- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Josie Winston punched in the alarm setting on the store security system and turned off the outside lights. It had been a busy day in her bookstore, Ink. She loved it when the fall lists came out. Her store was busy from opening until the last browser left. But the sales rang up and that meant Ink would be in the black again this month. A crooked smile lifted one corner of her mouth as she thought about the profits building up in her beloved bookstore. Her grandfather had left her a legacy and the twenty-eight-year-old business graduate and book lover had turned his bequest into a growing, thriving business over the last five years. It hadn't always been easy, but it had been Josie's dream and she'd worked hard to make it become a reality.
But there was much more work to be done before her day was over. Josie tugged the heavy box off the dolly she'd used to wheel it from the delivery area to the display stand while waiting for her final two customers to make a decision. Deftly flicking out the blade on the box cutter, she slit open the packing tape and pushed back the cardboard flaps. No matter how many times she did this, her heart still flip-flopped like a netted trout when the bridal magazines arrived each month. Mesmerized by the impossibly beautiful bride-model on the cover, Josie once again found herself sinking into her past. As she fanned sightlessly through the pages, the years slipped away until suddenly it was six years ago.
Josie, heart pounding a mile a minute, stood in the church narthex. From a picture perfect June day to the decorations in the ballroom, everything was matchless. Her sister, Emily, and her bestfriend, Lori, stood beside her waiting for the musical cue that would send them down the aisle. Down the aisle to where her beloved Paul waited for her, thought Josie. She'd loved Paul Boyer as long as she could remember. And today she would marry him and spend the rest of her life with him. The memories were so strong, even six years later, that she could hear the music. Just as the bridal processional began, Lori leaned forward and tucked an errant tendril of curly, auburn hair back up into Josie's headdress. Josie's hair had always had a mind of its own and her wedding day was no different.
"There, you're gorgeous," murmured Emily. And she was. Always a runner, Josie's beauty was from healthy fitness with skin that glowed with vitality. While not more than medium height, her auburn hair and green eyes always had attracted male attention. But Josie had only had eyes for Paul.
Josie's joy had been intense. She'd loved Paul with all her heart for so long and now she was sharing her life with him. But her happiness, while incredible, was short-lived. Just a week after their first anniversary Paul had disappeared without warning. A week later, she'd been served with divorce papers by a nameless process server. The only reason given was the cold, unfeeling irreconcilable differences. Within a few short months, she'd received a divorce decree. And she'd never seen Paul since.
"Thus ended the fairytale," she stated matter-of-factly to the empty store. With a resolute shrug, she focused on getting the magazines on the shelf for display. The bridal magazines were always a good seller for her as the young women preparing for marriage sought out all the advice they could find. Josie could have given them some down-to-earth advice based on her own personal experience, but she couldn't bear to end their happiness. Besides, there were plenty of people who did find lifelong joy in their marriages. Look at her own grandparents and parents, she reminded herself sternly.
Half an hour later, Josie was leaving Ink. As she locked the back door, she heard an unusual sound. She couldn't clarify exactly what was making stealthy scuffing sounds. She peered into the murky darkness beyond the small circle of light at Ink's back door. Like the other the merchants downtown, Josie had her own parking space in an alley that ran behind all the stores. It was handy to have the parking so near, but it could be unnerving at night. Maybe it was just the stray cat she'd been feeding for the past couple of weeks making the noise. She felt her heart rate accelerate as she considered that it could also be thieves. While Millerton wasn't a huge city, it wasn't far from Toronto and it was big enough to have its share of violent crime.
Carefully, Josie looked around, preparing herself, in case someone leapt out at her. She'd been studying tae-kwon-doh for the past three years and was now a first-level black belt. A woman today could never be over-prepared, she believed.
The sound repeated, but this time seemed more open and less covert. As Josie balanced lightly on the balls of her feet and breathed evenly in and out, she looked towards the scuffling sound. She saw the outline of a tall man in a long duster making his way towards her. He moved effortlessly and silently, until he had to step sideways suddenly. Then his oilcloth coat brushed against the brick of the building, creating the sound that had attracted her attention in the first place. "Josie, is that you?" The man's voice was not too deep and carried to her easily.
"Yeah," she answered. "Marsh?"
