His Brother's Secret

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2008-09-09
  • Publisher: Harlequin
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In college, Shane Reynard lacked the nerve to tell Jenna Murphy how he felt. Now, with all his Hollywood success behind him, lack of nerve is not what holds him back. When his latest TV show lands him in Jenna's hometown, he offers her a place on his writing team. Too bad spending a lot of time with her reminds Shane of every single thing he liked about her.But as much as Shane wants to fall for her, there's a family secret he has to confess first. And once she knows the truth, there's a real chance Jenna will never want to see Shane's face again.


"Cooper wants to marry me, Jenna. Can you believe it?"

Libby's voice came across the phone line sounding close to tears and mystified. But Jenna Murphy didn't doubt for a minute that Lib's dreams were about to come true. Nobody deserved this shot at happiness more than Libby McGannon, Sentinel Pass postmaster and Jenna's best friend for more years than either cared to count.

"Me," Libby repeated, before Jenna could respond. "And he asked before I told him about the baby. I think. Wait. Maybe not… Oh, I don't know. My mind is such a swirl of hormones and guilt and worry. But this feels right. Doesn't it? I said yes, anyway. Oh, I've gotta run. He just went to Mac's to formally ask for my hand—isn't that sweet?—but I can see him coming back. Thanks for listening. I love you. Bye."

Jenna slowly replaced the phone on its hook. The Murphy family's phone was an old-fashioned model. Practically museum quality. Black, because black was cheaper. She was proud that her hand didn't shake, not even a little. Surprises had never been her friend. Even good ones took time to become familiar, and thus…safe.

"That was Libby," she told her mother who'd probably been able to hear bits and pieces of Libby's exuberant monologue from where she sat across the room. "Cooper proposed." She swallowed the metallic taste in her mouth. "And Lib said yes."

"Oh, my," Bess Murphy exclaimed, springing up from the kitchen table where mother and daughter had been eating breakfast. Granola and soy milk. Bess's latest health fad. "I knew it. I knew he was in love with her. I could see it in his eyes last night at the town meeting. Even when he was talking about what was going to happen and how the town would benefit from the television production crew coming, he kept looking at Libby. Like a starving man in a 7-Eleven."

Jenna couldn't help but smile at the metaphor. Cooper Lindstrom, TV star and talent show personality, didn't strike her as the type to frequent quick-stop convenience stores. But Bess was renowned for saying the first thing that came into her head—often at her daughter's expense.

"Have they set a date?"

"She didn't mention one, but I imagine it'll be soon," she said, gathering up both empty bowls to put in the bottom rack of the dishwasher. If she left them for her mother to tend to, they might still be on the table when Jenna returned from work. The completion of household chores was dependent on the intensity of one or all of Bess's ailments: arthritis, diabetes, gastro-intestinal troubles, migraines or any other unexplained medical symptom that might flare up, leaving Bess prone on the couch watchingLifetimeorTurner Classic Movies—or, God forbid,Discovery Health—for the entire day.

Her mother was a hypochondriac, plain and simple. She'd always been overly wrapped up in everyday aches and pains, but since Jenna's father's death two years earlier, Bess had honed the art of fretting about her health to a doctorial level.

Bess refilled her coffee mug and leaned casually against the dated, olive-green Formica countertop. "Why do you say that? They haven't known each other long. And Libby was pretty upset with him when she found out Cooper had been playing her for a fool."

Jenna felt her cheeks heat up. She was one of the few people who knew that Libby was pregnant. She'd just assumed that Libby and Cooper would want to make their relationship official before the baby came, but that wasn't always the case these days. "I don't think Lib will hold that against him, Mom. I've known her a long time, and this is the first time I've ever seen her throw caution to the wind— relationshipwise. That says a lot, don't you think?"

Bess didn't answer right away, but at least she seemed distracted from Jenna's gaff. The break in conversation gave Jenna time to pack a small lunch. Apple. Cheese stick. Cookies—the not-so-healthy brand her mother refused to buy. At times, Jenna felt like a child living with her mommy. But most days she felt old. Very old. Caught in a one-sided generational squeeze caring for her ailing mother without the benefit of a husband and family of her own to balance things out.

