It takes courage to share your secrets—and your heart . . .
Adopted as a child by a tech billionaire, Wynter Bates knows nothing about her origins—or the world beyond being privileged, sheltered, and lonely. But she won’t let anything stop her from investigating who she is. Especially after a high-profile scandal involving her father’s past lands her on an island retreat under bodyguard Cullen Whelan's protection—in the guise of being his girlfriend . . .
A former military intelligence officer, Cullen figures protecting a pampered heiress will be easy. Posing as a couple is the safest strategy—until Wyn’s persistence and vulnerability spark his curiosity—and a reckless attraction neither can afford. More complicated, what Cullen knows about her past is a truth he can't tell. But as they get closer, wrenching revelations will force them to decide what to trust, who to forgive, and whether their growing love is enough to risk a future together.
Praise for Jamie Pope’s Hope Blooms
“An intensely emotional read. . . . Ultimately hopeful and romantic.”
“Tender, exquisitely written . . . a poignant, uplifting story.”
—Library Journal STARRED REVIEW
“A powerful, sensitive novel about family, friendship, loss, and the power of love.”
—RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
“Beautifully written . . . a story you won’t forget.”
—Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Jamie Pope first fell in love with romance at thirteen when her mother placed a novel in her hands. She became addicted to love stories and has been writing them ever since. When she's not writing her next book, you can find her shopping for shoes or binge-watching shows. Visit her website at jamiepopebooks.com, find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sugarjamisonbooks, and follow her on Twitter @sugarjamison.
Read an Excerpt
Wynter Bates closed the book she had been reading for the past two hours. It was about horse behavior. She had been studying horses for some time now. The types of breeds. How they thought. Where they came from. Studying them was fascinating. Of course, she was supposed to be learning how to ride horses, instead of studying them. But for the past three months the closest she got to ever riding a horse was standing beside her instructor while she brushed the horse.
Most ten-year-old girls would love it if their fathers surprised them with a beautiful thoroughbred horse. But Wynter was scared of hers. Terrified, actually. She kept imagining herself getting thrown off, slowly flying through the air, then crashing to the ground and breaking all the bones in her body. She had read about it happening to people. She knew that forty-three people had died in horse-related accidents in the past ten years. Most of them succumbing to head injuries. She did not want to be one of them.
Her mother had asked her why she always brought a book with her to lessons. Wynter didn't want to tell her that she had never once gotten on the horse after her instructor told her that everyone who rides falls. She didn't want to fall. So instead of riding, Wynter hung out at the stables. She helped feed the barn cats while she was there. Her instructor said Wynter was much more of a cat person than a horse person. The cats liked her. Especially the fat orange one. He would sit in her lap as she read, purring while she stroked his soft fur. She'd much rather have a cat than a thoroughbred horse.
But she had never told her parents that. Telling them that would have made her seem ungrateful. She wasn't ungrateful. She had a beautiful life. One that most people would dream of. One that she wouldn't have had if fate hadn't intervened.
Her parents had rescued her from an orphanage in South Africa. She was born what they called Colored during apartheid, when white and black people couldn't sit at the same table, much less create a life. So, she was given away. Born a crime, either unwanted or unable to be kept.
But her father had come along. A tech billionaire, touring the orphanage before he donated to it. The story was he took one look at Wynter and fell in love. She reminded him of a sister who he had lost when he was a boy. So, he adopted her.
He had taken her out of poverty, raised her with everything. She couldn't be ungrateful. Her mother told her that daily. She told her that she was lucky. Lucky to have dance lessons, French lessons, cello lessons, painting lessons, and community-service projects on Saturdays.
Her mother and father had both grown up poor. They had gotten none of that and because of that, they expected her to be a good girl.
Her father planned to run the country someday. He wanted to be the president.
He needed connections for that. He traveled all the time. Last week he was in Japan. Before that, he was in the United Arab Emirates. She had never heard of that place. But when her mother told her that's where her father was, Wynter looked it up in her book of maps.
Her mother had given it to her for her birthday. It was the best present she had ever received. It had a brown leather cover with a compass rose burned into it. The pages were gold-trimmed and on each of them was a map of a different part of the world.
Her mother had thought her odd for loving the present so much. So much more than the horse or the playhouse, or the beautiful clothes she got to wear. She loved the gift because her mother had thought about her before she ordered it. Thought about what she had liked. She had listened to her.
She claimed she bought it because she didn't want Wynter asking her any more questions about where places were. But Wynter knew better.
With the book of maps, her mother was telling her that she understood her.
That she understood that Wynter felt restless, like she didn't fit in, like she didn't belong anywhere.
They never spoke to her about her adoption. Never wanted to speak her about her culture or her homeland. She was told that she was their child now and there was no need to discuss anything else.
But she had wanted to go back to South Africa and visit, to learn more about herself and the place she had come from, but her parents — especially her father — had always brushed her off and she wasn't sure why.
