Sebastian chimed in. “I watched him.”

“Good boy. Both of you.”

Her eyes crinkled at the corners with her smile. She had laugh lines, not age lines. Her figure was still trim, and she was a fast walker. She used to help Bob shovel the snow off the driveway until Daniel insisted they accept a new snow blower.


Daniel laid the platter of meat next to the barbecue against the deck railing. “Mom, I seriously wouldn’t let Dad barbecue. He burns the burgers.”

“I do not,” Bob said indignantly.

A chorus of “Yes, you do,” sprang up from the lawn and the deck.

Susan smiled sweetly. “You can cook mine. I love them overdone. Jeremy, honey,” she called. “Would you like a hamburger or a hot dog?”

Jeremy yanked the snorkel out of his mouth. “Both.” Catching Harper’s raised eyebrows, he added a quick, “Please.” Then he went down on his elbows so Noah could dismount his trusty steed, be it a horse or an elephant.


The little kid raced to the first stair, where Matt scooped him up, climbing the steps with him. “Hot dog, hot dog,” Noah chanted.

Susan chucked him under the chin and gave him a kiss on his nose. “A hot dog it is.”

“Can we see fireworks tonight?” Jeremy clambered up the stairs behind Matt and Noah. “I’ve never seen real ones. We only watch them on TV.”

Harper followed him onto the deck. “It’s just all the traffic and everything trying to get back home after the show,” she explained, her cheeks turning red, as if they’d all think she’d neglected something vital in Jeremy’s life.

Susan put her arm around Jeremy’s shoulder. “I feel honored to be able to show you your first fireworks display.” She smiled at Harper. “We’ll take deck chairs and hot chocolate. And it will be the best fireworks we’ve ever seen, all because you’re both here with us.”

“That sounds wonderful.” Harper touched Susan’s arm in gratitude, and Sebastian could see the emotion in her eyes. In Will’s, too.

“Dad, it’s settled. I’m cooking.” Daniel had already fired up the grill, and the two were bantering back and forth about the state of Bob’s barbecuing skills.

Still seated, Sebastian was the only who noticed Will pull Harper close. She sighed as he whispered in her ear. She was obviously still embarrassed about the fireworks, and as Will nuzzled her hair, she leaned in, kissed his throat, then tipped her head back to look at him.

Love simmered between them, in the softness of Will’s gaze, the sweetness of Harper’s lips. They could make it. They would make it.

But that didn’t mean everyone should give love a try. With his luck, Sebastian knew he’d likely end up falling for someone like Whitney—a woman who would strip all his secrets bare, then kick him when he was down.


Love didn’t always make you a better man. Or a better woman. He’d seen how bad two people could be for each other, how they could bring out the worst in each other instead of the best. So no, he wasn’t going there. No matter how good Harper and Will looked together.

“Hamburger, please,” he replied when Susan called to him. He was just about to get out of his chair and offer to carry stuff from the kitchen when his cell vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out, glancing down at the screen.

Xander Smith. An art broker he used in San Francisco.

“What’s up, Xander?” Sebastian wandered to the far end of the deck, away from the chatter.

“The dragon in Chinatown?” Xander spoke fast, his voice high with excitement. He obviously smelled a finder’s fee. “I found the artist.”

Will had discovered the metal dragon outside a Chinatown church. It had been formed from an odd assortment of parts that blended into a fierce sculpture of brute strength, with circular saw blades as scales, the tines of a pitchfork for its tail, a barbecue fork as its tongue, its coils spray-painted red, and yellow and orange flaming out of its mouth. The individual components had probably come straight out of a scrapyard, but when welded together, its lines achieved a flowing symmetry and sinuous beauty. It epitomized the metamorphosis of an ugly duckling into a magnificent creature.

“Is the artist local?”

“Yes,” Xander said. “A local. I can set up a meeting.” He wasn’t about to hand over the contact information.

Not that Sebastian would go around him. Xander had an eye, and he appreciated a great deal.

“I’ll be back on Tuesday. Set it up for three and send me the address. What’s his name?”

“Her. Charlie Ballard.”

Her? Sebastian was intrigued. Now, more than ever, he wanted to meet the woman who had created something so fierce. So brilliant. And yet, so beautiful. All at the same time.

“Just make sure the meeting is at her studio. I want to see what else she has.”

“Will do.”

If her other work was anything like the dragon, Sebastian intended to showcase her talent in the lobby fountain of his new San Francisco high-rise.

Charlie Ballard, you’re about to become famous.


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