SHE'S STEALING HIS HEART . . .
Vintage boutique owner Venus Smith is stunned to realize her newest acquisition comes with a larcenous legend. Stolen years ago, the antique mermaid brooch belongs to the Clayworth family. The right thing to do would be to return it, but that means facing Connor Clayworth O'Flynn, the sexy department store heir Venus has had an unrequited crush on since childhood-and the man who helped ruin her father.
ONE KISS AT A TIME
Connor knows that Venus has never forgiven him for what happened between their families. But business isn't personal, even though Venus's father's betrayal still cuts him like a knife. So when Venus proposes a deal-she'll return his family's brooch if he helps clear her father's name-he reluctantly agrees. As action-packed days turn into flirtatious fall nights, it isn't long before old memories resurface . . . and new desires ignite. Can two young lovers leave the past behind? Or must they first admit that all they've ever really wanted . . . is each other?
|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.20(d)|
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All I Want Is You
By Bodine, Sherrill
ForeverCopyright © 2012 Bodine, Sherrill
All right reserved.
CHICAGO JOURNAL & COURIER
Talk of the Town, by Rebecca Covington-Sumner
Darlings, love is in the air!
It seems wild mischievous Eros, God of Love, aka Cupid, has cast his sights on our windy city. I have been reliably informed of five engagements and six weddings in Lincoln Park alone and at 1220 Lake Shore Drive, in a mere three days, four engaged couples bought condos, and one glorious wedding took place on the rooftop garden of that very same building. Truly, Chicago is bursting with amore from the lake to our suburbs, north, south, and west!
We all know Eros’s greatest delight is to zip around shooting arrows of desire into innocent and perhaps not so innocent victims who instantly fall in love, whether they want to or not.
Methinks Cupid aimed well when one of Chicago’s most eligible bachelors, Drew Clayworth, finally realized exactly who he wanted when he wooed and won the heart of Athena Smith.
As you know, beautiful Athena runs the divine vintage boutique Pandora’s Box, along with her sisters, Venus and Diana.
Only the finest treasures find their way to this store from the Smith sisters’ mini treasure hunts through the closets, attics, and basements of Chicago’s elite. To all you blissful brides—no doubt the perfect wedding dress awaits you in their house of vintage beauty.
While shopping there please feel free to flaunt your engagement rings, because not only is Venus an expert on vintage couture costume jewelry but she is also a consummate jewel lover. She informed me that in the Orient and the West, diamonds, “stones of light,” symbolize both the hidden riches of the gem and a spiritual connection to the giver of the jewel.
Darlings, I’ve found that no matter how much time has passed since my beloved presented me with my ring, I only have to gaze at the diamond and I’m flooded with emotion. Yes, I appreciate its beauty, but, more important, it instantly conjures up my feelings of bliss at being married to the man of my dreams.
May it be true for all of you.
Speaking of the delights of marriage, the union between Drew Clayworth and Athena Smith is much anticipated by friends and family and destined to be the nuptial of the season. It is my fondest wish their marriage will heal the painful, deep rift between these two wonderful families. Where Cupid is concerned, who knows?
And who knows where the mischievous fellow may strike again.
Beware, Clayworth men! If your confirmed bachelor Drew can succumb to love, how far behind can you be in finding your soulmates?
When it happens it will be the Talk of the Town and I promise to share every romantic detail with all of you!
Today, on Chicago’s legendary old-money Gold Coast
Venus Smith saw her father, Alistair, waiting for her at a table next to the flower boxes at their favorite outdoor café in Lincoln Park.
The sunlight gleamed off his white hair as he bent over a thick tablet of paper.
He was still writing fast and furiously when she came up behind him.
“Happy Saturday,” she whispered into his ear and bent over to place a white pastry box on the table in front of him.
Squinting, he looked at it and then up at Venus.
“What is this?”
She dropped onto the chair across from him. “Open it.”
Meticulous as always, he slowly slid a knife blade along the tape holding the lid closed. Raising one eyebrow, he lifted out a small, white cake shaped like an open book.
Goddesses Rock was written out in pink frosting across the top.
“Do you like it, Dad? It’s to celebrate you starting to write your children’s book on goddess mythology.”
A gleam of joy lit his eyes. This was the first time she’d seen him happy since he’d been fired and disgraced by the Clayworth family eight months ago.
“Thank you, Venus. I love it.”
Ready to cry, she blinked hard and bit her lip to get a grip on herself. “It’s your favorite—white cake with fresh strawberries and whipped-cream filling. We probably should wait for Diana, but if you want we could cut it right now.”
“Cake for breakfast?” His chuckle warmed her in a way she hadn’t felt since that fateful, horrible day.
“Of course, cake for breakfast.” Laughing, she leaned across the table toward him. “It has all the food groups. Eggs, milk, flour, butter, even fruit. When you think about it, cake is perfect.”
“Just like my daughters.”
She wanted to savor this moment, with her father’s face alive in a way it hadn’t been since he’d been forced out as treasurer of John Clayworth and Company, Chicago’s iconic department store. The September sun bathed them in a warm, comfortable glow, and she felt herself relaxing in a way she hadn’t in months.
Please let this be the ending of the bad times and the beginning of good things for Dad.
But a deep, husky laughter rang out across the open-air restaurant and sent an icy shiver down her spine, as if a bucket full of ice had been dumped over her head.
Oh, no! It can’t be!
Hoping it might only be her overactive imagination, Venus shifted around in her seat, afraid that her weekly breakfast date with her father and this perfect new beginning was totally spoiled. If that voice belonged to the man she thought it belonged to…
The shiver shifted to her stomach as her eyes focused on Connor Clayworth O’Flynn pulling out a chair for his aunt at a table located near the geranium-festooned boxes that lined the sidewalk café. This had always been one of Venus’s favorite spots. So much for that.
The sun shot streaks of light through Connor’s thick black hair. He must have felt her gaze on him, because he turned his head and glanced toward her.
Deliberately, and with disdain, she swung away, ignoring him. She had been doing her best to avoid laying eyes on Connor for months, and even before he’d proven himself to be totally judgmental and without an ounce of loyalty, he’d always made her feel strangely… uneasy.
Across the small table, her father sat up straighter and stared over her shoulder.
She watched her father’s face change, hating the look of disappointment and hurt again etched across his bones and the tight lines of his mouth.
“Do you want to leave, Dad?” Waiting for the usual lecture, she met her father’s eyes.
