Authors: Judy Christenberry
You’re invited to…
Return to Tyler
Where scandals and secrets are unleashed in a small town and love is found around every corner…
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Judy Christenberry has been writing romances for fifteen years because she loves happy endings as much as her readers. Judy quit teaching French recently and devoted her time to writing. She hopes readers have as much fun reading her stories as she does writing them. She spends her spare time reading, watching her favorite sports teams and keeping track of her two daughters. Judy’s a native Texan, but now lives in Arizona.
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
579—WHO’S THE DADDY?
612—WANTED: CHRISTMAS MOMMY
626—DADDY ON DEMAND
701—IN PAPA BEAR’S BED
726—A COWBOY AT HEART
735—MY DADDY THE DUKE
744—COWBOY COME HOME
773—ONE HOT DADDY-TO-BE?
777—SURPRISE—YOU’RE A DADDY!
785—THE LAST STUBBORN COWBOY
817—THE GREAT TEXAS WEDDING BARGAIN
842—THE $10,000,000 TEXAS WEDDING
—His prowess in the courtroom is rivaled only by his skill in the bedroom.
—Her new Breakfast Inn Bed caters to lovers—but her own bed is empty….
—She wants a daddy for Christmas….
—A master quilter with a sweet tooth…and a soft heart.
—Nothing gets past this old biddy, on Ivy Lane…or anywhere in Tyler, for that matter.
Emma Finklebaum, Tillie Phelps, Bea Ferguson, Merry Linton and Lydia Perry
—Tyler’s Quilting Circle—they sew the most beautiful quilts…and matchmake the most unlikely couples.
—The proprietor of Marge’s Diner, where good food is served up along with plenty of gossip.
—The keeper of Kaity’s Kids, Tyler’s premier day care center.
—This patriarch watches after his sons…but has a wandering eye for the ladies.
—He doctors broken bones and broken hearts…all except his own.
—The first of the Spencer brothers to fall… Will he be the only one to wed?
Blood pumped through Molly Blake’s body as she raced across the town square of Tyler, Wisconsin.
“You’re being ridiculous!” she panted to herself as she ran, but she didn’t slow down. Instead, her mind listed the reasons for panicking.
Thank God, it wasn’t a large town square. It wasn’t a large town, for that matter. But if she’d had to run any farther, she might have collapsed.
She leaned for only half a second by the discreetly lettered brass plate that read Trask and Spencer, Attorneys-at-law. With a prayer of hope, she drew a shuddering breath and shoved away from the red-brick wall of the building and slammed back the door to the law offices.
Warmth flooded her. After all, it was winter in Wisconsin, the beginning of December. Every occupied building had its heat on full blast. And she was still wearing a knitted cap over her messy long braid, still had her navy pea jacket wrapped around her, her gloves on her hands, boots on her feet.
She shivered. The cold was coming from deep within her. From her fears. From—
“May I help you?” a pleasant woman asked.
In the almost shadowy interior of the building, Molly hadn’t really seen her.
Gasping for air, Molly got out, “I need to see Mrs. Trask, at once. It’s—it’s an emergency!”
With the calm precision of someone who loves routine, the woman asked, “Are you a client of Mrs. Trask’s?”
Molly wanted to leap over the desk and yank the woman to her feet by the elegant lapels of her gray suit, even though she couldn’t blame the secretary for her lack of enthusiasm. Molly knew she wasn’t at her best.
She’d run a few brief errands at the post office and the grocery, after dropping off her child at day care. She’d planned to hurry home to continue refinishing one of the wooden tables she’d bought for the dining room. The stained sweat suit beneath her coat wouldn’t do her any favors in the impression department, either.
“Yes!” she said, drawing out a hiss as she fought to control her temper.
“Your name and the nature of your business?” the secretary prodded.
Dear God, she might throttle the woman yet. “Molly Blake. And I’ll explain the nature of my business to Mrs. Trask. Just tell her I’m here and it’s an emer—”
“I can’t do that, Ms. Blake.”
“Because she’s out of the office.”
“What?” Molly almost screamed, unable to retain any semblance of sanity. If she didn’t get help, she wouldn’t be sane, anyway. If there was no hope—
Just as the woman began to caution her for her
unruly response, a door to the left of the reception desk opened and a handsome man stepped out.
“Problem, Mrs. Allen?”
Molly had seen him before. Heard stories about him. Overheard him explain with great clarity his distaste for children. She wanted nothing to do with Amanda Trask’s partner, Quinn Spencer.
Anyway, he wouldn’t understand.
“Yes, sir,” the secretary said, nodding her head like a bird considering a worm. “This lady seems a bit overheated.”
“An amazing feat in this weather,” the lawyer drawled.
Molly’s dislike instantly turned to hatred. How easy to be above it all with a wealthy family, a secure job, a life of—of jet-setting!
She drew a deep breath and faced Mrs. Allen. “When will Mrs. Trask be available?”
