Authors: Lydia Rowan
Tags: #Contemporary Interracial Romance
Who You Least Expect
A Thornehill Springs Novel
Who You Least Expect
Copyright ©2015 by Lydia Rowan. All rights reserved. Excepting brief quotations used for purposes of review, no part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means including, without limitation, electronic, mechanical, recording, or otherwise without prior written consent of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, businesses, and incidents are invented by the author or used fictitiously. Any similarities to real people, living or dead, businesses and business establishments, places, or events are entirely coincidental. Any trademarks or copyrighted terms used herein are for illustrative purposes only without intention of infringing on any owner’s marks.
Orderly. Efficient. Controlled.
That’s how Blakely Bishop likes her life and the people in it. The instability of her past has ingrained in her the hard lessons of a life lived in chaos. She refuses to experience that again, and if the cost of her safety is an occasional bout of loneliness, she’ll happily pay that price.
enters her world.
Cody Sommers, a young, brash Navy SEAL lives for the edge and embraces the messiness of life wholeheartedly. One look at prim and proper Blakely, and Cody knows that if she loosened the reins, the results would be explosive. Blakely’s tough, but Cody’s never met a challenge he didn’t like, and he won’t be dissuaded, not even when she does her best to push him away.
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Blakely Bishop walked toward Thornehill Springs’s best, and only, reception hall with tentative steps. Her careful approach was reasonable; she was wearing four-inch heels after all, but that fact wasn’t what slowed her. No, her reluctant gait was owing to what lay ahead. Each step brought her closer to the assembled crowd, which, based on the full-to-overflowing parking lot and loud din coming from the hall, was the entire population of Thornehill Springs. And the tight twist of nerves in her gut and film of sweat that covered her palms only confirmed what she already knew. She was not prepared to go into that building, not prepared to face the town and the people she so desperately wished she could leave in the past.
Even from out here in the parking lot, she could clearly envision what she would face, the curious, questioning stares, the faint murmurs, and in all likelihood, some stealthily direct inquiries, none of which she had any intention of responding to, a stance that would only feed the hunger for information and make the gathered residents that much more determined to get their answers. It was silly. People moved all the time, so her departure and return, no matter how much time had passed between the two events, should not have been of consequence. But this was Thornehill Springs and she was a Bishop. Questions would be asked and answers expected.
That twist in her gut shifted to her chest, and Blakely stopped, taking a moment to catch her breath. And to decide if she had the will to go through with this. If she had her way, she wouldn’t have been here in the first place, and if she listened to that little voice in the back of her head, she’d turn on these damn heels and tiptoe in the opposite direction.
But she wouldn’t do that, not to Verna. The other woman had reminded her what it was like to have a friend, what it was like to
a friend, and Blakely wouldn’t miss the rest of this special day, not even if it meant confronting the throng of gossip-hungry residents. The awareness that she was doing this for Verna gave her the fortitude she needed to continue, and the sound of a closing car door made her move faster toward the front door. The only thing worse than facing the group inside would be being cornered one-on-one.
She stopped at the entrance, the vise on her chest tightening, but this time with awe. The hall was beautiful, decorated with panels of off-white fabric, white and pink flowers and subtle lighting. It was a perfect reflection of the taste and refinement that Verna often tried to pretend she didn’t have and the perfect place to celebrate this new union.
She glanced around the hall, taking in old faces and new, and then spotted Verna on the opposite side of the room holding court with a few people, her new husband Joe and Blakely’s old friend Mathias Poole nearby. That was another can of worms that she had no intention of opening, so she headed straight toward Verna, who looked resplendent in her handmade white satin gown, making sure she didn’t glance at Matt.
“Blakely Bishop!” Verna exclaimed, engulfing her in a huge hug. “I’m glad you came!”
Another reminder of why Verna was worth it. She had at least some inkling as to Blakely’s discomfort and as to why, but she didn’t pry and she didn’t judge. She just smiled and thanked her for being here.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Blakely said, feeling a surge of sudden emotion.
Verna smiled again, the already bright expression turning up another notch, and then she turned toward the attractive couple that stood to her left. “This is Quinn, my best friend in the whole world,” she said, gesturing toward the woman. “And this is her husband Alexander. And this adorable little guy is my godson Ethan.”
“I’ve heard so much about you, Blakely. Vern’s first client,” Quinn said with a huge smile as she reached out to shake Blakely’s hand.
“Yes, the first of many. And as I understand it, you’re the one to thank for this blessed occasion,” Blake said.
Quinn looked over at Verna with a knowing smile on her face. “Oh, I think it was just a matter of time before those two realized what everyone else could see, but I’m happy my moving gave them a little nudge,” she said.
The assembled group let out a huge laugh, and after they’d chatted for a few moments longer, Blakely gave Verna another hug. “I’ll let you catch up, but I just wanted to say congratulations again. Give me a call when you get back from California, okay?”