“No, I do not want to leave. Connor is simply having breakfast with his aunt and uncle. As I plan to enjoy time with you and Diana this morning. These encounters are bound to occur. Chicago is a small town in many ways. Which is one of the reasons I have asked you and your sisters to put all our difficulties with the Clayworths in perspective and move forward.”
Hearing the defeat in his voice, she couldn’t bear it another moment. She’d really tried to honor his wishes, tried to still her burning desire to dig for information to help him. Now, unable to stop herself, she leaned across the table to clasp his hands.
Her father’s grip was strong and tight on her fingers.
“Please talk to me, Dad,” she urged, as she’d wanted to do for months. “I know being fired as treasurer of John Clayworth and Company after so many years hurt you. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forgive any of them, even Drew when he marries Athena, if you don’t explain the reason they fired you. Why you didn’t fight them. Why you didn’t defend yourself. Why you won’t talk about it with any of us.”
His deep sigh seemed more like a shudder. Guilt burned hot and bright through her but still she gripped his fingers, hoping this time he’d reveal the truth.
“Venus, you know all the Clayworth men and I signed an antidefamation agreement. I cannot and will not discuss it with you or your sisters. I’m sorry, but my decision is final.”
The slight breeze off Lake Michigan again carried the sound of Connor’s laughter and a snatch of his conversation, “… work at Clayworth’s…,” seemed to hang in the air over her table. She saw pain flicker like a blinding light through her father’s aquamarine eyes.
That’s it. Someone has to take Connor to task for what he’s done. Make him explain himself.
“Dad, you worked so closely with Connor and you always spoke of him so glowingly. His betrayal must have hurt you more than the others,” she said softly, almost afraid her words might cause him more pain.
He pressed a kiss on her knuckles and released her hands. “Yes, Connor and I became very close running everything together these last ten years since his father passed away. That is the only information I can share with you, Venus. You must let this go.”
I tried, I really did, Dad, but I can’t any longer. I’m going to defy your wishes and learn the truth to exonerate you.
“You look exactly like your mother.”
The warmth in his eyes brought a rush of emotion settling at the back of her throat. “You’re being silly, Dad.” She laughed, her voice husky with unshed tears. “You know Mom was tiny like Athena and Diana. I have your bone structure.”
“What did we always tell you?” he asked, his voice soft and loving.
“That I am the perfect combination of both of you,” she repeated, as she knew he wished her to do.
“Yes. And when you get that particular look on your face you’re the image of your mother, determined to solve a problem no matter how long it took her or what she had to do.”
“Then my tenacity is a good thing, right?” She laughed so she wouldn’t get weepy.
“I’m here,” Diana gasped, rushing up to kiss their father on the cheek. “What did I miss? What’s a good thing?”
He smiled between them. “Your sister’s tenacity.”
Diana flicked a look past Venus to where Connor sat behind her. “It depends on what Venus is up to.”
“To getting us all breakfast now that you’ve arrived, right on time as usual.”
“Afraid I might break my record this morning.” Diana slid into the chair next to their father. “I had to stop by my office at Clayworth’s to pick up some sketches.”
Not wanting to spoil their weekly breakfast together by opening the hot subject of Diana’s still working for John Clayworth and Company, Venus jumped up. “I’ll go ask the waitress to get our orders started.”
Trying to be patient while waiting in line, she couldn’t stop glancing out the window to where Connor sat with Bridget O’Flynn and Tony Panzarella.
Remembering her father’s pain, his words kept pounding through her head “… Connor… became very close running everything together these past ten years…”
How do I get Connor to tell me what happened to change everything and cause him to fire Dad? And how do I get him to admit he’s made a horrible mistake?
The crazy idea that she was the only one who could end this travesty of justice took root and wouldn’t stop growing. As if the power of her plan reached him, Connor rose slowly to his feet and turned toward the café door.
Warm air caught in her lungs. If he comes into this restaurant I swear I’m going to confront him right here and now.
He held the door open for his aunt Bridget to walk through.
Venus released her breath in a long sigh of relief. Okay, so I’m not quite sure yet what I’m going to say to him.
She smiled at Bridget, the only member of the Clayworth clan she still trusted. Except maybe Drew, for Athena’s sake.
“Venus, this is kismet.” Bridget’s wide grin split her narrow face. “I’ve been wantin’ to call you about my closet. Tony and Connor are always sayin’ I haven’t thrown out anythin’ in thirty years. Today they both threatened to clean it themselves because Connor is at the brownstone all day helpin’ Tony. Can you find the time soon to take a look? See if I have anythin’ for your store or to donate? I’d hate for them to toss out somethin’ of value or somethin’ that might find a good home with someone else.”
Firmly convinced this must be an omen that the cosmos had picked up her thought and was giving her a shove to make something happen to help her Dad, Venus lied. “This is kismet, Bridget. I happen to be free today.”
“Can’t believe my luck.” Bridget laughed. “We’re headin’ home now. Can you make it soon?”
Mentally going through the list of appointments she’d need to cancel, she nodded. “Very soon. Actually, as soon as I finish having breakfast with Dad and Diana I’ll come right over.”
From the moment Bridget strolled happily away between Connor and Tony, Venus could think of nothing but how quickly she could follow them.
She tried to be patient while she waited for their breakfast and carried the tray back to the table. Tried to listen to her father and sister while she pushed her scrambled eggs around on her plate and nibbled on the edges of an English muffin, but her wild scheme kept twisting through her head, blocking out everything else.
Connor and I have always been like oil and water. What could possibly be my first move here?
Ideas bounced around in her head, ways to coax information out of Connor, but everything felt too obvious. And Connor was anything but stupid. Determined to put the pieces of the puzzle together herself somehow, she didn’t realize her sister was staring at her.
“Venus, you’ve hardly eaten any breakfast. And you haven’t touched your piece of cake. What’s wrong?”
Diana’s soft but firm voice broke through Venus’s plotting and she came back to reality with a thump of her heart against her ribs. Her baby sister had an uncanny way of knowing when Venus wasn’t exactly telling the truth.
Resisting her powerful urge to play with her hair, which would totally give her away, Venus folded her hands in her lap. “You know I’m always on a diet.”
“You don’t need to be. You’re beautiful.” Her father patted his lips with a napkin and rose slowly to his feet. “I must get back home to my writing. Love you both.”
He kissed their cheeks and Venus watched him walk away, his tablet of notes on his book tucked under his arm and the leftover cake in his hands. His shoulders weren’t as square as they’d once been, nor was his stride as long and strong. Seeing it felt like a blow to her heart. It’s more than time for me to end this one way or another.
