The Harrisons: Book Two

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Once In A New York Minute

Haunted by a failed marriage and a failed business, the humiliation from Laura Harrison's New York days still burns like it was yesterday. For months, her long days at the family's Kentucky thoroughbred farm have helped keep her demons at bay, but when her sister Lacey turns up unexpectedly on her doorstep, fresh from Manhattan, not only is Laura forced to confront the painful memories of her past, but the mysterious letter her sister delivers, forces Laura back to the city she swore she'd never return to.

Back in the bustling metropolis, Laura discovers she has the fight of her life on her hands, but her ex-husband manages to pull the rug out from under her all over again. Emotionally bruised and battered, Laura's ready to turn tale and run straight back to the farm - for good this time, but a chance encounter with an old family friend has her completely turned around.

Laura is floored when she bumps into Marcus. The tall handsome guy standing in front of her doesn't bear much resemblance to the lanky kid Laura remembers from his summers at the farm. But the more Marcus flashes those swoon-worthy dimples at her, the more Laura feels her resolve to leave the city weakening by the second. When he offers her a place to stay, Laura finds herself doing an about-face and accepting the bottom-rung fashion designer job she'd firmly rejected.

Once a feted fashion designer, now she's starting at the bottom all over again, her heart as tattered as her sullied reputation. Working for a tyrannical designer is sending her blood pressure through the roof and living with drop-dead gorgeous Marcus and his adorable son Toby, isn't helping one little bit. As attracted to Marcus as Laura may be, she can't let her guard down for a second—and its cold comfort knowing that a high-flying fashion photographer like him wouldn't be interested in her anyway.

​When Laura's worst nightmares comes to life in the form of an impending fashion show, she has to face the paralyzing fear of being humiliated in front of her peers a second time. But even as she struggles to find her courage, storm clouds are gathering on the horizon and threatening to rain on her parade all over again.

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Early Reviews for Once In A New York Minute:

"...WOW !! AWESOME ROMANCE FROM NYC! I'm so glad I read the story of Laura Harrison and Marcus and it's my pleasure to review it. Blake and Lacey from book one convince Laura to return to NYC for a job interview in the fashion industry. She accepted the position, but left to start her own business with Lacey, plus she moves in to Marcus's apartment. She meets Toby, who is Marcus's son and they form a friendship. Now all the "Fun" and Action with a little mystery thrown in starts. Please read this awesome book for the romance of Laura and Marcus t o find their HEA! Again I want to say thank you to Alexa Bloom for writing a great story and letting me read it..." Ellen


Chapter One

“And so, the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” Laura said, gesturing at the stall behind her with a flourish. “Meet this year’s winner of the famous race for the roses—Stargazer.”

Even the jaded group of journalists couldn’t help ooh-ing and ah-ing at the sight of the majestic chestnut colt before them. Sensing it was his moment to shine, Stargazer moved forward regally, dipped his head over the stall gate and bobbed up and down like an actor taking his bows.

Jostling his way to the front of the group, a photographer angled his camera at Laura. “Ma’am, we’d love to get a shot of the two of y’all together—would you mind moving in a little closer to Stargazer?”

“Ah, sure, no problem.” Laura said, not wanting to get on the wrong side of the press, but knowing Stargazer’s ornery temperament all too well. The cantankerous animal wouldn’t hesitate to leave a full set of teethmarks on her shoulder if he decided he’d had enough of all the attention.

Gingerly, she shuffled right up alongside the colt and turned a pasted-on smile back toward the press pack.

“A little closer ma'am—closer, closer, that's perfect! Hold it right there.”

Laura forced herself to hold steady as Stargazer nickered impatiently beside her. “Come on, come onnn,” she muttered through a clenched smile, as the camera’s shutter clicked away.

"Hey! Miss Harrison!” Another photographer nudged his way to the front of the pack. “Could you plant one on him for us?”

