Coming Home: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 3)
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Welcome to the new world from USA Today bestselling author Alexa Aston—Maple Cove—a small town on the Oregon Coast where romance is heating up!
An attorney facing burnout who flees Los Angles. A woman returning from Paris, ready to live for herself. And a psychopath who lands in Maple Cove, ready to wreak havoc on their lives . . .
Criminal defense lawyer Jackson Martin gets his client off on murder charges, believing the man was guilty and still could be dangerous now that he’s free again to kill. The trial depletes Jackson, and he finds himself at a crossroad in life. When the resident attorney in his hometown of Maple Cove decides to retire and asks Jackson to take over his law practice, Jackson leaps at the opportunity, which will allow him to sink deep roots into the community and practice a different kind of law.
Ainsley Robinson hustled for a buck her entire life, first baking cookies to sell at athletic events to pay her mother’s medical bills, and then working restaurant jobs to pull together the tuition to attend the famed l’Ecole Lenȏtre, one of the world's premier pastry schools in Paris. With graduation behind her, Ainsley returns to the Cove and opens Buttercup Bakery, which quickly becomes a popular establishment on the town’s square.
Her world turns upside down when Jackson enters her bakery. She’d had a teenage crush on the handsome high school quarterback and finds him to be even hotter and smarter than she remembered. Sparks fly from their first meeting, and they both realize they want the same things in life—a loving relationship and children.
Just when it seems everything is falling into place for the happy couple, one of Jackson’s former clients decides he wishes to upend their world.
Will Jackson be able to protect Ainsley from a deranged psychopath—or will he lose the only woman he’s ever loved—along with his life?
Find the answer in Coming Home, Book 3 in Maple Cove.
Each book in this contemporary small town romance series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
1 – Another Chance at Love: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 1)
2 – A New Beginning: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 2)
3 – Coming Home: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 3)
4 – The Lyrics of Love: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 4)
5 – Finding Home: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 5)
Release date: July 19, 2022
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Coming Home: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 3)
Jackson Martin parked his sedan in the parking garage and grabbed his briefcase before locking his car. His gut churned. A general uneasiness filled him. Today, the jury would hand down the verdict in the Gerard McGreer trial.
And for the first time since he began practicing law, Jackson wanted his client locked up.
He had served for three years in the D.A.’s office before making the switch to the other side of the table. Criminal law could be quite lucrative. It also could be incredibly expensive putting on a defense case, especially one in which their client had been indicted for rape and murder. Hours of manpower went into pre-trial preparations, including hiring private investigators to comb through their client’s background—and that of the prosecution’s many witnesses. Pre-trial motions had to be carefully written and filed. Strategy sessions with his law partner and their paralegal, lasting late into the night, where they crafted questions for each witness.
The culmination of all those months’ work would be seen today. He’d given his closing argument at the end of Tuesday, as had the prosecution. The jury had deliberated all day Wednesday and Thursday, calling for various pages of transcript from the court reporter and a few key pieces of evidence. It wasn’t unusual for a jury to take this long to determine guilt or innocence of a defendant when murder was on the table. The bailiff had called Jackson an hour ago, telling him it looked as if the jury might be wrapping up their deliberations this Friday afternoon. That’s when he’d headed to the courthouse.
Dread filled him, knowing he would be expected to wait with the accused, Gerard McGreer. McGreer would be brought to the courthouse and allowed to change from his jail jumpsuit into street clothes. His client had been very specific about the combinations of clothes he had worn during the lengthy trial, even keeping a record of the outfit he wore each day. Before the trial, McGreer had been in IT—information technology—and was meticulous. Based upon McGreer’s employment records and the things their private investigators had found, McGreer had worked with both software applications and computer hardware. Where most IT workers specialized and became either computer scientists, engineers, programmers, or systems analysts, McGreer had been involved in all four areas since his graduation from college a dozen years ago.
Jackson reached the entrance used by attorneys and other court personnel and went through the metal detectors, making small talk with the security guards on duty, whom he saw frequently since he was a trial lawyer. With the McGreer case, he had been at the courthouse every day for weeks, the only break coming when his client had developed a bacterial infection that was going around the jailhouse. The trial had been postponed for a week, allowing McGreer time to recover. Jackson should have pursued other cases during that time. Instead, he had been paralyzed, not wanting to move forward.
It was during that week that he made his final decision.
He was leaving LA and his law practice—and heading to the Cove.
