-over.
“It’s so good to see you.”
“Good to see you, too.” In fact, he hadn’t been so glad to see anyone in a long time. Affection flowed through him as sweet as honey, and he couldn’t keep his smile from spreading. “You have no idea.”
As if suddenly remembering, her smile turned down and her brows puckered. “Yeah . . . you’ve had a hell of a few weeks, huh.”
His smile faded. “The worst,” he murmured. He gestured toward the luggage on the ground behind him, then slid her a sheepish glance. “I, uh . . . I know I should’ve called first, but can I stay with you for a while?”
“As long as you want,” Tess said without pause. She reached up and held his scruffy face with both hands. “I’m always here for you. You’re good here. On safe ground. Okay?”
His chest tightened and a muscle jumped in his jaw. “Thanks,” he whispered gruffly before pulling his sister into another hug.
“Aww, honey.” Tess rubbed his back, soothing him. He closed his eyes, drinking in the comfort. He’d needed this more than he’d realized. It felt so damn good to know someone truly cared about him, and about what he’d been through recently. Tess might be the only one on the planet who did. They each took two bags and went into her house. Within seconds, the sound of tiny footsteps and staccato barking were heard as Tess’s white Maltese burst into the room. With happy yelps, she headed right for Pierce, spinning and dancing in little circles at his feet.
“Oh, are you happy to see him!” Tess said to her dog in a singsong voice.
“Heeey, Bubbles!” He crouched down to lift the eight-pound dog into his arms. She yipped and wiggled happily. “Hi, girl. How ya been? You’re good? Yeah, you’re a good girl,” he cooed as he stroked her soft fur. After a minute of this, he released the dog carefully onto the hardwood floor and rose to stand again.
“She missed you,” Tess told him.
“She always loved me,” Pierce said with pretend swagger.
“I never saw a woman who hasn’t,” Tess cracked.
Pierce snorted as the grin faded from his face. “I met one recently who didn’t. . . .”
“Jesus, I’m sorry.” Tess shook her head at herself. “I didn’t mean to—”
“Of course you didn’t, stop it.” Pierce scrubbed a hand restlessly over his face and sighed.
“So take your things up to whichever room you want and settle in,” Tess instructed. “Take a shower if you want, unpack a little, but we’re leaving in half an hour.”
“Yup. Your timing is incredible. Big family get together up at the main house at four o’clock.” She pointed a finger at him as soon as he opened his mouth to speak. “Don’t even try to say you’re not going. I’m insisting.”
Pierce scowled. “Seriously? I haven’t even been back here for ten minutes and you’re making me put in an appearance at the palace? This sucks.”
“Think of it as getting it over with,” Tess cracked.
“Dane requested a family gathering. He’s been away for a few weeks and asked us all to meet there for dinner.”
“Command performance?” Pierce bent to lift two of his overstuffed duffel bags.
“It’s a little odd, I’ll grant you that,” Tess said. “He hasn’t been away on business, he’s been on vacation. He took Julia on a cruise of the Greek islands. It was supposed to be for two weeks, but they stayed for three. They just got back the day before yesterday.”
Pierce knew that his brother Dane, who had never committed to a woman in his life, had fallen head over heels in love with Julia Shay, the singer at one of his swanky Manhattan hotels. “He’s still with her?”
“It’s been a year now,” Tess marveled.
“Wow. Maybe they got engaged or something.”
“That’s exactly what I was thinking. I hope we’re right. She’s lovely,” Tess said, smiling. “And she’s good for him. I’ve never seen him so happy.”
“Must be, if he’s been with the same woman for more than a few weeks.” Pierce headed for the stairs that led to the three guest rooms on the second floor. In a pretend snooty voice, he said, “The blue room all right with you?”
He made it halfway up the stairs when Tess asked him, “Pierce? Just curious. How long do you think you’ll be staying?”
He turned back to look at her. Tess’s bright blue eyes, exactly like his and his brothers’, stared at him with barely concealed worry. He knew she was concerned for him, and felt bad about that. Rubbing the back of his neck, he said quietly, “I’m not sure, Tessie. I, uh . . . I need to regroup. Thought maybe I’d do that here for a while. Sure that’s okay?”
“Of course it is,” she said. “You stay as long as you want. I mean it.”
“But you’re coming with me to this family dinner. They’ll all be shocked and glad to see you. So get it in gear, Soccer Boy.”
He grinned at the nickname she’d called him since childhood. The relief and comfort he felt just being in her presence was almost overwhelming. “Fiiiine. Anything for you. Jumping in the shower, give me twenty