Last First Kiss


Stella Holt

He’s going to fight for her this time around.

Charlotte Maguire’s family is the closest thing to police royalty in her hometown. But not even the Maguires could protect her from the heartbreak of becoming a young widow. Now twenty-eight years old, Charlotte mourns the future she lost and has thrown herself into her work. Curating promotional campaigns is the perfect distraction until her gorgeous new boss Caleb shows up, forcing her dormant heart to awaken. Caleb and Charlotte have a past, and it’s impossible to ignore the sparks that are reigniting.

Caleb Kincaid is a survivor in every sense of the word. He’s no stranger when it comes to securing second chances, so when Charlotte Maguire happens his way again, he’s all in. Charlotte has loved and lost once already, and Caleb knows he’s no sure bet. But he also knows they could be great together this time around.

Caleb has always been a man of his word, but what happens when he promises a future he might not be able to deliver?

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Charlotte tucked her flowy blouse into the back of her pencil skirt for the tenth time that morning and vowed to never buy the fabric again. Glancing at the clock on her computer, she had a few minutes before her weekly call with the head of PR in New York. Then she could take a break from marketing metadata and go for a run along the river in her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. Living outside of D.C. had its perks, with access to museums and amazing trails, but in the last year, Charlotte usually traveled for work too much to take advantage. It was fall, her favorite time of year. The air was crisp and the leaves were various shades of orange and yellow, so she didn’t mind being home for a few days before her next assignment.

The buzzing sound of her alarm brought her back to the moment, and she smoothed her always frizzy hair back before answering the incoming virtual call.

“Hello, Renee. How’s the weather up there?” Charlotte said, taking in her boss’s beauty on the screen.

Renee’s short dark hair was perfectly styled straight in a bob that hung against her chin. Her green eyes were framed by smoky eyeliner, and her lips were painted a deep red. In comparison, Charlotte’s washed-out skin and dull hazel eyes seemed more apparent in the small box reflecting her image.

“I have a proposition for you,” Renee said, pinning her eyes on Charlotte through the screen.

“I’m worried,” she said as she fiddled with her rose-gold stapler.

“How would you like to join the team here in the New York office? I’ve convinced management to create a director of global PR and marketing position. You would work for me directly and have control over managing Cavalier’s worldwide marketing plan.”


“Last time we spoke you said you were interested in a change. It would mean less travel and no living out of a suitcase. The only question is how big of a change do you want?”

Excitement rolled down Charlotte’s spine; this was exactly what she needed, not to mention a great opportunity. Then the guilt of wanting anything else waded in.

“Move to New York?” She voiced the idea out loud mostly to herself.

“After everything you’ve been through, I thought you might like the idea of a permanent change.” Renee huffed, “You’re the perfect person for the job.”

“Is there an official vacancy I should apply to?” Charlotte asked, gulping at the rush of worry that followed her declaration.

“There will be soon. In the meantime, you could try to grease the skids with the new VP for the Field PR teams, Caleb Kincaid, do you know him?”

“What new VP?” Charlotte asked, sitting up straighter in her chair.

“You must have missed the announcement; check your email. He was introduced today at the managers’ meeting. He’ll be overseeing all your fieldwork and probably won’t be too happy about me poaching you.” There was a long pause. “Charlotte, are you still there?”

Renee’s voice jolted her out of her stalker-style scrolling on the company website.

There was a picture of a striking man next to an updated post about his recent promotion and move to New York. She couldn’t help but study his square jaw, dark full eyebrows on a familiar handsome face, and permanent bronze skin tone. Charlotte’s pulse was pounding, and her body betrayed her just as acutely as it had the first time she’d met Caleb Kincaid five years ago. He looked more like a model than a corporate vice president.

“I’m sorry, you were saying?” Charlotte said, looking away from the picture on her extra-large monitor in her home office. Instead, she focused on reorganizing her sticky notes.

“Look, don’t worry about him. I just want to confirm you’re interested before I start making the hard sell. I’ll have to push HR to get this salary package put together and advertise the new position, then we can worry about Kincaid.”

Charlotte exhaled the breath she’d been holding. “Great plan. Thank you for thinking of me.”

“Are you kidding? This will be a game changer for my social life. Maybe with you by my side I can start working sixty hours a week instead of eighty. Enjoy your holiday weekend. Ciao for now.” Renee hung up before Charlotte could respond.

A move from Virginia to New York offered a clean break, a fresh start. It was like a neon sign pointing north. She just had to get the job and convince her family it was for the best.

That afternoon on the drive to her parents’ lake house all Charlotte could think about was the potential job in New York. Even the holiday traffic was almost pleasurable as she considered how different her life would be in a new city. Highways faded into two-lane roads surrounded by tall rust-colored trees, but she was too distracted to enjoy them. The Maguire Family Lake Trip had been an annual Columbus Day Weekend event ever since Charlotte was a kid. Her parents would pack up her and her three rowdy brothers and drive to Lake Anna, to the log cabin her grandfather built.

