A couple of years ago I discovered Janet Chapman and this awesome world she’s created. If you’ve never read a Janet Chapman book I highly recommend that you do because her books are full of quirky characters and a spectacular part of the country.
Jesse Sinclair and his two brothers spent years dodging the women his grandfather threw in their path. But then the matchmaking old wolf died, and his brothers did the unthinkable: they ran off to Maine to get married.
Now Jesse wants to join them. Convinced the Pine Tree State must have another eligible woman to spare, he buys a small island just off Bear Harbor to build a home for his future family. But as he discovers, finding the woman of your dreams isn’t as easy as his brothers made it seem. First of all, the only woman capable of filling those wedding shoes is Cadi Glace—and unfortunately, she’s already engaged…
So imagine Jesse’s surprise when he finds the aforementioned Miss Glace hiding out in his camper, charmingly, adorably drunk. And apparently single….
Jesse crested yet another blind knoll and immediately slowed to a crawl when he spotted the car parked just off the pavement, its two right tires nearly touching the water of an encroaching bog. And even though flames were shooting above the raised hood of the late-model luxury sedan, he didn’t dare brake to a stop for fear of being rear-ended if someone should crest the knoll behind him.
It was just as he swerved to the other side of the road to get past the car that he spotted the woman up ahead, who had stopped walking and turned at the sound of his engine. She was carrying a large white box, there were no fewer than a dozen brightly colored balloons tied to the bulging purse hiked up on her shoulder, and he couldn’t help noticing her expression go from hopeful to disappointed. Obviously seeing he wasn’t a local, she started walking again, apparently unconcerned that her car was on fire.
Jesse continued past her, edged to the side of the road as far as he dared, and brought his rig to a stop on the crest of another knoll so it could be seen by anyone traveling from either direction. He set the park brake as an extra precaution, shut off the engine and got out, and walked down the length of the camper. “Have you called 911?” he asked, only to watch the swirling balloons knock her wide-brimmed hat askew when she stopped a good twenty yards from him.
“No,” she said, shifting what appeared to be a pastry box to one arm and righting her hat. “I was afraid they’d get here before the car was totaled.”
Jesse stilled in the act of pulling out his cell phone. “You want it to burn?”
“Right down to its four crappy tires,” she shot back, her curt nod making her hat slip sideways again. Only this time instead of righting it, she pulled it off and sent it sailing into the woods. She glanced back at the car, which now had black smoke billowing out all four open windows, and shrugged. “It’s not close enough to any trees to start a forest fire,” she said as she started walking again. “I’ll call it in when I get to town.”
“How far would that be?” Jesse asked, moving into the road when he realized she intended to walk right past him. “I’ll give you a ride.”
She stopped again. “Thank you, but I’ll walk. It’s only about a mile.”
That flawless complexion, pale-to-its-roots curly blonde hair, and those intelligent, arresting blue eyes made Jesse realize he knew her. “Miss Glace,” he said, unable to believe he hadn’t recognized her immediately, considering how often she’d invaded his dreams over the last three months. “I’m Jesse Sinclair,” he explained at her startled look. “Your fiancé is designing my house. On Hundred Acre Isle?” he added to jog her memory, since he obviously hadn’t left as memorable an impression on her. “You sat in on my meeting with Stanley back in February.”—to take notes, he’d thought, since she’d brought a notebook and pencil. But though she hadn’t said another word beyond a warm “Nice to meet you” at being introduced to him as Cadi Glace—Stanley’s fiancée and the daughter of his deceased partner, Owen Glace—Jesse had certainly been aware of her as he’d spent the next two hours explaining to Stanley exactly what he wanted in a house.
“Pooh Bear,” she suddenly blurted.
Her gaze dropped to the box she was holding, but not quickly enough to hide the soft blush creeping into her creamy white cheeks. “I mean . . .” She looked up, exposing an irreverent smile. “Winnie the Pooh? He lived in Hundred Acre Wood with Piglet and Eeyore and Tigger?” she added when he frowned. Her smile turned warm. “The few times Stanley took me to your island to check out building sites, it was all I could do not to run around looking for pots of honey hidden in hollow logs.” She shrugged her free shoulder. “I developed the habit years ago of imagining my father’s clients as whatever fictional characters I thought matched the homes they wanted designed.”
And she’d decided he was a roly-poly, slow-witted teddy bear?
“Yes. Well,” she murmured when he still said nothing, hiking her balloon-anchoring purse higher on her shoulder and heading to his truck. “I guess I will—”
Jesse had her pushed up against the camper before she’d even finished gasping when the car suddenly exploded, surrounding her in a protective embrace just as the percussion reached them with enough force to pop several of the balloons. He stayed pressed against her, waiting to see if anything else might explode, and tried not to notice that Cadi Glace felt even better in the flesh than in his dreams. Casually dressed in slacks, a long-tailed chambray shirt, and flats, she was a bit taller than he remembered, and definitely . . . curvier.