Maple Cove had become his home when his parents had died in a freak avalanche while skiing. Jackson had been six, while his sister Willow was only three. Boo, their paternal grandmother and a renowned sculptor, had taken in the pair, raising them with plenty of love and an emphasis on education. Growing up in a small, coastal town in Oregon had made for an idyllic childhood, but Jackson had wanted to stretch his wings. After graduating from the University of Southern California in an accelerated Bachelor/J.D. program, he had accepted a job in the L.A. County District Attorney’s office.
Over time, though, he had begun to miss the quiet life of the Cove, even more so after he left the DA’s office, which had sucked the life out of him for very little compensation. The move to criminal law had been more glamorous at first, but the hours were brutal, especially during a case such as McGreer’s. The stakes were high. The pressure tremendous.
Worse, for the first time in his career, he believed his client should be found guilty of the charges. Though he suspected previous clients had been guilty, McGreer was different. The man was beyond cold and calculated. Jackson was actually afraid of McGreer. He had never let his fear show, but he suspected his client knew of his attorney’s feelings and was amused by them.
He entered the small room where McGreer would be brought and took out a legal pad, scribbling a few notes on it that had nothing to do with the case. Instead, it was a series of questions to ask Clancy Nelson, the retiring attorney who had offered to sell his practice to Jackson when he’d returned to the Cove for Boo’s funeral. Clancy was still sharp at eighty-five and had practiced law for six decades, serving all of Barton County. His practice was located in the Cove, where Jackson’s sister now lived with her new husband, the local sheriff. Willow had chosen to move into Boo’s house after their grandmother’s death and had reconnected with her high school sweetheart. She and Dylan Taylor had admitted they never stopped loving one another, despite being separated during the last dozen years, both living in various countries across the world. They had married before Christmas, and he suspected they would soon start a family.
Clancy’s offer had been interesting to Jackson, and he had begun to seriously consider it during this current trial. Suddenly, the sordid nature of this case—as well as dozens of others he had taken on over the last few years—caught up to him. While Jackson believed he had put on the defense of his life, he worried he had been too good—and that the jury would find enough reasonable doubt to let Gerard McGreer go.
His heart told him it would only be a matter of time before McGreer raped and killed again.
The door opened, and a deputy escorted his client into the room.
“Gerard,” he said crisply, nodding his head and then going back to his legal pad, not wanting to engage in conversation with his client.
“They tell me the verdict is imminent,” McGreer said as he began shedding the prison jumpsuit.
“I believe so,” Jackson said, keeping his eyes on the page before him because he did not want to look into the cold stare of the man he was defending.
“You did an outstanding job. You know I’ll be found innocent.”
Jackson stopped writing, forcing himself to make eye contact with McGreer, who donned a white dress shirt. “The verdict is either guilty or not guilty. Innocence doesn’t come into play legally.” He went back to writing.
“You know what I mean, Jackson. But I like how precise you are. I’m that very way. We are a lot alike.”
He swallowed, tamping down the words he wished to shout. That he was nothing like the man sitting across the table from him.
“I think the navy blazer was a good choice, don’t you? And I always think a red tie makes a strong statement. I can’t wait to talk to the reporters.” McGreer began tying the tie, forming a perfect Windsor knot.
“I’d advise against that, Gerard.”
“Why shouldn’t I proclaim my innocence? I’ve been caged like an animal for almost a year now. No bail. Living for months in a dirty cell with inferior scum.”
“If you are found not guilty, the best thing to do is take the high road and refrain from commenting. Remember, the victim’s family is still out there. And hurting.”
McGreer snorted. “Well, I’m hurting, too. Living in cramped conditions with common criminals. Having my freedom curtailed.” He let out a long breath. “I cannot wait to sink my teeth into a rare steak and wash it down with a cold beer.”
Jackson put down his pen. He had tried to prepare McGreer for the jury returning a guilty verdict. Yes, he had done an excellent job, tearing witnesses apart and creating doubt regarding the evidence. But juries were made up of humans. They mostly thought with their hearts and not their heads, especially when a violent murder had occurred. Most jurors saw the bloody photographs submitted into evidence and instinctively linked them to the person sitting at the defense counsel’s table. He knew most jurors subconsciously thought there had to be a reason the accused was already sitting in court.
“I know you have high hopes, Gerard, but you need to prepare yourself in case the verdict comes back against you.”
His client’s dead eyes bore into Jackson’s. “And I’ve told you I’ll be walking out of this building later today. You put on a brilliant defense, my friend.”
He didn’t protest at being called friend simply because he did not want to be on McGreer’s bad side. The man had made enough statements to let Jackson know he was quite vindictive—and he had a long memory.