The sound of the crunching stone driveway under her car tires brought back memories of years past like a scent could take a person back in time. The weathered cabin with light gray shingles and white shutters was surrounded by mature oak trees that stretched into the sky. There was always a cool breeze rolling off the lake, and if she stared long enough, she could see a fish jump out of the water. It was late afternoon, and the sun was slowly making its descent over the tops of the trees. For the last few years she’d managed to skip the trip, but this year she was facing the family tradition head-on.

After the tragic death of her husband Sam two years ago, she had dodged any family event she could. It was too painful to be flooded with memories while everyone treated her like a piece of delicate glass that might break any minute.

She’d been the first of her siblings to marry, but Sam had already been entrenched in her family as her oldest brother Rory’s best friend and the boy next door growing up. His death impacted everyone in her family as if he were one of their own. But it was time everyone, including her, stopped seeing her as the sad police widow and accepted Sam was gone. She needed to step out of the cloud that hung over her; moving to New York sounded like the best way to do that. In her hometown, everyone knew she was a widow but in New York, she could just be Charlotte again.

Sitting in her parked car, she looked out over the white picket fence that separated the driveway from the lush green yard. She spotted her brothers sitting on the red and white striped lawn chairs already relaxed and enjoying the sun. Knowing they would trapse up the lawn if she didn’t get out of the car soon, she took a deep breath, and opened her door. Her middle brother, Conner, popped out of his seat and waved unabashedly in ripped jeans and a sleeveless shirt. His hair was too long, and he looked like he belonged in a grunge band, which was exactly the point as an undercover D.C. police officer.

“Hey, get your suit on stat,” Conner called out. “Finn and Rory have challenged us to a relay race on the lake, and the losers have to cook tonight.”

“Why do you let them trick you every time?” Charlotte yelled back as she grabbed her bag from the trunk.

There was music playing on the outdoor speakers and her other two brothers sat with cocky smirks as Conner walked closer.

Once he was in earshot Conner leaned over the picket fence with a conspiratorial grin. “They each have to swim with one arm tied behind their backs,” he said as if that would guarantee them a win.

“One Navy SEAL and a coast guard certified rescue swimmer. You’re a sucker!” Charlotte said.

“Don’t underestimate my skills,” Conner hollered back over his shoulder as he walked toward the lake, but their brothers’ booming laughter followed.

Heaving her weekend bag up the wood steps, she opened the front door painted a cheery red, and stepped inside the cool newly remodeled cabin. Light wood floors, crisp white walls, and nautical accents decorated the entryway. It was still the old family cabin but with a chic, modern update. Her mom had harassed her father for years to let her remodel the cabin and she’d finally won.

“Charlotte, is that you?” her mom called out from the kitchen.

“Hi, Mom,” she called, dropping her bag at the door and walking down the hallway that opened into the kitchen and family room combo. Her mom was standing at a new farmhouse sink in her swanky remodeled kitchen outfitted with navy blue cabinets and white marble countertops. Charlotte had seen pictures, but this was her first time seeing the changes in person. “It’s so pretty in here. Do you even go outside now?”

Her mom’s smile pushed laugh lines into her cheeks, and her hazel eyes sparkled. “I do love my new kitchen, but nothing beats sitting out on the deck.” Wiping her hands on the towel tucked into her apron, her mom walked around the island to give Charlotte a big hug. “Especially when I have all four of my babies here. I’m so glad you could make it.” Her mom kissed her cheek.

Charlotte grabbed a cookie off a cooling rack before her mom could shoo her out of the kitchen.

“Go get your suit on and enjoy the lake before the sun sets,” her mom ordered. “The boys have the paddleboards out already, but you might want your rash guard because I’m betting that water is chilly.”

“Yes, Mom.” Charlotte ate the cookie in two bites.

Grabbing her bag from the front door, she moved to the first bedroom off the hallway that had two bunk beds. Her mom’s not-so-subtle attempt in the remodel to remind her four adult children that she expected grandkids sooner than later. Previously she would have stayed in one of the larger rooms with Sam, but he was gone and it was time for new traditions.

“You ready to get your butt whooped in the lake?” her oldest brother Rory called through the door. He knocked before barging into her room.

“It’s nice to see you too,” Charlotte said as she unzipped and dug through her suitcase to find her bathing suit.

Rory grinned and hugged her. “Why’d you drive up alone?”

“I had to work today, and I need to leave early Monday for my next job in Vancouver.”

He nodded but looked at her like he would find another reason in her eyes.

“Have you given any more thought about getting a local PR position that doesn’t require so much travel?” Rory asked.