“All right. Dad’s gone. Now tell me what was going on with you and Bridget. After you came back to the table you were totally preoccupied.”
Venus shrugged. “I’m just helping her with her closet this afternoon.”
Diana’s aquamarine eyes, so much like her own, widened. “I know Connor won’t be at Clayworth’s today because he’s helping Tony. Did Bridget tell you he’d be there?”
“Yes,” Venus said as nonchalantly as possible. “Aren’t you the one always telling me I need to be at least cordial to all Clayworths no matter how I feel about them?”
Wise Diana was not fooled, and Venus knew it by the stern look on her sister’s usually angelic face.
“I’ve never understood why you’ve always seemed to dislike Connor. Even after he rescued you from Lake Michigan when we were teenagers.”
Remembering the embarrassment of being hauled up onto the Clayworths’ sandy beach like a soggy bag of extra-large potatoes, her bathing suit askew, exposing way too much of her overblossoming curves, Venus shook her head. “He didn’t rescue me. I was perfectly fine. He always took his unofficial lifeguard duties as stupidly rigidly and seriously as he does everything else. Including thinking he’s always right.”
Diana stared her down while rising slowly to her feet. “Venus, I know since the troubles with Dad you’ve gone out of your way to avoid Connor, even at Athena and Drew’s engagement party. So why are you spending the afternoon with him now? What do you want from him?”
To charm him, maybe even befriend him, so that he’ll reveal everything I need to know to help Dad.
Of course she couldn’t confess such an outrageous plan to anyone, especially her sister. She had no idea how she could ingratiate herself with Connor, but after her talk with her dad this morning and after seeing the look in his eyes, she knew Connor had the key to the truth.
Venus hugged her and decided to tell her part of her plan. “Stop worrying. All I want is to help Bridget clean her closet.”
“Venus, thank God you could come on such short notice. I can’t face this without your help.” Bridget flung open the doors to her expansive walk-in closet in her equally impressive neat-as-a-pin bedroom.
Bridget’s look of utter gratitude made Venus feel so guilty for being here under false pretenses that she felt a need to leave immediately and come back when her motives were pure and her head wasn’t full of crazy plots.
“Are you sure you really want to do this today?” Venus asked with real hope. “I could come back next week. Give you more time to really think about it.”
“Gotta do it now.” Bridget nodded with vigorous determination. “You bein’ free today is a Godsend. Tony’s thrilled. But drivin’ me crazy with helpful suggestions. I made Connor take him to lunch. They’ll be back soon.”
Good. That’s why I’m here. Venus tensed, feeling even guiltier.
She watched Bridget peer longingly into the closet. The light cast a halo around the cloud of strawberry hair piled high on her head, and her still-twinkling eyes looked like narrow slits of emerald above her sharp, ivory cheekbones.
A rush of true affection for Bridget washed away some of Venus’s guilt. Okay, she might be here for the nefarious purpose of ingratiating herself with Bridget’s adored nephew, despite the fact she considered him Smith family enemy number one, but Venus would help Bridget with this closet.
Smiling, Bridget glanced back at her. “Please hurry, Venus, before I change my mind. If you don’t find anythin’ suitable for your store, maybe there are some items I can donate to that charity you support for needy women goin’ back into the job market.”
Venus gave herself a sharp kick to do her job for the good of others. This didn’t need to be all about her and her plot to get Connor on her side.
“Thanks. Your donation would be much appreciated by Dress for Success. I’m ready if you are.”
Venus stepped into the closet, which looked as large as her first studio apartment had been, and came eye to eye with Connor’s undeniably handsome face framed in a portrait perched on the middle shelf.
“See what I mean? I have hundreds of pictures of Connor.” Bridget sighed behind her. “I should have put this one away years ago. But he looks so darn handsome in it. I can’t bear to part with it even though I think it was taken the day Connor got kicked off the Northwestern swim team for breakin’ Brad Evans’s nose in a fight in the locker room. Remember that?”
Venus nodded, her gaze glued to the picture of Connor climbing out of the pool after winning the Big Ten hundred-yard butterfly championship.
Remember? Like yesterday.
The smell of chlorine. Connor’s thick black hair slicked back. A faint smile curling his full lips. His six-pack abs glistening with beads of water. He’d reminded her of the statue of David she’d studied in Florence during her junior year of college abroad.
She hadn’t liked Connor even in those days, but she’d felt a twinge of Oh, my God, he is so hot before the team surrounded him, slapping him on the back. Including his best friend, Brad Evans, the object of her youthful passion.
The timing of their fistfight on the heels of her and Brad’s getting together had given her the totally illogical idea that she’d had something to do with the fight. When she’d found the courage to ask Brad, he gave one harsh laugh through his bandages and murmured, “Connor’s a jerk who thinks he’s better than everyone else.”
Over the years it had become clear that Connor being a jerk was the one thing Brad was right about, she thought as she resisted the powerful urge to turn the picture to the wall.
“I was there. I went to Northwestern, too, don’t forget. It turned out to be a bad day all around.”
“Then it’s high time we put it away once and for all.”
To Venus’s relief, Bridget swept the offending picture off the shelf and dropped it with a heavy clank into a cardboard box already half filled with items destined to be put into storage.
“One down. What’s next, Venus?”
She waved Bridget deeper into the labyrinthine room filled with rods hung with clothes and shelves neatly stacked with countless velvet and satin boxes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
Gazing around, Bridget shook her head. “I don’t know where to begin. Start wherever you want, Venus. Tony and Connor will be back soon, wantin’ to give us advice.”
The thought of staring Connor in the eyes and actually implementing her plan made her shiver and her heart thump faster.
She tried to ignore her galloping pulse by slowly moving through the closet, but she couldn’t stop worrying about how horrified her father would be if he knew she planned to somehow convince Connor to reveal the evidence he had against him. Her sisters would be even angrier, since they’d decided to respect their father’s wishes and accept his firing as treasurer of John Clayworth and Company by his lifelong friends and employers, the Clayworth men.
But Venus had never been saintly like her sisters. She wouldn’t rest until she found out the truth. Just as her mother would have done.
Today’s the day I begin.
She sucked in a deep, strengthening breath.
She should have known Bridget wouldn’t use a heavy, powdery sachet, or worse, essence of mothballs, which unfortunately permeated the storage closets of other Chicago grandes dames for whom Venus had performed similar services.
