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Authors: Deborah Cooke,Claire Cross


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Third Time Lucky


Deborah Cooke


I always get the math wrong

Is the third time the charm? Because I can think of three good reasons not to let Nick Sullivan back into my life.

First, I got over my infatuation with him—cold turkey. So what did he have to offer, anyway? Mystery? Adventure? A sexy grin and a killer sense of humor? All of the above, if I think about it. Which I don’t. Ever.

Second, he had the nerve to come back! After fifteen years, he shows up looking (better than ever) for a place to hide, with a story about being framed for murder. Only problem is, there’s no corpse. As if I’d fall for that old line...

Third, now I’m old enough to know better—and smart enough not to be seduced all over again by the warmth in his eyes. I should give him the boot. But it
murder. And he
need a place to stay. This time it’s strictly business. Nothing personal. Just harboring a fugitive. For old times’ sake. And just maybe to satisfy my own craving for a little adventure... so what does that add up to?

“... So what does that add up to?”

Third Time Lucky

Praise for
Third Time Lucky

“A cross between a Julia Roberts romp and an episode of Seinfeld.”

~ The Romance Reader

“Funny, quirky, touching and romantic!”

~ Suzanne Forster

“Witty, whimsical, reflective and romantic, THIRD TIME LUCKY should tickle your funny bone, as well as touch your heart.”

~ Tanzey Cutter, Old Book Barn Gazette

“A screwball comedic romance that stars several interesting characters. Claire Cross (a.k.a. Deborah Cooke) writes a warm, witty and often wild novel that shows the expanse of her talent.”

~ Harriet Klausner

“Do you feel lucky when you get more than you expect? If so, I strongly recommend this book. I rarely laugh out loud while reading, but this gave my smile muscles a good workout while engaging my brain. The writing is snappy and refreshing... This was my first Claire Cross and I plan to pick her up again when I need a good laugh.”

~ All About Romance

“Laced with a good deal of humor. Ms. Cross creates characters that will alternately have you laughing and sniffling. [She] makes the transition from writing historical romance to contemporary romance seamlessly and without apparent effort. Writing with a completely different style, [her] creative voice still shines through. I thoroughly enjoyed this emotional, riveting tale.”

~ Romance Reviews Today


Third Time Lucky

Third Time Lucky
was originally published under the pseudonym, Claire Cross.

Deborah Cooke also writes as Claire Delacroix and as herself.

This re-release has had only minor corrections from the original text. It is essentially the same as the original print editions, although there are minor variations.

Copyright 2000, 2012 Claire Delacroix, Inc.

Published by Deborah A. Cooke

All Rights Reserved.

Cover by
Kim Killion

Digital Design by
A Thirsty Mind
, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-927477-13-7

Digital Edition

Excerpt from
Double Trouble

Copyright 2001, 2012 Claire Delacroix, Inc.

Excerpt from
Once Upon a Kiss

Copyright 1998, 2011 Claire Delacroix, Inc.

Without limiting the rights under copyright preserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright holder and the publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Dear Readers

Welcome to my contemporary romance series called The Coxwells, which was a milestone in my writing career. Previous to writing this series, I’d published historical romances as Claire Delacroix and time travel romances as Claire Cross. Although I’d written a number of contemporary romances, I’d never found an editor who liked the combination of my humor and my voice. I was very lucky to be working with an editor on my time travel romances who did like both, and who encouraged me to write contemporary romance. The Coxwell series was a result of her encouragement and was originally published under my pseudonym Claire Cross.

Philippa Coxwell was the first character in this family who came to me and I liked her from the first moment she walked into my imagination. I admired that she’d chosen her own path, becoming a garden designer instead of a lawyer, which was the career choice her father expected all of his children to make. That she still had a sweet spot for her high school crush encouraged me to send Nick back to her and see if they could make it work. I suspected that Philippa was more right about Nick than he knew—of course, she was. This was the first romance that I wrote in first person, because I thought that technique allowed me to best present the combination of vulnerability and toughness in Philippa’s character that I found so appealing.

Originally, I’d thought that Philippa’s story would be a standalone book. But as her family became more clear to me, I knew I wanted to tell the stories of her brothers, too. I was interested in the conflicts in the Coxwell family and how that affected each of the siblings—I’m enough of a romantic that I wanted to take each of the siblings to a better point of balance. I didn’t immediately have the chance to tell those stories, though:
Third Time Lucky
Double Trouble
were originally published in mass market editions, but then my publisher chose not to continue with the series. Several years later, they decided to reprint those two first books in trade paperback, and at that time, they acquired
One More Time
All Or Nothing
to complete the series.

As with all of my reprinted editions, I’ve decided not to revise these books but to republish them essentially as they were published in the first place. I also chose to republish them as Deborah Cooke books, since I now publish contemporary paranormal romance under my own name. I haven’t written any new work as Claire Cross since the last of the Coxwell books, and it seems simpler to just have two author names. I continue to write historicals as Claire Delacroix, and my Claire Cross time travel romances have been republished as Delacroix books.

