Lorna Lindstrom and Jack Young just got married in the tropics—and their grownup kids don’t like it one bit...
Now the newlyweds feel like a couple of fools. Surely ending their impulsive “cruise ship” marriage is the best solution. Lorna’s two kids and Jack’s daughter sure think so. But their meddling backfires, prompting Jack and Lorna to rethink their plan. Don’t they deserve a happy ending, after all?
A professional organizer, Lorna is a little too proud of her spotless home. She fell in love with Jack’s generous heart, but must he rescue every abandoned dog in town? Jack owns a popular, laidback nostalgia café, with menu items named for ‘60s and ‘70s songs. He feels right at home in Lorna’s bedroom, but he might as well be a stranger everywhere else in her perfect house.
In a matter of days, Lorna puts her organizing skills to work to help Jack’s elderly father, while Jack takes on a new rescue mission, this one involving Lorna’s daughter. But even as their lives become more enmeshed, this “opposites attract” duo can’t quite get in sync. Is it time to admit defeat and go their separate ways? Or can they find a way to make peace with their dueling quirks and have some fun with their second-chance romance?
Lorna inched to the edge of her bed, but before sliding out, she glanced over her shoulder to watch the even rise and fall of Jack’s back under the sheet. If she rolled toward him, she could reach out and rest her palm against his bare shoulder and soak up the warmth of his skin. No. The man’s warmth—on all levels—got her into this trouble in the first place. That and moonlight, and okay, since she’d started a list, she might as well add the long nights of delicious slow dancing.READ MORE
Once out of bed, Lorna tiptoed to her reading chair in the corner, retrieving her bra and panties from the floor along the way. Then she pulled the throw off the back of the chair and wrapped it around herself like a towel. Only dim light seeped through the closed blinds, but she felt around the floor and came up with the silk shirt and slacks she’d worn on the flight home the night before. With her clothes draped over her arm, she stepped around the open suitcase blocking the way to her bedroom door. She reached for the doorknob, ready to escape, but took a last look at the scene she was about to leave behind.
A trail of jeans, a sport jacket, and a dark blue shirt led straight to the mound in the bed named Jack Young, age fifty-two, noteworthy only because, by coincidence, she and Jack were mere months apart in age.
Loathing messes as much as she did, it took all Lorna’s strength not to grab the two half-empty glasses and the champagne bottle that sat as accusers on her nightstand. She slipped into the hallway and shut the door behind her. Home free—more or less. Leaning against the wall, she closed her eyes and exhaled a long breath to quiet her jittery stomach. It worked for a second or two.
Next step, get to June’s house as fast as her legs could carry her.
Lorna brushed her teeth and dressed quickly in her guest bathroom. Then, grabbing her winter jacket off the hook in the kitchen, she escaped through her back door and jogged down the slope of her yard that led to the footpath bordering the lake, the fastest route to June’s house.
She maneuvered around the muddy patches and pools of water left behind from last night’s rain. The dampness left the April morning air fragrant with the promise of spring. Lacking a breeze to disturb it, the lake perfectly mirrored the trees and houses lining the water’s edge. In the stillness, the sounds of a barking dog and children’s voices carried across the water from the opposite shore.
A mere day ago, she’d been more than a thousand miles away, tilting her face toward the sun and sighing from happiness as sultry tropical air caressed her skin. She and Jack had made love to the nearly imperceptible rhythm of the cruise ship, dodging any talk of what they’d do when they arrived back home in Wisconsin.
What a disaster. Maybe she’d try to make light of their escapade. After all, Jack was a decent man, a really great guy, even if he was thoroughly unsuitable for her. He also had a terrific sense of humor. Maybe they could have a good hoot over their silly mistake. “Isn’t this the funniest thing?” she could quip while trilling in a charming sort of way. Ha ha, titter titter. She could hold out her hand in a gesture of friendship. “What do you say? Shall we figure out the easiest way to put this embarrassing little episode behind us?” More light-hearted laughter.
At last June’s white frame cottage came into view. Lorna hurried up the stone path and through the picture window spotted her friend standing at her kitchen table with a tall pile of laundry in front of her. Lorna waved to get her attention. When June looked up to see Lorna coming up the walk her face broke into a welcoming smile.
“Come in, come in,” June said after she’d opened the door and with a sweeping gesture invited Lorna inside. “I hoped you’d come over this morning. Help yourself to coffee and tell me all about your exciting cruise while I make my way through my boring laundry basket.”
Shrugging out of her jacket, Lorna peered around the corner of the kitchen into the hallway looking for any sign of June’s nine-year-old. “Is Bonnie gone?”
“The school bus picked her up a little while ago. Why?”