Surely she had made that request in a calm, professional manner. Why was the woman hesitating?
It took a nod from the attorney for the secretary to open an appointment book on her desk.
“I believe she’s free on the eleventh…of January,” the woman said. She looked up at Molly over the rims of her glasses, pen in hand. “Do you want that appointment?”
“No!” Molly cried, pain filling her voice and her body. By then it would be too late. Too, too late. “I can’t wait,” she gasped, reduced to pleading. “Please, if you’ll talk to Amanda, I’m sure—”
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” the man, Quinn Spencer, murmured.
Molly stared at him, shock making it difficult to even figure out what he’d said. He wanted to do the
politically correct niceties when she was dying here? With a nod, she turned back to the dragon guarding the entrance to the secret cave. “Please—”
“I’m Mrs. Trask’s partner. Did you say you’re a client of Amanda’s?”
“Yes,” she snapped.
Before she could again plead for help, he spoke to the secretary. “Mrs. Allen, if you’ll pull Mrs. Blake’s file and bring it into my office, I’ll see if I can assist her, since she said her visit is an emergency.”
She might not like what she knew about Quinn Spencer. She might have decided thirty seconds ago she hated him. But she did know everyone considered him to be a brilliant attorney. Any port in a storm, as her dad had always said.
“Thank you,” she muttered, and hurried into his office as he held the door for her.
the door behind him even as he considered Amanda’s client. Had he made a mistake, agreeing to see her? He’d heard her name—maybe Amanda had mentioned it—but he couldn’t quite put together what business the woman was conducting with his partner.
She’d seemed nearly hysterical, but at least she didn’t seem dangerous at the moment.
And he was considerably larger than she. His solid six feet weren’t exceptional in Tyler, but he had a good seven or eight inches on her. And in spite of the bulky coat, he suspected she’d have trouble weighing more than one-hundrd-and-ten pounds.
She was still standing, her face tight, her body tense.
“Sit down, Mrs. Blake. Take off your coat. It’s too warm in here to be all bundled up.” He could do the manners thing. A lot of times it helped ease the situation, whatever it might be.
“Please! You don’t understand!” She waited until he circled his desk. Then she began pacing his spacious but pleasantly cluttered office as if she were in a psych ward unit. Wringing her hands. Frowning fiercely. Well, as fierce as a five-foot-four blonde with big blue eyes could seem.
“No, but I will if you’ll stop pacing and explain it to me.”
He didn’t win any brownie points for his calm demeanor.
“I’m going to lose everything! I can’t— I’ve budgeted very carefully! It’s— I can’t! I won’t let that woman—”
There it was again. That raw emotion, the pain, the anger. Not the first time he’d heard those things, but there was no question she was feeling them all.
He softened his voice. After all, he’d dealt with distraught women before. Sometimes the emotional reaction had even been caused by him. This time he was sure he was innocent.
“So your difficulty stems from your budget?” After all, that was the only clue she’d given him.
“No!” she said, whirling around to face him. Anger became the dominant emotion. “No! My difficulty stems from that damned Ursula Wilson!” Then she looked stricken, a guilty expression on her lovely lips.
Uh, not lovely, he stuttered in his mind. He hadn’t meant to notice that. He turned his attention to whatever had changed her expression. “What’s wrong?”
“I shouldn’t have said that.”
He blinked twice before he asked cautiously, “You mean it’s not true? Mrs. Wilson isn’t—”
“Yes, it’s true! She’s trying to get revenge for—Anyway, it’s true, but I shouldn’t have cursed her.”
He almost laughed out loud. In all her ranting, the woman was castigating herself because she’d said “damn?” He couldn’t believe it. Wisconsin was known for its wide-eyed milkmaids, but this was ridiculous.
Covering his hand with his mouth and pretending to cough, he suggested again, “Why don’t you sit down and give me the details of Mrs. Wilson’s activities? I’m slightly acquainted with her and have some knowledge of local law, so…” Inside he was smirking. Some knowledge of the local law. Yeah. Local, state, national
Suddenly, as if he’d discovered the key to unlock all the information stored inside, she did as he asked, almost falling into one of the leather wing chairs in front of his desk and spewing out information.
“She’s trying to block me from getting my business license. She’s also filed a zoning protest! I’ve done everything exactly as is required. I’ve met every deadline, paid every fee. I talked to the Chamber of Commerce. I even talked to Joe and Susannah Santori and the Kelseys. I’ve done everything I could possibly do! But she won’t—”
“Whoa!” Quinn said, even holding up a hand, the universal symbol of stop, afraid his voice wouldn’t penetrate her spate of words. “Let me be sure I’ve followed everything so far. Uh, just for the record, what kind of business are we talking about?”
“My bed-and-breakfast. Breakfast Inn Bed on Ivy
Lane.” The tiniest measure of pride appeared in her words, along with all those other emotions.
