The House on Main Street

The House on Main Street

3.9 16
by Shirlee McCoy
     
 

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In Apple Valley, Washington, friends are always near, neighbors have no secrets—even if they'd like to—and long-held wishes have a way of coming true. . .

Interior designer Tessa McKenzie has built a good life far from her Washington hometown. She intends to get back to it—as soon as she sells the cluttered Victorian house and antiques shop… See more details below

Overview

In Apple Valley, Washington, friends are always near, neighbors have no secrets—even if they'd like to—and long-held wishes have a way of coming true. . .

Interior designer Tessa McKenzie has built a good life far from her Washington hometown. She intends to get back to it—as soon as she sells the cluttered Victorian house and antiques shop she inherited from her sister, Emily. But leaving Apple Valley a second time won't be so easy. There's her grieving nephew, Alex, to consider. And there's Sheriff Cade Cunningham, the adolescent crush who could easily break her heart again if she let him.

To Cade, Tessa was simply his high school sweetheart's kid sister. But now there's no denying she's a beautiful and caring grown woman, one he'd like to get to know. Except that Tessa is determined to leave again. If Cade wants to change her mind, he'll have to show her that small-town life has its lovable side—and that he does too. Most of all, he'll have to convince Tess they're good together, and that every step has led her right where she was always meant to be. . .

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/09/2013
Tess McKenzie fled Apple Valley, Wash., for a career as an interior designer in Annapolis, Md. When Tess’s sister, Emily, is killed in an accident, Tess inherits a Victorian house in Apple Valley, a failing antiques store, and guardianship of her autistic nephew, Alex. She’s also stuck with Gertrude, the crotchety aunt who raised her. Her childhood best friend and crush, Cade Cunningham, is now the sheriff; he’s stunned that former tomboy Tess is now a beautiful independent woman. For Alex’s sake, Tess stays in Apple Valley, but can Cade get her to feel at home in the sometimes stifling and insular town? Romantic suspense author McCoy (Fugitive) allows the pedestrian smalltown romance plot to be overshadowed by the cipher that is Emily. To Tess, she’s the sister whose mistakes Tess had to fix; to Cade, she’s the lover who betrayed him. Was she irresponsible, naïve, scheming, loving, angelic? Other characters seem dull in comparison to the one who never appears in the book at all. Agent: Melissa Jeglinski, Knight Agency. (Nov.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781420132366
Publisher:
Kensington
Publication date:
11/05/2013
Series:
Apple Valley Novel , #1
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
16,661
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

Read an Excerpt

THE HOUSE ON MAIN STREET


By Shirlee McCoy

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 2013 Shirlee McCoy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4201-3236-6


CHAPTER 1

Some days are just meant to be crappy. Obviously, this is one of them.

Tess McKenzie grabbed a pile of wrinkled magazines from a dusty shelf and tossed them in a garbage bag. Three weeks before Christmas and this was how she was spending her time. Not strolling through the mall or window-shopping in downtown Annapolis, but standing in an old house in Apple Valley, Washington, sorting through her sister's collection of trash and fighting back tears.

She hated crying.

She hated this.

Emily gone. Dave gone.

Life completely turned upside down.

"Are you planning to throw everything away?" Aunt Gertrude griped. Perched on a rickety stool a couple of feet away, a cigarette dangling from between her fingers and a Santa hat on her head, she looked like an ancient Christmas elf with an attitude.

Tess lifted an ugly porcelain dog with a crack down its middle and dropped it into the bag. "If it's all as junky as this, yes."

"One man's trash is another man's treasure," Gertrude said, taking a puff of the cigarette and blowing smoke into the musty air.

"Sometimes it's just another man's trash."

"Emily and Dave did the best they could with what they had. You just tossing it all away is a travesty. They deserve more than that." At seventy-two, Gertrude had lived enough life to say what she liked and what she didn't, and she didn't like Tess's plans to clean the place out and sell it.

Tough.

It had to be done.

If the massive pile of outstanding bills Tessa had found in her sister's desk drawer was any indication, it should have been done eons ago.

She didn't say that to Gertrude, because she'd said it a thousand times since the funeral. Set in her ways and stubborn as old Ms. Peach's mule, Gertie refused to see reason. She wanted life to go on the way it had been. Same crumbling Victorian house. Same little junk shop on its lower level. Same town. But things had changed, and changed in a big way. There was nothing either of them could do about that.

