Authors: Janet Wellington
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Copyright © 2012 Janet Wellington
. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the express written permission of the author. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.
Grant + Gratitude = Where Every Book Includes a Gift
10% of author’s royalties for Homecoming will be donated to:
Halo Pet Foundation
Cover Designed by Janet Wellington; Photo credits: (faces) Zastavkin/istockphoto.com; (house) JimPlumb/istockphoto.com. Logo: Adam Gryko/dreamstime.com;
Version 2012 Kindle Edition
Dedicated to the special cats in my life, past and present: Smokey, Frosty, John Philip Suzie, Grease Spot, Max, and Gracie.
It’s always fun to acknowledge others who have helped me along the way. But, there are so many!
My mother must come first—an amazing woman who is still teaching after 69 years! She is truly a role model and has always been someone who believes I can do anything I set my mind to. That helps, believe me.
And loving thanks must go to my personal hero and dear husband, Jim—he’s always supported me along my writing journey with patience, enthusiasm, critiques, honesty and valuable assistance.
My writing roots reach deeply into the San Diego Chapter of Romance Writers of America, as well as the Orange County RWA Chapter. I’ve spent many days absorbing everything presenters had to offer at chapter meetings and conferences I’ve attended. Writers are typically a generous group, and I have been privileged to know many who have shared so much—I’d need an ebook to name them all! But, I will isolate two writer friends (their books are wonderful—buy them!) who have encouraged and helped me. Thank you Mary Leo and Richter Watkins (aka Terry Watkins). And one thing every writer needs is a “first reader.” And I have one of the best. Thank you, Robin, for your time and feedback!
And to you, dear readers—thank you for giving me a reason to write!
We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.
18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant
Just because you’re moving fast doesn’t mean you’re going somewhere.
Jake Randall shifted his gaze away from the bumper sticker prominently displayed on the older-than-dirt Dodge Dart that crept along in front of him on the two-lane road. He’d been stuck behind it in a no-passing zone for what seemed like an hour, though it had only been a torture of ten minutes at most.
Rubbing his jaw to force himself to stop grinding his teeth, he glanced at the gas gauge and then his Rolex. A quarter of a tank left, and it was already past eleven. It would be close to midnight by the time he pulled into Faythe. Just enough gas, but about four hours later than he’d planned. Aunt Tillie would be in bed.
A flashing turn signal finally brought deliverance and the Dodge slowed almost to a stop to turn into a narrow driveway. Jake pulled around the car, then pressed the gas pedal down and reset the cruise control.
The speed soothed him; he was in very familiar territory and his whole body felt like it was in gear. He took the curves fast and it was almost as though his body had a kind of cellular memory of the road even though he hadn’t driven it for thirteen years.
As he glanced out the window a sign welcomed him back to Door County Peninsula, then he checked his mirrors. No headlights or taillights as far as he could see. The way he figured it, there was an excellent chance the county sheriff was home in bed, his radio crackling on the nightstand. He’d avoided many speeding tickets in his youth simply by being aware—aware of his surroundings, aware of speed traps, and aware of his talent for talking his way out of trouble.
Inhaling deeply, with every breath he felt himself begin to let go—just a little—of some of the built-up tension he held so tightly. The night air he breathed in was crisp and filled with the fragrance of pine trees, moist from the waters of nearby Green Bay, Lake Michigan a mere seven miles due east.
He ripped past the entrance to Peninsula State Park, then continued northeast on Highway 42. Though no sign told him so, he knew it was another thirteen and a half miles. Faythe had always been too insignificant to even be on the state map, let alone any roadside mileage sign.
As he neared the city limits, a shiny new billboard welcomed him to Faythe, Wisconsin. The simple painted sign of his youth had been replaced by a large sign painted forest green with bright white letters, complete with a single spotlight illuminating it.
Tourists typically didn’t even think of stopping in the small town. Most were too eager to either get to the end of the peninsula if they were headed north, or down to Sturgeon Bay if they were headed south. If you had no reason to stop, you could easily forget the town was even there.
