Hey there everyone. A few of you have asked for a little more background on Jake’s story. It’s All That I Want, Book 6 in the Queensbay series and it’s just come out.
Jake Owen is a character who keeps popping up in just about all of the books in the series. We first meet him in Dinner for Two when we find out he ditched Darby at the prom to “hang out” with her rival Colleen. Darby and Jake aren’t meant to be, and though he shows up throughout the other books in the story – lending a handy, helping hand – he doesn’t get much of a spotlight on him until Book 4 – Chasing a Chance where he shows up in the “best friend role.”
Alas, he has to wait even longer. It’s not until Book 6 that he gets his chance at love.
After ten long years, Colleen McShane – yes – the girl he ran off with at prom – returns to town. Jake’s never forgotten here and he thinks it’s time he gets a second chance.
While he’s trying to woo Colleen, Jake, a lover of old buildings, wants to restore The Queensbay Showhouse. It’s a decrepit hulk of a building perched up high on a bluff along Queensbay harbor. You can see a picture that serves as an inspiration for the building above.
Colleen grew up in Quensbay but left right after high school graduation to go to college. She developed a love of antiques and bar tending and led a fast paced, jet setting lifestyle until she wound up in Paris as an interior decorator.
She’s returned to Queensbay and decides to open up La Belle Vie,a Parisian inspired boutique. Below are some of my “inspiration” pictures.
You can read Chapter 1 of All That I Want right below. If you need to catch up on your other Queensbay books, here’s a list
Colleen McShane pulled the tap and let the Guinness pour slowly into the glass, watching as the dark liquid crept to the top. Not too fast, not too slow, but just right, and she smiled in satisfaction as just the thinnest layer of foam settled at the top. She maneuvered the glass underneath the tap, and her smile grew even wider. She’d managed to draw the shamrock symbol in the layer of foam and, as she set the glass down in front of her customer, she was rewarded with a cheery “thanks” and the push of a bill across the polished expanse of the bar.
She moved gracefully down the length of the high counter, checking on her patrons, noticing when one needed another round and when others wanted to be left alone. Wednesday night at Quent’s Pub, one of Queensbay’s two drinking establishments, was in full swing, and for a small town in New England before the start of the tourist season, things were hopping.
She didn’t usually work Wednesday nights, but Quentin Tate, the owner, had called Colleen and begged a favor from her, mentioning something about a family emergency, which was odd because as far as she knew, Quent didn’t seem to have a family. He was an enigma, who, according to local gossip, had turned up in Queensbay a few years ago, started working the bar at the Ship’s Inn, and when Sully, the owner of the Ship’s Inn, had wanted to retire, had bought him out with a suitcase full of cash.
Quent had surprised everyone and completed a renovation that had transformed the former dive bar into an upscale sports pub, complete with big screen TVs, a decent bar food menu, and a décor that was homage to all things English, the island from where Quent claimed to hail.
Colleen, having spent a decent amount of time there, was pretty sure that Quent’s accent was London by way of Brooklyn. But she enjoyed his cheery “luvs” and colorful slang as much as the next person and the patrons ate it up. In keeping with the British theme, Wednesday night was New Wave night, and the classics were playing: U2, The Cure, Oasis, and Coldplay. Colleen was in charge of the playlist, and she was getting all of her favorites in.
She surveyed the landscape, wiped an imaginary water spot off the bar, and smiled. She had called in her own favor from Mrs. Halifax to watch Adele, since her mom was working the night shift at the hospital, but the tips were definitely worth it. Colleen poured the remains of a drink down the drain and set the empty glass into the sink. She needed to get a whole stack of glasses loaded into the dishwasher, but the tap on the keg of light beer was starting to act up. Nothing she couldn’t handle, but without backup, she didn’t want to be fiddling around with things while customers went thirsty.
“Are you new here?” asked a woman. Her tone was curious, friendly. She’d been watching Colleen for a while, with a cool, appraising stare, but this was the first question she had asked. Her accent was from well south of the Mason–Dixon Line, a slow, syrupy drawl unlike the cool, clipped tones of New England.
“Sort of,” Colleen said. “I used to work at the Osprey Arms but heard there was an opening here. Another?” The story rolled off her tongue easily enough; though it stretched the truth, it would do for now.
