Jesse Sinclair and his two brothers spent years dodging the women his grandfather threw in their path. But then the matchmaking old wolf died, and his brothers did the unthinkable: they ran off to Maine to get married.
Now Jesse wants to join them. Convinced the Pine Tree State must have another eligible woman to spare, he buys a small island just off Castle Cove to build a home for his future family. But as he discovers, finding the woman of your dreams isn’t as easy as his brothers made it seem. First of all, the only woman capable of filling those wedding shoes is Cadi Glace—and unfortunately, she’s already engaged…
So imagine Jesse’s surprise when he finds the aforementioned Miss Glace hiding out in his camper, charmingly, adorably drunk. And apparently single….
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Jesse stole a quick glance at the dash of his pickup in hopes the navigation device knew where it was, because he sure as hell didn’t. Forget that he hadn’t met any cars since turning onto the winding, narrow road half an hour ago; the power lines had stopped at the last house he’d passed some eight miles back. He checked his right-hand outside mirror only to see the tires on the camper were barely staying on the asphalt, and wondered what had made him think leaving Route One while hauling a forty-foot-long fifth-wheel had been a good idea.
At least he had a place to sleep if he didn’t reach civilization by nightfall. He’d be going to bed hungry, though, because he had planned to stock his cupboards in Castle Cove tomorrow morning before loading the camper on a barge for its short voyage to Hundred Acre Isle. But the farther down the desolate road he drove, the more it looked like he might have to reschedule, all because he hadn’t been able to wait two days to get a look at the house he was having designed.
Not that Stanley Kerr, of Glace & Kerr Architecture, was expecting him today. But rather than reassuring Jesse that everything was right on schedule, the vague drawings of a very modern kitchen Stanley had emailed him three weeks ago had only fueled his impatience. So instead of getting the camper settled on the island and backtracking over an hour on Friday, he’d decided to cut across to Whistler’s Landing this afternoon on the chance the architectural model he’d commissioned had arrived a couple of days early. But even if it hadn’t, he could at least see the preliminary plans the model builders would have used, and maybe talk Stanley into giving him a copy. That way he could spend the week studying the layout while imagining he was sitting on his new porch overlooking the Gulf of Maine—which he’d be doing this time next year if everything stayed on schedule—and decide on any changes he might want to make.
Jesse had purchased the island that sat three nautical miles offshore of Castle Cove the very day he’d set foot on it late last summer. He’d then spent the next six months traveling from New York to Maine to look at houses and interview homeowners before settling on an architect he was confident could give him the state-of-the-art yet unpretentious home he wanted. Hundred Acre Isle was to be his sanctuary from the corporate world, the place his children would run free every summer, his . . . Rosebriar. But where his grandfather’s sprawling estate north of New York City had been Abram Sinclair’s deliberately pretentious testament to his love for Grammy Rose, Jesse had decided to build before finding the woman of his dreams.
That is, assuming such a paragon even existed.
Because despite his grandfather’s best efforts, Jesse had become an expert at dodging all the marriage-minded women the scheming old wolf had constantly thrown in his path. But seeing how wedded bliss appeared to agree with his two older brothers, he’d started worrying he might in fact be missing out. And since both Sam and Ben had found the women of their dreams in Maine . . . well, maybe the state could pony up one more Sinclair bride.
Not that he intended to marry the first beauty to catch his eye simply so he’d stop rattling around Rosebriar all alone but for a way-too-familial staff. Yet he really couldn’t see himself settling in for the long haul with any of the self-absorbed and high-maintenance women he was in the habit of dating, any more than he could see his current interest, Miss Pamela Bowden, spending her summers chasing a passel of kids around an isolated island. Which meant he really needed to start dating mother-minded women if he hoped to have children close in age to their cousins, seeing how his two older brothers already had a three-year head start on him. In fact, Sam was expecting his second little bundle of joy in October.
Getting two of his grandsons to the altar from his grave had been quite a coup for Bram, considering all three men had been experts at dodging women. But Sam had married Willa within six weeks of following her home to Keelstone Cove—which, ironically, had been exactly six weeks after Bram’s death—and Ben had given Emma less than two weeks to plan her wedding not a month after showing up at her sporting camps in the western mountains of Maine.
But then, Sinclair men did have a reputation for moving quickly once they made up their minds about something—in matters of the heart as well as business, apparently.
Jesse crested yet another blind knoll and immediately slowed to a crawl when he spotted the car parked just off the pavement, its two right tires nearly touching the water of an encroaching bog. And even though flames were shooting above the raised hood of the late-model luxury sedan, he didn’t dare brake to a stop for fear of being rear-ended if someone should crest the knoll behind him.
It was just as he swerved to the other side of the road to get past the car that he spotted the woman up ahead, who had stopped walking and turned at the sound of his engine. She was carrying a large white box, there were no fewer than a dozen brightly colored balloons tied to the bulging purse hiked up on her shoulder, and he couldn’t help noticing her expression go from hopeful to disappointed. Obviously seeing he wasn’t a local, she started walking again, apparently unconcerned that her car was on fire.
