Shades of Passion

TRUST series universe standalone romances

Hot Winter

Christmas will never be the same again!

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All Sebastian Cameron wants right now is to get his hands on the house he waited half of his life to inherit. But he couldn’t have imagined he would face a wall called Barbara, the most extraordinary woman he's ever met. And totally infuriating with her insistence on having a Christmas festival in his house.

Well, that means war. 

To Barbara Jameson, organizing Ethan Ashford Refuge for Children annual Christmas festival is a way of redemption. When an infernal—sexy and handsome—lawyer with no appreciation for Christmas or good-will toward people threatens it, she steps up with a battle plan.

But with so much mistletoe lurking around every corner, the nemeses might be destined to a different fate than sworn enemies.

 

A delightful and steamy Christmas standalone romance in the bestselling TRUST Series that will make you believe in the redemptive power of love.

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Other books connected with Hot Winter

HOT WINTER is Book 9 in the TRUST SERIES and Barbara appeared on the first part of the series, which is Shades of TRUST. 

Get started with Entwined Fates, which is FREE, by the way. 

Hot Winter stands on its own; you don’t have to read the entire series. Unless you want to. :)

A note to the Trust Series fans:

Most of my readers like to read series in order, even when the books are standalone through them in order, but you can read them in your own way, but for books 1-4, which must be read in order. I wrote and published TRUST series in sequence, but for book 8, Perilous Love, which came out after Hot Winter.

Since Barbara doesn't appear on Book 8, the last book of Shades of Love, and she was begging me to put her story out like right now!, you won't be missing anything if you read Hot Winter before Perilous Love.

Here is the link to the complete series reading orderI hope you enjoy all the love stories.

Hot Winter

 

Chapter 1

England, London

Fifteen days before Christmas

The phone call Sebastian Cameron had waited half his life to receive came in precisely at half-past six in the morning on an otherwise normal Thursday while he was already running on the treadmill. 

“Thank you, doctor, I appreciate all the time you dedicated to make my father comfortable at the end.” Ten months, one week, five days, and… He glanced at his watch. And thirteen hours. He knew that because he had been counting down the time, waiting for his father to finally die after a few false alarms. 

“Mr. Coutts was more than my patient, Mr. Cameron. He was a dear friend to the community and a great man,” said the doctor.

Sure thing. Sebastian tuned him out, cynically thinking of the large donation his father had given to the private hospice. 

As soon as he wrapped up the call and decided that thirty minutes running this morning was more than enough, Sebastian called his assistant. 

“Good morning, my father just died and—” Sebastian paused as Sital Patel interrupted him with the customary words of condolence before resuming, “Please arrange for the simplest of burials, as quickly as possible. Cancel all my meetings and schedule the reading of the will for eight-thirty, and—yes, in one hour and…ten minutes. No, Patel, I won’t be present at the funeral.” He sighed out loud, letting his assistant know his displeasure at so many questions. She should know better as she’d been working with Sebastian since he’d become a partner at Kingsley & Grimes, one of the most prestigious law firms in Britain, seven years ago. “I will send you the rest of the instructions by text.”

Easier this way, plus he would avoid any unnecessary gestures of comfort, unnecessary false, meaningless words, and also unnecessary probing questions.

Sebastian knew that people didn’t just grow apart from each other; he knew they sometimes let the distance in.

In his case, he not only allowed it to happen, he encouraged it. He welcomed the distance between himself and others, inviting it in with open arms. 

People were largely mistaken on what true love really was. From the pure love of family relationships to the foggy feelings of innocent flirtations, fluttering butterflies, and the desire to be together at all times, love was the most beautiful thing in the world. When it was real and reciprocated. 

But when it was not, which was more often than not, love demanded sacrifice and pain. 

It was easier to safely keep the doors to his heart tightly shut, preventing him from getting hurt further, and again. 

Or so that was the lie he told himself everyday.

