She married the love of her life at nineteen—and then he died.
He knows he’s not somebody she should get involved with. But he can’t seem to leave her alone.
Alessia Casella Benatti had her happily-ever-after and now at thirty-four, is only interested in finishing up college and taking care of her three rambunctious boys. But when she enrolls at City College for her courses, she meets Dylan Davidson and finds him interesting, smart and, well, flirtatious. Which makes her start thinking again about love. And sex. Both in short supply.
Dylan Davidson hates what he’s come to do at City College. Sure, it’s a boy dream to flirt with every available girl on campus. Nobody would guess that big, tough Dashing Davidson wants a woman in his life, one who’s all grown up and not concerned with her looks or the color of her nail polish. But his uh-oh alarm goes off when Ali Benatti befriends him. She doesn’t fit into the job he’s here to do, and not only will he break her heart, but he’ll jeopardize a very important mission.
Don’t miss all The Casella Cousins Books: Hayley, Seth, Finn, Alessia, Gideon and Ronan from the NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY bestselling author Kathryn Shay.
As soon as Alessia Benatti finished her afternoon class, she threw on her quilted jacket and raced out of the room, down the hall and to the exit. She’d just reached the door of the building when she heard, “Alessia, wait up.”
She turned. And gave a half smile. Any other time, she’d be thrilled that Derek Davidson, the dark-haired, blue-eyed heartthrob of the class had called out to her. He was movie-star handsome with a quick smile. That he also had a quick wit made him even more attractive. Despite the cold, he wore a thin leather jacket over a navy sweater. “I can’t—”
“Talk, I know. I saw you leave in a hurry. Did something bad happen?”
“No. It’s all good. I have to get home for a Girl Power Party and I don’t want to miss dinner.”
He pushed open the door for her. Once outside, her dark hair blew all over the place in the November wind. She tried unsuccessfully to contain it. “My car’s right down the street. I’ll take you to Hidden Cove. You can tell me on the way what a Girl Power Party is.”
Startled at his suggestion, she said, “Thank you so much for the offer. But I don’t want to put you out.”
He peered over at the busy traffic, honking horns and shouts of drivers on the street in front of the school. A light snow had begun to fall. “What would you do? Try to get an Uber at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon in lower Manhattan?”
She checked her watch. “Or walk to the train.”
“Which will be mobbed. I’m free the rest of the day.” His mouth crooked into a delicious smile. “Let me do this for you.”
“All right. And thank you.”
They hurried to a lot not too far way, the snow increasing to large, wet flakes, and stopped at an older, gray Honda Civic. He unlocked the door and opened the passenger side. She slid in, he got behind the wheel, checked the rearview mirror, then pulled out into the thick traffic that made the roads spit slush.
“This’ll save me tons of time.” She uttered the words once he started driving. “I really shouldn’t have come to school today, but I like this teacher and what she does in the course.”
“Me, too.” The windshield wipers squeaked on the glass as he glanced over at her. “So, what’s a Girl Power Party?” His voice was deep and husky.
She chuckled. “It used to be called a bachelorette party but none of us liked the name. This is for my soon to be sister-in-law, who’s marrying one of my brothers, and my cousin, who I’m very close to.”
“We have an interesting family.”
“Being there for family is important.” He winked at her. “You said that once in a group work session.”
“So did you. You’re from Brooklyn, right?”
“We were both paying attention.”
Alessia struggled not to sigh. When they were asked to relay some of their bio in Interpersonal Communication, a required course, he’d told the group that, too. The other eight females in this particular course of twelve had fawned over him. Not Alessia, though. Why bother? She wasn’t his type. Word had it he dated around, but never stayed with anyone too long.
As he got on the expressway, he relaxed back in his seat. Now, his scent, something spicy and male, began to fill the car. “Tell me about your brothers. You mentioned them in class.”
“The first one, Rafe, has a doozy of a story.” Doozy. What a stupid word. “He’s a firefighter captain and lost the love of his life seven years ago. She…abandoned him. But she came back, with his five-year old boy in tow. They eventually got together, married and she’s pregnant again.”
“Wow. Girl or boy this time?”
“A girl. She named Tomaso after my father even when they were split.”
“What are your twins’ names?” He’d also mentioned he had two children a year older than Pete.
“Hell on Wheels and Holy Terror.”
She laughed. “Yeah, I got a Hurricane Peter.”
“Any other siblings with drama like the first one?”
“Uh-huh. My younger brother Seth, the one who’s getting married, got stabbed last year where he works at Legal Aid by the disgruntled husband of a client.”
“Was it serious?”
“Touch and go for a while. But he recovered. He got back together with his long-lost girlfriend while he was recuperating, and they worked things out. And she—Julianne—was being stalked at the time, so they’d both been in danger. Their double jeopardy kind of brought them together again.”
He gave her a sideways glance. “Alessia, are you making this up?”
“Nope. Honest. And there’s more.”
“My other brother’s a cop.”
“A hard profession.”
“Yeah, he’s hard in some ways, especially since he got divorced.”
“I’ll bet he’s a softie with you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I can’t imagine anybody being mean to you. You’re so sweet.”
“How would you even know that?”
