Read an Excerpt
Logan was a desperate woman. As she stood at the edge of the rest area overlooking Riverdale, nestled in a valley in Upstate New York, she admitted the stark truth to herselfshe had no place else to go. Where people cared about her, anyway. Her life was in shambles, her parents were completely unsupportive, as usual, and over the years she'd alienated most of the acquaintances she'd managed to make.
Except for Jess Harper, her best friend from college, the man who'd been her lifeline in good times and bad. Their estrangement hadn't been her fault. She could still see him in front of his mother's house, tears in his eyes, six years ago.
I'll let you go, Jaynie. But only if you promise me one thing. If you ever need me, really need me, you'll call or come to Riverdale.
Well, she thought, shaking her head, she really needed him nowenough to risk what could very well be a powder keg of reaction from his wife, even after all these years. Naomi Harper's jealousy was the reason Jayne and Jess had cut off all ties and agreed not to see each other. At first they'd exchanged e-mails, then their contact had dwindled to cards at holiday time. In some ways, Jayne felt like she'd lost a limb when Jess and his mother, Eleanor, were no longer part of her life.
Pushing away memories of Naomithey made her feel selfish for coming to townJayne got into the front seat of her rented Lexus and headed into River-dale. Its population was about twenty thousand, but the place had the feel of a much smaller town. It hadn't changed much, either, she thought as she drove along Route 17 and into the heart of the city bisected by the Chemung River, with its quaintstreets, old-school architecture and the glass factory's tall white tower. The edifice stood above the business area and blew its horn morning, noon and night, like a watchful parent guarding his children and calling them to work. Most of the townspeople had jobs in the factory or at headquarters, which she passed on the right. The beautiful black glass building rose up twenty stories, all sleek lines and interesting rounded corners.
Her heart began to thump in her chest as she turned off Sunset Boulevard and drove up Lexington Avenue, one of the many hills over which the population sprawled. She remembered when Jess had bought the big gray-shingled house on Second Street, near a park where his girls could play and surrounded by neighbors who had, of course, become his close friends. Everybody loved Jess and rightly so, given his generous nature and a sense of humor that could put anyone at ease.
Turning left, she pulled up to the curb and frowned. The house looked shut down. She knew he still lived here. She'd gotten a Christmas card from him only four months ago. Damn it, she should have called. But she hadn't forewarned her friend of her visit because she hadn't been sure she'd actually come to Riverdale until she arrived.
Sliding out of her car, warmed by the April sun, Jayne took the concrete path to the sidewalk, climbed the first set of steps and the second. The front porch faced the entire valley and held a couple of lounge chairs; she noticed a small bike and a big-wheeled scooter tucked into the corner. They belonged to his girls. Suddenly, Jayne needed to see solid, family-man Jess more than ever.
She rang the doorbell. No one answered. The blinds were all closed and the house felt deserted. Because she was an architect, buildings were her best friends and she had a sixth sense about them.
"If you're lookin' for the Harpers, they aren't home."
Jayne turned to find a man on the sidewalk below. "Excuse me?"
"Jess and his family. They're gone." He smiled. "They went to Disney World. Naomi won the trip from the Glass Works. Needless to say, the kids were chompin' at the bit to get there. Jess took them on their spring break from school."
With a heavy heart, Jayne descended the two sets of steps, aware of the sounds of children playing in the yard next door and a lawn mower buzzing down the street.
The man had dark hair and eyes, and a kind smile. He held out a beefy hand. "Bill Parks. I went to high school with Jess. Now we're neighbors."
"Jayne Logan." They shook. "Jess and I were in college together."
His brow furrowed. "Did he know you were comin'?"
She shook her head. "I should have called." Now what was she going to do?
"You know his mom, Eleanor?"
"Yes, very well, as a matter of fact."
"She's still livin' up on Fifth Street. Might be nice for you to go see her. She's probably lonely for Jess. They took the girls out of school early for a two-week trip."
As she often did, Jayne wondered what it would be like to live in a small town and have everybody know your business.
"I'd love to see Eleanor." She reached for her phone. "Oh, wait, I don't have her number in my contacts list."
