***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2016
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE
Mr. Darcy is revealed
There was a naked man on Casey’s back porch. She would have called the police or, at the very least, screamed if he hadn’t been so damned beautiful.
Instead, without so much as a blink, she fumbled for the electric kettle and poured boiling water over the loose tea leaves in the silver strainer. Quite a bit of water missed the mug, went onto the granite countertop, and ran down to the tile floor, but she didn’t notice.
It was so early that it wasn’t yet daylight, and she hadn’t bothered to turn on the kitchen lights. But then he’d turned on the porch lights, and in the misty morning, as she looked through the screen door, it was almost as though he were on a stage.
He’d dropped his T-shirt and sweatpants on the stone path, then, totally nude and facing Casey, he walked up the three steps, his full male glory in view. He came straight toward her, as though he meant to enter the house.
Casey had just woken up, and when she first saw him, she thought she was still asleep and having the best dream of her life. Not only was his body beautiful, but so was his face. Hair, eyes, beard stubble, truly luscious lips. His skin was a dark golden color all over, and he had long, sleek muscles. His hair was long, down his neck, and in the overhead light it was so black that it seemed to glisten almost blue.
When he got to the porch, he didn’t open the screen door and come inside. Instead, he turned so she had a glorious view of his side.
Lord! Pecs. Abs. The curve of his backside, thighs like an Olympic skater’s.
Casey managed to blink a few times. Surely she was asleep. Surely he couldn’t be real.
He seemed to be doing something to the wall, and seconds later it started raining. That made sense. The deity who controlled the heavens should look like this man.
But, no, it was an outdoor shower that seemed to be attached to her little guesthouse. She hadn’t noticed that it was there—for the few months she’d been in town, it had been winter. But yesterday had been so warm that she’d opened every door and window to let out the heat of her cooking. When she at last went to bed, the kitchen had been so hot that she’d just hooked the screen door and left the room open to the breezes.
She picked up her mug of tea and sipped it while she watched him lather himself with soap.
There was a tall stool near her, and without taking her eyes off him, she felt for it and sat down. As he ran his hands over his body, she was even more sure that she was dreaming. And she was just as sure that if she took her eyes off him she’d wake up.
She watched him soap his legs, and between them, then he moved upward. He had such trouble reaching the entire width of his back that Casey had thoughts of slipping out of her pajamas and joining him.
“Could I help?” she’d ask. He wouldn’t say a word. He’d just hand her the soap and she’d get busy.
Of course, she could use some cleaning too, so he would do her back. Or front. Or wherever he wanted to.
Maybe it was the way it was dark where she was sitting and so very light where he was that made it all seem like a movie. She sipped her tea and watched him, dreamily smiling at the scene.
She’d been working in the kitchen until midnight and it was very early now. Kit said he wanted the food at the playhouse by eight, and she took that to mean he wanted it set up and ready to serve. Last night she’d called her brother Josh to ask if he’d please, please find some tables for her. “Use sawhorses or tree stumps, whatever your great manliness can find,” she’d said in the voicemail she left for him.“ Just so I have a place to put all this food. Kit said he’s expecting half the town to show up for the auditions. Double please? I’ll save you some of those cream-filled doughnut holes you like so much.” She said the last in a voice as cajoling as she could make it. Considering that she’d been on her feet for fourteen hours, she wondered if she sounded more pathetic than persuasive.
But looking at the beautiful naked man was making up for yesterday. He was rinsing off now. He reached up to the shower- head on the wall, pulled it down, and began spraying water over his entire gorgeous body.
Casey held the mug of tea to her lips, frozen in place. All she could do was stare. His long hair was wet, plastered to his skull. His profile showed his strong features—and something about it seemed familiar.
He turned off the water, then looked around for something. He needs a towel, she thought, and it ran through her mind that she could open the door and hand him one.
When he stepped toward the house as though he meant to enter, her heart seemed to stop. She was more fully awake now and she was aware that she’d just spied on a man taking a shower. Not exactly a polite thing to do. She certainly wouldn’t like it done to her!
When he put his hand on the door handle, Casey’s heart started pounding. She didn’t dare move or he would see her.
He dropped his hand and went down the steps, picked up his sweatpants, and put them on—and she let out her breath. He would never know. Good!
But as he reached for his shirt, her cellphone rang. It had been charging and she’d forgotten it was on the counter. It kept ringing as she reached for it, then she fumbled and hit speakerphone just as it went to voicemail.
“Hey, little sis, I used a broadsword to cut down a couple of oaks and hacked out some tables. But I also borrowed a couple from the church. If you want me to pick you and your kettles up in my truck, let me know. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll see you at eight.” He hung up.
