Center Stage Keller Family Series Book 4 By Bernadette Marie

Center Stage

John Forrester is a simple man whose never needed more than his work, his truck, and a small apartment with his flat screen TV. After a bad breakup with his ex-wife John swore he’d never get married again and has done his best to keep to himself. But one woman always creeps into his mind—Arianna Keller.

 

Arianna Keller had an amazing career, center stage on Broadway. However, her run in New York is over and circumstances have forced her back home to Nashville, Tennessee.

 

The relationship John and Arianna have forged over the years as friends has always had a romantic spark, which has been ignored. Now they are working together to restore an old theater and their desire for each other can no longer be denied.

 

It’s only a matter of time before sparks ignite into a passionate fire. But Arianna is keeping a secret which threatens to destroy more than her relationship with John—it threatens the lives of the entire Keller family.

Books in the Keller Family Series THE EXECUTIVE’S DECISION, A SECOND CHANCE, OPPOSITE ATTRACTION

 

Excerpt from Center Stage:

Arianna pushed down on the suitcase and forced the zipper to close. The rest of her apartment was packed and ready for movers, but she’d need all her clothes before her belongings arrived in Tennessee.

She looked around her small, New York apartment. It had been a good home to her for the past decade. She’d accomplished everything she’d wanted. When she’d moved there, it was to try her hand on the stages of Manhattan. She’d played in some dives and had worked her way up to leads on Broadway. She had a few commercials to her credit and had graced a few TV shows as an extra, but her love was still on stage. But now it was time to go home, back where her family was. Something would come together for her there. It always did.

Arianna looked at her watch. She had barely enough time to get to the airport. If there were any accidents backing up traffic, she’d miss her flight.

Her brother-in-law, Zach, had called and said her sister Regan had gone into labor with the couple’s second baby. She figured she’d arrive just in time to get to hold the bundle of joy. Then in a few more weeks, her brother, Curtis, and his fiancée, Simone, would have their first child. She knew moving back to Tennessee was right, and getting to spoil new nieces and nephews was reason enough to be closer to home.

 

The flight had been miserable. Leaving New York in a January snowstorm always meant delays and aggravation. It was almost eight o’clock at night by the time the flight landed two hours late. Carlos would be livid if he’d been waiting at the airport the entire time.

She made it to baggage claim, retrieved her two pieces of luggage, and then scanned the area for her brother. There was no sign of him, or any member of her family, anywhere.

“I thought I’d missed you,” the familiar voice behind her said.

She spun quickly to find John Forrester, Zach’s most trusted building foreman, standing there.

“Missed me? Were you looking for me?”

“I have been sent to pick you up. Carlos and Madeline ended up with Tyler for the night.”

Arianna narrowed her stare on him when he’d commented about her nephew. “I thought Mom was watching him while the baby was born.”

“Well, it seems as though your family is going to grow quite a bit tonight. Regan is still in labor, and Curtis just took Simone in. She’s having her baby today, too.”

Arianna gasped. “Simone isn’t due for two more weeks.”

“Babies come when babies want to, and Emily thought she’d better be there for Simone.” He picked up her suitcases, one in each hand. “C’mon, my truck isn’t too far.”

Who would have thought she’d get to be there for the birth of both babies in one night. God had blessed the Keller family—that was for sure. Carlos and Madeline’s kids were teenagers, and in the next few years, they would be off on adventures of their own. Eduardo, their eldest, was already working for Zach after school. Christian, their second son, was an all-star athlete—baseball, she thought. And Clara, well, Clara was a girl after her own heart. She was an accomplished musician on the acoustic guitar. And, boy, could that girl sing.

Regan and Zach’s son, Tyler, was as anxious as any sixteen-month-old child could be for a new sibling. But Arianna figured he’d need the most spoiling from her to make everything just right.

As for her, she’d never wanted children. It just hadn’t been in her plans. Her career had always been more important. She came and went as she wanted, carried on in any fashion she saw fit, and, of course, traveled the world.

But now Nashville, Tennessee called her back home. Perhaps she could share her talent with the world in some other way.