Jesse continued past her, edged to the side of the road as far as he dared, and brought his rig to a stop on the crest of another knoll so it could be seen by anyone traveling from either direction. He set the park brake as an extra precaution, shut off the engine and got out, and walked down the length of the camper. “Have you called 911?” he asked, only to watch the swirling balloons knock her wide-brimmed hat askew when she stopped a good twenty yards from him.
“No,” she said, shifting what appeared to be a pastry box to one arm and righting her hat. “I was afraid they’d get here before the car was totaled.”
Jesse stilled in the act of pulling out his cell phone. “You want it to burn?”
“Right down to its four crappy tires,” she shot back, her curt nod making her hat slip sideways again. Only this time instead of righting it, she pulled it off and sent it sailing into the woods. She glanced back at the car, which now had black smoke billowing out all four open windows, and shrugged. “It’s not close enough to any trees to start a forest fire,” she said as she started walking again. “I’ll call it in when I get to town.”
“How far would that be?” Jesse asked, moving into the road when he realized she intended to walk right past him. “I’ll give you a ride.”
She stopped again. “Thank you, but I’ll walk. It’s only about a mile.”
That flawless complexion, pale-to-its-roots curly blonde hair, and those intelligent, arresting blue eyes made Jesse realize he knew her. “Miss Glace,” he said, unable to believe he hadn’t recognized her immediately, considering how often she’d invaded his dreams over the last three months. “I’m Jesse Sinclair,” he explained at her startled look. “Your fiancé is designing my house. On Hundred Acre Isle?” he added to jog her memory, since he obviously hadn’t left as memorable an impression on her. “You sat in on my meeting with Stanley back in February”—to take notes, he’d thought, since she’d brought a notebook and pencil. But though she hadn’t said another word beyond a warm “Nice to meet you” at being introduced to him as Cadi Glace—Stanley’s fiancée and the daughter of his deceased partner, Owen Glace—Jesse had certainly been aware of her as he’d spent the next two hours explaining to Stanley exactly what he wanted in a house.
“Pooh Bear,” she suddenly blurted.
Her gaze dropped to the box she was holding, but not quickly enough to hide the soft blush creeping into her creamy white cheeks. “I mean . . .” She looked up, exposing an irreverent smile. “Winnie the Pooh? He lived in Hundred Acre Wood with Piglet and Eeyore and Tigger?” she added when he frowned. Her smile turned warm. “The few times Stanley took me to your island to check out building sites, it was all I could do not to run around looking for pots of honey hidden in hollow logs.” She shrugged her free shoulder. “I developed the habit years ago of imagining my father’s clients as whatever fictional characters I thought matched the homes they wanted designed.”
And she’d decided he was a roly-poly, slow-witted teddy bear?
“Yes. Well,” she murmured when he still said nothing, hiking her balloon-anchoring purse higher on her shoulder and heading to his truck. “I guess I will—”
Jesse had her pushed up against the camper before she’d even finished gasping when the car suddenly exploded, surrounding her in a protective embrace just as the percussion reached them with enough force to pop several of the balloons. He stayed pressed against her, waiting to see if anything else might explode, and tried not to notice that Cadi Glace felt even better in the flesh than in his dreams. Casually dressed in slacks, a long-tailed chambray shirt, and flats, she was a bit taller than he remembered, and definitely . . . curvier.
“Well, that took care of that problem,” she said, her tentative push making him step back when he realized he was still holding her. She moved away from the camper and shifted her purse to look past the balloons at her burning car. “I guess I will take that ride. Well, damn,” she muttered when she spotted the white box sitting on its side in the middle of the road.
Jesse walked over and crouched down to pick it up, seeing through the plastic cover that the round layer cake saying Happy Birthday, Stanley was no longer round. He gave the box a quick jostle to re-center the cake and stood up. “I’m sorry. It’s not as pretty but should still be edible.” He held it toward her. “Feel free to blame me when Stanley asks what happened.”
She took the box and headed for his truck again. “Please don’t apologize for graciously choosing to protect me instead of the cake.”
Jesse managed to beat her to the passenger side, but instead of getting in when he opened the door, she opened the back door, set the cake and her large purse on the backseat, then began wrestling the balloons inside—sighing when another one popped as she quickly closed the door to keep them from escaping. “I can’t imagine what else can go wrong,” he heard her mumble as she climbed onto the running board and slid into the front seat, only to hold up her hand when he tried to speak. “And don’t even think of apologizing for my crappy day.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said dryly, closing her door, then jogging around the front of the truck. But instead of getting in, he looked down the knoll at the car to see it was completely engulfed in flames. Doubting the fire extinguisher in the camper would do much good, Jesse pulled out his cell phone and opened his door. “Can I call it in now? It’s definitely totaled.”
