Read the first in Samantha Chase's beloved Montgomery Brothers series!
There’s no time like the present… Unless you’re still running from your past
Executive assistant Emma Taylor is desperate for a little time away; away from her job, her life and from thoughts of her boss’s son who doesn’t seem to know she even exists. Tired of waiting for the time to be right, she takes advantage of her boss’s generous offer for a little weekend getaway to thank her for helping out with a difficult business deal.
Former NFL superstar Lucas Montgomery is still suffering from a career-ending injury. His self-imposed exile from life is exactly what he wants; a sanctuary where there’s no chance for disappointment or distractions and that’s exactly the way he likes it. While his family has been patiently waiting for Lucas to come around and embrace life once again, they don’t realize that it wasn’t just his career that was lost, but his sense of identity.
Lucas thought everything was fine until sweet, sexy and completely off-limits Emma Taylor comes crashing into his carefully constructed world one snowy weekend and turns his entire life upside down.
William Montgomery did not get to be the financial success story he was by being unobservant. Sitting in his grand office suite, he made sure that his position allowed him to take notice of everything going on around him.
For instance, right now he had all three of his sons in the office; it was something that didn’t happen particularly often. Sure, Mac and Jason worked with him daily, but Lucas? Well, it was like reeling in a reluctant fish to get him into the office. William usually had to put his foot down about once a month to get Lucas out of hiding and come in and take care of business. By the scowl on his son’s face, William knew that he hated every minute he was forced out of his self-imposed exile.
Lucas was his youngest son and the only one who vowed to never join the corporate world that had earned the Montgomerys their fortune. Unfortunately, Lucas’s career in the NFL was cut short by a knee injury. While his son could have continued to work in that industry, he decided to turn his back on it and become a recluse; his injury was more than just physical, it had clearly messed with him emotionally as well.
William’s attention was momentarily diverted as his assistant walked into the room. Emma Taylor was like a ray of sunshine. When his long-time assistant had retired two years ago, William had worried about how he would function without her. But the young and eager junior assistant had stepped in to fill those shoes, and now they worked as if they had been together for decades.
Emma walked across the room and handed Mac his coffee with a smile; next, she headed over to Jason with the same serene look on her face. Both of his sons smiled absently in return and William had to stop himself from snickering in amusement. It would take a bomb to distract either of them from their work.
Now Emma approached Lucas. This part always had William sitting a little bit forward in his seat. She always saved Lucas for last. Her approach was slow, as if she was waiting for him to notice her. When he finally looked up, she gave him one of her most beaming smiles with a whispered, “Here’s your coffee, Lucas. Black, two sugars, right?”
William chuckled softly. For almost two years she had been bringing Lucas his coffee—there was no need for a reminder on how he took it. This was all part of what had become the routine of their monthly conversation.
“Thank you, Emma,” Lucas said quietly, a small smile crossing his normally stern face. William liked to see his son smile; it didn’t happen often enough. Even when William got him to engage with the family, he was often quiet and sullen. Seeing this brief look of happiness was something that William looked forward to.
It wasn’t good for Lucas to live the way he was—cut off from everyone and everything. He needed to move on from his disappointment over losing his career and work on rebuilding his life and his future. William looked at Emma again: the way she snuck one last glance at Lucas as she headed back to her desk, and how once her back was turned, Lucas looked up in her direction.
No, William Montgomery had not gotten to be the financial success story that he was by being unobservant. He knew the art of negotiation and was a genius in the boardroom. How much different could playing matchmaker be?
If there was one thing that Emma Taylor craved, it was a vacation. She wasn’t even overly picky about the destination; it was just an overwhelming need to get away for bit. Glancing at her calendar, she knew that she had time coming to her, it was just a matter of picking the time that would work best for her and Mr. Montgomery, Sr.
Sighing, she put the calendar away. It didn’t matter how much she needed to get away, there always seemed to be something that came up around the office that for some reason, her boss felt only she could handle. Emma supposed she should be flattered that he held her in such high regard; however, her mental state was slowly getting the better of her. Something had to give and soon.
“Emma, my dear, I am heading out,” William Montgomery bellowed as he exited his office with his wool coat draped over one arm and his briefcase in the other hand. “I’m taking Monica up to the mountains for a long weekend. Do we have everything under control here?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied with a smile. He really was a wonderful man to work for, and Emma absolutely adored how he still made time to get away with his wife of nearly forty years. You didn’t often still see a couple so in love after so many years; Emma’s parents certainly hadn’t been. She quickly stopped herself before she got too caught up in her own reverie and returned her attention to her boss. “Everything is fine here; you go and enjoy your weekend and tell Mrs. Montgomery that I said hello.”
