Thornton's Wish: Thornton Brothers Book Three
By: Carolyn Faulkner | Other books by Carolyn Faulkner
Published By: Blushing Books
Published: Jan 07, 2013
ISBN # 9781609687489
Published By: Blushing Books
Published: Jan 07, 2013
ISBN # 9781609687489
Word Count: 36,458
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat
DescriptionSomebody was siphoning funds from the XL-17 project – and Cade Thornton was more than dismayed to find out that every bit of evidence pointed to his fiancé. The love of his life – the woman who held every part of him in her small, capable hands.
He couldn’t believe it – especially when she ran from him once he’d confronted her about the situation. How much more damning could her behavior be?
Gabby Andolini had never been so hurt in her life – how could he possible think that of her? Didn’t he know her better than that? But when there came a wrapping at the door of the hotel she’d escaped to on the shores of Maine, she knew exactly who it was that had come calling. Cade had come to reclaim what was his.
Reader Rating: Not rated (0 Ratings)
Sensuality Rating: Not rated
Excerpt:He picked up the phone on his desk and dialed his home number again, knowing he hadn’t misdialed it in the first place, but responding to some deep seated wish that it wasn’t true.
That she wasn’t gone, as she’d said flat out that she would.
How could he have thought she’d stay with him after what he’d done to her? Was he that much of a fool? Cade sighed loudly, slamming the phone down into its cradle with a crack. No, he wasn’t. And that was the gist of it. He was in love, dammit, and he’d hurt her, bad, instead of just saying that to her over and over and begging her forgiveness. He should have followed his instincts last night and just made love to her till neither of them could see straight.
He would give anything he had – anything he owned – every wish or prayer for the rest of his life- not to have seen that look on her face. Not to have hurt her.
And now he’d lost her.
Following a truly masochistic streak, he stormed out of his office, past Linda, his secretary, who was positively yapping after him about missed appointments, and the cops at the desk downstairs, and out the door, driving home at breakneck speed till he reached the small but comfortable ranch house he’d bought recently. He certainly had enough money to get something bigger, more elaborate, but this place had suited him fine. It had suited the both of them just fine.
Now it was going to be empty again, and he wasn’t at all sure he could stand it.
Her car was gone, but then it would have been anyway. She’d be at work. Only she wasn’t; he’d already called. Cherisse, her manager, had said she’d resigned over the phone this morning, giving no notice, but that she’d consider it a leave of absence and take Gabrielle back any time she wanted to come back. And then Cherisse – who knew everything that had gone on - had intimated that she just might do the exact same thing, in protest. Cade had smiled inwardly. That was the kind of loyalty Gabby inspired in her friends.
Too bad she hadn’t inspired it in her fiancé, too.
Already in the depths of despair, he plugged the key into the lock and stepped into their house, only to find his worst fears confirmed: she was gone. He was well and truly alone, having lost the only woman who’d ever meant anything to him. The house was a coffin, a tomb, without warmth or love to sustain it. It was a shell, even though, as far as he could see, she’d only taken the barest of essentials with her to wherever she’d gone. Her side of the closet was empty, except for the neatly arranged rectangular boxes remained beneath them – a shoe in every possible hue. He’d often teased her about being a shoe fetishist, and she’d always given him that incorrigible, unrepentant smile and agreed wholeheartedly. Every piece of jewelry he’d given her was still in her jewelry box, along with what she’d had before she’d met him.
Their bathroom, with its dual marble sinks, was devoid of all of the accoutrements of a woman’s presence – his woman’s presence. There were no more perfume bottles edging their way into his space as she added quietly to her burgeoning collection of tantalizing scents that drove him even madder than she did au natural, no rows of creams and moisturizers or make up pots that he used to call her spackle, which had always earned him a sharp slap or the surprisingly painful poke of a really hard, acrylic nailed finger deeply into one or several of his ribs.
She was gone, and with it all the love and fiery passion he’d been warming himself against for the past half a year. It seemed like so much longer...
Sighing, he returned to their bedroom, sweeping a gaze over her nightstand, where the latest Anita Blake Mystery had been living as she mowed her way through it over the past couple of weeks. She’d taken her clock radio, and the machine she always turned on at night with the ocean sounds that helped her sleep.
A thought struck him, and he began to scour the house, but there was no note, no nothing. The only thing he found was a depressingly final pile of keys – the ones he’d given her months ago, when she’d moved in. Keys to the house, to his car just in case she ever needed to drive it, keys to his office, keys to the family home, along with her debit card to their joint account.
Those were hardly the acts of a woman who had done what she was being accused of – even by the man who purported to love her.
Atop the small, bereft pile, sat her engagement ring that he’d gone all the way to San Antonio to buy at its best – and most expensive – jeweler. Cade reached out and picked it up, imagining that it was still warm from her finger. He stared at it for a long time, wondering where he could have gone so wrong.