"Sure is," he had a grin in his voice now. "Is this your kitten?" Without pausing, he gently scooped up a scrap of dark grey fur that had been twining through his legs and stepped forward into the glow cast by the security lights at the back of the store. The tabby began to purr immediately.
"She likes you, it seems." Josie grinned. "It's not just anyone who can get Ali to purr, you know."
"Well, that's just what I call her. She's been living back here and I've been feeding her for the last little while. She was so tiny and hungry when she showed up here." Josie tilted her head as she considered the large man cradling the tiny kitten in one hand. "I took her to the vet and got her shots."
"Wait just a second," Marsh started to protest. He looked down at the humming bundle that was so light he could barely feel it. The kitten's green eyes shone up at him. "You know, this kitten has the same color eyes as you do. Maybe I should call her Josie, too."
Though he couldn't see it in the dim light of the alley, Josie blushed a becoming pink. "Oh, somehow I think you'll find Ali suits her just fine," she said, suddenly feeling like a tongue-tied teenager.
Although Marsh MacAllister was her best friend's brother, he was a couple of years older than Josie and Lori. He'd gone back to the family's home in Virginia to university while Josie was busy falling in love with Paul. Apparently, Marsh had also served a stint in the Marines or was it the Navy Seals? Josie couldn't recall which. She just remembered he'd been on what Lori called missions. Now he was back and he'd recently opened a private investigations office just down the block from Ink .
Marsh's voice was quiet in the twilight of the alley's dim lights. "I was just heading home after a long day. How about you?"
"Actually, I thought I'd stop over at Millerton Memorial and check on some kids who're in there. I have a couple of books I thought they might like." She held up a package. "I think Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory will outsell even Gone With the Wind, eventually."
His laugh was genuine. "Well, I still imagine The Cat in the Hat is a pretty close second." With a grin and a wave, he started away, with Ali still purring happily in his hand. He stopped and turned back. Just over six feet tall, he easily topped Josie by head and shoulders as he looked down. "You weren't planning on taking J.T. home with you were you?" he asked suddenly.
"Well," he shrugged and held the kitten near his face. She took advantage and rubbed happily against his jaw, purring even louder. "I still think her eyes are exactly the same green as yours. So, she's Josie Too or J.T." He paused and looked down at Josie. "That is, if you don't mind."
For a second time, Josie felt a blush racing across her cheeks. This man seemed to instinctively know what would touch her most. "Of course not," she answered. "But, you'll probably have to take her to the vet in a couple of months for surgery."
"Well, I've always been a responsible pet owner." He was grinning again. "Besides, I think J.T. will be just the company my dog, Justice, needs. When I can't bring him to the office, I feel like he sometimes gets lonely. Well, see ya."
Without giving Josie a chance to do more than keep on blushing, Marsh was gone. Josie stood looking after him for a few moments. She'd never really paid much attention to Lori's tall, gangly brother. When Lori's father had been transferred to Toronto, the whole family had moved to Millerton. Josie and Lori had immediately become friends, spending all their spare time together, growing up and going through boyfriends and college together.
Marsh was older and besides, there'd always been Paul taking up all the space in Josie's heart. But she could see how Marsh had become a strong man - both inside and out. His height of course made him stand out. But it was the strength in his face that had surprised Josie. His cool blue eyes had obviously seen many things, some of them very unpleasant, but they had warmed instantly at the sight of the tiny kitten in his hand. The scar that bisected his left eyebrow had lifted with his smile and the square line of his jaw hinted at his stubborn nature. His short, dark hair was just beginning to show hints of grey at his hairline.
She wondered why he had returned to Millerton,. He'd spent so much time traveling the world, this bedroom community must seem pretty tame to him. He wasn't much older than she was, Josie mused. Was he married? That random thought shocked her. Eventually after Paul's abandonment, Josie had begun dating again. But the spark of interest had never been kindled. She'd met lots of nice men and dated her fair share, but she'd never mourned the end of any of the relationships the way she had when she realized Paul wasn't coming back. Why did she even care if Marsh was married or not?