Scotland

The first thing Sebastian did after the reading of the will was hire a private jet to take him to the Scottish Highlands. A driver awaiting his arrival then took him to visit his mother’s grave. Next, he had the driver take him to the port to meet with his older half-brother, who was also his best friend—or rather, his only friend. 

Raymond McPhee was already waiting for him at the wheel of his boat when Sebastian arrived at the port. 

Both men smiled at each other as Sebastian boarded. Raymond left the wheel and hugged his brother close to his chest.

Raymond drew back and feigned shock for a second. “I dinna believe it!”

Sebastian was alarmed. “What? What’s wrong?”

“Yer just as ugly as you were the last time I saw ye.”

Smiling, Sebastian replied, “You’ve still got all the looks, but I’ve still got all the brains.”

Apart from the same green eyes framed by lush lashes, inherited from their mother, they were opposites: Raymond was typical reddish-blond Scottish, where Sebastian’s hair was black-and-blue; Raymond was lean, with a swimmer’s body, where Sebastian’s shoulders and chest had broadened by years of working-out. 

They were both tall, but Sebastian was taller than his six-foot-three father had been, while Raymond was more of the average six-feet of his father’s family of old Viking invaders. 

But most of all, Raymond had somehow managed to retain an aura of innocence that made Sebastian feel tired and profane.

After they got settled in and on their way to the island, Sebastian studied his brother. Time had worn lines into the corners of Raymond’s green eyes, and his reddish-blond hair was shot through with streaks of gray, despite being only forty-four years old. 

They traveled in silence for a while until they approached Muck, when Raymond decelerated. Thankfully, the modern boat he had given Raymond as a wedding present didn’t take the same two and a half hours that it would’ve taken on the ferry. 

“Never gets old, does it?” asked Raymond.

“What?”

Raymond lit a cigarette and gestured with it to Muck, which was the smallest of the four main Scottish Small Isles, blooming on the horizon with the Isle of Skye behind it. “This.”

Unlike the thrill he knew Raymond felt at the sight of Muck, where he spent most of his childhood and adolescence, it made Sebastian feel short of breath. When he had finally managed to leave through a scholarship to Cambridge Law School, he never looked back except for occasional visits to his brother. “Even after all the times you’ve seen it?”

“I still love it.”

How could anyone love a small piece of land called Muck? The only thing Sebastian wanted to do when it came to Muck was get out of it.

“You can leave here now.” Though the island had changed a lot since he had left decades ago, becoming a tourist destination and hosting traditional sporting activities with an international audience, he was unconsciously plotting his escape already. “Go out in the world a bit.”

Raymond took a long drag off his cigarette and flicked the ashes carefully in his ashtray. “Go where? Do what?”

Sebastian sighed. It was somewhat of an old theme between them. He could tell his brother a million different possibilities, but he wouldn’t. He owed his life to Raymond and he wouldn’t criticize the life he had chosen. 

“You could take Madalena on a proper honeymoon. It would be my first anniversary gift to you.” Wanting to share a bit of what he had inherited with his brother and his wife, he nudged Raymond, “I kind of feel responsible for her having married you, you know?”

“Hmm, now that’s a thought.” Raymond smiled at him as he maneuvered the boat into Port Mòr. “By the way, how is yer girlfriend? Marina, right?”

“My ex-girlfriend.” Sebastian shrugged again as he got the rope Raymond had thrown him and tied it to the post, firmly securing the boat to port, as he had done so many times during his teenage years with Raymond’s old boat. “It got old.”

“So does fine wine, if ye let it,” Raymond chided.

“Those things are gonna kill you,” Sebastian said, nodding to the cigarette Raymond was carefully putting out on the street waste-bin ashtray before throwing it inside.

“No faster than working twenty hours a day is gonna kill ye,” he volleyed back.

“Touché,” Sebastian chuckled.

When they were on the road to the other side of the isle, Raymond asked, “When are you planning to take time off for that medical leave?” 

