The real thing sugar lak.., p.1
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       The Real Thing (Sugar Lake Book 1), p.1

           Melissa Foster
 
The Real Thing (Sugar Lake Book 1)


  Table of Contents

  PRAISE FOR MELISSA FOSTER “You can always rely on Melissa Foster to deliver a story that’s fresh, emotional, and entertaining. Make sure you have all night, because once you start you won’t want to stop reading. Every book’s a winner!” —Brenda Novak, New York Times bestselling author “What sets Melissa Foster apart are her compelling characters who you care about . . . desperately. I dare you to read the first chapter and not be hooked.” —M. J. Rose, New York Times bestselling author “With her wonderful characters and resonating emotions, Melissa Foster is a must-read author!” —Julie Kenner, New York Times bestselling author “Melissa Foster is synonymous with sexy, swoony, heartfelt romance!” —Lauren Blakely, New York Times bestselling author “I’m highly addicted to her stories and still want to kick my own behind for taking so long to finally read her.” —The Power of Three Readers “The author’s writing was amazing, and to be completely honest here, to get me to read a subgenre I would

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  MORE BOOKS BY MELISSA FOSTER LOVE IN BLOOM ROMANCE SERIES SNOW SISTERS Sisters in Love Sisters in Bloom Sisters in White THE BRADENS Lovers at Heart Destined for Love Friendship on Fire Sea of Love Bursting with Love Hearts at Play Taken by Love Fated for Love Romancing My Love Flirting with Love Dreaming of Love Crashing into Love Healed by Love Surrender My Love River of Love Crushing on Love Whisper of Love Thrill of Love BRADEN NOVELLAS Promise My Love Our New Love Daring Her Love Story of Love THE REMINGTONS Game of Love Stroke of Love Flames of Love Slope of Love Read, Write, Love Touched by Love SEASIDE SUMMERS Seaside Dreams Seaside Hearts Seaside Sunsets Seaside Secrets Seaside Nights Seaside Embrace Seaside Lovers Seaside Whispers THE RYDERS Seized by Love Claimed by Love Chased by Love Rescued by Love Swept into Love SEXY STAND-ALONE ROMANCE Tru Blue Truly, Madly, Whiskey BILLIONAIRES AFTER DARK SERIES Wild Boys After Dark Logan Heath Jackson Cooper Bad Boys After Dark Mick

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  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Text copyright © 2017 Melissa Foster All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher. Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle www.apub.com Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates. ISBN-13: 9781542045810 ISBN-10: 1542045819 Cover design by Letitia Hasser

  For my readers.

  CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHAPTER FOURTEEN CHAPTER FIFTEEN CHAPTER SIXTEEN CHAPTER SEVENTEEN CHAPTER EIGHTEEN CHAPTER NINETEEN CHAPTER TWENTY CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE A NOTE FROM MELISSA ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  CHAPTER ONE WILLOW DALTON SPED into the parking lot of Landry’s Resort with six minutes to spare, telling herself it didn’t matter if she was late. She’d just turn up the charm, hand Patrick Carter one of her famous Sweetie Pie Bakery’s Loverboys—a delicious and colorful cross between an éclair and a cupcake—and he’d remember why he’d sought her out to cater desserts for the Lake George Boating Club’s annual meeting in the first place. At least she hoped he would. She couldn’t afford to blow this job. It was her ticket to expanding her bakery’s catering business from her small hometown of Sweetwater, New York, to the outlying areas. Lake George was almost two hours away, but catering jobs like this could double her income. She dreamed of not only expanding the catering side of her business but at some point making Sweetie Pie Bakery into more of a café and bookstore. The job also paid twice as much as her bakery would have earned over the weekend, and she needed every penny, since one

  CHAPTER TWO “YOU’RE SLEEPING ON the couch,” Willow said for the fifth time in as many minutes as she and Zane left their suite. He was busy texting, and she wasn’t sure he was even listening anymore. He used to be such a great listener. When they were younger, he’d never acted like he was above her, despite the fact that he was the star quarterback, lead pitcher, and eventually the prom king, and she was two years behind and as awkward as a foal on new legs. “Are you listening to me?” she asked as they walked down the hall. “Yes. I just got confirmation. You’re catering breakfasts for the set. Cool?” “Yes, perfect. But did you hear what I said?” She had almost backed out of their deal twice since she’d accepted. First when she’d seen the king-size bed, which really drove home their situation, and again when Zane had whipped off his shirt to change and her sex-starved body had buzzed to life. She was still a little nervous about the whole thing, mostly due to that second issue, but she