She walked out of the stable toward the parking lot, where her driver was waiting. It was just about time to head to her music lessons. From there, she would go home and eat dinner with her mother. Her father was gone again. He was in New York this time. Not as far away, but still not close enough.
Wynter's eyes went to an old black car that she usually didn't see in the parking lot. The stable didn't get many visitors. At least not when she was there. A blond woman got out of the car. Her eyes focused on Wynter, causing her to stop for a second. The woman seemed to recognize her. Her face lit up. Wynter turned and looked behind her, because surely the woman couldn't be looking at her.
But when she turned back around, she saw the woman running toward her, and as she got closer, Wynter could see the look in her eyes was not right. They were huge and blue and filled with something that Wynter couldn't describe, but that something made her heart start to pound. Her feet stopped working. She knew she should move, but her brain was too slow to give that message to her body.
She tried to turn away, but the woman had grabbed her and wrapped her in a too-tight hug. Wynter was terrified, but the woman's smell struck her. Soft like sugar. There was something else there too. Some type of flower she couldn't identify.
"I've found you!" The woman kissed her cheeks. "I've missed you so much, baby. They wouldn't let me see you."
"I — I —" Wynter's voice stopped working momentarily. "I don't know you."
"They took you away so I couldn't see you, but I knew I would find you." She grabbed Wynter's hand. "Come with me, baby. You'll never be without me again."
She tried to back away from the woman. "I don't want to go with you. I don't know you," Wynter managed to get out even though her fear was beginning to over whelm her.
Her mother had warned her about this. She told her that her father was a very important man, that some people didn't like him. That they didn't want him to succeed. He had to travel with armed security. Men in black suits who barely said a word.
"You'll love your new home," the woman said. "I'll make it fun. You'll never want to leave." She tugged Wynter into motion. Wynter knew she couldn't allow herself to be taken someplace else. Her parents might never find her again.
"No!" she screamed. Wynter tried to break free of the woman, but her hold was too strong.
The woman looked hurt. "Are you mad at me? They kept me from you! I wanted you. I wanted you! Your father did this. It's not fair. I loved you so much."
"Hey! Get the hell away from her." Her driver came running out of the front office of the stable. He called over his shoulder for help as he ran toward Wyn. He scooped Wyn into his arms and shoved the woman away.
Wynter watched the woman fall to the ground as the staff from the stable started to appear. They converged on her, pinning her to the ground. She screamed out, but it wasn't in pain. It was hurt. It was a noise she didn't ever think she would forget.
There was something that wasn't right with the woman. She looked so wounded. Tears were streaming down her face.
"My baby," she sobbed. "Why won't he let me be with my baby?"
It was the last thing Wynter had heard before her driver had taken her away.
* * *
"Are you ready to go, ma'am?"
Wynter looked up at her bodyguard as he stood beside the counter. She hadn't heard him come in. She hadn't even sensed his presence. She wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. She was at her kitchen table, so engrossed in a Russian document she was interpreting for the State Department.
She was a linguist by trade — a polyglot, thanks to her years of private language lessons and a professor at a local university. In her free time she translated for the D.C. court system, but interpreting documents from foreign nations was the job she found most fascinating.
"Is it time already?"
"Yes, ma'am," her bodyguard, Cullen, responded in his soft Irish accent. He was dressed in all black: black turtleneck, black blazer, black pants, and black leather shoes. He looked deadly, like a trained assassin.
She wasn't sure if he was. She only knew that he had worked in British intelligence before he had come to work for her. Sometimes she wanted to ask him about his life before he came to her a year ago, but she didn't. She couldn't bring herself to.
The definition of the strong, silent type, Cullen never said more than he had to say. He was by far the quietest of her protectors and even though he had been with her for almost a year, she knew nothing about him.
"Your class starts in forty minutes."
She glanced at the clock, realizing that she had been sitting at her table for over an hour. Her toast had grown rubbery. Her tea was probably frigid; a slight film had formed on the surface. She had been so lost in what she was doing that she hadn't taken a single bite or sip.
Cullen seemed to know her well. Her travel mug had been removed from the cabinet, the string of a tea bag hanging over the rim. Her trench coat was in his hands.
"I would have been late if you weren't here." She stood up and tried to take her coat from him, but he wouldn't allow it. He held it out for her, helping her put it on. It was unnecessary, but she let him do this for her.
He must get so bored protecting her. She didn't lead a dangerous life. The only excitement she got was when she received a new book in the mail. But she still needed a guard, according to her father. One mentally ill woman tried to kidnap her when she was ten and she hadn't been allowed to be without protection ever since.
Cullen's hand briefly rested on her shoulder. It was warm and heavy. She often felt it on her back throughout the day as he was guiding her from place to place. He was close to her. She could smell his clean scent, feel his breath in her hair. She turned to face him, forcing herself to look him in the eye.
