There’s never an invisibility cape around when you really need one.
I don’t write fantasy or paranormal or any other kind of book that might include such a thing—my gig is strictly historical romance—but that doesn’t stop me from wishing they really existed. And if they did, that I had one that I could stash in my purse for moments such as these. Times like this, when I’ve said or done something so mortifying that I just can’t bear the idea of anyone looking at me.
But since this kind of wish almost never comes true, I did the next best thing. I whipped my phone from my huge handbag and put on my best expression of horror.
“Oh, my God, I can’t believe this! My sister’s been trying to get in touch with me—she just texted that she’s stuck along the side of the road. Her car broke down.” I rose to my feet, grabbing at the napkin that had been resting in my lap before it could hit the ground. “I’m so sorry about this, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave.”
Maybe part of me was still holding onto hope that I hadn’t embarrassed myself beyond redemption—that maybe the total fox sitting across the table from me might look at least slightly disappointed that I had to take off. If so, that hope was in vain, because if anything, the sexy face only appeared to be relieved.
Not that I could blame him. Tonight hadn’t been the romantic frolic that I’d been fantasizing about ever since my best friend Sabrina—well, one of my best friends—had offered to set me up with a hot hematologist from the hospital where she worked. Tonight was meant to be the meet-cute, the warm-up act to the big event that was happening this weekend.
But it looked like this show was closing before opening night.
My date—and I was using that term loosely now—did not offer to come help me rescue my sister. He didn’t even stand up to acknowledge I was leaving. Matter of fact, he didn’t bother to put down his fork.
“Best of luck,” he mumbled through a full mouth of risotto. “Great meeting you.”
“Yeah, you, too.” I pushed the chair under the table with just a little too much force, rattling all the dishes and glassware on the table. The doc never missed a beat; he kept chewing even as he reached out to steady his glass of wine.
“Pig,” I muttered to myself as I walked away from the table, clinging to as much of my dignity as possible. I mean, was it my fault that the date was an utter disaster from the word go? Probably, yes. Was I as awkward as all hell? Definitely.
But still, that was no excuse for him to be so rude. Just because he looked like sex dripping from a stick didn’t give him the right to treat other people like they were the dirt under his very fancy, very expensive Italian leather loafers.
I made my way out of the restaurant and into the lobby of the ritzy hotel, pausing for a moment to catch my breath and get my bearings. I’d taken a YouRideIt to dinner, partly because I figured I’d be drinking, partly because I’d hoped the night might end with me not being alone . . . but mostly because I didn’t drive. That little factoid wasn’t such a big deal usually, but tonight, being stranded at a hotel in Savannah, almost an hour away from home, felt huge. And overwhelming.
I knew I should probably just go outside and flag down a cab to take me . . . where? To Sabrina’s townhouse? That was a possibility, though she was more than likely at the hospital, working a shift. I wasn’t going to get any taxi to carry me all the way to Burton, to the house I shared with our other best friend, Celeste. It was too far and too late.
So my options were taking said cab to another hotel, which seemed absolutely ridiculous, or checking to see if this lovely and fancy place happened to have a vacancy tonight. It wasn’t like I couldn’t afford it. I almost never splurged on anything, so I could’ve booked a month in the priciest suite in this place and never even blink.
There was only one small detail holding me back, and that was so silly that it didn’t even bear considering. Who cared if Dr. Dopey, formerly known as my date for the evening, spotted me checking into this hotel and realized that my reason for abandoning him at the table had been nothing but a clever ruse? He had it coming. I didn’t owe him a damn thing.
“Not a damn thing,” I said aloud, and then I pivoted on the balls of one foot, intending to march toward the reception counter with my head held high.
Instead, though—because I’m me—I slammed into something solid that was moving in the opposite direction. And before I could help myself, my stupid high heels—the ones I’d picked out for this evening and paid way too much money to own—okay, so maybe sometimes I did splurge—anyway, those shoes lost their contact with the shiny, highly polished marble floor.