"I think she uses her cell now."
"Eleanor has a cell phone?" Jayne couldn't picture the older woman with modern technology.
"Yeah, no grass grows under her feet. You know the address?"
Never would Jayne forget the house Eleanor lived in. A stately three-story structure, it sported slate-blue siding, black shutters and huge porches that wrapped around the back and sides. And there were those beautiful gardens. Eleanor had taught Jayne everything she knew about growing things, and Jayne had missed the flowers and digging in the dirt when she'd moved to California, where she only had time for work and sleep. "Yes, I know where Eleanor lives."
The trip over to Chestnut Street and up to Fifth took only ten minutes. As she caught sight of the house, a rush of emotion flooded her. The place was as beautiful as ever, but something else caused her heart to swell and tears to spring to her eyesmemories of the time she'd spent here in Eleanor's loving care, having in Jess the brother she'd always wanted. Since they'd both been only children, Jess had felt the same way about her.
She parked at the curb, exited the car and hurried up a walkway flanked by pink and purple crocuses and sunny daffodils. For a minute, she just stood in front of the double front oak doors and laid her hand on the smooth, cool wood. Then she pressed the bell.
Again, she rang.
Still, no answer. But contrary to Jess's house, this place was open and alive. Windows were raised on all three floors, allowing in the air, which in her mind had always meant the house was breathing in and out.
Maybe Eleanor was in the back, working in the gardens. She followed the brick path around to the rear and more of the flowers came into view, startling Jayne for a moment. So many colors. So many different varieties. Her favorites had always been the summer wild-flowers, but Eleanor preferred the roses. Because it was April, other plants bloomed now. Jayne couldn't remember all their names but did recognize the snapdragons and the purple and white irises. The blossoms filled the air with sweet perfume like nothing man could manufacture in a lab.
Eleanor wasn't working on the beds, and though the shed door was ajar, Jayne didn't see anyone inside. She glanced up at the back porch. The door to the kitchen was open to the screen. With more anticipation than she'd had for anything in a long time, she climbed the steps and called out, "Eleanor, are you in there?"
No one responded. Jayne put her hand on the knob and had pulled the screen open a few inches when she heard behind her, "Hey there, darlin', what are you doing?"
The deep rumble of a male voice startled her and she jumped back as if she were breaking and entering. Her heart beating at a clip, she pivoted to find a man at the bottom of the steps. A big, half-naked man.
She was standing in the shadows, and he was in the bright sunlight, so it took a minute for her eyes to adjust. Oh, God, it was Luke Corelli! Someone she'd known a lifetime ago.
"Sorry, did I scare you?" His eyes narrowed. She couldn't see their color, but she knew they were brown, deep and rich to match the mane of dark hair on his head and whorls of it on his bare chest. It was a chest that at one time she'd explored intimately. Her gaze dropped lower to the nicely corded muscles of his legs and work boots on his feet.
A chuckle. "Like what you see?" he asked.
Dear Lord, he didn't recognize her. But why would he? She was a different woman, both physically and in personality, from the one he'd known twelve years ago when they'd both been twenty-six.
She cleared her throat and moved into the sunlight. "Hello, Luke."
Every single muscle in his body stiffened. For a moment, he just stood there, staring up at her from the ground; then, slowly, he climbed the steps until they were on the same level. Jayne wanted to inch back but forced herself to hold her ground, despite the flinty look in his eyes that made her shiver. Trying to conceal her reaction, she threw back her shoulders and faced him down.
Finally, he said, "What the hell are you doing here?"
Luke stared at the woman standing before him. Dressed in a tailored beige suit, she was taller than he remembered and her demeanor made her seem more confident and formidable than the eager junior architect she'd been over a decade ago when they'd hooked up in New York City. And, damn it to ever-loving hell, she was even more of a knockout now. Dark-as-midnight hair, cut short and feathery around a flawless face. He'd told her she had Liz Taylor eyes. Once, he'd fallen for their combination of innate sophistication and vulnerability. But no more. Never again.
"I asked you what you're doing here?"
