Read an Excerpt
Hot. So very hot
She lay against the picnic blanket and restlessly watched as he fanned his hand across her trembling belly, taking in her nakedness after he'd popped the buttons down the front of her dress. The material glided from her skin. She wasn't wearing a bra, which left him to concentrate on the scrap of pink cotton that kept her from being completely at the mercy of his hungry gaze. He slid his thumbs under the thin straps at her hips, slowly, ever so slowly, sliding her panties down until she was finally free from them. She moved to close her legs and he made a small sound of objection, instead coaxing her to open to him. She wriggled as the summer sun and his attention warmed her delicate flesh.
Then he was touching her
Fingers stroked, probed, invaded, bringing her a pleasure that surely couldn't be real
He leaned in, covering her mouth with his.
Too wet.too cloying.
She turned her head and he licked her ear instead.
No, no, she wanted to whisper. Down there
Penelope Weaver awakened with a start. Panting. Only it wasn't she who was out of breath. Or even the man that had been featured in her dream, as he was so often lately.
Instead, she stared at the blurry outline of her golden retriever/border collie mix and blanched away from his awful breath.
Penelope sat up. It took a few moments to gather her wits about her. She wasn't lying on a picnic blanket in Old Man Benson's field just outside town, but was rather in her own bed in her room in the house on Maple Street. The summer sun cut a path across her body, but it was early evening and she was fully dressed.
And the too wet kiss hadn't come from her fantasy man, but rather her eight-year-old dog.
She picked up the wind-up alarm clock from the nightstand. Just after 7:00 p.m. Just after seven!
Barnaby Jones would be there to pick her up any minute.
She sprung from the bed and rushed to the shared bathroom in the hall. She must have fallen asleep when she'd gone in to stretch out on the bed. It had been a long day at the small cafe she owned and ran on Main Street and she'd needed to rest her feet for just a few moments.
The cafe. Even now it seemed odd to refer to her shop as such. She'd originally opened the place to sell her tapestries and called it Penelope's Possessions, but when the lumber mill had closed down four years ago it had taken much of what made downtown Earnest a draw for visitors with it. Businesses had closed, storefronts were empty. She'd adapted, offering her wares on the internet, but the shop itself had gradually become a coffee shop. Not a difficult transition seeing as she'd always made a good cup of coffee and thanks to her grandmother and great-aunt, there was an endless supply of baked goodies.
Now it was simply known as Penelope's.
She considered her curly dark hair in the mirror, fluffing the flattened back, and checking the liner around her brown eyes. Aside from a slight crease in her right cheek, she didn't look any the worse for wear. She took a deep breath and straightened the front of the dress she had on. A dress not unlike the one featured in her picnic dream. Only it really hadn't been a dream, had it? It was a memory. A recollection of a time that had passed long ago. Yet still had the power to steal her breath away.
She turned to hurry back out into the hall and nearly tripped over Thor.
"You're going to be the death of us both," she murmured, edging around him.
Of course, the reason he was shadowing her every move was because there was no one else home to bother. The quiet was almost deafening. She walked into the living room, where the only sound was the hum of the laptop her grandmother had left on in the corner. The house's silence reminded her that the reason why no one was home was that the other inhabitants hoped she would get laid tonight.
Penelope groaned inwardly. Her grandmother and great-aunt were her roomies as well as two busybody, interfering old women whose sex lives were far more interesting than hers.
Interesting? That would require that she actually had a sex life to be uninteresting. But she hadn't had one of those since.
She swallowed hard. Well, since around about the time of the dream she'd just had.
With quick jerks, she powered down the computer and closed the offending monitor, smoothing her hand over the top where it sat on an antique, accordion-front desk. From inkwells to laptops. There was a story in there somewhere. Perhaps on the different mediums meddling family members employed when trying to matchmake for younger family members.
It was summer in Earnest, Washington, and the sun wouldn't fully set for another two hours or so, but the mature trees that surrounded the quaint Victorian house filtered the light, making the house dim. She switched on a lamp and then moved back toward the hall and the
kitchen, incapable of sitting to wait for the man who would arrive to take her out for their fifth date.
She frowned as she checked the dishwasher. Bar-naby Jones wasn't so bad. He was even cute in a Vince Vaughn kind of way. Tall, broad-shouldered, easy going. But the town sheriff had yet to make her feel a twinge of what her dream had conjured up. There was a time or two when she'd actually orgasmed while asleep, the memories were so powerful.
Either that, or she was an inexcusably sorry individual.
At any rate, the good-night kiss Barnaby had given her at the end of the past two dates had left her feeling curiously sisterly to him. And not in the Nietzsche way, either.
She hated to break it to her grandma Agatha and her great-aunt Irene, but there wasn't going to be any sex had in this house tonight, no matter how quiet and available.
She did appreciate the clean set of sheets Aggie had put on her bed in preparation for "the big event," however. The fresh scent of line-dried cotton was likely responsible for her drifting off.
As for the dream.
Well, she wasn't going to think about that now. Or connect the current frequency of them to the fact that the man in question had been spotted back in town. And forget his possible nearness having anything to do with her mixed feelings about Barnaby. She hadn't seen him in nearly fifteen years. He no longer influenced anything she did or thought or felt. Thor whined at her feet.