The next thing I knew, I was flying through the air. Someone was shrieking, and it occurred to me that someone just might have been me. Then I was falling, and my head struck something hard and unyielding that would probably turn out to be the ground.
The world waved and shimmered around me, and the edges of my vision grayed.
“Oh, fuck, are you all right?” An unfamiliar but very attractive, very sexy male face came into my wavering line of sight. “Miss, hey, there, miss! Can you hear me? Can you see me? Are you okay?”
I wanted to open my mouth and say something witty—or maybe just something basically appropriate for once in my life. But instead, my lips formed words that my brain hadn’t approved.
“Hey, there, hot stuff. What’re you doing Saturday night?”
And then the world went dark.
Want to know what comes next?
Episode Nine is coming next Friday, October 22nd!
And we’ll find out who knocked Coral off her feet.
With a scowl and a glare into my rearview mirror, I shifted my car into park and hit the button to kill the engine. I’d just barely managed to fit my sensible little compact car into this tiny space, and I wasn’t entirely sure that the giant gas-guzzler SUV behind me wouldn’t ding me on its way out.
I’d had to park nearly a block away from Celeste’s shop because all of the spaces in front of Between the Sheets were already filled. I’d have said that was good news for my friend’s business, but I had a feeling it was just a typical Saturday morning on the main street of Burton. The town tended to bustle on weekends.
And yeah, I was in a little bit of a pissy mood. I wasn’t exactly sure why. Today was the third day in a rare five-days-off break, and considering how much sleep I was getting—a hell of a lot more than normal—I should have been floating through life, sprinkling freaking fairy dust from my hands. But instead, I was growling, grunting, and grumping.
Did I realize deep down inside that this state of mind had something to do with one Wesley Crane and my last awkward encounter with him? Maybe. Was I going to admit that to myself or to anyone else? I was not.
That day last week, I’d given myself a stern lecture all the way from Savannah to my house. I had been prepared to see him again—or so I had told myself. When Linc had greeted me at the front door, I had been cool and relaxed, pretending that I didn’t have a care in the world. I’d oohed and ahhed over the changes and the finished walls and floors. I had laughed at Linc’s quips and had generally been a delight.
But the moment I’d caught sight of Wesley at the top of the steps—I’d been about halfway up at that point—the gig had been up. I’d nearly tumbled down backward, and I’d no longer had control of my breath, my heart—or my words.
That had been abundantly clear when I’d sniped at him. I’d been so flustered and embarrassed that I’d used a casual text from Coral as an excuse to run away.
I had two choices now, as I saw it: I could pull up my big-girl panties and start acting like a grown-ass woman, pretending that I’d never met Wesley before, treating him like a stranger. Which he basically was, come to think of it. I hadn’t seen him since we were teenagers, and that meant everything that had happened to him since was a mystery to me.
Or I could sell the house and never have to see Wesley again.
With a smothered sigh at my own ridiculousness, I yanked open the door to Celeste’s shop and stomped inside. My friend was standing at the counter, and she glanced up with a frown at the sound of the bell over the door ringing.
“Oh. Sabrina.” She blinked, tilting her head. “I didn’t expect you so soon.”
“You said you needed me here ASAP,” I reminded her. “Your text said it was an event-planning emergency.”
“Well, I might have been a little dramatic when I said that,” she conceded. “It’s not so much an emergency as it is that I needed your input on a few decisions.”
I threw up my hands. “And you couldn’t have just called me? We could have video chatted. Saved me time and a tank of gas.”
“No, because I wanted to see you.” She grinned. “You know, sometimes it’s just nice to spend a few hours with your bestie.”
“Uh-huh. But we have a date this weekend to help Coral find a dress for her big premiere shindig, remember? You’re both coming into the city to stay with me and shop?”
