Was someone breaking in?
Jenna Livingston stiffened beneath the fluffy comforter of her bed. The Mendocino house, which she helped run as a bed-and-breakfast, was more than a hundred years old. It had its share of nighttime settling noises. And the sea was never silent. Less than a half mile away, surf pounded constantly against the tall black rocks of the Northern California coast, a life rhythm for the small community.
But this noise…this was different. She might have thought Ryan had awakened, but her son’s room opened off her own and the door between them was still closed.
Straining to hear beyond the rasp of her own breathing and the thump of her heart, Jenna waited.
There it was again. Scratching against the side of the house. A bump. Coming from downstairs.
Had Mr. Durham heard it? Jenna listened for movement in the room across the hall.
A snore loud enough to reach through two doors answered her. Lyle Durham, the seventy-year-old owner of Victoriana Bed-and-Breakfast, was obviously sound asleep. His sixty-nine-year-old wife, Myrtle, probably snored right along with him. She wore hearing aids, which she removed at bedtime along with her teeth. And there were no paying guests tonight. Tourist season was over. Except for the occasional weekend when visitors again swelled the local population, the advent of autumn left the small town of Mendocino quiet and close.
Creeping out from under the covers, Jenna pulled on a robe over the tank top and bikini underwear she wore to bed. If her own troubled thoughts hadn’t kept her awake, she doubted she would have heard anything, either. But these days she spent more time tossing and turning than she did sleeping, and the effects were beginning to show. She was jumpy, not yet at peace with the recent changes in her life.
Another thump led Jenna to the top of the stairs, where she squinted into the darkness below. Running a hand through her long tangled hair, she considered waking the Durhams, then decided against it. Mrs. Durham would call the police, Mr. Durham would insist on going alone to investigate, and if Ryan got up, he’d find himself in the middle of another frightening episode.
A lot of unnecessary fuss if the trouble turned out to be nothing more than an alley cat getting into the garbage again. Besides, if it came to facing a burglar, Jenna trusted her own skills more than she did the old man’s bravado. She felt almost as protective of the Durhams as she did of Ryan. They had taken her in at a time when she badly needed someone; they treated her like a member of the family.
The stairs creaked as Jenna descended, one hand on each wall to help keep her balance. The moonlight, which had filtered easily through the sheer curtains of the upper bedrooms, struggled to reach the dark interior of the lower level. Heavy draperies and blinds covered the tall thick-paned windows, but Jenna wasn’t about to give her presence away by turning on a lamp. Not when she already knew where each and every piece of furniture was. After her arrival at the end of August, she’d helped redecorate the place and had selected and arranged its many antiques.
Tiptoeing past a Louis XVI settee with matching chairs, Jenna paused to listen.
A muttered curse, very definitely human and very definitely male, broke the silence.
The kitchen. The man, whoever he was, sounded as though he was climbing through the kitchen window.
I should call the police. Jenna looked up the stairs, once again tempted to wake the Durhams. Breaking and entering wasn’t kid’s play. Mendocino had a low crime rate, especially during the fall and winter, but that was no consolation if she, Ryan and the Durhams joined the few who’d been victims.
Judging from the movements she heard, however, the thief was nearly inside. By the time the police arrived, whatever he planned to do would be done.
Jenna had a better idea. Pressing herself to the wall outside the swinging kitchen door, she tightened her robe and calmed her mind, seeking her karate instructor’s voice in her head. After three years of lessons and intense training, she’d earned her black belt—and she’d proved herself capable of handling even a large man the last time her drunken husband had come after her. Drunken ex-husband.
The sound of the refrigerator door opening and the clink of bottles came from within. Then the crackle of cellophane, water running in the sink and a cupboard being closed.
What was he doing? Stealing food? Snooping? Or looking for a stash of money?
Finally she could hear him crossing to the door. Jenna’s heart skidded and bumped as her taut nerves threatened to leave her in a quaking heap on the carpet. During her encounter with her husband, her emotions had sustained her, but long-smoldering anger was quite different from fear.