“We should talk about your appeal, Gerard. Just in case.”
Though Jackson did not want anything to do with that process, knowing it would only delay him from leaving California and heading back to Oregon, he still owed it to his client.
“That won’t be necessary,” McGreer insisted. “But... in case I ever do need an attorney again, I assume you would take my case.”
Jackson shuddered inwardly. “That would depend on my current case load, Gerard. If I were knee-deep into another trial, whether in pre-trial motions or currently trying a case, you’d have to go somewhere else. You’ve met my partner, Bill Watterscheim. He’s an excellent lawyer and would do a fine job of defending you. If Bill were also tied up, I have two or three other attorneys I could recommend to you.”
He paused. “But on the chance you are found not guilty today, Gerard, you should aim never to darken the doors of this courthouse in the future.”
McGreer smiled, slipping into his jacket. “Oh, you mean I shouldn’t get caught again.”
A chill ran through Jackson at his client’s words. In that moment, he knew McGreer was guilty not only of the rape and murder he was now on trial for—but for others.
The door opened again, preventing him from replying.
“The jury’s coming back, Mr. Martin. They’re ready for you.”
He waited for the two deputies who would come to escort Gerard McGreer to the courtroom.
“I think I’m going to change my name,” his client said dreamily. “My picture and name have been splashed across the media for a year now. “I’ve always admired Anthony Hopkins’ work. I think Anthony would suit me. And I do like alliteration. Hmm. Anthony Adams. Anthony Arnold. Anthony Abbott. Yes, Abbott. Anthony Abbott. I like that. Do you like it, Jackson?”
The deputies entered, cuffing McGreer as Jackson returned his legal pad to his briefcase and closed it.
He fell in step behind them as the deputies led Gerard McGreer to the courtroom.
“Will you help me change my name legally, Jackson? Can we start after the verdict is read?”
“You won’t need me for that, Gerard,” he informed McGreer, deciding to detail the process and hoping McGreer would never have a chance to go through it.
“Most of it can be done online. You’ll file a Petition for Change of Name. It will include a document where you must show cause for changing your name. It will probably take three months or so to get a court date. The judge will approve your request, handing down a court order called a decree, which allows for a legal name change. Then you’ll be required to published the cause for change in a newspaper for four weeks in a row.”
McGreer glanced over his shoulder. “Why is it anyone’s business what I change my name to? It negates the very thing I’m trying to do—avoid publicity.”
Jackson shrugged. “That’s the just process, Gerard. The court will give you a list of approved newspapers for publishing legal notices. Then you’ll be done.”
They entered the courtroom, his heart now racing. He felt awful that he hoped his client would be found guilty and sentenced to the maximum prison sentence.
Taking a seat at the table, he rested his briefcase on the ground beside him. McGreer raised his hands, and one of the deputies uncuffed him.
Jackson looked over his shoulder, seeing the room quickly filled with spectators. Most were reporters, but a handful were what he thought of as mayhem murder fans, retired people or those who worked night jobs and enjoyed attending murder trials, gravitating toward the gruesome details.
Lisa Fennel, the prosecutor, came in and headed straight for her table, nodding curtly at him. They had worked together on a few cases during his time at the D.A.’s office. Jackson rose and crossed the aisle to speak to her.
“You put on a helluva case, Lisa,” he complimented.
She gave him a tight smile. “You put on a better one,” she admitted. “I’m worried, Jackson. Afraid of that man being out on the street again.”
“Same,” he said softly, not wanting anyone to overhear him.
He offered her his hand and she took it, saying, “I hope I don’t have to go up against you again.”
He smiled, keeping his news to himself. He had yet to tell anyone other than Willow that he was planning to return to the Cove. Not even Bill, his law partner, knew of Jackson’s plans to leave the state after this trial. Originally, he had planned to stay until Clancy’s planned retirement date of July fourth. The McGreer case, though, had left such a sour taste in his mouth that he had decided to pack up early. If Clancy weren’t ready to hand over his practice, it would give Jackson time to himself to heal from the ugliness of this murder trial.
Returning to the table, he sat.
“Fraternizing with the enemy?” McGreer asked.
“We worked together several years ago,” he said to his client. “She was a formidable opponent.”
The bailiff called out, “All rise!”
Jackson came to his feet as the judge entered the courtroom, robes swishing as he climbed the steps and sat.
“You may be seated,” the judge commanded. “Bring in the jury.”
He watched as they filed in. None looked his or McGreer’s way, which usually indicated a guilty plea. What he found odd, though, was that several of them looked angry. The bad feelings churned within him again.