“Well, sure, but maybe I wanted to talk with just you. I thought we could discuss Coral’s date situation. Have you talked to the hematologist yet? Is he interested in being Coral’s escort that night?”
Damn. I’d been so preoccupied with my own life that I’d neglected to reach out to the guy as I’d promised.
“Um, I’ve laid the groundwork,” I answered, using mental reservations to justify the fib. I planned to take care of it, and I’d do it the minute I went back to work.
“Okay, well—” Whatever Celeste had been about to say was lost as the bell over the door rang again, admitting a pretty woman with long dark hair in large sunglasses.
“Jenna, wow, great to see you. What a surprise.” Celeste rounded the end of the counter and crossed the store to greet the newcomer.
“Um.” She took off her glasses. “I just stopped to pick up the thing I ordered.”
“Yeah, of course.” Celeste nodded vigorously. “The peignoir you wanted for the romantic weekend Linc’s planning for you.”
“Right. That’s it.” Jenna’s smile seemed a little . . . relieved? But before I could I mull over that fact, I realized that I recognized her name.
“Wait a second. Your name is Jenna? And your husband is Linc Turner?”
“Guilty and guilty.” She offered me her hand. “You wouldn’t happen to be Dr. Hudson, would you?”
“Also guilty. But please, call me Sabrina.” I shook her hand. “Linc speaks of you often. I’m so glad to meet you.”
“He’s said nice things about you, too. And he’s kind of got a crush on your house.” Jenna rolled her eyes. “Which isn’t as unusual as you’d hope it would be. Also, I’ve heard Celeste talk about her best friends and all of the great work you’re doing for the benefit this Christmas.”
“I was saying to Jenna the other day that Coral and I are dying to get a look at the house, but that you won’t let us until it’s finished.” Celeste pretended to pout.
“You saw it in the before stage when I’d just bought it, and then you’ll get to see the massive transformation,” I told her and then turned back to Jenna. “What Linc’s doing there—it really is beyond my wildest hopes. Every time I get to take a look, I’m completely blown away.”
“He’s got mad skills, my man,” Jenna waggled her eyebrows. “And his team is incredibly talented, too. Have you met them all?”
“Uh . . . most of them,” I hedged, not loving where this was going.
“We had everyone out to our house for a barbecue last weekend, and I got to know some of the newer people.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “One of the guys in particular . . . he was telling me—” Jenna closed her eyes and shook her head. “Fuck it, Celeste. I’m crap at this kind of thing.”
I glanced from my friend to Jenna Turner. “What?”
Celeste groaned. “It’s not you, Jenna. This was all stupid. Men and their lame ideas.” Wrinkling her nose, she leaned back against the display case behind her. “Linc put Jenna up to this, and she recruited me to help.”
“What are you talking about?” I was bewildered.
“Wesley Crane.” Jenna wrung her hands. “Linc wanted to figure out a way to make sure you knew what really happened with Wesley all those years ago. And he thought maybe if I just kind of casually brought it up in front of you, maybe you’d listen.”
My cheeks went hot. “This was Wesley’s idea?”
“No, not at all.” Jenna shook her head. “This was totally my husband’s brainstorm. He has a huge heart and good intentions, but he doesn’t always stop and think.”
“If Wesley wants me to know something, he can just tell me himself,” I sniffed. “I don’t know why it even matters.”
“But you won’t stick around long enough to let him give you his version,” Celeste reminded me. “And Sabrina, seriously, you need to hear this.”
I rounded on her. “You already know?”
Guilt etched in her eyes, she nodded. “Jenna told me.”
For a long moment, I was silent, curiosity battling with stubbornness in my head. Finally, I shrugged.
“Okay. Tell me what you know. It’s not going to make any difference,” I hastened to add. “There’s no excuse for what Wesley Crane did to me back then.” Lifting my chin, I clenched my jaw. “Absolutely none.”
“Oh, my God,” I murmured, my arms tingling as I rubbed my hands over them. “That’s . . . it’s really true? You’re sure this wasn’t just Wesley spinning a pathetic story to get sympathy?”