She pushed up the sleeves of her cashmere sweater, sans jewelry, to ensure there was nothing to catch on any delicate lace or silk she might come across. She felt naked without her bangles, necklaces, and big earrings. Fashion as armor, her sister Diana called Venus’s baubles. She’d need all the armor she could get when Connor showed up.
“Bridget, let’s start with the items you’ve had for a long time. Stuff you might have forgotten was in here.”
Determined to get this job done, Venus walked to the very back of the closet, dropped to her knees, and pulled out a long, sturdy white dress box. She lifted the lid and gasped at the rich cream satin and delicate lace of one of the most beautiful gowns she’d ever seen.
“It’s my mother’s wedding dress,” Bridget said, a gentle, sweet smile curling her wide mouth.
The look on her face made Venus go all gooey and warm inside. “It’s a perfect dress for a bride,” she sighed, fingering the weighty fabric. “Did you read Rebecca’s latest Talk of the Town column? She’s right. Nearly everyone I know has either just gotten engaged or just gotten married. And who wouldn’t want to walk down the aisle in something as exquisite as this? I mean, look at this lace.” She gently lifted the gown up across her breasts, smoothing it down to its tiny waist. “It’s handmade Alençon, probably more than a hundred years old. See, you can tell. Look at these tiny, tiny little knots, all tied by hand. And the thread is linen…”
“Bellissima, Venus!” Tony Panzarella’s booming voice interrupted her.
Venus started and for a second she couldn’t breathe. She looked up to find the closet door filled by Tony and Connor, staring at her as she clutched the wedding dress to her breasts. Burning with surprise, she met Connor’s eyes and his oddly appealing almost-smile. She gripped the gown even tighter, like a shield. You’re back too soon. I’m not prepared yet.
“What are you two doing back so soon?” Bridget demanded.
Tony gazed adoringly at her. “Il mia cara, Connor and I made a wager about whether Venus could convince you to truly clean your closet, and I insisted on seeing which of us won. I willingly surrender my fifty-dollar bet to you, Connor. You were right about Venus. You said she is stubborn as a mule and it is impossible to change her mind once she’s decided on something. What a woman!”
Tony threw her a kiss and Connor reddened, making his emerald eyes, so like his aunt’s, blaze.
Venus sucked in a sharp, painful breath. “Well, I am known for my persuasiveness. But I prefer to think of it as tenacity, not stubbornness,” she purred the words with such forced sweetness she nearly choked. She’d rather faint from lack of oxygen than let Connor see her confusion. Tony might be charmed by the idea of Venus as strong-willed, but she knew Connor had not meant it as a compliment. It was part of her plan to change his mind about her.
“Hello, Venus.” Connor nodded.
“Hello, Connor.” She nodded back with equal, if not superior good manners.
Hands on her hips, Bridget faced the men. “Both of you out. No, wait. Before you go, Connor, would you please take down those brown boxes from the top shelf?”
The closet seemed to shrink around Venus as Connor stepped toward her, reaching for the high shelf. Trapped, she had no choice but to stay put, the exquisite wedding gown on her lap, and pretend she wasn’t bothered by Connor’s powerful torso looming over her, reminding her again of Michelangelo’s statue of David.
Of course the David statue is gloriously nude.
She pictured the David in a Speedo like the one Connor wore in the photo. Given the size of the tiny Speedo in the picture, it didn’t take much of her fertile imagination for that image to give way to a vision of Connor as magnificently nude as the David.
Willing the image to vanish, she blinked, bit her lip, and literally stopped breathing.
The lace wedding dress slithered out of her fingers.
Lip throbbing, chest aching, she sucked in some oxygen while gathering the dress tightly to her breasts. Hoping she appeared utterly nonchalant and not at all flustered, she flicked Connor a bored glance as he hunkered down beside her to place two boxes on the floor. One was a wooden chest with a heart and two doves carved on the lid.
Bridget laughed. “My God, it’s my hope chest. I’d forgotten where I’d stored it.”
Tony took a step closer. “Your hope chest? I thought they were much bigger. This is too intriguing. I cannot leave now. I must see what’s inside.”
“No, you don’t.” Bridget stopped him with her palm on his chest. “Out. You too, Connor.”
Connor straightened, brushing against Venus. She felt a pull on her hair as her tortoiseshell clip caught on the arm of his navy blue cashmere sweater.
Her hair fell heavy and hot around her shoulders.
He hunkered back down, quickly found the clip, and handed it to her.
“Sorry,” he muttered, staring into her eyes.
Perfect time to do something nice. Like say his eyes are honest to goodness as dazzling as priceless emeralds.
Instead she simply nodded. She felt utterly stupid not being able to utter one single friendly comment to the man.
Ridiculously nervous now that the moment to move forward with her plan was at hand, she sat like a lump, fumbling with the clip, trying to pull part of her hair back up. Helpless to stop him, she watched Connor kiss Bridget on the cheek and urge a protesting Tony out the door.
“Are you all right, Venus? You look ready to jump out of your skin.” Bridget shook her head. “I know this isn’t easy for you. I hope someday you can forgive Connor for his takin’ sides against your dad. Understand his choices. Move on like your father wants you to do. Like your sisters have done. Perhaps you could even be friends with Connor. You are all goin’ to be family.”
She’d never in a million years hurt Bridget by being rude and putting her in the middle of this feud with Connor. But she couldn’t bear to lie either, especially because of everything Bridget had done for her and her sisters after their mom passed away.
“Connor and I have always been like that old cliché. Oil and water don’t mix.”
“That makes me sad, Venus. You and Connor are two of my favorite people in the whole world.”
Venus tried to sound cheerful. “Well, who knows? Maybe things between Connor and me will change.”
They’ll have to if I’m going to get any information out of him. But the last thing I want to do is to hurt you, Bridget.
In her heart of hearts, Venus was utterly convinced that learning the truth about Connor’s part in her father’s disgrace would be good for all of them, that it would finally right this terrible wrong and heal the breach between their two families. She gave Bridget a genuine smile. “Now I don’t want you to be sad. Be glad you saved this priceless wedding gown. It stays right here.”
Ready to get back to business before she gave too many of her feelings away, Venus carefully placed the dress back in the box and set the lid firmly in place. She could have sold this exquisite gown in a heartbeat to one of the brides who haunted Pandora’s Box looking for a totally original wedding dress. But the look on Bridget’s face when she’d first gazed down at it told Venus the dress represented memories too precious to be discarded, even if she never opened the box again.
