Authors: Noelle Hart
Tags: #romantic suspense, #murder and romance, #romance adult contemporary, #suspense and romance, #suspense crime thriller, #murder and suspense, #suspense action romance, #love and suspense, #romantic suspense best seller, #stalker suspense
Kylie stared dully into the mirror.
Yeah, she thought, the physical rise was fine if not exciting, but
that other thing she'd felt rise to the surface along with it was
Shaking it off, Kylie set about
re-inventing her image for this evening. Whether there would be any
more after this was yet to be seen. She'd met Drew in the gift shop
of the garden center at Valley Farms where she'd been filling in
for a sick employee. Normally her work remained behind the scenes
in the greenhouses where she supervised all areas of plant
production. He'd been there looking for a present for his mother
who apparently loved gardening, had asked her out right away, and
Three months of dinners, theater and
dancing had flown by, and throughout he'd remained a perfect
gentleman, never touching her except for a chaste buzz on the cheek
at her door. Sexually he'd been a closed book, but now and then
she'd caught him looking at her with something brewing in his eyes.
That cauldron had intrigued her and set her on a path of
It hadn't gone well. He'd actually
called her a whore. Deserved? No! The war raged inside her head and
she couldn't decide whether to be upset or get over it, and
Jolene soothed. “Stop brooding. You'll
pop a vein or something. Want me to go down and shove him out the
Kylie slipped on the blue dress. Next
to the red it was demure with lace trim and a full skirt. The color
turned the violet in her eyes to a bruised tanzanite. “I'm giving
him one chance to explain himself. If I don't like what he has to
say I'll drop him, end of story.” She re-applied pink lipstick and
on her feet went a pair of low heeled suede pumps.
Jolene scrunched her nose. “Now all
you need is white lace gloves and a bible.”
The girls had a pact that when one of
them had a date over the other would stay out of the picture. But
Jolene itched to go down and be formally introduced and make her
own assessment. The few times she'd sneaked onto the landing above
the stairs to peek – never mind the pact – she'd determined him to
be a blasé albeit good looking corporate type. But tonight she'd
received signals from her hidden vantage point that worried her.
Not something she could pin-point exactly. More of a feeling, a gut
Weirdos galore out there.
Okay. She was being a mother goose.
The mystery would reveal itself soon enough.
Sitting at her computer, her thoughts
took a detour toward the mystery man in her own life. Lyle Morris,
cook extraordinaire. At the busy diner where Jolene waited on
tables, Lyle the hunk pumped out dish after scrumptious dish to a
clientele that was steady and true, returning daily to partake in
his culinary delights touted as good old fashioned home cooking on
the sign outside the door. His popular pies were a staple of the
neighborhood and snaffled up by the slice or even whole.
Jolene wished he'd dish her up a slice
of or two himself. What the heck, she'd take the whole damn
But he never even so much as smiled at
her, and when she tried to engage him in conversation all she got
was a brusque get-back-to-work. All the man seemed to care about
was running that diner at maximum capacity. He and his partner Will
Delaney would soon be opening another diner in an outlying
community and she'd heard talk of transferring some of their
present employees to the new location.
Jolene fervently hoped she would end
up working at the same place as Lyle. She loved her job, but it was
his presence no matter how distanced from her that put a spring in
her step and carried her through the long hours and swollen feet.
That, and the great tips.
She mentally rolled her
Kylie and me, we're
. But at least Kylie wasn't being
She opened Google and began a search
on Drew Hammond.
Downstairs Kylie did a little sarcasm
laced whirl in front of Drew.
His smile was warm. “Better. More
I'm a regular chameleon.”
She tempered her tongue because she knew she was being obstinate.
“Where are we going?”
Chez Laffette.” When Kylie
simply nodded, “Look Kylie, I'm a very private person when it comes
to seduction. I'm sorry if that disturbs you but it's one of
Quirks.” She smiled thinly,
still miffed. “I get it. You have an image to uphold.”
He moved in and she flinched. Resting
his forehead on hers, his lips lightly brushed hers. She felt
something in her give.
I'm very attracted to you,
if that's what's worrying you.” Suddenly he pulled back, his eyes
flickering up the stairway. “C'mon, let's go.”
The ride to the restaurant melted away
the rest of her mad. Drew's sporty silver convertible flew along
the parkway on a slinky evening breeze, ruffling Kylie's hair and
soothing her soul.
Inside the magnificently appointed
Chez Laffette they were seated next to a crackling fire in a stone
hearth. Drew asked what she wanted, then ordered in broken French
making Kylie laugh, much to the thinly veiled tolerance of the
requisite snooty waiter.
Excellent wine served, Kylie studied
Drew. “Okay, let's hear it.” At his raised eyebrows, “Your
explanation for not making a move on me for the past three months,
Can we chalk it up to being
Not going to worm out of this, she
thought. “I think you can pretty much use the Garden of Eden as a
starting place for hanky-panky.”
He leaned forward earnestly. “I
haven't told you much about my parents. On the surface they're like
any others, but their unusual history is one big skeleton in their
closet and that's where it gets interesting.”
His gaze went distant and she hoped he
wasn't conjuring a lie. Not that he wasn't obliging when she posed
personal questions, but his answers were mostly cryptic, skimming
the subject quickly.