“It’s true,” Jenna assured me. “Linc believed him, but he figured you’d have questions, so he did the research. There were a couple of police reports from years ago, when Wesley’s mom was still angry enough to report the abuse. Then there’s the death notice for Wesley’s father. It was right when he said it happened. It’s all legit, Sabrina. He didn’t know he would be leaving town that night. But he couldn’t risk his father finding them.”
From the vantage point of adulthood and new information, I remembered a few incidents now with new clarity. Wesley’s father had rarely been part of our lives, and when he had shown up, things had been tense. I recalled that when Wesley had vanished, my own dad had been thoughtful and sober, gently advising me to give my friend the benefit of the doubt. I wondered what Daddy would say now if I told him what I’d learned.
“I feel horrible for what I said to him,” I confessed to Celeste and Jenna. “He was trying to tell me, but I wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t see beyond my own hurt.”
“The good news is that you still have a chance to make up for that,” Celeste reminded me. “Wesley is here. Just a few miles away, putting in hours on your house. You could go out there and tell him . . . well, talk to him.”
“Does it even matter?” I wondered out loud. “We were kids. We were friends, but barely more than that. Life tore us apart . . . and maybe we should just forgive each other and move along.”
The other two women sighed in unison. “Sabrina, I don’t know you, but I’d have to wonder why you were so angry—and shaken—by seeing Wesley again if it really means so little to you.” Jenna patted my arm.
“You told us once that he was your first love,” put in Celeste. “You owe it to sixteen-year-old year to at least see if there’s something there.”
“But how do I do it?” I gnawed my bottom lip.
“I think you just drive over to the house, and you walk up to Wesley . . . and you ask him to tell you everything. You tell him you’re ready to listen.”
The idea of doing that made me break out in cold sweat. What if Wesley blew me off? What if he was angry about how snarky and mean I’d been? What if he told me that I’d never mattered enough to miss? What if he thought that I’d been making a big deal out of something that did mean that much?
But at the same time, beneath the terror and uncertainty beat a small yet persistent thrum of hope.
“All right,” I said at last. “I’ll do it. I’ll go see him. I’ll talk with Wesley.”
Okay, so I hadn’t exactly been looking for Sabrina Hudson in the fourteen years since we’d last been together. For the first year, not thinking about her had been a matter of self-preservation. It had hurt too much, caused me too much gut-deep pain to let my mind linger on memories of her deep brown eyes, the way her whole face lit up whenever I said something she found amusing.
And then . . . well, life had gone on as it does when you’re young and grappling to figure out basic shit like surviving high school, getting into college, and supporting yourself. If I’d thought of Sabrina, it had been occasional and fleeting, with the pang of regret a little more bearable each time.
When I’d seen the name Hudson on the schedule that Linc had sent out to the crew, sure, I’d thought about Sabrina and her family. But as I’d noted a moment ago, it wasn’t exactly an unusual last name. It hadn’t even occurred to me this project we were working—this incredible sleeping beauty of a house—might belong to my Sabrina.
Because that was still how I thought of her. In my mind and in my memory, she was still my Brina girl, the first one I’d loved, the person who I’d most suffered over when Mom and I left town.
She was staring at me now, and in her gaze, I saw a mix of confusion and trepidation give way to disbelief and wonder.
“Wesley?” She breathed my name. “Is it really—how are you—I mean, what are you doing here?”
Of all the questions I was sure Sabrina was about to ask, that hadn’t been the exact one I’d expected. I gave my head a little shake just to get loose of the cobwebs before I answered.
“I work for Kent and Turner. I’m on this project, restoring this—well, uh, I guess your house.” I lifted one shoulder. “How’s that for a hell of a coincidence?”