She raised her hands in a defensive stance. Whoever it was wouldn’t expect her. She’d have the element of surprise on her side. Except that this housebreaker seemed to think he had all the time in the world, which was partly what frightened her. Only a bold thief would be so careless. Or a thief with a gun.
The door swung open, and Jenna reacted, refusing to give the man a chance to use any weapon. Slicing the air with her right hand, she landed a blow to the neck. Her foot rose almost in unison, kicking him squarely in the groin.
He grunted and collapsed to the floor, curling into a fetal position.
Jenna grabbed the vase from the table at her side and lifted it high. “Who are you and what do you want here?” she demanded, prepared to bring it crashing down on his head.
For a moment the intruder didn’t speak. At last he wheezed, “I’m Adam Durham. My grandparents own this place. What the hell is going on?”
Jenna’s blood turned to ice. Adam Durham! She hadn’t seen Adam since high school—and she didn’t want to see him now. Especially not rolling on the floor because she’d kicked him.
Or maybe he deserved it for ruining her life all those years ago.
“What’s happening down here?” Jenna squinted as the lights flashed on. Lyle Durham stood at the foot of the stairs, a concerned scowl on his seamed face.
“Jenna, girl, you all right?”
Jenna realized she was still holding the vase. Setting it back in its rightful place, she nodded and followed Mr. Durham’s gaze to the man at her feet.
“Adam, what are you doing here? And what the devil’s the matter?”
“Kung Fu here just kicked the shit out of me. What does it look like?” he groaned.
The old man’s scowl deepened. “What did you do to her?”
Adam didn’t answer. He rolled to his back and tried to catch his breath, giving Jenna her first glimpse of his face. He’d changed—she saw that right off—and all for the better. The rangy reckless boy she’d known had grown into a well-built man in a tailored business suit. With slick black hair that shone almost as richly as his leather loafers, he looked the consummate business executive. Except for his eyes, which still sparkled with mischief.
Myrtle Durham, wrapped in a fuzzy pink bath robe that complemented her husband’s gray terry-cloth one, came down the stairs and peeked over Mr. Durham’s shoulder. “Oh, my! It is Adam. And he’s hurt.”
“I thought he was a burglar,” Jenna explained.
“And she didn’t stop to ask any questions,” Adam added with a glower.
Jenna lifted a challenging brow. “Most men who climb through windows in the middle of the night aren’t paying a social call.”
“But why didn’t you use the key?” Mrs. Durham asked. “I always leave one out for you.”
Adam shook his head. “It wasn’t where you usually keep it, and I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Nothing gets past our new manager.” Mr. Durham winked at Jenna. “Come on, boy. You can’t be too badly hurt. Jenna’s not big enough to cause lasting damage.” He offered Adam a hand.
“Unless you don’t know she’s lying in wait for you.” Adam accepted his grandfather’s help. “A man with a Twinkie in his mouth isn’t exactly prepared for attack.”
His voice, full of the same wry humor she remembered so well, made Jenna wince. She’d spent fifteen years trying to forget Adam Durham.
It felt as if it hadn’t been a day.
“Look at you,” his grandfather said when Adam stood, towering half a foot above the older man. “You grow taller every time I see you. What’s it been, two years?”
Frowning, Adam slapped the dust off his suit pants. “I’ve been six-two for ten years, Pop. You say that every time I come here. Besides, you know it’s only been four months since my last visit.”
“Four months, two years—it’s the same to an old man with no other family. Did you get tired of all that talking in court and decide to move home, like you should’ve done a long time ago?”
Seeming to recover his aplomb, Adam chuckled and ran a hand through his thick hair. “No, Pop. I’m still a lawyer, still living in San Francisco. I just had some time this week and thought I’d come for a stay.”
“That means you’ll be on the phone till you leave.”
“Lyle!” Myrtle brushed past her husband to give her grandson a hug.