She leaned forward to glance in her outside mirror. “I suppose you should.”
“Where do I tell them it is?”
“A mile outside of Whistler’s Landing on Bog Road.” She looked at her watch and sighed again. “They’re going to make us wait until they get here.”
Jesse called 911 and reported the burning car, assured the dispatcher no one was hurt, then got in his truck. “Leaving the scene of an accident is a serious crime.”
“That wasn’t an accident. It was attempted murder. That crappy car’s been out to get me since the day I bought it.”
“Naw,” he drawled. “I figure the most they could charge it with would be assault.”
Those arresting blue eyes snapped to his.
“It did wait until you were a safe distance away before exploding.”
Instead of the smile he was looking for, her eyes narrowed with her scowl. “Actually, now that I think about it, many of my troubles today are your fault.”
“Stanley said he had to spend all evening working on the Sinclair project because you were arriving this Friday, so I was forced to move his surprise birthday party to the office,” she explained, swatting at a balloon creeping along the ceiling between them. “But when my engine quit and what I thought was steam started billowing out the front grill, I let the car coast down the hill, thinking I could add some water from the bog to the radiator. Only when I lifted the hood and the engine burst into flames, I decided to roll down all the windows, grab the cake and balloons, and start walking.”
“You don’t have a cell phone? If you didn’t want to call the fire department, you could at least have called one of your party guests to come get you.”
Of all things, that got him a smile. “I cherish my friends too much to subject them to one of my little snits, and figured I’d be calmed down by the time I reached town.”
“Can I ask what you had against the car? It looked to be this year’s model.”
“It’s an old lady’s car,” she shot back. “And it’s been a lemon since the day I drove it off the lot. I told the dealership there was something wrong with the electronics, but they kept insisting that because the car I traded in had been nine years old, I couldn’t possibly understand the new car’s sophisticated technology. And that I shouldn’t,” she added, her scowl returning, “worry my pretty little blonde head over it.”
Jesse pretended to check his side mirror to hide his grin. “If they were going to be condescending chauvinists, why didn’t you have Stanley talk to the dealership?”
“Because I am perfectly capable of fighting my own battles.”
“May I ask why you bought an old lady’s car?”
“Because Stanley said the sporty red Mercedes convertible I wanted wasn’t practical.”
Jesse decided that Cadi Glace in a “little snit” was even more appealing. Not that he should be surprised, having found the woman a beautiful anomaly the first time he’d met her—which, now that he thought about it, was probably why she kept haunting his dreams. There’d been a distinct I-know-a-secret sparkle in those intelligent blue eyes when she’d politely shaken his hand three months ago only to then spend the next two hours as silent as the furniture. But when she’d stood up to say good-bye and dropped her sketchbook, he’d caught a glimpse of two of the pages before she’d snatched it up and quickly closed it, and discovered that instead of taking notes the woman had spent the entire meeting . . . doodling.
Definitely a talented artist. One of the sketches, he now realized, had been of a tipped-over honey pot inside a hollow log. But it was the larger drawing on the opposite page that had vexed him at the time—and still did—as he couldn’t imagine why she’d drawn a large, scruffy dog covered in mud and busily chewing on a tattered boot.
He’d give a year’s salary to know what had been on the other pages. Hell, considering her little confession of likening clients to fictional characters, he would buy Miss Glace that sporty red Mercedes for just five minutes with that notebook.
Jesse heard the tired-sounding wail of an off-key siren not ten seconds before an ancient fire truck came barreling around the curve up ahead, followed by a parade of pickups and cars—as well as two equally ancient men on bicycles pedaling furiously to keep up. “That was quick.”
“Not really,” she said on another sigh, “since there are probably more police scanners than televisions in town, which everyone listens to with bated breath waiting for something exciting to happen.”
It was nearly an hour later when the parade of vehicles Jesse was now part of reached what he could only describe as a classic Maine fishing village that hadn’t quite made it into the twenty-first century. A bit remote for tourist traffic, businesses evidently had to diversify to stay afloat, as Whistler’s Landing’s financial district consisted of a post office/convenience store/gas station, a diner/lounge/ice-cream parlor, and a gift shop/hardware/feed store. There was a large white building sporting a sign claiming it to be the Grange, the requisite bell-towered church, and a one-bay fire station attached to the town office. The residential section boasted a good two dozen homes crowded up against the rock-bound cove spilling in from the Gulf of Maine, at the center of which was a small working pier to service the three lobster boats bobbing on their moorings.
In truth, Jesse was surprised the town was even on his navigation device.
“There’s a large area down behind the office where you can park,” his passenger said as Jesse took his turn stopping at the intersection that didn’t even have a stop sign. “The driveway circles the building, so you don’t have to worry about turning the camper around to get out.”
