Book 7 of the Lavender Shores series
This is an ADULT title
Jasper Getty is living his dream as the owner of the charming bookshop, Lavender Pages. For seven years, he’s enjoyed the safety and freedom to be himself, selling books by day and curling up and getting lost in novels by night. But a dark page from the past comes back to haunt Jasper as his ex begins stalking him.
Russell Wallace hit reset on his life in Nashville and became a bodyguard after decades of living according to family expectations. But even years later, he doesn’t believe he deserves happiness. When Russell is asked to travel to the beautiful seaside town of Lavender Shores to protect a friend’s brother, he expects nothing more than a job and a paycheck. But Lavender Shores reveals a world Russell never imagined, and his immediate attraction to the adorably geeky Jasper complicates an already difficult job. Jolted by the memory of a shared moment and paths that crossed years ago intensifies the sparks into a bonfire of passion and hope. When danger comes pounding at the door, Jasper is in danger of losing his life… and his heart.
(Contains Lavender Shores maps and family trees.)
“Do the introductions and then leave.” I dried the last dish from our breakfast and put it in the cupboard before turning back to my brother. “Seriously, Harrison. You two are heading out of town this afternoon, you need to get ready. It’s your first anniversary. Don’t pretend you don’t have a huge to-do list that’s eating at you right now.”
Harrison finished topping off our coffee and handed me my mug. “Adrian and Micah are getting back from their conference around three. I have plenty of time.” He took a sip, sighed, and leaned back against the counter. “The real problem is how late we stayed up last night watching movies. Maybe I can squeeze a nap in later so I’m fresh for….” A blush rose to his cheeks, and he took another sip.
Gagging, I did my brotherly duty by shuddering in disgust. “You’ve released two sex tapes into the world. I don’t think I’m going to be irrevocably scarred by knowing that my older brother is planning on having sex with his husband on their anniversary. The fancy San Francisco hotel kind of implied that anyway.”
“I didn’t release sex tapes to the world. That was someone else’s doing, if you recall.” He swatted at me as he laughed. He only managed to nick my elbow as I twisted out of the way, spilling a small wave of coffee over the floor.
“You’re cleaning that up.” I pointed down, joining in on his laughter. “With you not living here since you got together with Adrian, I’d forgotten what a messy house guest you are. Three days with Harrison Getty has left the place looking like a tornado has gone through, which I thought we left behind when we fled Tennessee.”
“Shut up!” That time he managed to swat my shoulder and spilled another splash of coffee. “Just because I’m not anal-retentive like you doesn’t mean I’m a slob.” He grimaced and then pointed down at his knee. “However, I think you’ll have to take care of the coffee. War wound, remember?”
“Elevating from football star to war hero, huh?” I grabbed a paper towel from the rack.
“You’re the one who said hero. Not me.” He grinned as his gaze softened. “It was nice to spend the last three days with you. Like old times.”
It had been. There was no one in the world I loved more than my brother, and it had been too long since we’d had such extended time alone. Still, I was looking forward to ending the day curled up by the window reading a book.
No sooner had the thought passed than I remembered why Harrison had demanded the extended brother weekend. It wasn’t just because his husband and business partner had a conference.
Before I could reply, Harrison hopped onto my wavelength as a familiar strain entered his eyes, an expression that had been like a third houseguest over the past three days. “I don’t have to leave. Adrian would understand.”
“Shut up You’re not spending the night of your first anniversary with your brother.” I shook my finger at him, partly in jest but also serious. “And if you don’t quit stressing, you’re going to get wrinkles around your eyes. Then what would happen if you decided to return to modeling?”
Harrison didn’t take the bait. “This is your lifewe’re talking about, Jasper. I can’t imagine anything more serious.”
I waved him off. “You’re being dramatic. I’ve told you a billion times. Neal wouldn’t hurt me. Not really.” Despite my protests, my anxiety grew. No, not anxiety, as much as I wanted to pretend that was it. Fear. My fear grew.
Harrison’s brown gaze leveled on mine. He knew me better than anyone. He didn’t have to say a thing. He knew, even if I couldn’t admit it. “I’ll stay. We can make a night of it, the three of us.” Those concerned eyes brightened as if the plan actually sounded good to him. “We’ll make a party out of it. Invite Micah and Connor over. Andre. Hell, we can make an impromptu bash and invite all the founding families of Lavender Shores.”
