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So This Is Love

So This Is Love

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"SO THIS IS LOVE has suspense, drama and of course romance. I love this book and fall more and more in love with the Callaway Family!" Jessica

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"I love The Callaways! Heartwarming romance, intriguing suspense and sexy alpha heroes. What more could you want?" — NYT Bestselling Author Bella Andre

Emma Callaway, a hot fire investigator, clashes with Max Harrison, a cool homicide detective, in SO THIS IS LOVE, the second book in the Callaway Series, by #1 NY Times Bestselling Author Barbara Freethy.

For Max Harrison, love seduces and then destroys. His brother went to prison for love. His father left his family for love. And Max is determined not to follow in their footsteps, until he meets Emma…

Emma runs into burning buildings without an ounce of fear and embraces life as if every day is a new adventure. But while she's fearless on the job, Emma is a coward when it comes to love. Betrayed by an ex-boyfriend, Emma has no intention of putting her heart on the line again, until she meets Max…

As the fires around the city rage, the heat between them ignites in a blaze of passion that's far more dangerous. Will it destroy them, or will they finally get everything they ever wanted…

If you love a grumpy sunshine, enemies to lovers story, you'll enjoy SO THIS IS LOVE by #1 NYT Bestselling Author Barbara Freethy! 

What the readers are saying…

"Just when I thought it couldn't get any better this story blows me away. In SO THIS IS LOVE, I was captivated from the very first page, I couldn't wait to see what happened next but I didn't want it to end." Caroline

"Frankly, I wasn’t expecting such a twist from a romantic thriller and in SO THIS IS LOVE, I was pleasantly surprised. Barbara Freethy has a stimulating way of narrating her stories that draws you in, makes you feel really close to the characters and just keeps you turning the pages. This was a good follow through to the impressive beginning of the series." Bookish Indulgences


Chapter One

Emma Callaway walked quickly down the dark street, wishing she'd arrived at her father's party on time so that she could have gotten a better parking spot, instead of having to hike three blocks uphill. As she passed a lone guy smoking a cigarette in front of a twenty-four-hour market, she felt an odd sense of unease. The man's gaze seemed to follow her down the street, and she picked up her pace. 

She wasn't normally afraid to walk at night, especially not in the West Portal neighborhood of San Francisco, but the street was filled mostly with retail and commercial buildings, and at nine o'clock on a Sunday night, they were all closed, making her feel isolated and alone.

She took a quick glance over her shoulder. There was no one following her, but the shadowy street did not ease her nerves. She told herself to stop imagining things. She was just on edge. The last few weeks of work had been challenging, and all she wanted to do was relax and spend a few hours with her family as they celebrated her father's recent promotion to Deputy Chief of Operations for the San Francisco Fire Department.

Emma was enormously proud of her father, but Jack Callaway's latest feat had only set the bar of achievement that much higher for herself and the rest of the Callaway clan. Not that the bar hadn't always been high. Firefighting had been a family tradition for at least four generations, including the current one. Three of her brothers were firefighters, and she'd started out as a firefighter as well, eventually becoming a fire investigator a year earlier. 

She loved being an investigator, but it was also frustrating work. Determining whether a fire was arson was one thing, finding the perpetrator and getting justice was another. But she wasn't going to think about her open cases tonight. She just wanted to spend time with her family and friends. 

Opening the door to Brady's Bar and Grill, she stepped inside and paused, surprised at the huge crowd. Her father was a popular guy, but it seemed as if half the city had come to toast his latest achievement. A long mahogany bar covered the far wall, and there was a line three deep to get cocktails. The dance floor was packed with people drinking, talking, and laughing, and every table in the main dining room appeared to be full.  Gazing to the right side of the restaurant, she saw a cluster of people in the hall by the back room where darts and pool were the games of choice. 

Brady's would make a killing tonight, she thought with a smile, not that they didn't do a good business most nights. Brady's was a firefighters' bar. The owner, Harry Brady, had a son, Christian, who was also a firefighter, and it wasn't uncommon for shifts to end with a trip to the bar. Wherever she looked, she saw familiar faces. She was a local girl, and Brady's was a local bar—the kind of place where everyone knew each other's name. 

