Yours to Keep

Yours to Keep

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Overview

When a sprained wrist puts pro-shortstop Carter Ramsey on the bench just days after being named Citizen Magazine’s Man of the Year, he has every intention of enjoying some much needed R&R in his Manhattan penthouse. But when Carter's twin sister tells him his high school sweetheart is newly single, just in time for his 10-year reunion, Carter heads back to his home town with the hopes of winning back the one girl he never really got over. Standing in his way? His ex's stubborn older sister and his former lab partner, who's every bit as annoying as Carter remembers.

Not much has changed since Olive Dunn's days as the mouthy, awkward outcast of Haven High. She's still mouthy, still awkward, still at Haven High (though as a teacher these days), and still wildly protective of her pretty, sweet-natured younger sister. Olive knows the last thing the romantic-minded Felicity needs after her recent divorce is the return of the high school boyfriend who broke her heart. Carter Ramsey was a pain in Olive's side in high school even before he got involved with her sister, and he's only gotten more obnoxious—and better looking—with age. As if Olive doesn't have enough to deal with in co-chairing her high school reunion, now she's got to keep the former prom king as far away from her vulnerable sister as possible.

That Carter's back in town is unacceptable. That he's renting the house next door to Olive is unfathomable. That Olive might be falling for the charming jock? Completely, utterly unavoidable.

One-Liners
  • A golden-boy MLB all-star returns fresh off a devastating injury returns to his hometown for his 10 year reunion hoping to reunite with his high school sweetheart ... only to find that he can't stop thinking about his mouthy, outspoken ex lab partner.
Accolades
  • As always Lauren layne does not disappoint! This was a well written, engaging story with a few twists and turns. I did not want to be this down. Olive was a unique and charming personality and Carter was a great counterpoint. Loved this book!
Excerpts

"When the cervix talks, we ladies must listen. ‘Tis biology’s idea of hilarity. Hey, did you know my uterus is just a little bit—Wonky? Twisted? Tilted? Shoot. Shoot, what was the word that Dr. Khalid used. Janky? No, that doesn’t seem right ...”

She hopped down and opened his fridge. “You’ll need to do a grocery run.”

“Yeah. I was planning to hit up Turner & Reed this afternoon for some basics,” he said, referring to one of the local grocery stores in town.

“Turner & Reed?” she said, closing the door and turning toward him.

“Are they not open anymore?” he said, feeling a little chagrinned that he’d been gone so long he didn’t even know where to buy food in his hometown.

“Oh no, they’re open,” she said. “And doing great. Jennie Reed took it over from her parents a while back and it’s even fancier than it was before. Truffle-flavored everything.”

“So what’s the problem?” he asked.

“It’s just not the place you go for basics unless you want to pay six dollars for a carton of eggs.” He stared at her for a moment, and she laughed. “You have no idea if that’s expensive or not, do you?”

Carter gave a sheepish grin. “I confess it’s been a few years since I bought my own groceries.”

Olive’s eyebrows lifted. “Have you ever had to buy your groceries?”

He merely smiled wider.

Olive sighed. “I know you probably have more money than every person in this town combined, but I can’t let you do this.” She stepped forward and picked up the iPhone on the counter.

“That’s mine,” Carter said.

“I know.” She held it up, screen facing out in front of his face, and used the facial recognition to unlock it.

“Busybody does not even begin to describe you,” he said under his breath.

“Heard that,” she said, not looking up from his phone.

“You were supposed to.”

“See, now I think this plan is coming along really nicely, don’t you?” Olive asked, looking across the console of her secondhand car at Carter with a grin.

“What plan? The one where you kidnap me?”

“Please. You’re too big for such things, and you got into my car quite willingly,” she pointed out.

“Only because you’re taking me to pick up my new car, ensuring I have a mode of transportation should I need to escape my crazy new neighbor.”

“Speaking of that, can you drive with one arm?” Olive asked.

Carter looked pointedly across the car at her where she had her right hand on the wheel, her left elbow propped on the open window, her fingers spread as she let the air rush through them.

“Fair point,” Olive acknowledged. “Still, it must suck.”