When Josie realized she was standing gathering wool in the dim light of the alley, she quickly checked that Ink's door was firmly locked and headed for her car. She wanted to drop off a Dr. Seuss classic, The Cat in the Hat she'd promised to young Sarah Turner who was bored by her confinement to the hospital after a recent appendectomy. Along with the fun, rhyming book for the eight-year-old girl was the Robert Munsch classic The Fire Station. Together with the two children's classics in the bag was tucked this month's copy of "Workout" magazine for Pete O'Connell. He'd been badly hurt in a motorcycle accident a month earlier and was working hard at regaining use of his left leg. She knew he'd read it from cover to cover.
By the time Josie arrived home, she was exhausted. She took a moment to feed her own two Persian cats, Watson and Holmes, and sifted through her mail. There was another notice for a registered letter. That made the fourth one in as many months. Every time she signed for the letter and picked it up from the post office, it was just an envelope with a European post mark and stuffed with a handful of currency. Once, it had been French francs, the next time British pounds and the last time, Deutschmarks had filled the plain white envelope with a general delivery return address.
She sighed and tucked the notice in her purse. She'd saved all of them, hoping whoever was sending them would discover he or she was mailing to the wrong address. Maybe they'd send for the money and she could return it.
In the meantime, Josie felt too tired to cook, but she was very hungry. "Shall we check the fridge?" she asked Holmes and Watson, who sat beside one another on the couch grooming faces and feet now that they'd eaten. She pattered into the kitchen and looked in the refrigerator. Nothing appealed to her. She knew what she wanted - a nice, medium-rare steak with all the trimmings. It had been a long day with just a bagel for breakfast and a salad around noon. Well, there was only one place in Millerton for the perfect steak and that was Shore Lines, the steak and seafood restaurant on the beach at the far end of town. Millerton was built around a lake and so, while not large in population, the city had a lot of space, spread out as it was around the shores of Lake Orion. It made it great for tourism and for the tourist dollars that poured into downtown businesses from April until late November.
In a few minutes, Josie had changed from her work clothes into a pair of well-worn but still presentable jeans and her favorite silk blouse. A braided leather belt and tasseled loafers completed the look. She pulled her shoulder-length hair back and confined it with a tortoiseshell clip, then grabbed her leather jacket from the closet. It was getting cool at nights, now, and she'd be glad to have it later.
"See you in a while, guys," she called out to the cats who hadn't moved off the couch. They blinked at her.
Josie swung into the parking lot and found a space close to the door. She'd had enough walking around in the dark for one night, she decided. As she walked into Shore Lines, her mouth began to water. Pungent herbs scented the air, teasing her taste buds mercilessly. Automatically, her eyes flickered across the elegant dining room to the linen-covered table in the corner that had always been hers and Paul's. As usual, it was taken. But, even if it was free, the maitre d', Jason, had been a close friend for years. He'd never have seated her there. Tonight there was just one person at the table, a man, but the table was set for two.
How often had Paul waited for her at that same table? She couldn't help but wonder. She remembered the last time they'd been at that table. It was their first anniversary and Paul had booked their favorite table. He'd wined and dined her, and then they'd danced. She recalled the warmth of his arms around her as she swayed to the music that wrapped around them. He'd taken her home and made love to her for hours. The next week, he was gone, leaving nothing but his memory behind.
And then, as if the past had suddenly become the present, the man stood and turned towards her, smiling a welcome with that special smile reserved just for her. He reached out with one hand towards her. It was Paul!
Copyright © 1998 by Libby McKinmer
Years later, Josie's made a comfortable, uncomplicated life for herself, and a success of her bookstore, INK, in Millerton, her small home town near Toronto. She's well-liked and respected...and more than a little attracted to her best friend's brother, Marsh.
The handsome ex-Marine is now a private detective who has loved Josie since they were teenagers, but Paul was always in the way, and she loved him. Now, Marsh feels it's time to renew his friendship with Josie, and maybe even win her heart, and it's going well...until Paul turns up like proverbial bad penny. Only this time, he's brought with him his supermodel wife, Angelique.
Although emotionally shattered by the way Paul and Angelique treat her, Josie maintains her calm exterior. She focuses, instead, on Marsh and their growing relationship, which begins to turn into something deeper and lasting...until rumors begin that Josie's stalking them, bent on taking revenge on Paul's new wife.
When Josie's accused of murdering Angelique, it's up to Marsh to uncover the truth.
Can Marsh and Josie survive being Betrayed by Love?