Tyler o’neill’s redemption

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The car filled with tensionAnd it was all Juliette could do not to unroll her window, just so she could breathe.

“You’ve changed,” Tyler said.

“You haven’t.”

“You haven’t spent ten minutes with me, Jules. How could you possibly know that?”

“It’s Juliette.”

He laughed and she glared at him hard.

“Okay,” he said, “it’s Juliette. How’d you know I was back?”

“This is Bonne Terre, Tyler. The second you set foot inside the parish about twenty people called me.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth she wished them back. No way did she want Tyler O’Neill to think she’d wasted a single thought on him after he’d walked out on her. No way did he need to think he meant more to her than he did. “I’m the chief here, Tyler. It’s my job to know what potentially corrupting influences are hanging around.”

Dear Reader,

I was working onTyler O’Neill’s Redemptionwhen Paul Newman passed away. I spent days watching movies, reading articles and looking at pictures of this rare and talented man. I was amazed at his charity, his strength of purpose, his commitment to his wife and family. And that’s not even talking about his acting or legendary blue eyes. Clearly there will never be another Paul Newman.

But I must admit, all those photos and movies seeped into my brain and onto the page and Tyler O’Neill started taking on some of Newman’s real and fictionalized characteristics. Tyler has the eyes and the grin fromButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.The scorching sideways glances fromCat on a Hot Tin Roof.And the devil-may-care attitude and propensity for trouble inspired byCool Hand Luke.How irresistible is that combination?

It’s been fun getting Tyler O’Neill out of trouble with the help of Juliette Tremblant—a dangerous woman Tyler loved and left behind. For me, the sparks flew off the page. Please drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know if they did for you, too. I love to hear from readers.

Happy reading!

Molly O’Keefe

Tyler O’Neill’s RedemptionMolly O’Keefe

ABOUT THE AUTHORMolly O’Keefe is living out her dream of being a writer, mother and wife. Oddly enough, her dream never seemed to include this much laundry. Or dirty diapers. And, not that she’s complaining, but she thought there would be bonbons. Instead there’s lots of cold coffee. Nonetheless, life in Toronto, Canada, married to her college sweetheart is wonderful.Books by Molly O’KeefeHARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE1365—FAMILY AT STAKE

1385—HIS BEST FRIEND’S BABY

1392—WHO NEEDS CUPID?“A Valentine for Rebecca”

1432—UNDERCOVER PROTECTOR

1460—BABY MAKES THREE*

1486—A MAN WORTH KEEPING*

1510—WORTH FIGHTING FOR*

1534—THE SON BETWEEN THEM

1542—THE STORY BETWEEN THEM

1651—THE TEMPTATION OF SAVANNAH O’NEILL**

For Adam, who understands and helps and listens and takes the kids away for hours at a time.I love you more every year we’re together.CONTENTSCHAPTER ONECHAPTER TWOCHAPTER THREECHAPTER FOURCHAPTER FIVECHAPTER SIXCHAPTER SEVENCHAPTER EIGHTCHAPTER NINECHAPTER TENCHAPTER ELEVENCHAPTER TWELVECHAPTER THIRTEENCHAPTER FOURTEENCHAPTER FIFTEENCHAPTER SIXTEENCHAPTER SEVENTEENCHAPTER EIGHTEENCHAPTER NINETEENCHAPTER TWENTYEPILOGUECHAPTER ONETYLERO’NEILL WAS WELCOMEDback to Bonne Terre the same way he’d been kicked out of it.With a mouthful of dirt from outside St. Pat’s Church.

“I never did like you,” Lou Brandt whispered in Tyler’s ear while Tyler spit out gravel. “Or your family.”

Tyler rolled over and grinned, wincing slightly when his lip split and hot copper blood flooded his mouth. “I’ve always liked you, Lou,” he wheezed. “And your wife.”

