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Smile Like You Mean It - Summer Lake Book 7 (ebook)

Smile Like You Mean It - Summer Lake Book 7 (ebook)

Sweet n Steamy

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1322+ 5-Star Reviews

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Renée Nichols returned to Summer Lake because she had nowhere left to turn. Her marriage, the charity she spent her life building, her entire life—they were all shattered when her husband was arrested. She’s getting by, even if barely standing on her own two feet. She has a job, even if it’s not the greatest. She has her childhood home to live in, even if it’s barely livable.

Gabe Morgan is back in town, too—even if he’s only visiting. Every time she gets around him her heart rate and her temperature soar, but that’s just her overactive imagination, isn’t it? He might be even hotter now than he was in high school, but he’s still the town’s golden boy. He’s the town doctor’s son, she’s the town drunk’s daughter. He’s one of life’s good guys, he’ll help her out because it’s what he does. But that’s all.

Gabe Morgan has been spending as much time as he can back in Summer Lake—though he couldn’t tell you why. He’s a partner in a successful firm of trial attorneys in New York City. He’s gone out and conquered the world as he always knew he would. So why is it every time he comes home to the lake, he feels like a failure? He’s achieved so much, but he hasn’t found happiness.

Running into Renée again has made him question everything. She told him that love, family, and happiness are the most important things in life. He’s starting to agree—but will she be the one to help him find them?

Available to Read on Kindle, Nook, iThings, Kobo, Phone, Computer, Tablet, Etc! Your eBook will be delivered to your provided email address by BookFunnel. 

Smile Like You Mean It is the seventh book in USA Today Bestselling Author SJ McCoy's international hit Summer Lake Romance series, loved by over 1,000,000 fans of sweet and steamy romances. 

Readers say:

"This series just keeps getting better and better!"

"I don't know how SJ McCoy keeps coming up with these wonderful heart-warming stories, but I hope she never stops."

"SJ has done it again! This is another amazing book in the Summer Lake series. Renee and Gabe are such an amazing realistic couple."  

"SJ McCoy pulls you in and hooks you."

"Ms McCoy is a TERRIFIC story with confidence, you won't be sorry."

"Highly addictive!!! I have laughed and cried; then do it all over again!!!! SJ you nailed it!!!!"

"I love this series! I want to live in Summer Lake... Can't wait until the next book comes out!"

"SJ McCoy has done it again and written another captivating read that draws you in to Summer Lake and makes you feel like you want to live there and be in the circle of friends that live there."

"When SJ McCoy releases a new book, I really can’t wait to get my hands on it.

    Chapter One Look Inside

    Chapter One

    Gabe shut down his computer and stared at the blank screen for a few moments, wondering why he felt nothing. In the early days he used to feel a huge sense of elation when a case settled before going to trial. Admittedly, it meant he missed out on a showdown with the defense in court, but a settlement meant he'd beaten them before ever getting into the arena. He hadn't felt elated about anything in a long time though—it seemed he rarely felt anything at all. He pressed his fingers into his temple. Perhaps that wasn't true, he felt impatient to get out of here. Impatient to get to JFK and onto the plane that would take him back to California.

    He'd been spending as many weekends as he could back in Summer Lake recently. He couldn't explain why, but the little town where he'd grown up was drawing him back like a magnet. As soon as he was certain that the Carradon case was going to settle, he'd changed his flight so he could stay the whole week. Rosemary, his assistant, had stared at him in disbelief when he'd told her to change the reservation. He hadn't taken a whole week off in years. Well, things were changing. He didn't know why, but for weeks now he'd felt out of sorts. There was nothing wrong—nothing wrong with him, nothing wrong with the firm, with his life—but nothing was right either. Everything was running perfectly, yet none of it meant anything to him anymore. He'd told his brother, Michael, that he might be having an early midlife crisis. At the time he'd been joking, but he was starting to wonder whether it might be true.

    He stood up and stretched. Whatever was going on with him, he had a whole week to figure it out. He looked around his office and stared out at the view of the river. It was time to trade Manhattan for his hometown. Perhaps going back to his roots would help him figure out where he wanted to go next.

    He popped his head around Rosemary's door on his way to the elevator. “I'll see you a week from Monday then.”

    She smiled. “And I'll no doubt talk to you later.”

    Gabe nodded. He'd no doubt talk to her several times a day.

    She held his gaze for a moment. “I'm quite capable of handling everything, you know. If you want a real break.”

    “I know you're capable. But we both know I'm not capable of taking a real break.”

