TITLE: Crazy About Cameron
AUTHOR: Katy Regnery
SERIES: The Winslow Brothers #3 - The Blueberry Lane Series
Expected publication: September 25th 2015 by Katharine Gilliam Regnery
Thank you Katy Regnery!!!
(Excerpt from Crazy about Cameron, The Winslow Brothers #3. All rights reserved. Copyright 2015 to Katharine Gilliam Regnery)
Cameron Winslow pressed the call button on the elevator, checking his watch as he waited for it to descend. Ten-thirty. Yet another fifteen-hour day.
Since his brother, Christopher, had decided to bail on their financial company, C&C Winslow, to pursue a congressional bid, Cameron had been left high and dry in charge of the accounts they’d painstakingly built up together. Somewhere deep inside, he knew that he couldn’t continue on like this, and yet…damn it, they’d worked hard to build C&C Winslow together. He couldn’t give up yet. He wouldn’t.
The lobby door whooshed open, and Cameron turned to see Margaret Story step onto the marble floor of their apartment building. The building handyman, Diego, rushed to take her umbrella, and Margaret smiled up at him—her lips tilted up in a demure grin. Cameron’s eyes trailed hungrily down her petite body, taking in the short, tan raincoat she had belted at her tiny waist, and her gorgeous legs in two-inch heels. Sliding his eyes back up, he focused on her dark brown hair, pulled back severely in a smooth bun, and black-rimmed glasses covering her amber eyes.
He felt his body tighten in response and turned away from her, facing the shiny brass door of the elevator as it dinged softly.
Margaret Story was the unaware star of Cameron’s filthiest dirty-librarian fantasies.
Always had been. Always would be.
And yet Margaret was a lady—someone who deserved his respect and admiration. He had no business thinking about her like that. There were women you did filthy things with…and women you married. He knew plenty of the former, but Margaret was firmly the latter. And since Cameron Winslow wasn’t exactly in the market for marriage, his deeply embedded moral code insisted that Margaret Story was strictly off-limits to him.
Not that he’d actually have a chance with her anyway, he thought, clenching his jaw. She’d been dating some self-important asshole at her father’s company for the last several months. Cameron had had the misfortune of being trapped in the elevator with Shane and Margaret once or twice, and he wasn’t anxious for it to happen again anytime soon. It was hard enough to see Margaret at all—seeing her with her smug, smirking boyfriend, when she deserved so much better, was almost unbearable.
Cameron glanced back at her quickly, glad that Shane was absent tonight, but hoping that she’d chat with the handyman for a few more seconds and he could make his way upstairs alone.
“Thanks so much, Diego,” she called as the elevator door opened. He heard her heels clack across the marble floor as she rushed toward the elevator. “I’ll give him a call tomorrow!”
Cameron turned around just in time to see her step inside the suddenly-tiny box and give him a careful smile.
She flinched at his use of her childhood nickname, her pretty lips pursing. He knew she didn’t like it, but using it kept distance between them and Cam needed that distance if he had any chance of behaving decently around her.
She sighed, leaning forward to press the eighth floor button and the slight movement released a scent of lilac which made Cameron groan quietly. She smelled like spring and it made his mind switch from rational thought to spring-fever whenever he was close to her.
Margaret turned around to face him, lifting her chin. “Honestly, Cameron, I don’t know what I ever did to you.”
This was a familiar conversation. She initiated it at least once every couple of weeks when they bumped into each other, and as much as Cameron dreaded it, he sort of longed for it too. It meant that he mattered to her—on some level, insignificant though it may be, prim, perfect, pristine Margaret Story cared that Cameron appeared not to like her.
Cameron did his best to look bored, looking at her with half-lidded eyes and shrugging.
“Fine,” she said, shaking her head, her expression just shy of hurt. “Be that way.”
She turned back around, pushing her purse to her elbow and crossing her arms over her chest.
He’d grown up with Margaret Story—their estates only separated by the Rousseau’s house on Blueberry Lane in nearby Haverford. And she’d always, more or less, been the person she was now. Bookish and severe as a child, likely to blow the whistle on any misconduct and get adults running over to spoil the kids’ fun, he really hadn’t paid her any attention until her legs had suddenly gotten long and coltish and her small breasts had started to tease him at neighborhood pool parties.
He’d watched her, studied her, quietly fascinated by her innate serenity. She was more comfortable hanging back, the second of five sisters, and perennially in older Alice’s shadow or looking after younger sisters, Betsy, Pris and Jane. He had a sense that she liked flying under the radar, which made her his favorite target for teasing: the attention, to which she was unaccustomed, always made her pinken and fluster, and Cam had savored her reaction to him. He loved “pulling her braids,” teasing her in an attempt to loosen her up, and when it backfired, still wishing he could be the boy that made it happen, made her smile.