Jake decelerated on Main Street. His memory of downtown Faythe was of several blocks of absolutely nothing.
The drug store was still there. A professionally lettered sign said:
April Special: Root
Beer Floats. Two for One.
The old hardware store looked exactly the same, its large front window filled with tool displays and a pile of plumbing parts. On the next few blocks he noticed the addition of an upscale gift store, with a prominent “local artists and craftsmen wanted” sign in the window, and, surprisingly, an art gallery and several antique stores. Freshly striped parking spaces sat in front of all the chic storefronts and there was a new sense of vitality where there had only been disrepair in his youth.
Just past the main drag the houses seemed well maintained, yards neatly mowed and sidewalks swept clean. It was a pretty safe bet most of the properties were still owned by the same families. In Faythe, sons and daughters who’d left were expected to return and live in their childhood houses after their parents died. It was tradition.
Slowing to a stop, he turned left on his great-aunt’s street. Her house was the largest and oldest Victorian on the block and she’d taken pride in keeping it period inside and out. As a child he’d been reluctant to sit on the antique sofas and chairs, but she’d always insisted he treat the house as his home away from home. And her house had indeed been a refuge, probably the only way he’d survived his childhood in one piece.
As he pulled into her driveway he turned off the engine and the lights, then coasted to a stop. Every window of the old house was dark. He listened to the quiet, then tipped his head out the window to look at the night sky. It was dazzling compared to the Chicago sky he’d grown accustomed to, and he picked out some of the constellations Tillie had taught him.
If you ever
feel lost, just
find the North Star and you’ll know the way home
. She’d been patient with him and he’d soaked up the mythic stories she’d taught him of the stars and planets. It would be so good to see her again, and, for the first time in a long time, in Faythe.
As he glanced again at the front of the house, a light came on upstairs. In a few moments, another one downstairs.
She was awake.
A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth, knowing he’d soon be sleeping soundly in the guest room after all. He watched as a shadow moved past the parlor window, his great-aunt checking to see who was in her driveway at such an ungodly hour.
Jake got out of the car and made his way up the front walkway, then climbed the creaking front porch steps and stopped in front of the door, listening. First he tried the door bell. Not a sound. Probably one of his first repair jobs on the long list he knew she’d have waiting for him.
Though it would be difficult to slow down—he hadn’t taken a real break from working in over ten years—he was determined to honor his great-aunt’s wishes. And her plea to him for help was the one and only thing that had the power to bring him back to the town he’d tried so hard to forget.
And besides, the Stuart advertising campaign was well ahead of schedule thanks to his recent round-the-clock attention. He had a long history of coming up with award winning ideas for their line of luxury hotels—they could certainly coast for a couple of weeks. Think Tank owed him that and, more importantly,
owed Aunt Tillie. She’d offered him a lifeline when he was young, and if all she wanted was some help with her old Victorian, he was happy to do what he could to help her get the house ready to sell. He’d simply keep to himself and be back in Chicago as quickly as humanly possible.
He tapped with his knuckles on the beveled window glass of the front door and in a few seconds, the porch light came on.
“Aunt Tillie? Aunt Tillie, it’s me, Jake,” he said. “If you’d ever get a phone I could have called...and I’m sorry it’s so late, but I—”
The door opened a crack and a flash of orange streaked past his ankles, down the steps and into the front yard, straight toward the maple tree.
The voice belonged to a young woman who appeared in the doorway as the door opened wide.
The woman stepped out the door and pushed past him, strands of her long curls whispering against his bare arm as she ran down the steps. Jake took a step backward and turned to watch.
The woman’s thin, white gown revealed the silhouette of every sumptuous curve of her petite body, and her reddish-brown hair cascaded to the middle of her back, dancing as she raced after the cat. Jake stared as the woman stood under the maple tree with her arms extended, calling softly.