Lou reared back, his steel-toed work boot poised for another introduction to Tyler’s rib cage, but Gaetan Bourdage got a thick arm around Lou’s barrel chest. “Come on, now, Lou,” he said. Lou strained against Gaetan’s arm, his big fat head turning red and purple.

“You’re trash,” Lou snarled. “You think winning all that money changes things?”

“No, actually,” Tyler said, checking to make sure he still had his back teeth. “It just makes me rich trash.”

“You’re a cheat!” Lou cried.

“Oh, shut up,” Tyler moaned. “You’re a crappy card player, Lou. You always were and the ten years I’ve been gone, you’ve just gotten worse.”

Lou strained against Gaetan’s arm with renewed fury. “Someone should have shut your mouth for you years ago.”

“They tried,” Tyler muttered.

“Go on inside,” Gaetan said, his Cajun accent thick as the swamp air. “This boy just ain’t worth it.” If Tyler didn’t know Gaetan, he might just be hurt.

Instead he searched for his cap, finding it trampled in the dust behind him.

“You’re right,” Lou said, finally easing off. He spit and the thick glob landed in the dirt near Tyler’s hand, causing his own temper to flare.

He reared up off the ground, but Gaetan’s gaze nailed him to the dirt.

Stay put,his eyes said.I can only save your sorry ass so many times.

Lou wandered back to the church and the Sunday night poker game that had been going on in the basement ever since the church had been built, and Tyler hung his pounding head between his knees.

“Welcome home,” he muttered.

“Whatchu doing back here, Ty?” Gaetan asked. The old man crouched, his thick silver mustache trembling with anger.

“A guy can’t—”

“No,” Gaetan said, “if that guy is you, then no. Boy!” Gaetan pulled Tyler up, and even though Tyler towered over the old swamp rat, he was cowed slightly. Coming home had been a bad idea, but coming to the St. Pat’s poker game was just stupid.

But then Tyler had a thing for stupid.

“Whatever made you come back, I hope it was worth getting your face beat in.” Gaetan pulled a red handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it over. Tyler pressed it to his lip.

Beat inwas a stretch, but Tyler wasn’t about to get into it with the Cajun.

“I don’t know, Gates,” Tyler said, instead. “The look on everyone’s face when I walked in there was pretty priceless.”

“Priceless?” Gaetan snorted. “Every man in there thinks you cheated.”

Tyler bit his tongue and jammed his cap back on his head, trying hard to swallow down the urge that he’d spent the past ten years destroying. Of course, one night back in Bonne Terre and the need to defend himself came crawling back, like a kicked dog.

“I didn’t cheat,” Tyler said, ready to go back into that church and fight anyone who said otherwise. “Not tonight, not when I was a kid. I never cheated.”

“I know that,” Gaetan said, scowling, his bushy eyebrows colliding to create a mutant caterpillar. “But you took a lot of their money when you were a boy and they haven’t forgotten that.”

The satisfaction of taking the money off those men who looked down their noses at his family, called his grandmother names behind her back and watched him out of the corner of their eyes, was still so sweet.

He couldn’t help but smile.

Gaetan cuffed him upside the head.

“Hey!”

“You took their money ten years ago and now you come back a rich man to take more?” Gaetan shook his head.

“It’s a poker game,” Tyler said. “The point is to take each other’s money.”

“You—” Gaetan curled a hand in Tyler’s shirt, pulled him down close to the old man’s height until Tyler could smell the whiskey and peppermint on his breath. “You have always taken too much. Always. Even as a boy you could never be happy with what you had. You needed what everyone else had, too. And everyone in this town remembers that about you. You shouldn’t have come back here.”

It was no big secret. No news flash. He’d been telling himself the same damn thing the whole drive from Vegas to Bonne Terre, but hearing it from Gaetan, a man he’d always considered a friend, stung.

“I know,” he said.

“Then why come back?” Gaetan asked. “You’re a rich man. A celebrity. You’ve got that girlfriend—”

Tyler snorted.

