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Justin Clay had always considered June 1 to be the true beginning of summer. The day that marked the transition from cold and dark to warm and bright.
And on this June 1, as the ferry from Hyannis churned into Nantucket Harbor under cloudless blue skies, he hoped that was as true for his life as it was for the weather.
Forearms resting on the railing, he took in the view as the ferry rounded diminutive Brant Point Light and the Coast Guard station. Boats of every type and size dotted the blue water below the tree-filled town, which perched on a gentle hillside in the background. The gold dome of a clock tower and a tall white steeple soared over the leafy branches, while weathered gray clapboard buildings with white trim predominated along the waterfront.
Lifting his face to the warmth of the sun, Justin took a deep breath. He'd wanted a complete change of scene, and this qualified. The tranquil, pristine vista felt a world removed from the violent, gritty backstreets of Chicago he frequented. Perhaps here, twenty-six miles from the mainland, on this fourteen-by-three-and-a-half-mile speck of land in the Atlantic Ocean, he would find release from the pain and guilt that gnawed at his soul.
As the ferry eased beside the wharf, Justin picked up his oversize duffel bag, slung his backpack over one shoulder and sent a silent prayer heavenward that when he boarded this boat again in three months to head home, he'd be leaving a lot of baggage behind.
Sliding a tray of mini-scones onto the cooling rack on the stainless-steel prep table, Heather Anderson checked the clock. 1:10 p.m. In less than an hour, thirty-four customers would be arriving for a proper British high tea.
Where was Julie?
As she cast a worried glance out the window, the gate by the garage swung open to admit her assistant, and Heather released a relieved breath. The Devon Rose might be a one-woman show for most of the day, but she needed help with the actual serving.
Pushing through the back door, her white blouse and black skirt immaculate even if her French braid was slightly askew, Julie sent her an apologetic look. "Sorry. I had a flat tire."
"No problem. I'm just glad you're here." Heather adjusted the oven temperature, strode over to the commercial-size refrigerator and pulled out a tray of mini-quiches. "Did Todd change it for you?"
"Yes. But I hated to wake him." Julie began arranging the scones on the second level of the three-tiered silver serving stands lined up on the counter, tucking flowers among them. "There was some kind of drug incident in the wee hours of the morning, and he was beat when he got home. But he didn't complain about the tire."
"And you've been married how long? Twenty years?" Heather shook her head as she took the lids off fifteen teapots in a variety of styles and arranged them on a long counter. "He's one in a million, Julie. Count your blessings."
"I do. Every day. But there are other good guys out there, too, you know." She sent Heather a meaningful glance.
"Maybe." Heather slid the quiches into the oven. "But they're few and far between. And based on past experience, not likely to come calling at my door. I'd have to beat the bushes to find one." She closed the oven door and turned to Julie. "And as far as I'm concerned, it's not worth the effort."
Justin hoisted his backpack into a more comfortable position, pulled the Nantucket town map out of the back pocket of his jeans and perused the maze of streets. In one more block he'd be at Lighthouse Laneand the cottage he'd be calling home for the next three months.
Refolding the map, he shoved it back into his pocket, hefted his duffel bag and continued down the sidewalk. As he'd already discovered on his trek from the wharf, unlike the dirty, decaying back alleys of Chicago, Nantucket was clean and well kept. The people he'd passed, many on bicycles, had been dressed nicely, and they'd smiled at him. A welcome change of pace from the suspicious looks he was used to, cast by questionable characters as they slunk into dark doorways.
Nantucket wasn't crime free, Justin knew. But he doubted he'd have to worry about double crosses hereor mistakes that could snuff out lives.
A lump rose in his throat, and he paused at the corner of Lighthouse Lane to blink away the sudden film of moisture that blurred his vision. With memories so fresh and raw, maybe coming to Nantucket hadn't been such a good idea, after all. Maybe he should have used the last three months of his four-month leave to veg. Rent a cabin in the woods and disappear. Or borrow a boat and hang out on Lake Michigan.
Yet prayer had led him here, back to his roots as a beat cop. He'd asked the Lord to help him find answersand direction. To give him some quiet time to work through the issues that weighed him down. So this summer job opportunity had seemed providential.
