Deputy City Manager Burk Harmon has always been the strong one for his family, but recently those responsibilities have dwindled. When Lacie Heatherton, Assistant Director for Parks and Recreation, ropes him into a city-sponsored trip to the mountains with fifty senior citzens, Burk has two things on his mind: considering a possible promotion and wooing Lacie past friendship and into a future.
Lacie has emotional scars and a thirteen-year-old daughter to remind her that men can be cruel and unforgiving. Can Burk convince Lacie to relax her "no dating" policy or will he surrender his dreams of family and love?
It was past time to make a move.
Burk Harmon leaned back in the leather chair, rocking it slightly as he assessed the beautiful woman perched on the edge of the chair in front of him, her chin crooked in a palm as she toyed absently with the placard on his desk, her emerald eyes trained on him with a pleading expression. Dark hair fell in a sleek wave, draping the entire left side of her face, but there was no mistaking that look.
“Don’t bat those eyelashes at me.”
Lacie’s back stiffened, her shoulders pressed back, and her chin jutted out. The deputy city manager placard clunked back down on his desk, the clanging echoing around his small office. She fumbled with righting it.
He didn’t allow the smile to sneak onto his face. Not yet, anyway. But she was just so cute.
“I am not batting my eyelashes at you, Burk Harmon. What you see here is sheer desperation.” Her hand waved in a circle around her face, then dropped back to his desk. She picked up a pencil and twirled it between her fingers. “Renee’s husband had emergency surgery, and since he’s still flat on his back in the hospital, of course she can’t go.”
Resisting the urge to take the pencil and hold her hand to still its fidgeting, he waited. Wouldn’t hurt to make her sweat. She had him wrapped around her pinky finger and she knew it. Hadn’t he always been there for her?
“I need you.” She arched delicate brows waiting for a positive response from him.
He tried to corral the smile that he knew had to be leaking around his mouth. She wouldn’t appreciate his amusement.
“Stop it! You know it pains me greatly to admit that.”
“You must be desperate,” he drawled.
Lacie never admitted to needing anyone, especially not a man.
“Yeah. I can’t understand why nobody wants to spend a few days with these sweeties.” The playful look dissolved as she rubbed a hand across her face before propping an elbow back on the desk and planting her chin in a palm again.
Sighing, he massaged the back of his neck and stole a sideways glance at the calendar on his computer, mentally rolling through the countless meetings he had scheduled and tasks that demanded his attention over the next few days.
Nothing that couldn’t be rescheduled or too time sensitive that he couldn’t complete it when he got back. And, honestly, after his meeting yesterday with the city manager and the shocker he’d zinged at Burk, a little time away for introspection wouldn’t hurt. All that aside, this would make the perfect opportunity to implement his plan. For over a decade, he had never attempted to cross the “just friends” line. Not once. But he wanted more. So much more.
Especially after watching first his sister, and then his twin brother, enter marital bliss. Every time he saw Beck or Rori, they had silly grins stamped on their faces.
It was his turn. Right, God?
He was weary of coming home after a long day to an empty condo. Tired of eating take-out meals or frozen dinners by himself in the eat-in kitchen, sometimes with the television blaring the news just for background noise, but most times on his way out the door to some meeting or other. Not that he minded the silence, but since his brother had moved out, he had come to realize that his condo, his life, was painfully quiet.
He yearned to ditch the city life and find a house in the country, closer to his brother and sister, a place that sprawled with land and a big enough yard for several kids to roam without worry that they’d dart into a busy road. A house with a wide front porch and a swing for cuddling and sharing coffee or hot chocolate in the evenings or lazy Sunday afternoons. A house where a family could grow and flourish.
Because when he allowed himself to think about it, which was happening more frequently now, deep down, that’s what he really wanted. A family of his own. He longed to come home at the end of a workday to a family. To swap stories, to listen to dreams, to help reach them. And he craved a certain soft female to warm his nights.
He wasn’t getting any younger, and after over a decade of being the closest of friends, this need for a lifetime with her burned with a greater intensity with every day that passed.
