The House on Blueberry Lane
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Release date: July 5, 2022
Publisher: HQN Books
Print pages: 384
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The House on Blueberry Lane
VELVET SPENCER SAT in front of her TV with a glass of wine in one hand and the remote in the other. There had to be something worth watching other than romance movies, cop shows and sci-fi films. She was in the mood for none of those. In her present frame of mind, she should just finish her wine and go on to bed. She loved her job as a teacher but was glad she didn’t have to dwell on lesson plans for a while. School had ended for the holidays and with nothing planned this week, she thought she might drive into New Orleans to start early Christmas shopping. Shopping was always a girl’s best friend.
Anything was better than sitting around and letting her thoughts dwell on that town hall meeting she’d attended last Thursday, when she’d seen Jaye Colfax for the first time in two years. That’s when she had ended their relationship and left Phoenix without telling him she was leaving or where she was headed. For two years she had tried building another life for herself without him in Catalina Cove, and had done a fairly good job.
And now he was here.
His presence was already the talk of the town. Everyone at that meeting had been introduced to the wealthy entrepreneur who had purchased the only bank in Catalina Cove. Women were whispering about how drop-dead gorgeous he was and speculating about what it would take to capture such a man’s eye. She had been tempted to tell them unless they were in for an affair that led nowhere, not to waste their time.
Afterward, she couldn’t get home quick enough to call her best friend, Ruthie, to tell her that Jaye was not only in town but would be here for a while to get his newly purchased asset, Barrows Bank, up and running.
Her best friend was just as shocked as she was. Ruthie even brought up the possibility that Jaye had somehow found out her whereabouts and that was why he was in Catalina Cove. Velvet knew that theory wasn’t true. Jaye didn’t run after women. Besides, why now, after she’d been gone two years?
Velvet put the remote on the table and went into the kitchen. She was about to pour some more wine when her doorbell sounded. Who in the world could that be? Maybe it was her neighbor, Delisa Mills, letting her know she was back in town.
Delisa wasn’t just her neighbor but also her landlord. The woman had inherited the huge Victorian-style two-story home that could house a family of fifteen easily. Not needing all that space, Delisa had transformed the house into a duplex with separate entrances—one from the side and one from the front—all without altering the style and elegance of the beautiful and spacious house. Velvet lived in the lower section. Her three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen and dining area fit her needs and suited her just fine.
Delisa lived above in the second story. A divorcée in her late fifties, Delisa loved to travel and spent most of her time out of the country. She thought the older woman was friendly, and as far as Velvet was concerned, their arrangement worked out great.
When she reached the door, she asked, “Who is it?”
Velvet’s heart nearly jumped out of her chest. What was Jaye doing here? How had he found out where she lived? Drawing in a deep breath, she tried to calm her erratic heartbeat. Glancing down at herself, she was glad she was decent since she hadn’t changed out of the slacks and blouse she’d worn to her dentist appointment that day. With slightly trembling hands, she opened the door.
The porch light illuminated his features, and she went still, taking in just how handsome he was. Jack Colfax, Jr., known to his friends as Jaye, stood there looking simply gorgeous, from his head to his toes and every part in between.
“Jaye. What are you doing here?”
“May I come in, Vel, so we can talk?” he asked with an unreadable expression.
Hearing him say her nickname, which nobody in Catalina Cove used, gave her pause. Ruthie called her that all the time but hearing Jaye say it brought a lot of memories rushing through her mind...and her body.
He’d said it again. She could easily say no, he couldn’t come in, and they had nothing to talk about. She had put distance between them for a reason. She had given up talking to him then, why should they talk now?
She could tell him just what she thought of him but knew that wouldn’t be a smart move. He was the new banker in town and agitation between them could call for awkward moments she’d rather not deal with.
If nothing else, they needed to talk about the best way to handle things since nobody in Catalina Cove, except for Sierra Crane, knew about her and Jaye’s past. Upon moving to the cove, she and Sierra—who owned the local soup café—had struck up a close friendship.
“Yes, please come in,” she said, stepping back.
When Jaye crossed the threshold, her gaze roamed over him. He was six foot two, but he appeared taller than she remembered. He was dressed in a tailor-made suit, one that fit his toned body to perfection.
Regaining control of her senses, she closed the door behind him and repeated her question. “What are you doing here, Jaye?”
“I think we need to talk.”
Yes, he’d said that, and they had, back when it mattered, and it had gotten them nowhere. “I was about to have another glass of wine, would you like one?”