Finally, “I've bedded my share of
women and each relationship fizzled before it could even become
one. From the moment I saw you I wanted this to be different.” He
paused as troubled emotions played over his face. “My parents had
an arranged marriage. Two family mergers to ensure that their
companies and the resulting gains be handed down through a
bloodline. An antiquated notion at best. My father could have made
my mother love him but the way he handled things, she ended up
hating him. It wasn't something we ever discussed and believe me,
she was very good at covering up her emotions. And the bruises.
Heck, when I was a kid she had me convinced she actually loved him,
but when I got old enough to know better,” Drew's body tensed, “I
saw what all the pretense was doing to her.”
Their waiter appeared, fussed with a
basket of rolls and topped off their wine glasses.
Kylie brought to mind what she knew
about Drew's family. He was an only child. His parents lived in the
Uplands, an elite area of the city. They'd sent him to a solid
university back east the instant he'd graduated. It wasn't
When the waiter moved away, “I thought
arranged marriages only happen in Europe.”
My father wanted kids for
the express purpose of creating a bloodline. He basically forced
himself on my mother in the bedroom and I could hear her pleading
with him, telling him no. But he just...” Kylie took Drew's hand,
“... he just did what he wanted. My mother never conceived again
There was bitterness. Cold and dark
and slippery. Kylie squeezed his hand and silently
She wasn't prepared for his next
Kylie, I'll never force
myself on you. Seeing this side of you really knocked me for a
loop.” He hesitated. “Don't get me wrong. I have my appetites in
bed just like any other man, but I want ours to be a union based on
real compatibility, not on the crazy demands put on us by society
or by our own hormones. Once we get to a point where we really know
each other,” he chuckled, “shortcomings and all, I want us to marry
for the right reasons.”
The food arrived.
* * * *
Will Delaney was nursing a colossal
hangover. Silently cursing his business partner and lifetime friend
Lyle Morris, he took a cautious sip of coffee and scalded his
tongue. When the cup hit the counter with a clatter, Lyle sent him
an amused smirk across the counter.
Need a real cure?” Lyle
Will snorted. “If it's one of your
warlock brews then forget it. The lining of my stomach has to last
me my whole lifetime, which might be seriously shortened if I ever
do this again.”
Such wit. And on two hours
What sleep? You snore like
a chainsaw in high gear. You're never staying over at my place
That was Dino.”
Will glanced at the little fox terrier
snoozing under his feet. Not a sound. “Dino doesn't
Right now he's just under
the surface, but once he reaches his REM sleep, look out! A freight
train. I invested in some good ear plugs.”
Will risked a sip of the molten coffee
and mentally sighed when the lava flow slid down his throat with a
nice little jolt of vanilla flavored caffeine. Lyle could make even
the cheapest blends taste like nirvana, just as he worked magic
turning ordinary dishes into culinary art.
His own talent lay in the pulling
together of their current business with plans to expand already in
the works. But wining and dining the powers that be sometimes took
their toll. The late night business meeting with their construction
contractor had turned into an all night-er with a lot of tequila,
mutual back-slapping and general male bonding, a ritual that would
earn them a picked up pace on the building process.
That is, if the contractor was in any
shape today to do just that. Will had serious doubts.
Lyle slapped a bottle of pain killer
on the counter. “Next best thing to my cure. Do yourself a
Swallowing two, Will swiveled on his
chair and faced the tables of the diner. This was his sanctuary.
His home away from home. His dream come true, and every day he was
grateful for it. He and Lyle had worked their fingers to the bone
at the same kind of construction sites their contractor ruled over,
saving every back breaking penny for a down payment on this place
with a bank loan pulling the extra weight. They'd redesigned to
their own specifications and created their vision of what a
community diner should be. Located in a trendy neighborhood
referred to as the Village, their down-home yet inventive menu and
friendly atmosphere had lured in the locals, who by word of mouth
had brought in business from all parts of the burgeoning city of
Vancouver Island's garden capital, Victoria, and its outlying
districts. Lunch and dinner. That was their thing. No early bird
breakfasts yet, but he was toying with the idea of implementing
that at the new site.
Tapping at the glass door front got
Will's attention. It was Jolene coming in to pull off the lunch
shift. He rose to let her in, grunted a greeting and then re-locked
the door. Not open for business yet.
Jolene sauntered in, her uniform slung
over her shoulder. It was her duty to set up the tables, top off
what needed topping, make sure everything was sparkling clean.
Evelyn was already in the back getting her cash drawer
Dino! Get your hairy butt
in here,” Lyle commanded from the kitchen. Regulations didn't allow
for it, but Lyle figured if Dino stayed out of sight, who'd be the
wiser? He had a soft spot for the little tyke.
Dino opened an eye but didn't budge.
Lyle charged out of the kitchen to lay down the law and collided
with Jolene on her way in. For a few blessed seconds they were
pressed against one another in the doorway and Jolene's heart
fluttered wildly. Then it was over as Lyle squeezed past her. Not
even a hello.
In the change room Jolene exhaled. Oh
dear God, what would it take for that man to notice her? She'd worn
her best perfume - okay, her only perfume - and a sexy summer dress
that showed off her attributes nicely. Or so she'd thought. Was it
too much? Like with Kylie the other night and the red dress? Maybe
she wasn't as clever as she thought when it came to
A thought sneaked in. What
was gay? It
would explain his total indifference to her. She groaned and tugged
on her uniform of hip hugging black pants and embroidered white
shirt with a long apron over top. A class act. Thinking of Kylie
again, she wondered why her roomie was being so evasive since her
date with Drew the other night. She'd have to get to the bottom of
that, and soon.
Lyle crouched next to Dino and rubbed
the little dog's belly until he got his rebellious libido under