Laura turned a brilliant smile toward the man. “Of course, anything for you guys.” How the heck had Blake dodged his way out of media duties, she wondered, planting a loud smooch on the Stargazer's silky muzzle and thanking her lucky stars the colt seemed to be in one of his more tolerant moods at the moment.

“Awww, so sweet.” The photographer gushed. "Thank you kindly ma'am."

"Over here Miss Harrison!" Came another voice from the pack.

As Laura's head whipped around toward the caller, footsteps sounded behind her and a warm pair of hands clapped over her eyes.

“Hey! Who is this?“ Laura’s hands flew upwards, but the unmistakable giggle already had her spinning around in joy. “Oh my God—Lacey!” Laura took in her sister’s gorgeous beaming grin and launched herself, almost knocking her over as she wrapped her in a tight bear hug. “What are you doing here? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

“Maybe I wanted to surprise you.” Laughing blue eyes twinkled back at her in delight.

“Who’s the young lady, Miss Harrison?” Yelled a photographer from the amused press pack.

Cheeks flushing with heat, Laura swivelled back to the group she’d momentarily forgotten. “Guys, this is my sister, Lacey. I guess it was kinda obvious I didn’t know she was going to be here today.”

“Two beautiful peas in a pod." Came a bold voice. "Give us a smile, ladies!”

As cameras started clicking again, Laura caught sight of her brother standing quietly at the back of the media gaggle, his hands deep in his pockets. A self-satisfied smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “You didn’t happen to know anything about this, did you Blake?”

A single brow shot up, as his grin broadened, but his answer was drowned out when the surprised press pack wheeled around as one and began rapid-firing questions at him in an ear-splitting jumble of voices.

“Blake! What’s the secret to training a Kentucky Derby winner?” “What’s his daily routine?”
“What does he eat?” An earnest young woman shoved a digital

recorder at him. “Any special formulas?”
“Guys, guys, one at a time, okay?” Blake said, holding up his

hands and skirting the pack toward his sisters.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Laura jumped in, seizing a golden

opportunity. Not only could she ditch the media gaggle and catch up with her sister, but also pay her brother back big-time for setting her up. “I’ll be leaving you in Blake’s capable hands, now,” she said, resting a hand on his arm briefly. “He’ll be finishing up the tour with you, and please—” She shot her brother a wink, which earned her a hard stare in return. "Feel free to ask my brother as many questions as you like, he’ll be absolutely delighted to answer all of them for you.”

“Come on guys.” Blake’s hands shot up defensively as a thousand questions fired at him again. “One at a time.”

With a satisfied smile, Laura turned her back on his frowning face and slipped an arm around Lacey’s waist. “Come on Lace,” she said, ushering her sister from the group. “Let’s go up to the house. I want to hear all about what you’ve been up to.”

***
As Lacey dropped onto a stool at the breakfast bar, Laura cast an eye over her sister’s latest quirky ensemble—a crocheted vest over a cherry-covered sundress, cowboy boots and a flicked back seventies hair-do, a couple of shades lighter than her usual shade of blonde. She watched her sister look wistfully out at the rolling

green countryside.
“It’s so great to be back, Laurs. I always forget how much I darn

well love this farm, till I’m back here,” she sighed.
“I know what you mean.” Laura flicked the coffee maker on

distractedly, as she turned to take in the same view as her sister.
“It’s kind of like a living scrapbook for us, don’t you think sis?” Lacey turned back toward her. “So many wonderful memories

everywhere you look.“

“Yeah...” Laura trailed off, grateful those very memories had been keeping thoughts of her old life back in New York at bay—up until now, that was.

Laura adored her younger sister and she’d been absolutely thrilled to see her again, but ever since she’d turned up unexpectedly, Lacey’s connection with New York had brought memories of those dark days surging back to the surface again. All the months Laura had been immersing herself in the hard work of the farm, had instantly fallen away and she’d been left flailing in rough seas again, the life raft she’d clambered onto, disintegrating into a million pieces.

She shook off the dark reveries and gave her sister a quizzical look. “So, this country-retro-seventies thing you’ve got going on, it’s a new look for you, isn’t it Lace?”