“Yes, thanks.” There was no need to make sure what she was drinking was what he’d want because she and Jaye always liked the same wine. In fact, they liked most of the same of
everything—food, places to visit, music, movies, political party. They’d been perfect together. Perfect for each other. Too bad he hadn’t seen or accepted that.
“Please have a seat. I’ll be right back.” She hurried to the kitchen, holding her breath. It was only when she leaned against the counter that she exhaled. When she’d rented this house, she’d never imagined that Jaye would ever walk through the door, sit on her sofa or share a glass of wine with her. She’d figured when she’d left Phoenix she’d made a clean break. Obviously not.
But then, she couldn’t place the blame solely at Jaye’s feet. He had been upfront with her from the beginning. He wasn’t the marrying kind, he’d said. All there would be between them was companionship and sex, sex and more sex. He’d also made it clear when she’d pushed for exclusivity that although they wouldn’t date others, it was still just an affair. She would be a bedmate and never a wife.
He didn’t love her and could never love her. She thought that she could be content with their arrangement, had convinced herself she could settle. It took her three years to accept that she couldn’t change his mind about loving her, and she knew she deserved more. She’d also known she would never get that more from Jaye. His mother had broken his father’s heart, and Jaye had vowed from an early age never to let someone hurt him that way.
Calming her shaking hands, she reached into the cabinet to retrieve another wineglass and filled it halfway. That’s usually all he ever wanted. They used to joke about whether the glass was half-full or half-empty all the time.
After topping off hers, she left the kitchen carrying both glasses to find him standing in the middle of her living room, glancing around.
He looked up when she entered. “This is a nice place, Vel.”
“Thanks.” As she handed him the wineglass, their hands touched and she felt a zing of energy and knew he had as well. Okay, so they’d just proved that sexual chemistry was still alive and well between them. Big deal.
They both sat. As she watched him sip his wine, she thought what she always thought—he looked sexy doing it. The way his lips caressed the rim of the glass and how he would take slow seductive sips...
She cleared her throat. “So why are you here?” she asked for the third time.
Jaye lowered his glass. “It was a rather startling moment seeing you the other night at that town hall meeting.”
She shrugged. “You mean you didn’t deliberately buy Barrows Bank when you discovered this is where I was living?” she asked coolly.
He took another sip of wine before saying, “Is that what you believe?”
She chuckled and shook her head. “No,” she said honestly. “It’s not in your makeup to care enough for any woman to go to that much effort. I know you being here was just a coincidence neither of us counted on. I’m sure you were hoping never to see me again.”
His brows pinched with irritation. “Have you forgotten that you left me and not the other way around? And without letting me know you were leaving and where you were going.”
You sound pissed. Why? I gave you your freedom.”
“I don’t recall asking for it.”
No, he hadn’t. He would have been perfectly fine letting things continue as they were. An affair that led nowhere but to the bedroom. It never dawned on him that perhaps she wanted more. Maybe it had dawned on him, but he’d made it clear a number of times he would never fall in love with any woman.
“I did what I felt I had to do, Jaye.”
He didn’t say anything, didn’t even bother to ask her what she meant. But she knew that he knew.
He finished another sip of wine and said, “How do you think we should handle things, Vel? To get the bank up and running the way I want, I’ll be living in town for about six to eight months. Maybe less once I hire a bank manager. I don’t want any awkward moments between us. Any suggestions?”
“Yes, you could stop calling me Vel. Everybody in town calls me Velvet. If they hear you call me that, they’ll know we had a past.”
“And you’d rather they didn’t know that?”
She nodded. “There’s no reason they should. What was between us is in the past and it should stay there.”
“Alright. Anything else?”
She drew in a deep breath. “Yes. Nobody in town knows who I am.”
She saw the bemused look on his face, and then when he realized what she meant, he smiled. “In other words, nobody in Catalina Cove knows you’re the Spencer’s restaurant heir.”
“No, they don’t.”
“Even though there’s a Spencer’s in town? One of the few fast-food places I heard they’ve allowed to open here?”
Spencer’s was a popular restaurant that was known for their hamburgers, French fries and milkshakes. A few years ago, several other items were added to the menu, including pizza. From what Velvet had heard, Reid Lacroix, the wealthiest man in town, had been against any fast-food chains opening in the cove. However, once his granddaughters made it known that Spencer’s was their favorite restaurant and the closest one was in New Orleans, he had made sure that one opened up in the cove. The town had gotten a McDonald’s for that same reason.