Sebastian snorted. “A simple anxiety attack—”

“You were sweating and short of breath. Madalena thought you were having a heart attack,” Raymond cut him off. 

“Nah, Lena is just overly protective. There was no need to call a doctor. It was just too little sleep, too much work, too much stress.” 

“Doctor McCoy ordered you tae take a month off.”

“Impossible.” Sebastian waved to Ewen MacEwen, whose family had owned Muck for over a hundred years, as they passed by him herding sheep on his bicycle, but not making any movement to stop and talk. He wanted to be done with this visit and off the isle as soon as possible.

“Madalena might make you do it if I tell her yer not planning on following doctor’s orders.” 

“You wouldn’t dare.” Sebastian shot him a menacing scowl because he knew she would chain him to a bed and probably one here in Muck, which would kill him. 

Raymond laughed. “What’s it worth to ya?”

“Don’t you think you need a car? How about a Range Rover?” Sebastian tempted, and he wasn’t joking. 

But Raymond only laughed and spent the rest of the way to the MacPhees’ house telling Sebastian tidbits of social news from Muck’s huge society of the same forty-or-so people he had known all his life, minus his primary school teacher, Miss Matilda, who had died last month, plus two—or was it three?—babies he didn’t know.

Sebastian listened politely but without interest. The only two people on the island that he cared about were his brother and his brother’s wife. On that front, Raymond had a bit of news. Madalena had recently opened a bed and breakfast and was devoting most of her time to it. But tourism was still crawling in the isles and depended on a lot of factors, not entirely a healthy trend yet, and Sebastian worried about them.

From the open back door, Sebastian could see Madalena was in the kitchen, probably putting the last touches on some cullen skink, a hearty soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions. It was his all-time favorite dish. 

“Lena, we’re here,” called Raymond. When she turned, Sebastian was struck by the same bittersweet feeling that always filled him when he was in her presence. 

She looked beautiful as always. Her gold-blonde hair was in a ponytail leaving her face bare to his gaze. She smiled at them with her brown eyes so open, so trusting, and lit with happiness. 

“Hey!” 

She jumped into Raymond’s open arms giving him a kiss and then she moved to embrace Sebastian. “Long time no see, you traitor.”

She seemed so small in his arms, her body lithe and smooth, and even though she was two years older than his thirty-seven and lived here in the middle of nowhere, she looked a perfect porcelain doll.

Yet, he couldn’t want any of it: not that incredible body, not that beautiful mind, much less her gentle heart.

He couldn’t describe the blow he’d taken to the brain when he met Madalena at Cambridge Law School where she lectured about environmental issues. But when he took her to visit Muck, he knew he had no chance. Because if he had taken a blow, Raymond had taken a wrecking-ball to the heart. With Sebastian, Madalena had fallen into mutual-interest-at-first-sight, but with Raymond it was the classic cliché of love at first sight.

And Sebastian would rather die from his heart withering away than hurt the only people in the world he loved.

“Been busy.” Sebastian smiled, pulling over a pretended happiness. He would never show her—or his half-brother—how much it cost him to come here to their home. “So, what’s for lunch?”

“Not cullen skink,” she replied, winking at him.

“She never does it for me.” Raymond slapped his back. “Ye must come back soon.”

Sebastian smiled at them but he was already finding reasons to not return to Muck.

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“Thanks for the lunch, Lena. Delicious, as always,” said Sebastian as he stood up, ready to end the torture of watching the love birds smiling at each other. “By the way, I’ll be moving into Coutts House tomorrow morning.”

“What?” The way Madalena elongated the word told Sebastian how shocked she was about his decision. “Why not sell it and buy something new? Start fresh?”

“Because I must.” At the curious gazes, he sighed. He hadn’t known until the reading of the will. “Another one of my dear father’s…pranks. He put a clause in the will stating that i have to start living in the house immediately, and stay for at least one year.”