    She smiled. “I have to say I'm impressed that you're taking a week. I hope you manage to relax. You never know, you might even enjoy yourself, have some fun.”

    He stared at her for a moment. Wouldn't that be something?

    She shrugged. “You could start by trying out a smile.”

    He pursed his lips and shook his head at her.

    She laughed. “Almost! I saw your lips twitch, that's a start. Your facial muscles may need some practice, but I'm sure you can get there.”

    He did smile at that.

    “See! I knew you could do it!”

    He laughed. “I'm not that bad, am I?”

    Rosemary raised her eyebrows sternly. “No comment.”

    “In that case, I'll be on my way.”

    Her face softened. “Take care, Gabe. Please try to have a good time.”

    “Thanks. Take care of you, too.”

    It was going on midnight when he pulled into the driveway at his parents' house. He sat in the car a moment. Thirty-six years old and he was spending all his weekends staying with his parents—some success he was! Perhaps he should buy himself a place here. He pulled his bag from the back seat of the rental car and let himself in through the back door to the kitchen. He smiled when he saw his nephew sitting at the big table with a glass of milk and a packet of cookies in front of him.

    “Hey, Uncle Gabe! Grandma said I wouldn't get to see you till morning.”

    Gabe plucked him from his chair and hugged him. “But Grandma didn’t know that you’d be sneaking around raiding her cookies in the middle of night, did she?”

    Ethan grinned and wrapped his arms around Gabe's neck. “Nope, and I know you're not going to tell her. My secret's safe with you, right?”

    Gabe nodded. “It is.”

    Ethan looked at Gabe's bag. “Are you here to stay for a while? Are you going to start working in San Francisco like you said?”

    “I'm staying for the week. I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet.”

    “I think you should just stay here. Did you know Auntie Kenzie's going to stay?”

    “That's good news.”

    “It is, and if you stay, then I'll have all my family right here. I'd like that.”

    Gabe ruffled his hair. “I don't think I could move here if I wanted to.”

    “Why not? I told you Taylor's dad is a lawyer, he might give you a job.”

    “And I told you, I'm too much of a big-head to work for someone else. Besides, Taylor's dad practices family law. I'm a trial attorney.”

    “What difference does that make?”

    Gabe thought for a moment how to explain it. Ethan was a smart kid, but he was only ten. “Family law is all about...”

    “Yeah, I know divorces and people dying and stuff. You could do that, it would be easy for you after making big companies pay for hurting people.”

    Gabe stared at him. It really was that simple, wasn't it?

    Ethan stared back. “Well, it would, wouldn't it?”

    Gabe nodded. “Yeah, but I don't like easy. I get bored with easy. Easy is no fun.”

    “Grandma said she's worried that you never have any fun, so that wouldn't be any different, would it? And if you came here you could see me more, and we always have fun together.”

    Gabe considered that. It was true.

    Ethan downed the last of his milk and wiped the cookie crumbs from around his mouth with the back of his pajama sleeve. “You look tired. You should go to bed.”

    Gabe laughed. “So should you.”

    Ethan grinned. “Come on then, but watch the second stair, it creaks. If you wake Grandma up you’ll get us in trouble.”

    “You mean I’ll get you in trouble.”

    “No, I mean us. Grandma won’t be very pleased that you let me eat cookies in the middle of the night, will she?”

    Gabe shook his head and pursed his lips.

    Ethan grinned back at him. “I'll see you in the morning. Grandma said we can go to the bakery for doughnuts. Do you want me to bring you one back?”

    Gabe was surprised to feel his pulse quicken. He wouldn't mind visiting the bakery himself, and Ethan would be the perfect excuse. “How about I take you and we give Grandma a break?”

    “Awesome! You let me have more than she does.”

    “Just don't tell her that, okay?”

    “Don't worry, your secret is safe with me, too.”

    ~ ~ ~

    Renée pushed her hair out of her eyes then grabbed for the handlebar again as the bicycle started to wobble. All she needed was to fall off the damned thing. Riding to work had seemed to be a better idea than walking, but then ideas and reality rarely matched up anymore—at least not in her world. She rounded the corner and applied the brakes; no way was she going to freewheel all the way down the hill to Main Street. Once upon a time she would have, but these days she felt as though she'd used up all her luck by relying on it too much. She needed to save any she had left for the big stuff, not trust it and use it up on dumb stuff like hoping she wouldn't break her neck hurtling down a hill on a dodgy old bike at four o'clock in the morning.