The judge asked if the jury had reached a verdict, and the foreman said they had. The rest was like a dream unfolding, as if Jackson swam underwater. He listened to the words being spoken. Heard the eruption behind him. Turned to scan the jury. Glanced to his opponent’s table.
Then he turned to face a beaming Gerard McGreer, a smug smile on his face. He pushed his glasses up on his nose. Jackson noticed the sweat beaded along his receding hairline.
“Told you,” his client said. “Piece of cake.”
The judge was hammering away, calling for order, but it was a done deal. Gerard McGreer was going to walk out of this building a free man. The judge dismissed the jury. People began racing from the courtroom.
Jackson stole a quick look at the victim’s family. Her parents sat, stunned expressions on their faces. Her sister had angry tears streaming down her face. She glared at McGreer.
He wanted to go offer them a word of comfort but knew to stay far away. Next to Gerard McGreer, he was the last person they might wish to speak with.
Turning to his client, he briefly told him what to expect. How McGreer would be processed out. Once again, he advised McGreer not to speak to the press, telling him how easy it was to turn words against him and how statements could be taken out of context.
He ended by saying, “You’ll receive our final bill soon. Be glad you’ve been set free, Gerard.”
His client smiled. “Oh, I am, Jackson. You were worth every penny. And I hope I never need to engage your services again. But if I do? You better be there for me.”
The threat hung in the air.
By now, the deputies came to escort McGreer from the courtroom. Usually, he would go with his client, being alongside him every step of the way, even offering a ride to wherever he wished to go. Jackson couldn’t do that. He sat, mute, watching Gerard McGreer being led away.
His eyes drifted across the aisle. The prosecutor’s table had already been vacated. Jackson waited until everyone had left the courtroom, savoring the quiet, knowing it would be a circus outside.
He removed his cell phone from his briefcase and texted Bill, who had been his second chair through the trial but had chosen to remain at the office instead of appearing for the verdict since he’d just agreed to represent a new client in an aggravated robbery case.
Client got off on all charges.
Bill’s congratulatory text came back through, praising Jackson’s efforts, promising champagne would be waiting for him back at the office.
Finally, he stood, picking up his briefcase and leaving the courtroom. He stopped in the men’s room, killing time, and then the vending machines. He hadn’t eaten all day and it was almost four o’clock. Sweets weren’t his thing, so he went for the peanut butter crackers, pocketing them, thinking he would eat them in the car on the way back to his office. He intended to tell Bill about his decision today. Suggest a couple of names of attorneys who might want to join the two-man practice, knowing how unhappy Bill would be. They had been acquaintances in law school, Bill being a year ahead of Jackson. It was Bill who had contacted Jackson when he put out feelers about leaving the D.A.’s office and giving private practice a whirl. His partner would be incredibly disappointed in Jackson’s decision.
He headed to the bank of elevators, the halls almost deserted on this late Friday afternoon. The elevator arrived and he got in. Two others followed. Both got out at lower floors, while he took the elevator to the ground floor. Heading to a little-used back entrance, he waved at the lone security guard and left the building, avoiding the reporters who would be gathered outside the front of the courthouse and the few who would gather in the rear of the building, looking for him. Again, Bill would be disappointed that Jackson didn’t grab some of the limelight and help raise the profile of Watterscheim & Martin.
He reached the garage and headed to his car, weariness overcoming him. It didn’t matter how tired he was. He owed it to Bill to go in and smile for the staff, drink a glass of bubbly, and then have a private word with his partner regarding his future plans. They would need to hash out a separation agreement. He wouldn’t ask for Bill to buy out his half of the partnership, feeling that would be the decent thing to do. The new, incoming partner could buy in, helping Bill—and the firm—financially.
Suddenly, someone stepped in front of him. It was Juror Number Four, Sarah Peterson. Thirty-six. Married. A high school biology teacher. Catholic. When jury selection had started at the beginning of December, he hadn’t known she was pregnant. As the weeks went by, however, her belly began to grow. Now, at the beginning of February, he could visibly see her bulging belly, figuring she might be about six months along.
“Mrs. Peterson, are you lost? Do you need help finding your car?”
She visibly trembled, the color drained from her face. “I have to tell someone,” she said, her voice breaking.
“The D.A. often will call and speak with jurors about the verdict,” he said gently. “Whatever you have to say about the case, you should share it with her.”
“I can’t,” she hissed, glancing around. “He would know.”
Jackson didn’t have to ask who he was.
“I think you need to go home, Mrs. Peterson.”
