Read an Excerpt
Dr. Sienna Maxwell was trying hard to ignore the ridiculously good-looking man on the other side of the greengrocer. Then a burst of rich male laughter mingled with an elderly lady's girlish giggle made her glance up again. Casually elegant in a thin black V-necked sweater and tan pants, he could have been George Clooney's younger brother with his thick rumpled dark hair, warm brown eyes and engaging smile. As she watched, he made a kiwifruit appear from behind the ear of the pink-cheeked, white-haired granny who was, unbelievably, flirting with him.
Tucking back a long corkscrew of red hair, Sienna focused on the fat white bulbs and feathery green fronds of fresh fennel. Even though she had no idea how to cook them, she placed two in her shopping cart while still taking note of the man's every movement.
He placed the kiwifruit in the woman's basket, gently squeezed her shoulder and moved on, only to be stopped by a hearty greeting from a man with a beefy red face. Relaxed and cheerful, the Clooney look-alike cocked a hip and leaned on his cart to settle in for a chat as if he had all the time in the world.
A warning vibration burred in Sienna's jacket pockether phone alarm giving her a ten-minute reminder to get back to the clinic for her first patient of the afternoon. She'd rushed out during her lunch break to pick up a few specialty items she needed for a Thai curry because Glyneth and Rex were coming out from the city. Sienna had rashly promised her friends a special dinner, boasting she was going to cook it herself.
Distracted by snatches of the man's smooth deep voice, she found her gaze drifting across the store again. Now a woman in her thirties towing two young children had stopped to say a few words to him. While they chatted a retired couple waved and called out a greeting. He seemed to know everyone in town.
In stark contrast to her own situation. When she'd moved to the village she'd had a romantic notion of hosting casual dinner parties. Two months in, she still didn't know anyone she could invite over for coffee, much less spend Saturday evening with. She was simply too busy working to find the time to make friends. Oh, she had Oliver, but he was spending more and more time with his mates from school.
Sienna remembered she had a grocery list and checked it. Kaffir lime leaves, whatever those were. As she turned her cart toward the Asian food section, she cast a last covert glance at the dark-haired man. She didn't know if she wanted to be him, or do him. Not that she was in the habit of "doing" anyone. At least not in a long time. But there was something about this guy that was stirring her dormant hormones to life. How was it she'd been in Summerside for three months and never run into him before?
Dark eyes set in a tanned masculine face met her gaze across the central display of cut flowers. A small smile played around the corners of a mouth with just the right combination of angles and curves to be ultrasexy.
Heat rose in her cheeks at being caught staring. Sienna blindly pushed her cart forward, noting with clinical detachment her rush of adrenaline and increased heart rate. Get a grip. She was an adult, not a teenager. A doctor, with loftier thoughts than rampant sex among the squashes.
Abandoning her quest for lime leaves, she grabbed a plastic bag and filled it with whatever was in front of her. Just when her pulse was back to normal and she'd regained her composure, that deep low voice sounded not three feet away. He'd crossed the shop and was exchanging pleasantries with the woman standing next to her. Sienna forced herself not to glance over, but her nerve endings prickled with awareness. Then the female shopper moved along and nothing but two feet of air separated her and George Clooney's brother.
That was when she spied the Kaffir lime leaves on the shelf. Grateful for the distraction, she stretched her fingers out. Clooney reached for the same packet at the same time. Their fingertips touched. She yanked her hand back and the plastic container tumbled to the floor. She crouched to pick it up.
So did he, getting there first. Holding out the lime leaves, he said, "Here you go."
"Thanks." Meeting his gaze made the warmth rise in her cheeks. She scrambled to her feet before he could offer assistance, and, flustered, scanned the shelf. "There are more."
"Plenty," he said, dropping another packet into his cart. "Are you making curry?"
Sienna tucked back more wayward curls bent on escaping her loose ponytail. Recalling the complicated recipe she'd cut out of a magazine, she nodded. "Thai green curry. With chicken."
"You'll also need galangal, green chilies " As he spoke he took the items from the shelf, piling them up in one broad hand. "Fresh coriander, ginger "
Eyeing the unfamiliar ingredients, she was starting to wish she'd picked an easier dish to learn on. "No, please, I won't take those. I wanted to be adventurous, but I think I've bitten off more than I can chew. I've got a jar of curry paste I bought at the supermarket as backup."