John led her to his truck in the adjoining parking lot. She was comfortable with John, she thought, as she walked behind him. They had been each other’s dates to both of Carlos’s weddings last year, and they had hit it off, as friends of course. They might have hit it off more, but he was very conscious of their age difference, even though she wasn’t worried about the thirteen years between them. His ex-wife had burned him badly ten years ago, and it was clear he didn’t trust any woman.

Not that she’d been looking for a man, but she often thought if John hadn’t been so worried about everything, they might have had something. As it was, they could keep each other’s company comfortably. Coming home with all her brothers and her sister being married, that might just be what she needed—someone to keep her company.

John’s truck was probably one of the most beat up pickup trucks she’d ever had the displeasure of riding in, and she’d been born and raised in Tennessee—she knew bad pickup trucks. But that was John’s character. If it still worked, there was no need to replace it.

He backed out of the parking lot and headed toward the highway. Also common with John, he didn’t have much to say unless you started the conversation.

“So, how is the construction business?” she asked.

“Zach keeps me busy. That’s for sure.”

“I’ll bet. Do you think he’ll take some time off after the baby is born?”

John laughed. “Sure he will. He will work from his office at home.”

Arianna followed suit and laughed too. That sounded like her brother-in-law.

She watched as John merged lanes. His tanned skin showed the many years that he’d worked in the elements. The deep lines around his eyes never made him look old, she thought, only distinguished. Arianna liked her men distinguished. Age on a man had never bothered her. Oh, if her parents knew about some of the men she’d dated in New York, they certainly might have had an opinion on the matter.

She must be feeling the pang of needing someone to connect with, she decided, because the thought of running her fingers through John’s salt and pepper shaded hair was almost irresistible. But she denied herself the pleasure. He probably wouldn’t take too kindly to the lunatic sister-in-law of his boss making a move on him.

 

The long flight and drive out to the hospital must have worn her out more than she’d thought. She woke to John’s hand on her arm.

“We’re here. If you hurry, you might not miss the show.”

She rubbed her eyes. “Aren’t you coming in?”

“Not my place to be. But I’ll drop your bags off for you. I assume you’re staying at your place?”

She nodded. One of the perks of keeping your house when you moved away, especially if you knew you’d be back. “Yes. Of course.”

“That was a sound business decision to keep the house and rent it out. Benson, Benson, and Hart keep good care of it.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything different. I know I have a renter in the basement, too. Hope they don’t make too much noise. I’m a day sleeper.”

John smiled. “Oh, he’s a good guy. He won’t bother you.”

Arianna nodded and looked up at the hospital where her brother worked as an emergency room doctor. “Guess I’d better go meet the newest members of this crazy family.” She slid across the seat and placed a kiss on John’s unshaven cheek. “Thanks for the ride. I’ll take you out for pizza and a beer.”

“Never could turn down a woman who offered up pizza and beer.”

She opened the door and climbed out. He was just her kind of man.

The waiting room was full of Kellers, including Carlos and Madeline, who held a sleeping Tyler.

Carlos stood and greeted her with a hug when she walked into the room. “I thought you were babysitting him so he didn’t have to hang out here.”

“C’mon, what’s better than meeting your baby brother or sister in the middle of the night and knowing this is the kid you get to beat on for the rest of your life?”

Arianna laughed as Clara rushed over and hugged her. “Auntie, I have a new song for you. I wrote it myself.”

“And I bet it’s the best song ever.”

Arianna pulled her niece to her side. This was just what she’d needed—her family.

 

John opened the door to Arianna’s house. He supposed he’d have to relinquish his key now that she was home. He shut the door and carried her bags to the bedroom at the top of the stairs. He didn’t open the door. He knew it was empty, but still, it was her bedroom.

The house was dark and quiet; he’d miss that too. There hadn’t been a renter upstairs for months; he’d had the house to himself. Oh, he kept to himself downstairs in the little apartment in the basement, but he’d enjoyed using the front door access and the kitchen from time to time. There was a grill on the back porch, which offered the perfect view of the sunset. He was sure Arianna wouldn’t mind him cooking a steak or two for her, just for access to the porch.