The woman nodded, and Colleen pulled out the bottle of nice French white that the woman had asked for specifically. Quent had told her it was only for special customers.
“Quent around?” the woman asked, casually enough, but Colleen detected a tone of interest in her voice. The woman had glossy dark hair that hung in waves below her shoulders and wore a dress that Colleen envied, which would have been more at home at an elegant restaurant than a townie bar in Queensbay.
“Family emergency. Least that’s what he told me.”
“Really?” the woman said, one dark eyebrow curling up in surprise.
Colleen knew the other woman was thinking the same thing she had. Quent didn’t seem like he had any family who would have called him to an emergency. Colleen threw her a smile in sisterly agreement as she wrestled with the finicky tap. It took a while, but she finally got a decent beer poured and sent it down to the middle-aged man at the other end of the bar. He was not so discretely eyeing the woman chatting with Colleen. Colleen wiped her hands and looked a little more closely. Beautiful, yes, she thought of her conversation partner, but maybe not as young as Colleen had first thought. Not that she was judging; hell, she’d be pleased as punch to look that good at any age.
“By the way, I’m Eleanor DeWitt, but my friends call me Ellie,” she said. “As you can tell, I’m not exactly from around here. After my husband died, I came to Queensbay to be closer to my son. He runs a car dealership in town.”
Ellie held out a beautifully manicured hand, and Colleen took it, shaking it lightly.
“Nice to meet you, Ellie, I’m Colleen McShane. Born and bred in Queensbay.”
“You don’t look it,” Ellie said, “and sugar, I mean that as compliment. You’re not quite as preppy as the rest of the locals, with their Vera Bradley and L.L. Bean, if you know what I mean. I’m pretty sure the top you’re wearing wasn’t bought within five hundred miles of here.”
Colleen laughed at the assessment. “I just moved back from Paris. I came back to spend more time with my mother.” Another half-truth, but Ellie was having none of it.
“Well, if that isn’t a way to say that there was a man involved, then I don’t know what is.”
Colleen shrugged and said, “I didn’t think it was that obvious.”
“Oh, darling, there’s always a man, in my experience.”
Colleen fell silent. She’d never meant to have her life defined by a man. After her father had walked out, she’d vowed never to rearrange her life for any man. But, looking back now, that was exactly what she’d done. No more, however. She had moved back home to start over. It wasn’t the first time she’d reinvented herself, but this time she was taking her time with it.
“Don’t worry. I can see you don’t want to talk about it,” Ellie said, with a wave of her hand. “Well, no worries, you can tell Ellie when you’re ready. Anyway, here’s to starting over.”
Ellie raised her glass and Colleen lifted the cup of club soda she kept handy behind the bar, and they toasted. Colleen smiled, feeling the tension she’d been carrying around ease just a bit. The trouble with coming back home was that it felt like all eyes were on her, to see if she was just like she had been before she had left. Ellie, new to town, wouldn’t remember the old Colleen, which felt like a good thing.
Colleen worked while she chatted with Ellie. Colleen had a feeling that Ellie was keeping an eye out for Quent, but she was friendly enough and nicer to talk to than the guy at the end of the bar, who had parked himself there just as happy hour had begun and hadn’t moved since. She called him Chino Charlie, since she was fond of alliteration. He had told her to call him Charlie when he sat down and plunked a hundred-dollar bill on the bar, as if that would buy him her full attention.
She had studied him, sizing him up. He wore a pair of tailored chinos, expensive loafers without socks, and an aggressively blue and white striped dress shirt, wide open at the neck with diamond-studded cufflinks at the wrists and an obscenely expensive watch. He was just past middle age and had been getting friendlier as his alcohol intake began to affect him. First it had been a bourbon on the rocks, and then he had switched to beer, but it was obvious he was feeling a little loose. Usually when Quent was working, he would handle guys like that. He ran a tight ship, and customers weren’t supposed to be ogling the servers. At least that was what he’d told her.
She had snorted at that and responded that she’d been tending bar since she was eighteen and knew a thing or two about handling a drunk. Still, she usually had backup, but tonight, until Quent got in, it was only skeleton crew in the kitchen, none of whom looked tough enough to throw this guy out. Still, she had a few tricks up her sleeve, and she was prepared to use them.
