Can’t Stop The Feeling
A fun, warm-hearted small-town romance featuring a sexy attorney with a secret past, a feisty redheaded heroine who wants to beat him at his own game, and an adorable little girl playing matchmaker.
Series: Whispering Bay Romance
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Jenna Pantini knew she had a bad temper. She’d inherited it, along with her red hair from her Nana. But over the years she’d learned to master it. She could be calm, cool and collected under the most grueling of circumstances. It was one of the reasons that at the tender age of thirty-one she’d earned the much coveted city manager position in Whispering Bay, a well-established beach community in Florida’s growing panhandle region.
She stopped writing mid-sentence and laid down her pen. Her fingers felt oddly numb. This newest development in the Earl Handy estate had to be a coincidence. Because fate couldn’t be this cruel.
“Did you say the attorney representing Earl’s daughter is named Ben Harrison?” It couldn’t be her Ben Harrison. Although, technically, he’d never been hers.
“Why? Do you know him?” asked Pilar Diaz-Rothman, Whispering Bay’s attorney. As the new city manager, Jenna had worked with Pilar for almost a month now. The Cuban American lawyer was petite with chin length dark hair and fierce brown eyes. Before Jenna could answer, Pilar said, “Of course you know him. Everyone in Florida has heard of Ben Harrison.”
The mayor, who up to now had been silent, leaned back in her chair. “I’ve never heard of him.” With the palm of her hand, Mimi Grant began to rub soothing little circles over her beach ball of a belly. Being seven months pregnant with twins in the late September Florida heat had to suck.
Jenna reached across the table and poured her a glass of water. “You need to stay well hydrated. At this point in your pregnancy your body has fifty percent more blood to circulate.”
Lifelong friends, Mimi and Pilar exchanged a look. “How on earth do you know that?” Pilar asked Jenna.
“Yeah,” Mimi said, “This is my third pregnancy and I couldn’t have quoted that as easily as you just did.”
“I must have picked that up somewhere.”
Where she’d read or (heard) that little pregnancy tidbit, Jenna couldn’t say. She only knew that she knew it. As a child, she was always blurting things out without thinking. Growing up, she’d learned to curtail her instinct, but every once in a while, her inner-know-it-all escaped to create some damage before she could lock her back up.
Mimi repositioned herself in the chair, then let out a long sigh.
“Why are you making that face?” Pilar eyed Mimi like a protective mama cat would her kitten. “You’re not having contractions, are you? Because it’s way too soon for that.”
“Nope. No contractions. It’s just that ever since the twins have declared themselves, it’s like they’re trying to one up each other. I can’t tell who’s on top and who’s on the bottom.”
In what had been the most talked about event in Whispering Bay history (at least in the past month) Mimi and her husband, police chief Zeke Grant, had hosted a gender reveal party only to discover that they were having not one, but two babies. A girl and a boy, bringing their brood up to four children.
Jenna inwardly cringed. It wasn’t that she didn’t like children. She had two nieces that she adored more than life itself. Children were perfectly wonderful. As long as they behaved and belonged to someone else. Maybe one day Jenna would have a child of her own. If the circumstances were right. But she wasn’t one of those women who believed her life would be incomplete without a husband and kids. Nope. Her personal happiness would never depend on someone else.
“It’s a good thing you’re not having contractions because we need to keep those babies in the oven for a couple more months,” Pilar said.
“That’s the plan,” Mimi said serenely. “Now, back to city business. Who is this Ben Harrison? The way you say his name makes him sound mean.”
“Mean isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe him. More like he’s a total blood thirsty shark. No emotion involved. The guy functions on pure cold instinct. He’s a partner with the Miami branch of Martinez and Martinez and he’s rumored to never take a case he can’t win.”
Mimi frowned. “You mean the law firm with all those scary billboards along the highway?”
Jenna knew exactly which billboards Mimi referred to. Their trademark ads featured Jack Martinez, the founding partner’s son, wearing an expensive looking coat and tie over a pair of boxer shorts while he glared down at the little people of Florida with slogans like, Let’s Sue The Pants Off Everyone!
“But isn’t Martinez and Martinez a personal injury firm?” Jenna asked, genuinely confused.
“Traditionally, yes,” Pilar said. “But Jack Martinez has been branching the firm out into a bunch of different things, including wills and probate.”
Earl Handy, the elderly grandson of one of Whispering Bay’s founding fathers, had passed away a couple of months ago, leaving the bulk of his estate which included miles and miles of sandy white pristine beachfront property to the city to be used solely for public access. It was an extremely generous gift. One that his only daughter, Nora and her husband, Vince Palermo, were now contesting.
