From magical first dates to romantic proposals, love keeps right on happening—in the most delightful way.
Glorious solitude. Miles of beach. Lacey Andrews is looking forward to getting away from it all at a friend’s supposedly empty beach house. But there’s one truly annoying hitch: Cole Whitfield got there first. And her unexpected roommate is much too sexy to ignore...
THE WIDOW AND THE WASTREL
Elizabeth Carrel came to terms with tragedy years ago. Her life is quiet and orderly, untroubled by emotion. But Jed, her late husband’s brother, is back in town. Once a rebel, Jed Carrel struck out on his own to make his mark on the world and fortune smiled on him, though he’s still anything but tame. In fact, Jed seems driven by a passion that almost frightens her…until he takes her in his arms.
True love is a never-ending joy. Revising these two classic romances for you was a real pleasure.
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
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Close to You
By JANET DAILEY
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Janet Dailey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe ring of the telephone checked the step Lacey Anderson had taken away from her desk, and she turned around with a sigh to see which button was blinking. It was the interoffice line. She had to answer it. Shifting the stack of file folders she was carrying to her left arm, Lacey reached across the desk. The movement swung her silky brown hair forward and she tucked it behind her right ear before lifting the receiver to the same ear. It was a balancing act, but she was used to those.
"Lacey speaking," she identified herself automatically.
"You have a call from a Margo Richards on line three," was the reply.
Her cousin. But her dark eyebrows flicked upward in surprise. "Thanks, Jane." Lacey pressed the third button on the display, wondering why on earth Margo was calling her. "Hello, Margo." She glanced at the ceiling, knowing it wasn't likely to be a short conversation.
"Hey-sorry to bother you at work, Lacey," the melodic voice rushed on with hardly a trace of sincere apology. "I don't want to get you into trouble with your boss, but I couldn't wait until tonight to reach you."
At least Margo sounded cheerful, so she probably had good news. "It's okay. Personal calls are allowed, so long as we don't talk for hours." Lacey knew her chatty cousin wouldn't take the hint. "What's up?"
"This is kind of last-minute, but-oh, Lacey, it's going to be so much fun! Bob and I are leaving tomorrow to fly to Florida to visit his parents, and from there we'll be taking a two-week Caribbean cruise!"
"Sounds fabulous." Not for anything would Lacey permit even the tiniest suggestion of envy to creep into her voice. She adjusted a pleat on her skirt and settled down to listen to her cousin.
"It is exciting, isn't it?" Margo gushed. "It all happened so quickly. I happened to mention to Bob how romantic a cruise like that would be-and you know how Bob is. If I wanted the moon, he'd try to buy it."
Poor guy, Lacey thought. She hoped he would learn to say no to Margo before all their money got frittered away. Lacey was sure that Margo truly loved Bob, but she doubted her cousin would ever get tired of having her every whim indulged.
"I've been to the mall twice since he told me," Margo continued. "Most of my summer wardrobe is so, um, last year. So I shopped-Lacey, I wish you could see this gorgeous gown I bought! It's so sexy I don't know if Bob will let me wear it. And I picked up these fantastic evening pajamas in this shimmery material that really does something for my-"
"Margo, I'd love to hear all about your new clothes," Lacey interrupted, knowing that if she didn't stop her now, the conversation would never end. She had a feeling Margo was only getting started. Next she would be outlining the entertainment schedule for the cruise and their ports of call.
Nothing doing. Lenient office rules aside, her strong sense of loyalty to her job meant that Lacey wasn't going to spend an hour on a phone call like this.
"Okay," Margo said eagerly, "because I forgot to tell you about-"
Lacey hadn't been fast enough. "Ah, I am actually pretty busy at the moment, Margo. Maybe you should call me tonight."
"I can't. Bob and I are invited to a dinner party at seven-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 hadn't read her mind. "I can't just whip out my cell phone and my BlackBerry at the table, you know."
You do it all the time. Lacey gritted her teeth and smiled rigidly at the receiver. "No, of course not. Anyway, I really appreciate your letting me know you're going to be leaving. Have a great time, okay?" What else could she say?
"Um, that isn't the only reason why I called. I thought I told you."
Lacey could imagine Margo's expression of wide-eyed innocence. "Told me what?" she asked, concealing an impatient sigh.
"I ran into Sally Drummond yesterday. By accident," Margo assured her as she tossed off the name of a close friend of Lacey's. "I was on my way to the car with my arms full of shopping bags and whatnot when she came out of a restaurant."
Lacey sat down on the edge of her desk, still clutching the armful of files, and surveyed the long line of boldface unopened e-mails displayed on her monitor. The first three had little red flags and required her immediate attention.
Re: Contract #4569033 Did you follow up on Carleton memo? Fwd: call IT for defrag today!
