Lily Everett

Lantern Lake

A Billionaire Bachelors novella, #3 in the series
January 2014

They’re single, they’re rich, and now these billionaire bachelors are heading to Sanctuary Island in a new e-original novella series from Lily Everett! Fall in love with the heartwarming island’s latest catch.

When friends Leo, Zane and Cooper travel to Sanctuary Island for the wedding of fellow billionaire Miles Harrington, they’re certain their friend is making the biggest mistake of his life. Having vowed to remain perpetual bachelors, they’re certain they can bring Miles to his senses before he throws away his freedom forever. But Miles makes them a bet: if they come to Sanctuary Island to spend some time and help out with the wedding, they’ll change their tune about love before he says “I do.” Because Miles knows, better than anyone, that all it takes is a little Sanctuary Island magic to turn the biggest romantic cynic into a true believer. Now three billionaire bachelors are about to discover that sometimes you have to let go of the life you planned in order to embrace the life of your dreams…

In Lantern Lake, Cooper Haynes can’t believe how easily his friends have all succumbed to the lure of romance. Luckily, he knows he’s safe, since the one woman he ever loved is lost to him forever. But when he gets a look at the wedding program and sees the list of bridesmaids, Cooper knows he’s in trouble, because there she is: Vivian Banks. After her shattering break-up with Cooper, Vivian never wanted to see him again, but when Greta asks her to be a bridesmaid, Vivian can’t refuse…even knowing it’ll bring her face to face with the man who broke her heart and stomped on the pieces. But Sanctuary Island has a way of reminding people of what really matters, and teaching them the power of the human heart to forgive, heal, and fall in love all over again.

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Excerpt

For the first time in a long time, Cooper Hayes felt his itchy, wandering feet grow heavy and immovable. He was anchored to the yacht club’s weathered hardwood floor, the weight of past and present colliding to root him to the spot.

She was here. Against all odds and decency, the woman who broke his heart ten years ago was a bridesmaid in the same wedding Cooper was standing up in.

The groomsman on Cooper’s right, his friend Zane Bishop, muttered out of the corner of his mouth, “Dude. Isn’t that—?”

“Vivian Banks,” Cooper confirmed. The feel of the name in his mouth was like chocolate—sweet, dark and bitter. Something he’d loved when he was a kid…before he became allergic to it on a trip to the Ivory Coast.

“What the hell is she doing here?” The outrage in Zane’s hissed whisper made Cooper feel better.

Despite the fact that he’d been asking himself the same question, Cooper shrugged minutely. “She and Miles go way back. Family friends. Guess she and Greta got close.”

Cooper ground down the need to walk out on the whole damn thing. Miles couldn’t have realized what he’d done.

Despite the man’s ruthless willingness to do whatever it took to win their bet, he’d been a good friend to Cooper for a long time. Eleven years, in fact, and he’d stuck by Cooper when other people had given up on him.

People like Vivian Banks, for example.

So Cooper gritted his teeth through the ceremony, the love songs and poetry and vows of eternal devotion no more than static in his ears. He got through the whole thing cloaked in a cloud of anger and hurt—the kind of pain that didn’t fade over time—until the crowd of guests erupted into loud cheers and applause.

Startled, Cooper looked up to see Miles and Greta locked into their first kiss as husband and wife. That was the cue to the rest of the wedding party to start the recessional back up the blue-carpeted aisle. And that was the moment when Cooper realized exactly which bridesmaid he’d be escorting.

Without meaning to, he locked eyes with Vivian on the other side of the flowers and shimmery-fabric-draped altar. She’d missed the rehearsal the night before, but she seemed to know what to do. She stepped forward, her lovely, unforgettable features set in a blank mask of pleasantness.

And Cooper stalled out.

His feet—usually so ready to move, to carry him forward on whatever adventure beckoned—remained planted under him. All he could do was stare at her.

The woman staring back at him with dawning panic behind her indigo eyes looked almost the same as the girl who’d ground her designer heel into Cooper’s heart a decade ago. The same wavy black hair, same porcelain skin that showed the stain of a blush so well, same perfect bow-shaped lips. But her eyes…

Still the same rich blue, so dark they were almost purple, but instead of the carefree laughter and mischief he remembered, this woman’s eyes were shadowed with loss…and an echo of the pain Cooper carried like an extra weight in his trusty shoulder pack.

Stomping down his instinctive reaction, which was to find out who’d made Vivian hurt and make them hurt worse, Cooper shook his head at himself. She was probably just embarrassed that he’d left her hanging for thirty seconds, standing alone at the front of the congregation waiting for him to escort her up the aisle.

Cooper stepped forward, refusing to rush or show any discomfort with the situation. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He had nothing to be ashamed of.