Casey hadn’t moved, nor had she taken her eyes off the man. When the phone rang, he’d dropped the shirt and turned to look at the door.
She was almost sure he saw her. She had on her white pajamas, the ones her mom had given her with the print of the dish running away with the spoon and the cow jumping over the moon. Too young for her, and they clung much too tightly to her curvy figure, but they were oh so comforting.
It had grown lighter outside and she knew she was probably visible inside the dark room. But maybe not. Maybe she could sneak upstairs and pretend she hadn’t seen him.
As quickly as she could, she put her mug down and slid off the stool.
But she wasn’t fast enough. He bounded up the steps and reached the door in seconds. When he tried to open it, the inside hook held.
Thinking she had a reprieve, Casey took a step toward the living room, but a sound made her turn back.
The man, naked from hip bones up, put his fist through the screen and unfastened the hook.
Okay, now she was scared. This man was big and he looked furious. She glanced at her cellphone but it was between her and him. Her little house was set in eleven acres of garden and woodland. If she screamed, no one would hear her.
“Did you get it all down?” He stepped closer to her.
His voice was deep—and menacing. Maybe if she ran she could reach the front door and get out. But then what? The only house nearby was the big one, and it was empty.
She put her hands into fists at her sides, took a deep breath, and faced him. Minutes before, his size, the muscles, the sheer masculinity of him had been enticing, but now they seemed threatening. She didn’t think she could escape him, but maybe if she didn’t back down he’d go away.
“I live here,” she said. “You’re trespassing.”
He stopped only three feet away. “Like hell you do! Who do you work for? Where is it?”
Casey took a step back. What a voice he had! Loud and deep. And what he was asking was thoroughly puzzling. “I work for myself. I cater and do private parties.”
He took another step toward her.“ And this is a sideline? Where are you hiding it?”
Confusion was replacing her fear. “What is ‘it’? What do you want?”
He picked up her cellphone, the charging cord falling away. “Please tell me you didn’t use this! I think I deserve better than a mobile phone.” He put the phone back on the counter, then turned, his eyes roaming up and down her.
Casey knew she was looking far from her best. Who wanted a gorgeous man to see her wearing pajamas that were perfect for a five-year-old? And her hair was a rat’s nest of tangles and probably full of flour and raspberry jam. She’d collapsed last night, not bothering to shower.
Maybe it was pride, but all sense of fear vanished. She put her shoulders back. “I don’t know who you are but I want you out of my house. Now!” She grabbed her phone. “I think the sheriff would like to hear about a man stripping on my porch and tearing out my screen to get inside my house and threatening me. Unless you want to be in handcuffs, I suggest you leave immediately.”
He stood there staring at her, saying nothing, but looking shocked. He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it. Turning, he left the house, the door slamming behind him.
For a few moments, Casey stood where she was, her nails cutting into her palms as she watched him leave. He didn’t stop to pick up his shirt but kept going, turned right, and moved out of sight.
Suddenly she felt exhausted. She made it into the living room and fell down onto the couch, her heart pounding in her ears. With her head back, she tried to use her breathing to calm herself.
The man had been so very angry!
When Kit had given her the little guesthouse to live in, she’d thought it was perfect. It had once been the kitchen of an old Virginia plantation, and the huge fireplace that had been used for cooking was in the living room. Years ago someone had added to the building, putting an excellent kitchen to one side and a bed- room and bath upstairs. There was even an herb garden just outside.
Kit had asked if she minded being so isolated, but Casey said no, that she loved it. The Big House—which had been renovated and decorated before she arrived—was locked tight and empty. For six years before she came to Summer Hill, she’d been the head chef of one of the busiest restaurants in D.C. After the noise and controlled chaos of that place, the quiet of the old plantation had been bliss.
But this morning had turned scary.
She was beginning to calm down, and she needed to think about what she was going to do now. All in all, she thought she should call the sheriff and report what had happened—including her embarrassing voyeurism.
She was still holding her phone and she saw that she had a voicemail from Kit. As she touched the screen, her hand was shaking.
“Casey, my dear,” Kit’s strong voice said, “I know it’s late and I hope you’ve gone to bed, but I just wanted to tell you that the owner of Tattwell has returned. I know you think I own the place and I apologize for the subterfuge, but my cousin swore me to secrecy. Still, I feel I should warn you in case you see a couple of strange men on the grounds. The owner is Tatton Landers and he’s with his best friend, Jack Worth. They are both very nice young men, so I hope you’ll welcome them. I must go. I’ll see you at the auditions.”
Casey listened to the message twice to try to get all the information it contained. Jack Worth? she thought. That was the name of an actor she really liked. Her last boyfriend had been a fiend for his movies and had all the DVDs. They had never missed a new Jack Worth movie.
