Read an Excerpt
The drone of a single-engine plane drew Jenny Beckinsale’s attention. Hurrying to the water’s edge, she cupped her hands over her eyes and gazed upward. Bright sunshine had scrubbed the gray skies clean, and a sea of endless blue stretched before her. Her pulse quickened and her heart raced as her eyes searched the sky. Maybe . . . just maybe. . . . And then her mind remembered what her heart refused to forget: Steven was never coming home again.
She drew in a breath and let it out slowly. She was not going to fall apart. Not again.
Nearby, waves lapped against the weathered dock. Overhead, crows chattered noisily. And off in the distance, the hum of the plane continued on.
With renewed determination, she turned away from the shore, and her gaze fell on the home she’d inherited from her grandmother, then on the airplane hangar that had been built three years ago.
Sunlight glinted off the metal siding, making the green paint sparkle. A large sign, trimmed in gold, hung with prominence near the building’s peak: Blue Sky Air. Underneath those black letters were smaller ones that read: Seaplane Charter Business.
A familiar sense of pride filled her. We did it, Steven.
“You done lollygagging?”
Zeke Phillips stood in the hangar’s large opening wiping his hands on a rag. With his shoulder-length graying hair and stained mechanic’s overalls, he looked like any other grease monkey, but Jenny knew that underneath his frumpy appearance was a sharp mind and a quick wit. And also one of the best seaplane pilots on the West Coast.
“You done fiddling with that engine?” she asked, sidestepping the concern in his voice, just like she’d been doing for the last nine months.
The left side of his mouth curved into a grin. “Just ’bout.”
“Good. We have a charter at ten tomorrow.”
“Since it’s the only one on the books this week, don’t reckon I’d forget it.”
Jenny flinched and all but groaned at his emphasis of the word only. “Don’t remind me.”
“Don’t s’pose I have to. But I think I should remind you that it’s Wednesday.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “I’d say you have about twenty minutes.”
“Wednesday?” She started running toward the house. “You could have reminded me earlier.”
“And miss the fun?”
Ignoring his laughter, she ran through the front door and up the stairs. The smell of the toast she’d burned at breakfast still hung in the air.
Her clothes were already half off by the time she reached her bedroom. Dropping her shirt onto the floor, she began to tug on the cuff of one pant leg as she hopped over to her bed. Clothes, books, and God only knew what else all but obscured the faded pink chenille comforter. Without bothering to push anything off to the side, she flopped down and finished wiggling out of her jeans. If she were late again this week, she’d never hear the end of it. She started to reach for a pair of capris, then stopped. She could still hear her mother’s comment from last week: “Shorts, Jenny? Really. Couldn’t you at least try?”
There was no use arguing with her mother that capris were not shorts. When Catherine Beckinsale made up her mind, that was it.
She grabbed one of only a handful of items hanging in the closet—a pink linen sheath with a designer label given to her as a birthday gift from her mother.
The dress seemed to mock her with its feminine perfection. Before she could change her mind and grab the pants on the floor, she slipped it on. It couldn’t have fit better if it had been custom-made for her. She had to give her mother credit. Whatever Catherine did, she did to perfection. Whether it was raising her three children, running her own business, or picking out a gift for her youngest child.
Jenny glanced at her bedside clock.
Ten minutes until she was supposed to meet her mother.
Who ate lunch at eleven anyway?
Her mother, that’s who. She scheduled their luncheons at that early hour so it wouldn’t interfere with Catherine’s schedule.
For the last nine months, Jenny had dreaded their Wednesday luncheons. But today—this Wednesday—was going to be different. Blue Sky Air had two charters scheduled, and somehow she was going to find a way to work that into the conversation. She knew it wasn’t earth-shattering, but it was a start. And proof that her new advertising plan was working.
A quick search of her bedroom produced one sandal, and a few moments later, the second. She seemed to recall a delicate knit cardigan had been included with the dress, but she had no idea where it was. And there was no time to look. She also knew she didn’t have time to find a pair of run-free nylons, so she slipped on her shoes and made it downstairs without a moment to spare.
