Susan Mallery

Sweet Talk

The first book in the Keyes Sisters series, 2008

To my agent, Annelise Robey. With heartfelt thanks for all the

support and hard work. You’re amazing and I adore working with

you. Here’s to all the success in the world…for both of us.


CLAIRE KEYES jumped to answer the phone when it rang, deciding an angry call from her manager was more appealing than sorting the pile of dirty clothes in the middle of her living room.


“Hi. Um, Claire? It’s Jesse.”

Not her manager, Claire thought, relieved. “Jesse who?”

“Your sister.”

Claire kicked aside a blouse and sank onto the sofa. “Jesse?” she breathed. “It’s really you?”

“Uh-huh. Surprise.”

Surprise didn’t begin to describe it. Claire hadn’t seen her baby sister in years. Not since their father’s funeral when she’d tried to connect with all the family she had left only to be told that she wasn’t welcome, would never be welcome and that if she was hit by a bus, neither Jesse nor Nicole, Claire’s fraternal twin, would bother to call for help.

Claire still remembered being so stunned by the verbal attack that she’d actually stopped breathing. She’d felt as if she’d been beaten up and left on the side of the road. Jesse and Nicole were her family. How could they reject her like that?

Not knowing what else to do, she’d left town and never returned. That had been seven years ago.

“So,” Jesse said with a cheer that seemed forced. “How are you?”

Claire shook her head, trying to clear it, then glanced at the messy apartment. There were dirty clothes piled thigh-high in her living room, open suitcases by the piano, a stack of mail she couldn’t seem to face and a manager ready to skin her alive if that would get her to do what she wanted.

“I’m great,” she lied. “And you?”

“Too fabulous for words. But here’s the thing. Nicole isn’t.”

Claire tightened her grip on the phone. “What’s wrong with her?”

“Nothing…yet. She’s going to have surgery. Her gallbladder. There’s something weird about the placement or whatever. I can’t remember. Anyway, she can’t have that easy surgery with the tiny incisions. The lapi- something.”

“Laparoscopic,” Claire murmured absently, eyeing the clock. She was due at her lesson in thirty minutes.

“That one. Instead, they’re going to be slicing her open like a watermelon, which means a longer recovery time. With the bakery and all, that’s a problem. Normally I’d step in to help, but I can’t right now. Things are… complicated. So we were talking and Nicole wondered if you would like to come back home and take care of things. She would really appreciate it.”

Home, Claire thought longingly. She could go home. Back to the house she barely remembered but that had always placed so large in her dreams.

“I thought you and Nicole hated me,” she whispered, wanting to hope but almost afraid to.

“We were upset before. It was an emotional time. Seriously, we’ve been talking about getting in touch with you for a while now. Nicole would have, um, called herself, but she’s not feeling well and she was afraid you’d say no. She’s not in a place to handle that right now.”

Claire stood. “I would never say no. Of course I’ll come home. I really want to. You’re my family. Both of you.”

“Great. When can you get here?”

Claire looked around at the disaster that was her life and thought about the angry calls from Lisa, her manager. There was also the master class she was supposed to attend and the few she had to teach at the end of the week.

“Tomorrow,” she said firmly. “I can be there tomorrow.”

“JUST SHOOT ME NOW,” Nicole Keyes said as she wiped down the kitchen counters. “I mean it, Wyatt. You must have a gun. Do it. I’ll write a note saying it’s not your fault.”

“Sorry. No guns at my house.”

None in hers, either, she thought glumly, then tossed the dishcloth back into the sink.

“The timing couldn’t be worse for my stupid surgery,” she muttered. “They’re telling me I can’t go back to work for six weeks. Six. The bakery isn’t going to run itself. And don’t you dare say anything about me asking Jesse. I mean it, Wyatt.”

Her soon-to-be-ex-brother-in-law held up both hands. “Not a word from me. I swear.”

She believed him. Not because she thought she frightened him but because she knew he understood that while some of the pain in her gut came from an inflamed gallbladder, most of it was about her sister Jesse’s betrayal.

“I hate this. I hate my body turning on me this way. What have I ever done to it?”

Wyatt pushed out a chair at the table. “Sit. Getting upset isn’t going to help.”

“You don’t actually know that.”

“I can guess.”

She plopped into the chair because it was easier than fighting. Sometimes, like now, she wondered if she had any fight left in her.

“What am I forgetting?” she asked. “I think I’ve gotten everything done. You remembered that I can’t take care of Amy for a while, right?”

Amy was his eight-year-old daughter. Nicole looked after her a few afternoons a week.

Wyatt leaned forward and put his hand on her forearm. “Relax,” he told her. “You didn’t forget anything. I’ll look in on the bakery every couple of days. You’ve got good people working for you. They love you and are loyal. Everything will be fine. You’ll be home in a few days and you can start healing.”

She knew he meant from more than just the surgery. There was also the issue of her soon-to-be-ex- husband.

Instead of thinking about that bastard Drew, she stared at Wyatt’s hand on her arm. He had big hands-scarred and callused. He was a man who knew how to work for a living. Honest, good-looking, funny.

She raised her gaze to his dark eyes. “Why couldn’t I have fallen in love with you?” she asked.

He smiled. “Back at you, kid.”

They would have been so perfect together…if only there had been a hint of chemistry.

“We should have tried harder,” she muttered. “We should have slept together.”

“Just think about it for a minute,” he told her. “Tell me if it turns you on.”

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