“So what do we know about this Ben Harrison person?” asked Mimi.
Jenna tried not to show anything more than a mild professional interest in Pilar’s answer.
“I don’t know him personally. It’s not like all the lawyers in Florida know one another, but Ben Harrison was in all the papers and a bunch of legal articles last year when he represented Tiffany McAdams.”
Mimi sat straight up in her chair. “The woman whose dead husband supposedly had the airtight pre-nup?”
Jenna was vaguely familiar with the case but she’d been too wrapped up in work to pay attention to what had basically been a reality TV show. If she’d known Ben had been the attorney, she might have been interested in reading an article or two. Only because, well, it was good to keep up with the news. Right?
“That’s the one,” Pilar said gloomily.
“Refresh our memories,” Jenna said.
Pilar went on to give them all the juicy details of the case. Tiffany McAdams, a former Playboy centerfold, had married south Florida billionaire Arthur Clendenin at the respective ages of twenty-four and seventy-nine. Clendenin might have been an old fool, but he’d made sure to have a supposedly airtight pre-nuptial agreement limiting the amount of money Tiffany would inherit in the event of his death. They’d been married a little over a year when Arthur had his now famous heart attack while dirty dancing with Tiffany in a Miami South Beach bar. The whole thing had been caught on cell phone video and replayed on TV dozens of times.
A beautifully tearful Tiffany had claimed that Arthur had changed his mind about the will and that he wanted her to have half his estate. No one believed her, of course. Especially Arthur’s two grown children from his previous marriage. So Tiffany hired hot shot attorney Ben Harrison and after two years of legal battles, she’d done the unthinkable, or rather, he’d done the impossible. He’d broken the pre-nup and gotten Tiffany not only half the estate, but he’d also sued Arthur’s children for all the legal fees. And won.
“Oh my God,” Mimi said. “I remember that case. That’s who we’re up against?”
“I’m afraid so.” Pilar shuddered. “I still have nightmares of that video showing poor Arthur dancing and having his heart attack.”
Jenna had never seen the video. “It’s pretty graphic, huh?” she asked sympathetically.
“I’ll say. There should be laws against eighty-year-old men twerking in public.”
The three women sat around the table looking at one another dejectedly. Jenna was the first one to speak again. “Let’s not panic. Just because this Ben Harrison was able to break some Miami billionaire’s will doesn’t mean he can do the same thing here.”
“True.” Pilar perked up. “I have more than enough witnesses to claim that Earl was perfectly lucid when he had his attorney write up his will.”
Mimi looked at Pilar thoughtfully. “Is that what you think Vince and Nora are basing their case on? That poor Earl wasn’t in his right mind when he had his will made out?”
“You tell me. He was your cousin. Or was he your uncle?”
This was news to Jenna. “You were related to old Earl?”
“Honey, half of Whispering Bay was related to Earl. He was my momma’s second cousin. Or something like that.”
“Small towns,” Pilar muttered. “Gotta love ‘em.”
“It’s true that Earl had dementia,” Mimi said. “Everyone knows that. But it was only bad in the last year or so. Up to then, he’d been sharp as a tack.”
“I’m not sure exactly what Nora and Vince are claiming,” Pilar went on to say. “Only that they plan to contest the will. Frankly, I wouldn’t be worried, except I know enough about Ben Harrison through his reputation that he would never take this case if he didn’t think he had a pretty good shot at winning. My probate skills are decent, but I’m no expert. I’m already drowning in work as it is, so we’ll need to hire more legal help. And I’m pretty sure our resources are limited.”
Thanks to years of prior mismanagement, the city coffers were in trouble. If Nora and her husband wanted to drag the city through a messy legal battle, Whispering Bay wouldn’t have the funds to fight them. They had Pilar, of course, and she was top notch, but she was right. They would need more than one already over worked attorney to fight a firm like Martinez and Martinez.
“I went to college with someone named Ben Harrison,” Jenna said before she could stop herself. “We were both freshmen, although he was a few years older than me, but we, uh, lost track of one another.”
“How well did you know him?” Mimi asked.
“Not too well,” Jenna lied.
“Did your Ben go to law school?” Pilar asked.
He’s not my Ben!
“He talked about going to law school, but like I said, we didn’t keep in touch.”