  CHAPTER THREE AFTER WILLOW AND Zane cleaned her car, they took a walk down by the marina to discuss the elaborate backstory Zane had concocted for them. He’d just finished telling her that they’d supposedly been hooking up on the sly for months. “Hooking up?” Boy, did he need lessons in coupledom. “Zane, couples that are serious about each other don’t hook up. They get together, or sneak away, or . . . I don’t know, but they definitely don’t hook up.” “Good point. So, we’ve gotten together at least twice a month.” “I have a bad feeling about this. I tell Bridgette everything. Why would I keep this from her?” Her youngest sister had lost her husband to a tragic car accident shortly after Louie was born, and she owned a flower shop that adjoined Willow’s bakery. Bridgette almost always knew where Willow was and why she was out of town. “And what about Talia? She’s always coming to the bakery to grade papers. She knows why I leave town and when I do, too.” Talia was her eldest, and most r

  CHAPTER FOUR WILLOW WAVED GOODBYE to Cheryl and the others as she and Zane headed down the dock in a bubble of awkwardness. Cheryl had made dinner on the boat, but Willow had been too nervous to eat more than a bite. Zane had been looking at her weirdly ever since she’d forgotten how to shut the hell up and had taken over his story. Oh my God, his story. She’d been so caught up in his fake proposal that when he’d said, “Our moment,” he’d opened some sort of floodgate to the past. It hadn’t helped that when Zane had offered Jay the rest of the money he’d promised for letting them hijack their boat, Jay had pushed his hand away and said, “Keep it. It was nice getting to know you both. My wife always says those gossip magazines are full of lies. Now we know she’s right. We hope you have a long, happy marriage.” The color had drained from Zane’s face, like he’d been caught having real feelings for Willow, and she’d felt the impact like a freight train slamming into the barriers she’d erect

  CHAPTER FIVE WILLOW AWOKE TO warm breath against her cheek, a heavily muscled arm around her middle, and a hard cock nestled against her ass. This was not happening. But it sure felt good. No, no, no! She carefully lifted Zane’s wrist between her finger and thumb, thinking she’d extricate herself without any need for conversation. He curled his fingers around her ribs and pressed his body tighter against her. She closed her eyes, willing herself to move. But, but, but . . . One of her teenage fantasies realized in a few glorious seconds. Mm-hm, and what comes next? A shattered heart, you idiot. That was enough to set her into motion. “Zane,” she whispered. He didn’t respond. “Zane,” she said louder. He moved his leg over hers, trapping her with his powerful thigh. Lovely. “Zane, get up.” He snuggled in a little closer. Every hard inch of him squished between her ass cheeks. “Jesus, Z,” she mumbled. In the space of a breath, he was on top of her, straddling her hips and gazing down at h

  CHAPTER SIX WILLOW TEXTED H
ER family before they left the resort to let them know they’d clear everything up when they arrived. They hadn’t responded, which she took as a comforting sign, but Zane was so quiet on the way home he made Willow even more nervous. He was never quiet. She’d been surprised to learn he didn’t have a car with him at the resort, but she shouldn’t have been. He’d planned to spend the next two weeks in Sweetwater, which meant he had probably planned to drive back with her. It was all part of his big plan. She’d never known him to be a planner, but he seemed to have thought out just about everything to substantiate this shenanigan, with the exception of the guilt that went along with it. She realized that was probably why he was quiet, and it endeared him to her even more. As the miles passed and they turned off the highway toward Sweetwater, the usual sense of calm her hometown brought evaded her. Zane’s leg began bouncing repeatedly, another of his nervous habits