Her father had drilled in her that it was important to look people in the eye when you spoke to them. He said that it showed people you were honest. That you had nothing to hide. But still, she had a very hard time making eye contact with him. His eyes were very blue, almost piercing. It was like they could see through her. It unnerved her, along with the fact that she felt his eyes on her every day, all day. She would be teaching, going on about syntax or something else, when she would feel his eyes on her and she would look up. He would be sitting there, always in the back of the lecture hall, his gaze on her. Whenever she looked up, no matter when or how many times she did, he would be watching her.
He wasn't like her other bodyguards who were much more relaxed. They'd be on their phones or reading the newspaper. Their eyes wouldn't be glued to her in a way that would make her lose her train of thought. He took his job very seriously. He was a very serious man, one who she had never seen smile. It made her wonder about him.
It made her think about him more than she thought about any of the men her father had hired to protect her.
"Thank you, Cullen."
He frowned at her. "It's quite cold outside today. Would you like to get your heavier coat?"
"I'm just getting in and out of the car. I have a light day planned. Class and then home. You'll get to leave early today."
He shook his head no. He never left early. And even when he went home, he was never far away. He lived in an apartment across the street. Far enough to give her privacy, but close enough not to give her space.
"One day you should surprise me and call out sick."
He shook his head. "Can I drive you today?"
"You won't take a sick day and I won't let you drive me. I don't want you to judge my taste in music."
"It's not my place to judge anything you do, ma'am," he said quietly.
"At least not aloud," she joked, but he didn't smile.
"We're going to be late."
She nodded, grabbed her keys, and headed to her car, which he had started for her.
He had made her uncomfortable, but he always did things for her with her comfort in mind. She wouldn't allow him to drive her because she needed this time away from him, to collect her thoughts to be relaxed before she had to put on her mask and be serious the entire day.
He followed closely behind in his own nondescript black sedan. There were times she thought about asking her father to get rid of Cullen, to hire a move jovial guard, but she could never make herself do so.
He did his job well. Her father hired the best and with his upcoming presidential run, she knew that he would demand top-of-the-line protection for her. That soon she would be rolled out on campaign-trail stops and featured in commercials.
The thought of it exhausted her. But as long as she could remember, her father had wanted to be president.
She turned up the radio and sang along to some pop song that had been dominating the top-40 stations this past month. Most people thought her so serious, mistaking her for someone who enjoyed classical or opera, because she had spent her youth taking lesson after lesson. But pop music was her guilty pleasure. Her music downloads were an eclectic mix of boy bands, pop princesses, and soul music. She couldn't sing to save her life, but she enjoyed belting out inane lyrics in her car on her way to work.
She wasn't joking when she told Cullen she didn't want him to judge her. He told her it wasn't his place to. But how could he not? She wondered what he thought of her. Was there any part of his job he enjoyed or was it just a paycheck for him?
But she knew the answer to that already. It was always just a paycheck. Her parents had hired many people to work with her over the years: housekeeper, nannies, tutors. Some of them she liked very much. Some of them she had even loved, but when they were no longer on her father's payroll the relationships ended.
The song had ended, a news report breaking through. She was about to change the station when she heard her father's name.
"Tech billionaire and future presidential candidate, Warren Bates, is embroiled in an explosive scandal. Letters have been leaked detailing a torrid affair with a mistress, accusing him of holding her captive and the mysterious disappearance of a love child, a girl who possibly died. That leads us to a thousand questions, including if his adoptive daughter, Wynter Bates, is actually his biological child. The handwritten letters aren't dated, but experts say they look legit. A couple are circulating around the internet right now, but our sources say there are dozens of them, all written by his cleaning lady-turned-lover."
Wyn stopped listening as the story continued to go on. She blindly pulled her car over into the nearest spot. Her heart was pounding too hard, her head felt too clogged with information. She knew that this wasn't going to be something that dominated the news cycle for just one day.
For some reason, denial didn't come to mind. She couldn't be the one to say her father would never cheat on her mother. Of course, he could have. He was gone all the time. And while her parents cared deeply for each other, the union was more of a partnership than a relationship.
Her mother was the woman behind the man, the person always at his side, helping him to build his empire, cultivating their image as the perfect American family with humble beginnings.
Did she have any idea that their carefully crafted image was crumbling?
Wyn was still in her neighborhood, not far from her town house, but going home didn't seem to be the right thing either. She felt too choked to be inside, so she stepped out of her car and headed toward the park that she often walked in during the summer. It wasn't the summer right now.
Heavy winds ripped through her trench coat, but she didn't care. The wind burned her eyes, but it didn't matter because she couldn't see, anyway. She was blinded by the news. Her body was moving by instinct alone. She had walked the trails of this park so many times, she could find her way in her sleep. But there was a flash from a photographer. A shouted question. She froze in her tracks as the swarm grew. People were running toward her. How the hell did this happen so quickly?
Her chest grew tighter and she thought she was going to have a panic attack. She lived such a quiet life. She liked her peace, her solitude, after a lifetime of being overscheduled.
She turned in an effort to escape them, the vultures who were screaming questions about a story that she desperately didn't want to be true.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "One Warm Winter"
Copyright © 2019 Jamie Pope.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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