"Are you planning to wear that hat all day?" Tess changed the subject.

"It's tradition. The kids love it."

"What kids? We haven't had a customer all day."

"We will. This time of year, we always get kids looking for stuff to buy for their moms and grandmas for Christmas. Emily hung all the best ornaments, just like she does every year." She gestured to the Christmas tree that stood in the corner of the room, its synthetic branches bowed under a hodgepodge of grimy Christmas decorations. "It looks dang pretty, if you ask me. But you won't."

"I never need to ask. You're always more than willing to share your opinion," Tess muttered, her throat tight. She could picture her sister standing near the tree, completely ignoring the mess and clutter of the room as she hung those ornaments. That's the way Emily had been. Eager to see what she wanted to see rather than what she needed to.

"Humph." Gertrude puffed on her cigarette again. "That's like the pot calling the kettle black."

"You're right," Tess agreed. She was trying, really really trying to be reasonable, but dealing with Gertrude wasn't easy. "The tree is ... nice," she lied. "We just need to clean the ornaments."

"Why? They're clean enough."

"To hang in this shop? Sure. To sell? Not even close."

"Whatever you say, Tessa Louise."

"Anyone with eyes in her head would say the same. The whole place is a junk pit. I don't know what Emily and Dave were thinking." There. She'd said what she was really thinking, and she didn't regret it. Much.

She carried the trash bag into the foyer, the hard, hot lump in her throat nearly choking her.

This was hard.

Harder than she'd thought it would be.

In for the funeral and back home. That's what she'd planned, but Emily and Dave had left the house to her.

The house and Alex.

She blinked back tears as she opened the front door. Cold air streamed in, the crisp, hard bite of winter cooling her hot cheeks. Sunlight dappled the wide front porch and fell on the piles of garbage bags she'd already thrown there. She tossed the new one on top.

Her arms ached, her back hurt, and her heart?

It throbbed hot with a sickening mix of grief and anxiety.

She should be in downtown Annapolis making the presentation she'd been preparing for two months. Ten apartments designed for comfort and ease of living, no expense spared on materials. Everything top-notch and high-end. She'd slaved over the presentation because winning the contract would have brought her a step closer to becoming a partner in Master's Design Incorporated. Something she'd wanted from the day she'd joined the interior design firm seven years ago. She wouldn't get there now. Not with her boss stepping in and making the presentation. Not when she wasn't sure how long she'd be in Apple Valley, or how soon she'd be back at work.

"Close the door. You're letting all the warm air out," Gertrude called from the bowels of the house. Probably still perched on the stool, smoking that damn cigarette.

"What warm air? This place is freezing." Tess walked back inside and grabbed a new trash bag, ignoring Gertrude's narrow-eyed glare as she shoved an armful of stained-beyond-salvation linen napkins and something that looked like an overcoat and smelled like sweat and urine into the bag.

Where had Emily and Dave gotten this stuff?

The dump?

A glossy ceramic clown lay on the floor, its cracked and smiling face mocking her. She tossed it in with the rest of the garbage.

"Hey! I liked that clown." Gertrude finally managed to move her skinny behind from the stool.

"It's broken."

"Barely. All it needs is a little glue." Gertrude pulled the clown out of the bag, frowning at its cracked head.

"All it needs is a decent burial."

"I'll fix it tonight and add it to my collection." Gertie completely ignored her.

"Your room is already filled with more trash than the Apple Valley dump. You need to clean it out. Not add more to it."

"There's no reason for me to clean anything out."

"The house will sell more quickly if—"

"I don't want it to sell."

"Do you have to be so difficult, Gert?" Tess snagged the clown from her aunt's hand and shoved it deep into the bag.

"Who's being difficult depends on which side of the argument you're on," Gertrude responded sagely, wiggling her drawn-on eyebrows, the Santa hat bobbing on her orange hair.

Tess gave up.

Facts were facts. A huge Victorian on three prime acres in the middle of town was money in the bank. Which was a whole lot better than junk on shelves.

She shoved an armload of Reader's Digest magazines into the bag, her fingers nearly numb with cold. She needed to buy gloves, a hat, maybe a scarf. Things she had at home but hadn't had the presence of mind to pack.

"Did you hear me, girl? I don't want to sell this place."

"Yeah. I heard you, Gertie. I've heard you every single one of the five million times you've said it," Tessa muttered as she dragged the overstuffed bag out the front door.