“Well, that took care of that problem,” she said, her tentative push making him step back when he realized he was still holding her. She moved away from the camper and shifted her purse to look past the balloons at her burning car. “I guess I will take that ride. Well, damn,” she muttered when she spotted the white box sitting on its side in the middle of the road.
Jesse walked over and crouched down to pick it up, seeing through the plastic cover that the round layer cake saying Happy Birthday Stanley was no longer round. He gave the box a quick jostle to re-center the cake and stood up. “I’m sorry. It’s not as pretty but should still be edible.” He held it toward her. “Feel free to blame me when Stanley asks what happened.”
She took the box and headed for his truck again. “Please don’t apologize for graciously choosing to protect me instead of the cake.”
Jesse managed to beat her to the passenger side, but instead of getting in when he opened the door, she opened the back door, set the cake and her large purse on the backseat, then began wrestling the balloons inside—sighing when another one popped as she quickly closed the door to keep them from escaping. “I can’t imagine what else can go wrong,” he heard her mumble as she climbed onto the running board and slid into the front seat, only to hold up her hand when he tried to speak. “And don’t even think of apologizing for my crappy day.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said dryly, closing her door, then jogging around the front of the truck. But instead of getting in, he looked down the knoll at the car to see it was completely engulfed in flames. Doubting the fire extinguisher in the camper would do much good, Jesse pulled out his cell phone and opened his door. “Can I call it in now? It’s definitely totaled.”
She leaned forward to glance in her outside mirror. “I suppose you should.”
“Where do I tell them it is?”
“A mile outside of Whistler’s Landing on Bog Road.” She looked at her watch and sighed again. “They’re going to make us wait until they get here.”
Jesse called 911 and reported the burning car, assured the dispatcher no one was hurt, then got in his truck. “Leaving the scene of an accident is a serious crime.”
“That wasn’t an accident. It was attempted murder. That crappy car’s been out to get me since the day I bought it.”
“Naw,” he drawled. “I figure the most they could charge it with would be assault.”
Those arresting blue eyes snapped to his.
“It did wait until you were a safe distance away before exploding.”
Instead of the smile he was looking for, her eyes narrowed with her scowl. “Actually, now that I think about it, many of my troubles today are your fault.”
“Stanley said he had to spend all evening working on the Sinclair project because you were arriving this Friday, so I was forced to move his surprise birthday party to the office,” she explained, swatting at a balloon creeping along the ceiling between them. “But when my engine quit and what I thought was steam started billowing out the front grill, I let the car coast down the hill, thinking I could add some water from the bog to the radiator. Only when I lifted the hood and the engine burst into flames, I decided to roll down all the windows, grab the cake and balloons, and start walking.”
“You don’t have a cell phone? If you didn’t want to call the fire department, you could at least have called one of your party guests to come get you.”
Of all things, that got him a smile. “I cherish my friends too much to subject them to one of my little snits, and figured I’d be calmed down by the time I reached town.”
“Can I ask what you had against the car? It looked to be this year’s model.”
“It’s an old lady’s car,” she shot back. “And it’s been a lemon since the day I drove it off the lot. I told the dealership there was something wrong with the electronics, but they kept insisting that because the car I traded in had been nine years old, I couldn’t possibly understand the new car’s sophisticated technology. And that I shouldn’t,” she added, her scowl returning, “worry my pretty little blonde head over it.”
Jesse pretended to check his side mirror to hide his grin. “If they were going to be condescending chauvinists, why didn’t you have Stanley talk to the dealership?”
“Because I am perfectly capable of fighting my own battles.”
“May I ask why you bought an old lady’s car?”
“Because Stanley said the sporty red Mercedes convertible I wanted wasn’t practical.”
Jesse decided that Cadi Glace in a “little snit” was even more appealing. Not that he should be surprised, having found the woman a beautiful anomaly the first time he’d met her—which, now that he thought about it, was probably why she kept haunting his dreams. There’d been a distinct I-know-a-secret sparkle in those intelligent blue eyes when she’d politely shaken his hand three months ago only to then spend the next two hours as silent as the furniture. But when she’d stood up to say good-bye and dropped her sketchbook, he’d caught a glimpse of two of the pages before she’d snatched it up and quickly closed it, and discovered that instead of taking notes the woman had spent the entire meeting . . . doodling.
Definitely a talented artist. One of the sketches, he now realized, had been of a tipped-over honey pot inside a hollow log. But it was the larger drawing on the opposite page that had vexed him at the time—and still did—as he couldn’t imagine why she’d drawn a large, scruffy dog covered in mud and busily chewing on a tattered boot.
He’d give a year’s salary to know what had been on the other pages. Hell, considering her little confession of likening clients to fictional characters, he would buy Miss Glace that sporty red Mercedes for just five minutes with that notebook.
Jesse heard the tired-sounding wail of an off-key siren not ten seconds before an ancient fire truck came barreling around the curve up ahead, followed by a parade of pickups and cars—as well as two equally ancient men on bicycles pedaling furiously to keep up. “That was quick.”
“Not really,” she said on another sigh, “since there are probably more police scanners than televisions in town, which everyone listens to with bated breath waiting for something exciting to happen.”