Adam returned the hug, lifting the short plump woman off her feet. Then he released her and pulled off his already loosened tie. Jenna assumed his jacket had been removed before his climb through the window and pictured it draped across the passenger seat of—what kind of car would he own now? Certainly nothing like the beat-up Chevy they used to drive everywhere, back when they were high-school sweethearts.
“I won’t make a single call. Promise.” He crossed his heart, drawing Jenna’s attention lower. She’d tried not to notice the other marked changes in him, but now she couldn’t stop looking. Adam was no longer a gangly eighteen-year-old. He was a man, and he had the body to prove it. The white shirt he wore, unbuttoned at the neck, covered shoulders broad enough to fill a doorway, a lean waist and arms contoured with well-defined muscle.
“What’s she doing here? And where’s my old buddy Dennis?” he asked.
His use of the third person and his emphasis on Dennis’s name told Jenna he hadn’t yet forgiven her for the kick to his groin. And that he felt as uncomfortable around her as she did him. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms. The minute he’d graduated from high school, he’d broken up with her, saying he wanted the freedom to pursue a career. She’d retaliated by saying she was going to marry his best friend, who had chased her for years. They’d fought, Adam had gone off to college, and she hadn’t seen him since.
Unfortunately, when she graduated a year later, she’d followed through with her threat to marry Dennis.
“She has a voice,” Jenna answered, telling herself she wasn’t the same person she’d been back in those days—lost and vulnerable because her mother and stepfather had just died in a car accident and her real father had rejected her yet again. She’d been through a lot to toughen her up since.
“Dennis and I are divorced.” She stated it matter-of-factly, as though she didn’t care about conceding their last argument to him. But she did. She hated admitting the divorce to anyone, Adam most of all. According to the Durhams, who had raised him after his mother died of a drug overdose, he’d gone on to accomplish all he wanted. He’d become a huge success in the big city; he was rich, powerful, happy.
She couldn’t even keep her marriage together.
“Mom?” A sleepy-eyed Ryan hovered behind the Durhams. “What’s wrong? Is it Dad?”
Jenna hurried to her eight-year-old son and, putting a reassuring arm around his shoulders, brought him into the light. “No, honey, it’s the Durhams’ grandson, Adam. You’ve heard them talk about him before, haven’t you?”
Ryan scratched his tousled head of wheat-blond hair. “Yeah. He’s the real busy guy from San Francisco, right?”
If Ryan’s words implied an accusation, Jenna knew her son wasn’t aware of it, but the adults shifted uncomfortably.
“I’m a defense attorney,” Adam explained. “With the number of bad guys running around these days, not to mention the wrongly accused, there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Ryan nodded and covered a yawn. Had Adam said he was a football player or a cop, the boy might have been more impressed. Jenna doubted he knew what a defense attorney was.
“This is my son, Ryan,” she explained, proud of the one good thing her years with Dennis had given her.
Adam focused on the boy, an unreadable expression on his face. “I went to school with your parents,” he said. “Used to play ball with your dad.”
That he had played far more intimate games with Jenna went unsaid, but the look he gave her indicated he hadn’t forgotten.
Neither had Jenna. The memory of his kiss, warm and insistent, skittered through her mind, creating the same old flutter in her stomach. How could so much time pass without changing anything?
Then again, those same years had changed everything.
Suddenly Jenna wanted to get away—and stay away—from Adam Durham. The history books were closed. She wasn’t ready to think about the old times, the good times.
Mr. Durham lifted one gnarled hand to smooth back the gray hair above his ears, the only place he had any, just as Mrs. Durham waved them all toward the kitchen.
“I’ve got a fresh pumpkin pie—”
Adam grinned. “I know. I found it.”
Jenna remembered the sounds she’d heard coming from the kitchen and blushed. While Adam had been raiding his grandmother’s refrigerator, she’d thought he was searching the freezer for a juice can full of cash. “I thought you were eating a Twinkie.”