I’m very excited to be able to offer my first contemporary romance series in these new editions, and to have them available in both print and digital formats. These were books that I loved writing and it’s been a treat to revisit them.

I hope you enjoy reading about the Coxwell family as well.

All my best—



e was nervous, straining for first glimpse of the city like the unseasoned traveler he wasn’t. But this flight was different. He was reminded of another flight, another trip with change as his destination.

Another uncertain reception. That he was invited was no more reassuring this time than it had been the last.

It had taken him almost thirty years to come full circle. In a way, it was odd to be no more certain of what he would find now than he had been then.

The aircraft dipped low over the Atlantic and he pressed his face to the cold plastic, watching as they dropped closer and closer to the sparkling chop of the sea. In the last possible moment, lights flashed at the end of a runway conjured from nowhere. The tires hit the ground and he was thrown back in his seat by the force of the thrust reversal.


Or the closest thing to it.

He was the kind of man who took his time making decisions. He liked to mull over every facet of the problem, examine his options fully before making a choice. But once he had decided, he was always impatient to forge ahead, perhaps to reach the next conundrum.

This was no different. He was now anxious to have the inevitable behind him. He was already gathering his leather knapsack—his only piece of luggage—from beneath the seat ahead as the familiar announcements rolled unheard over the passengers. He was standing in the aisle as soon as the aircraft halted beside the terminal, his toe already tapping.

He wasn’t the first off the plane by dint of his seat assignment, but he quickly outpaced his fellow travelers in the terminal. His long strides and lack of checked baggage made him the first to snag a taxi. The cab’s wild lunge into the traffic suited his own need for haste.

It wouldn’t be long. He forced himself to lean back in the vinyl seat, to note the changes in the city that had been the first he had ever known. It was different.

Of course. Everything changed, even here—though at least here, he wasn’t responsible. He thought the city had looked better before—more green, less concrete—but then, no one had asked him and no one would. He shied away from both his last memory of this place and his recent preoccupation with compare-and-contrast, and let his thoughts skip ahead to the house.

What kind of reception would he find? Lucia had been angry, deeply angry, when he had left fifteen years before. She wasn’t the kind of person to forgive and forget—which was why her invitation had been such a surprise.

He wouldn’t put it past her to get even. Lucia had an ability to wait for her moment, probably a skill cultivated on the stage she loved. Waiting for her cue, as it were.

Either way, he’d know as soon as he opened the door that was never locked. (Had that changed? He wondered. Surely even tiny Rosemount couldn’t still be immune to petty crime.) If Lucia had cooked for him, he was forgiven.

Unless even that constant had changed.

He frowned as they turned away from the city. He rolled down the window, taking a deep breath of the salt-tinged air. Funny how he hadn’t been able to leave the ocean completely—and equally funny how different it was on the other side of the country. The warm winds that caressed Seattle brought rain and tolerance, optimism and an easy pace.

This wind had a bite to it, an edge that separated the wheat from the chaff and drove the timid inland. Like his grandmother, this wind permitted no illusions. It could buff a tough soul to a sheen or flay a tender one alive. It even drove the colors of sky and sea to the cold end of the spectrum, to glacial blue, to the mauve of frost-bitten fingers, to rock and wave and winter.

It felt clean in his lungs, invigorating for all its cold. It seemed to clarify his thoughts, as it always had, and he inhaled it greedily, profoundly grateful that it hadn’t changed.

Then the cab took the exit and he found himself sitting forward to study the familiar streets, his pose in marked contrast to his usual inscrutable composure. The houses had changed, one after the other having surrendered their charm to renovators. They looked strikingly similar, where once they had been quirky and unique.

People apparently had no ability to appreciate what they had, no matter where they were. Not only change was inevitable, but change for the worse seemed to be the prevalent trend. It was one thing to unwittingly create a climate for change; it was another to actively choose it.

But Lucia’s house stood as a sentinel to the past, at least from the outside. He felt himself smile at the sight of it. Old, slightly decrepit. It looked as though it had always been there, slowly disintegrating, and always would be. He could imagine that the house would erode, like a mountain, be worn down over the centuries by wind and water until it joined with the earth once more.

It was probably more cluttered than ever inside, the corners even more tightly stuffed with improbable objects. Lucia was a packrat extraordinaire, at least she had been. And her taste in bric-a-brac ran to the theatrical, just as it did in clothing and manner. Lucia collected used stage props. The treasures of her collection were lit and posed for maximum effect. Her collection could not possibly have remained static for fifteen years.

He paid the cab and stood on the curb for long moments after its engine had faded away, simply staring at the house, remembering the first time he had seen it and the awe that he had felt that they were to live here.

He had been sure that there had been a mistake. Now, he felt an echo of that certainty, the house giving no sign that he was welcomed or even expected.

The slate shingles were still slipping around the chimney, though they never seemed to fall off. The copper eaves troughs were more dented than he recalled, the ivy grew higher, the twisted evergreens on either side of the entry had nearly obscured the door but didn’t look any more healthy than they ever had. The garden was dead, just as it always had been, a sign of his grandmother’s disinterest in one facet of the world.

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