Jules Grayson sat behind the mahogany desk in his office. “Why me?” He propped his elbows on the leather desk pad.
“Trust me,” Tony said.
Jules glared at his friend. Trusting others might be someone else’s nature but not his. “Why can’t one of the others be best man at your wedding?”
“They come in pairs. Lauren doesn’t want her friend to feel out of place. You’re the only bachelor left in our circle.”
And he intended to stay that way for a long time. “Why do I have to meet her now? The rehearsal will suit me.”
Tony grinned. “Trust me. The trip will be worth the time. You’ll like Grace.”
Jules straightened. He had once known a girl named Grace. She’d been the only female to turn him down. Just thinking about her brought memories of a time and place he didn’t want to remember. “I really don’t want to cross the river until the trip is absolutely necessary.”
“Just for the weekend meet and two days for the wedding. You can manage.” Tony rose. “What do you have against the village?”
“Do you have to ask? The group home. Remember how your father had to rescue me from that…that…her accusations.” Jules grasped the steel letter opener. “I’ll come. Some time on Saturday, do the meet and greet and leave Sunday morning.”
Tony paused at the door. “There is a plus. To reach my house you don’t have to enter the village.”
“Go. Let me finish some work.”
“Yes and I’ll bring the wine. Found a new shop.”
Moments after Tony left Mrs. Jamison entered with a stack of mail. She dropped the pile on his desk. “Buzz when you need me.”
“Will do.” He slit the top envelope and groaned. Not what he wanted to see. Before leaving for her honeymoon, Allie Blakefield, editor of Good Eatin’ had given him an assignment. Having contracts signed wasn’t his usual chore for the Good Magazine Group but he’d agreed. Allie wanted the owner of Sweet and Spicy Cupcakes to agree to a feature.
With three letters and four phone calls the woman owner’s answer had been no. A visit to the bakery might do the trick. He didn’t want to go there. The bakery was in the village he didn’t want to visit. Allie returned on Monday. Today was Friday. He sucked in a breath. Never leave a job undone was his rule.
His hand hovered over the phone. A call hadn’t worked. When Allie had asked he’d figured obtaining the contract signature was a no-brainer. What bakery wouldn’t want to be featured in a national magazine? He’d had a failsafe plan. Mail the contract. Make a phone call or two. Answer questions. Contract signed. Hadn’t happened. The time had arrived to use some personal charm.
Jules buzzed Tony’s cell. The moment his friend answered, Jules’ gut clenched. Though he hated asking he would. “Tony.”
“Are you backing out?”
Jules chuckled. “Not happening. Just wondering if I could stay tonight. I’ve some business from Good Eatin’ across the river today.”
“No problem. I’ll call Lauren. What time will you arrive?”
“Around noon. I’ll drop off my bag, see to business and swing back.”
“Good enough. TGIF. I’ll be home around three. Good luck with your whatever.”
“Sales pitch for Allie.” Jules disconnected. He shoved two copies of the contract in his briefcase and tended to the rest of the mail. Nothing urgent. The clock chimed the half hour.
With briefcase in hand he paused at his secretary’s desk. “I’ll be out of town until Monday. Buzz my cell if anything needs to be handled quickly and I’ll check in with the service. Take the afternoon off.”
Jules waved. When he thought about his destination his stomach churned. Though he didn’t want to spend time in the village of his nightmares he had to finish the task. Lately he’d grown to hate the investigative work. Was a career change possible? He had other skills and knowledge.
After a stop at his apartment for clothes he sat behind the wheel of his Jeep. He clutched the keys in his fist. Waves of nausea assaulted him. He gulped a breath. He could do this. Two events had forced his tip across the bridge to the
Hudson River village where he’d grown
up. On the say he’d left he had hoped never to return.
Trouble comes in threes. Business and a wedding weren’t the problem. Trouble existed in the memories of the place where his life hand imploded.
His weekender and briefcase sat on the passenger’s seat. He’d packed enough clothes for the weekend.