John grabbed a beer from the refrigerator as he passed through the kitchen. He figured he’d better get his plugged in downstairs. It had been a saver on electricity since the one he had in his kitchen was old, and Arianna’s kept the beer colder.

He started down the stairs to his little apartment. The door locked from her side, which kept the renters out of the house. He’d taken liberty with that since the house was empty, but certainly he wouldn’t disrespect that rule when she came back home.

His small apartment was just the right size. He was a simple man who didn’t need much—and who didn’t have much since his ex-wife took everything he’d ever had. Ten years after she’d left him for another man, he still wondered what he’d ever seen in her. Well, he’d never make that mistake again. Women just weren’t worth it. Most women, he corrected himself. His mind had been preoccupied with one woman in particular for months. And now he faced the dilemma of knowing she’d be living only feet from him.

The last thing he wanted was a relationship—platonic or just sexual. Relationships had never brought him anything but grief.

John sat down on his Lazy Boy recliner and turned on his big screen, flat panel TV. A man had to have his luxuries. He pulled from his imported beer and thought life was good.

But only a moment later, his mind wandered to Arianna. With her hair piled atop her head, her eyes dark from lack of sleep, and her ripped jeans, she’d still stirred him up more than he’d have liked.

Beer and pizza sounded like a great idea, but he wouldn’t take her up on the offer until he knew they’d cemented their relationship as landlord/renter and friends—only friends.

  Available from 5 Prince Publishing www.5princebooks.com  books@5princebooks.com

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Another Bestseller from Bernadette Marie….. First Kiss.

I’ve never met an author who has one bestseller after another! it’s just incredible how much love Bernadette has from her fans. Such support is what makes the blood, sweat and lack of sleep all worth it!

I’M PROUD TO BE IN THE SAME 5 Prince Publishing family with her.

CONGRATULATIONS BERNADETTE!!!

Now to the main event…. FIRST KISS

Promises made as children have a funny way of working themselves into reality when fate is orchestrated for them as adults.

Olivia Baker wants the best life for her young son, and that meant raising him in the small town she grew up in, but where her past still haunts her and rumors drip from the tongues of the local gossips.

Cade Carter moved away from Aspen Creek the moment they handed him his high school diploma. Now a washed up ex-professional football player he’s headed back after his father’s death to settle the estate of the man he’d left and forgotten about.

The friendship Cade and Olivia shared so many years ago is just now a haunting memory. People changed and moved on. Secrets were kept and loved ones around them buried with them. But when they are thrown back together to face the reasons their friendship faltered, and forces greater than them are in charge, anything can happen with the person whom they shared their First Kiss with.

 

Excerpt from First Kiss:

There was a chill in the air, even in June. Cade Carter rolled the windows up on his Porsche as he began his decent into the valley. The mountains of Colorado could deliver any unprepared traveler an array of weather to cope with, and it could change without warning in a matter of moments.

Though the higher peaks still boasted snow, he’d found the entire, long and boring trip from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to be fairly dry. Cade had considered driving his Bronco to Aspen Creek, but he’d needed the speed of the sports car and Ashley had needed it to move.

He glanced at his Rolex for the sixth time in the past half hour. He was going to be late.

Who was he kidding.  He’d had no intentions of getting to his own father’s funeral on time.  Had it not been for Ashley, he’d have blown it off all together.  But no.  The words still rang in his ears.  “You have to go.  He was your father.  He loved you.  You owe him…

Cade gripped the steering wheel tighter.  He did owe him the decency to be at his funeral, because Cade Carter had been the worst son, and he knew it.

The first sign that would alert drivers to the small town of Aspen Creek was coming up on his right.  A left would take him over the next hill to the elite ski resort town of Aspen Hills.  The road he veered down would drop him into small town hell.

As the deep groves of Aspen trees thinned he could see the small town at the bottom of the valley.  Each street was visible, the cars looked small, and the town stood there as if someone had taken a picture of it fifty years earlier, not one thing had changed.  He did see a 7-11 sign peeking above the buildings.  Corporate America had moved in. That was new. At least he’d know what the coffee tasted like.

