The Truest Thing
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Nine years ago, Emery Saunders moved to Hartwell to start her life over as a bookstore owner. Her inability to trust people made it hard for her to find a place in the small community—until Jessica Lawson moved to town and befriended the shy beauty. But there was one person in Hartwell who tried to befriend Emery long before Jessica arrived . . .
Jack Devlin has his secrets. One of them is that he fell hard for Emery the moment she appeared in Hartwell. Another is that his father blackmailed him into covering up a dark family tragedy. It forced Jack to sever his relationships to protect the people he cared about. Yet, staying away from Emery has not been easy throughout the years and he hasn’t always succeeded. When Jack’s mixed signals hurt Emery once again, she puts him out of her heart for good.
Until the Devlin family secret is finally revealed, freeing Jack from his father's machinations. What Jack wants more than anything is to repair his relationships, starting with Emery. However, Emery isn't ready to forgive and Jack's not ready to give up. And when the town's latest scandal ties Jack and Emery together, Jack is not above using their new reality to prove to Emery once and for all that their love is worthy of the legend of Hart’s Boardwalk.
Release date: August 18, 2020
Publisher: Samantha Young
Print pages: 394
Content advisory: sexual content
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The Truest Thing
The nutty, smoky, caramelized smell of coffee lingered with me long past my day at work. It was a good thing I liked the scent. It made me feel content, in control, and safe. Because it usually meant I was in my favorite place.
My bookstore café.
Standing at my Mastrena high-performance espresso machine, I wasn’t feeling so content. I tried to focus on making my customer’s cappuccino and not on my immature behavior earlier.
Bailey wanted to invite Ivy Green into our friendship circle.
And because I wasn’t comfortable with the idea, the girls had decided not to.
Like we were in middle school.
I groaned under my breath, feeling my cheeks heat. As I handed over the coffee, took the money for it, and moved on to the next customer, only half of me was in the store. The other half was locked in my head and would be for a while. Whenever I did something bothersome, I’d chew on it for a long time. Even when I would finally move on, I’d never really let it go, because it would come back to annoy me months later, just for the hell of it.
Ivy Green was Iris’s daughter. Iris was one of my favorite people. She’d been the only person I was close to until Jessica Huntington—now Lawson—vacationed in Hartwell and ended up staying. There was something about Jessica I instinctively trusted, and trust was difficult for me.
I’d trusted Iris too.
And this was how I repaid her friendship? By using my influence with my friends to cut her daughter out of a pretty fantastic group of women who could help her through an arduous time?
By arduous, I meant that Ivy used to live in Hollywood as a screenwriter and was engaged to a big-time director, Oliver Frost, who sadly died of a drug overdose. Ivy returned to Hartwell a complete wreck, only for Deputy Freddie Jackson to hold her at gunpoint to extort money out of her, all after he murdered local businessman, Stu Devlin. My other good friend, Dahlia McGuire, took a bullet trying to protect Ivy. Ivy then cracked Freddie Jackson over the head with an Oscar statuette to protect Dahlia from getting shot again.
Welcome to Hartwell, folks!
We’ve had a lot going on these last few years.
Iris had worried about her daughter before Oliver died, especially after Ivy broke contact with her parents during the relationship. I’d counseled Iris about it, continually prodding her to reach out to Ivy. But the woman was stubborn. Now I knew she regretted that stubbornness.
Iris would want Ivy to have support. She needed excellent friends. I couldn’t stand in the way of that, even if I was afraid someone new might change the dynamic of our group, a group that had become my family. I was a little possessive over the girls.
That was no reason to shut someone out.
I sighed. The girls wouldn’t make a move now. Jessica said they were just going to let things work out naturally. Perhaps Ivy needed more effort than that.
It would be up to me to approach her and bring her into the fold.
The thought made my stomach knot.
I wasn’t good with giving people any kind of power over me, and what if Ivy rejected my offer of friendship?
And yet, I’d let Jess, Bailey, and Dahlia in, and it had been my best decision ever.
Now I was a part of their lives. I was a bridesmaid in Jess and Cooper’s wedding; I’d be a bridesmaid again when Bailey and Vaughn tied the knot at the end of summer. Moreover, I had a front-row seat to the reunion of Dahlia and Michael, which was magical to watch considering the painful years they’d spent apart.
The icing on the cake: Jess had recently informed us we would be aunts! She actually said the word “aunts.” I was going to be an aunt. Jess was twenty weeks along, and I’d already started shopping online for baby gifts.
There was so much goodness in my life because of these women. Who was to say Ivy wouldn’t just add more goodness? If she was anything like her adoptive mother, Iris, then she absolutely would.
A customer yelled from the raised seating area near the fireplace, asking for a clean spoon. I was a staff of one, and although I knew I should hire some help during the high season, I enjoyed keeping busy. It would be great, however, if customers would read the signs that pointed to the cutlery tray so they could help themselves. This was not a restaurant.
I excused myself from the line of customers waiting for coffee and hurried from behind the counter to grab a spoon for the guy. He didn’t even say thank you.
Not that I’d ever dare call him that to his face.
Even Bailey, the most forthright, ballsy woman I’d ever met, wouldn’t call a customer an asshat. To his face.
As I rounded the counter again, the bell above my door tinkled and I looked over at it. My stomach dipped like I was on a roller coaster.
I wrenched my gaze from his intense expression, my heart skipping a beat, and tried to concentrate on my other customers. Still, I knew I was blushing, and I knew he’d know he was the cause.
Always the cause of the damn blushing!
