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What was forbidden then...
has become irresistible now
The last thing police chief Devin Cassidy needs is for Elodie Winchester to return home and remind him of all he's been denied. But they're not teenagers now, and she's no longer a wealthy heiress. There's nothing stopping him from taking what he wants, what he's always wanted: her.
Elodie came home to deal with the Winchester mansion, the only inheritance she has left. She didn't expect to encounter a very grown-up Dev, or to want him as much as she ever did. He makes it clear that he's not going to let anything stand between them again. But in this town, name is everything. And to protect a Winchester, Dev will be forced to sacrifice his reputation...including his unexpected tie to the Quinn family.
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Kate Hoffmann has written over 70 books for Harlequin, most of them for the Temptation and the Blaze lines. She spent time as a music teacher, a retail assistant buyer, and an advertising exec before she settled into a career as a full-time writer. She continues to pursue her interests in music, theatre and musical theatre, working with local schools in various productions. She lives in southeastern Wisconsin with her cat Chloe.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Dev Cassidy pulled the police cruiser up to the curb in front of Zelda's Café and turned off the ignition. The sun had come up over an hour ago and the sleepy town of Winchester was just beginning to move.
When the mill had been operating, the town's days had begun much earlier, the blare of the first-shift whistle splitting the morning silence at precisely 6:00 a.m. But everything had changed since the Winchester family's flagship business had failed. A secure future had disappeared for so many of the town's residents. Stores had closed, people had moved out, more businesses had closed, and within three years Winchester was nothing but a shell filled with empty buildings and broken lives.
Most everyone blamed Frederick Winchester, but Dev knew it had been a confluence of events. The Winchester textile mill had been one of the last independently owned family mills in the state. Competing with the newer, more state-of-the-art corporate mills had been an impossible task. The national financial collapse of 2008 hadn't helped.
Still, the whole thing had left behind a bitter taste for the residents of Winchester. A few weeks after closing the mill, the family had packed up and moved out of town. Then the truth had come out. The Winchesters were bankrupt, the mill mortgaged to the hilt, and there was nothing left to do but close and liquidate. Pensions had disappeared and hopes and dreams of a bright future had been dashed.
It might not have been so bad if it hadn't been for the way Frederick had handled the situation. With no interest in trying to salvage the business, he'd held a fire sale. Within a week, they'd buried their father and left with the last pennies of the family fortune. All that remained was the mansion that sat on the hill overlooking what was left of Winchester.
As Dev got out of the car, he glanced up at the freshly painted sign above the café's door. Zelda's Café had opened last month, spurred on by the town council's attempt to rejuvenate the downtown. The owner, Joan Fitzgerald, had been a manager at the mill and was now baking her prize-winning cinnamon rolls and serving up fancy coffee drinks with exotic Italian names.
The bell above the door jingled as he stepped inside the cool interior. Air-conditioning was always a pleasant relief from the hot, humid weather that was typical for early July in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Dev took a spot at the counter and grabbed a menu, checking out the specials before settling on his usual.
Joanie approached with a mug and the coffeepot.
"Gonna be a hot one today. You sure I can't get you a sweet tea instead of coffee?"
"Hit me with the caffeine," he said, nodding to the mug. "And I'll have my usual."
"Grannie's Granola with yogurt and berries," she said. "Raspberries today. I picked them fresh yesterday."
He watched her prepare the dish, layering her homemade granola with fresh vanilla yogurt in a parfait glass. She topped it with a handful of berries and set it in front of him.
The place was still quiet, so Joanie pulled up a stool and sat across from him, sipping at a glass of orange juice. "That break-in down at Feller's filling station? You might want to talk to Jimmy Joe Babcock about that. His brother was in here yesterday and mentioned a brand-new set of tires he received from Jimmy Joe for his birthday."
Zelda's was the central processing station for most of the town's gossip, now that the mill was closed. If there was anything of interest going on in Winchester, Joanie heard about it and passed it along to Dev. Like a few other local businesspeople in town, she understood that if Winchester was going to flourish again, Dev needed to rid it of the petty crime that chipped away at its foundation.
"Yeah, I had my eye on him. That boy needs a job. Sixteen and already in big trouble. Can't you find a spot for him here at the restaurant?"
Joanie shook her head. "I'm already overstaffed with dishwashers and bussers, thanks to you. Now, if he could wash windows, I might have work for him."
Dev looked over at the café's huge plate-glass windows that faced the street. "I could probably help you out with that," he said.
He chatted with a few of the customers as he finished his breakfast, then grabbed another coffee to go before he waved goodbye to Joanie. "I'll send someone by to get at those windows," he called as he walked out the door.