When he was close enough, he offered her his arm. Cooper willed her to meet his eyes, silently daring her to look him in the face after what she’d done to him, but she didn’t. Instead, she ducked her head slightly in a gesture he could never remember seeing before, and let her hand settle gently on his arm. The barely-there weight of her touch reminded him of the time he’d been hiking in Michoacan and stumbled upon a swarm of migrating monarch butterflies.

He’d stood like a statue as the delicate insects alit along his arms and shoulders, even on top of his head. He hadn’t felt their landings; if he’d closed his eyes, he wouldn’t have known they were touching him. But he would have heard them. More butterflies had swooped and fluttered around him, the light whisper of their wings filling his ears exactly the way the thickened throb of his heartbeat pounded in his ears now.

He and Vivian walked sedately up the aisle through the parted sea of smiling faces, but none of it registered in Cooper’s brain. All he could see, all he could hear, all he could feel was Vivian Banks.

“I didn’t realize you were part of the wedding party,” he muttered, low enough that only she could hear him.

The slender fingers on his arm tightened minutely, only for a second, then relaxed. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice softer and more tentative than his memories. “I don’t know why they didn’t tell you. I asked Miles to make sure it was all right with you—I would’ve been happy to attend as just a guest. Or I would have stayed away, if you told Miles it would bother you to see me. But I guess he didn’t ask.”

Cooper clenched his jaw, forcing his voice to smooth disinterest. “It doesn’t bother me to see you. Why should it?”

Her head ducked further, as if she wished she could hide. “After the way things ended between us…”

“Ancient history. I moved on a long time ago. In fact,” Cooper said as they reached the end of the aisle and pushed their way out of the yacht club and into the fading afternoon sunlight, “I should probably take this opportunity to thank you.”

“To thank me?” Vivian removed her hand in order to wrap her arms around herself. The unseasonably warm Sanctuary Island winter seemed to have finally turned, and the wind blowing in off the ocean snapped with cold. The dark blue satin of her bridesmaid dress may have matched her eyes, but it wasn’t doing much to keep her warm.

Without a second thought, Cooper shrugged out of his tuxedo jacket and swirled it over Vivian’s shoulders. Smoothing the lapels over her crossed arms, Cooper stared down at her and willed himself to feel nothing.

But none of the meditation techniques he’d learned in India or the exotic herbal remedies he’d sampled in China would be enough to keep Cooper blissfully calm and detached. Not when he stood mere inches from the woman who’d changed his life forever. Not when he was close enough to smell the light vanilla scent of her perfume and see the fine-grained texture of her silky skin.

Vivian Banks was within his grasp for the first time in ten years. And Cooper would be damned before he let her slip away again.

At least, not before he punished her for the sins of her past.