He could see City Park in the center of town.  The grass was green.  Green’s Market had the most cars in the parking lot and Sloan’s Diner must have just finished with their lunch crowd.

Aspen Creek rolled along the sides of town and under the Rose Bridge. It was fast, unforgiving, and cold all year long.  He’d had his share of dunks in that water, some on purpose, some not. Beyond the bridge and the white rapids of the river that rushed through town with its new melt off he could see the street where he’d grown up, where his father had lived, and where he’d fallen in love as a young boy.

Cade pulled the car to the shoulder of the narrow road and slammed it into park.  He lifted his sunglasses from his eyes and rubbed them.  He hadn’t been back to Aspen Creek in twelve years.  Long had been forgotten the sentiments of home, like people knowing your name, and not because you were some famous football player, but because you were Austin Carter’s son. High school football games, swimming in Aspen Creek, and the girl next door were things a man forgot about when he was an M.V.P.

He blew out a long, ragged breath. The comforts of a sports car were limited to the power of the engine on a man Cade’s size.  He tried to stretch his legs, but to no avail.  If he didn’t get out and walk around soon he’d be paralyzed in the car seat.  Just another thing he deserved he supposed.  Career killing injuries were just another daily reminder that he was lucky to be alive, even if he now stood on the sidelines and basked in the glory of what used to be.

It was easy for the team to cut him loose when he was no longer able to perform. The position needed to be filled by someone younger and able to play. He was just a washed up has-been now who’d collected his payout.

Adjusting his sunglasses back on his face, he put the car back into drive.  He had demons to face and he’d better just get it over with.  Ashley was housesitting in Green Bay and Cade was expected back in three days.  He couldn’t imagine closing out his father’s life could take longer than that.

 

Olivia Baker sat in the cemetery alone, next to the new grave and sobbed.  The funeral had been small, but Austin had kept to himself for the past two years.  She wasn’t sure everyone had even heard he’d passed.  She wiped her eyes.  No, they all knew he’d died.  He’d died right in her arms and that had gotten the attention of the local gossips.

The casket had been lowered, the chairs had been collected, and now the only man she’d ever cherished lay beneath the mound of red Colorado soil with a spray of wilting flowers atop it.  It didn’t seem dignified enough.

Her jaw clenched when she looked at the few bouquets and sprays that still lingered near the grave.  Not one of them had Cade’s name on it.

Damn him anyway.

What kind of son didn’t even make it to the funeral of the man who raised him?  The kind like Cade Carter.

The arrogant, self-centered bastard probably had some pressing football engagement and couldn’t be bothered with his father’s passing.  Some dry-cleaners probably needed him to cut their big obnoxious grand-opening ribbon with an oversized pair of scissors, and to Cade that would have always been more important than respecting his father.

Olivia noticed she’d twisted the head off a carnation at her fingertips.  She unclasped her hands and looked beyond the new grave to the one next to it.

CONNER CARTER.

Looking at the name written in stone sent chills up her spine.  She looked away.  She wondered if anyone at all had come to that funeral.  She hadn’t.  She’d been tucked away safely in Grand Junction, again, when Conner had died.  She was sure Austin had paid to bury him and had splurged for the headstone too.  And she couldn’t help but wonder if guilt over Conner’s death had in some way contributed to Austin’s death.

Just beyond the gate to the cemetery she could hear the sound of tires on the gravel.  It didn’t phase her.  Neither did her responsibilities at the bank.  Her boss Parker Woods had told her to take her time and that was what she was doing.  She was in no condition to head back to town and act professional.

Tears streaked down her face from under her dark sunglasses, and she let them fall.

The hole in her heart from Austin’s absence ached and she wondered if she’d get over her loss.  Her son Gabe would never remember the man she adored and loved.  He’d never know how much Austin Carter cherished him and loved him.

Olivia squeezed her eyes shut tight.  Would she miss Austin everyday when she looked into Gabe’s eyes and saw the resemblance?

She wiped away the tears and then noticed that the driver of the car, which had parked in the lot had walked across the gravel and stood only a few feet from her.  She did what she could to compose herself.  After all, she owed it to Austin to be gracious and welcoming to his mourners.