    She dismounted and walked the bike down, remembering as she did all the times she’d gone flying down here as a kid. It would never have occurred to her then that she might fall and hurt herself. Even just a few months ago she wouldn’t have thought twice about it. She hated that Eric’s lies and deception had changed her. Stolen a part of her spirit it seemed. He’d taken so much—all their money, their home, their business, even her good name. She knew she’d come back from all of that with time. But that part of her, the girl who feared nothing, who found fun in everything? Renée shook her head. She couldn’t let him kill that. That part of her lived on. That part of her had survived much worse, had survived the loss of her sister. How could she let Eric’s betrayal be more important than Chloe’s death? She wouldn’t. Reaching the bottom of the hill she climbed back onto the bike and wobbled off down Main toward the resort. She was just recovering from the shock—that was all. She’d come back to Summer Lake because she hadn’t known where else to go or what to do. At least here she was able to work, thanks to Ben, and she had a place to live. Her childhood home wasn’t exactly a palace, it never had been. After standing empty for so many years it was barely livable, but it was all she had and she was making the most of it.

    She let herself in through the back door of the bakery and breathed a sigh of relief. This place put her at ease—even though she had to get here so early and she worked her butt off the whole time she was here. The smells and sounds reminded her of her childhood and of her mom. It brought her a sense of comfort she hadn’t felt in many years.

    By five o’clock she had the first breads, muffins, and doughnuts laid out, and more in the ovens. She unlocked the front door and turned the sign. It was tough going, running the place by herself. Shelley had called in sick two weeks ago and yesterday she’d stopped by to say she wouldn’t be coming back. Renée hoped that Ben would be able to find a replacement soon. Though even if he didn’t she’d still rather be working here by herself than in the bar. She shuddered at the memory of her short lived career as a bar tender. She’d taken the job because it was the only one available, but having made a career out of educating about the dangers of alcohol, it hadn’t sat well with her to make a living serving the stuff.

    She looked up as the bell on the door tinkled.

    “Emma!” She grinned as Emma Douglas came in looking half asleep. Emma Benson, Renée corrected herself at the sight of the gorgeous dark haired guy at Emma’s side, her husband Jack.

    Emma came around the counter to give her a hug. “Hey Renée. How do you do it? I didn’t even know there were two five o’clocks in a day.” She rubbed her eyes. “I won’t be awake for at least two hours yet.”

    Renée laughed. “What I want to know is why you did it? What on earth are you doing here at this hour when you can bake any of this stuff yourself?”

    “Em doesn’t make doughnuts,” said Jack.

    Emma hung her head with a sheepish grin.

    “So why didn’t you just send your lovely hubby to get them for you?”

    Renée didn’t understand the look the two of them exchanged. She could see it was full of love and understanding though.

    Jack wrapped an arm around Emma’s shoulders. “It’s a long story. Let’s just say we made a deal a long time ago. When Em wants doughnuts, we both need to go.”

    “Fair enough, what can I get you?” Renée didn’t need to know the story. What surprised her as she filled the box with a dozen doughnuts for them, was that she didn’t even want to. It was so obvious that Emma and Jack were deeply in love. They understood each other, they had their little story and their knowledge and acceptance of one another. They had their own little world and were very happy in it. In the early days with Eric she’d hoped they would build that kind of relationship over time. They never had.

    The doorbell brought her thoughts back to the bakery. She almost dropped the box when she saw him. Her heart leapt in her chest and she watched the box shake visibly as she handed it over to Emma. Gabe Morgan!

    Green eyes met her own and held them for a moment. She felt like a deer in the headlights, confused, mesmerized. Fight and flight were both forgotten as she froze.

    Emma tugged on the box which Renée hadn’t let go of. “We need to get going.” She put a twenty dollar bill on top of the counter and gave Renée a knowing smile. “Call me. We need to catch up.”

    Renée looked down at the money then up at Emma. “But that’s…”

    Emma winked and took Jack’s hand as she turned away. “Just call me, okay?” She turned to Gabe. “Hi Gabe, bye Gabe.”

    Gabe nodded and watched them leave.

    Renée tried to smooth her hair down with her hands. She knew it would be frizzing everywhere. Then she tugged at her apron, feeling self-conscious for some reason. Gabe turned his gaze back on her. How was it that he’d gotten sexier since high school? She’d been convinced he was the sexiest guy on earth then, now he was… She took a deep breath. Now he was a successful lawyer and even more serious and uptight than he’d been as a kid. Just because she hadn’t had sex in forever didn’t mean she should go lusting after her old high school crush. He was the success story, back here visiting family. She was the utter failure, back here trying to scrape together some semblance of a life.