“I want to be sure we’re alone.” Lorna surveyed the table, with the laptop and a pile of fat file folders and legal pads at one end and the heap of laundry at the other. A full basket of clothes sat on the floor. “You’re really busy. I could come back later.”
“Don’t be silly,” June said, shaking out a crumpled bath towel. “This is laundry, not legal analysis.”
Lorna filled a mug from the carafe and went back to the table. Then she drew in a breath. “I’ve done something really stupid.”
June’s eyes narrowed as she pushed a tendril of thick dark hair off her face. “Sit down and tell me about it.”
Lorna made a fast decision to blurt it out. “I got married. To Jack Young. In the Dominican Republic.”
“Jack’s asleep in my bed as we speak.” Lorna pulled out a chair at the table and plopped down. “And now I have to get out of it. An annulment or a divorce, I don’t care. Help me end this thing.”
June’s deep brown eyes again narrowed in thought. “Whoa, slow down. I’m confused. A minute ago you said you got married, and now you want a divorce?” She absently dropped the towel on the table. “I can supply legal advice later, but first, fill me in.”
Lorna reached up to touch her warming cheeks. “You’re staring at me.”
“That’s because you look fabulous, all lit up and shiny. Ha! Even your green eyes are brighter than usual.”
“Oh, please.” She self-consciously brushed her fingertips over the skin around her eyes. “I got a glimpse of my face in the bathroom mirror a few minutes ago and the dreadful truth stared back at me.” June’s kind words aside, she knew perfectly well that her crows’ feet looked like gullies in the desert.
“No, I mean it,” June said with a grin. “You positively glow. But no more small talk, feed me data.”
“I don’t know which is worse, going through the motions of ending this so-called marriage to Jack, or explaining to Vickie and Win what their mother has done. I have to talk to them right away so they hear about this fiasco from me and not someone else. Can’t you see the expression on their faces?” Lorna shook her body in an exaggerated shudder.
“Everyone in our tour group knows all about Jack and me. That’s a dozen people from Capehart Bay alone who will pass it on to another dozen before lunch.” She plunked her elbows on the table and held her head in her hands. “I hate small towns!”
June held her hand up in a clear halt sign. “No, you don’t. Anyway, enough about your kids and the tour group. Tell me what happened between you and Jack.”
Lorna turned away to gaze out the window. “I can’t believe I’ve done something this dumb. Jack and I barely know each other.”
“That’s not true,” June said. “You and I eat at his café a lot. And we’ve gone to a few forums there.”
Lorna bounced the heel of her hand off her temple. “Why didn’t I think of that?” she mocked. She reached for the linen dish towel on the top of the pile. “I might as well help you out.” She smoothed away the wrinkles before folding it corner to corner twice until she had a perfect square.
“And I’ll have the neatest stack of towels in town. Come on, quit stalling. What’s going on?”
“Well, the whole thing started on the first night when Jack asked me to dance,” Lorna said with a wistful sigh. “We kept going through the next number and the one after that. Then he danced me out to the deck.”
Lorna closed her eyes and relived the moment of levity when they’d crossed the deck and stopped only when they reached the ship’s rail. They’d savored the moment before lowering their arms and letting each other go. That evening the three-quarter moon tossed her light on the ocean swells, casting a spell that changed everything.
When the wind ruffled her bob-length hair, Jack tucked a flyaway strand behind her ear and let his fingers linger there. It had been such a long time since she’d enjoyed the tingle of a light, teasing touch.
The quick rap of June’s knuckles on the table brought Lorna back to the kitchen. “Hey, don’t stop there.”
“The slow dancing did me in.” Lorna shook her head at her own folly. “But I’ve always known I’d do something foolish with a man who could dance—and enjoy it. I never managed to coax Jackson onto a dance floor. He hated the very thought of it, and that poor man had no sense of rhythm anyway.” She cupped her hands over her eyes. “I shouldn’t talk that way about Jackson. It’s like speaking ill of the dead.”
June reached across the table and gave Lorna’s arm a quick squeeze. “Sweetie, Jackson’s been gone for over a year now. It’s okay for you to dance all night, and what the heck, get married again if you want to.”
“Not like this,” Lorna said quietly. “Not because of a few nights of moonlight and madness. It’s not me. It goes against everything I believe about creating a good life.”
Lorna prided herself on being more than a dull organizational expert who offered mind-numbing lists of techniques and strategies. Instead, she’d built a successful business based on her contention that a beautiful life, a sweet life, was the reward for creative organization and planning. Making major decisions—like marrying on impulse—didn’t fit the picture.
“We’ll figure out what to do later,” June said, “but fill me in on how some dancing led to…to what it led to.”
“We danced the next night away, too,” Lorna said, her mind flooding with memories of moving across the dance floor secure in Jack’s arms. “From then on we were inseparable. We couldn’t believe how much we have in common.”