She hopped into the Corvette—a luxury to her, but a necessity to Steven. If we’re gonna land the big accounts, baby, we need to look like money. This car is just the ticket. She smiled as she ignited the powerful engine.
“I’ll be back in an hour,” she called to Zeke as he came out of the hangar to wave good-bye. “But if something comes up, I’ll have my cell phone.”
Zeke chuckled again and rubbed a finger across his chin. “Never have needed to call you before, don’t s’pose today’ll be any different.”
As she hit Lakeshore Drive, she yanked hard on the gearshift and winced as the gears collided and ground. She wasn’t sure what upset her more—knowing that Zeke’s laughter was deserved or that in only a few minutes she’d have to endure yet another hour of Oh, Jennifer, if only . . . from her mother. A girl could only take so many Oh, Jennifers, and at twenty-six, Jenny figured she’d received her lifetime quota.
Through the tall evergreens that hugged the shoreline, Jenny caught patches of glistening blue water and the jagged tops of the Olympic Mountains. Even in these last few days of May, snow frosted their sharp, uneven peaks. In less than five minutes, she was pulling off the road and onto the paved drive that led to her mother’s restaurant— correction bistro—and art gallery. Sunlight filtered down through the massive firs and dappled the road as she wound her way down. Taking the final bend in the road, Hidden Lake came into view. As always, the sight of the lake made Jenny catch her breath. A lifetime of memories were in those waters.
She chose one of the angled parking spots on the far side of the building, not surprised to find several other cars already there. Even at this early hour, business was brisk.
Only her mother could open an art gallery and restaurant in a secluded bit of wilderness on the outskirts of Seattle and make it a resounding success. Catherine never failed at anything—except turning Jenny into the perfect daughter.
She glanced at her watch—11:09—then grabbed her purse and rummaged around in the bottom for an elastic band. With a couple of deft moves, she’d pulled her hair up into a messy bun. Not the best of looks, but the best she could do at the moment.
With a final grimace at her appearance, she twisted the mirror back into place and got out of the car.
Before Jenny reached the porch, the main door opened, and her mother stepped out. For just a moment, her mother’s expression brightened as she caught sight of the dress Jenny was wearing. Then Catherine’s sharp gray eyes narrowed in on Jenny’s hastily done hair and bare legs, and the pursed expression Jenny knew only too well was back.
She should have just worn her capris.
“Jennifer, there you are. It was getting so late, I was beginning to worry.”
As usual, her mother looked as if she’d just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. Her auburn hair fell in a soft pageboy that framed her face and made her look younger than her fifty-seven years. A once-a-month trip into the city—that her mother believed was as sacred as church on Sunday—kept any traces of gray at bay. Her St. John knit pantsuit was as timeless and elegant as she was. Its soft plum color complemented her complexion. With the exception of her wide wedding band and tasteful gold hoops, she wore no other jewelry.
Even in the dress her mother had selected for her, Jenny felt dowdy.
After a quick hug, Catherine led them past the reception area and down the long hallway that served as an extension of the gallery. Art, ranging from modern to traditional to local pieces, was tastefully displayed along the corridor. The room’s soaring ceilings, crisp white walls, and dark mahogany floors were the perfect backdrop for the unique and diverse collection. While most people remarked on the varied and exceptional works of art, for Jenny the special appeal of her mother’s business would always be the smell. No matter what time of day she visited, there were always the most wonderful aromas drifting out from the restaurant’s kitchen.
Their usual table along the far wall was waiting for them. As Jenny took her seat, she didn’t bother to ask for a menu; she knew it wouldn’t do any good.
As if reading her mind, her mother said, “André has outdone himself today. Salade Niçoise. The tuna is lovely.”
Jenny gave the required: “It sounds perfect.”
“André is a master in the kitchen. I don’t know how the bistro would survive without him.”
