Authors: Julie Garwood
is among the most critically acclaimed and popular romance authors around, with nearly forty million copies of her books in print. She is the author of numerous bestsellers. She lives near Kansas City.
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Published by Piatkus
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Julie Garwood
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
For Marlow Raye Garwood,
our newest pride and joy
May you always have
A sunbeam to warm you,
A moonbeam to charm you,
A sheltering angel so nothing can harm you.
An Irish Blessing
ordelia Kane met her Prince Charming when she was just five years old.
Cordelia, called Cordie by her father since she was a baby, hadn’t wanted to go to school when she turned five, but her father wouldn’t let her stay home anymore. He insisted she give school a try. He was positive she would like it. As it turned out, he was right. On her first day in kindergarten at the exclusive Briarwood School she made two new friends, Sophie Rose and Regan Madison.
Cordie saw Sophie that first morning crossing the parking lot and was sure the girl had just stepped out of a fairy tale. Her long white-blond hair bounced as she walked, and she had a twinkle in her eyes. Regan arrived shortly after. She was very pretty, too, with thick brown hair and freckles on her nose that Cordie wished she had. It didn’t take long for the girls to form a bond. All it took was one incident on the playground. A second-grade bully tried to take Cordie’s hair barrettes from her, and Regan and Sophie immediately came to her defense. Sophie was outraged on Cordie’s behalf, but it was Regan who proved to be the brave one. She stood up to the bully and wouldn’t back down. From that moment on the girls became inseparable. Where one went the others followed.
Cordie’s new friends came from homes that were very different from hers. Regan and Sophie were driven to school by chauffeurs in limos and town cars. Cordie’s father drove her to school in his old, reliable pickup truck. Regan and Sophie had attended prestigious preschools for two years before starting at Briarwood. Cordie hadn’t gone to preschool, yet when she started kindergarten, she already knew how to read. Her father had taught her, sitting down with her every night after dinner and her bath.
Reading wasn’t the only thing her father taught her. While other children worked on arts and crafts and played games like hide-and-seek, Cordie spent her days with her father in his automotive shop learning all about cars. He loved working on what he called clunkers, and because she wanted to please him, she paid attention to what he was doing and managed to get grease on her clothes almost daily. Every night before they went home they played a game. He would lift the hood of a car, then pick her up in his arms and point to something in or around the engine. It was her task to tell him what the part was called and what its job was. As she got older, she got better and quicker. Her favorite thing was to ride along with her father in his tow truck and help stranded people. Sometimes it took only a few minutes to get the engine going; other times he had to tow the car back to his shop. The easiest to fix were dead batteries and worn spark plugs. She knew what both of those were because her father had told her. Like other children, she had coloring books and crayons, but she never used them. She preferred following her father around and being his helper.
Because she didn’t have playmates, she was fearful of what school would be like. But once she met Sophie and Regan, all her fears slipped away.
Cordie shared a special connection with Sophie. Both of their mothers had died before the girls were old enough to remember them. Regan was the lucky one. She had a mother, and Cordie and Sophie would have envied their friend except for the fact that her mother was never around. She was always traveling and, even when she was in town, seldom spent time at home. If it weren’t for Regan’s three brothers, she wouldn’t have known any family at all. She might have been the only one of them fortunate enough to have siblings, but that didn’t matter to Cordie and Sophie. When they were together, they were sisters.
Since Sophie was the oldest by almost a year, she felt she should be able to boss the other two around, and for a while they let her. Then, as time passed, the girls became competitive with one another in almost everything . . . except soccer. They all joined a team, but Sophie didn’t like sweating or getting dirty, so she usually walked down the field or just stood where she was and waited for the ball to come back her way. Regan, the shortest member of the team, was a powerhouse. But then, so was Cordie. The two of them usually scored at least one goal each. They were girly girls who loved ribbons in their hair and ruffles on their skirts, but on the field they were aggressive and out to win.
It was at the end of one of their soccer practices that Cordie met him.
Evan, Regan’s driver, had been sent to the airport to fetch a friend of her mother’s, so Aiden, Regan’s oldest brother, got stuck with soccer carpool. Spencer, the middle brother, decided to ride along with him.
The practice field was out in the middle of nowhere. Aiden took a wrong turn, had to backtrack, and was fifteen minutes late getting to the field. The soccer coach always waited until all the girls had been picked up before leaving, and he was about to put Regan and Sophie and Cordie in his van and take them home when Aiden finally showed up. The SUV he was driving was making a loud noise.
The girls stood together with their backpacks at their feet, squinting against the setting sun at the two figures in the noisy vehicle.
“That’s an old car,” Sophie said. “Really old.”
Cordie nodded. “It’s a clunker,” she announced with authority.
The car came to a chugging stop, and the two teens got out and started across the field.
“Who are those boys?” Sophie asked.
“My brothers,” Regan said. “The big one is Aiden. He’s sixteen. Spencer is only fourteen,” she added. “I don’t know where Walker is. Maybe he stayed home.”
Aiden whistled and motioned to Regan. “Let’s go,” he shouted.
“He sounds mad,” Sophie whispered.
Regan shook her head. She lifted her backpack over her shoulder as she said, “He isn’t mad. He’s just always in a hurry.”
Aiden whistled again. Regan picked up the pace and shouted, “Stop whistling. We aren’t dogs, Aiden.”