But he wasn’t the man on the porch.
Casey took a breath. This was ridiculous! Jack Worth was a common name. Kit couldn’t have been referring to the actor.
On impulse, she tapped the other name, Tatton Landers, into her phone’s search engine, and it redirected her. There he was. The man she’d watched showering on her porch had thousands of photos on the Internet. Most of them were in period costume: a knight in armor, tight Regency trousers, a leather jerkin like Robin Hood would wear.
“Of course,” she said aloud. “Tate Landers.” She’d never seen one of his movies, but a friend of hers used to talk about him. She loved romantic movies and went to all of them. They’d never interested Casey so she’d only half-listened to what her friend was saying—and had teased her friend about them.“ You have a Ph.D. in psychology but you drool over some actor who says, ‘Oh, Charity Goodheart, your eyes are like emeralds. Please be mine.’” “You don’t get it, do you?” her friend said.“ We live in a world of metrosexuals. Tate isn’t like that. He throws women over the saddle of a horse and tells them to shut up.”
Casey was aghast. “What would you say to one of your clients if she told you her boyfriend did that?”
“I’d give her the number of a center for abused women and make sure she went. But that’s real; Tate is fantasy.”
Casey shook her head at her friend. “This guy is an actor. In real life he probably wears pink shirts and gets his eyebrows waxed.”
“Not Tate! I read that he—”
Casey had thrown up her hands. Her friend had tried to get her to go to romantic movies, but she wouldn’t. With her workload she had little time off and she wasn’t going to waste it on some drippy saga.
Now it seemed that she was living in a house on property owned by some big-deal movie star—who hated her.
And rightfully so, Casey thought. It was one thing to watch some half-naked guy mow the lawn, but when people spied on public figures they often ended up in court. And went to prison.
What was it he’d said? “Where is it?” And “Please tell me you didn’t use this! I think I deserve better than a mobile phone.”
“He thought I was photographing him,” she said aloud. When he thought she’d snapped the pictures on a cellphone, his ego had been hurt. In spite of the gravity of the situation, she couldn’t help smiling. No wonder he ran away at the mention of the sheriff. Wouldn’t the tabloids love a photo of the romantic hero in handcuffs?
Casey stood up.“ I have to fix this,” she whispered. She needed to apologize and explain, then apologize some more.
She looked at the clock on the mantel. It was still early, so she could take about an hour to do what she did best. She was going to cook something wonderful and take it to him. She’d use her best I’m-sorry voice to make him forgive her. And she’d assure him that she had entered the room just as the phone rang, so she’d only seen him with his shirt off.
That’s good, she thought. A few lies, some of her honey-glazed chicken, and a good strong mimosa, and maybe he wouldn’t kick her out of her very comfortable little house. Or put her in jail.
She had a plan.
ACT ONE, SCENE TWO
Elizabeth doesn’t tempt Darcy
An hour later, Casey arrived at the Big House—as everyone in town referred to it—with food. She’d used some of what she’d already prepared for Kit’s group, then added a few things. In an insulated container she had strands of slow-roasted, honey-glazed chicken and sweet-potato hash with fried eggs on top. She’d buttered freshly made bread and grilled it.
It wasn’t easy to think about what she had to do. Apologize profusely, explain that she didn’t know about the showerhead on her porch, and— No! She wasn’t supposed to know that he’d taken a shower. Her story was that she was in bed, heard the phone ring, and ran down the stairs.
There was an old brick path between her cottage and the back of the Big House. Most of the land was too overgrown to walk around, but during the past snowy winter, she’d explored the area near the house. She’d grown to love the uneven surface of the path, had even memorized the places where the bricks stuck up, so she wouldn’t trip on them.
But right now she wasn’t enamored of them. The big case was heavy and she was so nervous she was afraid she’d drop it. If she did, she was sure she’d be told to vacate the house. Then where would she stay? The lake people were beginning to open their houses in preparation for the summer, which meant that all the service personnel for the restaurants and shops were arriving. One-bedroom apartments would be packed with about six college kids each, all working in shifts.
Casey couldn’t help shuddering at the thought. No, she liked where she was and wanted to stay there.
She’d never been inside the Big House, but during the winter she’d tried to look in some of the windows. They were mostly shuttered or curtained, but she knew where the kitchen was and that next to it was a glassed-in breakfast room.
She saw lights in the room and, like her, Mr. Landers had all the windows and doors open to the screens. As she approached, she saw him sitting at a white table, his head down. She halted. He was dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt and he looked . . . well, rather forlorn.