Jenny did. While it was true that the French chef her mother had charmed and wooed away from an exclusive restaurant in the heart of Seattle was a magician when it came to cuisine, Jenny knew that even if her mother lost André, her business would continue to flourish.
“Unfortunately, we’ll have to hurry through lunch,” her mother said. “A party of eight has reservations for noon. We would have had plenty of time if . . .”
If you’d been on time. The words were in the air as clear as if they’d been spoken.
“Well, no matter. You’re here now.” Her mother unfolded the pressed linen napkin and placed it on her lap. “Was there traffic?”
“The roads were fine.” As they both knew.
Rush hour in Hidden Lake consisted of two cars going in opposite directions. It was just one of the many things Jenny loved about the small lakeside town. The only time there was ever a backup was when Mr. Wilson made his bimonthly run into town for staples: bread, milk, cheese, eggs, and a bottle of rum (for medicinal purposes, of course). And the only reason that caused a slight hiccup was because Mr. Wilson insisted on driving his tractor.
Thankfully, the waitress arrived with their lunch, stalling her mother from making any further comments on Jenny’s tardiness. Jenny picked up her fork, but before she dug in, she paused in admiration. Not only did André’s food taste out of this world, he managed to make a few bits of potato, a couple of olives, and some fresh fish look like art.
Spending an hour alone with her mother once a week might not be on Jenny’s top one hundred list, but the food always softened the blow.
“How have you been?” Jenny asked in between bites.
“Frantic.” Her mother said with a serene smile. “Business is up nineteen percent from this time last year, there’s your father’s birthday on Friday, our trip to Alaska, and the annual Seattle Art Museum charity ball is less than a month away.” She laughed softly. “Remind me to say no next year when they ask me to chair again.”
Jenny stabbed at a piece of hard-boiled egg. “You say that every year.”
Her mother smiled again. “You’re right, I do. But it’s for charity, and as long as I organize my time accordingly, I’ll be able to accomplish everything.”
Criticism duly noted. Jenny pushed at a piece of seared tuna on her plate.
“I spoke with your brother this morning.”
“How is Perfect Paul?”
“Sorry.” But she wasn’t. Living in the shadow of her “gifted brother” and “brilliant sister” had left her . . . faded. It was as if by the time the sun shone upon them, it lost all of its warmth when it finally reached her. She knew her parents loved her, but she often wondered how many nights they went to bed scratching their genius heads and wondering how they’d ever ended up with such a daughter.
“He’s narrowed the candidates to two and believes he’ll have made a decision by the end of the week,” her mother said.
“His law practice is expanding so quickly, he can’t keep up.”
“Lucky for him.” Jenny tried to sound sincere, but she could tell she’d failed when her mother arched one perfectly sculpted eyebrow in her direction.
“Really, Jennifer. You could at least try to show some interest.”
Jenny stuffed a forkful of salad into her mouth to save herself from having to make any further comment. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her brother and sister; she did. It was just hard to keep up an enthusiastic front year after year when all their triumphs were put on display, and she had nothing to add to the ever-increasing collection.
“I told Paul I would help him with the welcome reception he’s planning for the new attorney. André’s already working on the menu.”
Jenny took a large gulp of water.
“I heard from Anna on Sunday.”
On to sibling number two: the brilliant obstetrician.
Perfect Paul. Amazing Anna.
And Jinxed Jenny.
“Anna was the head doctor on a delivery of quintuplets. Can you imagine? Your sister said it was the most rewarding experience of her career.”
“What about Cody?” Jenny asked, referring to her nephew, Anna and Phillip’s only child. “Is his hair still blue?”
“It’s a rinse, dear. I’ve told you that before.” Her mother took a small bite. “Anna believes it’s only a matter of time before they promote her. Of course, with the promotion will come added responsibilities—”
“Are these new dishes, Mom? They’re lovely.”
“But your sister is more than up for the challenge.”