“You’re not the usual bartender, are you?” Chino Charlie asked, trying to be friendly. She’d already heard about his car, and his boat, mostly because he’d kept dropping hints about the size of its cabin. She knew that he had a house on the water in the next town over, an apartment in the city, and a share in a private jet. She didn’t believe half of it but nodded and tried to be polite but distant. There were a set of keys in front of him, and Colleen was already planning on the best way to cut him off, swipe his keys, and find him a cab ride home.
Quent had warned her not to try that trick on her own. That, he had told her, required sturdy backup of the male kind. Colleen sighed. She was quite capable of taking care of herself, and Chino Charlie, with his spare tire and flushed face, didn’t seem like he’d be too hard to handle. The music switched over to the B-52s’ “Rock Lobster.” Technically, they weren’t British at all, but she had a soft spot for them and their upbeat, happy style. She loved how the mood of the bar shifted, right along to the music.
One of a group of women down at the end of the bar waved her down, enthusiasm radiating from her as she sang along to the lyrics. Colleen judged it was girls’ night, or book club night or, maybe it was just “it’s Wednesday night and the week was half over” night. The group was drinking Cosmopolitans, more than was probably good for them. The one who had been corralled into being the designated driver dutifully sipped a sparkling water as the level of giggling rose up around her. Colleen was sure that most of them would regret the Cosmos tomorrow morning, but they were appreciating the fun they were having tonight.
They ordered another round, and as Colleen broke the shaker in half and poured two perfect drinks into the wide-lipped martini glasses, she told the water sipper, “Next time you come in, and you’re not the driver, first drink is on the house.”
“Thanks,” the woman said and gave Colleen a smile, slightly less morose at the thought of her good deed paying off.
Colleen twirled away, feeling good about the energy. She hadn’t had a drink herself tonight, but she loved the festive atmosphere. It was like planning and throwing a really great party, except here she was getting paid. She moved along with the beat of the music, glad she had on her favorite jeans, the pair she had painstakingly tracked down in a beloved Parisian boutique, as well as a shimmery sleeveless top she had picked up at Wal-Mart. Ellie had been only half right as to the origin of her clothes. But no one needed to know, and Colleen loved the mix of the high and low.
Chino Charlie was getting to the bottom of his beer and doing his best to catch her eye, but she danced away and pretended to be busy checking the level of alcohol in some of the bottles. The door opened, and Colleen’s whole body registered that someone new had entered the pub. An instant later, she knew who it was: Jake Owen.
Their eyes met across the long expanse of the room. Just then the audio slipped, and Bono’s haunting, sexy voice seemed to linger in the air, catching them in a web of old history, broken trust, and too much attraction. Then, just as suddenly, everything righted itself and the music went on, and the babble of the customers filled the air as if no one else had noticed what had just happened. And Colleen supposed they hadn’t.
I should do the same thing, she thought, as she turned her back to him, telling herself that it was no big deal that Jake Owen had walked into her bar. She used the mirror behind the bar to her advantage and watched Jake as he squared his shoulders and started to wade his way through the crowd toward her.
He walked easily enough, his confidence evident as he traversed the length of the room. People called out his name, slapped him on the back, and shook his hand. He was the big man around town and had been since he’d been the star of the high school football team, so good some had thought he’d make it to the NFL. That hadn’t happened, of course, those kinds of things almost never did, but he still took the recognition as his due, moving through the crowd, slowly, deliberately, giving everyone a little bit of time.
In one part of her mind, the one that was a healthy, red-blooded, living breathing woman, with a pulse and eyes in her head, she registered his broad shoulders and the way his body tapered to his trim waist and then to his long legs. She admired the way that the sleeves of his shirt stretched tightly over his muscled arms. His hair was short, shorter than the last time she had seen him. He must have gotten a haircut. She liked it longer, she decided, even as his dark blue eyes, under the strong slash of brows, caught hers in the mirror.
She looked away first, focusing on a getting a martini ready and finding what she needed to whip up another batch of Cosmos. Chino Charlie was done with his drink and signaling to her for another, but she continued to ignore him and everyone else until Jake was finally at the bar and standing in front of her. Looking up, Colleen carefully added three olives to the martini that Alfie, one of her favorite customers, liked dirty.