“Just because you married into a founding family, doesn’t make me a member.” I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t quit attempting jokes.
He snorted. “Oh, I’m aware. Trust me.”
I could tell he was about to launch into another plan, but I cut him off. “Enough of this. You’re not staying. There’s no reason to. You and Adrian are going to San Francisco to celebrate, and you’re not going to think of me. Not once.” I lifted my finger again as he started to protest. “I’m serious, Harrison. There’s been no contact in the last three days. There’s no reason to think there’ll be any more.”
“We both know that’s not true.”
Yes. We did. “Well… whatever. You’re still not staying. You’re forcing me to have a bodyguard. And the only reason I agreed to it is so you wouldn’t cause yourself an aneurysm. You don’t get to be on both sides of that fence. I said yes to your request—which was pretty much a demand, by the way—so you have to quit worrying.”
He smiled gently, but I could see him beginning to cave. “I’m your big brother. That’s what I do.”
“I know it. And I appreciate it.” I truly did. It meant the world, even if a little overbearing at times. “And my older brother got me a bodyguard, so let it go.” I moved closer and nudged his shoulder with mine. Actually I nudged the lower half of his triceps with my shoulder. Harrison and I had physiques true to what we were. Harrison, an ex-star-quarterback, model, reality TV star. And me, a diehard bookworm turned bookshop owner. We couldn’t look less like brothers if we tried.
“A bodyguard, Harrison. You got me a bodyguard, like I’m Whitney Houston or something.”
He snorted again. “Well, however this thing goes, if you decide you need to burst into singing ‘I Will Always Love You,’ make damn sure you don’t do it until I’m back so I can videotape it. Then I won’t be the only one of us who’s trended on YouTube.”
“I don’t think me screeching will compete with your sex tapes. Even if I did it naked.”
“Well….” He seemed to consider. “Russell is pretty sexy. I haven’t seen him in a few years, but he’s definitely hot. So just get him naked before you sing.”
“Great. Just what I need.” Not only was I going to have a stranger staying in my guest room for the foreseeable future, but someone to spark all my insecurities on a continuous basis.
Harrison waggled his eyebrows. “Did I mention he’s gay?”
“No. No, you most definitely did not.” I turned to face him slowly. “What is this? Protection from Neal or trying to set me up?”
“Protection. Russell helped out one of my teammates a few years back. A situation like this. His girlfriend had some crazed stalker. Russell saved her life. I wouldn’t get someone who I didn’t trust to be with you. He’s a good guy. Capable.” Harrison gave a little shrug. “Maybe a little serious from what I remember. But he’s good.” His expression relaxed once more, and the teasing gleam returned to his eyes. “But… if quality protection turns into romance….” Another shrug. “C’est la vie.”
It was a testament to just how much genuine fear I felt that I didn’t nix the plan instantly. “You know, Harrison. It might be a good idea for you to get a bodyguard for yourself. I’m a little tempted to take a hit out on you right now.”
Harrison grinned, but before he could say anything, a chime sounded, announcing someone was at the door. He glanced at the clock on the microwave. “Five minutes early. That’s what I remember about Russell.” Another flash of a grin. “Showtime.”
“I hate you.”
Chuckling, he took the coffee from my hand and placed both our mugs on the counter. We left the apartment, walked down the narrow steps in the back, and entered my bookshop.
Lavender Pages was small—narrow and deep. As we made our way through, I studied the silhouette highlighted by the morning sun at the front door window. He looked like a bodyguard. Nearly as big as Harrison.
Just from his outline, a sense of relief flooded through me, confirming that despite what I’d said to Harrison, I really was concerned. Neal hadn’t hurt me before, not really, but he was quite a bit stronger than me. But unless his years behind bars changed him drastically, he couldn’t compare to Harrison or the man waiting at the door.
Harrison didn’t wait but unlatched the lock and threw open the door. “Russell Wallace! Good to see you. It’s been too long.”
The man took Harrison’s outstretched hand, gave it a firm shake, and then they did the overly masculine “chest bump, fist pound on the back” thing.
