Beckett Samuelson has had enough stepmothers to spot a gold digger when he sees one. So when his ailing father announces his engagement to the private nurse he’s only known for two months—who’s also forty years his junior—Beckett has to step in. But as he gets to know the woman, he realizes she’s the perfect next Mrs. Samuelson.
If only he was the intended groom.
Corazon Dela Cruz sends every spare penny she earns to her family in the Philippines. Then her latest nursing client offers her $25,000 to fake an engagement to convince his overprotective son to return to work abroad—he doesn’t need Beckett’s help. But as Corazon and Beckett spend more time together—from picnics on the beach to galas in fancy dresses—she starts to develop very real feelings.
Too bad she’s engaged to the wrong Samuelson.
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Copyright © 2021 by Alexia Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Excerpt from Over Her Wed Body:
Beckett Samuelson rang the doorbell of his father’s Vancouver house—his childhood home until the age of eleven, when he’d been kicked out by stepmom number one. It’d been at least three years since he’d darkened this doorstep. So, even though he might still have keys, he had no idea where they’d be now.
The twenty-four-hour transit time from Dubai and the past two weeks of sixteen-hour workdays had wiped him out. All he wanted was something to eat and at least eight hours in a bed where he could sleep without clothes. Airlines frowned on naked sleeping, even in first class.
Mrs. R, his father’s housekeeper, opened the door and her lined face creased into a huge smile when she saw him. Before he could even offer a hello, she wrapped him in a cinnamon-bun-scented hug.
She released him just enough so she could gaze up at him. Her brown hair was now liberally salted with gray, but her green eyes still glowed with warmth. “Beckett, why didn’t you tell us you were coming? Frank would have picked you up from the airport.” The reprimand was diluted by another tight hug before she finally stepped back. “How was your flight? How long are you here for? My goodness, I’ll have to get your room dusted and the sheets refreshed. And your father, he’ll be so excited to see you.”
Beckett highly doubted that. When he’d offered to come back to Canada immediately following his father’s stroke ten weeks ago, he’d been told to “stay where you’re needed.” Story of his life, really. Why had he ever thought that a near brush with death would soften his father’s attitude? But it had woken Beckett up to the reminder that his dad wasn’t getting any younger and that, if he wanted to repair their relationship—or at least attempt a reconciliation—he had to do it now.
Mrs. R still blocked the doorway, her gaze sweeping him up and down like some scanning android checking to make sure he was the real Beckett. “How’s Dubai? Have you finished your latest building? Frank showed me the photos of it on the computer. My, you’ve got talent. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Same old Mrs. R. She talked enough for everyone in the household. Not that there were many occupants these days. Just her, her husband Frank—who worked as his father’s driver and household handyman—and dear old Dad. Stepmothers numbers one through three had all moved on to less wrinkled pastures. But not, of course, without taking a huge slice of his father’s wealth with them. Dad had always been a sucker for a beautiful woman.
“How is Chester?” he asked, as Mrs. R finally opened the door wide enough for him to step into the foyer. A quick glance around told him little had changed. The vaulted ceiling still held an ornate chandelier, the kind that went out of fashion twenty years ago because the amount of light it shed was out of proportion to the number of spiders it could house at any one time. The hallway was still lined with waist-high dark-wood paneling and dull yellow paint above. Pastoral scenes of rural England were spaced equidistantly apart, as though following them would lead to the land itself.
“Oh, he’s so much better now,” Mrs R said. “The new nurse is so sweet. A real breath of fresh air, as they say. She’s made the world of difference. We were all worried he’d never recover. And what with all the other nurses leaving after just a few days. It was a tough time. Come see. He’s exercising out on the back terrace.”
Beckett knew all too well about his father’s difficult recovery. He’d taken the calls from the home healthcare agency each time another nurse had quit because his father was “too difficult” or “didn’t want to get better.” For a while, he’d wondered if Mercenaries ’R Us had a healthcare division. The frustration of dealing with an impossible situation from almost 7,000 miles away, while also trying to keep his multi-billion-dollar architectural project on track, hadn’t been a fun time for him either.
“You go see your father,” Mrs. R continued. “Just leave your suitcase here. Frank will take it upstairs. I’ll get your room sorted. My goodness, you look like you’re almost dead on your feet. I bet you want a wee rest before dinner. Are you hungry right now? Shall I make you a little snack? Oh, you are naughty for not letting us know you were coming today.”