    “Good morning.” She made herself sound bright, breezy, and businesslike. “What can I get you?”

    For a moment his eyes turned a deep emerald green. If she let her imagination come up with an explanation, it would say that he knew she was shutting him out and it hurt him. But then she knew better than to let her imagination run wild!

    He opened his mouth to reply, but didn’t get the chance.

    “Good morning, Miss Renée!” A small dark-haired head peered around from behind Gabe’s butt. No. She couldn’t let herself think about that butt.

    Instead she smiled. “Hey Ethan. How are you today? I see you talked your uncle into bringing you this time.”

    Ethan shot Gabe a cheeky grin. “Actually, I think Uncle Gabe talked me into bringing him.”

    Renée was surprised to see a hint of red appear on Gabe’s neck and ears. What was he embarrassed about? Looking him over, the answer was fairly obvious. With a body like that he probably considered cakes and pastries to be a sign of weakness or worse! She gave him a conspiratorial smile. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell a soul you were here.”

    Ethan cocked his head to one side with a puzzled look. Gabe stared at her, looking equally puzzled and possibly…hurt? She had no idea what his deal was. Good looking guys tended to be a mystery to her though. She needed to sell him some goodies and send them on their way—so she could get her heart rate and her temperature back down. And stop that overactive imagination of hers from getting carried away!

    ~ ~ ~

    Gabe was relieved when Ethan started pointing out doughnuts, picking out a dozen of the gooeyest creations he could find. He watched Renée smile as she filled up the box for the little guy. What was it about her? Whenever he got around her he felt like a kid again. A kid who couldn’t help blushing, couldn’t find the right words—he adjusted his pants—and couldn’t control his urges!

    She’d grown into a beautiful woman. Her long red hair refused to be restrained by that silly looking cap, and her green eyes danced as she laughed with Ethan. She wasn’t as well rounded as she used to be, but she still had curves in all the right places. She had the look of someone who was going through a stressful time, and, from what he’d heard, she was. But she was still so cheerful. She had Ethan giggling away with her as they loaded up the box.

    She met Gabe’s eye as she straightened up. “And what about you? What can I do to put a smile on your face?”

    “Hang out with me this afternoon? I’ll pick you up when you get done here.” The words surprised him as they came out, though at least he hadn’t spoken some of the other things she could do to put a smile on his face.

    Evidently, they surprised Renée, too. Her eyes widened, as did Ethan’s. She wasn’t going to say no though. He knew it. He prided himself on being able to read people. It served him well in court, and he applied it to the rest of his life. He could tell that Renée needed someone to talk to, Gabe wanted to spend some time with her—two birds, one stone. His confidence wavered a little as she continued to stare at him. He held his breath as the silence lengthened.

    He felt himself smile when she said. “Sure. I close up at two thirty. See you then.”

    Ethan grinned and tugged at Gabe’s sleeve. “Come on. We need to get these doughnuts home.”

    Once they were outside the kid put his hands on his hips and scowled up at him. “You got lucky there Uncle Gabe, but you almost blew it! You’d better let me teach you about girls if you want Miss Renée to be your girlfriend.”

    Gabe had to laugh. “What do you mean I got lucky?”

    Ethan shook his head and let out an exasperated sigh. “You don’t even know? You’re supposed to ask girls out. Not tell them. You’re supposed to let them think they’re in charge or they don’t like it. You can’t be bossy like that!”

    Gabe grinned down at him. “That’s one way to go about it, but the worst thing you can do with a woman is pretend to be something you’re not. I’m a take-charge kind of guy.”

    Ethan looked puzzled. “And you still get girlfriends?

    “I do. In fact, it’s what some women like best.”

    Ethan cocked his head to one side. “Why?”

    He laughed. “Someday I’ll teach you about girls, but you stick with what you know for now, okay?”

    Ethan nodded and climbed into the car, his attention returning to the box of doughnuts on his lap. “Okay.”

    As Gabe settled behind the steering wheel he couldn’t help but think Ethan might be right. Perhaps he should dial it back a bit. While it was true that some women enjoyed his no-nonsense approach—to everything—Renée might not be one of them. He shrugged as he drove his nephew and his doughnuts back down Main Street. What did it matter? She was just an old friend who was going through a hard time. They were going to catch up. That was all.

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