But, at thirteen years old, just when Cameron might have mustered up the courage to steal a kiss from twelve-year-old Margaret, his father had died suddenly of a heart attack. His whole world had changed overnight, ending in his move to London with his mother, brothers and little sister…and Margaret Story became a dim memory attached to happier days he’d just as soon forget.
Five years later, he’d moved back to Philadelphia for college like his brothers, but he’d heard through the grapevine that Margaret was in finishing school in Switzerland, a tradition for the Story sisters. And from what he’d gathered over the years, she’d stayed abroad, learning about French and Italian wines from old-world masters.
A few months ago, Cameron had run into Margaret again. Chatting with Alex English in the lobby of his apartment building, Margaret—Alex’s date—had suddenly walked back into his life. She’d returned from Europe, finally, and had just moved into his apartment building. Of all the places in all the world, the little girl whose braids he’d pulled now lived directly over his apartment.
And she was stunning. Sophisticated and charming, beautiful and refined, Margaret had grown into a modern-day Grace Kelley, complete with an ever-present chignon and elegant taste in clothes. Never a hair out of place, her voice never raised beyond the honeyed tones of her quiet speaking voice, she was the epitome of grace and refinement.
“May I ask you a question?”
Jolted from his thoughts, he looked up at her. “Why not?”
“Have you ever had any work done on your apartment?”
He shook his head. “Nope.”
She sighed. “Okay. Thanks.”
The elevator stopped and the door opened to the fourth floor. Mrs. Stewart took her time getting onto the elevator, her two Pekinese dogs yapping unpleasantly. Margaret moved back a little to accommodate the feisty fur balls, and her elbow brushed against Cameron’s forearm. He knew the polite thing to do would be to move back to give her more space in the tiny, old-fashioned elevator, but he didn’t want to. He wanted to touch her, even if it was through layers of raincoat and suit jacket.
“Push the L, huh, love?” asked Mrs. Stewart in her light Scottish brogue.
“We’re going up, Mrs. Stewart,” said Margaret as the doors closed.
“Oh, dear. I want to go down.” Mrs. Stewart reached forward and pushed the button for the 5th floor. “I’ll get off at the next stop instead.”
That strategy made very little sense to Cameron, but he held his tongue, feeling at once annoyed and secretly thrilled to have a little extra time with Margaret’s arm pressed against his. The top of her head, which just reached his shoulder, was so close, if he leaned forward he could brush her hair with his lips. Stopping himself just as he started to lean forward, he cleared his throat.
“Are you having some work done?”
“I’m thinking about it,” she said, without turning her swan-like neck to face him.
He wanted to know more, but appearing interested would be at odds with his usually insouciant demeanor toward her. The elevator dinged at the fifth floor and Mrs. Stewart’s Pekinese pups launched through the door, thinking a walk was imminent, and Cameron felt some sympathy for the fifth floor lobby carpet.
“So, I guess that means it’ll be noisy upstairs,” said Cameron.
As the elevator doors closed again, she turned slightly. “I’ll ask Geraldo to work during the day…so I don’t inconvenience you.”
“Very considerate. Thanks.”
“However,” she continued, “since you’re rarely home before midnight, and always out of the building by seven in the morning, that leaves him plenty of time.”
This was interesting. She kept tabs on his comings and goings? Why in the world Cameron found this so captivating, he couldn’t put into words, but his cool façade slipped, and he couldn’t resist teasing her just a little.
“You spying on me?”
She took a step away from him, backing toward the doors as her cheeks turned pink. “N-No. I just…I mean, I take a run some mornings and see you heading off, and when I come back from—I mean, some evenings when I return late, I notice you…you…”
“You notice me, Margie,” he rumbled, letting his eyes rest on hers.
“Yes.” She lifted her chin. “Yes, I do. I notice that you don’t say hello. I notice that you wish you were anywhere but trapped in an elevator with me making small talk. I notice that although you know how much I hate the nickname “Margie,” you never miss an opportunity to use it.”
She was magnificent with her flashing brown eyes and pink pillowed lips. If she was his, he’d lunge toward her right now. He’d bury his hands in her hair and send her goddamn hairpins to the floor as he pulled her face to his and—
Totally unaware of Cameron’s thoughts, Margaret shook her head in disappointment and turned away from him, as though giving up on his ability to give an appropriate response to her mini tirade.