“She loved those brownies you sent home with me last week. She asked if you might consider baking some extra batches for us around Christmas.”
“It would be my pleasure.” Baking was more than a hobby for Emma, it was a passion that she indulged in whenever she had the free time. She knew her friends and coworkers appreciated it and that just made her enjoy it even more. “Tell her to let me know when she wants them and I’ll be sure to get them to her.”
“You’re a treasure, Emma.” He smiled. “Someday you’re going to make some man very happy!”
“From your lips to God’s ears,” she said with a wink.
Clearing his throat, William looked around the office and then leaned in toward Emma slightly, his tone of voice dropping to a near whisper. “There’s a project I’m working on that I don’t really want to involve the boys in just yet,” he began. “A courier will be bringing by some paperwork either tonight or tomorrow, so please call me when it arrives.”
It was a bit of a struggle to keep the surprise off her face. Mr. Montgomery never did anything that didn’t involve his sons. Her curiosity was piqued, but she managed to keep it to herself. “Not a problem, sir. I’ll let you know as soon as it gets here.”
“That’s my girl,” he said as he straightened, and then looked as if he was carefully considering his next words. “You know, we really are caught up on everything around here so, if you’d like, once the courier comes by with those papers, why don’t you take off?”
Emma was stunned silent. How could he know that she had just been dreaming of a little time off? “Really? But what if he shows up this afternoon?”
“Then leave this afternoon,” he said simply. “Rose is more than capable of covering for you and like I said, it’s not like anything major is going on. It will be fine. You go and enjoy yourself. Do something fun. Maybe go out of town for the weekend!”
Oh, if only, she sighed inwardly and then smiled up at him. “I will certainly give that thought some consideration,” she said and was rewarded with one of his infectious grins.
“Be sure that you do, Emma. Everyone needs a little time away once in a while.”
She couldn’t agree more. With a smile and a wave, Emma wished him a safe trip and promised to call as soon as the courier arrived with his papers. Once she was sure he was out of sight, she allowed herself to slump in her seat. An extended weekend. A quick glance at her watch showed it was barely eleven o’clock. It would be wonderful if the courier arrived within the next couple of hours so that she could be leave the office by two.
What to do? What to do? She thought to herself. For all of her desire to get away, Emma had never really taken the time to think of where she wanted to go. The first thing to pop into her mind was the mountains, because that’s where Mr. Montgomery was going. She’d heard him describe his family’s home there and if she were honest, she’d admit that it was someplace she’d want to see one day.
The thought of the Montgomery family had Emma sighing. They were so fortunate; not just because of their wealth and success, but because they had one another. As an only child of very self-absorbed, divorced parents, Emma had always longed for a big family. While she knew that she was essentially stuck with the family she had, she truly hoped someday she would marry into a big family.
And then the image of the ideal man came to mind.
Looking over her shoulder to make sure no one was watching, Emma allowed herself a moment just to lose herself in the thought of what it would be like to marry a man like Lucas Montgomery. He was strong and handsome and quiet and hardworking—in Emma’s opinion he was the perfect man. His once-a-month visits to the office were the highlights of Emma’s job.
And wasn’t that just sad.
The man barely spoke to her whenever he was there but Emma was comforted by the fact that he barely spoke to anyone. Ever. Another small sigh escaped her lips. Everyone knew the story of Lucas’s football career and the injury that ended it; it had been covered on every newscast and in every newspaper in the country. The part that nobody knew anything about was why it had forced him into such a state of seclusion.
Behind her, Emma heard Mac and Jason heading her way, deep in conversation. She quickly straight-ened in her seat and started shuffling papers, doing her best to look busy.
“Did Dad leave for the day?” Jason asked.
Emma looked up at him. He had a lot of the same features as Lucas, dark hair, green eyes, and chiseled jaw, but he didn’t make her heart race in the least. “You missed him by maybe fifteen minutes. Sorry!”
The brothers looked at each other. “Thanks, Emma.”
“Was there anything you needed?” she asked quickly, doing her best to be the efficient assistant that she always was, even though her mind was a million miles away, picturing their brother with his arms around her!
“Nothing that can’t wait,” Mac replied. “Did he mention what time he and Mom were getting on the road?”
She shook her head. “He didn’t but he sure seemed anxious to leave.”