Things would be better here.
They had to be.
Crossing the street, he turned left onto Lighthouse Lane. His landlady, Edith Shaw, had said hers was the thirdand lasthouse on the right, and he had no trouble spotting the Federal-style home she'd described.
But far more impressive was the two-story structure on the corner. Constructed of clapboard, like the Shaw house, but painted white instead of yellow, it featured black shutters. Thanks to a Greek Revival roofline with a deep friezealong with a small, elevated, white-pillared front porchit had a grand, stately air. A discreet sign beside the door said The Devon Rose.
Squinting, Justin could just make out the elaborate script below the name: Serving Wednesday through Sunday. Sounded like a restaurant. And mere steps away from his new digs. Pretty convenient. Once he dropped his bags off at his cottage, he might come back here for a quick bite to tide him over until he stocked his kitchen.
His stomach growled, and taking the cue, he picked up his pace, passing a snug, weathered clapboard cottage with sage-colored trim that was sandwiched on a shallow lot between The Devon Rose and the Shaw house. The backyards of the two larger houses must adjoin in the rear, he concluded.
Continuing to Edith Shaw's house, he found an envelope bearing his name taped beside the doorbell. The note inside directed him through the gate in the tall privet hedge to a spacious private backyard. From there he followed a flagstone path across the thick carpet of grass to the cottage, which was surrounded by budding hydrangea bushes. It was tucked into the back corner, separated from The Devon Rose property only by the privet hedge.
As he'd been warned, the structure was small. But that was okay; he didn't require a lot of square footage. At six-one, however, he considered headroom important. He hoped the compact accommodations wouldn't be too claustrophobic.
Much to his relief, when he stepped inside, he realized the outward appearance had been deceptive. Or perhaps the sense of spaciousness was due to the vaulted ceiling. A queen-size bed stood in the far left corner of the room, while a small couch upholstered in hydrangea-print fabric stood against the wall to the left of the front door, a brass reading lamp beside it. An old chest, topped with a glass bowl of hard candy, served as a coffee table.
In the tiny kitchenette to the right, a wooden café table was flanked by matching chairs with blue-and-yellow plaid seat cushions. A quick peek confirmed that the bath was behind the kitchen. No tub, but a decent-size shower, Jason noted.
Setting his luggage on the polished pine floor, he spotted a plate of what appeared to be homemade pumpkin bread in the middle of the café table.
His stomach growled again and, stripping off the plastic wrap, Justin devoured one of the slices. But it barely put a dent in his appetite. He needed real food.
Rewrapping the plate of sweet bread, he freshened up and headed back out the door to the closest restaurant.
The Devon Rose.
"Table six asked for more scones. And nine wants a refill of Earl Grey." Julie swept into the kitchen carrying a china teapot.
Heather arranged three more scones on a small serving plate. "I'll deliver these if you'll handle the Earl."
"Will do." Julie headed toward the shelves above the counter, where an array of canisters held white, black, green, oolong and herbal teas.
Plate of scones in hand, Heather pushed through the swinging door into the dining room. As she emerged from behind the ornate wooden grill that blocked patrons' views into the more functional areas of the house, the calm oasis of The Devon Rose soothed her, as always. Soft classical music provided a genteel backdrop to the muted conversation and tinkle of silver spoons against fine china cups. Silk draperies at the tall windows and crisp white linen tablecloths helped absorb the echo produced by the ten-foot ceilings, marble mantels and polished hardwood floors in the three rooms where tea was served.
Here in the original dining room, a century-old hand-painted mural of a Tudor garden lent a touch of elegance. Her great aunt's antique mahogany table still stood under an ornate crystal chandelier and accommodated larger groups for special occasions. Today it was set for eight, and Heather stopped to exchange a few words with the guest of honor, who was celebrating her eightieth birthday.
Crossing the foyer, with its elaborate stairway that hugged the wall as it wound up to the second floor, Heather passed through an arched doorway into twin parlors connected by open pocket doors. Intimate tables for two lined the walls of both rooms, with a table for four in the center of each. Table six was beside the mantel on the far wall.