“Fine,” Gaetan said. “No girlfriend. But why are you back?”

Tyler shrugged. “I have to have a reason?”

“This isn’t about your mother snooping around these parts, is it?”

Tyler wished he could tell the old man, but he didn’t want to implicate his friend, should it come to that. Instead, he said nothing and Gates sighed.

“You best not drive,” Gaetan said, pointing at Tyler’s head and Tyler gingerly touched the swelling around his eye.

Lou was a crap card player, but the guy could throw a punch.

Tyler glanced back at his beloved 1972 Porsche, its black paint melting into the shadows. “She’ll be okay here?” he asked, and Gaetan snorted.

“Last car stolen in Bonne Terre was the one you stole when you left.”

“I doubt that,” he said, reluctant to leave Suzy alone and vulnerable outside a place as unwelcoming as St. Pat’s.

“Merde, Ty, it’s just a car.”

“Don’t tell that to Suzy.”

“Suzy?”

“Suzette, really.”

“Lord, Ty, you don’t change. I’ll watch her myself.”

“Thank you. In that case, I might as well take in some night air,” he said, remembering the path through town past the police station and Rousseau Square down to The Manor as if it had been yesterday.

He glanced back in the shadows at his dusty Suzy. He’d get her back in the morning.

“Okay then,” Gaetan said. “You come by for dinner or Maude will have your head.”

“Will do,” Tyler agreed with a grin that split his lip. “Hey, Gates?” The old man stopped, his bowed legs turning him around. “You really mayor?” Tyler asked.

Gaetan nodded. “Sure am, boy, so you best watch yourself.”

He winked and walked back into the church, through the lit doorway that led down to the basement. With one last damning look over his shoulder, Gaetan jerked the door shut.

There was a slam and lights out.

Two janitors. The high school wrestling coach. Gaetan and Father Michaels. Suddenly, all too good to play with him.

The reigning World Series of Poker champion.

Which only continued to prove what he’d known down in his gut all along—the world changed but Bonne Terre stayed the same.

Tyler sighed, pushed his A’s cap down farther on his head and made his way back home.

The September night was thick and dark, the suffocating blanket he remembered and hated. Two steps and he had that dirty, clammy sweat that made him ache for the white tile shower in his suite, the cool hum of forced air.

Christ, his eye was beginning to pound.

Coming back here had been a dumb idea. He’d been fine, years had gone by without him caring, the memories fading bit by bit, but one word that his mother might be back in town and here he was, choking on the dirt outside St. Pat’s.

No doubt the kitchen in The Manor would be empty. None of Margot’s sugar pies to welcome him home.

He crossed Jackson and headed for the square, thinking he’d cut through the magnolias in the park and save himself some time, when a dark car slid around the corner, crawling along the curb.

His alley-cat instincts, honed on this very street, woke up and he stepped into the shadows of the trees.

Stupid of him to cross Jackson under the streetlights—anyone looking knew his path home.

The wrought-iron fence was cold against his back. It would be just like Lou to follow him, or call one of his softball buddies to come out here for a little middle-of-the-night batting practice.

The car eased past him, got to the corner and stopped under the streetlamp.

It stopped and waited, exhaust filling the golden pool of light with gray smoke.

Well, crap, Tyler did not like that. At all.

He circled around the other side of the fence, hugging the shadows, between the leaves and the light. If it was Lou’s buddies, they wouldn’t be expecting him to approach from the side. His foot caught on a branch and he grabbed it from the ground and tested its heft.

Pretty weak, but with some surprise on his side he might do some damage before they took care of what was left of his face.

As he cleared the side of the blue car, blood pumping, smile easing nice and slowly across his face, he saw that there weren’t a bunch of men in it. In fact, sitting in the driver’s side, staring him right in the eye with ten hard years of hate, was the most beautiful woman he’d ever known.