  CHAPTER SEVEN IF LOOKS COULD kill, Zane would be laid out in the Daltons’ backyard. Piper glared at him from where she was repairing a picnic table bench beneath a giant tree. She had a hammer in her hand, and from the look in her eyes, she wanted to use it on Zane. Piper was a petite blonde at five two or three, and she probably weighed all of a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet, but Zane felt the threat of her stare as if she were a formidable opponent. And as Willow’s sister, she was. “There they are. Congratulations, sweetheart.” Dan Dalton, Willow’s father, swept her into his arms. He had been a college professor before retiring and focusing on his second passion as a custom-home builder. He and Piper ran Dalton Contracting, and while he looked more like a professor than a builder—tall and slim, with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair—he and Piper were both excellent at their craft. Dan passed Willow to her eldest sister, Talia, who shared their father’s dark eyes and his love of

  CHAPTER EIGHT WHEN ZANE CAME back from getting the supplies, he found Willow sitting on the hill with her back to their campsite. She’d always needed time alone to cool down, and if she was feeling their sizzling connection even half as strongly as he was, she’d need a lot of space. He glanced up the hill, catching her silhouette against the moonlight. Her legs were stretched out in front of her, and her head was tipped up toward the sky. She looked peaceful and beautiful and so frigging sexy he could stare at her all night long, which was precisely why he returned his attention to setting up their campsite. Inside the tent, he finished laying out the sleeping bags and spread the Egyptian cotton sheets he’d bought over them, set the pillow at the top, and checked the string of LED lights he’d hung around the entrance one last time before setting out the goodies he’d brought. He took care of a few more things, tossed his phone in the middle of the bed, and went to join her. “Hey,” she s

  CHAPTER NINE ZANE LAY ON his back beside Willow as they came down from the explosive pleasures of their lovemaking. He rid himself of the condom, then pulled her close again. “Jesus, Wills. That was even better than I remembered, and I remembered it as pretty damn amazing.” She pushed up on her elbow. Her golden hair spilled over her breasts, tickling his chest. “I should hope it’s better. We were kids. What did we know back then?” She brushed her fingers over his chest hair. “Well, you knew what you were doing, but I was totally lost.” He grimaced against what he’d led her to believe. “You weren’t lost. You knew exactly what you wanted and you’d planned it to the nth degree, from your fluttering lashes while you convinced me to believe your ridiculous notion that we wouldn’t feel a damn thing.” Her brows knitted as she reached across his chest for the cupcake. Feeling her breasts crushed against him as she scooped frosting onto her finger and sucked it off brought another rush of heat

  CHAPTER TEN “LET ME GET this straight. You and Willow aren’t really engaged, but you want to be, because suddenly you love her?” Ben paced his living room like a caged tiger. “What the hell is really going on, Zane? You show up last night looking like hell and ask for a place to crash. You make me wait until the morning so you can process whatever’s happened. And now you give me this load of crap?” Zane had come straight to Ben’s after leaving Willow last night, but he hadn’t been able to think straight, much less figure out how to break the news to Ben that he’d been lying to him and was in love with his sister. Now, leaning against the back of Ben’s couch, where he’d been for the last twenty minutes as he explained to Ben what had happened, he still wasn’t sure what to say. He splayed his hands. “I know how it sounds. But it’s the truth, Ben. I needed to clean up my reputation. Willow agreed to help.” Ben grabbed Zane’s shirt with fisted hands, seething through gritted teeth. “You as

  CHAPTER ELEVEN WILLOW PUSHED OPEN the front door to Bridgette’s cottage-style home later that afternoon and inhaled the scent of home-cooked meals, mommy hugs, and little-boy smiles. The hardwood floors were spotless, the carpets freshly vacuumed. Balloons were tied to each banister, and a colorful birthday banner hung across the foyer. Bridgette was everything Willow wasn’t, from her lithe figure and always perfectly brushed blond hair of various shades to her careful and methodical tendencies. She would make sure Louie’s birthday party—as she did his life—was perfectly orchestrated to ensure his happiness and his safety. “Hello?” Willow called out. “Bridge? Where’s the birthday boy?” “Upstairs, Auntie Willow!” Louie hollered. “We’re getting ready for my party!” She carried Louie’s Spider-Man cake over to the stairs. Her body was still humming with memories of all the sexy things she and Zane had done earlier while the cake was baking. “Tell Mommy I’ll put the cake in the kitchen.” Lo