Laughing, Bridget joined her on the carpet, crossing her legs in a classic yoga pose. “I promise I won’t be sentimental about much.”
“What about this?” Venus ran her fingertips across the top of the hope chest. The inscription Love and Marriage was carved over the inlaid heart.
“Hope chests like this were all the rage back in my day. Every girl I knew had one.” Bridget shrugged. “ I guess you don’t get much of a call for them in the store now.” She paused for a moment and ran her fingers over the inscription. “So how do you feel about love and marriage goin’ together, Venus?” Bridget gave her the truth and nothing but the truth look she’d perfected in the years she’d been head of security for John Clayworth and Company. The years when Venus’s mother and father had worked at Clayworth’s. The years when they’d all been like family.
“Is there someone special in your life, Venus? Are you goin’ to be the next Smith sister to be married off?”
Delighted to be finally and completely truthful and to push her guilt about plotting against Connor aside for a little while, Venus laughed. “I’m going to be just like you, Bridget. Gloriously single, thrilled and fulfilled with my career. That’s more than enough for me. I’ll never marry either. I’ll be everyone’s favorite adored and adoring auntie.”
Bridget’s rich, deep laughter was positively infectious. Venus couldn’t stop laughing back, but she tried, forcing a stern tone into her voice. “I’m serious, Bridget. Really.”
“You’re way too young to be thinkin’ such a way. You wait. Some tall, dark, and handsome Mr. Right will come along.”
“Not everyone can be as lucky in love as Rebecca Covington and David Sumner. Two strangers whose eyes met across a crowded room, making every cell in their bodies go numb.” Venus gave a mock shiver of delight. “I love the way Rebecca describes how she felt the instant she first saw David. I’m very sure about the type of guy I want, so I’m betting if my aha there he is at last moment hasn’t happened by now, it never will.”
Bridget gave her another sharp look. “Can’t believe there haven’t been a few Mr. Rights in your life.”
Venus twisted a lock of hair around her ring finger. “Nope.”
“Sure about that?” Bridget teased. “I recall your parents and sisters tellin’ me that when you start twirlin’ your hair you’re either confused or tellin’ a fib.”
“Oh, all right.” She laughed, folding her hands primly in her lap and wishing her habit didn’t always give her away. “Once I thought Brad Evans was Mr. Right. My type. Tall, blond, and handsome. In college we got pretty close. You know the old story. Boy and girl meet. Then boy gets a broken nose. Breaks his promises and his girl’s heart by breaking up with her.” The tiniest bit embarrassed, Venus blinked and smiled. “Eventually we got back together. And have called it off, gone our separate ways, and reunited dozens of times since then.”
A deep furrow appeared between Bridget’s delicately arched brows. “But Brad Evans hasn’t lived in Chicago since he went east to law school. As you gals say, isn’t he geographically undesirable?”
“That’s the beauty of it. We get together when it’s convenient for both of us.” Venus reached for more hair to twirl. “No commitments. No judgment calls. Exactly the kind of modern, fun relationship we both want.”
“In my day they didn’t call such a thing a relationship. Don’t you want more?” Bridget asked, sounding quite a bit like Diana did whenever they discussed Brad.
Venus couldn’t deny that Brad had changed and so had she. But she wasn’t ready to let go of the nice memories they shared yet. Bridget kept watching her, so Venus forced herself to quit playing with her hair. “Nope. I’m thrilled with the status quo. But I do want to see what’s in this hope chest. Can I peek?”
As she lifted the lid she glanced at Bridget. Was that regret in her eyes? Regret for me? Or for herself?
Worried, Venus stopped. “Are you okay, Bridget?”
“I’m thinkin’ I’m a fine one to be lecturin’ you when I’ve been engaged to Tony forever and never married him.”
So many times Venus had wanted to ask why Bridget and Tony had stayed perpetually engaged. What changed their mind about marriage?
The pained look on Bridget’s face told her now was not the time to get an answer. “We don’t need to do this today, Bridget.”
“Yes, we do.” Bridget smiled and all traces of sadness vanished. She seemed her usual confident, take-no-prisoners, self. “I’m a lot like you, Venus. Stubborn. Let’s do it.”
The see-through nylon chemise nightgown Venus lifted from the chest told its own tale. The very expensive price tag from Clayworth’s still hung from one delicate strap.
“Good lord, I must have been nineteen when I bought that nightgown.”
Venus laughed. “Bridget, I never knew you were such a sexpot.”
“If memory serves, I fear there’s worse to come.”
Venus held up a black garter belt and glanced at Bridget’s still-slim hips. “Love it! You should wear this.”
“God in heaven, Venus, Tony would have a heart attack.”
Picturing robust Tony with his mane of salt and pepper hair, flat belly, and wolfish grin, Venus shook her head. “I’m betting he’d love it.”
Venus dug deeper into the box until her fingertips hit something hard. “Oh, what’s this?”
She lifted out a black velvet jewelry box. Every nerve in her body quivered with excitement and every instinct screamed vintage jewelry find. Unable to resist, she sprang the lid.
Instantly, tiny pinpoints of light reflected off metal hangers in the closet’s dim recesses. Resting gently against the box’s cushioned interior lay an exquisite mermaid brooch. About the length of Venus’s manicured index finger, the mermaid’s body was made from one large rhinestone. Her hair rippled in a cascade of navette-cut aurora borealis.
“I forgot that brooch was in there.” Over Venus’s shoulder, Bridget’s voice sounded strained, as if she’d been running.
Venus stared at Bridget’s pale face, then back down at the open black velvet box in her hand.
“Bridget, this is a really rare Eisenberg mermaid pin. They only made a few copies. You must remember how the original was commissioned by John Clayworth to be made of real stones and then it was stolen in that famous heist?”
Bridget nodded and a little color returned to her high cheekbones. “It happened before I started workin’ at Clayworth’s. Over the last thirty or so years that heist has become a Chicago legend. Like Al Capone’s vault.”
“Exactly. Even more reason why you should definitely keep this piece. Think of the fabulous history behind it.”
Bridget stared at the brooch. “Someone gave me that on one of the darkest nights of my life. There are too many bad memories attached to it for me to ever want to look at it again.”
With that, Bridget jumped to her feet and bolted out of the closet.
Aching with worry, Venus waited, wanting to give Bridget time before she followed her. She’d encountered this kind of momentary emotional shutdown in her clients before.
Hoping she’d given Bridget enough time but too worried not to go to her, Venus rose slowly to her feet. Clutching the jewelry case, she walked out of the closet and into the bedroom.