Lacey's infectious laugh rolled through the kitchen. “Gee thanks Laura. That wasn’t exactly the look I was going for, but you can blame Vince, my hairdresser—well, for the hairstyle part anyway. He's the one who convinced me to go for it. Actually," she said, cinnamon freckles furrowing across her nose as she scrunched her pretty face. “Now that I think about it, his actual words were, 'honey that dead-straight style is making you look less like a vamp, and more like a vampire’, so after that charming compliment, I figured I had nothing to lose." She spun herself around on the stool, stopping after a full revolution.

“As for this,” Lacey looked down at her outfit with a wry expression. “I just threw it all together. You know me, die-hard bargain shopper. Can’t help myself—I love the thrill of finding a great deal too much to buy new. Anyway," she said, scarcely drawing breath. "I got it all at a consignment store. Does it look totally awful?”

Laura suppressed a smile at Lacey's non-stop diatribe. Her sister hadn't changed one bit. “Well most people would look like they were wearing their Grandma’s crocheted tablecloth and if it were anyone else, I'd say you need a style intervention—but somehow you make it work.” She tilted her head at her sister. “Whatever you

call that look—it looks cute on you.”
Lacey gave a snort of laughter. “Glad to know I have the family

fashionista’s stamp of approval." She reached down into her handbag and fished out a half full bag of pretzels, stuffed a handful into her mouth. “Gotta love plane snacks. Never got around to eating lunch today.” Chewing thoughtfully, she looked up at the ceiling. "Or breakfast, come to think of it." She shoved another handful in her mouth.

“Oh Lacey,” Laura said, reverting to mother hen mode as she always had with her younger sister. “For goodness sake! You must be starving, let me see if I can find you something.”

Crossing to the fridge, Laura yanked it open and surveyed the contents with dismay. A bag of wizened grapes, half-empty jar of jam and a few lonely sticks of wilted celery stared back at her. “Not exactly the gourmet feast of leftovers I was hoping for.” She said, resolving to do a grocery run into town that afternoon. “Hang on.”

Jam jar in hand, Laura crossed to the pantry and rummaged around inside. “Hah!” She exclaimed, emerging seconds later with a jar of peanut butter in the other hand and waving it at her sister. “Remember, when I used to make you these after school?”

Lacey’s face lit up. “Cool! You're totally awesome Laurs. No one ever did make pb and j, like you.”

Laura began generously slathering a piece of bread with peanut butter. "I hope this isn't how you eat in New York Lace. You have to take better care of yourself."

“Yes Mom."
Laura shot her a censorious glare.
Soooo,” Lacey piped up again, then faltered.
“Yep?”
“You'll never guess what. I was so excited, I could hardly wait to

tell you—Antony Bartolini wants you to come work for him! At his design studio back in New York. Isn’t that exciting?”

As though a giant hand had wrapped itself around her throat and squeezed, Laura paused mid slather, the knife in her hand frozen. A

giant glob of jam slowly dripped from the knife to the bread.
“That’s actually why I’m here.” Lacey barrelled on. “Well, obviously I wanted to see you guys, too. But apparently the guy was having some trouble getting in touch with you. He said he’d left messages on your machine, and you hadn’t gotten back to him. Don’t worry though,” Lacey said, holding up a hand. “I covered for you. I told him you’d been away for a while and there was probably just something wrong with your machine. I said you’d be thrilled to come work for him. God—is that a fresh pot of coffee? It smells divine.” Lacey said, springing up and crossing to the cabinet. Pulling out two mugs, she poured two coffees and deposited one in

front of Laura before heading back to the counter.
She took a huge gulp of her coffee. “God, that is good. Just what

the doctor ordered.”
Laura tamped down the stew of emotions swirling in her gut and

with a concerted effort resumed her sandwich making. Grabbing a knife, she sawed all the way through the sandwich to the chopping board, then slung two perfectly symmetrical diagonal halves onto a saucer. She pushed the plate across the counter at her sister.