Harrison and I couldn’t seem less like brothers if we tried.
Once done, the bodyguard entered the bookshop, and Harrison shut the door and locked it again.
Then Russell offered his hand to me. I took it, expecting a similar display.
To my relief, he simply shook my hand. His grip was firm and warm. Calluses rough against my palm. “Hey. I’m Russell. Nice to meet you.” His voice matched the rest of him—low and strong. There was a hint of warmth there too, but enough steel that it was only a hint.
“You too. I’m Jasper.” I looked up at his face but couldn’t see into his eyes. He had on a low-hung ball cap and dark sunglasses. Even so, Harrison’s memory was proven true. Russell practically smoldered.
If I’d been told I was going to meet a bodyguard who was clothed in a leather jacket, ball cap, and wore sunglasses inside during the early morning, I’d have predicted I would’ve laughed at the cliché of it all. Probably would’ve accused the man of trying just a bit too hard. I’d have kept that witticism in my mind, of course, lest I got slaughtered, but still.
Laughter was the furthest thing from my mind as I met Russell Wallace.
I had yet to encounter a genre of books I didn’t enjoy. One of my indulgences, when I wanted to dive into the world of romantic fantasy, was a series of vampire warriors. The man in front of me might’ve stepped out of the pages and been one of the members of J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood.
Where my brother had the rippling muscle mass of a football star, Harrison was about as much of a fighter as a golden retriever. I felt safe with him because he was my brother. With this man… I felt a strange combination of safety and fear. Though I’d just met him, there was no doubt that Russell Wallace was no golden retriever. He was a pit bull, German shepherd, and junkyard dog all rolled into one. He’d keep me safe. But just like those vampires, I got the sense he could devour me too.
And I’d let him.
I managed to swallow when I became aware my body was responding to him in ways that most definitely weren’t anticipated. I also realized my hand was still in his, mainly because I was gripping it so tightly he couldn’t end the formality without jerking away. “Uhm, sorry.” I retrieved my hand and shoved it into my pocket.
From over Russell’s shoulder, Harrison studied me, the surprise in his eyes shifting to amusement. No doubt I wouldn’t be hearing the end of this for a long, long time.
Turning away, I headed toward the counter where the register was, my little spot of power and control. And I could stand behind it just in case my body refused to listen to my demands and needed to be concealed behind something. From behind, I heard Russell and Harrison follow.
I hadn’t turned on the piped-in background music yet, and their steps and the soft squeak of Russell’s leather filled the space.
“Cute little bookshop you’ve got here.”
Already feeling a little more secure behind the counter, I faced him, trying to determine if there was judgment in his tone.
Russell wasn’t looking at me. Instead, he was turning to inspect Lavender Pages. “Like it’s out of a storybook.”
Harrison chuckled and gently smacked Russell’s shoulder again. “Welcome to Lavender Shores. You’re going to be saying that a lot.”
He didn’t respond, only continued to circle slowly.
From my concealed spot, I was okay with that and took advantage of studying Russell. He wore brown boots and dark-wash jeans. They weren’t skintight, but with every move he made, his jeans revealed thickly muscled calves and thighs and an ass that threatened to make me light-headed. As Russell continued to inspect, he slid off his sunglasses. He’d clearly been handsome before, but the shades hadn’t done him any favors besides adding to his mystique. His profile was strong, every plane of him chiseled. A close-cropped, dark beard framed his sharp jaw.
When he turned to me, I realized he was older than I’d thought. Probably mid-forties. Somehow, that made him even more handsome.
His brown eyes met my gaze. “Do you only have two entrances to the shop?” He motioned the length of the store. “This one in the front, and I’m assuming there’s one in the back?” He peered over my shoulder.
I couldn’t answer. I was utterly and completely frozen. And not because he might’ve been the sexiest man I’d ever seen, or… at least not only because of that. I’d seen him before.
I needed his gaze on me again. Surely it hadn’t just been in my mind. I knew him. I was sure of it. Could feel it. I knewhim. I wasn’t sure how or where or when, but I did. Even more puzzling was how I could have met a man like him and not remember.
“Yeah. Just the two. Front and back.” Harrison cast me a puzzled glance and answered for me. “The back door leads to the rear exit and up the stairway to Jasper’s place.”
