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by Beverly Jenkins

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A proposal she had no choice but to accept . . .

Though Eli Grayson is one of the most handsome, charming, and intelligent men in Grayson Grove, no one will take a chance on a confirmed bachelor. Unwilling to give up his dreams, Eli convinces his friend Jewel to pose as his wife. Their masquerade is to last just one night . . . but when word gets out, Eli

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A proposal she had no choice but to accept . . .

Though Eli Grayson is one of the most handsome, charming, and intelligent men in Grayson Grove, no one will take a chance on a confirmed bachelor. Unwilling to give up his dreams, Eli convinces his friend Jewel to pose as his wife. Their masquerade is to last just one night . . . but when word gets out, Eli and Jewel must tie the knot to save his career—and her reputation.

Became a love she never expected . . .

Angry at being forced to turn her life upside down, Jewel never imagined that a white-hot passion would consume her once she and Eli became husband and wife. Sharing a bed has turned their prim friendship into a sensuous love affair . . . but when a woman from Eli's past returns to stir up trouble, he and Jewel will learn just how far they'll go to protect the precious gem of their newfound passion.

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Chapter One

Grayson Grove
Cass County, Michigan
May 3, 1881

Surrounded by the Eden-like green of the countryside, Eli Grayson drove his horse-drawn wagon down the bumpy road toward town. Towering trees wearing the first fresh leaves of spring lined his passage and drew the eye up to a cloudless blue sky. Birdsongs filled his ears while the warmth of the early May breeze made the harsh raw winds of winter just a memory.

Eventually the road led out of the trees and into the sunlight and the landscape gave way to meadows filled with blooming wildflowers spread out like God's opened paint box. Taking in the beautiful vista, Eli knew of no other place he'd rather be than Grayson Grove. It was established in the 1830s by his grandparents who'd come from Carolina to what was then the Michigan Territory. Armed with their freedom papers and money enough to purchase land, courtesy of their dead master's will, they and the thirty other freed slaves who'd accompanied them founded the settlement Eli's grandmother Dorcas christened Grayson Grove.

Over the years the number of Grove residents had increased, making the settlement now a township, one of three all-Black townships in Cass County.

Back then, the only business in the clearing that became the town's center had been the Grayson General Store. Now, as Eli made his way down Main Street, in addition to the long-established Vern's Barbershop, Bates Undertaking, and the Grayson livery stood the doc's office operated by Eli's cousin-in-law, Dr. Viveca Lancaster Grayson. Other new enterprises serving the Grove were the seamstress shop run by Adelaide Kane, and theGrayson Lending Library founded a few years back by lifelong family friend Maddie Loomis. Nestled next to the library was the boarded-up storefront that once housed the town's newspaper, the Gazette. As founder and editor, Eli had worked tirelessly for nearly a decade to publish a paper the area could be proud of, but as the bigger nationally syndicated papers began to encroach on his territory, he had little money to invest in new presses or salaries to hire additional help in order to compete. He'd taken out bank loans and borrowed money from friends and family, all in an effort to keep the paper afloat, but last year he'd faced reality. Not only were his bank notes overdue, he couldn't repay his friends. Granted they knew he'd eventually make good on the debts, but he didn't know when, or how.

So, he sat on the wagon seat staring at what had once been his life's blood. It was his plan to reopen the newspaper, but like the repayment of his debts he had no idea how or when. Sighing with frustration, he took one last look at his boarded-up dreams then continued down the street to the general store.

For such an early hour, there were quite a few buggies and wagons tied up near the businesses he passed. Some of the people on the walks waved to him and called out, "Morning, Eli."

He waved back, sending them his patented grin. All were friends and neighbors, and each face represented a memory of growing up—like Mr. Welch, whose apples he used to steal, and Mrs. Potts, who used to rap him across the knuckles with a wooden ruler whenever he pulled some prank in school or forgot his homework. In spite of the uncertainties Eli faced with the Gazette, heloved the Grove and after having traveled all over the nation, it was still the only place he cared to be.

Miss Edna Lee had been running the general store since Eli was in short pants, and no one was kinder. Although she was in her sixties now and slowing down a bit, the New Orleans–born octoroon had aged beautifully and was, like all the other women in the Grove, smart as a whip. "Morning, Eli," she called out cheerily as the tin bell above the door announced his arrival. Her long silver hair was braided into two long plaits and secured low on her neck, another Miss Edna fixture.

"Morning, Miss Edna."

A chorus of greetings from the customers inside buying tools, farm implements, and other necessities also marked his entrance. He got a nod from the store's regulars, who were drinking coffee and watching the morning's checker game.

"When's Nate and the doc due back?" Aaron Patterson asked as he kinged his opponent, his twin brother Abraham, now scowling from his seat on the other side of the black-and-red board perched on top of an old cracker barrel.

Nate Grayson was Eli's cousin. He was also the Grove's mayor and sheriff. The doc was his wife, Viveca. "Not for another month," Eli answered, taking his coffee mug down from where it hung on the pegboard near Edna's front counter. Most of the adults in the Grove had a mug hanging in the store. Nate and Viveca were in California visiting her parents. With them on the trip were their fourteen- and fifteen-year-old daughters, Magic and Satin, and their twin sons, four-year-old Jacob and Joseph.

Eli poured the dark brew Miss Edna always kept hot no matter the season into his cup and added,"The way Viveca's mama loves her grandchildren, it may be years before she lets them come home again."

Everyone nodded in agreement. They'd met Mr. and Mrs. Lancaster when they'd visited the Grove five years ago. Francesca Lancaster had as much an irrepressible spirit as her fearless doctor daughter.

The Grove general store also served as the post office. Miss Edna handed him a few envelopes. "These came in last evening."

"Thanks." With his coffee mug in hand and the mail tucked into the pocket of his worn blue cotton shirt, Eli called out his goodbyes, waved, and walked down to the mayor's office. He'd been asked to look after the Grove's business matters while Nate was away.

Jewel. Copyright ? by Beverly Jenkins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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