“And the best part,” Lacey continued, flicking her hair back and taking a huge bite of the sandwich. “Mmmm, this is seriously good. You are a total star Laura. I can’t remember the last time I had pb & j—anyway, the best part is you’d be working for someone else, so it would be totally risk-free! I know you were a bit gun shy, after... well, after what happened with your business. But Laura this is your chance to get back to doing what you love—without the financial risk! Isn’t that fantastic?”

For a few moments, all Laura could do was grip the granite countertop, as her sister took another huge bite of her sandwich. The slither of control she’d been holding on to had been swept away by a fierce wave of humiliating memories now threatening to engulf her. Memories of the huge flop that was supposed to have been her triumphant runway debut at New York Fashion week, the aftermath, the stinging reviews, the vicious gossip. She’d worked so hard to put all that behind her, and now here Lacey was, throwing

it all back in her face.
Anger and humiliation bubbled over. “Lacey. Did you ever stop

to think that there might be a reason I didn’t respond to those messages?”

Laura’s face was stricken. “I’m sorry, I—“

“You had no right to tell Antony I was interested in that position because I have no interest in going back to New York and even less

in taking that job.”

***
Even a brisk ride on Laura’s favourite saddle horse Daisy, hadn’t been enough to shake the hurt and anger at being ambushed by her siblings like that. Of course, Blake had known about this. This visit of Lacey’s hadn’t been some random visit out of the blue. Lacey hadn’t been back home in months, not since she’d shacked up with

that new guys of hers.
Anger stewed in her belly as Laura heaved the saddle up onto

the saddle rack, then strode down Stable Lane, the heels of her riding boots echoing on the cobblestones of the long corridor between the horse stalls.

Any other day, Laura would have taken the time to appreciate the beauty of the grand white stable building her father had built, but today anger blinded her to its elegant interior, to the coach lanterns adorning the wooden stalls and the soaring rafters criss- crossing the cavernous wood-panelled vaulted ceiling above her.

“Hey Miss L! How are you doin’?” Richie’s smiling moon face greeted her, as he headed toward her with a pail in each hand.

“Oh, I’ve been better, Richie. Listen, do you know if Blake is still tied up with that group of journalists?”

“Ah....nope. They were done about half an hour ago. I believe you’ll find him in the tack room right about now.”

“Much appreciated, I’ll catch you later.”
“Okay, catcha.”
If Blake thought he could just mess with her life without

consulting her, he had another think coming, Laura thought as she stormed up the long stable corridor.

“Did you know about this?” Laura said, barely taking in the ever present scents of saddle soap and leather as she stormed into the huge tack room where her brother kept his office. Blake’s head snapped up from his computer, his eyes widening as Laura marched toward him. On the other side of his desk, she leaned toward him. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

Blake skirted the huge mahogany desk that had been their father’s, and came toward her. “Come on sis,” he said, squeezing her shoulders gently. “Don’t get mad. Yeah, I organized for Lacey to make the trip from New York—I know how close the two of you are. I thought you’d be happy.”

“Of course, I’m happy to see her,” Laura snapped, pulling away from him and folding her arms. She wasn’t about to be placated by Blake’s big-brother-knows-best routine. “But there was more to it than me just catching up with Lacey, wasn’t there?”

Leaning against the desk, Blake let out a sigh. “You’re talking about the job offer. Yeah, I knew about that. To be honest, I thought you’d be more receptive to the idea coming from Lacey. But I really think it’s the best thing that could have happened for you right now. I mean, come on Laurs—you and I both know that designing is your first love. And here you are, still on the farm after all this time.” He arched a brow at her. “Isn’t it about time you got back on the horse?”

Laura paced the room. Her brother could be just plain infuriating sometimes. “That’s funny Blake—back on the horse. You know, in case you’ve forgotten, I helped get Lockwood Farm back on its feet when it was in big financial trouble. If it weren’t for me —“

“Hey—hold your fire!” Blake’s palms shot up. “Believe me, no one is more grateful to you for everything you did for Lockwood than me. But I’m not the enemy here, okay?”