"The bottled stuff is never as good." He hesitated, but only for a second. "Would you like to come to my house for dinner tonight? I'm having a few people over. You can be adventurous without all the chopping."
Sienna chewed on her lip. Say yes, you idiot. Are you kidding? I don't even know him. Just in time she remembered Glyneth and Rex. "Thank you, but I'm busy."
"I don't blame you for being cautious," he conceded. "But you can ask anybodyI'm a good guy."
"I don't doubt it after seeing you work this shop." The phone in her pocket vibrated again. Five minutes. "If you'll excuse me, I have to get back to work."
"Drinks are at seven o'clock. We don't usually sit down to eat until nine. So, will you come?"
"Seriously, I've already got plans."
"Next Saturday, then. Mark it down in your diary."
Sienna couldn't help laughing. "Do you have a dinner party every weekend?"
"I'm not sure if it's worthy of that title," he said with a shrug. "I make a big meal and whoever shows up scrambles for a place. If there are too many people I haul out the card table."
What a contrast to the dinner parties she and Anthony used to give in Melbourne. Formal events, planned weeks in advance with elaborate place settings straight out of Gourmet magazine. Catered mostly, because she never had time to cook and because among their circle of friends the competition to provide the fanciest food was so steep it was completely beyond her. Name cards, floral decorations, three different wineglasses and twice as many forks. She had never been relaxed enough to enjoy them. And she'd ended up positively hating them after she'd found out what Anthony and her so-called friend Erica had got up to in the pantry between courses.
Her smile faded. She still couldn't get her head around the fact that her marriage had broken up. That sort of thing wasn't supposed to happen in her perfect world. "I have to go."
"I'm Jack." He pulled out his wallet and withdrew a card, which he pressed into her hand. "Here's my address in case you change your mind."
She glanced at the card. Jack Thatcher, Linden Avenue. Before she could reply or tell him her name, an elderly manobviously hard of hearing, and holding a canespoke in a loud voice, one gnarled hand cupped behind his ear. "How ya going, Jack? The missus wants to know why you haven't been around for a slice of her lemon cake lately."
Sienna backed away, sliding his card into the side pocket of her purse. She hurried through the checkout and out of the shop. After crossing at the pedestrian walkway, she continued up the street, past the pet store and the chain grocery toward the clinic on Main Street at the end of the two-block commercial area.
Although the sun was still above the treetops, a light spring breeze made her glad of her jacket; here on the peninsula it was always a few degrees cooler than the city. But the tiny coastal town felt right for her at this point in her life. Professionally she'd made a significant career advance in becoming head doctor at the busy Summerside Clinic. And now her encounter with Jack Thatcher had left a pleasurable buzz in her veins, as though good times were just around the corner.
Bev, the well-groomed fiftysomething receptionist, was clacking away at the computer when Sienna entered.
Sienna greeted her and went through into the area behind the reception desk. There she paused and eyed Bev speculatively. Summerside was a small town, only around five thousand people. The gregarious receptionist could likely give her some background on the man she'd just met.
"Oh, Bev," she said casually. "Do you by any chance know Jack Thatcher?"
Bev stopped typing and swiveled her chair to face Sienna, unconsciously lifting her bejeweled fingers to groom her sleek blond bob. "Everyone knows Jack," she said with a little sigh. "He's famous for his dinner parties."
"Is he married?"
"Widower." Bev glanced around to see if anyone was close enough to hear, then lowered her voice a notch.
"His wife died in a light plane crash a few years ago. Terrible tragedy." She tilted her head to regard Sienna. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason. I met him in the shop just now." She never would have guessed there was heartbreak hiding behind that affable smile.
"A word of warning." Bev cast a knowing eye at Sienna. "Plenty of women have made a play for him, but he never dates. Ever. They say he's still in love with his wife."
"I'm not interested in him," Sienna replied quickly. "He seemed very friendly, that's all."
"He is friendly! With everyone. It doesn't matter if you're old, young, rich or poor, Jack would give you the shirt off his back. He's a great guy. He's just not a good prospect, if you know what I mean."
