When Lacey Andrews’s cousin asks her to mind a stunning piece of shorefront property on Virginia Beach, she jumps at the opportunity. Lacey could use a vacation after dealing with a particularly unpleasant customer at work. Little does she know that her quiet retreat is about to be interrupted by the very same surly but stunning man who berated her on the phone.
It seems that Lacey’s cousin accidentally asked two people to housesit, and Cole Whitfield has no intention of leaving. But as the surprise housemates spend more time together in the relaxing ocean breeze, their rivalry unwinds and romantic sparks start to fly. When the real world invades their vacation bubble, however, their sweet flirtation might quickly turn sour.
With over 300 million books in print, Janet Dailey is a master of romance, proving once again her prowess in the trade in this captivating and alluring escape to the shores of the Old Dominion State.
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The Americana Series: Virginia
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
THE RING of the telephone checked the step Lacey Andrews had taken away from her desk. The light was blinking on the interoffice line. Shifting the stack of file folders to her left arm, Lacey reached across the desk to answer it. The movement swung her silky brown hair forward. She tucked it behind her right ear before lifting the receiver to the same ear.
"Lacey speaking," she identified herself automatically.
"You have a call from a Margo Richards on line three," was the reply.
A dark eyebrow flicked upward in surprise at her cousin's name. "Thanks, Jane." And Lacey pressed the plastic button of the third line, wondering with faint cynicism why Margo was phoning her. "Hello, Margo." Her brown eyes glanced toward the ceiling. Lacey knew this would not be a short conversation. Her cousin could spend an hour just saying what time it was.
"I'm sorry to call you at work, Lacey," the melodic voice rushed on, hardly a trace of sincere apology in her tone. "I don't mean to get you into any trouble with your boss, but I simply couldn't wait until tonight to talk to you."
"You aren't getting me into trouble. There are no restrictions against receiving personal calls," Lacey explained with amused patience. "What is it that's so urgent?"
"I wanted to let you know that Bob and I are leaving tomorrow to fly to Florida to visit his parents. From there we'll be taking a two-week cruise in the Caribbean."
"Sounds marvelous!" Not for anything would Lacey permit even the tiniest suggestion of envy to creep into her voice. She adjusted a box pleat on her plaid skirt and settled down for a long dissertation from her cousin.
"It is exciting, isn't it?" Margo gushed. "It all happened so quickly, too. I mentioned in passing to Bob how romantic a cruise like that would be—and you know how Bob is. If I liked the moon, he'd try to buy it."
Poor man, Lacey thought. She hoped he would learn to say no to Margo before she spent all his money. Lacey was certain that Margo truly loved Bob, but she doubted if her love would ever mature as long as her slightest whim was indulged as if she were still a child.
"I've been dashing around madly ever since he told me," Margo continued. "Half of my summer wardrobe was so sadly dated that I would have been embarrassed if I'd worn it. Oh, Lacey, I wish you could see this gorgeous gown I bought! It's so daring I don't know if Bob will let me wear it. And there's this stunning pair of satin evening pajamas in a shimmering blue that's pos—"
"Margo, I'd love to hear all about your new clothes," Lacey interrupted, knowing that if she didn't stop her cousin now, she wouldn't. Margo's conversation was threatening to run longer than normal. Next she would be hearing the entertainment schedule of the cruise ship. A strong sense of loyalty to her job demanded that Lacey not spend an hour on a private phone call. "But I'm fairly busy at the moment. Maybe you should call me tonight."
"But that's just it. Bob and I are invited to a dinner party tonight—that's why I'm calling you now." There was an incredulous note in Margo's voice, as if she couldn't understand why Lacey was so stupid as not to have reasoned it out by herself.
Lacey gritted her teeth and smiled rigidly at the receiver. "Well, I really appreciate your letting me know you're going to be leaving." What else could she say?
"Oh, but that isn't why I called. I thought I told you." Lacey could imagine Margo's wide-eyed look of innocence.
"No, Margo, you didn't," she replied, concealing an impatient sigh. "Exactly why have you phoned?"
"I ran into Sally Drummond yesterday. Quite by accident," Margo assured her as she identified a close friend of Lacey's. "I was on my way to the car with an armful of packages when she came out of a restaurant."
Lacey sat down on the edge of her desk. She had absolutely no idea what Sally had to do with this phone call, but she would learn. There was simply no way to speed up Margo's explanation. It was an irritating fact, but unchangeable.
"I stopped to say hello," Margo went on. "Then we got to gossiping a bit—you know how that goes. Anyway, one subject led to another until finally we were talking about you."
"Really?" Lacey murmured dryly.
"Nothing bad or anything like that," Margo laughed. "Sally mentioned that you were going on vacation next week for two weeks, but she wasn't sure if you'd made any specific plans. Is that right?"
"Yes," Lacey admitted grudgingly. Her little excursions would pale in comparison to Margo's cruise.
"You aren't going away anywhere?"
"I thought I'd spend a couple of days with the folks, but outside of that, I'm just going to relax and do nothing."
"That's great!" Margo declared enthusiastically.