Out with the bad. In with the good.

Bull crap.

There was no good in this situation.

Just a truckload of bad and a porch so burdened by bags of garbage it might collapse at any moment.

She tossed the bag into the yard, enjoying the satisfying crack and thud as it hit sparse dry grass.

"You pick that bag up. You pick it up! Hear me?" a skinny little man called from the yard next door, his white hair standing up in a halo around his wrinkled face.

She wanted to ignore him. She really did. "I'll have everything out of the yard by the end of the month, Mr—?"

"Beck. Zimmerman Beck, and the end of the month isn't good enough. You think I want to look out my front door and see a dump every morning for the next three weeks?"

"You don't want to see it, just don't look out your door, old man!" Gertrude chose that moment to step outside, an old blanket around her shoulders, the Santa hat flopping to the left side of her head.

"I'm two years younger than you, Gertrude, so if I'm old, you're ancient and looking every minute of it."

"Why, you—"

"Mr. Beck, I assure you, I'll have this mess cleaned up as soon as humanly possible." Tess stepped in front of Gertrude, half-near tempted to toss a bag over her aunt's head and throw her out with the rest of the trash.

"Not good enough," Beck said, his hands on his hips, his body vibrating with the force of his indignation.

"It's going to have to be." She bit back a sharper reply. No sense arguing with the guy. She'd do what she could as quickly as she could because she wanted out of Apple Valley just as desperately as Zimmerman Beck wanted the yard cleaned up.

"You can tell that to the sheriff. I've already called him, and he'll tell you that there are bylaws. Bylaws."

"You called the sheriff ?" she said, her heart rate upping a notch or two.

The sheriff? was what she wanted to say.

As in Cade Cunningham?

The one man she absolutely did not want to see, no matter how long she had to stay in Apple Valley?

"Be glad I didn't call the health department. Place is a dump. Has been a dump for too many years to count."

"I'll show you a dump, you little weasel." Gertrude moved surprisingly fast for a woman in the eighth decade of her life, down the porch steps and across the yard, the blanket flying behind her like a cape.

"Calm down, Gertrude." Tess snagged her arm, pulling her up short before she could jump the rickety white picket fence between the yards.

"Not until I teach this horse's behind a lesson in manners."

"I'd like to see you try, you old battle-ax!" Zim hollered, his face mottled purple with rage.

Dear God! Was the guy going to have a heart attack while he stood at the edge of their bedraggled yard?

"How about you both just calm down?" Tess stepped between the two as a woman walked out of the bungalow across the street.

Wonderful.

Having her sister and brother-in-law die hadn't been sucky enough. Being left a junk-pit in the middle of a town she'd sworn she'd never come back to hadn't been enough punishment for whatever wrongs she'd done. She was now going to have to stop a street brawl between two septuagenarians while the neighbor watched.

"Zim! I've been calling your house for a half hour," the woman called as she crossed the street. Pretty, with raven hair and deep circles beneath her dark eyes, she didn't fit the demographics of the neighborhood: Over fifty. Retired. Nosy.

"I've been hanging lights. Trying to get into the Christmas spirit. Tough to do when I'm living next door to a dump," Zim griped.

"Does that mean you're too busy to eat some of the gingerbread I just took out of the oven?" The woman ignored Zim's comment about the dump, which put her right at the top of Tess's favorite-person list for the day.

"Gingerbread, huh?"

"Yes. Homemade whipped cream, too," she said as she met Tessa's eyes. "I'm Charlotte Garrison. Charlie to my friends."

"Charlie. Humph! A boy's name," Zim muttered, but his anger had fizzled out, his face pasty white once again.

"Tess McKenzie." Tess offered her hand. "Sorry about the mess. As I told Mr. Beck—"

"There's no need to explain. Your family is going through a lot right now. We understand that. Don't we, Zim?" she asked.

Beck had the decency to blush. "Now, I never said I didn't have sympathy for their loss."

"At times like this, it's good to extend a little grace," Charlotte continued. "If you need any help cleaning things up, Tess, just give me a call. You have my number, don't you, Gertrude?"

"You know I do," Gertrude snapped, but even she had lost her steam, her hat wilted, the blanket limp around her shoulders.

"Why don't you two take a break from your work, too? Maybe after Alex gets home? We can have hot chocolate and gingerbread together."

Alex.