As the oldest, he was always looking out for his three younger siblings and offering advice. Rory was a police officer too and he was the sergeant on the same SWAT team that Sam had served on. He took Sam’s death hard with the bonus of guilt because he hadn’t been able to save his best friend and brother-in-law. Rory and Sam had been inseparable as kids, and both joined the police force after college. They moved up the ranks to the elite SWAT team together, and Rory led the raid in which they were surprisingly outgunned. Rory had been wounded but Sam was fatally shot. She knew he blamed himself for not being able to save Sam, no matter how many times she tried to convince him otherwise. Rory was responsible to a fault. She never would have thought to blame him, but he couldn’t seem to not blame himself. Police work was the family business. Their father and uncles were all cops, and they grew up hearing how dangerous it was. Her brothers and Sam had idolized their father and followed in his footsteps to join the D.C. Metro Police, but when they lost Sam, it changed all of them.

“Actually, my boss mentioned a job in New York. I was thinking I might apply,” she said, testing out the idea on him.

“That’s a big move, and you should absolutely apply,” Rory said with a lopsided grin that pushed a dimple into his cheek.

“You don’t think it’s too crazy?” she asked.

“No. Hell, I’d consider leaving too if I wasn’t so entrenched here.”

Charlotte laughed. “The golden son would never leave. Mom and Dad would be devastated if you moved away.” She punched his arm. “The price you pay for being so dependable.”

“You should tell them you’re considering the opportunity. Let them warm up to the idea.”

“I will. I just need to find the right moment.”

Rory shoved her playfully. “Get changed, I wanna see how bad we’ll beat you in this relay before I spark up the grill.”

“At least give me Finn, to make it a little more challenging for you.”

“You must be crazy. I plan to swim on my back, because I’m counting on our little brother’s swimming skills to carry the load.”

“We never stood a chance,” Charlotte whined as Rory exited her room.

An hour later she lay on a lounge chair wrapped in a towel trying to warm up in the last remnants of sun next to Finn. Her heart still pounded from the relay race; meanwhile her youngest and toughest brother looked like he’d barely broken a sweat.

“You could at least pretend to be a bit worn out from that race and the freezing water,” Charlotte said.

“Child’s play.” Finn’s deep voice was muffled by the hat covering his face.

Rolling her head over to look at him she spotted a new tattoo on his right shoulder.

She poked the intricate sword and his shoulder muscle flexed. As a Navy SEAL, he was in exceptional shape. She imagined all they did was work out and shoot guns between missions.

“Are you joining a biker gang? Every time I see you there’s more ink on your arms.”

“Nah, it was my parting gift from the guys.”

Charlotte knew better than to make a big deal out of any information she could pull from her very serious little brother. Of the four Maguire kids, Finn was the most introverted and intense, which said a lot if someone got to know Rory’s controlled demeanor. She was born after Rory and the only girl. Conner was referred to as the middle child due to his extroverted and sometimes immature tendencies. Charlotte had been outgoing before Sam was killed, but death can sober a person to the realities of life.

“So, you decided not to re-up your time in the military? Dad mentioned it was time for you to decide again.”

He moved the hat from his face before answering. “Nope, I’m done after this tour. Mom and Dad don’t need that stress. Not after losing Sam.” Finn reached out and squeezed her hand. She wasn’t surprised by the display of comfort as much as his declaration of leaving the military, but she played it cool.

“What’s next, kindergarten teacher? Barista? Maybe a gap year living abroad,” she teased.

“Law school or the police academy.”

“Out of the frying pan into the fire?”

Finn laughed. “I’m only cut out for a few things in this life.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Conner said, pulling up a chair and setting a cold beer on Finn’s eight-pack abs. “Charlotte, is it true you’re looking to move away?”

She sat up on her elbows astonished that he’d heard about her grand plan already.

Conner was the charismatic loudmouth who rounded out the family and somehow always knew everyone’s business.

Finn eyed her and gave a low whistle. “Mom and Dad are going to love that.”

“Maybe your news will help lessen the blow,” Charlotte said.

“So, it’s true?” Conner said, pulling off his shirt to catch the fading sun.

“Maybe. There’s a job in New York with my firm I could apply for, but nothing is set in stone. I still have to be selected.”

“New York?” Conner and Finn said in unison.

“I’m not sure about living in that dirty, noisy city permanently, but it’s a great opportunity to move up in my company,” she said, smoothing her beach towel out beneath her.

“I mean I agree your OCD tendencies might go off the rails, but they probably have loads of hand sanitizer,” Conner said. “Does this job come with a promotion?”

“Being organized and liking starch is not the same as OCD, look it up,” Charlotte said.

Finn scoffed, and they both waited for Charlotte to answer the question.

“Technically yes, it would be a new role in the company, as the director of global marketing.”

“Isn’t New York the mecca for all things PR and marketing?” Finn asked. “Sounds like an easy decision.”

“As long as you’re going for the right reasons, I don’t see how you can turn down the job,” Conner said.

Charlotte appreciated her brothers’ support. Now she just needed to get the job. Part of her was terrified to move away from home, while the other part was excited for the chance to reinvent herself. It was one thing to travel three hundred days of the year, but quite another to leave for good. Her family was her support system, even when she kept them at arm’s length, she knew they were just a short drive away. In Virginia, she was always going to be Sam’s widow, but in New York she could be anyone.

End of Excerpt

Last First Kiss is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-958686-62-1

February 9, 2023

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