Work was waiting for him, he knew. When he’d left, he’d walked away from a multitude of appointments scheduled all day long. It wasn’t the best time for him to be away from the office, and he knew that should matter to him, and it did. He had to find out who had framed her – who was the real culprit behind these crimes.
But somehow, despite the fact that work had long been a salvation for him, and despite his bone deep need for revenge against whoever it was who had done this to her, he still wasn’t much interested in going back there. It had been pretty much the only thing he was interested in, until Gabby came along and then nothing else had mattered the way she did in his life.
And now she’d left him.
And with damned good reason.
* * *
Gabby trundled her luggage into the Atlantic Motel on Wells Beach, in Maine, where she and her parents used to vacation during summers while she was growing up in Taxachusettes. It was September, so it was off season, although not quite as off season as she’d like – staying here was more expensive than she’d planned, but when she’d gotten into the car to drive away from her home, her job, and the man she still loved, despite what he had done with her, her only thought was to get away. She didn’t even really know where she was going until she saw the Piscataqua River Bridge that joined Portsmouth, New Hampshire with Kittery, Maine. She just got into the car and drove, feeling numb and dumbstruck, but not quite numb enough that she didn’t feel the depths of the pit he’d left in her chest where he’d ripped out her still beating heart.
She couldn’t really even process that she was here as she stood in front of the sliding glass doors that opened onto the pebbly beach and open, roiling ocean. The weather on the way up had said that there was a Nor’ Easter off the shore, and that if it had been later in the year they would have been expecting over a foot of snow. As it was, they were instead expecting effects darned near those of a hurricane.
But the condition of the sea reflected Gabby’s turbulent insides perfectly. Somewhere during that lonely, twenty hour, non-stop drive, she had become frighteningly less numb. Gabby reached for the drape pull with her left hand, noticing immediately how naked her left ring finger was without that gigantic ring he’d given her. She’d gotten used to wearing it – become expert at not letting it get caught on things, not nicking it on shopping carts or making it tear holes in her sweaters.
And now it was gone. Her life was gone.
She snorted wryly. She wished. If she could have excised him that easily, she certainly would have. But nothing in life was that easy.
She stood at the end of one of the double beds and simply fell backwards onto it. If they had offered a twin bed, she would have taken that instead. Normally, they never slept in anything but his custom made king – Cade was too damned big for anything smaller. He’d gotten the requisite dose of Thornton size.
But, alone as she was, Gabby had wanted the smallest bed they offered. She didn’t want to be reminded by a vast expanse of empty bed that she was alone.
The tears slipped naturally from the corners of her eyes into the hair at her temples until she rolled into a tightly curled ball and wept inconsolably until she became so overwrought that she ended up in the bathroom, praying to the porcelain god. Except there was nothing on her stomach – she hadn’t eaten in more than a day, and all she ended up doing was screaming uncontrollably into the toilet as her body let her know just how unacceptable the recent turn of events was.
When she’d finished, when her stomach muscles hurt and she was hoarse from all of the retching and screaming, she simply lay on the cool tile floor and cried until there were no tears left.
* * *
A year or so earlier...
Gabrielle Andolini reached for a celery stick and dipped it into her favorite garlicky dip, munching resentfully. “I hate low carb. What I wouldn’t give for a slab of Olive Garden pumpkin cheesecake about now!”
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm,” Linda agreed loudly. “I want a Cinnabon!” She smacked her hand down on the table like a petulant child, hard enough to make the pile of chips in the pots in the middle of the table jump.
“Okay,” Gabby chomped down again on the celery resentfully, looking behind her and removing the handy dandy fluffy pink, tasseled, star tipped “magic wand” she’d tacked up on the wall in a miserably failed attempt to decorate. As she waved it around recklessly in front of herself, she said, “Okay. I’m sure that you can all see that I have my magic wand in my hand–”
Charlene snickered. “You mean the magic whang?” she blurted, making everyone but Gabby snort and laugh.
With a death glare at Charlene, Gabby continued solemnly, “Okay, impromptu poll: if you could have any sweet treat from anywhere you wanted placed in front of you right this minute, what would it be?”
“Any?” her sister, Diane, asked.
They had just anted up, and it was Gabby’s deal. This was her regular Friday night Tripoli or Poker night, depending on what everyone wanted to play. It was a friendly game, just for change, although the pots in some of the Tripoli compartments could add up to some nice pocket change when they hadn’t been collected for a while.