A quick glance at the subject headings of the others told her they could wait, but the claims on her time seemed never-ending. And now-well, she had absolutely no idea what Sally had to do with this phone call and she wasn't sure she even wanted to find out. But there was simply no way to speed up Margo's explanation. Her cousin's talkativeness was irritating, and not something that could be changed.
"Anyway, I stopped to say hello," Margo went on. "Then we got to gossiping-you know how that goes. And one subject led to another until finally we were talking about you."
"How nice," Lacey murmured dryly.
"We didn't say anything bad," Margo laughed. "Honestly, Lacey, it's not like you would ever be the cause of gossip-all you do is work, work, work."
Lacey rolled her eyes for no one's benefit but her own. "That is what they pay me for. I don't have a Generous Bob in my life, Margo."
Margo blithely rolled on. "Anyway, 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 time off was going to consist of a no-frills jaunt close to home, definitely no big deal, because she was barely getting by financially these days. Her so-called vacation, whatever form it took, would pale in comparison to Margo's cruise.
"You aren't going away anywhere?"
"Ah," Lacey hedged. "I thought I'd spend a couple of days with my folks, but outside of that, I'm just going to relax and do nothing."
"Wow. Sounds great!" Margo declared cheerfully.
Lacey frowned. Wow? Though it was true enough that relaxing at home would be a refreshing change from the hectic pace of the office, she really didn't share Margo's fake enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, Lacey couldn't afford to leave the Tidewater area of Virginia to go anywhere on her vacation. Several unforeseen expenses, the biggest being some major repairs to her car, had drained Lacey's savings account, but she was too proud to volunteer that information to her cousin.
"So you called because ...?" She tried to hurry Margo to the point of the call. Maybe there wasn't one. Where her cousin was concerned, it wouldn't be the first time.
"I'm just so worried about our house and all the new things we bought when we decorated, Lacey," Margo said. "Situated the way we are on the beach, with no close neighbors-I mean, you never know what might happen, not that anything ever has, though. But the summer season is about to start. Someone could break into the house and steal everything. I'd be heartbroken."
"With good reason," Lacey agreed. "Have you put in a security system?"
"Bob was just talking about doing that," Margo said. "And we had new locks installed. But I think it's still best if someone is actually in the house."
"Yes," Lacey said absently. Over a month ago Margo had taken her on a tour of the place, to show off-no other term fit-her home. Lacey hated to admit to being envious but she had fallen in love with her cousin's beach house.
"I was sitting here this morning, worrying myself half sick thinking about what might happen while Bob and I are on the ship. So when Sally told me you were going on vacation, it was like, aha! You can babysit the house while we're gone!"
Lacey hesitated. "I suppose ... I could."
As she ran over the idea in her mind, it sounded like the perfect plan. Two weeks in luxurious surroundings with the ocean and beach at her doorstep-nice. And something she wouldn't have been able to afford at twice her salary.
"I just knew you'd help us out!" Margo exclaimed.
"It really would be a pleasure," Lacey said sincerely, already picturing lazy days in the sun. Maybe she would even splurge on a new bikini.
"There is one thing." Margo paused. "I told you we were leaving tomorrow. And I just hate the thought of the house being empty for even an hour."
That was a little ridiculous. Would the designer sofa get lonely? Tell it to hold hands with the ottoman. Lacey kept the tart thoughts to herself, grateful for Margo's offer.
"Do you think you could stay here tomorrow night?"
Taking a deep breath, Lacey wondered if her self-absorbed cousin knew what she was asking. Commuting from Virginia Beach to Newport News during rush-hour traffic would mean practically rising with the sun. But tomorrow was Thursday. If she could arrange to have Saturday morning off, then she'd be making the round trip only once.
"Sure," Lacey agreed finally. "I'll pack and drive out after work tomorrow."
"Ooh, I will be eternally grateful for this," Margo vowed. "Now there's plenty of food, fresh and frozen, in the house and I'll leave the front door key in the flowerpot near the door."
"Great. I'll find it. If anyone asks who I am, I'll act like I own the place."
"Good idea. But if not, you could meet one of the local cops. Did I ever tell you that I always wanted to date a cop?"
"No," Lacey said.
"It wasn't meant to happen. So I married Bob," Margo continued airily. Lacey could almost see her cousin twirling a lock of hair around her finger while she talked.
"Anything else I need to know? About the house, I mean."
Margo giggled. "I don't think so. Just, um, that cell phones sometimes don't work too well out by the beach. You can use our land line-I guess I should call it a sand line. Sometimes it doesn't work either, when it gets windy."
"I'll figure something out," Lacey said. She looked again at the list of unopened and unanswered e-mails. "Actually, being out of reach sounds great."
"Really? Are you sure?"