They each gave a small laugh and a smile and wished her a good day as they turned to leave. Emma grimaced. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to be attracted to one of her boss’s sons but why did it have to be the one son who was so unattainable? Why couldn’t she crush on Mac or Jason? They were both nice enough. Why was it that surly Lucas of the little to no words was the one who made her weak in the knees when he gave her one of his small smiles?
“Because you are clearly a glutton for punishment,” she mumbled softly as she shook her head. “This is why you need to get away for a little while. Meet some new people and maybe find someone who isn’t Lucas Montgomery.” Like a runaway train, her dialogue continued in her head. “Someone who would willingly talk to me, engage in conversation with me; maybe even someone who notices when I purposely wear my best clothes or fix my hair in a new style. That isn’t too much to ask, is it?”
With Lucas, it probably was. Emma didn’t date much, but she had to admit that she tended to be drawn to the kind of men who were slightly unattainable. Apparently, she had decided to up her game and go for the king of unattainable.
“I’m heading to lunch!” a voice called from behind her and Emma turned to see her assistant, Rose, heading toward her desk. “You want me to bring you back anything?”
“I’ll take a salad if you don’t mind,” Emma answered as she reached for her purse.
Rose stopped in front of her desk and frowned. “It wouldn’t kill you to eat a burger once in a while like the rest of us,” she said sternly but once Emma raised her eyes to her, she smiled.
“Please,” Emma protested. “If I allowed myself to indulge in a burger for lunch, I wouldn’t stop at that. There would be fries and milk shakes and maybe even some cake.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Rose teased.
Emma couldn’t help but laugh. “The problem is that it wouldn’t take long for me not to fit into any of my clothes, and I happen to like my current wardrobe.”
“As do we all. But a real meal once in a while wouldn’t kill you,” Rose reminded as she accepted the cash Emma was holding out to her. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Thanks, Rose!” Emma called after her and sat back down. There was never a lack of things to do and the next hour flew by. Before she knew it, a salad appeared in front of her and Emma went into multitasking mode, eating and working.
“I’ve got an envelope here for a Mr. Montgomery,” a male voice said, and Emma nearly jumped out of her skin. She never even heard him approach!
“I’ll sign for that,” Emma said with a smile. Her curiosity was making her anxious; she desperately wanted to know what it was that her boss was working on that didn’t include his sons. Once she signed the electronic pad and the courier left, she eyed the package warily. She wanted desperately to tear it open but held herself in check and reached for the phone.
“Just wanted to let you know that the courier just left, Mr. Montgomery,” she said cheerily when her boss answered the phone.
“Excellent!” he boomed. “Now, go get Rose situated and enjoy a nice long weekend!”
“Are you sure?”
“When have you ever known me not to be one hun-dred percent confident in what I’m saying?” he teased.
He had her there. The man never seemed to experience a moment of doubt. “Okay, okay. I’ll just put this envelope on your desk and—”
“No!” he interrupted a bit too harshly and Emma gasped in surprise. “I mean, I really need those papers and if they’re on my desk, the boys might get curious and open the envelope.”
It was funny to hear him refer to his two grown sons as “boys.” She tried to focus on what she needed to do with this secret envelope. “I can put it in the safe or just lock it in my desk, if that would work for you?”
He sighed with a hint of frustration. “Emma, I don’t want you to stress out over this but I have a favor to ask.”
“Sure. Anything you need.”
“I really don’t want to wait to go over those papers.”
“I can fax them to you,” she suggested.
“No. We promised to not have an office up at the house. It’s our retreat.”
“I can scan them and email them and then you can read it on your laptop.”
“I didn’t bring it.”
Emma couldn’t hide her frustration. “Okay, so if you knew these were coming and that you were going to need them, why didn’t you just wait for them?” As soon as the words snapped out she regretted them. “I’m sorry; that was completely unprofessional of me.”
“No need to apologize, Emma. I’m afraid I’m the one being difficult.” He paused as if carefully considering his next words. “I have a proposition for you,” he finally said.
Something in his tone had Emma feeling a bit uneasy. “O-kay,” she said slowly.
“I know I said that you could leave now and to enjoy a long weekend,” he began. “Have you given any thought as to what you were going to do or where you were going to go?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, maybe, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, there is a fabulous spa up here not far from our house and I think you would really enjoy it. Monica can book you a room and arrange for a massage and—”
“Wait a minute,” she interrupted. “You want me to drive up to the mountains and bring you the papers in person?”
“I know, I know, poor planning on my part, but I would be extremely grateful to you if you could help me out with this.”
“I don’t know, sir,” she admitted honestly. “I’ve never driven up there and it’s getting late—”
“Nonsense!” he boomed. “You’re only two hours away! If you leave now and go home and throw some things in a bag, we’ll take care of the rest. I’ll send you the directions to your phone or you can just use your GPS, whichever is easier for you.”