It was the usual group – Gabby, Diane, Linda, Tiffany, Charlene, Bridget and Bonnie. The makeup of the group changed, dependant on the availability of babysitters, the condition of various member’s marriages, and various children’s’ sports events, but there were usually the same suspects, plus or minus one or two. If any more than two or three cancelled, then the whole event was off. Hosting circulated amongst everyone, unless a move was on or in-laws were in residence. The default venue was always Gabby’s, since her children were furry and she was single, and that was where they had ended up this time, since Bridget’s husband’s parents had settled in for a long winter’s stay, as usual at this time of year, when it got to be cold in Minnesota.
“I want a ginormous Cinnabon, please, with vats of icing for dipping and general rolling around in,” Linda reasserted, inciting snores from her friends who loudly professed the most sarcastic versions of disbelief imaginable.
The wishes flew around the table as puddles of drool formed on the floor around it. “A slab – hell, the whole cake – of Olive Garden’s pumpkin cheesecake!” “Bugaboo Creek’s brownie sundae” and “My Mom’s chocolate fudge pie!” were mentioned with a reverence usually reserved for prayers.
Bridget noticed that Gabby was the only one who hadn’t said anything. “Well? What do you want that’s completely off your diet?”
Gabby snorted. “Everything.”
“Answer your own question.”
“I want a sampler platter of my own creation – something from several different places.”
“Hey!” There were immediate outcries of foul. “You can’t do that – it has to be one thing! You said so yourself!”
Gabby glared ferociously. “Who’s holding the wand?”
That was the end of that. She who remembered to grab the wand off the wall first made the rules about the question. It had developed into something of an almost Truth or Dare situation among the friends. The wand was used to confess all sorts of things, or to encourage others to do so, and it worked wonderfully. They were a very tight knit group and probably didn’t really need it, but the wand was almost as good as alcohol, absolving everyone of guilt as they discussed some extremely intimate topics.
“I want part of a Cinnabon, some tiramisu from Olive Garden, some lemon tart from Macaroni Grill, and a whole lotta - ”
“A whole lotta Cade Thornton!” Tiffany filled in, despite not having been asked. “Don’t even need to dip him in chocolate, right, Gab?”
It definitely wasn’t the thought of forbidden food that made the drool drip from the corner of Gabby’s mouth. Nope. It was the instant picture of one Cade Thornton, businessman extraordinaire, standing there when she’d come to pick up Linda for lunch one day. She was his administrative assistant, which was an upscale, Human Resources term for what had always been called a secretary prior to the days of garbage men being called sanitation workers. But Linda knew what she was, and she was damned good at it. No Thornton would put up with anything less than the best from himself – or his employees.
Gabby was the calm, smart, capable type who wasn’t easily attracted or interested in most men – in fact, she was the most sexually adventurous in her fantasies - but Linda had grinned evilly when her friend had gotten an eyeful of the man in a gorgeous, hand tailored Italian suit. Introductions were made all around, and, luckily, she’d responded by rote, but Linda knew her friend well enough to know that she was totally and completely smitten, and had been ever since then.
Like most of the rest of the female population of Thornton Industries, and most every woman he met even casually.
But for some reason, from that point on, although Linda could tell that when they got together her friend was literally hanging on any word at all about Cade, she patently refused to go up to get Linda at her office, insisting instead that they meet downstairs in the lobby. Sometimes Gabby could be a little hinky about things for no particular reason – could play things a little close to the vest and this was definitely one of those times.
But there was no mistaking the immediate attraction, and everyone teased her about it mercilessly, especially since she was so fussy about men in general, preferring not to have a date on a Friday night – spending it with them losing her lunch money – rather than date someone just to say she was dating.
Linda had originally figured that if Cade Thornton had but snapped his fingers, Gabby would have dropped at his feet. Strong, independent, feisty Gabby. Linda knew Cade probably better than most, having spend the past ten years as his assistant, but he was nearly as impossibly hard to read as Gabby, and she couldn’t really tell if he’d been affected the same way at all. In a lot of ways, the two of them were very much alike – keeping a lot to themselves, never – in Cade’s case - and rarely – in Gabby’s – opening up to anyone. Gabby was good at getting her friends to talk, but Linda had seen through that old trick a while ago. If her friends were spilling their guts, then Gabby didn’t have to.
From what Linda could tell, Cade was the most introspective of the brothers – not that any of them were particularly forthcoming, especially about feelings. They were very typical men. Cade was the boss and he set the tone for the company, and that was one of hard work and dedication paying off – but he didn’t expect anything of anyone that he didn’t already require of himself.
The Thornton brothers had diversified very nicely under their oldest brother’s guiding hand – once their father had passed on – and they had their fingers in many pies, usually those that complimented the ranching industry. Cade headed up the research and development end of things, working on various projects and products – new feeds, new ways of animal management, anything that might work for their vast empire and that they could then market to others. It was a highly competitive business, fraught with security risks. Everyone would give their eye teeth to get a hold of what anyone else was working on.