She reached into her purse, fumbling a moment, then bringing out her cell phone. She tapped in her passcode and took a moment bringing something up.
Turning the phone so it faced him, she said, “Here. See?”
He looked at the picture on the screen. A decapitated cat hung from a porch rail. His stomach twisted violently as he met her gaze.
“That was Pudding. My cat,” she whispered, returning the phone to her purse.
Jackson already knew what would come next.
“He texted me. After closing arguments.” She cradled her belly protectively with both hands. “Told me that I better vote not guilty—and that I would know why. When I got home, I found Pudding.” She shuddered. “Then another text came in. It said that would happen to my baby if I didn’t vote the right way. My baby! That monster threated to cut open my belly and pull out my baby and behead it, Mr. Martin. How sick is he?”
“You should have gone to the judge,” he said neutrally, disgust filling him.
“I couldn’t!” she said, her voice rising with hysteria. “The text messages had disappeared. I know he’s some IT guy. Somehow, he made that happen. And he must have some accomplice. Someone... who would do... that. To my cat.”
By now, tears streamed down her cheeks. “I had no proof. I was terrified. For me. For my baby. I was the lone holdout on that jury, Mr. Martin.” She wiped at her tears. “They berated me. Bullied me. But I wouldn’t change my mind. I can’t tell that to the D.A. Or the judge. But I had to tell you.”
She paused, her body now shaking violently. “In case you didn’t understand just how violent and crazy your client is. Be careful, Mr. Martin.”
Sarah Peterson turned and walked away.
Jackson watched her go, bile rising in his throat. McGreer was clever enough to get text messages to disappear. After all, he was a computer whiz. Something like that would be child’s play for him. But the dead, decapitated cat meant he had someone on the outside, someone just as depraved as he was, that had helped send Juror Number Four that physical threat. That someone might have been an accomplice to the rape and murder Gerard McGreer had been tried for.
Cold fear pooled in his belly. Quickly, he ran to his car and unlocked it, climbing in and locking it. Blood pounded in his ears.
If he had any doubts before now, hearing Sarah Peterson’s confession cemented his decision.
Jackson was leaving L.A. tomorrow.
Jackson cracked his window as he drew closer to Maple Cove, wanting to smell the hint of sea breeze in the air. He inhaled deeply and caught it. Slight—but still there, and so very familiar. He rolled up the window, though, wanting to keep the cold air out for now. Once he reached Boo’s house, the first thing he wanted to do was go for a long walk along the beach.
It was now April, two months since the conclusion of the McGreer trial. Though Jackson’s goal had been to get out of L.A. quickly, it had taken almost ten days before he actually left. First had come a lengthy talk with a disgruntled Bill Watterscheim, who couldn’t understand why Jackson wanted to dissolve their partnership and return to his hometown to practice-of-all-trades law. Bill had been raised in San Francisco and liked all the advantages of a big city, including the large clientele to draw from.
Fortunately, one of the attorneys Jackson had suggested to replace him in the two-man firm had been thrilled to come on board. Bill had insisted Jackson take the buyout, telling him it would help him purchase Clancy’s practice and hopefully have something left over to help him with housing. Jackson had said his goodbyes to the staff and spent a final, private few minutes with Bill, passing along what Sarah Peterson had shared regarding Gerard McGreer. Bill had been just as appalled as Jackson with what the juror shared. His partner had pushed for them to go to the judge in the case or even Lisa Fennel, the prosecutor.
He had shut down that idea, knowing no good could come from it. Because of double jeopardy, Gerard McGreer couldn’t be tried for the same crimes again. New charges of jury tampering weren’t feasible, especially with no proof. Jackson also believed it would imperil Sarah and her baby if they came forward, and he shared that with Bill, asking his partner if he would be willing to be responsible for that woman and her baby being murdered. Jackson had no doubt McGreer would carry through with his previous threat, despite Sarah voting as she had been blackmailed to do.
Finally, Bill had agreed, saying he appreciate the warning about McGreer, and would never represent him again if he came to the office.
After that, Jackson cleaned out his desk and took a few days to pack. He placed his furniture in storage and packed up his clothes. He rented his condo on a monthly basis, having sunk the majority of his money into the practice and not having enough left over for a down payment on a home despite his healthy income. His lease ran out at the end of each month, and he informed his landlord he would not be renewing, eating the final two weeks as he headed out of L.A. for a much-needed road trip to clear his head.
Jackson had visited Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho over the past several weeks, stopping when the spirit moved him, staying at out of the way inns and motels. He had spent time hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Grand Tetons before crossing into southern Idaho and finally Oregon. The time spent alone had helped him to relax and ground himself. He hadn’t picked up a newspaper or turned on a TV. He only sporadically checked his phone for e-mails and answered very few of them.