The door opened behind her and a blast of chill November air sent a tingle down her spine. Glancing over her shoulder, that cold quickly turned to heat when she met the deeply intense and penetrating green eyes of Max Harrison, an inspector with the San Francisco Police Department.

Max had transferred from Los Angeles three months earlier, and since then their paths had crossed a few too many times. She'd found Max to be a cocky, territorial detective, whose idea of sharing information was her telling him everything she knew, and him giving nothing in return. 

While she didn't like Max's attitude, she couldn't help but appreciate the way he filled out a pair of faded jeans and carried off a brown leather jacket over a cream-colored knit shirt. He was tall and athletically built with a mouth-watering physique, light brown hair that shimmered with gold, and a far too sexy mouth. But she knew trouble when she saw it, and the last thing she needed in her life was man trouble. She'd gotten out of a serious relationship a few months earlier, and she didn't need to dive into another one, especially not with someone who could heat up her body with just one look. 

"What are you doing here?" she asked shortly. 

Their meetings were always tense, the mix of anger and attraction between them making most of their encounters awkward and uncomfortable. It was bad enough they had to occasionally work together; she didn't want to socialize with him, too. 

"Your brother Burke invited me. We play basketball together on Wednesday nights."

Of course they did. The police/fire basketball league was hugely popular. As a female firefighter, she'd always felt left out when it came to the basketball games. She could compete in co-ed softball, but the basketball games were all guys, and that was the way they liked it.  

Her phone buzzed, and she pulled it out of her bag, hoping it wasn't work calling.  

Frowning, she realized she would have preferred a work text than the one she'd just received. "Damn," she muttered. 

"Something wrong?" Max asked. 

She returned her phone to the outer pocket of her bag. "It's nothing." She'd barely finished speaking when her phone buzzed again. 

"Doesn't sound like nothing," he said, a speculative gleam in his eyes. "Aren't you going to answer it?"

"No."

Her phone buzzed again, and she pulled it out of her bag to turn the ring to silent. As she did so, she saw three texts on the screen. Seriously? Jon hadn't talked to her this much when they were sharing an apartment. "I can't believe this," she muttered, then wished she'd kept her mouth shut as Max's interested gaze settled on hers. "Ex-boyfriend," she explained. 

"He must want another chance." 

"Men always want what they can't have."  

He tipped his head in acknowledgement. "The chase can be appealing."

"I'm not good at playing games."

"I doubt that. I've seen your competitive streak."

"Not when it comes to the games of love," she corrected. 

Max smiled, and with that smile came sparks, the fluttering of butterflies in her stomach, the sudden dampness on her palms, the tingly feeling of anticipation shooting down her spine. They weren't standing very far apart, only a few inches between them. It wouldn't take more than a step to put her hands on his solid chest, lean in, raise her face to his. 

Whoa! 

She put the brakes on her runaway thoughts. She was not going to kiss Max Harrison. That would be reckless and stupid. It would probably also be really good, because he looked like the kind of man who knew how to kiss a woman. But she was not going to test out that theory. 

She couldn't let a little lust get in the way of her common sense. They had to work together. She needed to keep things professional. 

Clearing her throat, she said, "I should find my father."

"Isn't that him over there?" Max tipped his head toward the center of the room. 

As the crowd parted, she could see her parents, grandparents and several of her siblings seated at a table in the center of the room. Her father was the focus of attention, which didn't surprise her. Jack Callaway had a larger-than-life personality, and like his Irish ancestors, there was nothing he enjoyed more than telling a good story and sharing a pint or two. 

With dark brown hair that was now peppered with gray, wide-set blue eyes, and a big booming laugh, Jack had charisma and presence, which was probably why he'd done so well in his career; he was a natural born leader. He was also a man of high integrity and deep commitment to his job, which made him a great role model. She'd admired him for a very long time, not just as a father but also as a firefighter. She could see that same respect in the eyes of everyone at the table. 

"That's him," she murmured, glancing back at Max. "You haven't met yet?"

"No. Is that your mother next to him, the pretty blonde in the red dress?"

"That's her."

"You look more like your mother than your father." 