Lacey didn't think she would go as far as to say that, but it would be a refreshing change from the hectic pace of the office. Still, it was doubtful if Margo had had that reasoning in mind when she made her comment.
The truth was Lacey couldn't afford to leave the Tidewater area of Virginia to go anywhere on her vacation. A variety of unforeseen expenses, the largest being some major repairs to her ear, had drained Lacey's savings account almost dry, but she was too proud to volunteer that information to her cousin.
"Why do you ask?" She tried to hurry Margo to the point of this conversation.
"I've been worried about our house and all our beautiful things," Margo stated. "Situated the way we are on the beach, virtually isolated from any close neighbors, you just never know what might happen. Especially with all the summer tourists that are showing up now. Someone could break into the house and steal everything we have the instant they noticed it was vacant. I've been in an absolute quandary as to what to do about it. You know what beautiful things we have, Lacey."
"Yes," Lacey agreed. Over a month ago Margo had taken her on a tour of the place, to show off—no other term could fit more perfectly—her home. She hated to admit to being envious, but she had fallen in love with her cousin's home.
"I was sitting here this morning, worrying myself half sick with what might happen while Bob and I are on the ship. Then I remembered Sally telling me that you were going on vacation and I knew I had the perfect solution. You could babysit the house while we're gone!"
Lacey hesitated. "I suppose ... I could."
As she ran the idea over in her mind, it sounded like the perfect plan. A vacation spent in luxurious surroundings with the ocean and beach at her doorstep. It was something she wouldn't have been able to afford at twice her salary.
"I just knew you'd help me out!" Margo exclaimed.
"It will be my pleasure," Lacey returned sincerely, already picturing lazy days in the sun. Maybe she would even splurge on a new swimsuit.
"There is one thing," Margo paused. "I told you we were leaving tomorrow. Well, I just hate the thought of the house being empty for an hour. Could you ... would you stay here tomorrow night?"
Breathing in deeply, Lacey wondered if her cousin knew what she was asking. Commuting from Virginia Beach to Newport News during rush hour traffic would practically mean rising with the sun. But tomorrow was Thursday. If she could arrange to have Saturday morning off, it would mean only having to make the round trip once.
"Sure," Lacey agreed finally. "I'll pack and drive out after work tomorrow."
"I'll be eternally grateful for this," Margo vowed effusively. "Now there's plenty of food, et cetera, in the house and I'll leave the front door key in the flowerpot near the door."
"You just make yourself at home, Lacey. Listen, I really have to run—I still have oodles of packing to do. See you when we get back from the Caribbean. Bye!"
"Bye." But Lacey's response was given to the dial tone buzzing in her ear.
Shrugging, she replaced the receiver on its cradle. It was typical of Margo. Once her objective was achieved she lost interest. But Lacey didn't bear any grudge. Thanks to Margo, her two weeks' vacation had suddenly taken on a new perspective.
Of course, she still had to talk to Mike Bowman, her employer, about Saturday morning. Straightening from the desk, Lacey walked to the twin set of metal cabinets in her office and deposited the folders on top. As she opened a drawer to begin the filing, the door to her office opened and Mike Bowman, who was one of the chief engineers for the construction company, walked in.
"Hello, Lacey," he greeted her absently, frowning as he paused beside her desk to go through the stack of messages waiting for him.
Brushing aside the sleek brown hair that curved across one side of her forehead, Lacey studied him for an instant. Mike was in his late thirties, a peppering of gray showing up in his dark hair; a confirmed bachelor—so he claimed.
Even with her limited experience, Lacey knew she could search a long time and never find an easier person to work for, nor one more fun on a date. They had dated occasionally in the last few months, although neither had spread the fact around to the others in the office. Mike was good-looking in a strong, dependable kind of way.
"Judging by your expression, I won't ask how your meeting went," Lacey offered with a sympathetic gleam in her brown eyes.
"Please don't." The corners of his mouth were pulled grimly down. "It was an exercise in frustration trying to explain to the big bosses the combination of circumstances that's put the Whitfield project so far behind schedule. Sometimes I think if they'd get out of their offices and out on the job sites, they might get a better understanding of what I'm up against."
"Maybe you should have suggested that," Lacey smiled.
"No, it's not their job." Mike sighed heavily in resignation. "They don't want to hear excuses, they want solutions. And they're right. I have to start coming up with solutions before the problems I have create more problems in and of themselves."
"Speaking of problems, I don't know if you remember or not, but my vacation starts next week."
"Don't remind me of that," Mike grimaced. "I don't want to remember it until Monday morning."
"Sorry, but I was hoping you might give me Saturday morning off." There was a flash off even white teeth as Lacey smiled sympathetically.
"Why? I thought you said you weren't going anywhere on your vacation." He frowned, his hazel eyes confused as he met her gaze.
"My plans have changed slightly," she acknowledged. "My cousin called to ask me if I'd stay at her house in Virginia Beach while she and her husband are away on an impromptu vacation. They leave tomorrow, which means I'll move in tomorrow night. I'll have to commute on Friday—and Saturday, as well, unless you let me have the day off."
"Why not?" Mike shrugged.