And Linda was in her fifth month. She was going to be going on maternity leave for at least two months after the baby arrived, if not sooner, depending on how things went. She had a very bad back, and her obstetrician had already warned her that she might well end up bed ridden by as early as her sixth month.
But Linda had a plan.
Pre-empting the snickers and cat calls the mention of Gabby’s interest in Cade had prompted, Linda casually asked, “So. Any good news on the job front?”
There was only one of them at the table who was unemployed by fate rather than choice. Charlene stayed home with the kids because she wanted to. Gabby had lost her job when the department she’d been working in for the bank had been folded into another department in which she didn’t care to work.
“Nope, nothing yet,” Gabby replied stubbornly, knowing what her friend’s next words were going to be.
“No, thank you. I’ll starve before I work for him.”
Linda tsked in disgust, as did everyone else at the table.
“Puh-leeze! You have the hots for the man so bad it’s pathetic! Go work for him – maybe you can get a taste!” Bonnie was the youngest and, arguably, the prettiest. She had, by far, had had the most varieties of sex and sexual partners of all of them. She treated men like candy, eating them up and throwing away the wrapper. In some cases, throwing them completely out of bed and out of her apartment afterwards, refusing to allow any of them to even become close enough to her to stay the night. Her attitude towards the opposite sex made her older friends shake their heads, but they’d long since given up on trying to change her.
“Regardless,” Linda glared at Bonnie, “you’re practically over qualified. You’re perfect for the job.”
“Over qualified? I’ve never been a secretary in my life!” They’d been through this argument before, and everyone already knew their parts.
“I’ve seen how fast you type. You’re always correcting everyone’s grammar, even on Poker Nights. I know you know shorthand, like the rest of us old fogies, and you’re practically a computer nerd. You’re the most disgustingly smart and organized and honest person I know, and you’ll deal with a lot of sensitive information in my job. You don’t drink, you don’t do drugs – Cade could do a lot worse for a wife, much less just a replacement secretary.”
Gabby frowned as fiercely as she blushed. “And therein lies the problem: you’re coming back. I don’t want a temp job. If I did, I’d go to an agency - ”
“But it would get your foot in the door. I’m sure Cade would find another place for you in the company if you work as hard there as you did at the bank.”
Gabby had poured a lot of her heart and soul into the new department she’d helped found at the bank, only to have all of that work dissolved out from under her by the higher ups. She wasn’t at all sure that she wanted to – or even was really capable of – committing to a job in quite the same way again.
Linda wanted to seal the deal as soon as possible, and her mind was made up. She wanted to entrust the job – and the care and feeding of Cade Thornton – to someone she trusted. He’d told her she had full authority to interview and hire whoever she wanted to. Who better to find someone to replace her? Linda knew him like she knew the back of her hand, and it was much more than how he took his coffee. She knew her stuff, and he knew she’d find someone worthy of the post.
Linda appreciated his trust in her, and she knew she’d found the right person. It was just a matter of persuading that person of that fact. Luckily, Cade didn’t have any qualms about paying those around him who performed up to his standards – and those who didn’t last very long, anyway – extremely generously, and Linda had just this week gotten him to agree that whoever she chose would get the same rate of pay she did.
Cade had been surprised – which she only knew because that thick, dark eyebrow kinked sharply as it rose – but had taken one look at her and called her on it, realizing she already had someone in mind. Linda had grimaced, but confirmed his suspicions. All he’d said was, “I hope she’s worth it.”
If everything went according to Linda’s plan, she knew he’d find Gabby more than worth it. That was, if the woman would stop being so damned stubborn!
“You know,” she let slip as casually as possible, “whoever fills in for me will be earning the same rate I do, plus all of the benefits of working for the Thorntons.”
The Thornton family was legend in Haverhill, easily considered the best place to work, even more so than the bigger companies in the larger cities. The Thorntons took care of their own, and that included their employees. Everyone – from the CEO to the janitors – were expected to work hard, but were granted equally generous salaries and benefits packages. Family came first, and that unwritten policy was never more in evidence than when A.J., the eldest son, had had a bad car accident and ended up in a wheelchair. The brothers had drawn even closer together, and everyone they employed simply stepped in as best they could to take up the slack. Leaves were generous and schedules were as flexible as possible.
But first and foremost, the work got done, whether it was done by a new mom from her laptop at home, or an executive in the board room. No one worked harder than the brothers themselves – they were always the first in and the last to leave, and Cade was the worst of the bunch. He demanded as much from his staff as he did of himself, but he wasn’t stingy about paying them for it and Linda knew that was an ace in the hole.
Gabby had lost her job a couple months ago, and Linda knew money had to be getting a bit tight. Come to think of it, the sodas she usually had on hand when she hosted this shindig were house brands, rather than the Diet Coke she’d long since sworn allegiance to.
Linda allowed herself a small smile. Maybe she was more likely to win this battle than she’d thought.