Jake stood, fingering the collar of his dark blue polo shirt, which was embroidered with the name of his construction company.
“How are you?” he asked.
She said nothing as she put the drink on a napkin and placed it in front of Alfie.
“Working,” she replied. “Are you drinking or standing?”
A slow, half-smile crept over his face, and he said, “I think I’ll stay and have a drink.” He took her up on her challenge and planted himself right at the bar.
She scowled. She had meant to frighten him off, by being curt with him, knowing it was better for them both. She’d been doing that for the past few months she’d been in town, doing everything she could to let Jake Owen know to stay away. She’d even taken to crossing the street when she saw him, so they wouldn’t have to talk and, on those rare occasions when they did cross paths, she’d been downright rude. He should know without a question that she was trying to avoid him.
But here he was, like he’d known just where to track her down.
“Small town, only a couple places to drink,” he said. “Guess you’re stuck seeing me around, right, Colleen?” he said with a smile that was aimed only at her.
And it was the smile that let her know. Or rather the way the smile made her feel. She was in trouble.
“Oh, sugar, you’re always around,” Ellie chimed in with a laugh.
“You two know each other?” Colleen looked between them, trying to not to let her thoughts show. She knew that Jake couldn’t have stayed alone all of these years, but Ellie was too old for Jake – wasn’t she?
“We’re neighbors, in the apartments in the Annex over at that Marina,” Ellie said, her tone mild, as if she had guessed what Colleen was thinking.
Colleen nodded. Okay, that explained it. No need to get worried. Not that she was, in any case. She was going to make sure that there was nothing between Jake Owen and her, no matter how many times he kept showing up in front of her.
“Is this a better gig than the Osprey Arms?” Jake asked casually, mentioning the other place she’d worked until recently.
“Sure. Better tips, boss is nicer,” she said and flicked a towel over another invisible spot. She’d switched jobs for a couple of reasons, none of them having to do with the size of the tips. Mostly it was because Jake was too frequent a customer at the Osprey Arms.
“Going to take up space or order something?” she said, turning her back on him.
“A beer,” he said, putting a fifty-dollar bill on the table.
“It’s my job,” Colleen said as she poured the amber liquid into an icy glass. She didn’t want him to think that it was anything special. She remembered people more by what they drank than by their names, another bartending trick. Have a customer’s drink ready as they walked in, and they tipped well. Simple math, good business.
She set it in front of him and leaned on the counter, watching as he took his first sip.
“Did you come here to find me or avoid me?” she asked before she could stop herself.
He smiled at her, and her stomach did a little flip.
“Let’s just say I knew exactly where you’d be.”
She pulled back slowly, but he kept looking at her, his eyes level with hers, and she felt a slow flush creep up her skin. It was a compliment, sly and sweet, and it had her completely undone.
She had always thought of Jake Owen as the boy the next door, the hometown boy that made good. He’d never really left Queensbay but hadn’t let that slow him down. He owned his own construction business. Word was that he was invested in more than one commercial property around town, and he drove a shiny new truck. Colleen knew he had a sweet little fishing boat parked down at the marina. Fortune had smiled on him, and, goddammit, people liked him for, well, being himself with them. People liked Jake Owen because he was a good guy, which meant that he was so not her type.
So she pulled back, gave him the briefest of smiles, and told herself to stop flirting with him because he was safe. It wasn’t nice to let him think there could be something between them. Chino Charlie was calling to her, his finger swirling around his empty glass. She swung a towel over her shoulder and decided that it was time to deal with him. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jake shoot Charlie an angry look, but he said nothing.
“How about a cup of coffee?” she offered, using the towel to hold her hands steady.
“I don’t want coffee. How about you pour me another beer, honey?” Chino Charlie said, his words slightly slurred; his eyes were unfocused, and his face flushed. She thought he would have been handsome, except for the extra weight he carried around his face, which was beginning to shape into jowls, probably from too many nights like these.
“Sorry, I think you’ve had enough.” She kept her voice cheerful as if she had just agreed to pour him another.