“Having a broken arm? A little bit.” He turned and looked out the window. His aviator glasses were back in place, and Olive got the distinct impression that he wore them as much to hide his mood as he did against the August sunshine. Not because Carter Ramsey was a moody kind of guy—quite the opposite, he seemed rather likable. But it didn’t take a genius to see that his current state frustrated him.

“Being dependent on people to help you is annoying,” she said sympathetically.

“What?” He looked back toward her. “Oh. Yeah. Though that’s not the worst part. It’s more not being able to do the thing I love most in the world.”

“Oh, you mean . . .” She made a crude gesture with her hand, and Carter let out a surprised laugh and shook his head.

“Not that,” he said.

“Hello, boys.” She draped both arms over their shoulders, then helped herself to some of Jakey’s beer. “What’s this about me being a handful?”

“A good handful,” Jakey said, flashing her a grin. “Did you hear that part?”

“I did.” She ruffled his hair before turning to Carter. “What about you, Baseball? Do you think I’m a good handful?”

Carter was startled to realize that it took some serious willpower not to lower his gaze to her breasts right then. He resisted, barely, but he had a good memory from the other day, and could recall that grownup Olive Dunn in her tight jeans and plain white T-shirt would make a very nice handful indeed.

The moment passed in an instant as Olive tapped the twentysomething man to Carter’s right on the shoulder and gave him a friendly smile. “Hey, Paul. Scooch on down a seat, would you?”

“Come on, Olive,” Caitlyn said, nudging her arm with a pale blue cookie before eating it. “We don’t have the food figured out. We haven’t found anyone to sponsor the open bar, or any bar. We don’t know the decor, we don’t even know the theme—”

“What?” Carter made an exaggerated gasp, laying his palm over his chest. “No theme, you say? Should the show even go on?”

Carter’s grin widened in direct inverse with Olive’s eyes, which narrowed to slits at his insulting sarcasm.

“You’re so right,” Olive said to Carter in a perfectly pleasant tone. “All the things we undertake here in Haven are so silly and simple. Nothing like playing the exact same game nearly every single day for . . . a decade? That must be an absolute brain buster!” She used her hand to mime an exploding motion near her temple, complete with sound effects. Mind blown.

This time, it was Carter’s eyes that narrowed. “Played a lot of baseball, have ya?”

Olive shrugged. How hard can it be?

Carter smiled, and this time it was slow and lethal. “How about a deal, Olive? I’ll be your minion on all things high school reunion, if you learn how to play baseball. Let’s say five sessions. At the end, we’ll have a frank discussion over who has it easier.”

He set the bar back, and she returned to position, doing her best to ignore him altogether as she finally got around to starting her set.

Only . . . it was harder than she expected to ignore your spotter. Almost impossible to ignore a spotter like Carter Ramsey.

The positioning alone was, um, intimate, with his crotch disturbingly near her head, his eyes watching her every motion, his hand hovering in the general vicinity of her chest.

The fact that it was him was so much worse. Tall, muscular, and she had to admit, this was a very good angle to observe all of his best features . . .

“Quit ogling me,” Carter said, never taking his gaze away from the rise and fall of the bar.

“Take it easy, Captain America. You’re the one who insisted on straddling my face.”

“Captain America?”

“You’re not hot enough to be Thor,” she said, pushing through the last rep of her set and replacing the bar. Normally she’d have pushed herself a bit further, but she didn’t usually have Carter Ramsey watching her every move.

He may not be Thor, but his presence was increasingly distracting. But also kind of . . . motivating.

She clinked her glass against his. “I’m liking you more and more. Maybe.”

He smiled. Not his usual megawatt smile, but a quieter, private smile, just for her. “I like you, too. Maybe.”

Olive’s stupid heart could handle the smile, but combined with the I like you, it left her distinctly . . . something.

“C’mon,” he said, grabbing her glass out of hand, and moving toward the kitchen. “I think I’ve had just enough wine to start bossing you around on this invitation-mailing task.”

“Oh! Right.” Olive jumped to her feet, glad for the reminder. She’d do well to remember that Carter Ramsey’s presence in her life was purposeful, and very, very temporary.