“Sure will. And thank you for coming, Blake. I appreciate it,” Verna said, giving a squeeze to Blakely’s hand.
“You’re welcome, Verna,” she replied, hoping the sincerity of the words and her feelings was clear. Then she turned and said, “And it was nice to meet you, Quinn and Alexander”—then she leaned down and offered her hand to the small boy who stood grasping his father’s pant leg—“and you, Ethan.”
With a final smile, Blakely, satisfied that she’d done as she’d intended and happy with the result, walked toward the exit, looking at the assembled guests as she passed. She’d been born in Thornehill Springs, lived here for her entire childhood, but she’d been gone a long time and now felt a little like a stranger. In truth, that wasn’t really out of the ordinary. Blakely, all of the Bishops, really, may have been from Thornehill, but they had never fit in.
And based on the stares of some of the town’s more prominent residents, they never would. The group that now eyed her like a particularly tasty treat didn’t have any official power, but they’d been called the Ladies’ Council for as long as Blakely could remember, and they made it their business to see to everyone else’s. It looked like Blakely was next in line.
She didn’t have time to escape, so she stopped and pasted a polite, but not too polite, smile on her face as Mrs. Thornehill, the mayor’s wife, Mrs. Mallick, the preacher’s wife, and Mrs. Adkins, the town’s school superintendent, approached her. Even twenty years away hadn’t lessened those women’s ability to set her nerves on edge. But Blakely was older now, in control, and while she might feel nervous, she certainly wouldn’t show it to them.
“Blakely Bishop, so nice to see you. Welcome home,” Mrs. Thornehill said, her voice the perfect tenor of Southern sweetness that Blakely knew from experience could shift to a sting in the blink of an eye.
“Thank you,” she replied.
The women stared at her expectantly, clearly waiting for her to say something else. Probably wanted her to explain why she’d left, or more interestingly, why she’d moved back. They’d be waiting a long while.
Blakely stood, hoping her face and posture were serene, and looked between the women. The moment seemed simple, but there was a tension that began to rise as the seconds passed. Perhaps because Blakely wasn’t bending to the combined force of these women’s will as most everyone in the town did.
“Well,” Mrs. Adkins finally said, “it’s wonderful to catch up with you. And I know your parents are so happy to have you back.”
There it was.
The source, the thing that had always stood between Blakely and the town. She felt the jab as intended, but she ignored it and, standing slightly straighter, gave the Ladies’ Council a brisk nod and turned.
Straight into a pair of strong arms that grasped her, one around her waist, the other holding one of her hands, and swept her onto the dance floor. In an instant, all thoughts of the town, the Ladies’ Council, of anything but the arms that now held her and the man they belonged to, fled.
“May I have this dance, Ms. Bishop?”
Cody Sommers had bent at the waist and whispered the words in Blakely’s ear, his deep, tantalizing voice stroking over her like a caress, and for a moment or two, she let herself revel in the sound and in the warmth that flowed from him. And before she could regain her bearings, he began moving her around the dance floor with practiced ease. She wouldn’t have taken Cody for a dancer, but then again, he had a knack for surprising her, so this particular talent shouldn’t be any different.
As they moved, she allowed herself to enjoy being held in his strong arms, let his spicy, masculine scent and the heat from his muscular form envelop her, feeling relaxed, almost intoxicated by their closeness. Her eyes went heavy but just before they drifted completely shut, she caught sight of Matilda Mallick staring in their direction, and the moment was lost. She was on full alert, the vision of the woman drawing her out of her momentary reverie as effectively as a bucket of ice-cold water would have.
Cody’s muscles against her palms, his hand heavy against her waist, almost low enough that he’d be touching her hip but not quite, were still potent and seductive, strong enough to test her resolve, but through sheer force of will, she was able to distance herself.
But he continued to move them about the dance floor, seemingly oblivious to the stares, oblivious to anything, really, except her as he pinned her with his eyes. Blue, a blue so bright it should have been cold, but nothing about Cody was cold. Much like the rest of him—his light brown hair, short as was almost universal among military men but the cut casual and not remotely severe, his skin, which glowed with a faint tan that came from the time he spent in the sun and good health—his eyes were warm, practically alive with energy. And much like the rest of him, they called to her, made her want to forget her rules and her boundaries. While she stared up at him, the noise of the party, the other guests, and even the bride and groom, faded, her surroundings again reduced until there was only him.
She glanced away abruptly, needing to break the eye contact lest he see something he shouldn’t, lest she do something she shouldn’t. After she was convinced that her shields were back in place, she risked looking into his eyes again and again felt herself being pulled in, the blatant challenge there, the slight smirk that turned his firm-looking lips, all things that should have repelled her, not made her seek.
But seek she did, and as the silence stretched, with the warm weight of Cody’s arm around her waist and the probing look in his eye intensifying, she found herself groping for something, anything to break his spell. Gazing up at him, she twisted her face into what she knew was her most inhospitable expression and spoke, voice just this side of chiding.