“I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough,” he said and slammed his hands flat on the bar top. The sound was loud and sudden, and Colleen winced despite wanting to appear tough. He was loud enough that the other patrons noticed, and the bar quieted just a fraction, so the upbeat tune from The Police suddenly became very clear. She noticed that Jake had tensed, leaning in toward them. She didn’t need a white knight to get involved with this. Her job, her mess to clean up.
So she held firm. If it got ugly, she’d have to call for backup, but in the meantime she wanted to try and avoid a scene. A scene was bad for business.
“Sorry, sir, I think the Guinness tap might be out. If you can wait a moment while they change it out, I’ll get you a water.”
“I’ll have a shot of bourbon,” he said, his voice low and menacing.
She nodded as if considering it, meanwhile thinking that he wasn’t going to back down and gracefully accept a cup of coffee.
So it was time to play tough. She was aware that Jake was off his bar seat and moving in. She didn’t need his chivalry. She’d been taking care of herself for a long time, and she wasn’t about to stop now.
She leaned over the bar, looked Chino Charlie straight in the eye and said, “Last thing you need is more bourbon.”
“If you won’t serve me, I’m sure I can find someone else in this town who will,” he said and made as if to pick up his keys.
Colleen was faster and managed to swipe them just out of his reach. She jumped back in success and to make sure there was a decent distance between her and him. His face darkened and she took a deep breath, ready to weather the storm.
“Give them back,” he yelled.
He leaned in and planted both hands on the bar, getting right in her face. She swallowed and held her ground. Now she was rethinking her decision about not calling for backup. Even the skinny dishwasher would be something.
“Do you know who I am? I’ll get you fired if you don’t give me those keys. Give them to me now.”
They were at a stalemate, but Colleen was ready, had a plan worked out, and was ready to implement it.
“Hey mister, I think the lady here told you to back off.” Jake Owen’s voice was calm but loud enough to be heard above the beat of the music.
She blew out her breath, not sure with whom she was more annoyed: Jake and his assumption that she needed help or Chino Charlie and his belligerent attitude.
“I don’t need your help,” she hissed at Jake and shot him a look for good measure, one that had withered many a man who had stood in her way, but he held his ground, his eyes focused on the drunk Chino Charlie who was standing, albeit with a bit of sway, as if the floor itself was moving.
She turned her attention back to Chino Charlie and smiled. It was the smile that Olivier had told her had won his heart. It was the smile she thought she would always wear, a lifetime ago, back in France, when the days had been sunny, and her life had seemed dreamy. It stopped the drunk, and he looked at her, desperately trying to focus on her. She was pretty sure he was seeing doubles of her.
“Look, sailor,” she said, her voice pitched low. He grunted, pleased.
She leaned in. “You don’t want to go out there now. It’s dark, and I hear there’s a storm heading in.”
“My boat’s berthed at the marina. I just have to get there. Maybe you can help me find my way?” he said. Colleen kept smiling. She wasn’t going to walk him to the marina and she wasn’t going to give him his keys.
“How about this. I’ll call a cab and the front desk at the hotel at the marina. You go back to your boat, get a good night’s sleep, and I’ll make sure breakfast is on the house tomorrow. Chef there makes a great Eggs Benedict. You can pick up the paper and your keys then. What do you say?”
The man straightened up and seemed to realize that he was being offered a lifeline. Colleen was aware that most of the bar was watching this little scene, including Jake, who looked like he wanted to hit someone. Chino Charlie sensed that public opinion was not on his side. Or maybe it was the sheer bulk of Jake standing near him that had him rethinking his attitude. At last, he smiled, as gamely as he could, and asked, “Are you going to be serving me the coffee?”
“Guess you’ll just have to stick around and see.” She added a wink for good measure, and the jerk took it as a sign of goodwill and nodded.
The tension eased out of the room; already, Colleen could feel the vibe picking up, as the rest of the patrons turned their attention back to themselves and their own good time. She kept the smile up, but clenched her hands together so that no one could see them shaking.
She called back to the kitchen, got one of the dish washers, whose cousin drove a cab, to call it in and had him walk the guy out into the fresh air and the bench conveniently located just outside for such situations. Drama handled, Colleen was about to go back to work when she felt his stare on her. Jake was looking at her hands, a slow deliberate look, then he met her eyes. She unclenched her hands and placed them on the bar, willing them to be steady. The confrontation had left her a little shaken, the surge of adrenaline coursing through her, wearing itself out. Jake stood there, his own arms crossed over his chest, his eyes dark with suppressed emotion.