June’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Well, no, that’s the point,” she said, flashing June an exasperated look, “but it seemed that way at first. We both run our own business. Our birthdays are close together. Jack has a married daughter and Vickie’s been married a few weeks now. See? What did I tell you?”
June’s face fixed in a quizzical expression.
Lorna knew the look. She could almost see June’s legal mind racing along. “You’re analyzing—as usual,” she said, plucking another towel from the pile.
“No, I’m piecing together a few facts. That’s all. I assume Jack is—was—single.”
Lorna nodded. “Divorced a year ago. His ex-wife is up in Michigan looking after her elderly mother.” Jack had filled in a few details, but they hadn’t dwelled on either his ex, Nettie, or Lorna’s own late husband. They’d been busy inside the cruise ship bubble, far removed from real life.
“Then he was free to get married again.”
Lorna nodded once more.
June grinned. “Like I said, you’re glowing. And when you talk about the guy, your mind takes off in flight.” June twirled a washcloth in the air to illustrate. “It’s obvious Jack Young got to you. Then why are you in such a hurry to call it quits?”
“Come on. It’s clear the man is not a keeper. He’s totally unsuitable. And funny enough, it turns out we don’t really have anything in common at all.” She tried out a trilling laugh, but quit when June’s eyes popped open in alarm. “Seriously, Jack is walking chaos. You should have seen the way he balled up his dirty clothes and stuffed them into the corners of his duffle. No packing plan at all.”
Even to Lorna’s own ears, that indictment sounded weak. She’d need to build a stronger case to convince June that marrying Jack Young was a blunder of epic proportion.
June rested her fingertips on the table and leaned forward. “And…?”
“Well, he struts around singing and humming old songs and he snaps his fingers to the beat.” Lorna snapped her own fingers and swayed to an imaginary rhythm. “He’s like a ‘60s-music jukebox. And he never finishes one of those oldie tunes before he starts humming another.”
June’s hands flew to her cheeks. “Wow, that’s terrible. Maybe I should call Chief Gunderson and have Jack arrested for disorderly…something.”
Lorna struggled not to let a chuckle escape. “I’m glad you find my disastrous mistake entertaining.”
“Jack owns a nostalgia café,” June said. “He makes a living celebrating the ‘60s and ‘70s. He names the items on his menu after song titles, for Pete’s sake. It’s hardly shocking that he hums old songs.”
Lorna raised her hands in a show of surrender. “Okay, okay, but it’s difficult to come up with a definitive list of a man’s faults when you’ve just left him sleeping in your bed.”
“I suppose that depends on the man,” June said, snickering at her joke.
“Stop, I’m serious.”
“And he has a whole head of dark gray hair,” June added with a solemn nod, “a notable feature for a middle-aged guy.”
Lorna grinned at the observation, but then fell silent as she stared out the window at the lake. The familiar sight yanked her into real life. The cruise on the Starlight Spirit was over. No more endless jade and turquoise seas. No more salty scent carried on breezes that kissed her pink cheeks. They were back to chilly April days in their town on the stony shores of Hart Lake, a mere sixteen miles around. Heady tropical romance aside, her hasty marriage to the wrong man had to be dealt with, and soon.
“At least we’re the same age.” She flashed a mock bright smile at June. “There’s some good news.”
Lorna looked away and forced herself to refocus. “But that’s not the point. Tall and trim or not, gorgeous hair or not, Jack isn’t the right man for me.”
June left the table, but soon came back with the coffee carafe and topped off Lorna’s mug. “I have a feeling your regret is mixed up with some unresolved feelings about Jackson.” She paused. “Oh my, you have a second Jack—we’ll have to call him your new Jack.”
Lorna rubbed her temples. “Two husbands, two Jacks. What a mess.”
June’s long fingers circled Lorna’s wrist. “Listen to me. You did something impulsive and you want a quick divorce. I can understand that. But you can’t tell me that you’re dumping him because his name is Jack or that he hums old songs.”
“No, no. That’d be nuts. But how will I explain all this to Vickie and Win?” Her exaggerated groan pierced the air. “They do everything by the book.”
“They sure do,” June said with a chortle, “and that’s your fault. You raised them that way.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“Okay, but I will remind you that after one of the longest engagements in Capehart Bay’s history, Vickie has finally married her very own professor-prince charming. Thanks to your organizational expertise, the wedding of the decade went off without a single hitch. And Win is independent, too. You’re free to do exactly as you please.”
“True, but I still have to talk to them.” She glanced at the clock on June’s stove and got to her feet. “I better get back. With any luck, Jack will have vacated my bed and left for the café. I want to catch Vickie before she leaves for work and get my confession over with.” Lorna scanned the table. “I burst in here with my story and look how busy you are.”