Jesse looked left and right, not exactly sure which way the office was, since he’d come in from the direction of Castle Cove the few times he’d been here—on the slightly wider but no less crooked road he still had to haul the camper across. Oh yeah; he’d definitely let his eagerness to see his house overrule his usually sharp mind. “Which way?” he asked.
“Just follow everyone,” she said, gesturing to the right, “since they’re all going to the party.”
So he’d gathered while standing in the peanut gallery watching the volunteer firemen efficiently douse the flames on the definitely totaled car. Miss Glace, however, had elected to remain in his truck while dealing with the sheriff and then receive blow-by-blow updates from the small gathering of female friends crowded around her. She’d also elected to ride into town with him despite those friends offering her a lift—Jesse presumed because she didn’t want to battle the balloons again. “Won’t everyone descending on Stanley before you get there ruin your surprise?” he asked as he turned right.
“My car could have exploded right in front of the office and he wouldn’t have known, because he always closes the blinds and locks the door and plays opera music loud enough to rattle the windows when he’s drafting.” Her snit apparently over, she shot him a smile. “Since my father took Stanley on as a partner five years ago, I swear that poor old building has settled another six inches into the ground.”
Instead of turning down the driveway when he spotted the peanut gallery reassembling in front of the familiar building, many of them now carrying pans of food, Jesse stopped in the middle of the road. “I’ll just drop you off and come back on Friday as planned,” he said at her questioning look. “I don’t want to crash your party.”
“But you’re supposed to take the blame for the cake. And why come back in two days when you’re here now?”
“I’d feel guilty for ruining Stanley’s evening, and I can’t wait until the party winds down for him to show me the plans, because I’d rather not drive that road to Castle Cove in the dark.”
“Then just spend the night in the back driveway.”
Jesse shook his head. “The camper is supposed to be loaded onto a barge tomorrow morning, and I still have to stock it with supplies.”
And there was that I-know-a-secret smile he remembered, the one responsible for making those large blue eyes sparkle. “I happen to know there are two architectural models in there with your name on them,” she said in a conspirator’s whisper as she nodded toward the office. “One of your house, and the other one showing it sitting on Hundred Acre Isle.” She leaned closer. “And I also happen to have a key to the room where he keeps them.”
“You’d sneak me in even though Stanley told me he doesn’t like showing clients anything until he’s certain a design works?” Jesse countered in mock surprise, deciding Cadi Glace in a playful mood was even more appealing. Which had him wondering if there might be something in the Maine air that was responsible for producing such interesting women, since his two sisters-in-law certainly hadn’t wasted any time captivating Sam and Ben.
Miss Glace gestured toward the driveway when a horn honked behind them. “It’s the least I can do after you graciously protected me from my exploding car.” That sparkle intensified. “Trust me, Mr. Pooh, the moment you lay eyes on those models you’ll not only see a home that works perfectly but one that belongs tucked up against that southeast-facing bluff.”
That surprised him, as he’d always pictured the house sitting on top of the high ridge at the north end of the island, where it would have a three-hundred-sixty-degree view. The horn honked again and Jesse put the truck back in gear. “Well, Ms. Rabbit, you definitely know how to catch a man’s interest.”
“Rabbit?” she repeated, her smile disappearing.
“If I remember correctly,” Jesse said, watching in his right side mirror to make sure the camper didn’t run over any partygoers as he turned down the driveway, “didn’t Winnie the Pooh have a scheming buddy named Rabbit?”
That sparkle returned. “Ah, yes, Rabbit. If I remember correctly, he was the brains of the operation,” she said, deadpan, escaping out the door before he even shut off the engine.
Unable to stifle a bark of laughter, Jesse quickly got out and hustled around the front of the truck to find Cadi Glace scowling again as she eyed the remaining balloons pressed up against the window in eager anticipation of being set free. He gently nudged her out of the way, determined to hold on to the elevated position of gracious hero rather than slow-witted bear. “You bring the cake and I’ll battle the balloons. I promise not to let them go even if the sea breeze sends us soaring over the trees.” He stopped with his hand on the door and slashed her a grin. “Will you come find me if I get carried off?”
She arched a delicate brow. “I guess that would depend on whether or not you have a check in your wallet for the second installment on your design.”
Oh yeah; there definitely had to be something in the air around here, as Jesse couldn’t remember the last time he’d dared to flirt with a woman who wasn’t at least sixty years old.
But then, Cadi Glace was safely engaged.
“I guess you’ll have to hunt me down to find out,” he said as he opened the door. He lunged at the strings tied to her purse when the balloons shot forward in a mad dash to escape, and this time Jesse heard himself sigh at the sound of two sharp pops when the stiff sea breeze drove them into the corner of the door.
“That room isn’t getting unlocked until you take the blame for the cake and the balloons,” she said, ducking the swarm to reach past him when he straightened.
“What have you got in here?” he asked, holding up the heavy purse when she backed out with the cake. “Rocks? A small red Mercedes sports coupe?”