I cursed my fair complexion on a daily—no, strike that—hourly basis.
What was he doing here?
Jack hadn’t come in for coffee since last summer, since “the incident.”
That’s what I was calling it.
It was better to call it that than the hottest—and most humiliating—moment of my life thus far. I bet you didn’t know those two sentiments could go hand in hand.
Respectful of my request to leave me alone, Jack had avoided me since then. He’d even given up my coffee, which I knew he loved since he used to come in every morning for an Americano.
But last summer wasn’t the last time we’d interacted.
I hurt for him as I remembered that moment between us.
“I gave you ten dollars.”
The aggravated voice brought me out of the memory. Christine Rothwell, the chair of the board of licenses in Hartwell, glowered.
She pursed her lips before replying. “I gave you ten dollars.” She spoke obnoxiously slow, as though I was too stupid to understand. “The coffee”—she pointed to her cup—“was four dollars. Are you with me?”
Must not insult customers to their faces. Must not insult customers to their faces.
“You gave me back a dollar.”
“I’m sorry.” My cheeks bloomed even redder knowing Jack was witnessing my fumble. I handed over a five-dollar bill, which she snapped from my hand before marching out of the store. The bell above the door tinkled aggressively with the force of her departure.
My next customer gave me a sympathetic smile. “Someone forgot her manners today.”
I returned the smile, relaxing a little. Well, as much as I could relax with Jack in the room.
Which wasn’t a whole heck of a lot.
My hands trembled as my line depleted and Jack grew closer. No new customers had come in after him.
Pulse racing, I threw back my shoulders to face him as he stepped up to the counter. What was he doing here?
One of the most confusing things about Jack’s decision to go work with his father and be involved in the nefarious plotting of the Devlin family was his obvious disgust of them. You only had to look into Jack’s eyes to know he wasn’t a rotten person. In fact, he had the kindest eyes I’d ever seen.
And when he looked at me … he looked at me. Jack stared so intently at my face, as though he didn’t want to gaze at anything else. It was hard to resist that kind of open intensity.
And I couldn’t.
Consequently, he’d broken my heart last summer. And not for the first time.
It was something I’d kept to myself. Not even the girls knew about the secret interactions between me and Jack Devlin.
However, those kind eyes that could morph into a smoldering gaze, and the tortured, brooding hero thing he had going on would no longer appeal to me. Jack had a dreadful habit of pulling me in and then pushing me away. It wasn’t deliberate. I knew that.
But I was over it.
I’d offered him support on the beach three months ago because, no matter what, I hated to see him hurting.
That’s as far as it went.
I wrenched my eyes from his, determined not to be pulled in. “What can I get you?”
He hesitated a moment. “The usual, Emery.”
I loved Jack’s voice. It was deep and smooth. Like whisky-flavored caramel. And it caused a physical reaction in me.
Turning away, I started on his coffee and kept my back to him.
I could feel his eyes all over me and tried not to hunch my shoulders against his perusal.
“Busy today,” he noted.
“Anyone buying books or just your coffee?”
Stop trying to make idle chitchat.
“Yeah,” I answered vaguely.
Jack let out a huff of irritated laughter. “Was that an answer?”
I didn’t respond.
By the time I returned to the counter with his coffee, his expression had darkened. “Is this the way it’ll be from now on?”
I slid the coffee toward him and he swiped his card over the card machine.
Jack scowled. “Em, are you seriously going to give me the silent treatment?”
“I’m not giving you the silent treatment.” I took a deep breath, my focus wandering past him to the book stacks. “I asked you not to come here. Nothing’s changed in that respect. I’m going to suggest, again, that you find somewhere else to get your coffee from now on.”
“Look me in the eye when you say it, and I might take that advice on board.”
I determinedly met his eyes. His expression veered between anger and concern.
His head dipped toward mine. “Look, Em—”
“Don’t.” I jerked away.
“I wasn’t going to kiss you, sunrise,” he murmured.
I ignored the ache of hearing the endearment he’d started using years ago. “I know. But you were going to lean in close and try to soften my resolve, and I don’t want you to.”
“Em—” A shrill ring sounded from somewhere on Jack’s person.
He sighed, placed his coffee on the counter, and reached inside the inner pocket of his suit jacket for his cell. His expression told me we weren’t done as he moved away from the counter, phone pressed against his ear.
I didn’t want to want to listen in, but I couldn’t help but watch him.
He had a strong, angular jawline covered in prickly stubble. The unshaven look started just over a year ago. And I knew that because I’d personally felt the prickle of it against my skin a year ago.
I flushed and looked down at the counter.
“She did what?” Jack’s angry voice brought my attention back to him.
He glared at my wall, a muscle ticking in his jaw as he listened to whomever was on the other end of the call. “Fuck,” he bit out. “Okay, I’m on my way.” He ended the call and turned to me.
My heart hammered at what I saw in Jack’s eyes.
“What is it?”
Rebecca was Jack’s sister. She’d been living in England for the last few years, in a form of exile from the Devlin family. “What about her?”
“She came home two days ago … that was Sheriff King on the phone.”
He leaned his hands on the counter, bowing his head.
Worry flooded me. “Jack?”
“She … she just turned herself over to the police.”
Oh my God.
I reached for his hand.
He lifted his head, his tortured gaze locking with mine.
I knew what this meant.
I knew something no one else knew about the Devlins.
I knew the real reason Jack went to work for his family and why he’d betrayed Cooper, his best friend.
I knew it all.
And it had everything to do with protecting Rebecca Devlin.
“Oh, Jack,” I whispered, heartbroken for him.
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