He had called Willow as he drove across the Arizona desert. They’d had a heart-to-heart talk about the McGreer trial and how it had tainted his soul. He refrained, however, from mentioning what Sarah had shared with him, merely telling his sister that he was ready to leave the big city behind and become Clancy 2.0.
They had spoken at least once a week during his time on the road and again last night, when he told her he would arrive in the Cove today. For now, he would stay with his sister and Dylan at Boo’s. Their grandmother had left her house to both of them, but with Willow’s marriage, Jackson had told his sister to take the house. Willow, like Boo, was an artist, and the house had a large studio on the top floor ideal for her to use. Willow mentioned to him in their last conversation that they would need to work out the details regarding the rest of Boo’s estate once he arrived in the Cove, wishing for Jackson to take the bulk of what had been left in the bank and savings accounts.
He entered the Cove’s limits, passing Fred Bell’s gas station. Willow had kept Jackson apprised of the recent happenings in the Cove, including Fred’s wife setting fire to the apartment located above Sid’s Diner, where Willow’s college roommate, Tenley Thompson, had been living. Tenley had recently married Dylan’s best friend, Carter Clark, who came from a local family of firefighters. The Bells had been Carter’s in-laws, and Wilma Bell had gone off the deep end when Carter became engaged to Tenley, feeling Carter was being disloyal to his wife, who had died five years ago. Wilma herself, in a twist of fate, had died of smoke inhalation from a fire in her own home.
Reaching the square, Jackson slowed to a crawl, passing by familiar restaurants and stores, along with new additions. He passed Buttercup Bakery, remembering the owner had catered food for Boo’s memorial. He couldn’t remember her name, only that Willow had become friendly with the woman.
He turned away from the square, promising himself he’d order a pizza from Crust ‘n Stuff soon. Willow said the owners of the pizza parlor were from New York, and their pizza was New York style. Though he’d never been to New York, Jackson liked any kind of pizza and was eager to try it.
His focus turned to the small law office on one corner of the square, located next to the town barber. Clancy Nelson had occupied the space for as long as Jackson could remember.
This would become his office.
He had yet to speak with Clancy. As far as the other attorney knew, Jackson would contact him sometime close to the Fourth of July and provide Clancy with an answer as to whether or not he wished to take over Clancy’s law practice. Willow was the only person who knew Jackson had left L.A. for good and would be moving to the Cove. Jackson had sworn her to secrecy.
Tonight, he would tell his new brother-in-law of his plans and contact Clancy. They could have a long chat tomorrow and discuss the transition. Jackson wasn’t certain he wanted to leap into things immediately, but he didn’t want to wait until July. Maybe they could reach a compromise in the middle regarding when Clancy would step away and Jackson would take up the reins.
Turning off the square, he made his way to Boo’s house. How he missed his grandmother, the woman who had raised him. He vaguely remembered his parents. Their youth. Their vitality. Their constant air of good cheer. He did recall a book his mom had read him at bedtime—Hop on Pop—and his dad trying to teach him how to play catch. They had been snatched away in the prime of their lives. Boo had become mother and grandmother to Willow and him. His memories of growing up in the Cove were fond ones.
He hoped he now made the right decision of returning to practice law in Barton County.
Minutes later, he pulled into the long driveway and drove to its end. Tall trees were to his right, separating Boo’s house from Gillian Roberts, the closest neighbor and a woman who had become like an aunt to the Martin orphans. In the other direction lay the ocean and a path going down to it, the private cove where he and Willow had spent so many afternoons playing.
As Jackson climbed from his car, the door opened. Shadow came bounding down the stairs, Willow not far behind the dog.
“Hello, boy,” he said, petting the pup after it came to a stop, looking up at him. “Good dog.”
“He is a good dog,” his sister declared, throwing her arms around her brother. “It’s so good to have you here. I can’t believe you’re finally home.”
He returned her hug, suddenly feeling very sentimental.
“You really are going to stay? For good?” she asked anxiously.
“That’s the plan.”
She smiled broadly. “It’s been so hard not to tell Dylan about this, but I’ve kept quiet. Just as you asked.”
“I’ll tell him at dinner tonight. I’ll also need to set up an appointment with Clancy before he hears from someone else that I’m back in town.”
Jackson popped his trunk and claimed the two suitcases which he hadn’t opened since he’d been on the road. He’d lived with everything he’d placed in his duffel bag and backpack. Willow came and claimed both of those for him, and they went inside the house. He carried up his luggage, and she led him to his old bedroom.