The mention of her nephew made Tessa's heart trip and her stomach churn. The house was easy. Start in one room, work her way through until it was empty. Alex she had no plan for, no idea how to begin connecting with him.

Just thinking about it made her head ache and her chest hurt. She cleared her throat, trying to remove the giant-sized lump suddenly lodged in it. "Maybe another day. I have a lot to do, and—"

"You don't have to explain. I understand." Charlotte smiled, hooked her elbow through Zim's. "Come on. Let's go inside before we turn to icicles," she said, leading him away from the fence.

"Hope she mixed some arsenic in that whipped cream," Gertie said, loudly enough to scare a couple of starlings out of the old pine tree at the edge of the yard.

"Shhhhh! Do you want to start the feud all over again?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. Zimmerman Beck is a pain in the ass. A little arsenic in his afternoon snack will make the world a better place."

"Will you please just shut up, Gertie!" Tess hissed, as Zim paused at Charlotte's door and shot a hot glare in their direction. Charlotte nudged him inside, offering a quick wave as she closed the door.

Crisis averted.

Thank God.

"Shut up? Is that what you just said to me? I raised you from the time you were knee-high to a peanut, and you're talking to me like that?"

"If you're going to act like a spoiled child, I'm going to speak to you like you're one."

"Let me tell you something, little miss. Zimmerman Beck has been hounding us for months, trying to get Emily and Dave to close down and sell this place. The man is a wretched old fart with no sense of humor and an ice-cold heart. So, when it comes to him, I'll say what I want, when I want, how I want, and you'll just have to deal with it!"

Gertrude turned on the heels of her sturdy white sneakers and stalked back in the house, slamming the door for good measure. The mound of garbage bags on the porch listed and fell, spilling trash onto packed earth and brown grass.

The crappy day just kept getting better.

Tess dragged one of the bags from the porch and started refilling it, absolutely refusing the tears that burned behind her eyes. They wouldn't bring Emily back and wouldn't clean up the mess that she'd left.

A cold breeze tickled the leaves that still clung to an ancient birch in the center of the yard and pushed an old swing that hung from one of its thick branches. Rusted metal chains creaked, and for a moment, Tessa was sure she heard her sister's laughter drifting on the air.

Emily.

Always happy and laughing and carefree.

Gone.

It didn't seem possible. Shouldn't be possible.

Tess cinched the bag and set it against the side of the house, the rumble of a car engine breaking the afternoon silence.

Please, don't let it be Cade. Please, don't let it be him. Please ...

A black-and-white cruiser pulled up to the curb, SHERIFF emblazoned on the side.

It was Cade. Of course. Because that was the way her day had been going.

He got out of the car, all lithe hard muscle and restrained power. Ten years hadn't put any paunch on his gut, taken any fullness from his dark brown hair. Hadn't done one thing to make him less attractive.

He met her eyes across the hood of his car.

"Tess," he said.

Just that, and she was back thirteen years, hoping and praying and wishing that he'd invite her to his senior prom. He'd invited Emily, of course. A year older than Tess, a year younger than Cade, and the most beautiful girl at Apple Valley High. There'd never been any doubt that the best-looking guy in school would ask the best-looking girl. Tessa had still dreamed, though, because she'd been just young enough and foolish enough to believe that dreaming could make something true.

She smiled, extended a hand, proud and relieved that it wasn't shaking. "Cade. It's been a long time."

"It sure has." He dragged her into his arms.

His shoulders had filled out.

His chest had broadened.

And his thighs ...

Man! His thighs!

They were like rocks. Only warmer, and a heck of a lot sexier.

"I've missed you, Tess," he murmured against her hair, and she felt the warmth of his breath trickling down her spine and straight into a place she'd locked up tight. There was nothing she could do about that, but she could sound as cool and unruffled as she wanted to feel.

This was Cade, after all. Her best childhood friend and her deepest adolescent crush. She knew how to put on an act when she was around him. She'd perfected it during the years he'd dated Emily.

"I guess you're here about the mess," she said. Cool as a cucumber. Absolutely unruffled.

"Your neighbor called. He thinks the house and property are eyesores. I can't say I disagree." He glanced at the house, shoved his hands into his coat pockets. His hair was just a little long, the ends brushing his collar. Soft looking. The kind of hair a woman would love to run her fingers through.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from THE HOUSE ON MAIN STREET by Shirlee McCoy. Copyright © 2013 Shirlee McCoy. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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