"Thanks. I'll work late for you Friday to make up for it," Lacey promised.
"You'd better get out of this madhouse at five on the dot Friday or I might change my mind and postpone your vacation," he declared in a mock threat. "Then your cousin or whoever it was would have to find some other house-sitter. By the way, who's going to take your place here?"
"Donna is." Lacey knew the reaction that announcement would produce. Donna was not one of Mike's favorite people.
There was a skeptical glint in his eye at the name of Lacey's replacement. "You'd better leave the address and phone number of your cousin's house with Jane, just in case 'dumb Donna' gets things all loused up here or discovers she can't find something. Where did you say you'd be? Virginia Beach?"
"Yes. The house is right on the ocean. And so help me, Mike, if you call me to work on my vacation, I'll—" Lacey never got a chance to finish her warning vow.
"On the beach, you say? Hell," he chuckled, "I just might take my vacation and join you. It sounds like paradise. You know what the travel brochures say —Virginia is for lovers. Maybe we should both take the next two weeks to prove they're right. I could stand to get away from the office myself." Both of them knew he was only dreaming. There wasn't a chance of Mike's having any time off.
"If you aren't doing anything Sunday, why don't you come over?" she suggested, knowing it was wishful thinking Mike was indulging in, but extending the invitation as consolation.
"It's a date," Mike replied without any hesitation, settling for a day instead of two weeks. "I'll bring a couple of steaks and we'll cook outside."
"Terrific," Lacey agreed.
The interoffice line rang and Lacey walked to her desk to answer it. Jane, the receptionist, responded immediately, "Didn't I see Mr. Bowman come in, Lacey?"
"Good. Mr. Whitfield is on line one. He's called a half a dozen times." She didn't bother to add that by this time Mr. Whitfield was a very impatient man. The tone of her voice was riddled with the statement.
"Thanks, Jane." Lacey replaced the receiver and glanced hesitantly at Mike. "Whitfield is on line one," she informed him.
He bared his teeth in a grimace. "I've just been through one frustrating series of explanations. See if you can use that soothing voice of yours and put him off for a while."
Sitting down in her chair, Lacey accepted the challenge. After all, in a sense it was part of her job to shield Mike from unwanted phone calls. Mike stood expectantly beside her desk, watching her intently as she picked up the phone and pushed the button for the first line.
"Mr. Bowman's office. May I help you?" she inquired in her most pleasant manner.
"Yes," came the crisp male voice. "I would like to speak to Mr. Bowman."
It was a command, not a request, and Lacey could tell the difference. Still she persisted. "I'm terribly sorry, but Mr. Bowman is on another line at the moment. May I take a message, please?"
"He's on another line, is he?" There was no mistaking the sarcastic skepticism in the response.
"Yes. May I have him call you back when he's through?" Lacey offered.
"No, you may not!" the voice snapped in her ear. She flinched slightly at the coldly raised voice and held the receiver away from her ear. "No doubt Bowman is standing beside you to see if you're going to succeed in stalling me off. But I assure you, miss, that you will."
Whether it was the accuracy of his accusation or her temper reacting to his acid tone, Lacey didn't know, but she abandoned her attempt to be pleasant, resorting to the sarcasm he had used.
"I assure you, Mr. Whitfield, that Mr. Bowman is on another line. However, since your call seems to be so urgent that you feel the necessity to be rude, I shall see if I can interrupt him. Please hold the line." Without giving him a chance to respond, she pushed the hold button, shutting him off. Fiery lights burned in her brown eyes as she glanced at Mike, anger in the tight-lipped line of her mouth.
"I'm sorry I asked you to speak to him, Lacey," Mike said immediately. "I'll take the call in my office."
"I wish you could tell him to go take a flying leap into a dry lake," she fumed.
"Believe me, it's a temptation," he sighed. "But it is his time and money I'm spending every day that project falls further behind schedule. He has a right to know what's going on."
"He doesn't have any right to be such a ... a ..."
"Careful," Mike warned with a teasing wink. "Ladies aren't supposed to use the word you're searching for!"
"I don't feel very much like a lady at this moment," Lacey muttered, glaring at the blinking light that indicated that Mr. Whitfield was still holding.
"Just think about the two weeks you're going to spend away from all this," Mike suggested in an attempt to calm her anger as he started toward his private office.
As quickly as her temper had flared, it died. "And I'll occasionally spend a moment or two feeling sorry for you back at the office slogging away while I bask on the sand," laughed Lacey.
Minutes after Mike had entered his office, the light stopped blinking and held steady. Lacey felt sorry for him. Considering the vituperative mood Whitfield was in, it wouldn't be easy for Mike to explain about the new delays on Whitfield's construction project. He was in for a tongue-lashing, but she knew Mike would handle the unpleasant situation in his usual calm way.
With a sigh, Lacey walked back to the metal cabinets to resume her filing of the folders she had placed on top. The door to her office opened. Lacey glanced over her shoulder and smiled as she recognized the girl who had entered.
"Hi, Maryann," she greeted the girl who was one of her best friends. "What are you doing?" It was purely a rhetorical question.
Excerpted from Tidewater Lover by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1978 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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