“What?” she demanded.
“Nothing,” he said, the word conveying that it was anything but.
“Fine,” she said with a shrug. “Are you going to keep drinking, or just stand there and take up a paying customer’s spot?”
Colleen turned away and sighed as she pulled down the tap, letting the beer run down the side of the cold glass, annoyed at how the situation had gotten out of hand. She’d misjudged how belligerent Chino Charlie would get. Still, she had taken care of the situation, and she hadn’t needed any help, not really. She watched Jake. He had taken a seat at the bar, near Ellie. He was slowly sipping his beer, watching her, his jaw tight with tension.
He looked angry. At her. She didn’t know why. She hadn’t done anything. If anything, she should be angry with him for butting into the situation.
“Taste better than warm beer from the can?” she asked and was rewarded with a smile and laugh. She meant it as a jab, but he returned it with a flash of humor.
“One of the pleasures of being a grown man. I can now drink beer in a glass. In public.”
She nodded and started to slip away, suddenly needing to be away from the intense way he looked at her. Like he cared about her.
“You okay?” he asked, his voice low, laced with concern. It confirmed her worst suspicions.
“Why?” she said sharply, as she stopped.
“The guy was getting in your face, and he didn’t seem like a nice guy.”
“Happens,” she said. “It’s part of the job. I was going to offer him a cab home, make him come back for the keys in the morning no matter what. I was handling it.”
“So you didn’t need any help?”
“Didn’t need any help,” she confirmed as she wiped down the bar between them.
“Had it under control?”
“Totally under control.”
Jake shook his head and kept looking at her, making her think that he was seeing too much of her.
“Collen McShane, you always did have to be the smartest one in the room,” he finally said.
It was her turn to snort with laughter, the tension partially broken.
“It was high school in this hick town. The standards weren’t that high,” she said.
“And here we are, both back in the same hick town.”
“Guess that means I’m still the smartest one in the room.”
“And, I guess that just makes me the dumb quarterback looking for a good time.”
“Am I going to have to kick you out, too?” she said and meant it as a joke.
He had said his line with practiced good humor, and she had no doubt that if she told Jake Owen to bug off, really bug off, he would. But just for a moment she was enjoying it, the little flash of flirting, even if she knew it could go nowhere. He smiled at her and, for just a moment, she felt her heart skip a beat before it settled down with a flutter. Traitorous hormones, she thought. Jake Owen was too damn easy on the eyes, always had been, even if he wasn’t her type. Nope, she liked her guys more refined, less muscly, less like the buff, tanned, former quarterback sitting here in front of her. Of course she did, she told herself.
“Not tonight,” he said.
She didn’t have to say anything more because someone called for her, and she was back in the moment, working, doing what she did best.
He watched her the rest of the night, knowing she knew that he was watching her. Earlier, he’d been evasive in his answer to her. He had come to Quent’s because he knew she would be working there. He’d heard from his bookkeeper, who’d heard it from the sous chef at the Osprey Arms that Colleen had been asked to leave her employ there because the owner’s wife wasn’t all that fond of her.
Since Jake felt partially responsible for that particular situation, he’d swung by Quent’s Pub and found that Quent could use a little help behind the bar. A tip to his bookkeeper, who had tipped off the sous chef, who had tipped off the owner, Sean, and Colleen had found herself smoothly out of one job and into the next. So yeah, he had come in here to check on her and see how she was doing. Word on the village streets was that she was a hit, wresting away control of the playlist from Quent and bringing a much-needed bit of feminine softness to Quent’s old-school but gruff style of hospitality.
He’d deny any part in it, of course, but he couldn’t say he minded watching her tend the bar. She was elusive to track down, but whenever they were together, tensions ran high, usually in a simmering, slightly sexy kind of way. At least they did for him. For her part, she seemed content to ignore him, and it was driving him crazy.