As much as Emma wanted to refuse, the thought of a night at a deluxe spa was quite tempting. “I guess I could do it, but don’t feel like you have to book the spa for me,” she said, trying to make it seem like she wasn’t doing this simply for the perk of a massage.
“Are you kidding? You’re doing me a huge favor! You can have two nights there if you’d like!”
Now that got her attention and before she could stop herself she squeaked, “Really?”
“Absolutely,” he said, sounding more than a little thrilled. Emma could hear him telling his wife to make all of the arrangements before returning his attention to the phone. “Consider it taken care of. We’ll give you all of the information when you get here.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, relief and anticipation filling her voice. “I’ll call when I’m on my way.”
“Don’t stick around the office too long. I’d feel better knowing that the majority of your drive was while the sun was up. These November days seem to be getting shorter and shorter.”
They firmed up their plans and as soon as they hung up, Emma grabbed the envelope, placed it in her briefcase, and then walked over to Rose’s desk to give her instructions for the remainder of the week.
Within fifteen minutes, Emma Taylor walked out of Montgomerys before six o’clock for the first time in two years, a wide grin on her face.
“It’s going to be treacherous driving on your evening commute tonight. Snow is expected in the area early this evening and it’s going to come down fast and furious.”
“Damn weather,” Lucas cursed under his breath as he pulled into his driveway. He was returning from his monthly trip into town to stock up on food and supplies. That was something new; he used to have everything delivered, but with a couple of days of stubble on his face and a ball cap pulled down low, no one bothered him.
Glad that he was fully stocked, it took a little time to get it all from his truck and into the house. Once it was all inside and put away, he looked at his supply of wood. While he had a generator and knew that if the storm got bad enough to lose power, he’d be fine, he liked to be well prepared. Looking at the clock and seeing that there were several hours of daylight left, Lucas headed out into the backyard and toward the stack of firewood waiting to be cut.
The physical exertion felt good; Lucas knew that it wasn’t in his best interest just to sit around the house. Swinging the ax had him using more muscles than he did in the average day, and while at first his body protested a little, it didn’t take long for him to get into the swing of things (literally) and feel good. Even in the cold, he worked up a sweat, and once all the cutting was done, it was another chore to move all of the wood to the shed that was built onto the back of his house.
By five o’clock, Lucas felt a satisfied sense of exhaustion as he stepped back into the house, prepared to settle in for the night. The first flakes were already falling and it didn’t take long for the weather to change and turn into a full-blown blizzard. As he built a fire in the main fireplace, a chill ran through his body and a sense of unease filled him. It wasn’t like Lucas to feel restless. He’d grown accustomed to his isolation and found that he’d made peace with being alone.
His knee ached and his muscles were sore from exertion. He walked around the house searching for something—for what, he couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that everything felt suddenly out of sorts. After checking all the rooms and seeing that nothing was out of place, he found himself back in front of the fireplace. It was completely quiet in the house with the exception of the occasional popping coming from the fire. When his phone rang, he jumped higher than a grown man should.
“H’lo,” he answered gruffly, not even bothering to check his caller ID.
“Lucas? Are you okay?” His father. There were few things that Lucas could count on anymore but one of them was that his father would call him at least once a day just to make sure that he was doing okay and had a conversation with another human being. While at times it annoyed the hell out of him, other times, like now, the calls were a comfort.
“Fine, Dad. How about you?”
“Oh, your mother and I are up here by you. She is positively giddy about the snow.”
Lucas laughed. As much as he hated being cold, he loved the way the snow looked. He clearly had gotten that fascination came from his mother. “She always gets like that,” he said with a laugh. “You just up here for the weekend or staying longer this time?”
“Depends on the storm,” William said, his tone a little distracted.
“Dad? Are you okay?”
“What? Oh, um, yes, yes, just fine. How about you? Do you have everything you need in case we get snowed in?”
“Today was my day to stock up so I’m good for a while.”
“This storm really came out of nowhere, didn’t it?” William asked, worry now lacing his words.
“Not really,” Lucas said. “It’s been in the forecast but it’s just a little more intense than they originally thought. Nothing new for this area. What’s going on, Dad? Sounds like you’ve got something on your mind. You’re not worried about this storm, are you? We’ve lived through ones like this dozens of times before.”
“I know, I know, it’s just that…” His voice trailed off.
“No, I don’t know. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” William lied. “What about you? Are you there by yourself?”