“Yeah, coincidence,” she echoed, her eyes still stuck to my face. “It’s been—God, I haven’t seen you in—”
“Fourteen years,” I finished for her. “I know. I figured I’d never see you again. Every now and then I check on social media to see if you’re there. I saw a profile that looked like it might have been you, but it was ten years old, and nothing after.”
Sabrina wrinkled her cute little nose, making me want to reach out a finger to stroke down its length and smooth those bumps.
“I don’t do social media,” she said. “It’s not my thing. I had a couple of accounts for half a year back in college, but I hated how it made me feel, so I got rid of them.”
“Ah, so that was you.” I grinned. “You went to Carolina for college, huh? Long way from Waukesha.”
“Yeah, that was kind of the point,” she shot back. “I wanted to start over, far away from everyone I knew back in Wisconsin. I was ready to stop being poor little Sabrina Hudson whose mom died when she was in kindergarten.”
“No one ever thought of you that way.” I frowned, thinking back. “At least I didn’t.”
“You were one of the few. Every year, I had to deal with a new set of teachers who handled me with kid gloves, like I might shatter. And every time there was something in school that involved mothers, everyone looked at me like I was going to have a meltdown. Like the reminder that I didn’t have one was going to break me.” Sabrina pressed her fingers to her temples as though she was holding her head together, and suddenly I remembered that was her stress tell—what she did every time she was grappling with something huge like a killer exam or bickering friends. I hated the idea that I was the one causing her angst right now.
“Hey.” I couldn’t help myself. I lifted my hand to brush her fingers away from her hairline. “It’s okay, Brina girl. Maybe the rest of them were idiots, but I always knew you were made of stronger stuff.”
For just a moment, her lips curled into the ghost of a smile, and her eyes met mine with a muted gratitude. And then she seemed to remember where we were and everything that had happened between us. She stepped backward again.
“Yes, you always said I was tough.” The smile turned brittle. “Guess that’s why you figured I could handle it when you left me without a word. You never looked back, did you?”
“Sabrina.” Slowly, I shook my head. “No. That wasn’t what happened at all. It was—I didn’t have a choice.”
“That’s bullshit.” She tossed her head, making her wavy black hair dance. “Everything is a choice, Wesley. You moved away without giving me any notice, any explanation at all. You could have dropped me a note. You could’ve sent me a text. But you decided I wasn’t worth the time or energy.”
“It wasn’t that way,” I began again, but she rolled her eyes and cut me off.
“It wasn’t even the fact that you skipped town the day after—” She stopped abruptly, biting her lip, and I knew what she’d been about to say. “But we were friends, Wesley. You’d been my closest friend since preschool. We went through so much crap together, and I thought you were the one person I could always depend on. In a sea of craziness, you were my reliable float. After you left—” She turned around, giving me her back, but the way her head bowed, I knew she was hiding tears.
That just about killed me.
Who knew that all these years later, Sabrina Hudson still had the ability to rip out my beating heart?
“Sabrina, you have to realize that if there had been any way for me to reach out to you, I would have done it. God, don’t you think it destroyed me, having to leave everything and everyone behind me when we left? And if you don’t know, after all the years we were friends, after I told you that night how much I cared for you, if you didn’t know that you were at the top of the list of people I’d miss, then . . .” I trailed off. “Maybe there’s nothing I can say.”
“I guess not,” she whispered, the sound muffled since she was still facing away from me. “And if there’s nothing left for either of us to say, then I’m going home.” She waved one hand, gesturing vaguely to the space around us. “Tell Linc I was here and everything looks fine. Tell him I’ll be back next week to check on the progress.” She paused. “Please.”
“Don’t you want to take a look around? Check out what we’ve done upstairs?” I hated that my surprise appearance was robbing Sabrina of the joy of watching her house come back to life.
“No, not now.” She turned toward the door, and once again, she held her head between her hands. “I just came off a long shift at the hospital, and I need to get home to sleep.”
