Annie Jordan, abusive marriage survivor and owner of Heirlooms of the Heart, an antique store, has sworn off relationships of any kind—until she comes face to face with the object of her teenage crush and falls into his arms, literally.
Widower Lucas Raven has returned to Duncan after retiring from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Lucas has two things in mind: ask Annie to look at the antiques he found in the attic of his house, and see if his feelings for her have lasted through the years. She does, and they have—tenfold.
When Annie realizes the antique doll she's agreed to sell has a curse attached to it, she wonders if it's behind the strange things happening to her. Is it truly the doll wreaking havoc, or is someone out to get her? And since she's sworn off relationships, how can she keep a very determined Lucas at arm's length?
Lucas Raven glanced in the rearview mirror at the empty parking space across the street before swinging his Jeep Grand Cherokee into an illegal U-turn. He switched off the motor and ducked his head to see the sign over the storefront. Heirlooms of the Heart — Antiques. The name conjured up the image of an ancient woman shuffling around the store, dusting relics on sooty shelves. Instead he hoped to find Annie Jordan, his long-time friend Mason Jordan’s little sister.
He parked and sat for a minute, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. What would she look like after all these years? Would she even remember him? Twenty-five years was a long time. He took a deep breath and opened the car door. Sitting here staring at the store certainly wouldn’t give him any answers.READ MORE
A bell tinkled overhead when he entered. Immediately, his gaze swung to a shapely woman perched on a ladder as she reached for something above her head. Brownish-red curls were pulled into a bun that no longer did its duty. Wisps of shiny tendrils had escaped at her nape to tease the sides of her face. As soon as her small delicate hands plucked the item, the ladder tilted. “Oh!”
Lucas rushed forward, grunting as the brunette landed in his arms.
Damnation, this is a good way to start the day.
The scent of lilacs filled his nostrils as large hazel eyes widened in a very pale face. She stared, her mouth a perfect circle, brows knitted. “Lucas? Lucas Raven?”
Lucas grinned, happy she remembered him. “Guilty as charged.”
She stiffened. “Could you put me down, please?”
Annie straightened her long flowery skirt and tugged at the high neck of a blouse covering her ample breasts. She stepped back, straightening her shoulders, a quizzical smile on her lips. “Where did you come from?” Her hesitant voice and jerky movements, so unlike his memory of little Annie, confused him,
“I just bought Mrs. Rogers’s house.” His gaze ate her up. Forty-two years old, he figured. Time had definitely been good to her. She hadn’t lost her smooth, porcelain skin, nor her shapely body.
“Why?” She moved to stand behind the counter next to the ladder. “I mean, I thought you were in Oklahoma City.”
“I was. Retired from the Bureau three weeks ago. Decided to return to my hometown. Didn’t Mason tell you?”
“No.” She smiled warmly but kept her distance. “Although I’m with his kids quite a bit, I don’t see much of my brother these days. With being Chief of Police and having a house full of kids and pets, his life is pretty jam-packed.”
He couldn’t stop staring at her lush mouth. She was everything he’d remembered, and more. Yet there was something that puzzled him. A wary look in her eyes, a tinge of nervousness. “Mason told me you were in California for a while. Divorced?”
“Yeah. I’m afraid I fall into one of those statistics.” She rolled her eyes. “How’s your wife?”
He widened his stance, hands on his hips, hesitating as he always did when he spoke of Patty. “She died last year. Breast cancer.”
Genuine sympathy flitted across her face. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Mason never told me. I know it’s a little late, but if there’s anything I can do…”
If he had his way, there would be a whole lot she could do, but it was best to put that thought aside for now. “Thanks, but I’m doing okay.” He crossed his arms before leaning against the counter. “Listen, Mrs. Rogers had some things stored in her attic. I thought you might be interested in taking a look at them, see if there’s anything you can use—or sell. I don’t care about the money. I just want someone who knows antiques to take a look.” Let’s see if that flimsy excuse to spend some time with her works.
In all the years he’d been gone from Duncan, Annie had never been far from his mind. Now they were both free, and he fully intended to explore the relationship he’d hoped for years ago.
“Sure, I would be happy to. I guess we could set up an appointment.” She pulled out a book from somewhere behind the counter and flipped pages.
Light filtered through the window and settled on her features. Annie was a pretty woman. Not that time had stood still for her. The slight crinkles around her eyes, and the way her body had matured only made her more attractive. All the parts of her face put together created an interesting and appealing look. Her dark eyebrows brought attention to her beautiful eyes. Her strong brow and small nose, turned up at the end, contradicted each other. But the telling point, a stubborn chin, brought character to an otherwise sweet appearance.