"I do take after my mom, but Jack isn't my biological father. He's my stepfather." 

Surprise flashed in Max's eyes. "I didn't know that. You have his name."

"It all happened a long time ago. My mother, Lynda, married Jack when I was four years old. He legally adopted me as well as my older sister Nicole three years later. Since we rarely saw my biological father, we were both happy to become Callaways."

"So you and Nicole are biological sisters. What about the rest of your siblings? Who belongs to who?" 

"Burke, Aiden, Drew and Sean are my stepbrothers. Their real mother died. Jack was a widow when he met my mom. After they got married, the twins, Shayla and Colton, were born. It's a yours, mine and ours kind of situation, but in reality, we're just one big happy, sometimes crazy, family." 

"I can see the pride in your eyes," he commented. 

"I love my family. Although I have to admit that being a Callaway comes with expectations. Jack and his father are hard acts to follow." 

"From what I've seen, you're up for the challenge."

She tilted her head, giving him a thoughtful look. "Is that a compliment, Harrison?"

"Don't let it go to your head, Callaway. Who else is at your dad's table?" 

"Next to my mother are Jack's parents, Eleanor and Patrick. Then there is my baby sister, Shayla. She's a girl genius, only twenty-three and almost done with medical school. And lastly there's Colton, Shayla's twin. He's a rookie firefighter. I'm not sure where the rest of my siblings are." 

"It sounds like your siblings are all very high achievers."

"Jack told us the Callaways were born to serve and protect, and most of my siblings have followed that tradition: four in firefighting, one in medicine, one in search and rescue, and one in teaching. My brother Sean is the only one who didn't follow the plan. He's a musician, a fantastic singer and songwriter," she added, not wanting Max to think she wasn't proud of Sean. "He couldn't come tonight, because he's touring the Pacific Northwest." 

"How does he get along with your father?"

"They have their moments, but Sean has always moved to a different beat. That's my family. Tell me about yours." 

"Nowhere near as interesting," he said shortly.

"Let me be the judge."

"Maybe another time. Can I get you a drink? It looks like the line for drinks is thinning out."

She wasn't surprised he dodged her question. He'd been remarkably reticent when it came to his private life. She'd been tempted to do a little research on him more than once, but she'd always stopped herself. The less she knew about him, the better. 

"I'll take a sparkling water if you're going to the bar," she said. "I'm on call this weekend."

"Got it." 

As Max turned around, he was almost run down by one of her longtime friends, Tony Moretti. 

Tony was an attractive thirty-two-year-old of Italian descent. He and his twin brother, Jarod, had grown up around the corner from her. 

"Emma," Tony said, opening his arms wide. "I was hoping you'd be here. I was looking for you at Mass today, but I didn't see you." She gave him a quick hug, aware that Max hadn't actually gone to the bar as he'd proposed. Instead, he lingered a few feet away watching them. She wondered why he was so interested.

"I didn't make it to church this morning," she said, turning her attention to Tony. "I've been really busy at work."

"I couldn't believe someone torched the school at St. Andrew's. Do you have any suspects?"

"Not yet. But I haven't given up." 

"Speaking of not giving up, you owe me a date," Tony said. "Remember? I helped you move out of your ex-boyfriend's apartment, and you offered to buy me dinner."

"I do remember. I'm sorry I've been busy." 

"So let's make a date." 

She saw the determination in Tony's eyes and wondered where it came from. She'd known him since she was six years old, and while they'd been a part of the same social group for years, they'd never gone out alone together, and she wasn't sure she wanted to change that. She liked Tony a lot, but he was a flirt, and she didn't want them to end up in an awkward situation. Their families were friends.

"I'll take a look at my calendar tomorrow, and we'll find a day that works," she said. 

"Good."  

"What's good?" another man asked. 

She smiled at Tony's brother Jarod. The Morettis were fraternal twins but looked almost identical with their dark hair and dark eyes. 

"Is my brother hitting on you again, Emma?" Jarod asked.

"We're just talking," she said. "How are you doing? How's the construction business?"

"It's picking up." He cocked his head to the right, giving her a thoughtful look. "I don't think I've seen you since you became an arson investigator. How's that going? Are you working the fire at St. Andrew's?"