Her brother obviously thought her comment hilarious and had a good laugh. She handed him her backpack and, following her lead, Sophie and Cordie handed him theirs as well. As they proceeded toward the SUV, Regan introduced her friends. Sophie looked back at the two boys, smiled, and said hello, but when Cordie turned around, she could only stare. Her attention was locked on Aiden. She thought he was the most perfect boy she had ever seen. He looked just like the prince in her favorite story, “Snow White.” His hair was almost as dark and his face was just as handsome. He was big, too, bigger than her father. Maybe he really was a prince, she thought.
“How was soccer?” Spencer asked.
“Good,” Regan answered.
“It must have been,” Aiden said. “You’re covered in dirt.”
“Cordie’s got dirt on her, too,” Regan pointed out. “But Sophie doesn’t.”
Spencer turned to the little blond girl. “Didn’t you get to practice today?” he asked, taking in her pristine appearance. She was spotless, and her soccer shoes looked brand-new, as though she’d just taken them out of the box.
“I practiced,” she assured him.
Regan explained. “Sophie doesn’t like to get dirty.”
Spencer glanced at Aiden before asking Sophie, “Then why do you play soccer?”
“I like soccer,” she answered.
Regan nodded. “She does.”
Aiden laughed. “You’re being logical, Spencer.”
“And?” his brother asked.
They reached the faded blue SUV. Aiden tossed the girls’ backpacks in the back while Spencer opened the door for them to get inside. “Put your seat belts on,” he instructed.
“Why are you driving this car?” Regan asked.
“I borrowed it,” Aiden said. “It’s a loaner while my car is being serviced. It’s all they had.”
He got behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition, and turned it. The engine sputtered, then died. He tried again. The same thing happened. Then again and again while he pumped the gas pedal.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. When he turned, he saw that Cordie had unhooked her seat belt and was sitting on the edge of the seat watching him. Before he could tell her to put her seat belt back on, she said, “You should stop doing that. You’re probably flooding it.”
“It?” Spencer asked.
“The engine.” Didn’t he know anything? she wondered. “He’s flooding the engine,” she explained slowly so he would understand.
She remembered what her father often said. If he had a dollar for every call he got about a car that wouldn’t start because the driver had flooded the engine, why, he’d have a whole lot of dollars.
Aiden was so surprised by the quiet authority in her voice that it took him a few seconds to react.
“I’m not flooding it,” he said.
She looked him in the eyes and replied, “Yes, you are. If you keep doing that, you’ll have to wait a long time before you can try again, and you know what? You’ll probably flood it again.” She patted his shoulder as though she was trying to console him and added, “It’s because you don’t know what you’re doing. If you want, I could show you.”
Having given her opinion, she scooted back, clicked her seat belt on, and offered her friends some of the fruity snacks she had in her pocket. Within seconds the girls were whispering and giggling. The topic was Halloween and what costumes they were going to wear to school for the party. Regan announced she was going as a scary witch, and Sophie couldn’t quite decide but was leaning toward a ballerina.
“Are you still going to be Cinderella?” Sophie asked Cordie.
Cordie stopped to think for a second and then looked up at Aiden before answering. “I’ve changed my mind,” she answered. “I’m going to be Snow White.”
Ignoring the chatter in the backseat, Aiden asked Spencer if he remembered passing any filling stations on the way to the field.
“I wasn’t looking. Do you know anything about cars?”
“No,” Aiden said. “And neither do you.” He tried to start the engine again a couple of times before giving up. “Damn,” he whispered. “Why in God’s name do they have soccer practice all the way out here?”
“Beats me. One of us should start walking, I guess. It’s probably a couple of miles to the nearest house. I’ll go. I’ll knock on doors until someone lets me use their phone. Unless . . .”
Spencer looked over the seat at the girls. “Never mind.”
“Unless what?” Aiden asked.
“Unless we ask the kid,” he whispered.
“You want me to ask a five-year-old how to fix the damn car?” Aiden asked with a hint of sarcasm.
“No,” Spencer said. “I’ll ask her.”
He turned to the girls. “Now, Cordie . . .”
“Her name’s Cordelia, but everyone calls her Cordie.” Regan volunteered that information.
“Cordelia’s a pretty name,” Aiden said.
Cordie hadn’t liked her name, but when he told her it was pretty, she changed her mind in an instant. She decided she wanted everyone to call her Cordelia.
“Did you say you could tell Aiden how to get the car started?” Spencer asked.
“I maybe could,” she said. She sat forward again. “It’s easy. All you have to do is put your foot on the gas pedal and push down. Hold it there. You don’t push up and down like you were doing. Then turn the key on and leave it on. You keep turning it off and on, and that’s wrong. Everything you did was wrong,” she happily informed him. Then she patted him again and added, “Don’t worry, Aiden. The engine will maybe start.”
“Maybe, huh? Okay, I’ll give it a try.” He followed her instructions, smiling inside over the fact that he was listening to a five-year-old, but after several seconds with nothing happening, he started to ease off the pedal.
She shouted in his ear. “No. Wait!”
He kept his foot pressed to the floor, and the engine coughed a couple of times, then gained momentum and came to life.
Aiden turned to look at Cordie and was met with a broad, satisfied grin. He straightened in his seat and put the car in gear. As they pulled away from the soccer fields, he lowered his voice so that only Spencer would hear. “Are we going to admit that a five-year-old—”
Spencer interrupted. “We tell no one.”
In his rearview mirror Aiden could see Sophie and Regan still chattering away, but Cordie was smiling back at him with the clearest blue eyes he had ever seen. He shook his head and laughed. “Who would believe us?”