Dev stood outside the café and took in the street, his gaze drifting from one end to the other. Most of the buildings were empty, windows revealing one failure after another. But here and there, small entrepreneurs had found a way to make something new. Winchester had always depended upon the mill for its livelihood, and now the town needed something different. But what?
Dev fixed his gaze on a white sedan he didn't recognize at the far end of the block. He watched as it slowly drove by. Rental plates. He looked up at the driver and his breath caught in his throat. Their eyes locked for a moment and his pulse leaped. Elodie Winchester?
She was there in front of him and then just as quickly disappearing down the road. He glanced down at the car's license plate and quickly memorized the number. When he got to the cruiser, he grabbed the radio and called in to dispatch. "Sally, this is Dev. I need you to run a plate for me. It's a rental car, probably out of Asheville." Dev recited the numbers and then sat back and waited for Sally's results, sipping his coffee as his mind spun with the possibilities.
It didn't make sense. The Winchester family had cleared out six years ago. And after the mess they'd left, most folks didn't expect to see a real Winchester ever again—and didn't want to.
Hell, maybe he was just imagining the whole thing. Would he even recognize Elodie? They'd spent a single summer together. He'd been seventeen, she'd been sixteen, and they'd been madly in love.
Her family never would have approved, so they'd sneaked around, meeting on the sly, stealing kisses whenever they could and pledging their love to each other in silly teenage sentiments. Of course, they'd been found out, but neither one of them could have predicted the devastating repercussions.
Without warning, Elodie's bags had been packed and she was sent away. She no longer attended the private girls' school an hour away in Asheville. She wouldn't be home every evening for dinner and wouldn't be able to sneak out and meet him once the sun set. There would be no long lazy summers at the lake or cozy winters sitting by a campfire. It was over.
There'd been a lot of women since Elodie. He'd forgotten most of them, but Elodie Winchester had stuck with him. Maybe it was because they'd never had any kind of closure. She'd never called, never written. When she'd come home for Christmas holidays, she'd been invisible.
Dev hadn't tried to contact her. Frederick Winchester had made it clear that if Dev tried to contact Elodie, Mary Cassidy would find herself without a job, without a home to live in, and without any prospects for finding work in Winchester in the future. So he'd let her go. At least, on the surface.
"Dispatch to RC zero-one." A blast of static followed and Dev reached for the radio.
"This is Dev. What do you have for me, Sally?"
"You were right. That rental came out of Acme Rentals in Asheville."
"Who rented the car?"
"Elodie Winchester," Sally said. "She's got it for a week."
Dev let out a tightly held breath, sinking back into his seat. "Thanks, Sally. Keep this to yourself, all right?"
"Sure, boss. What do you think she's doing in town again?"
"I don't know."
"Will there be trouble?"
"People haven't forgotten what the Winchesters did to this place. But Elodie had no part in that. She shouldn't be blamed."
"She's a Winchester," Sally said. "That puts a big target on her back."
"Yes, it does," he murmured. "I'll pay her a visit later, make sure everything's okay. Call me if you hear anything else. Meantime, I'm going to head over to the high school. I need to have a conversation with Jimmy Joe Babcock."
He started the cruiser and steered it toward the high school, his mind still mulling over the reality of seeing Elodie again.
He'd always wondered what kind of woman she'd become. As a teenager, she'd been sweet and silly, far too naive and willing to love unconditionally. She'd softened his rough edges, made him believe that he could be something, do something with his life. She'd always seen the best in people and refused to believe the worst, even when the truth slapped her in the face.
Dev had been the opposite. By the time he was seventeen, he'd amassed a rather sizable chip on his shoulder. He'd witnessed firsthand how the town and the Winchesters could wear a person down. He had just one plan, and that was to get as far away as fast as he could. And he'd done just that, leaving the day after his high school graduation.
He'd worked odd jobs and put himself through school, getting a criminal justice degree in five years. He'd been all set to enter the police academy in Atlanta when his mother called. The Winchesters were bankrupt, she was about to lose her job and her home, and she had no idea what to do.
Dev had returned to Winchester within the month and had been lucky enough to sign on with the local police department as a rookie patrolman. As the town economy worsened over the next five years, many of his fellow officers moved on to better jobs. And two years ago, he'd been the senior officer in the department and accepted the job of police chief—at a greatly reduced salary from the last police chief.
But Dev liked his job. He knew what he was doing was important. If the town had any chance of bouncing back, it would happen only if he could keep crime at bay. A single meth lab, a car theft ring, even a clever burglar, could bring it all crashing down. Once the town had a reputation for trouble, no one would want to live there or visit and the town would never recover.