"Yes, I am." She paused. "I need to say hello to my dad. I'll talk to you guys later, all right?"

"Don't forget to call me," Tony said as she walked away.

As she moved through the crowd, her gaze drifted across the room. Max had gone to the bar, and she felt relieved that he was no longer watching her. She didn't need any more tension in her life, and that's what Max brought with him every time he came around. Hopefully, he wouldn't stay at the party long. 


* * *


As he waited for their drinks, Max felt restless and irritated. Emma Callaway always got under his skin, and tonight was no exception. Usually, he could keep the attraction between them at bay. Usually, he saw her in uniform or in firefighting gear, her blonde hair covered by a helmet, her slender body in thick, shapeless overalls, but tonight, in a short turquoise dress, her sexy legs bare, her feet encased in high heels, her blonde hair styled, and her blue eyes sparkling under thick black lashes, she'd stolen the breath right out of his chest. 

Damn! He really shouldn't have followed up on Burke's invitation. But he'd been tired of his own company, and he'd wanted to see Emma outside of work. Now that they'd seen each other, now that his pulse was racing and his entire body was on edge, he realized his mistake. It was too late to retreat, but he could make this a short night. He'd buy her a drink and then he'd head home. She wouldn't miss him. She had her huge family to keep her company, not to mention all the single guys in the bar. 

It would actually be easier if she were dating someone. He didn't poach other men's women. But she was single and so was he. And as much as she annoyed him with her stubbornness and independence, she also impressed him. Besides being beautiful and sexy, she was strong, courageous and smart. 

He needed to stay away from her. They couldn't hook up; they had to work together. And they couldn't have a deeper relationship because he wasn't a relationship guy. So the only option was to take a hands-off approach, which would be a lot of easier if he didn't want to touch her so badly. For a second earlier, he'd had the strangest feeling that she wanted to kiss him. He'd probably imagined it. 

Max glanced across the room. Emma had made her way to her father's table and was giving her dad a hug. There was a lot of love in the warm smile they exchanged, and for some reason, that shared look tugged at Max's heart, reminding him of a connection he'd lost a long time ago. 

The bartender set down his drinks. He was grateful for the interruption. He handed over cash and then headed across the room feeling oddly nervous. He'd never been good at meeting the parents, and even though this wasn't that kind of moment, he still felt tense. 

Emma accepted her drink with a cautious smile. "Thanks." 

"No problem." He could see various members of the Callaways giving him curious looks. He had a feeling Emma's family was as protective of her as she was of them. 

"Let me introduce you," she said. "Dad, this is Max Harrison. He's an inspector with the SFPD. My father, Jack Callaway."

Jack got to his feet to shake Max's hand. His gaze was sharp and direct. "Nice to meet you. Hank Crowley speaks very highly of you."

"I have the utmost respect for Captain Crowley," he replied, at the same time wondering why his mentor had been talking to Jack Callaway about him. Hank knew he preferred to stay under the radar, and if there was ever a man who wasn't under the radar, it was Jack Callaway. 

"How do you know Emma?" Jack asked. 

"We worked on an arson/homicide case last month."  

"Max is a recent transfer from Los Angeles," Emma added. "But maybe you already knew that if you've been talking to Captain Crowley." Emma shot her father a speculative look.

"Hank mentioned that. How does it feel to be home?" 

"Home?" Emma interrupted, glancing from her dad to Max. "You're from San Francisco? You never told me that."

"You never asked," he replied. 

"Where did you live?"

"On Noriega Street in the Sunset District." 

"I had a place on Noriega Street once," Emma's grandmother said. 

Max looked across the table at Eleanor Callaway. She had white hair and blue eyes that seemed a little hazy, dreamy almost, as if she wasn't quite present. 

"When did you live on Noriega, Grandma?" Emma asked. 

"A long time ago," she said. "When your father was in high school. It was such a pretty house." She turned to her husband. "You painted the wall behind our bed blue, remember?"

"Just like your eyes," Patrick said, his loving gaze on his wife. 

There was clearly a strong connection between the two, Max thought, wondering what it would be like to be in love and married to someone for fifty years. He couldn't even imagine it. 