There was so much I wanted to ask her. She worked at the hospital, so did that mean she’d realized her long-held dream of becoming a doctor? Where was she living now, while she waited for her house to be ready? How had the last fourteen years treated her? Was she married, living with someone . . . did she have a family to raise in this rambling old house?
But I could tell that she was on the verge of falling apart, and I knew that if I witnessed that, it would only make her resent me more. So I didn’t ask any questions. Instead, I stayed where I was, hooking my thumbs in the beltloops of my jeans.
“Okay, Sabrina. I’ll let him know.”
She nodded and reached for the doorknob, hesitating only a second before she stepped across the threshold.
“I didn’t know what happened to you, Wesley, and I always wondered. I’m glad you’re alive and well.”
Before I could respond, she was out the door, pulling it shut behind her. I listened to the sound of her feet on the porch and then crunching on the gravel of the drive, but I went back upstairs before the slam of her car door.
A few minutes later, I heard the familiar rumble of Linc’s truck, and shortly after that, he climbed the steps to find me.
“Got those nails,” he announced, tossing me a small paper bag. “But we need to order some more from the company because the local hardware store doesn’t stock them on a regular basis.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.” I rubbed the back of my neck. “I thought what we had on hand would work, but these will be better.”
“Agreed.” Linc squinted at me, frowning. “Was that the homeowner I passed on the way in? I slowed down to wave, but she just kept on going.”
“Yep.” Tension made me a little terse. “She came by to check on things, I guess.”
“Didn’t hang around very long, did she? Was she happy with what she saw so far?”
I hesitated, unsure of how much to say. “She didn’t get any further than the foyer. I went downstairs, and I think she was surprised that she wasn’t here alone.” I opened the bag and pretended to examine the tiny finishing nails. “Turns out that she’s someone I knew . . . a long time ago.”
“Oh.” Linc watched me, waiting for me to go on, and when I didn’t, when my face went hot, his eyebrows rose. “Ohhhh. Old girlfriend?”
“Not quite. Kind of, maybe. We were just kids, and things—didn’t end the way I’d hoped. Or the way she’d hoped, I guess.” I closed the bag of nails again, crimping the paper to keep them from spilling. “It’s a long story.”
“I’ve got time and a good ear,” Linc offered.
“That’s okay.” I shook my head. “I know you need to get home, and I’ve lost the light here, anyway. Mind dropping me at the office on your way?” All of us working on the house tried to share rides to and from the site to cut down on too many vehicles in the driveway.
“No problem.” Linc waited as I grabbed my tools and stood up to follow him down the stairs. “You know, that offer to listen isn’t going to expire. Any time you need to talk, I’m here.”
“Thanks. You’re a good guy, Linc.”
He paused at the back door, his smile wry as he dug in his pocket for the key to lock up.
“I wasn’t always, and that’s what makes me a good listener. I don’t judge, and I believe in second chances.”
I nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
But as we trudged to the pickup, I wasn’t thinking about Linc’s offer. Instead, I was hoping that maybe, somehow, Sabrina might also be an advocate of second chances.
It was unlikely. She didn’t seem disposed to hear me out or to understand what had gone done all those years ago in Wisconsin.
At least, that’s the way I look at things. Take today, for instance. Here I was at the end of a twenty-four-hour shift at the hospital, and by all rights, I should have been heading back to my condo to collapse into bed for a solid eight hours of desperately needed sleep. But instead, I’d turned left out of the hospital parking lot and aimed my car toward the small town of Burton, located about forty-five minutes due west of Savannah.
I wasn’t driving all the way into town today, even though I was tempted to pop into my friend Celeste’s adorable lingerie shop and shoot the breeze with her. No, my destination was about ten miles outside of Burton: I was driving to a picturesque little piece of property that boasted a small lake, two acres of wooded land, and over a hundred years of fascinating history.