The tinkle of the bell signaled that the Man of the Year had finally decided to grace her with his presence, and she gave Carter a glare generally reserved for tardy students.

“Sorry, Teach,” he said with a grin, extending a long leg to pull out the chair with his sneaker. He swung a leg over it, sitting on it backward, good arm braced on the back of the chair.

Olive gave him a look. “”

“It is a cool move.”

“Well un-cool it,” Olive said, lowering her voice. “Before she comes back and sees you.”

“Before who—”

“Young man, that is not how a gentleman sits with a lady,” SherryLee said, coming out from the back room with a bakery box in hand. She wasn’t a day over forty-five, but seemed to relish acting twice her age. Or at the very least, took great delight in making anyone who came into her orbit feel nine years old.

“Good thing I’m not in the presence of a lady, then,” Carter muttered under his breath, as he righted the chair.

“Rude,” Olive said.

“Really? I watched you down an entire Gatorade in three gulps yesterday, and do not try to pretend that burp wasn’t you.”

“You know, with the steamy look you just lit me on fire with, she’s going to think it’s your imaginary babies I’m threatening with my latte.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll make an honest woman of you, Dunn.”

“I’ll need a ring first. My daddy always told me that no boy would buy the cow when he could have the milk for free.”

“Did he?” Carter asked curiously.

Olive laughed. “Definitely not. His idea of the birds-and-the-bees talk was to tell me to read On the Origin of Species and Gray’s Anatomy. I was eleven.”

“So babies are a part of your future?” he asked.

“I hope so. I want kids. In a perfect world, I’d have them the old-fashioned way. True love, husband, babies. Preferably in that order. But I’m also practical. If that doesn’t happen, I can adopt or go the sperm-donor route.” She batted her eyelashes at him. “I’d just love to raise the next Babe Ruth.”

“Based on what I’ve seen of your hand-eye coordination, no child of ours would stand a chance at athletic superstardom, even with my superb genes trying to get their say.”

“Which means they’d be well-rounded delights. Just like me.”

“Oh, well in that case, when do we get started?”

“Don’t get excited,” she said. “This would be a strictly dirty magazine, your little soldiers into a cup and frozen situation, no bumping your uglies up on mine.”

“There you go again, adding a touch of gentle sensuality to everything.”

“What the hell did you do here?” she asked in bemusement, taking in the tangled-up sling that was bunched, twisted, and pulled uncomfortably taut against his shoulder blades. Instead of creating a comfortable rest for his injured arm, the sling now pinned his cast awkwardly against his chest.

“I hate this thing,” he muttered under his breath.

“Can’t say that I blame you,” she said, reaching out and experimentally pulling on the twisted material.

Her fingertips brushed the skin of his back, and he went completely still, his head glancing over to meet her gaze in the mirror.

They stared at each other in the glass for a long moment, and her mouth was almost entirely dry as she forced herself to swallow, the sound audible in the steamy bathroom.

His skin was still warm from his shower, and just slightly damp, either from the shower as well, or from sweat as he’d looked to be wrestling with this thing for a while, and she was suddenly aware of how . . . intimate the moment was.

And how very wifely, or at least girlfriendy, her presumption to help him had been.

“I thought you were supposed to be coordinated,” she said, trying to find their usual banter-filled equilibrium.

“It’s a pain in the ass to put on myself,” he said with a sigh. “And when my skin’s wet, it becomes downright impossible.”

“Why didn’t you wait for your skin to dry?” she asked, tugging at the sling again, trying to find a way to create some slack.

“Well damn, Olive. Brilliant idea. Really useful hindsight advice in my current predicament. Quick, get the time machine!”

“Sarcasm’s not going to detangle you.”

“Neither are you, apparently. What are you doing back there?”

She plucked at a particularly taut part of the strap and let it snap back against his skin sharply. “Do you want help or not?”

“Is that what you call this? Help?”

“Impossible man,” she muttered. “I’m just going to have to unfasten the whole thing. Where’s the buckle?”

“Cutting into my jugular and strangling me,” he groused. “But it’s all slick from my shaving cream, and the damn thing slips every time I try to unbuckle it.”