“Juliette,” he breathed. For a second his life stopped and all he saw were those hazel eyes and lips so pink and perfect. And sweet. The sweetest.

“What the hell are you doing here, Tyler?”

JULIETTE WAS NOT, REPEAT,notgoing to touch Tyler O’Neill. Not with her fingers. Not with a ten-foot pole. Perhaps later, when given a chance, she’d touch him good with her fists, but at the moment, there was going to be no touching. Too bad, since it was the only way she was ever going to convince herself the man standing in front of her, as rumpled and bloody and heart-stoppingly handsome as he’d been at seventeen—was real.And not a figment of all of her furious revenge fantasies.

“Just out for a stroll,” he said, tossing the branch he’d been holding onto the dirt.

“Sure you are. What are you doing back in Bonne Terre?” she asked.

“Savannah said The Manor is sitting empty,” Tyler said and shrugged, as if his arrival out of the blue after ten years was perfectly natural. “Seems like someone should be watching over it.”

“You?” she asked, laughing at the very notion of Tyler being down here for any unselfish reason. “Please.”

He stared at her for a second and then smiled.

Her heart fluttered against her chest, a small mechanical bird powered by that smile.

He glanced out at the buildings lining the square, the hardware store and Jillian’s Jewelry Shop. The café and the bank. He watched those buildings as if they were watching him back. A threat to be monitored.

“You’re right,” he said, but that was all he said.

Juliette bit her lip against the other questions screaming to be heard.

Why did you go?

Why didn’t you write? Call?

What did I do?

But what would be the point? Ten years of silence were all the answer she really needed.

“Who’s been working on your face?” she asked.

“Old friends,” he said, touching his eye with careful fingers and wincing anyway.

Something dark and vicious inside of her really liked that he was in pain.

And she hated that she liked it since she’d sworn off feeling anything about this man years ago. But he was here, standing so close she could shoot him, and these feelings—all the old anger and hurt and rage—resurfaced as though they’d just been waiting for the chance.

She’d call him tomorrow, fill him in on what was happening out at The Manor over the phone. Then she’d hang up and never waste another minute thinking about Tyler O’Neill.

She put the car in gear. “Have a good night, Tyler,” she said, liking all the cool “go screw yourself” she managed to fit into those words.

“Wait.” His hand touched the open window of her car and she pressed her foot back on the brake.

“What?”

“I got an e-mail from Savannah. This guy she’s with—”

“Matt?”

“Right, is he—”

Juliette laughed. “You going to stand there and pretend to care, Tyler?”

“She’s my sister,” he snapped. “Of course I care.”

“Then you should show up once in a while.”

Tyler’s grin was gone and he was looking at her with cold blue eyes that, without a word, damned her straight to hell. Silent, he turned and walked away.

Juliette watched him go, the same long legs, the wide shoulders and narrow hips that looked so damn good in faded and torn blue jeans it made her want to bite something.

Ten years. Ten damn years and he comes back here as if nothing ever happened.

She rested her head against the steering wheel. Maybe nothing had happened. Maybe in the grand scheme of things, a broken heart didn’t mean anything. She’d been nineteen, after all, a couple of years of college under her belt, law school at Oklahoma State glimmering in the future—she should have known better than to get tangled with Tyler O’Neill. A high school drop-out who made his living winning Sunday-night poker games and playing piano out at Remy’s. He was so opposite from her, he was like a different animal, a force of nature she couldn’t ignore. At eighteen he’d been the only thing that could have distracted her from her plan. And he had. He totally derailed her plan.

And now he was back and Savannah was her best friend and things were strange around The Manor these days.

And it was her freaking job to deal with it.

She took her foot off the brake and rolled up next to him.

“Do you want a ride?” she asked, not looking at him. “You’ve still got another mile to go.”

“I know how far it is.”

“Then climb in and I’ll drive you.”

