Series: Love in Juniper Ridge
Published by: Jelly Bean Press Co
Release Date: 06/24/2016
Contributors: Heather Tullis
Add on Goodreads
Alana loves her job as the reporter for the local newspaper and she's made a life for herself despite big odds. The last thing she expects when she walks into the newspaper office one rainy afternoon is to find her nomadic ex-boyfriend Kyle in the head photographer's chair.
Kyle has never forgotten the girl he left behind when he started working as a freelance photographer. Now he is ready to settle down and reconnect with his family—and to see if there's still a spark between him and Alana. He’s not prepared for the secret she’s been hiding from him all these years.
Also in this series:
“Whoever made up the rhyme about April showers didn’t live in the Rockies.” As she emerged from her car, Alanna Jenkins yanked up the hood of her coat to protect her hair from the swirling snow flakes in the newspaper parking lot. A cold breeze blew down her neck and made her shiver. After a long winter, she always wondered why she had chosen to settle back home in Juniper Ridge instead of near a beach in California. This was no exception.
Others were returning from lunch breaks and Alanna grimaced at her tardiness. Her editor, Doug Casell, would want to know where she’d been all morning. If she hadn’t left her cell phone charger at work the previous evening, she would’ve been able to check in with him.
She greeted the editorial department’s office manager, waved to the ladies in classifieds, and avoided making eye-contact with Bob in advertising.
Alanna slid into her desk and plugged in her cell. With any luck, Doug would remember her morning’s appointment. That was probably too much to hope though.
The phone on her desk rang. “Chronicle, this is Alanna, how can I help you?”
“So you decided to come in?” It was Doug’s voice on the line.
“I’ve been in interviews. I told you where I’d be.”
“Yes, but you didn’t mention you were going to be incommunicado.”
“Sorry. My cell died. It’s charging and I’m writing the story now.” She made clicking noises with her keyboard to solidify the excuse, even though it hadn’t finished booting up yet.
“Good, I’ll expect it by day’s end. I have the new head photographer in here. He’s going to shoot your appointment this afternoon. Would you join us?”
Alana was relieved. The newspaper’s head photographer had quit without notice several weeks earlier and the remaining two had been spread pretty thin. Alanna had learned a thing or two about taking pictures when she was in college, but she was no expert. “Terrific, I’ll be right there.” Alanna adjusted the lapels on her lavender suit jacket, finger-combed her hair to make sure it wasn’t sticking out in odd directions, and tried to look confident as she walked around the cubicles to Doug’s office.
“Alanna, how are you doing today?” Bob greeted her as she rushed around a corner and nearly knocked into him. He wore an expectant smile.
She rushed past before he could try to ask her out. “Great, busy, busy. Doug’s waiting on me.” Alanna waved over her shoulder at the advertising manager and shot toward the glass doors enclosing Doug’s office. Two steps into the room her expression froze and her last step faltered. It had been a long time since she had mistaken someone else for him, but she still had to take a second, long look before she was sure.
What is he doing here? She couldn’t breathe when she looked into his dark eyes, saw the rough angles of his face, and the shock of red hair she’d loved against all sense—red hair had no right to be so sexy on a man. It was probably good she stopped breathing since the words running through her mind were definitely not office appropriate. She had the urge to step back and protect herself, or to drive him off now while there was still time.
Kyle was completely at ease, however, and smiled as if no time at all had passed since they’d seen each other instead of the years and betrayal that spanned between them. “Hey, Ahnna. Long time, no see.”
The jerk. How could his British accent and smooth baritone still do funny things to her stomach?
Doug stepped into the breach and clapped a hand on Kyle’s shoulder. “I understand you know Kyle.” A massive understatement, though he couldn’t possibly know the whole truth. “We’re very lucky he wanted to settle down for a while and was willing to come here. He said he can start this afternoon. Do me a favor and show him around.”
Alanna’s tongue started working again. “What do you mean?” Her gaze shifted from Kyle, where it had been glued, to her boss. “You can’t honestly be saying he’s the new head photog?” Panic rushed through her. He couldn’t stay; how was she supposed to keep her secret if he stayed?
“Surprise.” Kyle’s voice was dry, but he looked amused.
It didn’t make sense. Kyle had been out taking photos in Tanzania or something last time she’d heard—which had been a while, admittedly, as she didn’t make a habit of asking about him. His pictures were sought after by the biggest magazines and he’d even been a major contributor to a couple coffee table books. Why would he choose to move to the middle-of-nowhere? “Why?”
Doug answered for him, “He says he wants to spend more time with family—but you probably know all about that.”
Alanna thought Doug was an amazingly unobservant man for a newspaper editor if he’d missed the tension in the air. “Right. Of course.” She stared Kyle down. He hadn’t said a word about relocating—not one word—and if his father had known he was coming to town, surely he would have told her.
“Great, he’s going with you on your assignment this afternoon. Now, skedaddle. I have some calls to make.” Doug circled behind his desk, “Oh, and Alanna, try to keep your phone charged.”
“I’ll do better.” Alanna’s mind swam as she turned into the hallway. Her head was bursting with images of the last time she’d seen Kyle, of the sadness on his father’s face when Kyle’s name came up—an event which happened with less frequency as time passed. This despite the fruit of his labors always being in prominent display on the coffee table. She blinked and mentally wiped at the memories, pushing them away for now. Focus. ”We’ll do a brief tour and I’ll let you get to work. Things have been a bit out of sorts since Ben quit.” She kept in the half laugh that wanted to escape when she realized Ben quit this job to freelance while Kyle gave up a successful freelancing career to take the position at the newspaper.
“I’d appreciate it.” Kyle followed without pushing her for conversation as she pointed out the different departments. His easy grace and British accent charmed everyone he met, but she had to grind her teeth to keep from saying anything she shouldn’t.