Stepping inside, he chuckled. “Well, this has certainly changed since the last time I was here for Boo’s funeral.”
“All the renovations have been completed. After the rooms were freshly painted, I made some new curtains. Ordered new comforters. Collected all your old trophies and memorabilia. I left your books on the shelf, though.”
She opened the closet and indicated a couple of boxes on the floor. “Everything is in there. You can go through and see what you want to keep and what can be thrown out.”
He thought pretty much everything could go. He’d lived over a dozen years without needing to see Little League trophies or plaques from sports banquets. Still, it would be a fun walk down Memory Lane to go through everything a final time before he tossed it.
“I’ll give you time to unpack, and then we can talk,” his sister said. “Anything I can put on to wash for you?”
He picked up the duffel bag she had placed on the ground next to the bed. “Everything in here. It’s what I wore while I’ve been hiking the past few weeks.”
Willow took the bag from him. “I’ll throw on a load now. It may take more than one, though, as big as this bag is.”
“I’ll get everything out of my suitcases. The shirts are clean but will need ironing. I threw in some suits, as well. I’m not quite sure how I’ll want to dress in the Cove while I’m at work.”
“Most everyone is casual,” she informed him. “Except Clancy. He still wears his bow ties to the office, along with a suit jacket.”
“I’m hoping I can get away with a nice collared shirt and slacks most days,” he admitted. “I’d love to think ties were a thing of the past. Unless I have to appear in court.”
“I don’t know how often Clancy had to do so,” Willow said. “I’m sure he can fill you in on the kind of cases you’ll be handling and the needs of Barton County’s citizens.” She hesitated. “I certainly hope you won’t be representing any murderers anytime soon.”
Willow left and Jackson took the next half-hour sorting through things, placing items in drawers, hanging things in the closet. He would need to bring up the ironing board to get the wrinkles out of several shirts. He moved to the Jack-and-Jill bathroom, which he had shared with his sister growing up. They had liked being so close to one another and since it had dual sinks, they were often able to get ready at the same time. He noted the new tile in the shower and the marble countertops, as well as the mirror now being framed. After placing his toiletries in the medicine cabinet and in the top two drawers, he decided to shower and located towels in the linen closet.
He dressed in a golf shirt and pair of jeans and headed downstairs, finding Willow sipping tea in the kitchen.
“Wow. Now this is a kitchen.”
Jackson admired the new appliances and painted cabinets, along with the large island. He took a seat on one of the stools, and Willow poured him a cup of tea from the teapot. He squirted a healthy amount of stevia into the cup and then took a sip.
“Ah, this hits the spot. As much as I love my coffee, there’s always something comforting about a cup of tea,” he said. “I recognize Boo’s teapot.”
“Just because the kitchen looks new, the cabinets are still full of her things,” Willow told him. “The china and everyday plates. The pots and pans. Mixing bowls.”
“How about her studio? Are you finding it meets your needs?”
She nodded. “The light is excellent. I didn’t need any of the clay or molds she used, so I donated those our alma mater’s art department. They were grateful to get it.”
They talked for a while about what she was working on and then she caught him up on news in the Cove, sharing more about Tenley and Carter’s wedding on Valentine's Day and the party afterward.
“I remember Carter pretty well. I spoke with him briefly at Boo’s memorial,” Jackson said.
“You’ll get to meet Tenley and several others at Game Night tomorrow.”
He had heard of their monthly gatherings and how competitive they became.
“Remind me who’ll be there besides Carter and Tenley.”
“Gage Nelson. He moved to the Cove last summer.”
“Oh, the former Navy SEAL who does fitness training, right?”
“Yes, that’s Gage. And two cousins, Ainsley and Rylie Robinson. Ainsley was two years behind me in school. Rylie didn’t grow up in the Cove, but she did spend her summers here with Ainsley’s family.”
“Which one did you run into in Paris?”
“That would be Ainsley. She was attending some prestigious pastry school, and she now owns and runs Buttercup Bakery. I know you’re not big on sweets, Jackson, but Ainsley may change your mind.”
“We’ll see. I’m more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. I can take or leave desserts.”
The door opened, and Dylan entered, carrying two large, brown-paper sacks with “Sid’s Diner” stamped on the side. Dylan set the bags on the counter. Jackson stood and offered his new brother-in-law his hand.
“Thanks for having me,” he said.
“Boo’s house is plenty big,” Dylan told him. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like.”