Seeing her in Quent’s, in her quicksilver top, with her smile and her whirlwind command of the place had been like a jolt to his system. Sure, he’d seen her around town, but she usually crossed the street when she saw him coming, and she’d always been more clothed. She favored dresses that were flowing rather than clinging and coats and rubber boots or ballet flats, scarves, and sunglasses. Very Parisian, Jake imagined, thinking that he could sketch a picture of her sitting at café table in front of the Eiffel Tour and title it “Parisian at Rest.”
So it was a surprise, a nice one, to really see her, to see her wearing jeans that hugged her curves and a shirt that showed off her toned arms, a deep V of creamy flesh around her neck, and hair that flowed over her shoulders in a tumble of golden brown waves. And her smile. He hadn’t seen that in a long time. Of course, it wasn’t directed at him. At everyone but him and, by the size of the tips he saw left on the bar, Colleen McShane was working her magic. He settled into a spot where he could keep an eye on her, while talking to some guys he knew about baseball, fishing, and the usual. He listened mostly, so that he could focus on her.
He would look up, every once in a while, pulled out of a heated discussion about local politics or the game or plain old gossip and look at her. And half the time he was surprised to find that she was looking right back at him. Not staring at him, and certainly not so much that she didn’t move with the grace of a conductor behind the bar, filling drinks, cleaning old ones, making guys laugh and getting women to spill their guts to her. But nope, they were now, unofficially, he thought, keeping an eye on each other.
Jake watched closely, looking for anyone else in the mood to hassle her, but unfortunately no further need for him to get between Colleen and some other guy with too much to drink occurred. He stayed the rest of the night, until last call when she made it clear he needed to get out. He wanted to offer to help, but she didn’t need it. She was orderly, easy, and confident, but there was no mistaking she was tired all the same. He saw her shoulders sag when she thought no one was looking. She arched her back and dug a fist into the small of it, as if it hurt.
Not for the first time in the last few months, he wondered just what Colleen McShane was doing back in Queensbay, lifting trays of glasses and pouring drinks. Last he had heard, she was living in Paris, working as an interior decorator, shacked up with a count or duke or whatever they had over there. Whispers had abounded of a flat on the Left Bank and a chateau in Provence. Queensbay, as charming as it was, was a far cry from that kind of life. Paris was the type of place she had always wanted to be, something she had confessed a long time ago to him in one of their brief moments together. And he had never doubted she would get what she wanted.
But now she was here, slinging drinks and doing her best not to notice him noticing her. His attention made her mad, he could tell. Was she mad because she hated his guts that much, or was she mad because she didn’t hate him enough? He would just have to find out because he couldn’t stop thinking about her.
Now, after last call, he was waiting outside on the small bench. The village was quiet, mostly dark, though the marina lights still shone bright, lighting up the sky near the harbor with a softly glowing aura. They wouldn’t dim until later, but the whole village had a sleepy, settled air. He took a deep breath, clearing out the smell of the bar with the tang of sea air, seaweed, and salt. It was a bracing, distinctive scent, and you either loved it or hated it. He loved it.
“Need a ride home?” he asked when she finally stepped out, a jacket covering her bare arms. Good thing, as the air was chilly. Clouds piled in, scudding across the half moon. Rain by morning, he expected, which was good, as he was told the flowers needed it.
“I can walk,” she said, a stubborn tilt to her chin.
“It’s a bit of a hike,” he said, knowing she was living at her old place, halfway up the hill toward the back of town, the side without the water view, the side that gentrification hadn’t quite hit.
“I’m used to it.”
She said it like that was the end of it. The drunk was safely tucked into his boat at the marina. Jake had made sure of that with a few quick texts to the harbormaster, but still, he had no intention of letting her walk home alone. She started off, and there was nothing to do but follow her.
“I don’t think so,” she said, stopping and turning around suddenly enough so that he found the palm of her hand on his chest. She snatched it back as if she hadn’t meant to do that. She didn’t have a ring on, he had never seen one, and that gave him hope. Maybe the count could be counted out of the picture.
“You shouldn’t be walking alone,” he said as reasonably as he could.
“It’s Queensbay,” she said, as if that should have explained everything, and normally it would, but not tonight.
He shook his head. “You saw what happened in there. I’m not letting you walk home when there’s a creep like that around.”
“That one is passed out on his boat and is going to wake up tomorrow with a headache and bad case of embarrassment.”