“Diego gave me the name of his cousin. Geraldo. Apparently he does work for other tenants now and then.”
Cameron took a deep breath, wishing away the very vivid images in his head, and heard himself say, “Come to think of it, I do have a project that needs attention. Perhaps I should schedule him too…as long as he’s going to be here in the building.”
She glanced at him over her shoulder. “Oh? I didn’t realize you were considering a renovation.”
“My master bathroom’s too small,” he blurted out.
As she stared at him, her little pink tongue darted out to lick her heavenly lips, and her voice was a little breathier than usual when she finally responded, “Oh. I see.”
The elevator dinged, stopping at Cameron’s floor, but he made no move from where he leaned against the back of the elevator. What did she see? She couldn’t possibly see what he saw in his head. Her small, lithe body all soaped up in his shower…her soft skin pressed against his as she leaned back against him, naked in his bathtub, her back to his front, her hair tickling his bare chest, her legs entwined with his, his hands on her slick, pert breasts as he—
“I can give you Geraldo’s information. Hold on a sec…” She rifled through her bag, pulling out her cellphone as the doors opened.
Cameron’s cock was hardening by the second. He needed to get away from her. Far away. At least a full apartment floor away.
“Text it to me,” he said, brushing her shoulder as he strode past her, through the open doors.
“But I don’t have your–”
Looking back at her buttoned-up beauty over his shoulder, he said, “ 717-555-7172 .”
And the doors closed.
Margaret snapped her jaw shut and quickly entered the digits into her phone before she forgot them. Not that Cameron Winslow deserved anything from her, but she wasn’t the sort of person who withheld help just because the person asking for it was a bona fide jackass.
As she typed in his name, the elevator doors opened to her floor, and Margaret walked out of the elevator, heading down the hallway to her apartment. She’d purchased it last Fall after moving back to the United States.
Unlocking her door, she entered her dark apartment, still holding onto her phone. She placed her bag and keys on the front hall table, then slipped out of her heels. Padding into the round center hall, the chandelier above sensed her movement and illuminated the room. Like the spokes of a wheel, all the rooms in her apartment opened into this hallway: her kitchen was through an arched doorway to the far left. Another arch indicated the dining room, and yet another, her living room. To the right, a final archway led to a hallway where her bedroom suite, guest room and guest bath were all located. Between the kitchen and dining room, there was a swinging door, and between the dining room and living room, French doors, which could be opened when entertaining.
It was an enormous apartment by Philadelphia standards, but she’d been captivated by it from the first moment she saw it and her trust fund tidily covered the expense of purchasing it. Still, so much space was almost a waste for one person, she mused, heading into the kitchen. Especially when that one person spent every weekend at her vineyard in Newtown, Pennsylvania, about an hour from the city.
Margaret placed her phone on the kitchen counter and pulled a wineglass from a cedar rack, then opened her refrigerator and withdrew the bottle of Viognier she’d purchased from a vineyard near hers last weekend. She poured a healthy splash into the glass, then picked up her phone and headed through the dining room into the living room where she left the lights off and curled up on the overstuffed couch that faced an elegant, white marble fireplace.
Swirling the wine absent-mindedly in the dim ambient light afforded by the streetlights shining through her windows, she closed her eyes and dipped her nose into the glass, inhaling the bouquet. It wasn’t a bad vintage—the familiar smells of vanilla, apricot and oak infused her nostrils and she sighed, relaxing for the first time all day. Leaning back, she swirled the wine again, then sipped, letting the cool liquid take over her mouth as she breathed slowly through her nose. Finally, with another sigh of delight, she swallowed, amazed that such a decent wine could be produced in Pennsylvania and hoping that her own vintages would—one day—surpass her neighbors and rival her competitors.
For Margaret, who’d earned her undergraduate degree in Paris and her Sommelier certificate in Bordeaux, wine making was an art form. As for wine drinking…well, it was a very sensual, very visceral pleasure that made her toes curl as she took a second sip.
All of the stress of the day started to slip away as she balanced her phone on the arm of the couch and took the diamond studs out of her ears, placing them carefully on the coffee table before her. Her wineglass followed and she propped up her feet beside the glass, leaning back on the couch and closing her eyes. Without thinking, her hands reached for her phone, and she played with it, handing it back and forth between her palms, thinking about Cameron Winslow.
Why did he dislike her so much? And why did it bother her so damn much?
Gulping her wine uncharacteristically, she placed the glass back on the table and headed into the kitchen for the bottle, returning to pour herself another splash. As a rule, Margaret never overdrank, but if anyone could make her break her own rules, it was Cameron.