Well, that information cleared up some of his questions. Ursula Wilson lived on Ivy Lane. A neighbor. Joe and Susannah ran the only bed-and-breakfast in town. Mrs. Blake’s competition. And the Kelseys had a boardinghouse.
“Okay, you’re starting up a business. You’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, and you feel Mrs. Wilson is trying to shut you down?”
“She’s filed something at Town Hall?”
Hesitation had her blinking those big blue eyes. “I—I’m not sure. Lydia said—”
“Lydia Perry. She said Mrs. Wilson is circling a petition among my neighbors. And—and she said she was going to prevent the zoning change.”
He made a couple of notes. Lydia Perry was a member, albeit a fairly new one, of the beloved Quilting Circle that operated out of Worthington House. Quinn’s favorite people.
“When did she tell you this?”
“This morning! I was in the grocery picking up a couple of things and she stopped me. Said she’d been meaning to call me. I—I tried to remain calm, but my heart started beating fast and I couldn’t breathe and—and I left her standing there and ran over here. You see, I need to— It has to succeed. I’ve got enough to make it for a year. New businesses need that much cushion. I know that. I’ve planned for it. I’ve been fixing up the house, buying furniture. I’ve even bought some quilts, so I can— Never mind, you don’t need to know that. But I have to succeed! And
I will not allow that woman to destroy everything I’ve worked for just because she’s jealous!”
“Take a deep breath,” he counseled in his most charming, soothing, masculine, I-know-best manner, hoping to relieve some of her stress.
Instead, it appeared he’d pressed the wrong button. She leaped to her feet and leaned over his desk. “Weren’t you listening? Remaining calm isn’t going to get me anywhere. I’ve got to do something! I need to know what I can— I need to see Amanda!” she exclaimed, and turned to charge the door.
He stayed in his chair. “She’s out of town and won’t be back until next week. There’s an emergency case that requires—”
an emergency case!” she reminded him.
“Yes, you are, and that’s why I’m talking to you. I understand the urgency, Mrs. Blake. But if you’ve given yourself a cushion of a year, as you’ve said, then another half hour for me to understand the problem, whereby I will be able to plan our moves, doesn’t seem too much to ask.”
HE HATED HIM
The calm, rational man, making her sound like an overemotional woman. Okay, so she couldn’t deny either of those assessments. But he didn’t understand how difficult the past two years had been. How much she had resting on the hope of the bed-and-breakfast.
He didn’t understand about Sara, her beloved daughter. She couldn’t fail Sara. Not when Christopher had already abjectly failed his daughter. Not when Sara had no one else to depend on.
Drawing a deep breath, she tried to bring her emotions under control. After all, Mr. Spencer had at
least listened to her so far. And if she lost everything—she gulped back a sob—then she’d find a way. She’d move back to Chicago, get a regular job again.
She and Sara would survive, no matter what.
A calm centered in her and she took her seat again. Looking up from the clenched hands in her lap, she said, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Spencer, for my rudeness. You’re quite right, of course.”
He stared at her as if she were an alien creature. She couldn’t blame him. She had a feeling she hadn’t made the man’s day with all her weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
He smiled, another of those I-can-charm-your-socks-off smiles that made her want to slap him. Christopher had practiced those—on a lot of women. Except her, of course. He hadn’t needed to charm
“Thank you for—for calming down, Mrs. Blake.”
He’d been about to say for coming to her senses. She knew it. She hated him.
“Certainly. Do you believe you’ll be able to help me resolve these issues?”
“Of course we will. We’re a well-respected firm, and for good reason. If, as you say, you’ve done everything you should, Mrs. Wilson won’t have a leg to stand on. Now, I just have a couple more questions.”
“Yes?” Okay, that had been a little short, less gracious. She tried again with a smile that she hoped looked better than it felt. “Of course. Please, what else can I tell you?”
“You could explain your remark about revenge.”
She closed her eyes briefly, hysterical laughter ris
ing in her. Fighting it back, she cleared her throat and said, “I hope you’ll excuse my emotional outburst earlier. Those remarks really had no place—I’m sure Mrs. Wilson’s reasons are based on—”
Quinn folded his hands together and leaned forward, interrupting her stammering explanation. “Mrs. Blake? I understand that your feelings are not facts. It’s my job to evaluate the situation. But I need to have your impressions. All of them.”
He was right as usual, logical, calm. She definitely hated him. With a deep sigh, she avoided his gaze and abruptly began, “My husband, Christopher, is—was a native of Tyler, Mr. Spencer.”
She got more reaction that she expected. “You’re Christopher Blake’s wife?”
That question was the first non-lawyerly remark the man had made. Molly proceeded with caution. “Widow. I’m his widow. Did you know my husband?”
She already knew the answer. Christopher had spoken of Quinn Spencer occasionally, usually with bitterness because Christopher didn’t have the fortune to back him that Quinn had. It made being a playboy so much more difficult. Playboy on a budget. No, somehow that just didn’t work.