“Was that a new statue I saw in the hallway?” She poked at a piece of fish with her fork, causing it to flake into small pieces.
“I suppose I should talk to André about a menu for Anna’s promotion. I know nothing is official yet, but it’s best to always be prepared.”
“This is the best tuna I’ve ever had.” Jenny scooped the fish bits into her mouth and made a great show of enjoying them. Actually, it was the best tuna she’d ever had. But considering that the only other kind she’d ever had came out of a can, that wasn’t saying much. She was sure the great André didn’t have the age-old debate of water versus oil-packed when he selected this fish.
“What do you think about a Polynesian theme?”
“For your rest—uh, bistro?”
“Don’t be silly, dear. For Anna’s promotion party. She’s always loved the tropics.”
“Maybe you should wait to see if she gets it.”
“Don’t be silly, dear,” her mother said again. “Of course she’ll be promoted. You know, the other day she sent your father and me several magazine articles that featured her . . .”
With a sigh, Jenny stared at the thin sliver of lemon floating on top of her water. Once her mother boarded the Paul and Anna train, there was no way to get her off. Not for the first time, Jenny reflected that lunch really should come with alcohol.
“And you, dear? How’s your business doing?”
Jenny was about to give her standard, “Fine,” when she remembered her earlier optimism. “We have a charter booked for tomorrow.”
“Oh? A charter?”
The way her mother said it made it sound paltry.
“And we have another booked next week.”
“That’s wonderful, honey. Really.” Her mother set her fork down alongside her plate. “But remember, my offer is always open. There is always a job waiting for you here.”
Jenny was saved from answering by the ringing of a phone. Saved by the bell. Literally. She knew from past luncheons her mother would insist upon answering it. Business first, she’d say. But strangely, this time, her mother didn’t move.
The phone rang again.
“Jennifer, dear. I believe that’s your phone.”
“My phone?” Her water glass clanked against her plate. She reached for her purse and nearly fell out of her chair in her haste. A muffled fourth ring spurred her on even more. Why were cell phones so darn small? Just as the phone rang for a fifth time, she located it and glanced at the number. Zeke. Don’t hang up. Please. Please. Don’t hang up.
“Sorry to bother you at lunch—”
“No. No bother.” She looked to her mother, did a poor job of covering the mouthpiece before saying, “It’s Zeke, from work.”
“Uh. Yeah. Well, some guy stopped by—”
Her mother leaned in closer.
“He was rather persistent in seeing you, so I sent him on over to the restaurant,” Zeke continued. “I hope that was okay.”
“A client needed to speak to me right away and you sent him over here?” Jenny knew she was reiterating everything Zeke said, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. Finally her hard work was paying off, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Now her mother could see Jenny as a businesswoman. She felt almost giddy.
“Should be there any moment. Like I said earlier, hope it was okay I sent him over.”
“You did the right thing, Zeke. That’s why I carry the cell phone.” She knew she was laying it on extra thick, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. “And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten our appointment this evening. Five o’clock, right?”
“Oh, right. Five thirty.”
“Have you gone daft, girl? What appointment? If you’re talking about our weekly canasta game when my Mildred is at bingo—”
“The phone’s ringing? Yes, of course you have to get it. All right then. I’ll talk to you later.” She hit the End button before Zeke could question her bizarre behavior any further. She knew she’d have some explaining to do when she got back, but just one look at her mother’s surprised face was worth all the ribbing she’d get.
“Anything urgent?” her mother asked after a slight pause.
Jenny tried to tamp down her growing excitement but found it impossible to do. “There’s an important client that needs to speak to me right away.” It wasn’t a lie. At this point, all of her clients were important. “I hope you don’t mind, but he’s on his way over here right now.”
Her mother’s expression turned to bafflement—as if she couldn’t take in what was happening. “No. I don’t mind at all.”