“I wish,” she said, rolling her eyes as she started up the driveway. “I’ve got two bottles of wine in there.” She shot him another smile as he fell into step beside her. “And a small brick of modeling clay, so I can add one final detail to your island before you show up this Friday.”
“You build the models? Stanley doesn’t source those out?”
“Why would he do that when he has me?”
“Because during my search for an architect, I was led to believe fabricating architectural models was a specialized field, and small firms like Glace and Kerr hired that out.”
“They usually do,” she said dryly, “unless the architect happens to have a young teenage daughter he can teach to build them for free.”
“You don’t get paid?”
“I finally wised up by age sixteen,” she said with a laugh. “So trust me, Mr. Sinclair; I will definitely hunt you down if the balloons carry you off, because a good chunk of that check in your wallet will be going into mine.”
Jesse decided he was buying a compressor and bottling up the air on his island to take back to New York. And instead of sending flowers after his next date with Pamela, he would have a bottle of Maine air delivered the day before, and see if it didn’t get the woman interested in talking about something other than her latest shopping trip to Paris. “Then if I don’t want to spend the night stuck in a tree with a bunch of deflated balloons, I probably shouldn’t mention that I mailed the check to Stanley last week.”
“Come on, Cadi, hurry up,” a woman called out, carrying a huge rectangular pot as she walked down the driveway toward them, a wild-haired, sun-weathered gentleman shuffling along beside her. “We need to plug in Elmer’s chowder to reheat it. Your car blowing up set us back a good hour, and everyone’s starved.”
“Them fools wanted to dig out the plastic spoons and eat it right outta the pot,” the man said, having to raise his voice over the muted blare of music coming from the building.
Jesse perked up. “Would that be clam chowder?”
“If’n it ain’t got clams in it, mister, you ain’t eating real chowdah.” He started shuffling back up the driveway. “That fancy rig of yours is a tad big to be hauling across Bog Road, don’t yah think,” Elmer continued—Jesse recognizing him as one of the bicycle-pedaling madmen. “If’n you was coming from Ellsworth, yah coulda just gone another two miles and taken Clancy Lane. It’s a mite longer but a helluva lot straighter.”
“So I’ve been told,” Jesse murmured. Five times, actually, by members of the peanut gallery as they’d stood watching the flames being doused.
The sea of hungry people parted when the four of them rounded the corner of the building, opening a path to the door. “I hope you realize, Cadi,” an elderly woman said, “that your car exploding was a sign you shoulda gotten that fancy Mercedes you wanted.”
Miss Glace passed the cake to a nearby empty-handed gentleman. “Don’t worry, Doreen, I always take something trying to kill me as a sign.”
“Hey, what happened to the cake?” the man asked, scowling down at the box.
“Apparently Mr. Sinclair isn’t a fan of chocolate,” she said, reaching toward Jesse with a smug smile. “The office key is in my— Darn,” she muttered, dropping her hand. “It’s hanging off the ignition of my crappy car. Okay, everyone; turn around and no peeking,” she instructed, bending over to the sound of several snorts as not one person turned away. She lifted an edge of the welcome mat and straightened holding a key. “Thank you for not starting without me,” she continued, sliding the key in the lock and cracking open the door.
But instead of going inside, she looked back at everyone. “I’ll go upstairs while you all squeeze into the front office. Try to get settled before he shuts off the music so he won’t suspect anything.” She took the cake back from the gentleman and frowned in thought, then looked at Jesse. “Except you, Mr. Sinclair. You can stay in the lobby, and I’ll get Stanley to come down by telling him you decided you couldn’t wait until Friday. Okay, people, it’s party time,” she said brightly, stepping inside.
Using his choke hold on the remaining balloons to control them while trying not to trip over the strings of the ones that had popped, Jesse rushed in behind her and immediately stepped to the side to avoid being trampled as he recalled the last party he’d attended. He’d bet a year’s salary that even though the elegant birthday bash Pamela’s socialite parents had thrown her had probably cost more than two Mercedes, he was going to enjoy this party a whole lot more.
Especially the clam chow-dah.
It was a good thing the music was loud enough to rattle the windows, because a herd of elephants would have shaken the building less when what Jesse suspected was the entire population of Whistler’s Landing raced to the front office. Or rather, quickly shuffled to the office, as he didn’t see one person under sixty years old in the group. Her face glowing with anticipation, Miss Glace headed across the lobby, only to momentarily still in surprise as she set the cake on the reception counter. She then continued to a door on the back wall and opened it to reveal a stairway, but halted again and shot him a brilliant smile. “Well, Mr. Sinclair, consider yourself aptly rewarded for today’s heroics,” she said over the even louder music, gesturing to her left and then heading upstairs.