Madalena grimaced but didn’t say another word as she said goodbye, hugging him closer than she normally did. “Don’t take so long to return.”

“I won’t,” he promised her.

As soon as they had gotten away from the house and were heading back to the port, Raymond lit a cigarette. “Isn’t the house lent to some charity foundation or other?”

“Not really.” He shook his head. “Only the garage building.”

“But Sebastian, wouldn’t you and your boorish ways ruin their Christmas? The moment they start singing and you start demanding silence? You know how you are…death of the party this time of year.”

He could not make himself look away from his brother’s gaze, as piercing as only someone who had survived the contours of one’s faults could be. “I hadn’t given it much thought.”

“No. You wouldn’t.” Raymond threw this arrow matter-of-factly.

“Christ, Ray.” Sebastian flinched.

Half the time he wished Raymond and Madalena would come live with him. But in moments like this? He wished he could push his brother away. That he could forget what he had cost his brother—or rather, his brother and his mother.

“You don’t always think about others the way you should,” Raymond added.

“I think about others every damned second of the day.” The criticism stung. Even more so because his brother stated it almost gently. “It’s because of you and Lena that I’m—”

“We are happy here, Bastian. We don’t need this.” Raymond simply shook his head. “You don’t need this.”

And therein lay Sebastian’s problem. He needed it.

He needed every single foot of that house, of that year of his childhood which his father had made him spend in deprivation. He needed a full four-course meal for every skipped dinner he had watched from outside Coutts House window.

He’d waited many years for that. “I need it. I thought you above anyone else would understand that.”

“Believe me, I do.” And then Raymond added, “But sometimes I wonder if you have learned the deepest lesson because you still stomp about, almost like he did, leaving little eddies of destruction in your wake while trying to paper the hole in your chest.”

Fuck. If guilt was not bad enough, having his brother point out his flaws was jarring. “Well, it’s not like that old devil made my life easy.”

Even though more than twenty years had passed, Sebastian could still clearly recall the day when Raymond had casually suggested that maybe Coutts could help him out financially since he didn’t live with him—if Sebastian would be willing to go and ask him.  The next day Sebastian had left for London, alone, determined to shake some money out of his father’s tight pockets to send it back to his mother and Raymond in Muck.

He did shake some money out but that had earned him his most expensive lesson. And despite his best efforts to help improve things with some extra cash, a few months later his mother had died. And for her, he would have done it all over again.

But he would never be able to forget the horror on Raymond’s face months later, when he came to London and discovered Sebastian, pale and thin, with haunted green eyes that spoke of tragedies untold which his mouth never opened to tell, living on the same street, outside the same house he was now moving back into tomorrow.

But nothing he did could repair what had happened to him—to them—because of his father’s miserability. They wouldn’t even talk of those months.

“Very well,” he said stiffly as he recoiled the moorings and jumped inside Raymond's boat. “You’re right. I failed Mother. I failed you—”

A puzzled look flitted across Raymond’s face as he turned on the boat motor. “How is it that we’re talking about me, then?”

The trip back to the mainland was quicker than the trip to Muck thanks to the sea currents.

The vise around his chest loosened and Sebastian breathed deeper when Raymond stopped on Mallaig.

He felt his brother’s hand on his shoulder. “Are ye okay?”

No, he wasn’t. The guilt was as heavy in his heart as the weight of the world even now, making breathing difficult. But when he stood up, he smiled at Raymond. “Sure.”

Maybe he really did need some time off.

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​“Thanks for the lunch, Lena. Delicious, as always,” said Sebastian as he stood up, ready to end the torture of watching the lovebirds smiling at each other. “By the way, I’ll be moving into Coutts House tomorrow morning.”

“What?” The way Madalena elongated the word told Sebastian how shocked she was about his decision. “Why not sell it and buy something new? Start fresh?”