He thought now was as good a time as any to break the news. “I’m staying for good, Dylan.”
The town’s sheriff grinned from ear to ear. “That’s fantastic, Jackson. I’m sure Willow is over the moon.”
“I am,” his sister chimed in, smiling at him with a bit of the hero-worshipping little sister gaze he recalled so well.
“It looks as if I’m going to take Clancy Nelson’s place,” he continued.
“Clancy’s retiring?” Dylan asked. “It’ll be hard to imagine him doing so. Will you take over his law practice?”
Jackson nodded. “That’s the plan. I need to meet with him soon—hopefully, tomorrow—and work out the details.”
“Why don’t you call him now?” Willow suggested. “I asked Dylan to pick up dinner for us. Let me get everything plated and drinks poured. By then, you should be ready to eat. That can be your excuse to get off the phone, otherwise, Clancy will talk your ear off.”
He left the kitchen and stepped into what Boo had always called the library because of the shelves lined with books that Murray Martin had brought home. By the time Jackson and Willow came to live with Boo, their grandfather had already passed, but they had spent hours going through his collection of books and reading them.
Closing the door, he brought up Clancy’s name on his cell and touched the phone number, looking around at the improvements in the room as the phone rang.
“Jackson Martin,” Clancy greeted. “I heard you were in town. Porter Williams glanced out his window and saw you driving by his office on the square. And Shayla Newton stopped by earlier. She’d also seen you.”
He shook his head, recalling what small town life was life.
“I’d like to come visit with you tomorrow, Clancy, if you’ve got room in your schedule.”
“Well, I don’t work Fridays, Jackson. That’s the beauty of being my own boss. I take Fridays off. Sleep late. Play a little golf. Drink a little beer.”
“That must be the secret to your longevity,” he quipped.
“Could be. But I’ll make an exception for you. Want to stop in the office around ten-thirty? That way we can talk—and then you can take me to lunch.”
“I’ll see you then, Clancy,” Jackson promised.
Ainsley Robinson pulled her long hair back into a ponytail and left her small apartment, which was situated above her bakery. She moved quickly down the stairs, and reaching the bottom, unlocked the door separating her private space from the large kitchen area. Flicking on lights, she went immediately to the coffeemaker and set it to brew her first cup of the day. She limited herself to two cups—one when she first arrived and one more around nine o’clock. The morning rush was usually over by then, and she would take time to eat a little something and sip a second cup of coffee while she went over her To Do List for the day. Any more caffeine beyond that, and she would become certifiable crazy.
She removed the clipboard hanging from the wall and glanced over what she would be making this morning. The usual standards always appeared on the top of her list, including a variety of donuts and scones, bear claws, and cinnamon twists. Friday was also a good day for scones and muffins, especially blueberry. The bottom half of the list was devoted to orders that would be picked up that day. Since today was Friday, she had two birthday cakes to make and fifteen dozen cookies that a basketball mom had ordered for the local YMCA league, a standing Friday order.
Flipping the page, she looked over the second sheet on her clipboard. These would be the various items she would bake in addition to those on the first page. Different kinds of cookies. A few pies. Definitely cupcakes. She would also need to get ready for the weekend rush, which sometimes started on a Friday. That would include more homemade breads, brownies, and coffee cakes.
She put aside the clipboard and continued turning on lights throughout the bakery, unlocking the door so Gus could slip in. He was her Number Two and right-hand, having learned to bake in prison. While Ainsley had had qualms about hiring him, she had spoken to the names he listed on his resume, which included his probation officer, the head of the prison’s kitchen, and even the warden himself. All three had given Gus a glowing report, and the warden said he believed Gus hadn’t even committed a crime. That the car he was driving that smashed into a family of five had been driven by Gus’ little brother and the two men had switched places.
Ainsley had hired Gus on a probationary basis and never regretted doing so. He was quiet and kept to himself, but he was also reliable and talented, assuming more responsibility as time went on.
She turned to head back to the kitchen when she saw a figure streaking across the square, which only had a few street lights dotting its perimeter.
She had heard he was back in town. Two people stopping in the bakery before it closed yesterday afternoon had mentioned it.
Ainsley had had a massive crush on Jackson when she was in seventh grade. He was a senior in high school and the quarterback of the championship football team. He also starred at guard for Salty Point High’s basketball team and played outfield on the baseball team. Jackson was not only athletic but very, very smart. He had won an academic scholarship to college. As a twelve-year-old, Ainsley had thought Jackson Martin the ideal man, hoping to marry the handsome senior one day. Not that she had ever spoken a word to him.
But a little girl could dream.
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