Spotting something painted deep blue peeking out from behind the counter, Jesse untangled himself from the balloons and set the heavy purse on a nearby chair as he rushed forward—only to also go perfectly still at the sight of the large, detailed model of Hundred Acre Isle. Immediately drawn to the southeast-facing bluff that he knew rose nearly twenty feet above the high tide mark, he could only stare at what was undeniably a state-of-the-art home that appeared to be constructed of concrete, steel, and glass.
He was absolutely stunned. The house was in fact so unpretentious, it was hard to tell where the island ended and the concrete began, as the bluff itself seemed to make up the entire rear wall of the long, gently curving structure. But despite being all but lost in the hundred acres surrounding it, he could clearly see the roof—which cantilevered out over half again its width as it rose to a full two stories at one end—was almost completely covered in low-growing shrubs. And the exposed southeast-facing wall, rising from a stone patio running the full length of the house, was made entirely of glass.
He was going to have to stop betting away his salary, because it was going to take every penny he earned over the rest of his life to pay for all that concrete and glass and what he was afraid might be stainless steel trusses, and another lifetime to cover the labor costs. Hell, he could probably have a cargo ship built cheaper.
His chest tightening with some indefinable emotion, Jesse reached out and gently ran a finger along the tiny roofline that rose like a deep ocean wave just about to crest. The house was so much more than he had envisioned—more beautiful, stunning, organic, so . . . perfect.
But how was that possible? How could an unassuming architect hidden in a remote Maine town, with only a two-hour discussion and half a dozen emails asking Jesse to elaborate on something from their meeting, design a home which shouted—no, unpretentiously whispered—that this particular configuration of concrete and steel and glass, sitting on this particular bluff, was the heart and very soul of Jesse Sinclair?
Either Stanley Kerr was a genius or the man had a pact with the devil.
No; not even the devil himself could have—
“What is that noise?”
Startled out of his spell, Jesse turned to see an elderly woman frowning up at the ceiling as she stood in the doorway of the front office. “Does anyone else hear that banging and squeaking mixed in with the music?” she asked no one in particular.
“Sounds to me like there’s already a party going on up there,” a man said as people started spilling back into the lobby.
Jesse looked toward the open door leading upstairs while listening along with everyone else, and finally realized that embedded in the blaring music—which he recognized as Wagner’s Tannhäuser—was the rhythmic thump and accompanying squeak of . . .
Christ, those were bedsprings. His chest tightening again, this time with the realization that Cadi Glace’s day was about to go from crappy to devastating, Jesse started toward the stairs only to stop when the music suddenly stopped.
The thumping and squeaking, with labored breathing and soft moans now clearly audible, continued on for several heartbeats before ending abruptly with a startled feminine shriek and male shout of surprise. Jesse looked over to see the peanut gallery frozen in place, every last one of them staring wide-eyed at the ceiling. He started forward again just as a succinct, distinctly male curse echoed down the stairway, but stopped with his foot on the bottom step when the same man growled, “Paula, get me out of these damn cuffs! Jesus, Mark, help her!”
The ceiling shook when what sounded like several people suddenly sprang into action, the footsteps accompanied by male and female voices muttering curses—not one of those voices sounding as though it belonged to Miss Glace.
Jesse was just starting up the stairs again when she suddenly appeared at the top, her face pale but for the two flags of red darkening her cheeks and her expression completely unreadable. Uncertain how involved to get in something that was absolutely none of his business, Jesse backed away when she calmly started down toward him, deciding to stay out of it unless things got physical. Well, if Stanley got physical. But if Miss Glace felt like taking a swing at the stupid bastard, Jesse sure as hell wasn’t stopping her.
“Cadi!” Stanley shouted, sounding like he was trying to put on his pants while hopping after her. “Dammit, Cadi, don’t leave. Let me explain!”
She exited the stairway only to suddenly stop and blink in surprise, as if she’d forgotten everyone was there.
“Cadi, what’s going on?” an equally pale-faced woman whispered.
“Who all is up there?” another woman asked. “What did you see?”
Seriously? They hadn’t figured it out? No, the men had, Jesse realized when he noticed every last one of them staring down at their feet.
The whole building shook again when a small herd of footsteps came tromping down the stairs. “Cadi!” Stanley shouted as he burst into the room, the arm contorted over his head trying to find the sleeve of his shirt being hampered by the handcuffs dangling from his wrist. Stanley jerked to a barefooted halt when he saw everyone, only to be knocked forward when three . . . no, four . . . no, five people in various states of undress came barreling out of the stairway behind him to the collective gasp of the female portion of the peanut gallery.
The townsmen merely remained mute and motionless, but instead of staring at their feet were now eyeing Stanley’s party guests—most likely focused on one of the ladies in particular, who was wearing a tight leather corset under a partially buttoned man’s shirt. But Jesse would bet two years’ salary it was the hot pink dildo strapped to her pelvis that really had their attention.
“What are all you people doing here?” Stanley snarled, still wrestling with his shirt while also trying to keep his unfastened jeans from falling down.