Jenny knew she should make small talk with her mother, maybe even inquire further about her brother’s search for a new lawyer or her sister’s multiple birth delivery, but all she could concentrate on was the glorious call from Zeke. A customer. Needing to see her right away. Here. At her mother’s restaurant. It was all just too wonderful. She’d known . . . she’d just known when she’d woken up this morning that her life was about to take a turn.
The wait seemed to take forever. And then, just when she didn’t think she could take it any longer, a low growl vibrated through the restaurant.
Jenny, her mother, and several of the restaurant’s patrons looked up to see what was causing the noise.
A huge, gleaming black motorcycle rounded the driveway’s last bend and cruised into the parking lot. Sunlight glinted off the polished chrome.
The rumblings grew louder, rattled the windows. As the driver maneuvered the monstrous Harley around to the side of the building, Jenny lost sight of him. A few moments later, quiet descended.
Seconds crept by, and then there was the sound of the front door being opened . . . closed . . . boots thumping down the hallway. And then he filled her line of vision, and everything inside of her went still.
Oh my . . .
“Jenny?” her mother questioned, but Jenny couldn’t respond. Something told her she’d just gotten her first glimpse of Blue Sky’s newest client.
He strode into the restaurant as if he’d been there a thousand times before, pausing only when he reached where the hallway ended and the restaurant began. As he scanned the interior, Jenny couldn’t help but take a thorough look at him.
He was tall—at least six two—and in his black leather jacket he looked like a walking ad for Bad Boy USA. His hair was as black as a starless night and short, almost as if he’d only recently begun to let it grow out. The short cut was probably the only thing that kept it from being a rumpled mess, since he’d been wearing a helmet. Then again, Jenny got the distinct impression he was one of those men who always looked good, whether they’d just gotten off of a motorcycle, out of the shower, or out of bed.
Bed . . .
The jolt hit her unexpectedly. It was the first time in over nine months her mind had gone down that path, and she felt a pinch of guilt. No, more like a good ol’ slug.
He was one of those rare individuals who commanded attention whether they were in a boardroom or on a boardwalk. Or in a tiny bistro on the edge of a lake.
Her mother leaned close, whispered, “Sit up straight, Jennifer, and smooth your hair.”
She barely heard what her mother was saying, because at that moment his gaze connected with hers. “Ms. Beckinsale,” he said when he reached her table. His voice was deep and low.
“Y-yes.” She cleared her throat. He was so close she could see the faint lines that fanned out from the corners of his eyes; something told her those creases hadn’t been caused by laughter. More than likely, judging by his tan, they’d been caused by a life spent outdoors.
“Hello.” He flashed her a killer grin, showing off his perfect white teeth. Spellbound, all she could do was stare. Dimly, she became aware of a movement to her left and belatedly remembered her mother. “This is my mother, Catherine Beckinsale.”
He turned and gave her mother that same bone-melting smile. “Ma’am.”
Jenny was surprised to see that her mother seemed rattled.
Catherine cleared her throat. “How do you do, Mr. . . . ?”
The visitor looked at Jenny when he responded. “Worth. Jared Worth.”
He waited, as if his name would have some effect on her, but all she could think about were his eyes. They weren’t brown, as she’d originally thought, but a deep, deep midnight blue framed by full, spiky lashes. And they seemed to reach inside to a part of her she’d kept buried for a long time.
There was a short pause, and then her mother filled in the silence. “Well, Mr. Worth, may I offer you something? A cappuccino? Espresso? Latte?”
He looked at her mother as if she were speaking Greek. “No.” And then as an afterthought, tacked on, “Thank you.”
Belatedly, Jenny’s business manners kicked in. “Please, Mr. Worth. Won’t you have a seat?” She motioned to one of the empty chairs at their table.
He continued to stand.
Seated, she tried not to feel at a disadvantage. Tried and failed. He was just too tall, too muscular, too good- looking. “I’m sorry I wasn’t at the office when you arrived. I hope it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience for you.”
“No trouble at all.”
“Were you able to find the restaurant all right?”
“Mr. Phillips mentioned that you needed to speak to me right away.”