He stopped, sighed, and looked up at the stars as though he might feel a little of the garbage she felt. After a moment he circled the front of the car, stepping through her headlights, the low beams catching the bright red of his blood on his pale face. Gold-blond hair under his cap and those eyes. Oh, man, those eyes.

And then he was in the car with her and she could smell him, toothpaste and cigars and him. Tyler.

A million memories of hot days and cool nights flooded her. His hands under her skirt, those eyes memorizing every detail of her face, those lips telling her a hundred lies—it all exploded in her head, nearly blinding her.

“Thanks,” Tyler said as subdued as she’d heard him. “How have you—”

She cut him off. There would be no “how have you been’s?” She knew how he’d been, rich and dating a hot French model whose popularity had them all over every magazine in the grocery store. All month long she couldn’t buy a carrot without looking at Tyler holding hands with some stick-thin blonde.

“You should know a few things about what’s happening at The Manor,” she said, turning left around the square, past the Bonne Terre Inn and toward the road out of town.

“Savannah and Margot are both gone,” Tyler said. “And Mom was around a month ago. Savannah told me.”

“Not just around,” Juliette said, sparing him a glance only to find him watching her. Awareness like icy hot prickles ran down her spine. “She broke into the place twice, maybe three times. She scared the bejesus out of everyone, especially Kate.”

“Everyone okay?”

Again she squelched the urge to tell him that if he cared, he should have been there, but she knew it all boiled down in the O’Neill family dynamic with their mother. She’d left scars on her children that could be seen from space.

“Fine,” Juliette said. “But Savannah didn’t press charges, so Vanessa is out there somewhere.”

“Why did she come back?” he asked. “It’s been twenty years since she left us here. Why now?”

“She thinks there are gems hidden in the house,” she said.

“Gems?” Tyler asked, shaking his head. “The Notorious O’Neills just don’t know when to quit. How in the world would gems get hidden in The Manor?”

“Stolen gems from a casino seven years ago. Your mother was involved.”

“Of course.”

“But so was your dad.”

“My dad?” Tyler looked blank for a moment as if the worddadhad no real connection to him, wasn’t even a word he understood. But then there was the shadow. His face changed, and Tyler became harder. Older. As if what his parents had done to him and his brother and sister was a weight he carried, a weight he’d grown used to. Sometimes, though, he got knocked back by how truly heavy it was and how long he’d been carrying it.

Not that she cared. She used to, of course. He’d put on that brooding, grieving, lost-little-boy thing with her ten years ago and her skirts had literally fallen off.

She cleared her throat and stopped at the red light just outside of town. “The house hasn’t been broken into again,” she said. “But there’s been some suspicious activity. Someone’s snooping.”

“It’s still a rite of passage around here to sneak into my grandmother’s back courtyard?”

“Not so much,” Juliette said. “Not since Matt came along. And what I’ve found, broken glass, footprints, trampled plants, they’re not in the back courtyard. Most of the activity is focused on the sides of the house, the first floor windows into the library.”

Tyler’s eyes were sharp as knives. “Your father watching my house?” he asked.

She bit back a smile, staring at the white lines on the street. “Dad’s not chief anymore, Tyler. But yes, police are watching your house.”

“Great,” he muttered, his long-standing disdain for local law enforcement, her father in particular, the stuff of legend in Bonne Terre. “So we’ve got my mother, missing gems and someone trying to break into the house. Anything else I should know about?”

“There’s an alarm.” She dug into the pocket of her red fitted blazer.

“At The Manor?” he asked. “When I lived there Margot rarely bothered to lock the doors.”

“That was a long time ago, Tyler,” she said. “Here’s the code.” She set a piece of paper down on the seat between them. “It’s right by the front door and there’s another keypad in the kitchen.”

“Well,” he sighed, picking up the piece of paper and lifting his hips slightly so he could push it into the front pocket of his worn jeans. “Can’t say I expected that.”

Juliette took a deep breath, wondering whether she should tell him about the other stuff, whether it even mattered to him. She glanced at him, his jaw clenched as he stared out at the darkness around her car.