“Remember how Mary Jane started crying when Professor Jolson yelled at her? You spoke right up and told him she had a right to be chided respectfully.”
“Yeah. I couldn’t help myself.”
“Word had it you bought her a coke after class and talked to her. What’d you tell her?”
“That not all men were jerks.” Even she could hear the tinge of sadness in her voice.
“You said you were lonely after your husband died.”
“God, I said a lot.” Too much.
“What about him? Was he one of the good guys?”
“Absolutely. Do you have any siblings?”
“Um…a sister. Tell me more about your cousins.”
“Not yet. I’m doing all the sharing. I want to hear three things about you first.”
“Okay, I’m widowed, too.”
“You didn’t mention it.”
He cleared his throat. “It was too hard to talk about in class.”
“I’m so sorry. But you still have to give me two more things.”
“I spent some time in community theater here in New York.”
“It was a release for stress.”
“What do you do for a living?”
“Actually, I quit my job to get my teaching degree faster. I want to work with kids. Okay, that makes three. The cousins?”
“Living in New York. You probably know about the gala where a guy shot up the ballroom of a hotel last summer?”
“He’s your cousin?”
“No, his fiancée is. Hayley. She’s the other one getting married. I’m in the wedding.”
“How do you keep all this straight?”
“It’s my life. My other cousin owns Fitzgerald’s on MacDougal Street and knows the famous O’Neils.” She grinned. “Last one: my oldest cousin was a famous movie star twenty years ago.”
He shook his head. “No kidding?”
“What was his name?”
“As in the Rebel movies?”
“I’m bowled over by your family.”
“Not me, though.” The comment just slipped out. She usually kept her lack of uniqueness to herself.
“Why do you say that?”
“Nothing dramatic has ever happened to me. I’m an ordinary widow, mother and sibling.”
“Alessia Benatti, you’re anything but ordinary.”
“What a nice thing to say. But I’m okay with who I am. All I want is an ordinary teaching career.”
“Teachers change the world one kid at a time. That’s far from ordinary.”
“Is that why you went back to school?”
“It’s one of the reasons.” He looked straight ahead. “I need directions to the house.”
She was shocked. “Are we in Hidden Cove already?”
“Yeah.” As he drove out to the lake, her directions kept them from sharing any more, and too soon, Derek pulled into the long driveway up to the front of the house. The shuttered, dark gray building shot up three stories. Big stone steps led up to a door. The deck and dock around back had been a source of joy during her childhood. She’d spent wonderful times here.
When he stopped, she turned to him. “Thank you so much, Derek.” Spontaneously, she leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek. “You know, you’re sweet too, to have done this for a stranger. I won’t forget how kind you’ve been.”
A quirky smile. “I wanted the trip to be easier for you.”
“That makes you even more special.” She watched him for a sec. “What’s your favorite cookie?”
“I’ll make you some.”
“Chocolate Chip, of course.”
“I’ll bring them to the next class we share. Take care.”
“You too, Alessia. Have fun, but stay safe.”
As soon as he was out of sight of the house, Derek hit the steering wheel with his fist. “Fuck!” Grant Wilson would kill him if he knew the impulse Derek had given in to. He’d been working this case for five months, and the task force was involved even longer, and not once had Derek broken any rules. But he’d come to like Alessia Benatti from the courses they shared over the summer and now this fall semester. She had a quiet strength about her, an unassuming personality and—very important to him now—totally disconnected from the mess at the college.
Besides, he was lonely.
He’d happily listened to her bubble over about her family and her concern for her sons. For the hundredth time, he wished his life was that simple. Instead, he joined the bureau at twenty-two, right out of college, and started undercover work at thirty. Now, at thirty-seven, he was deeply entrenched. Grant, who would eventually become his handler, had warned him and a female operative when they were about to go undercover…
You have to lie to nice people, maybe even hurt them in order to find answers.
You can’t have a social life because you could slip up during sex.
You might even have to sleep with someone to get information.
The female agent didn’t flinch.
Derek cringed inside. But he’d pursued this life despite the drawbacks. It wasn’t too bad until this assignment. The case was slimy.
Or maybe he’d burned out. Grant warned about that, too.
For God’s sake, he told himself. Forget about Alessia Benatti and her family. Forget about that luscious black hair and eyes as dark as midnight. Just do the job. Catch the criminals involved, then when it’s over, decide whether or not to stay undercover.
He wouldn’t leave the organization, though. Derek Drake, aka Derek Davidson, was an FBI agent through and through.
A NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY bestselling author, Kathryn Shay has been a lifelong writer and teacher. She has written dozens of self-published original romance titles, print books with the Berkley Publishing Group and Harlequin Enterprises and mainstream women’s fiction with Bold Strokes Books. She has won many awards for her work: five RT Book Reviews awards, the Bookseller’s Best Award, Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year and several “Starred Reviews.” One of her firefighter books hit #20 on the NEW YORK TIMES list. Her novels have been serialized in COSMOPOLITAN magazine and featured in USA TODAY, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and PEOPLE magazine. There are over ten million copies of her books in print and downloaded online. Reviewers have called her work “emotional and heart-wrenching.”