"I understand I have some scone lovers here." With a smile, she set the plate on the pristine linen, checking to confirm that the couple had a sufficient quantity of wild strawberry jam and the clotted cream she imported from Devon.
"My dear, they're divine! Just like the ones we had in Cornwall last year," the older woman gushed.
"Mighty fine," her companion seconded as he reached for one of the scones.
Heather made a leisurely circuit of the room, exchanging a few words with the customers at each table. As usual, she had a full house. Tea was by reservation only, and she was often booked weeks in advance. It was rare to have a no-show.
Today, however, table four was the exception to that rule.
A tourist reservation, Heather assumed as she passed it on her way to the foyer. Visitors to the island often changed their plans on a whim. That was one of the reasons she preferred her local clientele.
The front door swung open as she exited the parlor, and she stopped in surprise. Tea began at two, and it was well past that now. Perhaps tardy arrivals for table four?
But the tall, dark-haired man who stepped into the foyer was alone. Attired in jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt, he was nothing like her typical male customersolder men accompanying their wives. This guy was in his midthirties, she estimatedand very masculine. With brown eyes so dark they could pass for black, he was well built and radiated an intense, ready-for-action energy.
The tranquil mood in the tearoom suddenly shifted. The clatter of spoons and forks ceased, and an expectant hush replaced the quiet conversation.
If the man who'd crossed her threshold noticed the newly charged atmosphere, he didn't let on. Instead, he closed the door behind him and gave Heather a swift scan. She had a feeling he missed nothingfrom her black leather pumps and slim black skirt to her short-sleeved silk blouse, her single strand of pearls and the tortoiseshell barrette that restrained her shoulder-length light brown hair at her nape.
She'd call the look practiced, except that implied ogling. His sweep felt almost professional. Automatic. As if he were accustomed to assessing everyone he met.
When the silence lengthened, she arched an eyebrow. "May I help you?"
"I was hoping to get some lunch." One corner of his mouth hitched up into an appealing half smile.
To Heather's annoyance, her pulse accelerated. "I'm afraid we serve afternoon tea, not lunch."
He surveyed the dining room, giving her an excellent view of the chiseled planes of his face and the strong line of his jaw. All the women watching him seemed to smile in unison, Heather noted.
"I suppose I'm not dressed for a fancy place like this. But I'm hungry, and this was the closest spot serving food." Facing her again, his half smile edged up a notch. "I'm staying in Edith Shaw's cottage for the summer, and I just arrived on the ferry. I'm Justin Clay, by the way. J.C. to my friends." He held out his hand.
The police officer from Chicago, Heather realized as she moved forward. Edith had mentioned him.
At five foot six, she didn't think of herself as short, but she had to tip her head back to return his greeting. "Heather Anderson."
His warm, lean fingers closed over hers in a strong grip, and her breath got stuck in her throat. Talk about good-looking! Yet at close range, she couldn't help noticing fine lines radiating from the corners of his eyes, as well as fatigue in their depths. Both projected a soul-deep weariness that went way beyond physical tiredness.
Her conscience pricking, Heather wavered. She couldn't send him away hungry. Not when he was a neighborand she had an empty table. "You're welcome to stay, if tea fare will be sufficient."
The other side of his mouth hitched up to form a complete smile, and his fingers tightened for an instant before he released her hand. "I'm sure it will be fine."
Telling her heart to behave, Heather led the way to table four. "In general, we're fully booked. This was a rare no-show."
"My lucky day, I guess."
She turned to find him watching her. With some men, Heather might have interpreted that comment as a come-on. With this one, she wasn't certain. His neutral expression told her nothing. Nor did his eyes reveal the motivation behind his remark. It was as if he'd had a lot of practice masking his emotions.
"What sort of tea would you like?" She plucked a printed list of offerings out of a small silver holder on the table and handed it to him.
After a cursory scan, he passed it back. "What are the chances I could get a cup of coffee?"
She gave him a bemused look. "In a tearoom? None, I'm afraid. Sorry."
"Okay. Then I'll take your strongest tea."
Assam, she decided at once. It was full-bodied, robust and malty. They didn't have many takers for that potent brew. But she figured he could handle it.
"I think we have one you'll like. Your food will be out in a few minutes."