Personal demons. There’s no escape. Nowhere to hide. Ask Jack Sutcliffe. They’re lessons he learned the hard way—along a road pitted with failures and disappointments. But he’s fighting back. Desperately. Learning from his past to be a better man. For the woman he loves. For the son he never knew he had. And while those around him have forgiven him his sins, Jack discovers forgiving himself is the hardest step of all.
Mother of three, businesswoman and widow Monica Burke has no time for love after a husband who betrayed and deserted her. Until the soul-deep hunger and desire she sees in Jack’s eyes cracks an opening in the hard shell encasing her emotions. In Jack she sees the good man he’s always wanted to be. But nothing worth having comes easy. Especially love.
A shocking incident shatters Jack’s fragile comeback, forcing him to make a choice that will devastate him to his very soul. Too late, Jack will learn the meaning of family. Too soon, Monica will learn the meaning of sacrifice.
Note: Second Best is the sequel to First to Die. While enjoyment of Second Best would be enhanced by reading the books in order, Second Best can be read as standalone.
“There is no way to explain how magnificent SECOND BEST is with mere words – the reader must experience this outstanding read on their own. Just know that by the book’s end, not only will you love Jack Sutcliffe but you will pretty much forgive him as well. SECOND BEST is not to be missed!”
— 5 bookmarks, reviewer Natalie S., Wild on Books
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An Excerpt From: Second Best
Copyright © CRIS ANSON, 2008
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.
The lightweight blanket felt like an expedition parka. Monica kicked it off and squinted at the digital clock. Almost time. She had set the alarm for 3:00 a.m. so she could check on Jack’s condition—whether his lips or face were swollen, if he had a fever, if his breathing was labored. As a precaution, and over his objections, she gave him two antihistamine tablets, which made him too drowsy to drive the truck home. When she insisted he stay overnight, Sarah whooped and high-fived him.
Monica gave him the downstairs guestroom. Unlike those upstairs, its double bed didn’t have a footboard, and with his long legs, she thought it would be the most comfortable.
He couldn’t have been too crippled by the stings. As they sat around the dining room table eating boiled hot dogs and delicious potato salad, Jack had made light of his welts after Jarrett’s graphic description of his credit-card surgery. Jack even joked that he’d never eaten hot dogs before because they were made of hen’s feet and pigs’ ears. That’s why, he announced, you had to cover it up with mustard. That sent Sarah into another fit of laughter that stopped only when Monica diverted her attention to feeding China.
Now Monica rose from her bed and reached for her terrycloth robe. She wrapped it around her, covering the knee-length cotton nightgown, and padded barefoot down the stairs.
She’d left the door to the guestroom ajar. Hesitating only a moment, she quietly pushed it open enough to see by the soft glow of the night light she lit in the hallway so Jack could find the bathroom if necessary.
Jack lay on his stomach, his long frame more than filling the bed. His left leg was bent at the knee, raising his hip slightly. The other stretched full out, the big foot dangling over the mattress, top sheet and pillows shoved to the floor. The fact that the bedding was mauve-and-lilac-flowered diminished his masculinity not one iota.
He wore nothing but Jarrett’s too-tight Jockey shorts. Rucked up between his taut buttocks, they delineated his butt in sharp relief. Her heartbeat speeded up with the errant thought that if he’d been stung there, too, she would’ve had to apply antibiotic to those smooth white globes. Dark lashes lay ridiculously long against tanned skin. Tousled hair emphasized his strong profile. Monica leaned forward and gently stroked the square jaw, ran a finger softly across the sensuous mouth, looking, she told herself, for signs of puffiness, of swelling.
Then she remembered another part of his anatomy that had swelled under the towel and she felt her face heat.
Still, she had to assure herself he had no delayed reaction, no allergy to the hornet venom, didn’t she? She brought her lips to his cheek and brushed against it several times, arguing with herself that her mouth was more sensitive than her fingertips. The stubble felt so intimate that she wanted to climb in beside him and snuggle into his arms.
Suddenly Jack flopped onto his back, whipping his arm hard around her waist. Monica found herself trapped under the unyielding muscles. Wiggling carefully, she tried to disentangle herself without waking him.
As if in response, his big hands flowed over her, from her shoulders to her buttocks and up again, subtly shifting her, pressing her more closely against the entire hard length of him. Her legs splayed around him, snugging against his bare thighs. He pressed her against his erection and breathed what sounded like her name. She managed to find some righteous anger and pushed up onto an elbow to protest.
His expression was relaxed and peaceful, his eyes closed. She realized his actions must be instinctive.
He couldn’t be pretending to be asleep, could he? Just to do…whatever riotous things he was doing to her? No, his breathing was deep and regular, although he seemed to draw shuddering breaths whenever she moved against him.
“Too tight,” he muttered. One hand dug between their bodies and fumbled with the waistband of his shorts. “Down…tight…”
The pressure of his arm against her waist lessened. She eased onto the mattress and watched, mesmerized, as he tried to push the elastic down in short, almost compulsive motions. “Strangled…”
Strangled. Jarrett’s tight shorts were strangling him. A vivid red mark circled low on his hips where the elastic had been. She could see the outline of his thick shaft bending under the cotton as he yanked. Dear heaven, could he hurt himself?
“Shhh.” She laid her hand atop his. His frantic jerking instantly stopped.
The heat didn’t. It transmitted itself from his hand to her palm, up her arm, into the very core of her. His hips began to undulate. The blatantly carnal motion brought Monica to her senses. What was she doing, in bed with a nearly naked stranger, her hand on him as though she had a right to be there?
She let go as if her hand had been seared with a branding iron.
Jack began to toss fretfully, perhaps in the throes of a nightmare. He flung an arm across his face. His words came out muffled. “Don’t…get mixed up…me…ugly…inside.”
Monica only half heard him. She was staring at the modest cotton nightgown twisted almost up to her waist, seeing the contrast of her smooth pale legs next to his tanned, muscular ones, and felt a heat that had nothing to do with passion and everything to do with shame.
Tears of remorse stinging her eyes, she eased off the bed. The smooth parquet floor felt cold under her bare feet as she groped her way back upstairs in the dark.
Her conscience kept her awake the rest of the night.