Oh, and it also included a rambling old mansion that hadn’t been occupied for several decades. Seeing the beauty it could become hadn’t been easy, but I had a discerning eye for spotting potential, and this house had it in spades. I’d fallen head over heels for the place and made a rare impulsive decision. I’d forsaken the search for a cookie-cutter suburban starter home and committed to another year or two in my soulless Savannah condo in order to fund the rehab of my dream home.
Last month, the work on the bones of the house—the structural support, electricity and plumbing—had all been finished. This week, the company I’d hired to handle the historical rehab was supposed to begin working its magic, and I couldn’t wait another moment to see what they’d done so far.
Hence, the tradeoff. I was giving up sleep in exchange for a quick walk-through of my dream home.
It was late afternoon, so I wasn’t completely surprised to see that there weren’t any trucks in the winding driveway that led to the house. Was I a tiny bit disappointed? Sure. I wanted to think that the people I’d hired were giving my precious project all of their time and energy and attention, but the truth was that they probably had other jobs going on at the same time.
Anyway, being alone would give me a chance to really soak it all in without anyone there to rush me along or ask pesky questions. There you go—yet another tradeoff.
I let myself in through the front door only because I wanted the full effect of stepping into the magnificent foyer. I wasn’t disappointed. The walls were freshly painted in an updated shade of their original color, and the woodwork we’d selected for this space was already up, and even though it hadn’t been finished yet, I could already see how gorgeous it was going to be.
“Oh, baby,” I murmured. “You are going to be so beautiful when they’re done. I’d say we’re restoring you to your former glory, but I think it’s going to be even better than that. Kind of like getting a facelift that makes you look like a sexier version of your twenty-year-old self.” I giggled to myself, thinking of all the women who would line up for that kind of surgery.
Kneeling down, I ran my fingers over the baseboards and craned my neck to examine the molding that ran along the top of the walls, seeing in my mind’s eye the old photos one of my contacts at the county historical society had dug up for me, the ones that we’d used to make style and color decisions. It really was like the original, only better.
I was about to stand up again and make my way toward the kitchen when I heard footsteps upstairs. That was disturbing; if the crew had left for the day, no one should have been here. But there they were again: yeah, someone was definitely upstairs, and whoever it might be wasn’t making any effort to disguise his or her presence.
My mind raced through a number of possibilities, landing on the worst one first. I’d heard that sometimes vagrants or addicts or criminals scoped out empty houses and camped out there when they were fairly sure no one else was around. My place was pretty far off the beaten track, but still . . . if someone happened upon it, they might not like the idea of being chased away, and if they felt cornered or had a weapon, I could be in trouble.
I moved slowly, reaching into my purse and groping blindly. Like most women, I’d learned young the defense method of threading keys through my fingers, and if I could find them now, I might be able to buy myself time to get to my car. I thanked my past self for feeling safe enough out here that I’d left it unlocked. The door was just a few feet away, and if I could get to it silently—
And then the footsteps sounded again—this time louder and coming closer. My heart pounded, and sweat broke out all over my body. I tried to swallow, but my throat was bone dry. I took a deep breath and was about to make a run for the door when I heard a deep voice.
I looked up, lifting my eyes to the banister on the second floor where a man was staring down at me. I blinked, my mind darting this way and that as I tried to make sense of the stranger above me who knew my name.
It wasn’t Linc Turner, the co-owner of Kent and Turner, the historical restoration company I’d hired. I’d have guessed it was one of the men who worked for him, but I hadn’t met any of them. It might have been someone local to Burton—someone I’d met with Celeste or maybe through Young Survival Coalition, the breast cancer support network and organization where we both volunteered. But it wasn’t. Somehow, I knew I hadn’t seen this face in a long time.
But I didn’t know him. The familiarity was frustratingly fleeting and vague. I frowned, rising slowly as the guy who seemed to know me jogged down the steps. My keys were still in my hand, so if he turned out to be psychopath who somehow happened to know my name.
“I didn’t put it together . . . I mean, Hudson is a common name, right? But then I heard your car in the driveway, and when I looked out the window to see who was here, I knew it was you.” He took a step toward me.