“Actually, there are two people who know. Reid Lacroix and my friend Sierra Crane. Both are sworn to secrecy. No one else has made the connection and there’s no reason they should since I’m not involved in the business side of the company. As you know, I have very capable people running things back in Seattle on my behalf.”
“Yes, you do,” he said. “I hear you’re about to expand into Canada and the UK.”
“Yes, that’s true.”
Her parents had always known she didn’t want to be involved in the family business and that being a teacher was her dream. They hadn’t been overjoyed but had let her be. Their deaths
eight years ago had changed things. While coming home one night from a party, their vehicle was carjacked and both were murdered in the process. It was a senseless killing and took away the two people she cared about most.
“I understand you’re still teaching.”
“Yes. I like teaching.”
“And you’re good at it.”
“Thanks. Well, that about covers everything.”
“Not quite. There’s something you need to know.”
Velvet lifted a brow. “What?”
“Where I’ll be staying.”
She tilted her head. “Why would it concern me where you’re staying?”
“Because I’m renting the house right next door. I understand your neighbor, Delisa Mills, leaves town for extended trips. The realtor that I hired was able to find me a place with only a six-month lease. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was right above you. I could try to find another place if my being so close is going to bother you.”
Velvet tried to keep her expression neutral but deep down she was fuming. For two years, she had moved on with her life, trying to get herself free of Jaye Colfax and now, out of the clear blue sky, he not only popped up in Catalina Cove, but he was moving next door, living right above her? In the house on Blueberry Lane? What on earth had she done to deserve this?
She glared at him. “No, Jaye, your living upstairs will mean nothing to me.”
He smiled...actually smiled. Did that mean it meant nothing to him, too? He thought it would be okay if he moved in and began parading women in and out of his part of the house when she was so close by? There was no doubt in her mind that since their breakup he had continued his sex-only arrangement with women. He’d certainly captured a lot of interest at the town hall meeting the other night.
“I think we’ve covered everything, Jaye,” she said, taking his wineglass from him—although there was still wine in it—and then turning to head for the door to let him out.
“Yes, I guess we have.” When they reached the door, he said, “I’ll be staying at that bed-and-breakfast in town, Shelby by the Sea, until the first of the year, before moving in.”
“Okay. Good night, Jaye.”
“Good night, Vel.”
“And please remember, Jaye, from now on, I’m Velvet.”
She closed the door and leaned against it, feeling totally frustrated. Just like that, Jaye Colfax was back in her life, living directly above her whether she liked it or not.
JAYE COLFAX ENTERED his room at Shelby by the Sea, noticing that it was a very nice place with all the comforts of home. Jerking off his tie and removing his suit jacket, he tossed both on the bed before heading to the window. He had requested an ocean view, and that’s just what he’d gotten. Even at night, he could see the lights of several boats, which meant some people were night fishing.
He drew in a deep breath as he recalled his conversation with Velvet. He had been prepared to be totally honest with her and tell her the reason he was here—to claim her love.
However, something she’d said had stopped him from being forthright. She had joked about him deliberately buying the bank when he’d discovered this was where she was living. Then she’d admitted she knew he hadn’t done that because it wasn’t in his makeup to care that much for any woman. He’d decided at that moment to prove how wrong she was, and that it was in his makeup to care that much.
When he felt the time was right, he would let her know how miserable he’d been the last two years and how it had taken her leaving for him to realize how much he cared for her. He loved her. Letting her leave had been the biggest mistake of his life, one he intended to rectify. Only then would he tell her how he’d hired a private investigator to find her...and also admit that Larson Barrows hadn’t really been ready to retire. It had taken Jaye making an offer for the purchase of his bank that was so sweet the man couldn’t have refused—or he would have been a fool to do so. The same thing with becoming her neighbor. He had made it worth Delisa Mills’s while, financially, to stay out of the country at least six to eight more months.
Bottom line, Jaye had done what he’d felt was necessary to claim the woman he loved. The woman he had lost by his own stupidity. Hopefully, in the end, she would see that he intended to do what he should have done years ago—accept her place in his life.
Instead, he had hurt her deeply and, more than anything, regretted what he’d done. Now he would work like hell to un-break her heart and show her they were perfectly matched. There was no other woman for him.
He loved her and he intended to prove it to her, but on her time, not his. If it took longer than six months, he was fine with that, because he was in it for the long haul. He’d discovered that Catalina Cove wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was a nice coastal town on the gulf, just an hour’s drive from New Orleans.
Jaye was determined that when he left the cove, he would be leaving with Velvet—as his wife.
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