Russell turned to Harrison, and I used the moment to try to get myself under control.
“That’s good. That helps. Fewer places to secure.” But as he spoke, he continued to walk around the store, going slowly up and down the aisles of books. “You said he broke in here a few days ago?”
“Yeah. He left a rose.”
I finally found my voice. “We don’t know that was Neal. There was no note. The windows weren’t broken; nothing was wrong with the locks. It had been crazy busy in here the day before. Someone might’ve left it and I didn’t notice.”
Harrison shot me an exasperated grimace. “We’re not going through this again. It was him. We both know it.” He turned back to Russell. “Like I told you on the phone, Neal sent Jasper a postcard a couple of weeks ago. Of Fort Nashborough.”
It was one of the top tourist places in Nashville, and the location of Neal’s and my first date.
Russell interrupted. “He sent it here, to the shop? Or to where you live, Harrison?”
“Here. Lavender Pages.”
“So he definitely knows where Jasper is. He’s not just taking a guess because he saw you on TV.”
“Exactly.” Harrison nodded, and his tone grew angry. “We’d been promised that Jasper would be alerted if Neal got out of jail early. He wasn’t. And of course that postcard was the first we’d heard of it. I called the day he got the postcard, and sure enough. Out on good behavior or some shit.”
Russell paused in his pacing, seemed to be doing some figuring in his head. “He sent a postcard a couple of weeks ago, and then nothing else until the rose?”
“You got it.”
I tried again. “We don’t know that it was from Neal. It really could have been from someone the day before. I think we’re overreacting.” Even as I said the words, I knew they weren’t true. The constant storm of anxiety I’d felt since that postcard was all the confirmation I needed to know it was only a matter of time before I saw Neal.
“It was from him, Jasper. We both know it.” Harrison sounded more apologetic that time.
Russell studied the length of the store again before speaking. “If it was from Neal and he was able to get into your shop without leaving any sign of breaking and entering, then we also have to assume that he could get into where you live.” He pointed upstairs. “He might’ve already done so.”
Though I hadn’t admitted it to Harrison, that thought had already entered my mind. I held it at bay most of the time, except for in the dark of night when I pictured Neal sneaking into my apartment, watching me as I slept.
It had been bad enough after the postcard, but then the flower…. All my protests of having Harrison stay with me since then had been nothing more than show. Which he knew. The same was true for the bodyguard idea. As silly as it made me feel, I figured I’d fall to pieces without it.
It pissed me off more than anything. For more than seven years I’d been free. I hadn’t lived in fear, hadn’t been controlled, hadn’t been dominated. I’d finally reclaimed Jasper Getty. He’d been lost for the nearly five years I was with Neal, and I’d fought hard to get him back. I’d managed to build my dream life, with Harrison’s help and money, and regardless of my insistence that Neal wouldn’t truly hurt me, I knew he had the power to take it all away, one way or another.
Suddenly I realized Harrison and Russell were in the middle of a conversation. I’d been so caught up in my anxiety about Neal, I’d slipped away from them.
There I was doing exactly what I’d done all those years before—disappearing because of that man. I hadn’t even seen him face-to-face yet, and I was reverting back to old shit.
It took me a couple of minutes to fully reengage, which was fine. Harrison and Russell were catching up on mutual friends and acquaintances.
Finally, Harrison turned to me, his gaze searching and intense. Russell was across the room, giving us space, whether intentionally or not I wasn’t sure. “How do you feel? Are you comfortable with Russell being here with you? I’ll stay, Jasper, you know I will. Adrian won’t mind. Neither will I.”
The thought of that pushed away the other spike of anxiety that had risen at the mention of Russell staying with me. “No. Stop that. You have to go. And yes, I’m totally fine.” I looked past Harrison to where Russell inspected the deadbolt. “I really am. He seems more than… capable.” I refocused on Harrison. “Go enjoy your anniversary. You and Adrian need to paint San Francisco red. You deserve it. You both do.”
I had no idea how I’d gotten fortunate enough to have a brother who was genuinely considering postponing his anniversary to stay with me. Although, that wasn’t new. That had always been Harrison’s nature where the two of us were concerned.