He waited patiently, enjoying the lilac smell wafting from her skin as she slipped on reading glasses and bent over the pages. He glanced around. So this was the store where Mason said she spent all her time. The place was a perfect extension of Annie. Lighting from numerous table lamps gave the room a soft glow. Clean shelves displayed beautiful articles, lovingly cared for. Warm, colorful paintings adorned the walls; some type of soft music played in the background. Area rugs with intricate patterns were scattered around the hardwood floors.
The bell over the door sounded again. Annie glanced at the newcomers, a smile on her lips. She scooted around the counter and greeted two women with hugs and laughter. “Frances, I’m so glad to see you. When did you get out of the hospital?”
An older woman, leaning on a cane, smiled broadly. “Two days ago, dear. This is the first time Emma,” she nodded in the direction of her younger companion, “let me out.”
“I’m glad she decided to bring you over. I’ve missed you so much.” Annie hugged the woman again then seemed to remember his presence. “Frances, Emma, this is Lucas Raven, who bought Sarah Rogers’s house. He found some items in Sarah’s attic and would like me to take a look at them.” She patted Frances on the arm, and turned to him. “This is Frances Maynard and her daughter-in-law, Emma. Frances helps me out in the store a few hours a week.”
He tugged at the brim of his Stetson. “Mornin’, ladies.” When Emma giggled, Annie shot her a glance, eyebrows raised.
“I’ll leave you ladies to visit. Annie, if it would be all right, I’ll stop back later when you’ve had a chance to check your calendar.” His plans required having Annie all to himself.
The older woman’s eyes shifted from him to Annie. “Oh dear, I didn’t mean to interrupt your business.”
“No, Mrs. Maynard, don’t trouble yourself. I have a lot of things to do today. I’ll be happy to stop back later.” He strolled forward and nodded at the women. “Ladies.”
The bell echoed as Lucas left, the women all silent as they watched him swagger out the door. Snug jeans hugged his rear like a well-worn glove. Small beads of sweat broke out on Annie’s upper lip. Oh, my, it’s gotten a bit warm in here.
Emma shook her head briefly. “Wow. I didn’t know the Rogers house sold. Mr. Raven will certainly be a welcome addition to town.” She fluffed her hair. “I may have to whip up a batch of my special brownies, make a welcome-to-town call.”
A jolt of unease passed through Annie. “For heaven’s sake, Emma, the man just got here. Give him some time to at least unpack before you stalk him.”
“I’m not going to stalk him, merely show some neighborly concern. A nice thing for a lonely widow to do.”
“Besides, he just lost his wife last year,” Annie added.
“All right, girls, take it easy.” Frances smiled. “Emma, leave the man in peace for a bit.”
Hah! Not likely.
“How about some tea?” Annie led the women to the small kitchen at the back of the store.
After an hour of tea and conversation, Annie breathed a sigh of relief when her visitors left. Monday mornings were always slow, so they hadn’t been interrupted once. The day dragged. After dusting all the shelves, she went through items purchased at a garage sale over the weekend, then circled the various sales in the newspaper she planned to visit at the end of the week. She ate a salad, flipped through a magazine. All afternoon the bell stayed silent. And no word from Lucas.
This is crazy. I’m acting like a teenager waiting for my prom date. He’s just another man. No, he’s not. He’s Lucas Raven, and you had a serious teenage crush on him years ago. And now he’s a widower. And looking pretty good. Oh why couldn’t he have run to fat and been bald?
Lucas. With the piercing blue eyes and tanned skin. Even though only one-quarter Indian, he favored that part of his ancestry with a full head of black hair, a bit too long and slightly gray at the temples, that begged to have a woman comb her fingers through the silky strands. He stood six foot, his broad shoulders tapered to a slim waist, and muscular legs. A warrior, that’s what he looks like.
Truth be known, she was torn. She’d spent the eight years since her divorce avoiding involvements. Never again would she put herself in the hands of a man.
She puffed out a breath of air. Then why did she feel a sense of safety and of being protected during the few minutes she and Lucas had been together? They had a history, true, but he was still a man, and a law enforcement one at that. She shuddered.
Unfortunately her body didn’t get the memo because her heart thumped as a dark green Jeep pulled up in front of the store. Lucas climbed out, stuffing his western-style shirt into his jeans as he strode to the store. He took off his Stetson, finger-combed his hair, and replaced the hat, pulling it low over one eye. Her knees threatened to give out.
This is ridiculous. He’s simply a customer
The little bell tinkled, and she took a deep breath.
White, straight teeth in a gut-wrenching smile. “Evenin’, Annie.”
“Good evening, Lucas.” She cleared her throat to give the frog there a chance to escape.
He hooked his thumbs in his belt loops, resting his weight on one long leg. “Did you get a chance to look over your appointment book?”