Penelope twisted her lips. "What is it, boy? You have water. Food."
Probably he wanted to go outside.
She glanced at her watch. It wasn't such a bad idea. She could check her roses and the vegetable garden while she was out there with him.
She opened the back screen door with a muted squeak and Thor bounded out, her following on his heels. The door clapped shut and she stood looking at a garden that had changed very little in the thirty years she'd lived there. Oh, the trees might have grown a little taller, and the wooden privacy fence at the back of the property was only a few years old. But the same perennials dotted the landscape, the vegetable garden was in the same spot as it always was. And the enclosed, intimate gazebo at the far end of the yard was exactly the same but for a couple of coats of white paint.
She found herself drawn to the structure in which she'd spent so much of her teenaged years, bypassing her roses and not stopping until she stood in the arch looking in at the overstuffed cushions that had supported her while she read countless books and had also been the setting for many of her dreams.
Her hand went to the side of her neck, feeling oddly exposed at that one moment. It was almost as if someone was watching her.
She swiveled so quickly she nearly lost her footing on the wooden steps.
And Palmer DeVoe reached out to steady her
No matter how many times Palmer had anticipated this moment, this particular point in time when he'd finally come face to face with Penelope Weaver after so many years, he could never have imagined the completely visceral feelings that would roll through him like a thousand rippling Pacific waves. Need, want, fear emerged one by one, then were washed away by the next emotion.
In his mind's eye, Penelope was still the fresh-faced young woman with the warm smile and deep dimples and slender body. His first sexual encounter, his high school sweetheart, and yes, he admitted, his first love.
Now she was an earthy, sexy, curvy woman who somehow reached even deeper inside him, searching for something he was afraid wasn't there for her to find.
Her curly hair was a little shorter. Her face a little fuller. But her smile was just as warm. Her dark eyes just as probing.
Palmer still held her arm where he'd steadied her. They both looked down at where their skin connected. He lingered a bit longer, marveling at her softness.
Then, as if by mutual agreement, he removed his hand and she stepped beyond his grasp at the same time.
"I heard you were in town," she said quietly.
Rarely in his memories of her did she speak. Instead, her image was like a series of snapshots of her in various poses, most of them under him.
Now, her voice flowed over him, intoxicating.
He nodded toward the gazebo behind her. "Now that's a familiar place."
She glanced over her shoulder and blushed. If he didn't know better, he'd think that she'd been thinking about him, about them, when he'd walked up.
He hadn't planned to stop; he'd merely been walking byas he'd had on several prior occasionswhen he'd spotted her standing there like a ghost from the past.
Penelope moved through the yard toward the back door of the house and he watched her go, the material of her dress hugging her in all the right places.
He'd known running into her at some point was inevitable. While he'd visited his hometown a couple of times in recent weeks, he was now living here. At least for the foreseeable future. Which meant facing a great number of people from his past.
"This isn't a good time, Palmer," she said quietly.
He squinted at her through the waning light. "I would have called, but."
A sad attempt at humor that fell flat on its face, where it belonged.
He cleared his throat. "I hadn't meant to stop. I was walking back from Main on my way to Foss's bed-and-breakfast."
She nodded. "I guessed as much."
She looked at him in a way that made him feel she was sizing him up and that he came up short.
"You look good, Palmer," she said simply.
"So do you."
Her smile was self-conscious. "I don't mean physically." She made a small sound. "It looks like you've done well for yourself."
And he had, hadn't he? He'd accomplished everything that he'd hoped to when he left Earnest for Boston. More.
Why was it, then, that he suddenly sensed he'd achieved nothing?
"Hello?" a man's voice called from inside the house.
Penelope looked in that direction, apparently surprised.
Palmer grimaced. While he hadn't asked for the information, many townspeople that he'd encountered seemed to deem it important to fill him in on Penelope and her actions. He'd learned that she was still single. That she owned a small shop down on Main, one of the few that had managed to stay open in the struggling town of four thousand. He'd walked by it a few times after closing and had stood staring inside at the colorful tapestries on the walls and displayed on easels.
In all the conversations he'd had, not a one of them had mentioned a man being in the picture.
But of course there would be. Why would he even think differently?
"Have you visited your father yet?" she asked, speaking to him rather than the man seeking her out.
He suspected she knew the answer to that. Just as he knew many secondhand details about her, she'd probably plucked the details of his movements since he'd been back from the same grapevine. Not that it was a state secret, but he was pretty sure that everyone knew he had yet to see his old man.
The back door opened and a familiar guy walked out. A guy who towered over him by several inches and had made it his business to stop by the industrial trailer that currently served as his offices. Sheriff Barnaby Jones had let him know in no uncertain terms that he intended to keep an eye on what was going on.
At the time, Palmer couldn't help sensing that there was a certain trace of animosity in the sheriff's attention.
Now he knew why.
Penelope hurried toward the man. "Barney! Hi."
The sheriff's gaze seemed a little too intimate for Palmer's liking as he took in Penelope and complimented her on her dress. Then his attention fell on Palmer where he stood just inside the side garden gate. His expression changed.