You can do this. The words spiraled in a never ending chain in his thoughts. He shoved the key in the ignition, revved the engine and drove from the underground garage. As the vehicle emerged into the light, Jules grinned. Something about being higher than the taxis and sedans made him feel powerful. He wove through the lines of cars and headed for the upper level of the
. Hard rock poured
from the speakers. George Washington
A glance at the sky showed clouds gathering. Snow predicted meant an early covering to white over city sidewalks and brown suburban lawns.
Not long after hitting the
the feeling of doom he’d pushed aside leaped into his thoughts like the demons
kids feared lurked in closets or under beds.
He gripped the wheel. The vehicle veered right. If he didn’t calm down he would run off the road or into another car. He spotted the turnoff for an overlook and pulled into the parking lot.
Get a grip.
Jules climbed down and walked to the railing at the edge. He stared at the gray waters of the
Hudson. A blustery wind slapped his face.
Across the river he saw the skyline of the city where he would rather be.
You can do this. The mantra ran through his head. He revised his plans. He would drop his clothes at Tony’s, charm the owner and obtain her signature. No sweat.
He strode to the Jeep and entered the flow of traffic. After leaving the Parkway he sped along the winding road and finally found the turnoff into Tony’s street. He reached the development and located his friend’s massive house. He pulled into the circular driveway, grabbed the overnighter and walked to the house.
Lauren answered the door. She held her nephew on her hip. Jamie burbled. “Ju. In. In.”
“Hello to you.” He tapped the small boy’s nose and kissed Lauren’s cheek. “I gather you were warned.”
“He phoned. Good to see you but you made me lose the bet.”
“Bet Tony you would find a way to bail and here you’ve arrived a day early.”
He winked. “I’ve come to convince you to run away with me.”
She laughed. “Just like those old rumors. When I think of the days in the group home I cringe. I wonder how the Patons got the idea we were together.”
“Pure invention ala Charlene.” He put a finger to her lips. “No talk about those times or places.”
“Agreed. I’ll show you to a guest room.”
Jules hung his coat in the foyer closet and followed her past the living room to the wide staircase. Why had Tony bought such a large house? He’d asked his friend that question a week ago. The answer had astounded him.
“For the kitchen. It’s a cook’s dream.”
Lauren opened the door of a room just beyond the stairs. Jules dropped the overnighter at the foot of a massive four poster bed. Warm shades of browns and greens gave the room a cozy feel.
“The bath is through this door and connects to a second bedroom.” She opened the door. “Since you’re our only guest you won’t have to worry about locking the door.”
Jules shook his head. “How many bedrooms are there?”
“Six counting the master plus one upstairs in the third floor apartment.”
“Four on this floor. One in the apartment. Two powder rooms on the first floor and one in the basement. Thank heavens for the cleaning service. Would take me a month to vacuum, dust and clean this house.”
Jules followed her downstairs. “I need to do a bit of business for Good Eatin’. Means going to town.”
“No. I’ll tell you more at dinner. What time do we eat?”
“Around six thirty. Maybe six tonight since Tony will be home before five. Do you want lunch?”
A lump formed in his stomach. “I’ll grab something in the village.” If he could eat. Maybe once he finished at the bakery his appetite would return.
She patted his arm. Did she sense his uneasiness? “There are some great places in the village. Want me to recommend one?”
He grabbed his coat from the closet and left. Cupcakes, here I come.
When he reached the village he saw Christmas had arrived. Probably made an appearance between Halloween and Thanksgiving. The shops bore lights and festive decorations. The light poles were wrapped with red, gold, green and silver bands.
He made a turn and found he’d driven down the street where the group homes were located. He gripped the wheel. His two years at the boy’s home had been a drag but the circumstances had made him a ward of the state.
His stomach lurched. He slowed to a crawl and rolled past the pair of houses separated by a fence. The trip along memory street had been a bad one.
You can’t go home again but this had never been his home.
A stray item slid into focus. He recalled Grace standing at that fence. He’d flirted with her and had decided she would be his next conquest. With laughter she’d turned him down leaving him to fend off another girl he’d had no desire to screw.
With a groan he turned the corner and looked for a parking space. Remember the plan.
A flurry of snowflakes dotted the sidewalk. As they melted dark circles appeared.