Jayne Logan had wreaked havoc in Jess's family, something Luke had only found out about after she'd left him. Discovering that little tidbit made him understand why she'd insisted on keeping her relationship with Luke a secret from Jess.
"I'm here to see Eleanor."
"What, after you abandoned her? It was hard for Miss Ellie when you stopped coming to Riverdale."
Warmth and humor filled those violet eyes. "I forgot you called her that."
A small dog came running around the side of the house and flew up the steps. It was a beautiful little Yorkshire terrier with black and golden hair on a long leash. Bending over, Luke scooped the animal into his hands. "Shh it's all right, Krystle."
"I see you're still living on the set of nighttime soaps."
Luke had a slew of sisters and, growing up, all of them had loved Dallas and Dynasty. As a hormone-crazed teenager, he got to watch Sammy Joaka Heather Locklearevery week, so he didn't complain.
"Forget about that." About everything he'd told her when he'd fallen like the proverbial ton of bricks for her.
"Explain to me why you're back in Riverdale after all these years."
She bristled and said, "That's my business," and nodded to the house. "Is Eleanor home?"
"No, she left for church right after I got here."
"That's right, it's Sunday."
"Don't go to church anymore?"
Not since the course of events in his life had destroyed his faith in a Supreme Being. To some degree, the woman before him had been a part of those events. "No."
"What are you doing here?" she asked. "Last I knew you were in New York, making mega bucks. You said you'd never come back to live in a small town."
"I changed my mind." To avoid telling her why, to avoid explaining the worst thing that had ever happened to him, he gestured to the other side of the porch, walked over a few feet and turned the corner. She followed. "I'm building that for Miss Ellie. It's done, except for the painting."
"It's beautiful. I love gazebos. There's this really nice one in Paris in the"
"Versailles Gardens. I know."
She cocked her head at him, a frown marring her brow. "You used to live overseas and traveled in Europe. I forgot about that."
Of course she had. This woman was very good at forgetting.
"How come Jess didn't build it?"
"For one thing, I like doing stuff for Miss Ellie and this is a gift from my whole family for her seventy-fifth birthday. Besides, it's already too much for Jess, trying to keep up with the flowers Miss Ellie can't get to, work, pitch in as Annie's soccer coach and do all the other things a husband and dad has to do."
"When will he be back?"
"End of the week."
Her eyes filled with something. Sadness, maybe, or was it fear? Whatever it was made them glisten like wet amethysts. And he remembered how the expression sucker punched him every time she got upset.
"He couldn't have known you were coming." Luke's tone was gruff, and he had to shake off the kernel of reaction forming in his belly.
"He didn't." She nodded to the house. "Nor does Eleanor."
There was noise inside, and then Miss Ellie came to the screen, dressed in her Sunday besta pretty pink suit, which set off her snow-white hair and still-sparkling blue eyes. "Luke, dear, I saw a Lexus parked out front. Did one of your female friends drive over to help you finish painting the gazebo?"
"Come onto the porch, Miss Ellie," he said gently.
Pushing open the screen, the older woman stepped outside and addressed the dog. "Hello there, Krystle. Having a nice time with Luke?" She glanced to the side and saw Jayne. "Oh. You must be a friend " Her hand went to her chest. "Oh, dear Lord, Jaynie. Jaynie!"
Jaynie's face transformed from stone-cut marble to soft sandstone. "Hello, Eleanor, I "
Suddenly, Jayne closed the gap between her and Miss Ellie and threw herself into the older woman's arms. From his vantage point, Luke saw Jayne close her eyes and hold on for dear life. The intimacy of their reunion made him feel like a voyeur.
Miss Ellie ran her hand over Jayne's hair. He remembered when it was longer and he could wrap it around his fist. "I'm so glad you're here," the older woman said. "I was praying for you just now in church, as I do every Sunday. God must have heard me today."
Still Jayne held on, as if she wasn't used to human contact.
Miss Ellie shot a worried glance at Luke. "Jaynie, are you all right?"
Jayne shook her head.
"Then you've come to the right place. Whatever it is, Jessie and I will help."
Luke could barely hear Jayne when she spoke. "I'm in trouble, Eleanor. Big trouble."