Eleanor smiled at her husband. "We had so much fun in that house, big dinners with all the kids around the table. I was happy." She paused, her smile fading. "But then we had to leave. We had to move after that bad, bad day." 

"No one wants to hear about that," Patrick told his wife, his tone sharp and purposeful.

"It's going to be okay, isn't it?" she asked, worry in her eyes as she gazed at her husband. "You said it would. You promised."

"It's fine," he assured her. "It was a long time ago."

"What was a long time ago?" Emma asked. 

"Don't add to the confusion with questions," Patrick said, giving Emma a harsh look. 

Emma quickly apologized. "I'm sorry."

"I'm Patrick Callaway," her grandfather said, his attention turning to Max. "And this is my wife Eleanor." 

"I'm very happy to meet you both." He wondered how he could extricate himself from a situation that seemed to be turning more awkward by the moment. He had no idea what Emma's grandmother was talking about, but her odd comments seemed to have left everyone at the table speechless. 

Eleanor suddenly stiffened, confusion in her expression as she pointed her finger at Max. "You're not Emma's boyfriend. You're not Jon."

"No. I'm Max."

"I like Jon." She gave Emma an annoyed and bewildered look. "Why aren't you with Jon? He always brings me those hard candies."

"Jon and I broke up, Grandma."  

"But he loved you. You loved him. You were going to get married and have babies."

Emma cleared her throat. "We decided it wasn't right." 

"So this man is your new boyfriend?" Eleanor demanded, not looking at all happy about it. 

"No, he's a colleague. We work together sometimes. That's all." She looked relieved when Burke arrived at the table, interrupting their conversation. "Burke," she said with relief. "You're here. And Max is here."

"So I see," Burke said, shaking his hand. "Did you meet everyone?"

"Emma was just introducing me," he replied. 

Emma waved her hand toward the other members of her family. "My mom, Lynda, sister, Shayla, brother, Colton."

Her mother and siblings said hello. Colton appeared more interested in whatever he was reading on his phone than the conversation at hand. Shayla gave him a very curious look. Fortunately he did not have to talk to anyone, as a group of people approached the table to offer Jack congratulations. 

To give the newcomers more room, Max moved a few steps away. Emma did the same. 

"Sorry about that," she said. "My grandmother is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, and we never know what is going to come out of her mouth."

"I'm sorry to hear that she's ill." 

"It's hard to watch her deteriorate. She was a very sharp woman when I was younger. I couldn't get anything past her." Emma frowned. "I can't believe she remembered Jon. He hasn't been around the family in months."

"Apparently, the candies he brought her stuck in her head."

"I brought the candies for her birthday. He just took the credit." Emma's gaze drifted back to her grandmother. "I don't know what she was referring to when she alluded to some bad, bad day. It was such an odd thing to say."

"It sounded like your grandfather knew what it was about. He was quick to cut her off."

Her gaze swung back to him, her eyes questioning. "I thought so, too. It's the second time in the last few weeks that Grandma has mentioned a secret, and the second time Grandpa has changed the subject. But I can't imagine what secret she would be keeping. 

"Have you asked your grandfather about it?"

"No. You don't ask my grandfather things like that. To be honest, I've always been a little scared of him. He's the only one in the family who ever made me feel like a stepchild." 

Her comment surprised him. Emma seemed so confident, so sure of her place in the world, but in this moment he could see uncertainty in her eyes, and he wondered if she had to be good, had to be right, in order to prove herself to her family because she wasn't a Callaway by blood. It might explain why she was so determined to win, to succeed, to be the best at everything. 

"Anyway," she said, turning her focus back to him. "How come you never told me you grew up here, and don't say it's because I didn't ask. I spoke to you about Los Angeles and your reason for transferring, and you never said anything about the fact that you were actually coming home."

"I haven't thought of this city as home in a very long time. I left when I was eighteen. That was fourteen years ago."

"Is your family still here?"

"Some of them." 

"Why did you leave and why did you come back?" she asked, as she took a sip of her water.

"I left to go to college, and I came back because it was time."

"That's deliberately vague, Harrison."

"Maybe you should take a hint and drop the subject, Callaway."