June came around the table and gave her a quick hug. “Don’t worry about that. It won’t take long to do a quick search to see what your legal options are—if you’re sure that’s what you want.”
Lorna picked up her jacket and put it on. Then she used up a few more seconds staring out the window. Finally, she nodded. “Yes, that’s what I want.”
Skepticism still written on her face, June drew back her head and grinned. “I’m guessing we won’t claim the marriage was never, you know, consummated.”
Lorna’s face burned as she let out a spontaneous hoot.
* * *
Jack rolled over on his back and laced his fingers behind his head, relieved to have a few minutes alone. He’d worked hard to stifle a laugh while Lorna crept around the floor retrieving the silky underwear he found irresistible. He had to hand it to her, she knew how to escape a room barely making a sound. True, the two of them needed to talk, but he’d gladly delay the inevitable awkward conversation.
Jack had another mission, and in some ways it was trickier than figuring out what to do about their spur-of-the-moment, not to mention foolish, wedding. He needed to teach Lorna the finer points of dancing—slow, fast, swing, Latin, whatever. Sadly, Lorna thought she had the moves down pretty well, but her dancing skills were marginal at best. Luckily, he considered himself pretty good with words, and he’d find a tactful way to explain that her version of the cha-cha looked exactly like the aerobic routines he’d seen at the gym.
Propping himself up on his elbow, Jack reached for his watch on the nightstand and slipped it on. He didn’t know where Lorna had gone, but he suspected she’d rather not come back home and find him naked under the covers. It was probably best to be fully clothed when they faced each other and figured out the easiest path back to normal.
But why couldn’t he stop the alluring images of her shapely curves dancing in his head? If he stayed put, maybe Lorna would slip back into bed and he’d have another chance to caress her round hips while he kissed her soft, welcoming lips and breathed in the spicy scent of her hair. Maybe her cha-cha left something to be desired, but she felt so good in his arms.
Sighing heavily, he decided to leave and shower and shave at his cottage behind the café. He pulled on his clothes and considered giving Holly a quick call. Maybe he should practice his explanation.
But that meant figuring out how he felt. Better to blurt the stark truth: Hello, Holly, your Dad has big news. I stood in front of a minister—or at least a guy who claimed to be a minister—in an itty-bitty chapel and vowed to honor and cherish a woman I barely know. She’s a knockout, though, with red hair and green eyes—real ones, too. None of those tinted contacts for her.
Oh, Holly. Picturing his daughter’s shocked expression smacked him back to Capehart Bay, the little corner of the planet he’d adopted as his own a decade ago.
Jack picked up the champagne bottle and glasses and headed down the hall to the kitchen. By his calculation, the café was no more than a mile down the lake path. He’d get his reward at the end of the walk, a mug filled with “Both Sides Now Breakfast Blend.” Then he’d be up to the job of figuring out how to clean up the mess he created. Truth be told, though, he kind of liked the mess.
As he rounded the corner into the kitchen, the back door opened. Looked like he’d have to face Lorna before his first cup of coffee after all. But the woman coming through the door wasn’t Lorna. Damn it, he’d almost pulled off his getaway.
“Uh, hello, Vickie.”
Lorna’s daughter stared at him through startled eyes. Her gaze drifted to what he held in his hands. “What the…what are you doing here?”
“Your mother and I came home from our cruise late last night.” That didn’t precisely answer her question, but it was the best he could do in a split second. He stepped to the sink and unloaded the bottle and turned on the water to rinse the glasses. Glancing over his shoulder, Jack saw how quickly Vickie’s surprise had turned into disdain.
He followed Vickie’s flashing eyes as she studied the room and stopped to stare at his jacket hanging on the back of a stool at the breakfast bar. “Is my mother here?”
Jack retrieved his jacket as if removing evidence. “I believe I heard her leave a little while ago. I’m due at the café so I was about to take off myself.”
“If you see her, tell her I’m looking for her.” Vickie enunciated each word through tight jaws. Then she pivoted halfway around and left. A couple of seconds later Jack heard the sound of a car engine. Through the window he watched her back out of the driveway at the side of the house.
He should warn Lorna, but he didn’t know her cell phone number. Hell, he didn’t know if she even carried a cell. Eyeing a pad and pen on the counter, he scribbled a note:
Vickie stopped in as I was leaving. Naturally, she was shocked to see me. I didn’t fill her in. I thought you’d rather do that. Come over to the café as soon as you can. We need to talk.
A part of him wanted to sign the note “Love, Jack,” but he thought better of it and scrawled his initial “J” instead. Call him crazy, but he couldn’t wait to see her.COLLAPSE
V. Marzini wrote:
A pure delight! I fell in love with Jack instantly—and the storybook town of Capehart Bay.
I adored this story—it’s funny, sweet and romantic, the style of the author is so addictive that I was engrossed from the first chapter.