Before he could answer any of the questions, Mrs. R rushed up the stairs, muttering about all that she needed to do as though reciting a list she didn’t dare forget. He was tempted to call out to her that she really didn’t need to make a fuss. He was thirty, not thirteen, and he’d been looking after himself for decades now. Besides, he was so tired, he could sleep on a sand dune if needed. The snack he could sort out for himself.
Beckett detoured to the kitchen and grabbed an apple and downed a glass of water while he braced himself to see his dad. He had no expectation that his father’s reaction to his return would match Mrs. R’s warm welcome. But, as an only child, it was his responsibility to make sure his dad was firmly on the road to recovery.
The kitchen had also not changed in decades and he swallowed a lump in his throat as memories of his mother swamped him. Each day after school, they’d sat at the large wooden table, he with a glass of milk and three cookies in front of him, she with a cup of tea and a slice of toast slathered with marmalade. He still couldn’t eat toast without thinking of her. She’d listened to every one of his stories about his day with the same attention she’d have expended if he were giving her vital details for survival.
It had also been at that table that she’d told him she had cancer. But that it would be okay.
It hadn’t been.
He’d said good-bye to one parent too soon—he wasn’t ready to lose his father just yet, despite their acrimonious relationship. Chester was in his mid-seventies—Beckett having been a late addition to his parents’ marriage—so being orphaned was inevitable. Yet he’d always thought he’d have more time to make up with his dad—a feat he was going to attempt because he figured it was what his mom would have wanted. Her beloved family had imploded after her passing.
His dad had remarried within eight months of Beckett’s mother’s death, and stepmom Cynthia had sent Beckett off to boarding school shortly thereafter. The marriage had barely lasted two years. Dad’s third wife made it to three years before splitting. Wife four hadn’t even waited for the first wedding anniversary before she’d taken off. Not a single one of them had ever tried to make Beckett feel like part of a family again.
He’d make one last effort to reconnect with his father solely for his mother’s memory.
Time to get the unwelcome home over with. He stepped out onto the back terrace and froze.
There were several possible explanations for the scene that played out before him. The most likely option was that he was still on the plane and dreaming. But was his imagination really this inventive? And the fresh breeze off the Pacific felt too real for recycled air. Bees buzzed in the potted lavender by the door and birds sang in the trees at the edges of the property. Nope, he wasn’t still at 35,000 feet.
Maybe he’d suffered a knock on the head he couldn’t remember and was delusional. He ran a hand through his hair to check for lumps. Nothing. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again. Same vision.
Final possibility: he’d died and, by mistake, he’d been sent to some bizarre Comic-Con version of heaven. That had to be it. He was dead.
Damn, there were so many things he’d wanted to do before he died.
Cora had done some weird things in her nannying and nursing careers. But this might just take the prize for strangest.
How many of her fellow nurses would dress like Princess Leia and have a mock lightsaber fight with their client on the back lawn of a million-dollar mansion? None, was undoubtedly the answer. But then they also hadn’t managed to get a recalcitrant Chester to take his medication, participate in his recovery plan, or even eat a decent meal. Cora’s methods might be unorthodox, but they worked… Most of the time.
When she’d first arrived at the house, Chester had been out of hospital for four weeks but hadn’t even recovered enough to stand. He’d been parked in his wheelchair in front of the television and left to stew in his own misery. It had taken the better part of a week, and all the absurdness she could muster, to even get half a smile out of the man.
But since then, they’d become friends, and the only time he watched TV now was once a week on a Friday evening when they took turns choosing a film to enjoy together. His selection was inevitably space themed, Star Wars being his favorite franchise. In retaliation, she made him sit through romcoms when it was her turn to pick. He complained every time, but she knew he secretly loved them because she’d heard him recommending them to the housekeeper the next day.
Return of the Jedi had been last Friday’s film. It was Chester’s all-time favorite, and so it wasn’t surprising that she was now dressed as the rebel princess. She put one arm behind her back, as she’d seen in the movies, and held the plastic wand with the faint blue light in front of her. They might as well mix movies and scramble catchphrases while they were being ridiculous. “My name is Corazon Dela Cruz. You claim I cheated at chess. I am here to defend my honor.” The Princess Bride had been the first movie she’d made him watch, so she knew he’d get the reference. Inigo Montoya was her favorite character.