“Let’s check out the Martinez and Martinez website and see if this is the same guy you knew in college.” Pilar pulled out her laptop. “Those firms always have these big bios on their lead attorneys. If he’s an old college friend, maybe we can work that to our advantage and—” She sat back in her chair and blinked. “Oh my.”
“What?” Mimi snatched the laptop to take a look. Her brows nearly hit her hairline. “Mmm… Yeah. I see what you mean.”
Jenna was almost afraid to ask. “What? Does this guy have horns or something?”
“Look for yourself.” Mimi handed her the laptop where the image of a man in a crisply tailored blue suit with dark hair and achingly familiar brown eyes stared back at her. Broad shouldered, with his arms crossed over his chest, the look on his face said he ate little children for breakfast. And he liked it.
Jenna fought the urge to run into the bathroom and scream. She’d secretly been hoping that there were two Ben Harrisons in the legal world. But no. This was her (not her) Ben, all right. What were the odds that the two of them would be involved in a case together? Thank God his firm was located eight hours away in Miami. In this day of emails and Skype, they’d almost certainly never have to come face-to-face.
This immediately cheered her up.
“He’s kind of good looking, I suppose,” Jenna conceded coolly. “If you like that corporate pirate look.”
“Kind of good looking?” Mimi muttered. “I love Zeke to death but I wouldn’t mind seeing this guy in his boxer shorts.”
Pilar giggled. “Don’t tell Ed,” she said referring to her husband, “But I wouldn’t mind seeing him without them. Let’s read his bio.” She cleared her throat in a dramatic fashion. “Ben Harrison, a north Florida native, graduated high school and immediately enlisted in the US Army. He served two tours in Afghanistan and was awarded the Silver Star for bravery in combat. With the aid of the GI Bill and a full academic scholarship he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting from The University of Miami, going on to earn his J.D. at Harvard University. He is a member of the Florida Bar, blah, blah, blah. The rest is the usual flowery accolades.”
“He’s an army hero and he went to Harvard? This guy is impressive,” Mimi said.
Jenna had known that Ben had served in the army, but he’d never told her about earning a Silver Star. But then, he hadn’t liked talking about himself much. She wondered… She really didn’t want to know, but she asked anyway. “Does it say anything about his marital status?”
Pilar glanced back at the screen. “Nope.” Her eyes got a mischievous gleam in them. “But I did hear some gossip in the legal circles about him and Tiffany hooking up. After he won her case, of course, because it would be totally unethical of him to be boinking her while he was her attorney.”
“Let’s Google him and Tiffany and see what we get,” Mimi said.
Jenna really really wanted to squelch this idea, but reminding the two other women that they were supposed to be discussing city business, especially when they seemed to be enjoying themselves so much, would only make her sound like a spoil sport. Besides, yes, she could admit it. A part of her (the weak undisciplined part) wanted to see the pictures too.
Pilar typed Ben and Tiffany’s name into the Google search bar and hit Images. “Bin-go!” All three women crowded around the laptop.
The screen was filled with dozens of photos of Ben and a beautiful woman with platinum blonde hair and a killer body (partially fake of course, because no one’s boobs were that perky). There was a photo of Ben in a black tux and Tiffany in a red designer gown attending some kind of charity event. Another photo showed them wearing jeans and T-shirts and eating ice-cream cones while laughing and walking down a sidewalk in South Beach, oblivious to the admiring stares of the people around them.
Mimi sighed. “This is one seriously gorgeous couple. It’s like they’re People magazine’s new answer to Brad and Angelina.”
“Oh, yeah, he’s totally doing her. Look at the way she looks at him in this picture.” Pilar pointed to an image of Tiffany looking up adoringly at Ben. “She is one smitten kitten. So does any of this ring a bell?” she asked Jenna. “Is this the Ben Harrison you knew in college?”
“It certainly appears to be him,” Jenna admitted.
“That’s great!” Pilar said. “Maybe we can use this to our advantage.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I barely remember him and I’m sure he wouldn’t remember me at all, so I don’t really see how this can help us.”
“Oh.” Pilar went back to looking at the pictures.
“Too bad,” Mimi said, joining her.
As she watched the two other women gawking at the computer screen, Jenna couldn’t help but feel guilty, because of course, it was all a big lie.
You forgot what you ate for breakfast last week.
You forgot the name of the kid who sat behind you in third grade.
But you never forgot the first person you fell in love with.
As for him not remembering her? That part wasn’t a lie at all. Because the morning after she’d given him her virginity, Ben Harrison had already forgotten all about her.