But Lacie didn’t seem to be any closer to relaxing her “no dating” policy, and he wasn’t sure she even detected his feelings. His plan might take a few months. He wanted to grow old together, not separately.
He picked up the mug of stale coffee and stared at the dregs floating around in the bottom. He took the last bitter swig and set the cup down on the desk with a clunk. He toyed with the pencil that Lacie had finally relinquished.
“Sure. I’ll go.” Escorting fifty senior citizens to a mountain resort for a few days couldn’t be that tough, could it?
“You will?” Lacie bolted from the armchair, surprise lighting her face.
He nodded, anticipation suddenly leaping to life in his gut. Four days in the mountains with Lacie? What a perfect opportunity she’d just dropped in his lap. This trip would be the first step in winning her heart. He couldn’t have picked a more romantic setting.
Well, minus the seniors. But, since they were both night owls and seniors were notorious for retiring early in the evenings, he would have tons of time alone with her. Right?
Four days away from his normal environment would also give him plenty of time to consider whether he wanted to apply for the city manager’s job. The way he saw it, the whole situation was a win-win.
“You knew I would.” He purposely lowered his voice, trying to go for a sensual effect.
Apparently, it didn’t work on her because her only response was to dip those dark brows together, suspicion glittering from her expression.
His gaze dropped to the purplish rims lining her high cheekbones. She hadn’t slept well. Worried about finding a replacement for Renee? Or something else?
He longed to graze his knuckles across her cheeks to see if her skin was as soft as it looked. He tightened his grip on the pencil to keep from reaching out.
She tilted her head to the side, her hair bobbing against the autumn gold sweater covering a shoulder, a dare curving her lips. “You know traveling with fifty seniors won’t be a piece of cake, right?”
He was responsible for close to four hundred employees on a daily basis, not to mention dealing with several thousand citizens. Did she have so little confidence in his managerial or communication skills? “What could possibly go wrong?”
“Guess we’ll find out, won’t we?” A slow smile spread across her face. But this time the curve of her lips was more like a grimace.
If there was one thing their years of friendship had taught him about Lacie, it was that she covered up everything with a smile. Pain and loneliness included.
He flicked the pencil on the desk.
It was time she knew she wasn’t alone.
Question 1: After his father's death, Burk assumed the fatherly role to his siblings. Now that they are both married, he finds himself lonely and with too much spare time. Have you been in a similar situation? How did you handle it?
Question 2: From an early age Lacie learned not to depend on a man for anything, and her grandmother reinforced this with her repeated warnings about men. So Lacie was surprised and agitated to see Wilma flirting and wonders if she can trust Wilma again. Has someone betrayed your trust? Explain.
Question 3: The City Manager's job would soon be vacated, and Burk considered applying. But, based on their family history, he wasn't sure his mom and siblings would be able to handle him being in the public spotlight. Have you ever agonized over the ramifications of accepting a job? Why?
Question 4: Lacie's boss called to let her know that her job might be a casualty of the impending budget slashes. Have you or someone you know lost a job due to the economy? How would you feel if your boss gave you this news over the phone?
Question 5: Lacie tends to be outgoing and vivacious, and loves helping older people. When the going gets tough, Lacie smiles wider, but that's only to mask her pain and loneliness. Do you know someone who responds this way?
Question 6: "Being with a man doesn’t make you happy." How do you feel about this? Explain.
Question 7: Lacie and Burk had been friends for over a decade, and both worry about ruining their friendship for something deeper. Have you ever been in this position? Explain how you felt.
Question 8: Burk refuses to be another guy who abandons Lacie, even after she asks him to leave. Have you or someone you know ever felt abandoned? Explain.
Question 9: Their father's death affected each of the Harmons differently. Rori became afraid to go out in public. Beck couldn't commit to Savvy for fear he'd end up like his dad. As the oldest, Burk considered it his job to take care of them all and forfeited his own dreams. Do you know a family whose grief manifested so differently with each person? Explain.
Question 10: The Harmon siblings still suffer twenty years after their father's suicide. Do you know someone who has experienced a family member's suicide? What feelings and emotions have they struggled to overcome? How were you able to help?