He shook his head again and said, “You don’t know that he’s the only one.”
“You are not walking me home,” she said and turned. Her stride was quick but he caught up.
“Seriously, I’ll call the police,” she warned.
“Officer Sisson’s a friend of mine. I am sure he will agree that having someone walk you home is the safest thing.”
“You’re not walking me home,” she repeated, picking up her speed.
She stopped after a few paces and turned half way, looking at him.
“What are you doing?”
“Not walking you home,” he answered and also stopped, so that a gap remained between them. He could play this game too.
“You’re following me?”
“Yup. Not walking you home. Can’t stop me from following you to make sure you get home safely.”
“Who’s the creep now?”
“You don’t have anything to worry about with me. I’m not a creep.”
She looked at him, as if deciding something, then shook her head. “Just until my street, then you can go.”
He pretended to think about it for a moment, before agreeing.
He kept his pace just off hers, deliberately hanging back just a little. He decided that this little was a little game and he was starting to enjoy it. Sure, he had chased a few women in his time, but this was different. Colleen seemed perfectly comfortable ignoring him, as if she weren’t aware of him at all. Time to remind her that he wasn’t going anywhere. Just when he had made the decision to stop mooning over her and start pursuing her, he couldn’t say. Sometime between getting her a new job and seeing her at it. Colleen McShane was not an easy woman to forget, and Jake thought that this was his chance to see if he wasn’t ready to get over her.
“Lovely night back here. How is it up there?” he called to her. The clouds were coming in faster and he wondered if the rain would come sooner than he’d thought.
“Shhh, you’ll wake the whole town,” she said, without even looking over her shoulder.
He looked around. No one would ever accuse Queensbay of being the kind of place that never slept. They were almost past the part of town that had most of the shops, and they were all closed and dark. In half a block, they would be in a residential area, the streets of houses gradually rising up the bluffs. Along the hills that hugged the harbor was the section of town known as The Heights. Solid, large Victorians and Craftsman houses sat, interspersed with some more modern homes, all covered with windows to take advantage of the water views.
Colleen’s house was in a different section, the one that was straight behind the commercial strip, a cluster of smaller homes, from genuine saltboxes and Colonials to more recently built Cape Cods, all on postage-stamp-size lots. In this part of town, a person had better like their neighbors. The boom in fortunes that had hit the rest of Queensbay had passed this part of town over. The old iron and gas street lamps that were a distinctive feature of the commercial section of the village, gave way to more utilitarian fiberglass and fluorescent lights that pooled in dingy yellow circles, illuminating the tired-looking cars lining the streets.
“We’re the only ones up,” he pointed out.
“These people have to get up early. You know, the bus drivers, the construction workers, the fishermen, the worker bees.”
He caught up to her, until he was just behind her.
She turned. Her blue eyes were dark, searching. Once, a long time ago, she had been a bright, sun-drenched blonde, but her hair had darkened to a richer brunette. There was no smile on her face.
“This is my street. You don’t have to come any farther.”
He nodded. He knew that her house was about halfway down the block, a late Queen Anne Victoria, on the small side, but with some nice detailing. He also knew that it needed a paint job, or at least it had the last time he had driven past. He tended to notice these things, and the details stuck with him. In fact, he knew that the house next to hers had gotten a new roof last year, and that the one three doors down needed one.
“I don’t mind going farther,” he told her.
“I can still call the police and tell them you followed me home.”
He shrugged and held up his hands. “Fine, have it your way.”
Her eyes narrowed, and her lips twitched as if she wanted to say something. Instead, she shook her head gently, her expression growing almost sad. He wanted to ask her what was wrong, but she just turned, hiking her bag higher on one shoulder and took off down the street. It wasn’t quite a run, but it was quick enough that she was to her house and up the steps before he could say anything more. He stood there, for a moment, in the light spilling out from the street lamp. Somewhere, down the road, a dog barked, and the wind rustled through the trees. He felt the rain drop, just as he heard the first splat of water, big fat drops, against the pavement. He cursed, wishing he had brought a jacket or maybe an umbrella, then turned and walked quickly back toward town and his apartment.
Read the rest now – All That I Want – Book 6 – Jake & Colleen