 

~~~

 

Vivian shivered, but with the body-warmed folds of Cooper’s dinner jacket enfolding her, she couldn’t blame it on the cold ocean breeze.

After her divorce, she thought she’d be only too glad never to be close to another man again. And for the last two years, she’d been right. She could glimpse a hot guy across the grocery store parking lot or down at the hardware store and feel nothing—not even a flicker of interest. She’d congratulated herself on being done with desire forever.

Apparently, she’d celebrated that victory over her body a little too soon. Because it turned out that her body had only been in hibernation…just waiting for the moment when it sensed Cooper Hayes’s huge, overwhelming, electrifying presence once more.

Tough poop, Vivian told herself. She’d had her chance with Cooper, and she did worse than blow it—she obliterated it.

Staring out over the sand dunes with their lopsided fencing and hardy scrub grass, Vivian felt her eyes burn a little. She blinked hard. “What on earth could you possibly want to thank me for?”

Cooper’s big, warm hands settled on her shoulders like the weight of all her mistakes, pressing her down into the sand. “Well, if you hadn’t left me standing at the courthouse with a marriage license in one hand and my dick in the other, I probably wouldn’t ever have left Brooklyn and traveled the world.”

…And become a billionaire. He didn’t say it, but Vivian couldn’t help thinking it. As someone who had just spent her last scrap of savings on a dilapidated lake cabin a fraction of the size of the immaculate house she grew up in, Vivian was keenly aware of how low the mighty had fallen…and how high Cooper had risen since they last knew each other.

Fate might be fickle, Vivian reflected, but you could always count on her to have a sense of humor.

“If what happened between us helped push you to reach your true potential, then I can only be glad,” she said, her throat tight, but her voice steady.

His hazel gaze sharpened. “You kept up with all that? I would’ve thought once you washed your hands of me, you’d stop caring about my ‘potential.’”

I never stopped caring, Vivian wanted to say. The words trembled on her tongue, but she’d learned something about caution and self-preservation in the last ten years. She held the words back with an effort. “I heard you designed a cell phone app that streamlined the process of getting prescription medicines to patients. And that you licensed it to the American Medical Association for big bucks.”

Cooper shrugged, digging his hands into his trouser pockets. He’d always been uncomfortable with praise, uneasy in the spotlight. She’d been the head cheerleader…he’d been the scholarship kid who nearly got kicked out of their Calculus class for arguing with the professor.

“I didn’t do it for the money,” he said stiffly, stabbing a pang of sympathy through Vivian’s heart. She knew exactly what had motivated him to use his God-given smarts to create that particular bit of software.

“You helped a lot of people. Maybe even saved some lives.”

If Vivian hadn’t been searching his face so diligently, she might have missed the flash of grief buried deep in his green-gold eyes. “I didn’t do it for the money,” he repeated, with a smile that seemed only slightly forced. “But it sure has been nice to be able to fund my travels around the world. I’ve been to Bangkok, Jerusalem, Tokyo, Rome—all the places we used to talk about, and a lot more in between. But I guess you’ve been around the world a time or two yourself, by now.”

Vivian glanced away, afraid of what he might see in her expression. “No. I never have.”

Cooper’s voice roughened, gruff with some unnamed emotion. “That husband of yours turned out to be a homebody, huh?”

Her gaze flew back to him. “You know I got married?”

What else had he heard? Did he know the extremely public and humiliating reasons why she was no longer married?

Cooper squinted into the distance, taking on a bored tone. “Miles mentioned it a while back. So how’s married life treating you?”

Relief was a sour tang at the back of her throat. He didn’t know. But it wouldn’t take more than quick Google search for him to find out. It was only a matter of time.

“I’m divorced,” she told him quickly, watching for his reaction. “A couple of years ago.”

But if she’d expected him to light up like a kid on Christmas, she was doomed to disappointment. Cooper only cocked his head, his face a mask of indifference. “Too bad. I guess nothing lasts forever.”

The doors to the yacht club opened behind them and the bride and groom spilled out on a tide of cheers, laughter, and applause. The joyful noise covered Vivian’s involuntary gasp at the sharp pain that speared her at Cooper’s cold words.

“What are you two still doing standing here?” Greta cried from her perch in Miles’s arms. She looped an arm around his strong neck, waved her bouquet of deep blue hydrangeas and kicked her feet in a froth of ivory satin. “It’s time to kick up our heels and dance the night away!”

“One dance,” Miles growled into her ear, a smile tugging at his mouth. “That’s all I can promise before I drag you home.”

Vivian watched the way Greta blushed and smiled, a complicated mix of emotions whirling like a blender in her stomach. Memories of her own joyless wedding butted up against the dreams she’d had about the man at her side, but she couldn’t be bitter as she gazed on her friends’ utter happiness. No one deserved it more than these two, who had been so good to her, even including her in their most special day.

Reminded of her bridesmaid duties, Vivian looked up the stairs at the happy couple. “Is there anything you need, before the reception? Anything I can do?”

“You’ve done so much already,” Greta protested. “But I guess, if you wouldn’t mind hanging onto my bouquet?”

“Of course!” Vivian smiled, pleased to make herself useful, but her eyes widened when Greta exchanged a quick, mischievous glance with her new husband and lifted the bouquet.

“Here, Viv, catch!”

Greta tossed the bouquet down the yacht club stairs to land unerringly in Vivian’s outstretched arms. She blinked down at the cluster of exuberant blue and purple blossoms, the stems wrapped in white ribbon and secured with pearl-tipped pins.

“You caught it,” Greta said, delighted.

“I think that counts, don’t you?” Miles winked at his wife.

She nodded. “Oh, absolutely. It’s settled.”

Don’t say it, Vivian begged silently as a flaming blush scorched up her neck and into her cheeks. Please don’t.

Miles grinned his corporate shark smile. “Looks like you’re up next, Viv. Wonder where we can find a groom for you.”

The fact that she would never be able to repay Miles Harrington’s loyalty and generosity to her over the years was all that kept her from trying to kill him with her brain.

Unable to stop herself, Vivian risked a glance at Cooper. The look on his face made her suck in a breath. She’d always been able to read him. No matter what happened, no matter how silent he got, Vivian had always known exactly what he was thinking.

Not anymore.

Cooper was smiling, but his eyes were dark and hot, hinting at an inner turmoil Vivian could only guess at. With an ironic quirk of one golden-brown eyebrow, he offered his arm to her once more, as impeccable and graceful as any of the wealthy, privileged boys they’d gone to school with.

“Let’s get to the reception,” Cooper said smoothly. “Who knows? Maybe Prince Charming will appear. Most people meet their future spouses at weddings, after all.”

 

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