His attention focused on a small group of smokers, huddled near the edge of the school parking lot. Dev threw the car into gear and slowly pulled up in front of them. "You boys really want to spend the rest of your life buying cigarettes? You get hooked now, it's much harder to kick it later. It's an expensive habit." Dev turned and grinned at Jimmy Joe. "And where are you getting money for smokes, Babcock? After spending all that cash on those tires for your brother, I'd think you'd be broke right about now."
Dev got out of the car and stepped in front of Babcock. "The rest of you can check your homework. I need to have a word with Jimmy Joe." The boys exchanged glances and the group slowly broke up.
When they were alone and the others were out of earshot, Dev leaned back against the cruiser and crossed his arms over his chest. "I know you stole those tires from Feller's. The only thing I don't know is what you plan to do about it."
Jimmy Joe stared down at the ground. "What can I do? I can't give them back. My brother already put them on his car."
"I'm sure if you offered to pay for them, we could work something out."
"I don't have any money," Jimmy Joe said.
"Not now. But if you find yourself a job, you'll have some cash."
"There are no jobs," he said. "My dad's been looking for two years."
"You really want to fix this?" Dev asked. Jimmy Joe nodded.
"After school, you walk over to the hardware store. I'm going to leave a list of supplies for you to pick up. You can pay for them on my account. Then I want you to bring everything over to Zelda's. I'll meet you there."
"What are we going to do?"
"We're going to turn you into an upstanding citizen of Winchester," Dev said. "And until you pay Marv back for those tires, I don't want to see you spending money on cigarettes."
"Now, get to class. No more trouble."
Dev watched the kid walk away.
One by one, he'd deal with the problems in Winchester. It was all he could do. Lately it seemed he was scrambling just to keep ahead of the game instead of doing anything proactive. But if Jimmy Joe showed up at Zelda's, he could count his day a success.
Dev got back into the cruiser. Now he needed to address another problem. But this problem promised to be more personal than professional.
Elodie Winchester slowly climbed the porch steps of her childhood home. Somewhere in the distance, a blue jay's call echoed in the quiet morning breeze. She reached out and ran her hand along the painted rail, now weathered with age and peeling with neglect.
Made of the local red brick, the house was a sprawling homage to the Queen Anne style. A wide veranda circled the entire first floor, interspersed with simple wooden columns that held up a shingled roof. It had been built by her great-grandfather at the turn of the century, completed just ten years after he opened his textile mill.
But the house had been empty for six years and she could see the work that would be required to bring it back to its former glory.
Elodie had never really looked at the house from a maintenance viewpoint. To her, it had always been more like a fairy castle, with its high-peaked roofs and rooftop widow's walk. Now it was her house, the only compensation she'd received after her father had raided her trust fund in a futile attempt to save his failing investments.
All of her siblings had suffered the same fate, but most of them had already been drawing on their trusts for years. She'd had the most to lose, so she'd gotten the only thing left that hadn't—or couldn't—be sold.
The house had been on the market for years, but its deteriorating condition and the floundering town had driven away all the qualified buyers. No one in Winchester could afford to buy it, much less live in it. And no one from out of town wanted to live here.
She pulled the keys out of her pocket and opened the front door, letting it swing wide before she stepped across the threshold. To her surprise, the house didn't smell musty. Although the air was hot and stuffy, the scent of lemon oil and floor wax lingered in the air.
As Elodie strolled through the nearly empty rooms, she ran her finger over chair rails and mantels, finding barely a trace of dust. The sound of running water startled her and she followed it to the back of the house where the kitchen was located. A slender figure, dressed in a familiar gray uniform, stood over the sink.
"Mary?" Elodie said. "Mary Cassidy?"
The woman turned, a bucket clutched in her hand. "Miss Elodie. I heard you were back in town. The minute I did, I came right over. The place is a bit dusty, but I'll have it sparkling again in no time."
"Mary, I don't understand. Have you been cleaning here all along?"
She nodded. "I just couldn't let it all go to ruin," Mary said. "I come once a week and do what I can. I have to say, it's much easier without all the furniture."
"Who is paying you?"
"Oh, no one. I don't need to be paid. I just want the house to look presentable. For you and the rest of the family."
Elodie stared at the woman in disbelief. The family had left six years ago and they'd closed the house a few months later. "I—I don't know how to thank you," she murmured.
"Are you planning to stay here?" Mary asked. "If you are, I'll go up and get your room ready. Most of the furniture is still there. We'll need to get the electricity turned on, but the plumbing works just fine. And with this weather, you won't need heat."
"Mary, it's not necessary for you to— I mean, I can't ...
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Book Description Harlequin Blaze, 2015. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110373798601
Book Description Harlequin Blaze, 2015. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0373798601