  CHAPTER TWELVE WILLOW HAD FORGOTTEN that in all the years they’d been friends, Zane had only been in her apartment once, and that was last night when he’d dropped her off. It had been dark, and he’d been solely focused on her. There was no way he’d noticed anything else. She rarely thought of him as a wealthy actor, but it was hard not to realize it as he was standing in her one-bedroom apartment, which she was sure paled in comparison to the mansion he must live in. Piper and their father had done an amazing job of making it feel open and airy when she’d renovated, by adding cathedral ceilings and keeping the kitchen open to the living room, separated only by a breakfast bar. The recessed lighting, cream-colored walls with white moldings, and neutral furniture gave the space a cohesive feel. Of course, Willow being the pastry lover she was, she’d added mint and peach accent pillows for a splash of color. What would Zane think of her cozy nest? His gaze coasted to the windows overlooki

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN WILLOW AWOKE AT two in the morning to an empty bed. Her heart sank with old heartache, and just as quickly, she chided herself. She wasn’t going to allow her seventeen-year-old stupidity to stand in the way of her adult happiness. Blinking away the haze of sleep, she spotted Zane sitting out on the balcony overlooking the lake. He was shirtless, leaning forward. She pulled the blanket around herself and padded across the floor. He turned as she pulled open the glass door. His hair was still damp from the shower they’d taken after their sexcapade. It looked like he’d pushed his hand through it, pulling it away from his face, making his chiseled features appear even more defined. The corners of his mouth tipped up despite the serious look in his eyes. “Hey, babe. I hope I didn’t wake you.” He reached for her hand, holding papers in the other, and guided her down beside him on the wicker sofa. “You didn’t. Everything okay?” He pulled her closer, wrapping an arm around her

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN WILLOW PULLED THE last tray of muffins from the oven and set them on the cooling rack with the others, filling the oven with two more cakes to bake. She set the hot pads on the stainless-steel table, then grabbed the powdered sugar and sprinkled it over two trays of doughnuts, inhaling the sugary sweetness she knew she’d never get enough of. She pushed the trays of doughnuts off to the side and pulled two trays of mini tarts from the other oven. The heavy door complained with a piercing screech. “You need to get that fixed, baby girl.” Willow startled, nearly dropping the tarts. “Mom, you scared me half to death. It’s fine, just noisy.” The oven was on its
last leg, but she wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to it yet, and she needed to save a little more money before she could replace it. She slid the trays onto the table as her mother placed a box on the butcher-block counter at the other end of the kitchen. “I’d say you’re too sentimental, but I can’t. Look at who yo

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN WILLOW HAD BEEN waking up at four thirty in the morning for years without issue, but now, as she absently slapped the nightstand in search of her phone to turn off her alarm, a deliciously tempting man shifted on top of her and began kissing her neck. “I’m coming with you,” Zane said between shivery kisses. “You always come with me. You’re the double-rainbow king. The mutual-orgasm master. The postman who always rings twice . . .” He laughed against her neck and nipped at her skin. “I meant to the bakery, but I’m totally up for a game of Willow-go-round.” She wrapped her arms around him, surprised at how quickly she’d gotten used to sharing her bed—and her apartment. “I thought having you around all the time would be annoying since, well, you know, you kind of bullied your way into my life. But there are benefits to having a hot guy at my disposal.” He grinned down at her. “Bullied?” “Tricked? Coerced?” “I think reentered is better.” He nudged her legs open, teasing her

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN “LOOK WHO WANDERED into my shop.” Bridgette came through the arched doorway from her flower shop after closing Thursday afternoon with Aurelia Stark, looking just as fresh and beautiful as she had first thing that morning. Willow wiped her hands on her shorts, which were stained with flour, frosting, and grease from trying to repair her oven. “Girls, you’re right on time. My oven went wonky again, and the cupcakes came out funky. We have no choice but to eat them.” She locked the door to the bakery and hugged Aurelia. Her long, naturally wavy brown hair fell to the middle of her back. She was as petite in height as Piper, but curvy like Willow, and at twenty-seven she still wore some of the same clothes she’d worn when she was eighteen—today it was jeans with holes in the knees, white Converse, and a simple white tank top. And somehow she managed to look like a million bucks. “You look incredible. Whatever you’ve done, it suits you.” “Long story.” Aurelia made a beeline

 
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