By choice, she reminded herself. She'd had a couple of chances to unknot the apron strings over the years, but the men she'd dated had been either too much or not enough like her father. Or, in Brian's case, too much like her mother. She honestly had no expectations of ever finding Mr. Right for more reasons than she cared to list—the most verbal of them was looking deep in thought at the moment.

"I'm not surprised Libby fell for Coop. He's like a big, handsomely groomed golden retriever.You just want to hug and pet him. But that friend he brought with him to the meeting wasn't too shabby, either.At first, I thought he was purebred Doberman…because he was dressed all in black, I suppose. But when I looked closer I could see the depth in his eyes. So, I'm calling him Mr. Bernese Mountain Dog."

Jenna shook her head as she rolled the top of her brown paper sack in a neat crease and stapled it. "I'm sure he'd be thrilled to know you think of him as a big slobbery pooch."

"Not just any old dog, dear. My favorite breed. When I was a young girl, our neighbor had one. His name was Franz. His owner went all the way to Switzerland to buy him. Now there are breeders around the country. I always wanted one, but Clarence claimed an animal that size would eat us out of house and home. He'd never budge— even when I played the Jenna card."

"The what?"

"You know how much your dad doted on you. I told him every little girl should have a dog." She pursed her lips and frowned in a way that made her look older than fifty-one. The frumpy cotton housecoat worn over faded pastel blue pajamas and open-toe scuffs didn't help. Jenna remembered a time when her mother looked glamourous and exotic—even before nine in the morning.

She made a mental note to ask the doctor about clinical depression the next time she accompanied her mother to an appointment.

"Clarence said if you wanted a dog that bad, you could buy one when you were paying the bills."

Jenna smiled. That sounded like her father. It also reminded her of a debate that Libby had mentioned between her brother, Mac, and his daughter, Megan. The widower had yet to give in on the dog front, but Jenna knew it was only a matter of time. Despite his gruff outward demeanor, Mac was a big softy deep down. Jenna had had a crush on him, off and on, for years. He might actually be the only man she'd consider marrying. Unfortunately, he'd never shown the slightest interest in her, except as his sister's friend.

With a sigh she'd meant to keep silent, Jenna stuffed the lunch sack into her backpack and looked around to see if she was forgetting anything. As usual, she'd laid out things the night before. She double-checked her list just to be sure.

"I know I told you this, Mom, but it's important so please don't call me in an hour asking me to run to Rapid with you," she said walking close enough to make eye contact. "The Health Department is supposed to send out an inspector today. He has to check the new pipes before we can cover up the open trenches. We can't afford to lose another day, otherwise I would have been covering for Libby at the post office."

Her mother's still-pretty lips pursed expressively. "Who'd they get to fill in? Not the girl from Hill City, I hope. Last time she worked I wound up with Rufus Miller's mail." When she shook her head, a lock of silvery blond hair escaped from the knot she'd piled on top of her head. "Libby's excellent, of course, but I miss the way things were when Mary was postmistress."

Libby's grandmother had practically run the town for as long as Jenna could remember. Now in retirement, Mary "lived in sin" with her companion, Calvin. "I know, Mom, but Mary's not doing too well right now. Lib said they had a scary episode yesterday. Calvin's hoping it was just a reaction to a new medication, but they don't know for sure."

Mom sighed heavily. "If I ever start showing signs of dementia, I want you to toss a hair dryer in the water while I'm in the tub."

Jenna had been hearing various exit strategies for the past couple of months. "With my luck, you'd catch it, then accuse me of attempted murder."

"I won't. I promise."

"Dementia robs you of short-term memory, Mom. You might forget that the plan was your idea. Libby's grandmother didn't even recognize her yesterday."

Mom lifted the cup to her lips but didn't drink from it. Instead, she frowned and said, "Well, I'm sure that no matter how bad I get, I'll still know when it's time to exit stage left with grace and flair."

Jenna knew better than to argue. They'd had this discussion as recently as a week ago when her mom thought she'd developed COPD—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. No one adored diseases that came with abbreviated names more than Bess Murphy. Her doctor had insisted the symptoms were that of a cold. Possibly a little bronchitis. Mom had been crushed.