Cameron…on whom she’d had a crush for as long as she could remember. Cameron…who’d been the first boy to show her attention when she was ten-years-old. Cameron…who’d moved away when his father suddenly died. Cameron…who lived directly below her apartment and about whom she’d fantasized since the moment she saw him standing there talking to Alex English in the lobby last November. Cameron…with his tall, muscular body, thick black hair and grass-green eyes.
Cameron…who couldn’t stand her.
She looked down at her phone where his name and number glowed back at her.
It was clear he didn’t want anything to do with her. He barely gave her the time of day when he saw her, and if he thought she missed all the times he pushed “Door Close” when she was running for the elevator, he was delusional. After bumping into her at the building gym two mornings in a row in December—both times he’d looked her over carefully before offering the most unbelievable scowls—he’d started running outdoors instead. Even in the almost-unbearable cold of winter, he ran outside instead of using the treadmills, and she couldn’t shake the feeling he’d rather run in sub-zero temperatures than risk running into her. She had no idea what she’d ever done to him. Hell, if memory served, Cameron had been the one who’d gleefully teased her in the years before he moved to London. In fact, if she concentrated carefully, she could still feel him tugging on her tight, neat braids at one of the neighborhood pool parties.
She shrugged defensively, catching her reflection in the glass of her windows that looked out onto the darkness of Rittenhouse Square. Tugging the pins from her chignon, she loosened her thick, long, wavy hair and it unwound, falling effortlessly around her shoulders. Unbuttoning the top two buttons of her simple white silk blouse, she tossed her hair a little, the crisp white and dark brown a sharp contrast. She took off her glasses and placed them on the coffee table too, then stared at herself carefully. And yes. She looked younger and sexier and more approachable. But she also looked less polished and professional, and that simply didn’t cut it in her father’s world.
As if on cue, her phone started buzzing.
“Hello?” she said.
“The Gallo-Fishtail Import numbers,” he barked without preamble.
“On your desk, father.”
“I’m quite sure I asked for them to be e-mailed to me.”
And Margaret was quite sure he hadn’t…because when Douglas Johnston Story gave a command, Margaret listened. Implicitly.
“Father, I can send them over to you–”
“It’s too late,” he snapped. Then, under his breath, “Why one of you couldn’t have been born a boy…”
She winced, but didn’t acknowledge his familiar refrain. “Really, I can forward them now, or–”
“I’m leaving the office now. You’ve wasted hours of my time tonight already, Margaret. Just have them e-mailed to me by eight tomorrow.”
“You don’t get ahead by making mistakes, Margaret.”
“Take young Shane, for example. Flawless record here at Story. Flawless. Why, he’s just about the son I never—ah-hem, I just mean…how are things going between you kids?”
His voice had changed slightly from angry and businesslike to politely conversational, and Margaret, who craved any warmth from her father, leaned into it.
“He’s very nice, father.”
“He’s quite the go-getter. I like him, Margaret Anne. I like him just fine.”
“You should, uh—your mother wants you and Shane to come to dinner on Saturday night. In Haverford. Let’s show him the place again, eh? Show him Forrester. Show him his future.”
“Now, Margaret, your older sister was a terrible disappointment to your mother and me. A downright embarrassment, if you want to know the truth. After what we spent on her education…she had every possible opportunity at Story but she couldn’t cut the mustard. Now, you’re next in line and it’s your duty, girl—your responsibility—to marry an appropriate man and continue the Story line. We need a strong young buck to take over some day while you’re home with the little ones. And young Shane seems like just the ticket. Yes, he does.”
Margaret swallowed, cringing as she reached for her glass, unable to answer her father. The words in her head boiled with the power of her fury and should she let the loose, she feared she’d alienate the person whose affection and approval she’d coveted for the majority of her life. Taking a long sip of wine, she swallowed past the lump in her throat and forced herself to be silent.
“Yes, sir,” she somehow managed. “I understand.”
“Dinner on Saturday, then?”
“I’ll speak to Shane tomorrow and ask if he’s free.”
“Of course he’s free for dinner with the boss!”
And there it was: the implication that she was totally irrelevant. It stung so badly, she had to work to keep her voice from breaking as she responded.
“Then I guess we’ll see you then,” she said, her heart heavy and feelings bruised.
Without another word, the line went dead, an indication that her father had gotten what he wanted and further conversation wasn’t required.