Bridget stood gazing out the window.
“Maybe we should take a break, Bridget,” Venus said softly, wanting to make this easier. “Revisiting the past can be tough.”
Bridget turned to her. “I’m sorry, Venus, after I promised not to be sentimental. I’m sure you’ve had your share of other closet criers with all the society ladies takin’ their walks down memory lane.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of stories. Of heartbreak. Tragedy. Triumph. Deception. But most of all about sweeping, awe-inspiring, fairy-tale-worthy recollections of every possible kind of love.”
The pain on Bridget’s face suggested something so sad it made tears of sympathy burn behind Venus’s eyes. Sensing looking at the brooch was painful for Bridget, Venus snapped the lid of the black velvet box closed. “Are you absolutely sure you don’t want to keep this? This is a book piece. Highly, highly collectible.”
Bridget took such a deep breath she seemed to shudder. “The truth is, there are certain hurts that leave a lingerin’ sore point, no matter how long ago they happened. I bet I sound like a hypocrite to you after askin’ you to forgive Connor’s sins. But I had my doubts about why and how I got this gift, so I never felt right wearin’ it. And I still don’t. Will you sell it for me and give the money to charity?”
Venus held the box close to her breasts, knowing she could never part with it if Bridget didn’t want it. The instant she’d gazed down at the mermaid it seemed to belong to her. Maybe because she’d grown up listening to her father’s stories about her namesake, the goddess Venus, being born of the sea. Rising out of the water. In her childish mind she’d asked, “So I’m like a mermaid, right, Daddy?”
Her father had always been magic to her. Now he seemed broken because of his so-called crime against the Clayworths. And she knew Connor’s betrayal hurt him the worst.
She took a long, deep breath, more determined than ever to get the truth from Connor no matter what it cost her.
“Bridget, if you’re absolutely sure you don’t want the brooch, I’d like to buy it for myself.”
Bridget shook her head. “I’d give it to you but I’ve always had the crazy notion this brooch is bad luck. I don’t want it to rub off on you.”
Venus laughed and gave her a quick hug. “It won’t be bad luck for me. It reminds me of happy times when I was a child. Please, please, will you sell it to me?”
Bridget seemed to be studying her, looking for something. “No, I won’t sell it to you. I’ll give it to you.”
“No way.” Venus stood firm. “I can’t accept such a gift. This copy is worth twenty-five hundred dollars, at least. I’ll write you a check for that amount. Once I research it a bit more, I’ll pay any difference. I won’t feel right about it any other way. Honestly.”
The tiniest of smiles curved Bridget’s mouth. “I’m not takin’ your money, Venus. If you want to do somethin’, donate the money to Connor’s Golden Gloves boxin’ gym he built for juvenile defendants and we’ll call it even. The brooch was a gift from Tony.”
She’s giving away a gift from Tony?
“Bridget, my mother always told me never to give away a gift from…” Venus stopped. I can’t say husband like Mom did. Should I say lover, paramour, what?
“… a close loved one,” Venus decided sounded right. “Won’t Tony’s feelings be hurt if you sell the brooch to me?”
Bridget patted Venus’s shoulder. “Don’t worry yourself. Trust me, men don’t care about this sort of thing. Tony probably won’t even remember he gave it to me.”
The door opened on Connor O’Flynn’s boxing gym in Lakeside and he looked up from adjusting the Velcro on Gregori Prozument’s bag gloves.
Holding hands, Bridget and Tony walked in.
As had been the case for as long as he could remember, seeing them together brightened his mood. Laughing, he shook his head. “This is great. I didn’t expect to see you today. What are you two up to?”
“Surprisin’ you. We’re takin’ you for a steak dinner before your mother arrives in Chicago for her yearly visit and wants you to eat organic tofu for the next ten days.” Bridget waved. “But no hurry. Don’t stop on account of us. We’ll wait in the office until you finish.” Bridget shot Gregori her the truth and nothing but the truth look, which never failed to get answers. “Good to see you here. You keepin’ yourself out of trouble?”
The teenager shifted from foot to foot as he did when boxing. “I’m cool here,” he shouted back.
Tony gave him a thumbs-up, grinned, and draped his arm around Bridget’s shoulders as they strolled through the open office door.
Watching them, Gregori kept swaying with pent-up energy, circling the mat. “Your Aunt Bridget’s been real cool since she busted me for boostin’ at Clayworth’s Department Store. My mom says she’s the best thing to ever happen to me ’cause it got me here to Golden Gloves.”
Gregori motioned toward the mirrored walls and the four-rope ring with its stained white canvas flooring where two other teenagers were in full gear and sparring.
“The judge says you been with Golden Gloves awhile. That why you started this club, Mr. O’Flynn?”
He’d always been honest with the kids in the program. “Yeah, that’s how it started. In college I got into trouble for not being able to control my anger. Got into a fistfight over a girl.” Over Venus Smith, of all people. “The guy pressed charges.”
“Whoa!” Gregori’s eyes grew wider. “How come a rich dude like you couldn’t get out of it?”
The sharp image of his parents’ disappointment and the pained look in Bridget’s eyes flashed through his head and again he heard her voice, You did it. You own up to it.
Connor shook his head. “Didn’t try to get out of it. My grandfather Clayworth was on the Park District Board when they started Golden Gloves to get kids off the street. I chose to volunteer with the program as my community service. And I’ve never stopped, because it works.”
“Fuckin’ works for me. Got me out of the gang, didn’t it.” Gregori knocked his gloves together. “Now I fight fair. By the rules.”
“That’s the idea. So show me your stuff. Let’s drill some combinations first.” Connor slipped on red focus mitts and held his hands up at shoulder level. “I want you to aim at the white dot in the middle of these targets. Left lead jab to a right rear cross. Ready?”
Connor circled, moving into position. From the beginning Gregori had been a quick learner. The kid took an orthodox left-lead stance. Jabbed with his left. Then his right.
Nodding, Connor absorbed the impacts. “Just like that. Keep it going.” He heard his aunt’s and uncle’s voices coming from his office but tried to ignore them to concentrate on Gregori getting his rhythm. “Great. Now give me more.”
“Cara, how could you sell Venus the brooch I gave you for your twenty-fifth birthday?” Tony’s deep voice roared through the gym.
Tony never yells.
Hot with shock, Connor turned toward the open office door. At the same instant he felt a sudden sharp pain along his right jaw.