Lacey's monitor blinked and ten more e-mails appeared in rapid succession. "Yes," she said firmly.
"I owe you for this!" Margo's bubbliness was overflowing into the receiver. "Make yourself totally at home when you get there, Lacey. Eat anything, drink anything, do anything you want. Listen, I have to go-I still have oodles of packing to do. See you when we get back from the Caribbean. Bye!"
"Bye." Her farewell was spoken to a dial tone. Margo had hung up.
Shrugging, Lacey replaced the receiver on its cradle. It was typical of Margo. Once her objective was achieved, she lost interest. But Lacey wasn't going to hold a grudge. Thanks to her cousin, she was suddenly really looking forward to her two weeks off.
Of course, she still had to talk to Mike Bowman, her boss, about Saturday morning. Straightening from the desk, Lacey walked to the banks of filing cabinets in her office and deposited the folders she'd been holding on top, tucking a few escapees back into the toppling pile. As she opened a drawer to begin, the office door opened and in walked Mike.
"Hello, Lacey," he greeted her distractedly, frowning as he passed beside her desk to go through the stack of messages waiting for him.
Brushing aside the sleek hair that had fallen forward again, 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 or so he claimed. He was one of the chief engineers for the construction company, and didn't have much free time for socializing.
Even with her limited experience, Lacey knew she could search a long time and never find an easier guy to work for, or one that was more fun to be with. They had gone out occasionally in the last few months, although they'd kept quiet about it. No one else in the office knew, and truthfully, there wasn't anything to know. Sometimes a date was just a date, not a prelude to a relationship. Though 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. There was 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. The big bosses demanded to know why the Whitfield project is so far behind schedule and I got called on the carpet. Sometimes I think if they'd get out of their offices and out on the job sites, they might have a better understanding of what I'm up against."
Lacey smiled. "Maybe you should have suggested that."
"No way." 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 I create more problems. Hell, they create themselves without any help from me."
"Speaking of problems, I don't know if you remember or not, but my vacation starts next week."
Mike grimaced. "Don't remind me. I don't want to remember it until Monday morning."
She smiled again but more tentatively. "Sorry, but I was hoping you might give me Saturday off."
"Why? I thought you said you weren't going anywhere on your vacation." He frowned, his hazel eyes confused as he met her gaze.
"Um, my plans have changed," she ventured. "My cousin called to ask me if I'd stay at her house in Virginia Beach. She and her husband are going on a cruise-it was a last-minute kind of thing. That's why the short notice. They leave tomorrow, which means I want to get out there tomorrow night. I would have to commute all that way on Friday-and Saturday too-unless you let me have the day off."
"I see. Well, why not?" Mike shrugged.
"Thanks. I can work late on Friday to make up for it," Lacey promised.
"No. 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. "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 temps.
There was a skeptical glint in his eye when he heard Lacey name her replacement. "You'd better leave the address and phone number of your cousin's house with Jane, just in case Donna get things all screwed up around here or discovers she can't find something. Where did you say you'll be? Virginia Beach?"
"Yes. The house is right on the ocean. And so help me, Mike, if you call me back to work on my vacation, I'll-"
Lacey never got a chance to finish her warning words. "On the beach, huh? Nice," he chuckled, "I just might run away and join you. It sounds like paradise. You know what the travel ads say-Virginia is for lovers. Maybe we should both go and see if it's true. I need a break from here."
Both of them knew that wasn't going to happen. There wasn't a chance of Mike getting any time off.
"If you aren't doing anything on Sunday, why don't you come out?" she suggested, 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 fire up the grill-I assume your cousin's beach house has a grill."
"A big, shiny one. About as big as a car, in fact. And almost as expensive." The new grill had been on the tour-it was Bob's pride and joy.
"Terrific." Mike smiled, a little wearily.
The interoffice line rang and Lacey walked to her desk to answer it. Jane, the receptionist, asked immediately, "Lacey, didn't I see Mr. Bowman come in? Is he with you?"
"Good. Mr. Whitfield is on line one for him. He's called half a dozen times." She didn't bother to add that Mr. Whitfield was already steamed about waiting. The nervousness in her voice made it clear.
"Thanks, Jane." Lacey replaced the receiver and looked at Mike. "Whitfield is on line one," she said carefully.
He blew out an exasperated sigh. "Oh, please, not that maniac. I've just gone 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 by 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 tone.
"Yes," came a crisp, very male voice. "I would like to speak to Mr. Bowman."
It was a command, not a request, and Lacey could tell the difference. She didn't dare suggest he send an e-mail. Still she persisted. "I'm terribly sorry, but Mr. Bowman is on another line at the moment. May I take a message, please?"
Excerpted from Close to You by JANET DAILEY Copyright © 2010 by Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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THE WIDOW AND THE WASTREL....................183