Her mother needed to get out more. At the very least, she'd benefit from a hobby.

Jenna and her friends in the Wine, Women and Words book club had discussed the topic at length. They'd even invited Bess to join the group. Mom had declined, claiming her failing eyesight was proof of macular degeneration. For some reason, Bess was convinced that her life was on a slippery slope and she could swoosh off into the ethers to join her deceased husband at any moment. A drama queen on skis.

"I probably won't be home until four or five," Jenna said, heading for the door. "You're in charge of supper."

"You're not going to missJeopardy,are you? Alex Trebek is so cute…in a miniature schnauzer kind of way."

Jenna stopped abruptly and wheeled about. "Mother, what is it with you and dogs? Are you trying to tell me something? Do you want a pet?"

Bess put a hand to her chest as if aghast. "Heavens, no. With all my health problems? What would happen to the poor thing if we bonded, then I died? I wouldn't inflict that kind of anxiety on any living creature. No…no…" She shuffled to the chair she'd vacated earlier and sat. "I…well, if you must know, I've been trying to come up with a character I could play in the new TV show. Say…a quirky older woman who runs a pet adoption service."

Jenna's stomach crimped. She loved her mother. The last thing Jenna wanted was to see her disappointed. She was too emotionally fragile to handle rejection. And Bess's acting experience had been limited to local stages. Surely the people who were turning Libby's story into a television sitcom had a script—and characters—in mind.

"Oh, don't say anything. I can see in your face you think I'm slightly whacko for thinking such a thing, but I've given this a lot of thought, Jenna Mae. Hollywood coming to Sentinel Pass doesn't have to be a bad thing. Not only will the increased traffic and advertising the filming brings in be good for business, but from what Cooper said last night, he and his producer friend are looking for locals to appear in the show."

His tall, dark and handsome producer friend. The Bernese mountain dog. The guy who had set off all kinds of weird bells and whistles the moment he walked into Char's gift shop where Jenna had been working yesterday afternoon. The man who'd disappeared like a ghost a short while later.

Jenna made herself focus on her mother. Dreams were good—to a degree. But the chance of Bess securing even a bit part in some not-yet-written TV show seemed pretty iffy. And Jenna knew who would be left to pick up the pieces when nothing came of all this dog talk. "I'm sure Cooper means well, Mom, but the only way the Mystery Spot is going to benefit is if we're open for business. Have you thought any more about your hours this summer?"

Jenna and Bess had been having this discussion for weeks—no, months. Bess made a limp, noncommittal gesture. "I really don't know if I'm up to it this year, Jenna. The arthritis in my back isn't helped by standing around taking tickets and playing tour guide to a bunch of tourists."

"What arthritis?" Jenna almost asked. So far, not one of her mother's many X-rays had shown even a hint of arthritic deposits.

"Well, you know our budget as well as I do, Mom. If I have to hire someone to take your place, there won't be any money left for the improvements we have slated. Like paving the parking lot."

All vibrancy left her mother's face, making Jenna regret her impatient tone. She could blame her short temper on budget woes, but those were ever present in a small, tourist-oriented business. The real cause was something she didn't want to talk about. Or think about. Her chase dream had returned last night. An old, unwelcomefriendthat had been a constant in her life through most of her twenties. It always started with a pleasant, harmless stroll down a busy street but ended in a heart-racing pursuit by a faceless demon whose heavy breathing reminded her vividly of a memory she thought she'd mastered.

"Sorry," she said, crossing to the chair where her mother sat. She gave her a hug, gently patting her back as she might a child. "I'm just a little tense because it's the middle of June and we're not open. I probably should have hired someone else to fix the broken water line, but I felt so sorry for Walt."

Walt Gruen was the plumbing contractor she'd hired to repair her broken water line. Unfortunately, his college-age daughter had been injured in a car accident a few days after he started the job and he'd had to drop everything to attend to her in Denver. Since he worked alone—for a fee even Jenna could afford—there was no one to pick up the slack.

"I know, dear. But you can't blame yourself. This kind of thing was bound to happen. I warned your father about taking shortcuts, but you know how he was with money." Bess shook her head.

Excerpted from His Brother's Secret by Debra Salonen
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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