“I went easy on the pie, in case Gram had big plans for it. The Twinkie was just to finish me off.” He stretched, accentuating his size. “I’m a growing boy, after all.”
Hardly a boy, Jenna thought. “Well I wouldn’t want to keep you from your second piece of pie. You three go ahead.” She began pushing Ryan up the stairs in front of her. “I’d better get this boy back to bed.”
Yes, the Durhams had always made her feel like part of the family, but Jenna knew she wasn’t part of this. As soon as Adam appeared, she’d become the intruder—understandable, considering their history and what had just occurred, but awkward all the same.
“Jenna, wouldn’t you like a slice of pie? You’re getting far too thin,” Mrs. Durham said.
“She looks good to me,” Adam muttered.
Jenna felt Adam’s dark eyes on her like the heat of a campfire, and again she tightened the belt of her robe before turning back to face them. “Go ahead and enjoy yourselves. There’s school in the morning, and Ryan agreed to tidy up the woodpile afterward. I’ve got to be up early to interview waitresses if we want to replace Gayle before the holidays.”
Adam smiled, his teeth glinting against his darkly shadowed jaw. “Maybe I’ll help Ryan. When I was a kid, I used to collect the spiders I found out in that old woodpile.”
Ryan brightened. “Great! I found a tarantula once when we visited the Grand Canyon.”
“We’ll see if we can find another one tomorrow, though we’ll probably have better luck coming up with a black widow.”
“Black widows are cool.” Ryan resisted his mother’s hand long enough to add, “Hey, save me a piece of pie, okay?”
“You got it, kid.” Adam winked at Ryan, and Jenna shooed her son on his way.
“I’m sorry about your, um, neck,” she said to Adam, then followed Ryan up the stairs.
* * *
“Okay. What’s Jennna doing here?” Adam took the milk from the stainless-steel restaurant-style refrigerator and set it on the large oak table. Taking a seat, he crossed his legs at the ankle and angled them out in front of him, trying to appear patient as he waited for the explanation. He’d never dreamed he’d see Jenna again. Not here. Not after all these years. And certainly not minus his old friend.
What was more, he’d never expected the sight to land him a blow in the gut with twice the impact of those she’d landed elsewhere on his body tonight.
Grandma Durham busied herself uncovering the pie she’d reclaimed from the fridge. “She’s working here, dear. She’s our new manager. Didn’t you know? I could swear I mentioned it on the phone a time or two.”
She stood on tiptoe to reach the cupboard where the plates were stored, and Adam swiftly stood and retrieved them for her.
“You said nothing of the sort—and you know it.” He leaned down to see her face, which was worn and lined and pleasant to look at, like a treasured old book. “Why? What’s going on?”
With a smile and a shrug, she sent a glance her husband’s way. Pop Durham sat across from Adam’s seat, rattling the pages of yesterday’s paper as though absorbed in what he read there. But Adam wasn’t fooled. Pop listened to every word they said, all the while pretending his grandson’s visit wasn’t that important to him, just the way he did whenever Adam came home.
“In August, I think it was, she moved back to town to sell her stained glass—”
“She makes the most beautiful windows and lampshades, dear, in stained glass. You really should see them.”
“That’s how she was planning to earn a living?” Adam couldn’t keep the skepticism from his voice, and Gram reacted with a dose of defensiveness.
“She could, you know. She’s good enough. She’s just getting her business set up. So it was perfect that she could come and work here. We needed the help and she needed the extra income.”
His grandmother gestured him back to his seat, and Adam stretched out again. “What, exactly, does she do for you?”
“Oh, whatever we need, actually. She fills in if the maid doesn’t show up, or the waitress, or she helps Mr. Robertson in the kitchen if the restaurant gets busy. She does some bookkeeping for a few hours the first part of the week, then basically manages the restaurant and inn from Thursday to Sunday.” Gram frowned. “I told you we were going to hire someone, that Pop and I are getting too old to handle this place alone.”