“Harrison, I mean it. If you bring it up again, I’m seriously going to get pissed. I agreed to have a bodyguard. You say you trust him. Let that be enough.”
Though he hesitated another few seconds, Harrison finally acquiesced. “Fine. And you’re right. I do trust Russell. Honestly, he’ll keep you safer than I could.” He grabbed my hand and hardened his gaze to the one that said there was no room for argument. “Text me tonight and in the morning. I don’t want to hear about it being my anniversary. I won’t be able to enjoy it unless I know you’re safe. Don’t argue.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Yeah, you being stubborn.” He smirked. “Wonder what that would be like.”
I squeezed his hand before releasing him. “I promise. A text tonight and in the morning. I’ll be safe.”
Satisfied, Harrison said a quick goodbye to Russell, and then he was gone, leaving me alone with my bodyguard.
My bodyguard! Whose life was I living?
“I left all my stuff in the car since I’ll be moving in for a while, but I’ll get it later.” As he crossed the room, Russell gestured upstairs once more. “For now, how about you give me a tour of the rest of the place so I can see what we’re dealing with.”
“Sure. I can do that.” As he drew closer, the tumult of sensations he’d sparked before began to boil again. He was overwhelming, not just in his size and attractiveness, but in the pure intensity that radiated from him. He paused on the other side of the counter, and when he met my gaze, that recognition returned.
I knew this man. How the hell could I know him and not remember?
“Jasper, I’m sure your brother was probably asking the same thing, but it’s important that you feel safe with me.” He leveled his stare, and though it was still intense, there was a gentleness in it, genuine concern. “I know we don’t know each other yet, and you don’t have any reason to trust me, but you will. This isn’t my first time being with someone when they’re dealing with the crazy ex. I promise you, I’ll keep you safe.”
I nodded and looked away, unsure how to respond. Whether it was because of his sincerity or because we’d met before, I believed him. I felt fully and completely safe.
No. I realized that wasn’t right. I didn’t feel safe. From the fire raging in me at his nearness, I felt very much in danger.
Protected. Russell made me feel protected. But not safe. So very far from safe.
When I turned back to him, I caught him studying me. For a moment, I figured it was nothing more than how he’d inspected everything else. Just doing his job. But then those brown eyes flashed up to mine, and there was heat.
It was gone so quickly, shoved behind walls thick enough that they left his warm brown eyes cold and guarded. So quickly I would’ve decided I’d made it up, imagined what I wanted to see. But I hadn’t.That moment, that flash, was all I needed. And I remembered Russell Wallace. Though I’d not known his name. Though it had been a matter of minutes years and years ago. There was now a beard and an intensity he’d lacked before… but I remembered.
The Alcove by Rosalind Abel is part of the ‘Lavender Shores’ series that centers around a very special fictional town in northern California. This story highlights Jasper Getty, who owns the bookstore Lavender Pages. His idyllic life is disrupted by the threat posed by the release of his ex from jail. Russell Wallace has been hired by Jasper’s older brother Harrison to provide protection, but finds himself powerless to resist the man who has haunted his fantasies for the past seven years. Now they just have to survive long enough to decide whether their attraction will last beyond this assignment.
I love visiting this town because it has such a wonderful mixture of folks populating it. A case in point is the very…enthusiastic…book club. I daresay it would be difficult to look some of those folks in the eye after having seen…so much…of them at the meetings, lol. This author excels at providing a mixture of emotional punches such as Russell’s gutwrenching past or the conflict the mild-mannered Jasper has to cope with but those are balanced by the lighter episodes or the asides such as the foray into cozy mysteries or the delicious ‘In Death’ books.
It’s impressive that each of the pairs showcased in the stories are unique and distinctive and each time, I think a particular pair is my favorite…until I meet the next one! I automatically had a rapport with Jasper since any true bibliophile understands that desire to coax non-readers into joining the obsession with finding the next great read, and it took me a little while, but Russell kept growing on me, particularly as he opened up.
This story had a lovely combination of heat and slowly building romance combined with the escalating tension, and it was a fun and quick read. My only quibble is the improbability of the physical exertion given the handicaps after the exciting climax, but I suppose where there’s a will there’s a way!
I look forward to meeting more fascinating Lavender Shores inhabitants.
A copy of this title was provided me for review.