“Because I must.” At the curious gazes, he sighed. He hadn’t known until the reading of the will. “Another one of my dear father’s…pranks. He put a clause in the will stating that I have to start living in the house immediately, and stay for at least one year, and I need to pass it to my children. Or else I lose everything.” 

Madalena grimaced but didn’t say another word as she said goodbye, hugging him closer than she normally did. “Don’t take so long to return.”

“I won’t,” he promised her.

As soon as they had gotten away from the house and were heading back to the port, Raymond lit a cigarette. “Isn’t the house lent to some charity foundation or other?”

“Not really.” He shook his head. “Only the garage building.”

“But Sebastian, wouldn’t you and your boorish ways ruin their Christmas? The moment they start singing and you start demanding silence? You know how you are…death of the party this time of year.” 

He could not make himself look away from his brother’s gaze, as piercing as only someone who had survived the contours of one’s faults could be. “I hadn’t given it much thought.” 

“No. You wouldn’t.” Raymond threw this arrow matter-of-factly. 

“Christ, Ray.” Sebastian flinched. 

Half the time he wished Raymond and Madalena would come live with him. But in moments like this? He wished he could push his brother away. That he could forget what he had cost his brother—or rather, his brother and his mother. 

“You don’t always think about others the way you should,” Raymond added. 

“I think about others every damned second of the day.” The criticism stung. Even more so because his brother stated it almost gently. “It’s because of you and Lena that I’m—” 

“We are happy here, Bastian. We don’t need this.” Raymond simply shook his head. “You don’t need this.” 

“What?”

“To live in a house you hate; to inherit Coutts’s money, companies, whatever he left to you; nothing he gives you will make you different, make you happy.” Raymond sighed. “We’re happy here…you could be, too. You don’t need this…revenge.” 

And therein lay Sebastian’s problem. He did need it. 

He needed every single room of that house to make up for what Coutts had done to their mother. He needed a full four-course meal for every skipped dinner he had watched from outside a Coutts House window; for that year of his childhood which his father had made him spend in deprivation. 

He’d waited many years for that. “I need it. I thought you above anyone else would understand that.” 

“Believe me, I do.” And then Raymond added, “But sometimes I wonder if you have learned the deepest lesson because you still stomp about, almost like he did, leaving little eddies of destruction in your wake while trying to paper the hole in your chest.”

Fuck. If guilt was not bad enough, having his brother point out his flaws was jarring. “Well, it’s not like that old devil made my life easy.” 

Even though more than twenty-five years had passed, Sebastian could still clearly recall the day when Raymond had casually suggested that maybe Coutts could help him out financially since he didn’t live with him—if Sebastian would be willing to go and ask him. The next day Sebastian had left for London, alone, determined to shake some money out of his father’s tight pockets to send back to his mother and Raymond in Muck. 

He did shake some money out but that had earned him his most expensive lesson. And despite his best efforts to help improve things with some extra cash, a few months later his mother had died. And for her, he would have done it all over again.

But he would never be able to forget the horror on Raymond’s face months later, when he came to London and discovered Sebastian, pale and thin, with haunted green eyes that spoke of tragedies untold which his mouth never opened to tell, living on the same street, outside the same house he was now moving back into tomorrow.

But nothing he did could repair what had happened to him—to them—because of his father’s miserability. They wouldn’t even talk of those months.

“Very well,” he said stiffly as he recoiled the moorings and jumped inside Raymond's boat. “You’re right. I failed Mother. I failed you—” 

A puzzled look flitted across Raymond’s face as he turned on the boat motor. “How is it that we’re talking about me, then?”

The trip back to the mainland was quicker than the trip to Muck thanks to the sea currents.

The vise around his chest loosened and Sebastian breathed deeper when Raymond stopped on Mallaig. 

He felt his brother’s hand on his shoulder. “Are ye okay?”

No, he wasn’t. The guilt was as heavy in his heart as the weight of the world, even now, making breathing difficult. But when he stood up, he smiled at Raymond. “Sure.” 

Maybe he really did need some time off.

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