With a twinge of guilt, Adam loosened his collar by unfastening another button. Her meaning was clear. His grandparents wanted him to come home and work, and eventually take over the place when they passed on. They had never understood his desire to make something more of himself, and he couldn’t seem to explain it to them, though he’d certainly tried. As the illegitimate son of a drug addict who’d abandoned him when he was only five and then killed herself, he knew what a psychologist would say. He’d dated one once who’d sent him her analysis of him after he’d broken it off. She’d said he was an overachiever, acting out of a desire to prove himself valuable to society. Because he’d been rejected at such a young age he had no faith in his intrinsic worth. He feared losing control, which was why he never did, and why he worked himself nearly to death to fill his life with things, instead of people.
For all the confidence with which that letter had been written, Adam wasn’t sure he agreed. He was a simple man and not prone to blame his faults on anyone, least of all his parents. His mother, when she was alive, had enough troubles of her own, and no one knew who his father was. Besides, he wasn’t about to lay that psychological mumbo jumbo on his poor grandparents. They’d feel as though they’d failed him in some way, when they’d always been the best part of his life—along with those three years with Jenna.
“You told me you were going to hire someone, but you didn’t say who,” he said.
“Does it matter?” Pop Durham glanced at him over his paper as the scent of cinnamon and cloves wafted through the kitchen. The smell brought back the autumns of Adam’s youth: the crisp sea winds, the crackle of a warm fire, melting butter on homemade bread and, most of all, the safe haven the Victoriana had provided him under the loving care of his grandparents.
He owed them so much, yet he couldn’t give them the one thing they wanted. He couldn’t move back home.
Using his fork to draw designs in the whipped cream his grandmother had ladled over his warm pie, Adam lifted his gaze to meet Pop’s. “I think it matters. You both know Jenna and I were once close.”
“That was fifteen years ago,” Gram asserted, pouring him a tall glass of milk. “I wasn’t sure you’d even remember Jenna.”
Adam took a bite of his pie, savoring the spices and the smooth texture of the filling. How could he ever forget Jenna? She was his first love and, in some respects, his last. “So what happened between her and Dennis?”
“She told you. They got divorced,” Pop said. “It’s over.”
“When?” Adam wasn’t about to let his grandfather put him off. He’d suffered through too many years of imagining Dennis with Jenna, in every way he had once been with her, to settle for just “It’s over.”
“’Bout six months ago.”
“That boy’s got problems.” Gram shook her head. Her hair, now dyed a harsh black, was flat on one side, where she’d been sleeping on it. “But it’s none of our affair. You’d better let Jenna tell you about Dennis.”
Adam downed his pie, wondering how Jenna had managed to claim so much of his grandparents’ esteem and loyalty in the short time she’d lived with them. “Does he come around?”
“Not yet, and he’d better not show up while I’m here,” his grandpa said, finally folding the paper and setting it aside to accept his own pie.
Adam opened his mouth to ask another question, but the ringing of the telephone cut him off.
He glanced at Gram in surprise. Who would be calling the Victoriana at nearly one o’clock in the morning?
His grandmother clucked her tongue, but neither she nor Pop made any move toward the phone, so he reached over and picked up the receiver himself. Before he could say hello, he heard Jenna’s voice. She sounded…wary.
“Dennis? Why do you keep calling me? I’ve asked you not to bother us here.”
“You think I’m going to let you get away that easy, Jen? You’re my wife, and that’s my boy you got there.” Dennis’s words were slurred and difficult to understand, and Adam realized immediately that he’d been drinking. Reluctant to intrude on Jenna’s privacy, Adam started to hang up when her shaky response made him pause.
“Dennis, the divorce has been final for months. I’ve got a restraining order against you. If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll call the police. Besides, I won’t have you bothering the Durhams. They’re old and they need their rest.”
Dennis gave a throaty laugh. “It’s not the Durhams I plan to bother. You go ahead and call the police, Jen. That karate shit won’t help you this time. They’ll need to bring a body bag by the time I’m through with you.”
Then the phone clicked and the line went dead.