Lucas laughed. “That’s an odd question. Of course I’m here by myself. Who else would be here with me?”
Nervous laughter escaped before William could stop it. “What was I thinking?” he said, trying to sound lighter. “As long as you have everything you need. You’ll call if you have a problem, right?”
Lucas pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it like it was a foreign object. Call if he needed anything? What in the world? “I’ll be fine, Dad,” he reassured. “In case you’ve forgotten, I prefer a good storm; it keeps me inside where I like to be.”
“Lucas,” his father began, “it’s not good for you to be by yourself all the time. You need to get out of the house more, maybe come back to work or…”
“I appreciate the concern,” Lucas said with frustration, “but I really don’t feel like having this particular conversation right now. I just got done stocking the wood shed and I was just about to go and take a hot shower to ease some of the soreness out of my body.”
“You know I only nag because I love you, Son, right?”
No words could have taken the wind out of his sails more than those. Pinching the bridge of his nose, Lucas closed his eyes and mentally counted to ten before answering. “I know you do, Dad. I honestly do. This is my decision, though, and I need everyone to back off, okay?”
His father made a sound like he was going to argue, but then changed course. “Fine. I promise to back off. Stay safe during this storm and we’ll talk to you over the weekend, all right?”
“Thanks, Dad,” Lucas replied as he hung up the phone. Shutting it down, he placed it on the counter, his shoulders feeling the tension from the conversation. Lucas couldn’t understand why this was such a big deal for everyone. It wasn’t as if he was asking all of them to stay shut in with him.
His knee was throbbing now. All he wanted was a hot shower, an even hotter dinner, and a chance to put a heating pad on his knee. It sounded like a good plan for the evening, so good that it sounded like what he did every evening. That thought made him frown as he walked into his bedroom. Sure it would be nice to get back into the land of the living again, but the life he wanted, the one that he’d worked so hard for, was long gone.
Some people would say he was lucky; he’d lived his dream for many years and he went out while he was still on top. The problem was that he hadn’t wanted to leave: he’d been forced out. It was funny because when it had happened, promises were made to him left and right about how there would always be a place for him within the organization. Once his therapy proved that his injury was more severe than originally diagnosed and that he would be in treatment longer than anticipated, those offers came with less and less frequency, until the phone finally just stopped ringing. Lucas hated pity, and the fact that he was having a daily pity party for himself annoyed him even more.
Stripping down and stepping under the steaming shower spray, he let the hot water beat down on him as he sighed wearily. All of the tension eased from his body, and with it all thoughts of his previous life. An inner pep talk reminded Lucas that he enjoyed the life he had created since his football career ended. He finally had his privacy; reporters were no longer camping out, desperate for a picture or a quote from him. He could come and go as he pleased with little to no recognition. His time was his own.
In the last eighteen months, he’d agreed to work for the family organization, and while it was far from his dream job, at least he had the privilege of working from his own home, making his own hours while having something to keep him busy. When he wasn’t taking care of Montgomerys business, Lucas had taken up photography, nature photography to be exact. The act of going out and walking around in the parks and the massive properties his family owned was therapeutic; at the same time, it allowed the creative side of him to come out. Both sides gave him a great sense of satisfaction that he hadn’t felt in a long time.
Toweling dry and then dressing in a pair of faded, well-worn jeans and a sweatshirt, Lucas strolled into his kitchen and went about deciding what to make himself for dinner. That was the beauty of living alone: he could make whatever he felt like, whenever he felt like it, and then could eat in front of the television and have the remote to himself. It was some sweet bachelor living, and he was sure that the masses would be envious.
Reaching into the freezer, Lucas was about to pull out a steak to grill when the glare of headlights caught his attention. No one ever came out this way—he was set far back from the road—and in this snow at this time of day, clearly the person had to be lost. With a curse, he walked toward the window near the front door and watched in horror as the car skidded dangerously and then went off the narrow path of his driveway down into the ravine below.
“Dammit,” he muttered, running to grab his boots, coat, and phone before heading out the door. Once outside he ran toward the spot where he saw the car go down. It was easily a ten foot drop and he could hear the sound of the horn blaring as if someone was lying on it.
With another curse, he carefully made his way down and did his best not to slide and end up injuring himself too. “What kind of idiot drives around in a snowstorm after dark?” he muttered as he reached the car door. The windows were fogged and the sound of the horn was near deafening. He yanked the car door open and found the driver slumped over the steering wheel. Doing his best not to jar them too much, he reached into his pocket for the small flashlight that he always carried and jumped back in horror at the sight of blood coming from the driver’s head.