Alanna didn’t meet his eye, didn’t even look his way if she could help it as she made introductions to Carla, editor of the sports department, and Vaughn in composing. She ended at his desk. “Here’s your computer. If you’ve already had your papers processed for the job, you can probably pop over to George’s office to have him set up your account.” She gestured to the IT office two doors down.
“Thanks. I will.” He slid his hands into the pockets of his dress pants and studied her with a familiar warmth in his eyes.
“Good.” She picked up a paperclip from his desk and fiddled with it so she’d have something to look at besides him. “My appointment with the city councilwoman and the hotelier is at three. Meet me at a quarter till.” She turned and strode toward her desk.
“Ahnna.” Kyle’s voice was a soft protest.
She ignored him and continued on, swinging by the bathroom first so she could have a private moment. Alanna barricaded herself in the closest stall and squeezed her eyes shut, releasing the hot tears which had been burning to get out for the past twenty minutes. How could Kyle do this—now of all times? How could he show up as if nothing had changed? Did he expect all would be forgiven?
She couldn’t pretend her worry was for his father and how he would feel to have his wandering son return without notice—Mark would be thrilled, as he should be. All of her concern was for herself—her and Danyella.
Last time Kyle had stayed for more than a week he had ripped Alanna’s heart to shreds. Though he was her stepbrother, they hadn’t been raised together, and since before she was old enough to know what hero worship was, he’d been her idol. Then they’d become friends and her admiration had grown. And finally, after years of loving him and dreaming of an improbable future, they’d become much more than friends.
In the end he’d left and never looked back.
When she felt more in control, she dabbed at her face, took a deep breath, and pushed out of the stall. Thankfully, most of the employees at the newspaper were male so the women’s bathroom was empty. Alanna cleaned herself up and put on a confident, unruffled smile before returning to her desk. She still had a story to write before her interview.
When she arrived at her desk, she turned on her cell phone and found she had several voicemail messages—two from Doug, one from a story contact, and one from her mother. She handled the first three, then sat back to listen to her mom’s message. “Hey, honey. Just letting you know we’re having a family dinner at our place tomorrow, don’t miss it. We…” Her mother seemed to change her mind about what she was going to say because there was a short pause. “We don’t get the whole family together very often. Please come. I hope your day is going smoothly. We’ll eat at six-thirty.”
Alanna jabbed at the delete button and turned off the phone. Her mom hadn’t mentioned Kyle in the message, which must have been deliberate as she’d mentioned the ‘whole family.’ Resentment surfaced, but Alanna pushed it away—it wasn’t a productive emotion and she had too much going on to waste time with it.
Time passed too quickly as Alanna wrote her story for the next day’s paper and then revised it repeatedly. She looked up when someone stopped at her desk and found Kyle picking up her hideous frog candy dish. His lips quirked as he turned it over and studied it. “So you still collect frogs?”
Feeling ridiculously self-conscious, Alanna took it from him. “Please, keep your hands off my things. I’m sorry if its emptiness offends you. I’ll try to remember to buy some more candy this week.”
His face flashed surprise. “You stock it? And would I get a scolding if I cadged a piece while stopping to discuss a shoot with you?” Kyle adjusted the straps to his camera bag and threw her a charming smile, not appearing in the least offended.
“The candy is there to share. The dish is not.” Alanna read through the last two sentences in her article again. She tweaked the last one and changed the system status to ready to edit. She flipped her notebook closed and slipped it into her bag, then stowed her cell phone in her pocket before standing. Her hands trembled and she called herself a hundred kinds of fool for letting him get to her.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Kyle picked up her jacket and held it for her to slide into.
She allowed him to help her with it. Be civil, be professional. It won’t kill you, she told herself, and wondered if it actually could. She made a mental note to do some research.
They got into her car and backed out of the parking lot. “Councilwoman Terry has been working with a hotel developer to bring in a fancy five-star resort with all of the amenities. They plan to open Labor Day weekend. It’s going to bring hundreds of jobs to our area,” she told him.
“Always good in this bad economy, but what’s the story? If the hotel isn’t opened yet, it must be about something else.”
“Councilwoman Terry got the hotel chain to help fund a daycare facility that will be available for the whole community, and they’ll subsidize the use for their employees. The current project manager, Blake Bahlmann, is joining us. They’ve finalized the plans for the daycare with the city and will break ground as soon as the snow stops long enough to start.”
Things went smoothly when they arrived at the site—the snow even stopped falling. Alanna did the interview with the charismatic Bahlmann and councilwoman while Kyle took dozens of pictures. She communicated with Kyle only when she had to, and they were back in the car less than an hour later.
“Are you even going to talk to me?” Kyle asked.
“We’ve been talking.” She tightened her hands on the steering wheel.
“Only about business.”
“What’s there to say? You’ve been gone. Now you’re back. Just stay out of my way, okay?” Alanna pulled into a parking spot near the door and reached for her handle.
“I think there’s a lot to say, actually.”
She shoved the door open and got out of the car, waiting for him to exit and close the door before she locked it with the button on her key fob.
Alanna whirled on him and splashed slush into her shoe and up her leg. She bit back a curse at the icy shock, but her response to him held extra bite. “Don’t call me that. You don’t have the right to call me that anymore.” Again, she felt the tears prick at her eyes and she turned to the newsroom door.
Kyle grabbed her arm and gave it a tug. “Look, we’re going to have to work together for the next year. Can’t you give me a chance to explain?”
“I’m not interested in your excuses.” She pulled her arm out of his grasp and he let her go. Alanna sucked in a couple of breaths and managed to fight her emotions.
When she sat at her desk again, she focused on the computer screen. She had to finish this and then she could go. An hour at most and she could be home with Danyella. But for now she needed to get the story written.