“Dude, you moved!”
Hearing the panic in Gregori’s voice, Connor swung his head back. The kid’s face looked as white as the stenciled O’Flynn’s Golden Gloves Gym blazoned across his black tank top.
Wanting to reassure him, Connor grinned. “It’s not your fault I dropped my guard.” He stripped off the targets to rub his throbbing chin. “Nice cross. Now finish up the circuit yourself. Two-minute jump rope. Three minute round shadow boxing. One hundred crunches. I’ll be back.”
Connor sprinted across the gym to his small office and pulled the door closed.
Instead of standing close, arms around each other, as they had when they entered the office, Bridget and Tony now stood at opposite ends of the room, each gazing up at the flat-screen TV on the wall.
Venus, her apricot-colored hair tumbling around her shoulders the way it had in Bridget’s closet, her body poured into a vee neck black dress with a brooch shaped like a mermaid pinned on the high curve of her left breast, was frozen on the screen.
“What’s going on?” Connor asked, carefully studying his aunt’s and uncle’s tense faces the way he observed jurors in the courtroom.
“We’re watchin’ Rebecca’s show, Talk of the Town. She’s doin’ a segment on all the gowns that have been bought at Pandora’s Box for White House events in Washington since the last election.”
His aunt sounded calm, but the pained look in her eyes turned Connor icy cold. He knew this look, although thank God he’d seldom seen it. Why in the hell is she so upset?
Looking for an answer, he turned to Tony, who pointed to the DVR frozen Venus on screen.
“Cara, that is my brooch, is it not? Why would you want to part with it?”
Bridget seemed to be studying her black shoes instead of responding to Tony’s normally deep, soft voice cracking around the edges. “I didn’t think you’d remember or care, Tony.”
“Remember? Cara, I gave the brooch to you the night I proposed to you. The night I told you I loved you.”
At last Bridget looked up at Tony. The powerful intensity of their locked eyes made Connor feel like a voyeur. He backed up one step and his gym shoes creaked.
They both stared at him, all emotion stripped from their faces. He knew these looks, too. They were the ones used when Connor was growing up and his aunt and uncle were trying to protect him from being hurt.
Now, like then, Bridget smiled too brightly, forcing it for his benefit. “Enough of this nonsense. Ready, Connor? You must be starving. I know I am.”
Narrowing his eyes, he studied both of them. “We’re not going anywhere until I get some answers. I’ve never seen you guys fight.”
“That you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it never happens.”
He met his aunt’s stern stare, refusing to back down. “You’re avoiding the question, Aunt Bridget. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Now don’t you be givin’ me your lawyer look and tone of voice, Connor Clayworth O’Flynn. This is a little misunderstandin’ between me and your Uncle Tony. Nothin’ for you to worry about or try to make right.”
“You could make it right, cara, if you bought the brooch back from Venus.”
With a sharp gasp, she swung to Tony. “I’d never ask Venus such a thing and you know it. I don’t go back on my word.”
Something raw flashed between them.
Connor stepped closer, wanting to break this tension he didn’t understand. There’s more to this than the brooch. “You two taught me to talk through a problem until it’s solved. Let’s do that now.”
Into their silence the door creaked open. Sweating, Gregori stood, looking at them. “I’m done, Mr. O’Flynn.” He glanced toward Venus, still frozen on screen, and whistled. “Man, that chick’s smokin’ hot!”
Frustrated at not getting answers, Connor sucked in a deep breath.
Before he could answer, he heard Tony’s short, hard laugh. “You’re a discerning young man, Gregori.”
The kid grinned. “If that means I’d like to get it on with that hot chick, then damn straight.” His eyes darted between the TV and Connor. “You look kinda upset, Mr. O’Flynn. I mean if she don’t belong to you.”
“Mine? Far from it,” he muttered, staring at Venus in all her glory. The brooch that seemed to mean so much to Tony winked at her breast.
I need answers.
He nodded to Gregori. “Good job today. If you’re finished with your circuit you’re done.”
“Cool. See you Monday for clean-up.” Gregori nodded to Bridget and cast one last lustful teenage stare at the TV screen before he disappeared out the door.
“There’s hope for that boy.” Bridget chuckled. “He knows a beautiful woman when he sees her. And I know when I’m starvin’. Let’s go.”
“Not before we talk.” Connor glanced from his aunt’s set face to Tony’s stricken one. “C’mon, tell me what’s wrong so we can work it out.”
“Maybe at dinner.” Bridget clutched Tony’s hand. “Go shower and close up the gym, Connor. Meet us at Gibson’s in about an hour. I’m in the mood for one of their steaks plus their frozen ice cream pie. You need to fortify yourself for your mom’s idea of cookin’.”
Bridget pressed a quick, warm kiss on Connor’s cheek and pulled Tony out the door before Connor could stop them.
He’d been outmaneuvered. No way would they discuss anything personal at the busiest restaurant in the city where they’d probably know half the people in the dining room.
Concern and frustration gnawing at him, Connor fumbled with the remote. Venus, lush, her stubborn spirit sparkling through the still frame, stared back at him.
He couldn’t deny Gregori had said what every healthy male must feel when he looked at Venus. Connor had always thought that the fact she didn’t seem to get her sensuality only intensified her impact on men. Somehow it gave her the kind of honest-to-God power that could wring a sexual response from a rock.
Hell, she actively disliked him, yet whenever they were in the same room he felt a kick in his gut. As he had yesterday at the café, until she deliberately turned away from him. Since the trouble with her dad, they avoided each other whenever possible, which was a logical course of action given the circumstances.
As he shut off the TV, the mermaid brooch gave one last wink.
Why was Venus wearing his aunt’s pin? And what did the pin have to do with the pain he’d seen on his uncle’s face?
He’d talk to Tony man to man and find out. But first he had to get out of here.
He locked up after the last kid signed out, took a quick shower, and was headed to Gibson’s within the hour.
The traffic on Rush Street inched along slower than normal. Hot with impatience, Connor glanced at his watch. “Damn it, move,” he muttered and pressed the horn.
Reminding himself to stay cool, he sucked in a deep breath. Growing up with his parents’ rigid rules, he’d learned to hide his feelings, but sometimes it felt wrong to always be in such tight control, particularly when it involved someone he loved. And God knew he loved Tony and Bridget too much to not find out what was wrong and fix it.
He tried to be patient, waiting his turn to pull up in front of Gibson’s, toss his keys to the valet, and work his way through the crowd coming and going through the revolving door.