Carter turned around to face her.

Olive blinked. And stared. If seeing his naked back had been intimate, coming face-to-face with his bare chest added a borderline erotic charge to the moment. He seemed to feel it, too, because for once, neither had a single smart-ass comment.

Olive cleared her throat. “I’ll just . . .” Her hands reached tentatively toward the buckle that was indeed inexplicably pressed against his throat. Her hands hesitated for a moment, before reaching out once more. “I’ll just see if I can unbuckle this.”

She carefully avoided his eyes as her fingers worked to first flatten the twisted strap; then using two hands because the damn thing was slippery, she squeezed both ends of the buckle until it released with a quiet snap.

Carter exhaled in relief, his breath minty fresh against her face, and before she could rethink the wisdom of it, Olive lifted her gaze to his.

If her breath had hitched before, now it straight up caught in her throat, and she felt a little light-headed at his nearness. For the first time, she fully understood the big deal about Carter Ramsey. He was always attractive, objectively, but up close, with no one around, there was a magnetism about him that even she, practical, implacable Olive Dunn, couldn’t deny. There was a strength about him that she wanted to lean on, a kindness about him that she wanted to cling to, and a raw masculinity that had her fingers itching to reach for the knot of the towel at his waist.

“Thank you,” he murmured, and for a horrible second, Olive wondered if she’d said it all aloud, and he was thanking her for the gross amount of flattering thoughts she’d just had. Then he reached up, tugging the loosened sling from around his neck and pulling it free of his torso, and she realized he’d just been referring to her help with his sling.

“I’ve got a few spare .”

“Get tangled in them often?” she asked, coming around the counter.

“More often than I’d like.”

“You have like a billion dollars. You could hire some cute little nurse to hang around the house and help you,” she pointed out.

I’d rather have you.

He bit the insane thought back before it slipped out, though the notion seemed even more plausible with the competent way she looped the strap around his neck. Gently, but firmly, she positioned his arm at a right angle in the sling and then clipped it into place.

Olive’s warm, sturdy body against his felt better than it had any right to. Better than any daydream, and there’d been a few lately.

But as nice as it was, it was torture, too, having her pressed against him chest to chest, hip to hip, without being able to touch her. One of his hands was pinned in the damn sling, the other still tucked into his glove, which was pressed against her back.

Since he couldn’t use his hands, he settled for relishing the softness of full breasts against his chest, the sweet and slightly spicy scent of her that he suddenly couldn’t get enough of. The sheer warmth of her, her body and her soul.

He dipped his head slightly, then laughed when his jaw brushed the hard helmet she still wore. How was it possible that the sexiest moment of his life was somehow also the unsexiest?

“Carter?” she asked quietly. Her voice was questioning, but she didn’t move away, and he pulled back enough to look down at her, just as her face lifted to his. “I won’t tickle you anymore,” she said softly.

He nodded, but his gaze was on her mouth. He’d forgotten all about the tickling. Forgotten all about her first hit. Forgotten the reason they were here in the first place.

In fact, he couldn’t even think about anything other than what she would do if he lowered his face and brushed his lips over hers.

His head dipped slightly, and her lips parted in surprise. But she didn’t move away, and Carter felt a thrill of victory that rivaled anything he’d ever felt on the baseball field as his mouth lowered—

“I owe you an apology,” Olive said, lifting the hem of her green Haven High T-shirt to wipe the sweat from her face. “This baseball thing is really hard.”

“Well, to be fair,” Carter said, propping one foot up on the bench beside her and popping a pistachio in his mouth, “you’ve been making it way harder than it should be. I’ve never seen a third baseman—woman—run quite so much.”

She took a swig of water and glared up at him. “The damn thing just keeps going between my legs.”

He popped another pistachio in his mouth and grinned down at her.

“Yeah, yeah. I heard it,” she grumbled.

Carter grinned. Olive grinned back. And giving into the happiness bursting out of her, she acted before thinking, launching herself at Carter full force, wrapping her arms around his neck, her legs around his hips.

He laughed as he caught her and, even one-handed, easily supported her weight as he smiled up at her.