Laura looked down at the floor and took a breath. “I know that. I’m sorry. It just feels like you and Lacey were conspiring behind my back, that’s all.”

“Well, I guess we kind of were, but in a good way.”

With a dip of his chin, her brother slanted a hang-dog grin at her, but Laura shot a disapproving glare right back. He wasn’t off the hook here, not by a long shot.

“You know, we just wanted to help you.” Blake went on. “Listen, this guy, Anthony?”

“Antony.”

“Okay, Antony. He’s the one chasing you for this job. Lacey and I had nothing to do with it—well, apart from encouraging you to go for it, that is. Maybe you’re getting so defensive about this, because deep down you know I’m right. Maybe, you really do want that job, but you’re just too scared to go talk to him about it.”

“What the heck makes you—“

“Listen. Laurs, I really do appreciate all your help with the farm. But after winning the Derby, Lockwood is doing great now, better than great—people are banging down the door to get their horses in here, and you had a huge hand in that.” He paused and drilled her with another one of his big brother stares. “I think the time’s come for you to focus on you again. Lacey’s right, this is a kick-ass way for you to get back into designing, without all the risk of starting your own business again. You know what I’m saying makes sense, right?”

Laura paced away from him to the gleaming tack rack at the far end of the room. For a long moment she stood fingering the leather of a bridle. “As a matter of fact, no, I don’t think it does.”

Blake’s frown deepened, but Laura ploughed on undeterred. He had to hear this. “Actually I’ve, had a lot of time to think about this, and I’ve decided that I’m, happy, here at the farm. I’m done with the fashion world, I’m going to stay on at Lockwood. And you’re wrong about designing Blake. It used to be my first love, not anymore. There was a time when I would have jumped at Antony’s offer, but not anymore. I have zero interest in that job and zero interest in going back to New York.” Laura turned to him fiercely. “And you guys are not railroading me into it!”

“Well,” Blake began, returning to his desk and leaning on its edge. He picked up the glass paperweight his Daddy had given him

and passed the glass-enveloped galloping horse from palm to palm. “I can see you’ve given this a lot of thought.”

“Yes I have.” Laura said, relieved that she’d finally gotten through to him.

“There’s only one problem.” “And that is?”

“I don’t buy it.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Laura was too flabbergasted to continue. “Laurs, I think you’re forgetting that I’ve been both a brother and

parent to you ever since Dad died and Mom got Alzheimer’s. And I think I know you pretty damn well by now.”

“Is that so?” Laura fumed. “Well, maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do.” That was it. She was done listening to him. Her brother might be in charge of Lockwood Farm, but he darn well wasn’t the boss of her. And it was ridiculous that he could somehow make her feel like a three year old again. As she spun around to leave, she was surprised to feel Blake’s hand on her arm wheeling her back around to face him.

“Laura, when I needed it, you pushed me to hear some stuff I didn’t wanna hear, and I know I could have lost Tatum if it weren’t for you. So, now I’m gonna do the same for you.”

“That has nothing—“

“Please. Just hear me out, will ya sis?” With a sigh of resignation, Laura stopped pulling away and motioned for him to continue. She’d let him say whatever it was he wanted to say, then do exactly what she just said she’d do. Forget all about the fashion world and get on with her life here at Lockwood. Maybe now that Tatum had moved up to the main house, she might even move back into the loft apartment above the stables, where she could get some darn peace and quiet.

“Laura, I’m not letting you throw this opportunity away out of fear. Yes I needed your help when the farm was in trouble, but Lockwood is doing fine now, and whether you admit it or not, I know you’d rather be back in New York designing.” He waited until she met his gaze. “Laura—you have to face your demons. You’ve

hidden out here long enough.”
“Hidden out?” Laura couldn’t believe her ears. Blake of all

people knew what she’d been through. “You know what he did to me!” She shouted, anger pricking her cheeks. “My ex-husband siphoned every penny out of our bank account, bankrupted my business, and made my debut show at fashion week a complete flop. He made me a laughing stock in front of all my peers—and you expect me to show my face in New York again?”