Inside, dozens of businessmen and a few women spilled out of the large bar fondly called the Viagra Triangle by locals. One guy, his tie hanging loose and his face flushed, leaned against the wall, hitting on Kathleen, the hostess, who handled him with her legendary tact and charm.
Once he drifted back into the bar, she looked at Connor and shrugged. “One of those nights. Tony and Bridget are already here. Sorry, I couldn’t give them a better table. They’re sitting next to a table of ten celebrating a birthday.”
“C’mon, Kathleen, I know they requested to be in the middle of the action, didn’t they?” He laughed, trying to accept that his aunt had her own plan for tonight. Which without a doubt did not include telling him anything he wanted to know.
“You know I’ll never drop a dime on Bridget and Tony.” With an apologetic smile, Kathleen handled him as smoothly as she had the tipsy customer. “But if you can wait, I’ll find a better table.”
“Thanks. That would be great.” Determined to get some answers, he headed to where Bridget and Tony sat between a table of eight men and the birthday party of women laughing uproariously as one opened gifts.
As usual the restaurant hummed with conversation, every table full of customers, come for the great food and the atmosphere of energy generated by the city’s power players who dined here nightly.
Fresh from hosting her show, Talk of the Town, live, Rebecca sat in her usual booth with her husband, David, and their best friend, Kate Carmichael.
Disappointment stung him.
If Venus was with them I might have had an opening to question her… she might have given me some clue to why the brooch is so important to both Tony and Bridget.
Rebecca looked up, saw him, and blew a kiss. He turned toward their table to say hello but was stopped by an alderman and a judge on their way out, but wanting to discuss the new mayor’s job performance with him.
As Connor had predicted, he knew half of the diners and had to hide his impatience, shaking hands, until at last he reached his aunt and uncle.
Tony was standing, waiting for him at their table.
“Ah, Connor, at last.”
Tony’s pale face sent a shiver of fear through Connor. He gripped his uncle’s shoulder. “Are you all right?”
Lines crinkled Tony’s wide forehead. “Headache.”
“Kathleen will get us a quieter table. You can’t hear yourself think sitting here.”
A wistful smile curling the corners of Tony’s mouth, he dropped heavily back into his chair. “As your aunt always says, often our thoughts aren’t worth listening to in the first place. That’s her motto for tonight.”
A full glass of red wine rested in front of Tony, and Bridget stared down into her glass of white.
Concern burned hotter in Connor’s gut. “Do you want to stay here or go somewhere quieter for dinner? We should talk, Aunt Bridget.”
At last she looked up but didn’t meet his eyes. She tilted her head and stared around him.
“Look who’s come in. Ed Mahoney and his girlfriend, Maxie Robinson. I’ll ask them to join us.”
She bolted away and Connor turned to stare at Tony’s pale face. “What in the hell is going on between the two of you? Is this all because Venus bought the brooch?”
“We will work out this business of the brooch. I fear it may not be as simple to undo the past.”
Puzzled by the firm set of Tony’s mouth, Connor shook his head. “It’s never too late to negotiate a settlement. If you regret Bridget’s selling Venus the brooch, then we’ll buy it back from her.”
“Yes, the brooch is important, but getting it back may not solve everything.” Tony slowly stood. “Maxie and Ed are joining us.”
Connor had no choice but to stand, kiss Maxie on her soft, scented cheek, and shake Ed’s hand.
“I’m very excited. We’ve been watching Rebecca Covington-Sumner’s Talk of the Town show and now here she is right across the room. I think she’s wonderful,” Maxie sighed while Connor held out the chair for her.
Generally he enjoyed Maxie’s company, but tonight he couldn’t concentrate on her starstruck gushing about Rebecca’s show and how she looked even younger in person.
Ed was the best insurance broker in the city, and Clayworth’s had benefited by being his biggest client, but his statistics-riddled conversation with Tony about the necessary cost of insurance for home security systems left Connor bored.
Tonight all his senses zeroed in on the careful way both Tony and Bridget held themselves and the way they picked at their steak dinners even though earlier his aunt had said she was starving.
Tony, his eyes hooded, rubbed at his temples.
Bridget glanced over. “That’s the fourth time you’ve done that. You didn’t take your blood pressure pill, did you?”
Tony flashed her an impatient look, a gesture so rare, it seemed surreal to Connor.
“It seems I did forget, cara. Perhaps I should leave you the car and cab home.”
“Don’t be foolish. I’m always sayin’ you need to take better care of yourself. We’ll both go.” Bridget stood up, flashing another of her forced smiles. “Sorry to leave before dessert. Have a piece of the ice cream pie for me. Connor, I’ll get the car and meet you both outside.”
Watching Bridget hurry out, Maxie’s eyes grew rounder.
Puffing out his barrel chest, Ed rose. “Tony, may I be of assistance?”
“No, thank you. All is well.” Tony bent over Maxie and kissed her hand. “It is always a pleasure to see you. Please enjoy the rest of your evening. Good night.”
It hurt Connor to see Tony’s slumped shoulders and slow steps as he maneuvered between the tables.
“I’ll be back,” Connor bit out to Ed before quickly following his uncle.
By the time they reached the entrance, Tony’s black BMW sat waiting at the curb.
With innate courtesy, Tony held the car door open. Avoiding his eyes and Connor’s, Bridget quickly slipped in.
“Good-bye, Connor. Need to get your uncle home and make sure he takes his medicine this time. See you tomorrow morning at Clayworth’s.”
Watching his aunt and uncle pull away, he told himself to think rationally about how to help them.
The image of Venus, the mermaid winking at him from her breast, flashed before him.
Yes, getting the brooch back from Venus is the logical place to start.
Late as usual, Venus drove past Pandora’s Box on the way to the garage. The sun reflected off the large front windows. Even squinting, she couldn’t see if Diana had arrived and opened the door.
Of course she has. Diana is never late.
Venus turned the corner, heading into the alley. Passing the small side parking lot she slowed, surprised she didn’t see Diana parked in her normal spot.
It struck her as odd, but then she remembered Diana had more than once taken a cab to the store.
Running from the garage, through the small yard to the back door of Pandora’s Box, Venus fumbled in her black Croc tote for the store keys.
A stiff breeze carried the scent of late-blooming roses from the yard across the alley. The wind whipped her hair into her eyes as she reached out to unlock the back door.
Excerpted from All I Want Is You by Bodine, Sherrill Copyright © 2012 by Bodine, Sherrill. Excerpted by permission.
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