The woman who had been carrying the pot of chowder earlier, her face the color of cooked lobster, strode up to the counter and flipped open the pastry box, pulled out the ruined cake, and held it up for him to see. “Gee, Stanley, I can’t imagine why your fiancée would sneak all your friends in here today of all days.”
Speaking of Miss Glace, Jesse scanned the room looking for her.
“Happy birthday, you no-good, cheating pervert!” the woman added in a shout, winding back and hurling the cake at him.
Stanley managed to duck enough that it only hit his shoulder, sending chunks of cake flying toward his fellow perverts as they also ducked to avoid being hit. But Miss Pink Penis, apparently too short to see it coming, took a large piece of cake directly to the face, which sent her stumbling back with a shriek of surprise, her flailing arms taking two of her buddies with her.
And Jesse could only helplessly watch as all three of them slammed into Hundred Acre Isle, upending the chairs it was sitting on and exposing a second, larger-scaled model sitting on the floor beneath it—giving him a quick glimpse of his beautiful house before both models were crushed under the weight of the woman and two men landing on them.
Stanley abandoned his shirt with a muttered curse and turned to help untangle his friends from the mess of splintered wood, plaster, and dried modeling clay. “Are you hurt, Paula? Mark? Jason, your arm is bleeding. Why don’t you guys go upstairs, and I’ll be up in a minute.” He waited until they started up the stairs, the man named Mark with his arm around the sobbing Paula as she pulled tiny trees out of her hair, then rounded on his utterly silent audience. “Jesus, Beatrice, there’s no need to get violent.”
“Don’t you go cussing at me, Stanley Kerr,” Beatrice snapped. “You’re the one carrying on like a godless heathen with no regard for your sweet, loving fiancée.”
“This is between Cadi and me.” Stanley angrily gestured behind him. “And if you’re so worried about her feelings, think about the fact that you just caused three months of her work to be destroyed. I’ve never known Cadi to be more excited about a client seeing one of her models, and now she has nothing to show Mr. Sinclair when he gets here Friday.”
“Actually, Mr. Sinclair is here now,” Jesse said, smiling tightly when Stanley turned to him in horror. “And I don’t know if any of you noticed, but Miss Glace is not.”
Jesse turned into the grocery store parking lot in Castle Cove just as the sun was setting. He pulled to the far end of the lot and shut off the engine with a tired sigh, then sat staring out the windshield at the whitecaps frothing beyond the breakwater that protected the small fleet of recreational and working boats crowded inside the small harbor. He couldn’t see Hundred Acre Isle from this vantage point, but his contractor had assured him the well and septic system, generator, and gravel pad for the camper were all in place.
And even though he knew his own mood probably wasn’t even close to what Cadi Glace must be feeling right about now, he was more than ready to crack open a cold beer and see the ass-end of this crappy day.
Two seconds; all he’d gotten was a two-second glimpse of the larger-scale model of his beautiful house before it had been crushed beyond recognition. And feeling it really wasn’t appropriate to hang around and ask to see the plans, considering everyone—Stanley included—had been worried about Miss Glace, Jesse had waited only long enough to learn she hadn’t run down to the pier and jumped in the ocean. Her response to Beatrice’s text message asking where she was had said she was fine and wished to be alone. A second text had arrived after Beatrice had asked if she would like a ride home, in which Miss Glace had reiterated she was fine and promised to call tomorrow. A third text had said she was shutting off her phone.
Cadi was a levelheaded woman, Beatrice had assured Jesse as they’d stood on the sidewalk watching the silent exodus of shocked townsfolk, and she wasn’t at all worried her friend would do anything crazy. The petite, sixtyish owner of the gift shop/hardware/feed store had also apologized for causing his models to be destroyed and promised she’d apologize to Cadi the moment she saw her. She’d then glared at the upstairs windows and gone on to assure Jesse that everyone in town would help Cadi through this ordeal, just as they had fourteen months ago when the poor girl had walked into the office one morning to find her father slumped over his drafting table, his body long cold.
Yeah, well, her friends might not think she’d do anything crazy, but Jesse figured Miss Glace wouldn’t be in any hurry to call 911 if Glace & Kerr Architecture were to suddenly catch fire, either. Hell, considering it had been the scene of two recent heartbreaks, he wouldn’t be surprised to hear the woman had set a match to the building, opened all the windows, and walked away just like she had her car.
Damn. Did Stanley keep copies of works in progress at home, or at least backup his computer to a cloud or off-site storage device? For that matter, did he even use a computer for drafting? Wait; maybe Miss Glace had a set of his plans. She’d brought clay with her today, which implied she fabricated the models at home.
The same home she shared with Stanley and would be in no hurry to return to?
Jesse pulled the key out of the ignition, grabbed the folded piece of paper out of the cubby on the dash, and got out of the truck, deciding he must be more tired than he realized to be letting his imagination run wild. A levelheaded woman did not torch a building simply because she’d walked in on her fiancé carrying on like a “godless heathen.”