Olivia pushed herself up from the ground, brushed off her black skirt, and turned toward the person standing behind her.

 

There was an uneasiness that settled in Cade’s gut when he saw the mound of dirt before him.  Could guilt kill a man of his stature?

The woman who had been sitting at his father’s grave stood before him, her elegant black dress covered in dust, but she didn’t seem to mind.

He swallowed hard. “Is this Austin Carter’s grave?”

The woman shook her head more in an effort to convey disgust than to signal that he was in the wrong place.  “Why did you even bother?”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Why show up now, Cade?  You couldn’t even give him the decency of being here on time?”

“I…” he had no answers.  Besides who was she to be criticizing him?

Cade examined the lean, yet curvy woman in the well-worn dress who stood before him. Her hair was pulled back and dark glasses covered her eyes.  Little gold bands adorned each of her ring fingers, so she could have been someone’s wife.  Hell, he’d grown up in the town, maybe he did know her.  But still, what he did to get the funeral on time, or not, was not her concern.

“I guess you know me.  Who might you be?”

The woman opened her mouth, and then shut it again.  Instead of answering she picked her purse up off the ground and searched inside.  She pulled out a business card and handed it to him.  “I’m the one in charge of closing out your father’s estate.”

With that, she started off to the parking lot and he watched.  Back in town five minutes and he was already pissing off the women there.

He ran his hand over the back of his neck and looked at the card as the woman sped away down the hill toward town.

Olivia Baker, Vice President Aspen Creek Bank.

His head shot back up and the air in his lungs escaped him.

A man could drive into town, and the girl next door, whom he’d fallen in love with as a child, could hand him a card with her name on it and he didn’t even recognize her.

Suddenly the aches and pains in his leg, from his brush with death, didn’t hurt as bad when he was faced with a woman scorned and a week in small town hell.

Other Posts on Bernadette Marie

* Keller Family

* Opposite Attraction

KELLER FAMILY by BERNADETTE MARIE

THE EXECUTIVE’S DECISION:  Book 1 of the Keller Family Series

Regan Keller fell in love with a wealthy and powerful man once. He was her boss. When that turbulent relationship ended, she swore she’d never again date someone she worked with. That was before she literally fell into her new boss’s lap.

Zachary Benson is the head of a successful empire and used to getting what he wants in the boardroom and outside of it – and what he wants is Regan Keller. He’s determined to convince Regan that even though he’s her boss, they can share a life together.

However, when Regan’s past threatens to destroy the architectural firm Zach has invested his entire career in, he has to make an executive decision whether to choose his business or fight for the woman he loves.

A SECOND CHANCE:  Book 2 of Keller Family Series

Sometimes love is right where you left it.

Carlos Keller was finally moving on. He’d asked Kathy to marry him and now he could forever put behind him the disappointment of his failed first marriage to the only woman who ever held his heart, Madeline.

Madeline can only assume karma is out to destroy her life. Her second marriage has ended. Her doctor has told her she has breast cancer, and now the only man she’s ever really loved is getting married.

Even though divorced, Carlos and Madeline remained close friends. But with one moving on, and one facing the possible end, will it be too much to remain friends? Or will fate step in and offer them a second chance?

OPPOSITE ATTRACTION: Book 3 of the Keller Family Series

Curtis Keller is a lucky man. He has the love and support of a family like no other. But he’d never fallen in love with a woman. He liked to play the field, have a good time, and enjoyed friends with benefits. But when wild child Simone Pierpont comes into his life for the first time he considers settling down—that was until she stranded him.

Simone Pierpont fell in love. She hadn’t meant to, but her best friend’s brother-in-law had treated the Parisian oil heiress with more compassion than she’d ever known.  What was she to do? So she left him stranded on a yacht in the French Rivera.

Now, cut off from her father’s fortune, a pregnant, and desperate to win Curtis’s hear; Simone must prove to everyone she can hold down a job and take care of herself.  Curtis isn’t sure the princess can change, but because of his caring nature he has a hard time turning her away.

However, all efforts might be for not when he learns about her pregnancy and she is forced to run back to her father. But Curtis will eventually understand and come for her—or so she hopes.