“Nice RBI, Dunn,” he said.

“I know.” Then she planted her palms on either side of his chiseled cheeks, and kissed Haven’s very own golden boy, right on the mouth.

It was a spontaneous kiss, driven by instinct and pure glee. A playful kiss between friends.

Only, the second her lips touched his, something shifted, low in Olive’s belly. And worse, deep in her heart. It was more than the hot pull of sexual awareness, though there was definitely that.

It was a whisper. A quiet voice uttering the simplest, and most powerful of statements. You belong here.

Ignoring the voice and the heartache it promised, Olive let herself indulge in the kiss only for a moment before pulling back and forcing a bright grin.

But Carter didn’t grin back, and the warmth in his eyes had nothing to do with friendship.

The arm around her tightened, and the fingers of his bad arm, sandwiched between them, found the fabric of her shirt, tugging her back toward him. The command in his gaze was unmistakable. Again.

“What’s wrong?” he asked softly, already wanting to fix it.

“Nothing. Go away.”

He frowned. The Olive he knew was not the type to hide when something was bothering her. And definitely not the type to lie.

“What happened to ‘this is Haven, we don’t lock doors?’” he said, twisting the door handle again, futilely.

“That was before there were unwanted men on this block.”

Again, the flash of hurt, though at least now he had confirmation that he was at the crux of what was pissing her off. And, if he was really honest with himself, it was deserved. He had been avoiding her since the softball game, needing to sort things out, first in his own head, then with his mother, then, perhaps most crucially, with Felicity.

“Look, Olive,” he tried. “I know that things were weird after the game.”

“Oh, you mean when you dropped me in the dirt, and then chased after your ex?”

Carter flinched, then rested his forehead against her front door, frustrated. “It wasn’t what you think—”

The door yanked open, and he nearly fell forward, but her palm found the center of his chest, not in a gentle-caress kind of way, but the firm, back-the-hell-up kind of way.

“Really?” she said. “Which part wasn’t what I thought? That I kissed you, and you promptly dropped me to go after the woman you pledged to marry if you were both single? Or that you disappeared completely after that?”

Carter understood her anger—he regretted it. But he also felt a little surge of elation at the fact that she cared.

Olive Dunn had been crying.

Over him?

The selfish, possessive part of him wanted it to be so. The friend in him ached at the thought.

He reached out to touch her cheek, but she jerked back, slapping his hand at the same time. Carter nearly smiled, but her next words erased the urge.

“I saw you,” she said quietly. “This afternoon, the two of you at SherryLee’s. Holding hands.”

His stomach dropped, because he knew exactly how that must have looked. “It wasn’t what you think,” he said quickly.

“I don’t really care. I wish you guys all sorts of cute babies.”

She started to close the door again, and this time he blocked it with his body. “I’m not having babies with Felicity. I’m not doing anything with Felicity. I’m here, Olive,” Carter said a little desperately. “Standing on your front doorstep.”

Olive rested her cheek on the side of the door. “I do still want to be your friend, Carter. I just need a day.”

Friend. Carter realized in that moment one didn’t explain things to an irate Olive Dunn. They showed her.

Acting on instinct, and weeks’ worth of building attraction, Carter stepped toward her, and closed the distance between them.

He took his time lowering his head, letting his lips move over hers with enough gentleness not to scare her away, but enough urgency to let her know that friendship didn’t have a damn thing to do with his reason for being here at this moment.

She didn’t kiss him back, but neither did she move away. She stood perfectly still as though thinking through the pros and cons of his nearness, and had he not been so turned on, he might have smiled because it was exactly the way he’d expect a biology teacher with Olive’s brain to do things.

Carter lifted his head, but didn’t step back. He wanted her. But the next move had to be Olive’s.

He held his breath as he rested his cheek against hers, hoping he hadn’t destroyed everything they’d built by kissing her. But he also knew if he and Olive didn’t confront the heat between them, he’d regret it long after he left Haven.

Still, she didn’t move, and just as Carter’s heart began to sink in realization that she didn’t feel the same way—that he’d imagined the pull between them—Olive lifted her hands to his face and set her lips against his.