“I’m sorry you had to go through that Laura, I really am, and God knows if I ever get a hold of the bastard, I’m gonna make him wish he’d never seen the light of day. But if you don’t go back with your head held high, then you’re just letting him win. Is that what you wanna do? Are you just gonna let the bastard win?”

“Don’t you understand?” Laura said, shooting him a black look and pulling away. “He already has.” She headed to one of the comfy old armchairs and slumped into its welcoming arms. “You wouldn’t understand, you don’t know these people. This is the New York fashion industry we’re talking about here. It’s not exactly known for its warm and forgiving nature.”

“Well this Anthony guy obviously saw how talented you are.” Blake said, hooking a thumb through the handle of an empty mug and crossing to a coffee maker on the counter. At the touch of a button, the machine droned to life and spewed the richly aromatic black liquid into the mug. “And I’m sure he’s not the only one.” Blake went on. “Laura, your talent speaks for itself.”

“Antony. The guy’s name is Antony Bartolini.“
“Whatever, I—“
“Hey Boss.” Richie said, poking his head in the door. “You want

me to take Missy out for a walk? She missed out this morning.” Lockwood’s longest standing stablehand looked from Blake to Laura and back, seemed to sense the tension in the air. “Hey Miss L., you found him then.”

“Yep, I found him alright.”

Richie’s ever-present smile faltered a little and Laura regretted her sharp tone. It certainly wasn’t his fault Blake wouldn’t let up on

her. In fact, the smiling stablehand had to be one of the most upbeat people she’d ever encountered. Nothing ever seemed to phase the guy, and despite the fact that she’d been married and was now divorced, she’d always remained Miss L to him.

“That’d be great if you took Missy out for a spell.” Blake said, sipping his coffee. “Thanks Richie.”

As the stablehand turned to leave, Laura rose abruptly. “Hang on a minute Richie.” She crossed to the mini fridge and pulled a carrot from the fridge, tossed it over. “Give her one of these for me, will you?”

The huge beam returned. “Sure thing, Miss L. She’ll love that. Missy sure is partial to carrots.” He gave her a wink as he scuttled from the room.

Laura rounded on Blake, taking up exactly where she’d left off. “Listen Blake, Antony’s a business man. He just sees this as an opportunity to get my last collection that never went into production, for a song. He thinks I’ll come running and take whatever peanuts he throws me, because my business collapsed and my reputation was ruined. Well they can all go to the hell, because I’m not going back.”

“I don’t know about that.” Lacey’s voice had Laura whipping around to find her grim-faced sister approaching with what looked to be an envelope in her hand. “You might not want the job, but I have a feeling that New York may not be quite done with you.”

“What are you talking about Lacey?”

“Well, you still have unfinished business in New York, don’t you? And I have a feeling,” she said, wagging the envelope at her. “That that business ain’t going to wait any more.” She thrust the envelope at her sister. “Sorry, I missed this one when I gave you your mail earlier—it was at the bottom of my suitcase. I think it’s from your co-op.”

Laura glanced down at Mr. White’s neat hand-writing on the envelope’s return address, which did indeed confirm that the letter was from the co-op of her SoHo apartment building. “Oh what do they want?” Laura said, ripping open the envelope and quickly

unfolding the letter. She quickly scanned the contents.

To the above tenant and all others now in possession of the described premises:

You are hereby requested to quit, vacate and deliver possession thereof the undersigned within ten days of the date of this notice. This notice to vacate is due to your following breach of residency:

Causing damage and disrepair to the premises.

Should you fail, refuse or neglect to cure the breach within five days of the date of this notice, the housing cooperative will take legal action as the law requires, to evict you from the premises.

Thank you for your cooperation,
The Majestic building housing cooperative.

“Well, what is it?” Lacey asked, concern edging her voice.

Laura looked up at them in shock. “I can’t believe it. They want to kick me out of my apartment.”

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