"He invited me to dinner tonight."
"Really?" Bev said, looking interested.
Bev would have gossiped all day long, but Sienna gave her a gotta-go smile and carried her shopping into the staff room. She hung her jacket in the closet and put the groceries in a corner of the kitchen counter where they'd be all right for a couple of hours. Peeking into the bag, she shook her head. She'd left the shop without everything she'd gone for. And ended up with a whole lot of items she didn't even recall putting in her basket.
All because a charming man with a smile like George Clooney's had locked eyes with her across a busy shop.
Jack wiped the sweat from his forehead with the hem of his T-shirt as he jogged up to his parents' single-story brick house. Knocking twice, he opened the door. "Anybody home?"
"Hello, darling." Hetty bustled out to greet him.
"Mother?" He did a double take. Her habitual attire was slacks and cardigans, her dyed blond hair styled in a neat chin-length pageboy. Today was the first time he'd seen her since returning from three months in Queensland. Now she wore flowing silky pants and a loose muslin tunic. Her hair, now gray, was chopped short.
She went to hug him but pulled back. "You're all sweaty."
"What did you do to your hair?" Jack propped his hands on his hips and walked around her in a circle.
Hetty brushed her fingers through the spiky cut. "Do you like it?"
"I've decided to own my gray hair." She smiled, her clear blue eyes shining. "To be my age, my authentic self."
"Really? Who have you been pretending to be till now?"
"I'm kidding." Jack laid an arm loosely over her shoulders. "I think it's cool."
"How was your trip?" she asked, smiling up at him. "You've been gone forever, it seems."
"Excellent. I highly recommend the tropics as a place to spend the winter." He let her go and followed her through the arched doorway into the lounge room. Steve was sitting in his recliner with a beer, staring out the window at the horse paddocks opposite. Smedley, his Jack Russell terrier, lay curled at his feet. "Hey, Dad."
"Jack," Steve grunted, but didn't get up.
Hetty huffed out a sigh. "He just sits there hour after hour, doing nothing. Sometimes I think we never should have sold the farm."
"How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. More than fine. Come into the kitchen. I just made brownies." Leading the way, she glanced over her shoulder. "How did Bogie take to living on a sailboat?"
"As if he was born to it," Jack said. "I came in to port every night and made sure he had a walk."
"So did you meet anyone while you were away?"
"No." Not while he'd been away. Even as he spoke his mind flashed to the woman in the grocery shop.
"That's funny." She frowned. "I had this hunch."
"Sorry, your mother's intuition is faulty this time."
Jack followed her into the small sunny kitchen permeated with the smell of fresh baking. A basket of wet laundry sat by the back door waiting to be hung on the clothesline.
"Steve keeps complaining I never bake anymore, so I gave in for once," Hetty said, slicing a row of brownies.
"He likes his sweets." Jack pinched a bar and took a bite. "With good reason. This is delicious."
"It's time for his annual checkup, but he keeps putting it off," Hetty went on. "His old doctor retired and he doesn't want to 'break in' a new one. I think he's scared the doctor will tell him to lose weight and get healthy."
"Do you and Dad want to come for dinner on Saturday?" Jack asked. "Renita and Lexie will be there."
"I'm going on a two-week retreat at the meditation center," Hetty said. "But your father can. It would be a relief to know he's not just sitting here brooding."
"Meditation, huh? This really is a new you."
Hetty's eyes shut. A beatific smile transformed her face, and when she opened her eyes again she radiated calm. "I feel so peaceful, I can't tell you. I wish Steve would try it." Her smile faded and her expression turned wistful. "He's not supportive. I think he feels threatened."
"He'll get used to it." Jack brushed the crumbs off his hands over the sink. "I'll go talk to him."
Jack put another piece of brownie on a plate and took it to his father in the lounge room. He noticed a plate with chocolate crumbs on the side table next to the re-cliner. And Steve's stomach bulging over his waistband. Hetty was righthe'd put on a few pounds since Jack had seen him last. "Here you go, Dad. What's up?"
Steve took the brownie and had a bite. "Your mother's turned lesbian."
Jack fought back a laugh. "It's just a haircut." He lowered himself onto the dark green brocade couch opposite and reached out to pat Smedley, who'd trotted over.