I moved backward. “I’m sorry. I don’t . . .” My voice trailed off. “How do you know me?”
He was quiet for a moment, and then a half-smile curled his lips. My heart sped up again, but this time it wasn’t fear making my pulse race. It seemed that my body had realized who he was, but my head was slow to catch up.
And then he spoke, his voice low and husky.
Just like that, it all came flooding back to me, and I knew without a shadow of doubt who was standing in front of me.
Who is Wesley?
And how does he know Sabrina?
Read next week and find out!
Meanwhile, catch up on all of the steamy romance happening in Burton right here!
Enjoy a little taste of Fall in Love in a Small Town, coming September 28th!
Sexy underwear on a freshly washed and shaved body? Check.
Dress that’s just the right mix of flirty and fun? Check.
Sassy new hairstyle that makes me look sophisticated–at least I hope so? Check.
Taking a deep, cleansing yoga breath, I gave myself one more encouraging grin in the mirror before I turned away. I’d set up the files I’d brought home from the society’s document library on my kitchen table, and there was a bottle of my favorite shiraz breathing on the counter next to two brand-new wine glasses. I’d been going for serious-business-evening alongside the suggestion of let’s-have-some-fun. I hoped that I’d struck the right note.
The knock on the door made me jump, even though I’d been waiting for it. I shook my head to dispel some nerves and yanked open the door.
Jacob stood on the other side, one hand resting on the wall of my small porch. The light jacket he wore was faded and almost threadbare; I recognized it from our high school days. Back then, seeing him wear it had made me sigh and wish. But right now? The way it clung to arms that had gotten a lot more bulked up since we were teenagers? Total droolfest.
He was wearing old jeans, too, and I knew the way they fit him was going to tempt me to stare at his very fine ass all evening. That wasn’t going to be a hardship.
“Hey, Lib.” His eyes swept over me from head to toe, and was I imagining it, or did I see a flare of heat in his expression? If so, it was too fleeting to be sure. And when he bent to kiss my cheek in greeting, it felt like he was keeping things brotherly, not suggestive.
“C’mon in, Jake,” I invited, stepping back as I eyed the backpack he had over one sculpted shoulder. “What do you have there?”
“Notebooks, binders, my laptop, and a portable scanner,” he answered, dropping the bag in a kitchen chair and unzipping it. “Tools of my trade.”
“Of course.” I smiled, nodding at him. “You come well-prepared.”
He stared at me for a moment and then muttered something under his breath. I wasn’t sure what he said, but it sounded like Not really. Whatever that was supposed to mean.
“Can I pour you some wine? I’m going to have a glass.” I moved toward the counter to give myself a little room before I did something crazy. Something like wrapping myself around him and climbing his body like a tree.
“Um . . .” Jacob looked almost mystified by the question. “Uh, sure. Yeah, wine sounds good.” He sat down and pulled out his laptop. “Sometimes I forget that you’re not still an underage kid, Lib. I was about to ask you how you managed to get ahold of wine.”
I rolled my eyes, irritated. “Jesus, Jacob. I’m twenty-five years old. Just two years younger than you. Newsflash . . . I do all kinds of grown-up things now. I buy alcohol, own a car, rent a house, go on dates . . .” Inspiration struck along with a kind of reckless courage I hadn’t known I possessed. Circling the small table, I stood next to him, closer than I had to, and leaned over to place the wine glass on the other side of his computer. I angled my body just enough to give him an eagle-eye view down the scooped neckline of my dress.
Lowering my voice, I completed my sentence, staring him in the eye.
“I even have sex. Believe it or not.”
Jake’s throat worked, and his mouth dropped open a little. Without looking away from me–almost as though he was powerless to do so–he reached for his wine and took a long drink. When he spoke again, his voice was raspy.
“Oh, I believe it, Liberty. I totally believe it.”