“You did cheat,” Chester replied from beneath the oversized hood of his dark-brown bathrobe. A huge smile lit his face. Which made this whole ridiculous idea worth it.
When she’d issued the challenge to a duel at dawn—although it was, in fact, closer to three in the afternoon, since mornings were too busy for her to be battling in the backyard at the break of day—she hadn’t expected Chester to agree. And then when she’d mentioned she had some toy lightsabers she’d intended to give to her friend’s four-year-old twins, he’d run with it, insisting she style her hair in two big circle buns over her ears. She’d practically had to ram the hairpins into her scalp to keep her heavy locks secured. She had serious doubts the style would last more than five minutes. But as that was the expected duration of this duel, it should do.
“Who are you supposed to be, again?” she asked, making sure Chester was stable and not about to fall over. He’d only been back on his feet for three weeks and standing so long might tax his weakened legs. But Frank Reynolds, house handyman and all-round good guy, stood at the ready to catch Chester if he wobbled. His official capacity in this charade was as Chester’s “second”, but without her even asking, he kept within an arm’s length of her elderly client.
While she was proud of the great strides that Chester had made in the six weeks since she’d taken over nursing him back to health, she was a little sad that soon he wouldn’t need her. He reminded her so much of her beloved grandfather, who’d died four years after she’d left the Philippines, that, for once, she didn’t miss home so much.
And Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds, who insisted she call them Frank and Edith, had treated her like the daughter they’d never had. For the first time in ten years, she felt like part of a family and not just the staff hired to care for one of the members.
“I am the Emperor, of course,” Chester replied, with a dramatic swipe of his lightsaber. He had the red one; well, red when the light actually worked. She’d bought the set at a second-hand store on a whim, never expecting she’d use them in a mock battle with her aged client.
“Isn’t he the bad guy?”
Chester’s boyish giggle never failed to make her smile. “Haven’t you heard? The bad guys have the most fun.” He waggled his eyebrows like he was a player and she laughed.
They tapped the plastic wands once or twice half-heartedly. The fun had been in dressing up and assuming a role. But while they were out here in the fresh air, she might as well try to get him to exercise a bit. She retreated a step, watching carefully that he moved steadily and didn’t stumble.
She raised and lowered her arm, wordlessly encouraging him to do the same. He’d suffered a left-brain stroke, so it was his right side that required retraining. And as it had been his dominant side, frustration was the usual response to any new activity. Except, it appeared, lightsaber fights. The man was thoroughly enjoying himself.
“Is this a duel or a tea party?” he said, advancing toward her. He swayed slightly, but quickly corrected his footing before Frank needed to intervene.
“Will you not have mercy on me, kind sir?” She needed to finish this while it was still fun and before he ended up with his ass on the grass. Her agency was unlikely to give her another great assignment like this if her client wound up back in the hospital.
Chester, however, wasn’t ready to call it a day. He pulled up the hood of his bathrobe, which had fallen from his gray hair. “There is no mercy for cheaters.”
She laughed. “You’re just annoyed because I had the game set to easy and I still beat you.”
“Now you’re just being mean. That wasn’t easy level.” Chester lowered his lightsaber, a faint hint of fatigue starting to show on his face. “I will, however, agree to call this duel a draw if we have a chess rematch without you cheating this time.”
“Deal,” she answered quickly. He handed her his lightsaber and she dropped them both onto the grass, then helped him into a chair that sat at the ready. It was only when she straightened from checking his pulse that she noticed Frank wasn’t their only audience.
A tall, gorgeous man stood at the back door, his blue eyes blinking as though he wasn’t quite sure to believe what they were telling him. He ran the hand that wasn’t clenching a half-eaten apple through his dark brown hair. A navy-blue T-shirt hugged a muscled form, and his pants were fitted just enough to leave her a bit breathless. Still he stared.
“Chester, you have company,” she said, drawing her client’s attention to the doorway.
She knew exactly who stood there, frozen on the threshold. Enough photos of him were strewn through the house for her to identify him immediately.
The prodigal son had returned.