Tossing her phone to the far side of the couch, she blinked her eyes, embarrassed by the tears that burned there. It was no mystery that Douglas Story had hoped for a son. That’s why he’d had so many children, only stopping when unlucky number five—Margaret’s youngest sister, Jane—had turned out to be another unwanted girl. Truthfully, though, he might have kept going if Margaret’s mother hadn’t hemorrhaged during the delivery, almost losing her life. Subsequent children simply weren’t an option, and since Douglas Story didn’t believe in divorce, he had to live with his great disappointment.
Alice, Margaret’s older sister, had refused to knuckle under and take an indefinite administrative position at Story Imports. After five years of paying her dues while the men around her received promotions, Alice, the daughter of the owner and founder, had expected a Vice-Presidency. When their father had passed over Alice and promoted the son of one of his golf buddies last summer, she had quit with flaming colors a la Jerry Maguire, standing on a desk and asking who at Story Imports valued their dignity and would like to work at a company where they were appreciated. Only one person—Carlos Vega, the Mail Room Coordinator—had answered her call, leaving his mesh cart abandoned and crossing the room to stand beside her.
“What’s your name?” she’d asked.
“Carlos, Miss Alice,” the name sounding more like “Ah-leese” in Jane’s epic retelling.
“Carlos? That’s Charles, right?”
“Verdad. That’s right.”
“Thank you, Charles. You won’t regret it.” Then she turned back to the room of Story Imports employees and asked again, “Is anyone else interested in a fresh start away from this hell hole?”
According to Jane, who’d been interning last summer, Alice’s invitation had been met with tense silence until their father had bellowed, “Get out and good riddance!” from his office.
With that, Ahleese had marched out of Story Imports with Carlos Charles at her heels, and she’d never darkened the door again. Nor had she spoken to her parents or visited Haverford since, and that included a very tense Christmas wherein they all noted and grieved her absence.
On one hand, Margaret admired and envied her sister, most days wishing that she had the strength to stand up to their father as Alice had and walk out of Story Imports. But on the other, she couldn’t. She loved him too much. For better or for worse, he was their father—their only father—and Margaret still hoped it was possible to please him, to meet his expectations, to impress him, and yes, to win his love.
Of course she’d prefer to spend all of her time at the vineyard. Of course she’d prefer to be her own boss, not a lowly administrative assistant in a company she should be co-running. Of course she’d rather be spending her days and nights with her hair unbound, in rolled-up jeans and barefeet, babying her grapes and sleeping at the three-room cabin she’d had renovated out at The Five Sisters Vineyard.
But that would disappoint her father. And she couldn’t do that. She just…couldn’t. And maybe someday, he’d see her worth and promote her. Maybe someday they’d run Story Imports together.
Sighing deeply, Margaret took her wineglass to the kitchen and turned off the lights in her apartment before heading back to her bedroom. Falling back onto the plush, comfortable bed, she thought about Shane Kingston—his thinning blonde hair, long nose and cool blue eyes. He wasn’t conventionally handsome, but he was appropriate and ambitious, well-educated and from a good family. He could tell an off-color joke in a conference room and have the stuffiest of geezers in stitches, and he could wrap an arm around a grieving secretary and make her feel like he really cared that her cat died last night. Shane was a born schmoozer without the ooze, and walked away from deals with the upper hand while still smelling like a rose.
Shane was a good guy and an even better businessman.
The problem with Shane, however, was that Margaret would never be sure if Shane was dating her for her, or for her father, and she was determined not to let her heart be sacrificed until she knew for sure. She kept Shane at arm’s length and though he had tried several times to coax her into more intimacy, he’d always been a gentleman when she firmly pushed his hands away.
Did she genuinely like Shane? She didn’t really know. Her father had set them up on a date a few months ago, and since then whenever Shane asked her out, Margaret said yes. She hadn’t really examined her feelings for him.
But whatever they were, they paled in comparison to the butterflies that beat at her chest during a five-minute elevator ride with Cameron Winslow.
Holding up her phone, she tapped her Contacts app and scrolled all the way down the alphabet to W. Tapping lightly on Cameron Winslow’s name, his number came up immediately and she opened up a text box.
I didn’t forget about you. I’ll forward Geraldo’s information in the morning.
She pressed send and rested the phone on her belly, surprised when it buzzed almost immediately, vibrating on her belly.
Sweet dreams, Margie.
Her heart lurched into a gallop and she sucked her bottom lip into her mouth as she stared at the words. She debated writing back, but sensible Margaret took over, forcing her to put down the phone and change into her pajamas.
But that night while sensible Margaret slept deeply, Margie dreamed of a life spent in a sunny vineyard, making beautiful wines and sweet black-haired babies with grass-green eyes, with all thoughts of Shane and Story Imports left far, far behind.