Was it even her business to tell him?

If not her, then who? No one else was around, and if it could take some heat off his mother, should he see her, then maybe they could all avoid another incident like what happened last month with Savannah.

“Look, Tyler, I don’t want to—”

Those blue eyes swung toward her, and she couldn’t deny that as much as she disliked him, she’d never forgotten him.

I thought I knew you,she thought mournfully.I thought we were friends.

“Spit it out, Juliette.”

“Your grandmother paid your mother to stay away from you kids.” Tyler blinked. “Ten thousand a year.”

“You know that?”

“Savannah told me. Margot confessed last month when Vanessa broke in again. I’m sorry, Tyler—”

“I’ve known for years,” he said.

“You knew?” she breathed.

He nodded. “How did Savannah take it?”

“Not well,” Juliette said. An understatement, but luckily Matt was there to help.

“Carter and I found out and…” He sighed and took off his cap, pushing his fingers through his thick blond hair. “We didn’t tell her. We thought…I don’t know…we thought we were protecting her. It’s all we ever wanted to do.”

Juliette took her eyes off the road and gaped at him.

Don’t care,she warned herself.Don’t show that you’re even interested, because that man will do something awful with the information.

“Well, I guess that catches you up to speed,” she said, pressing on the clutch and shifting into first when the light turned green. She sped up and shifted into second and then as the road opened up she drove it into third.

Tyler’s chuckle stirred the hair on her neck. “Juliette Tremblant,” he murmured. “You still have a thing for speed.” She didn’t say anything. Refused to rise to his bait. The car filled with tension until it was all she could do not to unroll her window, just so she could breathe.

“You’ve changed,” he said, and she could feel his eyes on her hair, her body, the clothes she covered it with, and she knew what he wasn’t saying—she’d changed, and it wasn’t for the better.

“You haven’t,” she said, not sparing him a glance as she braked over the train tracks.

“You haven’t spent ten minutes with me, Jules,” he said. “How could you possibly know that?”

“It’s Juliette.”

He laughed and she glared at him hard.

“Okay,” he said, “it’s Juliette.”

“And you’re still the same Tyler O’Neill. Here you are, punched in the face and kicked out of the St. Pat’s game. Seems awfully familiar.”

“It does ring a bell, doesn’t it?” He touched his lip with his finger, probed it with his tongue, and she tried to convince herself it was disgusting. But it wasn’t. It was hot.

The air in the car was humid, thick. She cranked the fan a notch higher, hoping it would help.

It didn’t.

“Did you know I was back?”

“It’s Bonne Terre, Tyler. The second you stepped foot back inside the parish about twenty people called me.”

“Good old Bonne Terre,” he said, looking around the dimly lit town as though vampires lurked in doorways. Considering she loved this town, and her job was to take care of its citizens, his attitude rubbed her wrong all over. “But what I’m wondering is what you’re doing? Keeping up on what’s happening at The Manor, giving me a ride.” He tilted his head, his Paul Newman eyes practically glowing in the darkness of the car.

Sex oozed off him. And he was breathing all her damn air.

“Your sister is my best friend.”

“Right,” Tyler said, his voice ripe, his eyes way too warm. “My sister.”

She stomped on the brakes. “What are you saying?”

His eyes raked her, that lopsided grin that used to put her whole world on edge was back. “Nothing,” he drawled.

His arm stole across the top of the seats, not touching her, but too close anyway.

She leaned over him, ignoring the warmth of his body, the smell of him, all of it. Every memory, every old impulse come back to haunt her—she ignored it all and opened his door.

She’d done what she needed to do. He’d been warned. She could kick him out of her car and, if God was kind, never ever lay eyes on Tyler O’Neill again.

“Get out,” she said.

He watched her for a second and suddenly the charm vanished from his smile. All that smug sexuality was banked, put on ice for the moment. “Come on, Juliette—”