Apparently Whistler’s Landing didn’t have many opera enthusiasts; not if they thought Stanley was painstakingly drafting detailed house plans whenever he locked the door and played Wagner’s decidedly rapturous Tannhäuser. And they truly must spend their time listening to police scanners instead of watching television, considering how long it had taken them—well, at least the women—to guess what had been going on upstairs. Although to be fair, it hadn’t been until he’d heard all the footsteps that Jesse had realized it was a full-blown orgy.
He walked down the length of the camper, momentarily stopping to inspect the tires, then continued around the back and up the other side, making sure none of the thousand potholes he hadn’t been able to avoid had done any damage. Seeing nothing more than a good amount of road dust on the ditch-side tires, he unfolded the paper and scanned the grocery list his cook had handed him before he’d left Rosebriar.
He couldn’t help but grin, remembering Sonya packing boxes with dishes and various cooking paraphernalia for the camper while giving him a lecture on eating nutritious meals, which she’d ended by threatening to have Peg—Rosebriar’s former cook, who had followed Sam to Keelstone Cove and subsequently opened her own restaurant—drive over an hour down the coast to make sure Jesse’s cupboards weren’t filled with junk food.
He’d told the motherly woman he hoped Peg brought along a boat.
Jesse frowned when he spotted the unfamiliar handwriting on the bottom of the list, then snorted when he realized who it belonged to. It would appear the ever-interesting Miss Glace had passed her time waiting for the firemen to finish putting her car out of its misery by snooping through his truck, and had added large pot of honey to his grocery list.
Not the least bit apologetic for where his mind started heading—he was a man, after all—Jesse wondered how long it might take a woman to get over such a public humiliation, as well as how long before she might consider dating again. Because instead of stealing occasional visits to the island this summer like he’d planned, maybe he’d work on clearing his calendar when he got back to the office. Hell, if Sam and Ben could have the corporate jet shuttle them back and forth for meetings they needed to attend in person, he might as well begin his own ritual of commuting to work at the speed of sound.
And when he returned next month, he should probably pay Miss Glace a visit.
No, he’d better get back here in two weeks, just in case some of the local men also realized those sparkling blue eyes and delightful curves were suddenly available. Yeah; surely two weeks was enough time for an intelligent woman to decide that today’s little disaster had probably saved her from a lifetime of crappy days.
As for Stanley Kerr . . . well, he hoped the stupid bastard knew a good model-building firm if he couldn’t sweet-talk his ex-fiancée into recreating the ones that had been destroyed, because Jesse knew for a fact the check paying for them had already cleared the bank. He stuffed the grocery list in his pocket with another tired sigh, deciding to grab a frozen pizza and cold six-pack of beer and leave the rest of his shopping for the morning. But he stopped in mid-stuff, his fatigue suddenly vanishing when he spotted two deflated balloons dangling from the bottom of the camper door.
Well, this was . . . interesting. In his line of business, sneaking onboard a vessel to get from point A to point B was a serious crime. Hell, it could even be fatal. And despite Abram Sinclair knowing firsthand the risks people were willing to take to get ahead in this world, the international shipping company the old wolf had started nearly five decades ago with nothing more than a thousand dollars and a fondness for taking outrageous risks had purposefully garnered a reputation for not tolerating stowaways.
Shanghaiing a person like they had Willa’s brother-in-law three years ago, however, was perfectly acceptable if it happened to be a Sinclair putting the idiot on a slow boat to Italy.
Was Miss Glace right now hiding in the closet, listening to see if he was going to enter the camper or go directly to the store? But Jesse suddenly bolted for the door at the realization there was an equally good chance she was passed out cold from hitting her head on something during any one of the times he’d dodged a monstrous pothole.
He vaulted inside without bothering to lower the steps and immediately tripped over the huge purse sitting just inside the door, his curse lost in the sharp pops of bursting balloons as he fell and nearly slammed his own head into the kitchen island counter. He cursed again when he spotted his stowaway lying faceup on the floor in the narrow space between two of the camper’s retracted slide-outs, and he quickly scrambled to his feet.
“Cadi, are you okay?” he asked, dropping to his knees beside her.
“I will be just as soon as this stupid camper stops moving,” she said tightly, not opening her eyes as Jesse carefully brushed the curls off her forehead looking for bumps or blood.
Damn; she had to be concussed if she thought the camper was still moving. “Where are you hurt? Did you hit your head?” he asked, gently lifting one of her eyelids.
Both beautiful blue eyes snapped open as she jerked away. “I’m not hurt.”
Jesse sat back on his heels. “Then why are you lying on the floor?”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Janet Chapman
“Janet Chapman is a keeper.”—Linda Howard, New York Times bestselling author
“Chapman continues to maintain a great blend of magic, romance, and realism in a small-town setting; tales in the style of Barbara Bretton’s popular books.”—Booklist