She gave a dramatic sigh. "Another person with a secret. I seem to be surrounded by them tonight."

He smiled. "I don't know about that. Your Italian boys seemed up front and outgoing."

"The Moretti twins? I've known them forever. They're not to be taken seriously."

Her dismissive words made him feel oddly better about the interaction he'd witnessed earlier. "Are you sure about that? The first one looked really into you."

"Tony is a huge flirt. He's that way with everyone."

"If you say so."

"I do say so," she said firmly. "What about you? No date tonight?"

"Not tonight."  

"You do like to be the man of mystery, don't you?"

"I've heard it adds to my charm."

"Charm? You think you have charm?" she asked doubtfully. 

He couldn't help but grin at her disgruntled expression. "Apparently, you don't think so."

"Tonight is the first time I've ever seen you smile. So maybe there's more to you than I thought."

"Maybe there is." 

She stared at him, then said, "Well, I don't have time for mystery men. I have my hands full at the moment." 

He should be relieved by her answer, but he found himself oddly disappointed. 

"I should go and mingle," she added. 

"You should," he said, downing his drink. "I have to take off."

"So soon?" 

"I have an early morning. Have a good night."

"You, too." 

He set his empty glass down on a nearby table and moved quickly through the crowded restaurant. When he stepped outside, he was surprised to see a guy peering into the windows of the bar. He wore jeans and a big sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over his head. The man jerked when he realized Max was looking at him. He turned quickly and walked away. 

Uneasiness ran down Max's spine. His car was in the opposite direction, but something made him follow the guy down the street. The man picked up his pace when he reached the corner. Max did the same, but when he jogged around the block, the guy was gone. 

Max stopped, frustrated that he'd lost him, even though he didn't really know why he was in pursuit. But he'd trusted his instincts for a very long time, and most of the time his gut did not steer him wrong. Maybe this time, however, his instincts were off. He was on edge. His life was about to change in a big way, and he didn't know if he was ready. 

Turning, he walked back the way he'd come. When he reached his car, his phone rang. He pulled it out and saw his mother's number. His stomach muscles clenched. 

"Mom? What's up?"

"I just want to make sure you're going to pick me up at eight o'clock tomorrow," she said. 

"I promised I would," he replied.  

"Don't be late. Your brother has waited long enough for this day."

"I won't be late," he promised. He slipped his phone back into his pocket and then opened his car door and slid behind the wheel, his heart racing a little too fast as he thought about the next morning—about the sixty-mile drive north to the prison where he would pick up his brother.

The Callaways are a family born to serve and protect, many as firefighters. Set primarily in San Francisco, the series features a blended family, with each member in the family getting their own book.

Each book stands alone with a complete story. No cliffhangers! But reading the entire series will give readers a chance to spend more time with this
amazing family!

The books feature romance, mystery and family drama with popular storylines featuring alpha heroes, firefighter romance, girl next door, love at first
sight, enemies to lovers, opposites attract, grumpy sunshine, meet cute, and second chance at love.

I love to write complex books that provide reading pleasure, a mystery to unravel, characters to fall in love with, and a story that will keep readers turning the pages. Start reading the Callaways today!

Don't Miss Any of the Callaway Novels:

  • On A Night Like This (#1)
  • So This Is Love (#2)
  • Falling For A Stranger (#3)
  • Between Now And Forever (#4)
  • Nobody But You (#5) A Callaway Wedding Novella)
  • All A Heart Needs (#6)
  • That Summer Night (#7)
  • When Shadows Fall (#8)
  • Somewhere Only We Know (#9)

Callaway Cousins

  • If I Didn't Know Better (#1)
  • Tender Is The Night (#2)
  • Take Me Home (#3) (Callaway Novella)
  • Closer To You (#4)
  • Once You're Mine (#5)
  • Can't Let Go (#6)
  • Secrets We Keep (#7)

Callaway Series Box Sets

  • Callaways Box Set, Books 1-3
  • Callaways Box Set, Books 4-6
  • Callaways Box Set, Books 7-9
  • Callaways Complete Box Set, Books 1-8
  • Callaway Cousins Box Set, Books 1-4
  • Callaway Cousins Box Set, Books 5-7