“Yes, I did.” She fumbled with the book, and it fell to the floor. She retrieved it, dropped it from sweaty fingers, then placed it on the counter upside down. Several loose papers slid out. “I have some dates marked right here. Somewhere.” She fluttered her hands.
A strong dark hand, with a dusting of black hairs, covered hers. Her hand stilled. She fixed her gaze on him.
“Do I make you nervous?” No pretense there. The man was serious.
Yes, extremely nervous.
“No, not at all.” She managed a half smile. “Why do you ask?”
He shrugged. “You seem a little jumpy, and I didn’t want to be the cause of it.” Again that smile.
“No, it’s been a very hectic day.” The lie fell easily from her lips.
“I have an idea.” He glanced at the silver-and-turquoise watch on his wrist. “It’s almost six. How about you grab that book of yours, and let me buy you dinner at The Steak and Brew?” He fixed his gaze on her, one eyebrow raised. “Unless you have a date.”
“No, I don’t have a date, but I don’t know if it’s wise to mix business with, ah, you know.”
Well, that sounded real sophisticated.
“Aw, come on, Annie, just dinner. We’re old friends. Your brother’s been my best friend for longer than I care to mention. Besides, I’ve been away for twenty-five years. You can be the Duncan Welcome Wagon Lady.”
She tilted her head to one side as heat flooded her cheeks. “As long as you put it that way, I can’t refuse, can I?”
“Thatta girl. I’ll nominate you for citizen of the year. Does the esteemed town of Duncan have such a thing?”
“Not since I’ve been back.” She smiled and reached under the counter for her purse, then grabbed the calendar. He leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed, watching as she moved methodically throughout the store, dousing each old-fashioned lamp.
Lucas opened the door and escorted her through with his hand on her lower back, then waited patiently as she fumbled to lock the door. Once they were settled in his Jeep, seat belts snugly fastened, he continued as if no time had passed since her comment. “Not since you’ve been back? How long is that?”
“Eight years. After college, my ex-husband and I moved to California. I spent ten years there and moved back to Duncan right before our divorce. I had an overwhelming desire to be home, to something familiar and…well…secure. Anyway, I bought a small house and settled in.”
He passed a slow moving Acura, then glanced at her. “Why do I think there’s a lot more to your story?”
“Not really. That pretty much covers it.” She nibbled on her thumb nail. Realizing how telling that looked, she put her hands in her lap.
“All right then. I’m confused. Why the need to feel secure?”
The Jeep made a smooth entrance into the restaurant parking lot. He pulled out the keys and laid his arm across the back of the seat and squeezed her shoulder. He studied her for a moment, like he might try to pry more out of her. She breathed a sigh of relief when, instead, he climbed out of the Jeep and came around to open her door.
Old-fashioned manners. His strong hand reached for hers and helped her out of the Jeep. His gentleness and consideration took her by surprise. Not at all what she was used to from men—especially law enforcement men. Except her brother, she corrected. She shook off thoughts of her asshole ex-husband as Lucas led her up the walk.
The popular restaurant sat back from the street, a bright white canvas awning stretched across its front. Large pots of bright red geraniums lined either side of the entrance. A rich oak-and-glass paneled door reflected the lights from small wall lamps around the restaurant.
A curvy blonde holding a handful of menus rushed from behind the hostess stand toward them and threw her arms around Lucas’s neck.
Caroline Spencer. Annie would recognize her fake singsong voice in a darkened alley. She felt like a grandmother in her long skirt and high-necked blouse with Caroline stuffed into a tight mid-thigh skirt and a sweater at least one size too small.
Lucas glanced in Annie’s direction, briefly returning Caroline’s hug, then released her. “How ya been, Caro?”
“Fine. Still waiting for you to call.” She pursed her bright red lips in a pout.
“Sorry, I’ve been busy getting settled.” He grabbed Annie’s hand and pulled her next to him. “Got a table for us?”
“Hi, Annie.” Caroline’s cool voice conveyed anything but welcome.
“Hi, Caroline. It’s been a while.”
“I’m surprised to see you here without Jonathan.” Caroline smirked and led them to a table in the middle of the room.
Lucas flashed his winning smile. “Come on, Caro. Give us one of the booths along the wall.”
Caroline giggled. “Okay, but only if you promise to come to my house for dinner next Sunday.” Her sultry half-lidded eyes left no doubt what she wanted for dessert.
“Let me get back to you,” Lucas murmured. “I’m doing renovations on the house and have workers coming and going right now so things are a little crazy.”
“Okay, but don’t forget.” She dropped two menus on the table. “Enjoy your dinner. Say hello to Jonathan for me, Annie.” Caroline sashayed off, flicking long blond hair over one slim shoulder.
“Sorry about that.” Lucas picked up a menu. His gaze roamed over the colorful pictures of steak dinners. “So. Who’s Jonathan?”COLLAPSE