He glanced at her mother and then back to her. “I didn’t realize you were busy. I can come back later.”
She was never too busy for a client. “No, no. Now is just fine.”
For a moment she forgot her discomfort as she imagined her company’s bottom line floating away from the red zone and up toward the black. And her mother was here to witness it all.
He looked around the room. “Is there somewhere private we can talk?”
And have her mother miss this? No way.
“My mother is aware of my business dealings, Mr. Worth. Feel free to discuss whatever you need to in front of her.”
“I think it would be best if we had our chat in private.”
“Truly, Mr. Worth. There’s no problem.”
He let out a barely perceptible sigh, and it seemed to Jenny as if some of his bone-melting, megawatt-smiling, good-ol’-boy charm left him. “You’re Jennifer Beckinsale, correct?”
“Yes. I believe we’ve already established that.”
“The Jennifer Beckinsale who was engaged to Steven Harmon?”
Jenny wasn’t sure if it was her or her mother who drew in the sharp, quick breath at the mention of Steven’s name. It had been months since anyone had said his name out loud to her, and just the sound of it hurt. “Y-yes.”
“The Jennifer Beckinsale who was partnered with Steven Harmon in a seaplane charter business known as Blue Sky Air?”
She tried to ignore the pain at hearing Steven’s name again—tried to ignore her growing sense of unease—but she failed on both accounts. “I’m sorry, Mr. Worth, but I’m not sure what this has to do with anything. I thought you were here about a charter. About Blue Sky Air.”
“Oh.” His answer should have brought a sense of relief.
“Why don’t you tell me your travel plans, and I’ll have my associate, Mr. Phillips, get in touch with you. With summer just around the corner, I’m sure you can understand that our schedule is not as open as in the winter months.” Lies. Lies. Lies. “But we will do everything we can to accommodate your travel needs. Blue Sky offers a wide range of travel options, from local trips in the Puget Sound area to frequent charters to the San Juans and British Columbia.”
“I don’t seem to be making myself clear. I’m not here to schedule a charter.”
“No. I’m here to discuss Blue Sky Air.”
“You want to discuss my charter business?”
“No, Miss Beckinsale, I want to discuss our business.”
He let out another sigh; this one louder and more noticeable than the last. “I’m your partner.”
She laughed, but somehow her laughter fell flat. “I don’t have any partners. I am the sole owner of Blue Sky Air, and I don’t think this little joke of yours is very funny. Now, if you’re not here to book a charter, I think you should leave—”
“Christ.” He rubbed his hand across his face, then zeroed in on her again. “You really don’t have a clue what I am talking about.”
“You have no clue what you’re talking about, Mr. Worth. And it really is past time you were leaving.” He was sick. Demented. He needed help. Any other day of the week she might have offered to drive him to a doctor’s office . . . a hospital . . . a padded room with no door. But not today. Not with her mother sitting less than five feet away.
“I’m afraid it’s you who doesn’t have a clue,” he said. “Look at the contract; you’ll see that what I’m saying is the truth.”
“I don’t need to look at any contract. I am the sole owner of Blue Sky Air.”
He muttered something under his breath, and Jenny had the sinking feeling she should be glad she hadn’t been able to understand what he’d said. “You’re exactly like Steven described.”
“Just like Steven said. All package, no product.”
For a moment, she couldn’t breathe.
He was lying. Steven would never have said anything like that about her. He’d loved her as much as she loved him. Anger jumped in front of her pain. “You need to leave. Now.” She tried to keep her voice steady. Strong. But her emotions were too raw, and she felt the start of tears burn the back of her eyes.
She stood up, knocking her chair over in her haste. Without bothering to right the chair, she headed straight for the door; she couldn’t get away from him fast enough.
But before she could reach it, he was right behind her.
“This isn’t over.” His voice was low and sent a shiver down her spine. “Instead of doing your nails tonight, read the contract. I’ll be in touch tomorrow.”
Without looking at him, she wrenched the door open and ran.