Casey stepped out of view. Please tell me I didn’t do that to him, she thought. Poor guy probably came to sleepy little Summer Hill for some peace, but he was greeted by what he thought was a paparazzo taking photos of him au naturel.
She glanced at the heavy container she was holding. Maybe, possibly, this food would cheer him up—and make him forgive her. And later she could introduce him to some people so he wouldn’t be so alone.
Putting on a smile, she turned back to the door. Would he welcome her or call the sheriff?
She shifted the container to free a hand so she could knock, but then she froze. Walking into the room was the actor Jack Worth, and all he had on was a pair of very low-riding sweatpants.
Casey flattened herself against the wall, and for the second time that morning her heart started pounding in her ears. She’d seen Jack Worth on the big screen, blown up to epic proportions as he tore through streets on a motorcycle, ran across buildings, rappelled down mountains—and saved the girl while doing it. His movies were nonstop action.
Whatever could be imagined, Jack Worth had done it onscreen—and usually while wearing the bare minimum of clothing. And she was one of his biggest fans! Meeting him had always been a dream of hers.
I must get myself under control, Casey thought. Calm down. No gushing or staring, or making a fool of myself.
But she wasn’t succeeding at being calm. Two nude, or nearly so, drop-dead-gorgeous men in one day. Was the angel who’d been assigned to look over her a sweetheart or a sadistic devil?
She took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders, then turned toward the door.
But then Jack spoke. His voice seemed as familiar to her as her own. He was no smooth James Bond. Jack’s voice was deep and gravelly, rough. Kind of dangerous-sounding.
She crept back against the wall. He really sounded like that! No sound adjustments—that was his actual voice.
“What are you so grumpy about?” She heard Jack’s voice fade as he went toward the kitchen.
“Kit put some girl in my guesthouse.”
Casey froze, her breath held. She was now going to hear her fate.
“That’s good,” Jack said as he returned to the breakfast room. “You need somebody to look after the place when you’re not here. This refrigerator is empty.”
“That’s what happens when you leave your cook at home.” “Any hope for delivery?”
“In rural Virginia before full daylight?” Tate said. “Quit dreaming. There’s coffee, so have some.”
Jack poured himself a cup from the pot on the table and took a drink. “This is good. Who made it?” He glanced back at Tate. “What’s on for today?”
“I made the coffee. Kit wants me to . . .”When Tate looked up, his eyes were bleak. “He’s going to put on a play, even bought a big building and built a stage. ”Tate paused. “His first production is Pride and Prejudice, and he wants me to read with the women who audition for the role of Elizabeth.”
Jack laughed. “Since you’re the only Darcy who’s been able to knock Colin Firth off his pedestal, I’m sure you’ll attract a lot of would-be Lizzys, Janes, and all the others.”
“I guess so. Kit said he wants to boost town spirit and to bring the people who have houses on the lake back to town. Seems they’ve started driving to Richmond to do their shopping, and local sales are falling. Since the proceeds from the play go to charity, I couldn’t say no.”
Outside, Casey suddenly realized that she was again spying. What was wrong with her today? She started to leave but then Jack said, “Think they’ll have food at the auditions?”
“Yeah, and I think it’s being cooked by that girl in my guesthouse.”
Casey could no more walk away than she could have flown. Jack gave a grunt. “What in the world happened to turn you into something like one of your characters? You look like you’re about to draw a sword on somebody.”
“She was spying on me.”
Casey’s heart leaped back into her throat.
“Oh. That’s bad,” Jack said. “Was she hiding in the bushes? Did you take her camera away from her?”
“No bushes,” Tate said. “And no hiding. I don’t think she took photos. But I believe she watched me take a shower.”
Jack drew in his breath in horror. “She sneaked inside your house? We need to call the police. She can’t—”
“No!” Tate said. “She was in the guesthouse and I used the shower on the porch. But I wouldn’t have done it if Kit had told me someone was staying there.”
Jack took his time before he spoke. “She’s living in a house she probably pays rent on, you were naked on her back porch, and she saw you? So tell me what she did wrong.”
Casey’s heart settled. She had a champion! I love you, Jack Worth, she thought.
“It was just the way she did it that got me, that’s all,” Tate said. “Why don’t you put some clothes on and go to this thing with me?”
“To a local play? No thanks. I think I’ll fly back to L.A. tomorrow. This is about all the rural delight I can take. Empty refrigerators hold no appeal for me.”
“You’re getting soft. But I think I’ll go back with you tomorrow—after I do those damned auditions, that is.”
“So what’s this girl like? And how old is she?”
Casey held her breath. What would he say about her:“ She had jam in her hair but she looked good”? That would be nice to hear. “Late twenties, I guess,” Tate said. “She had on kid pajamas, so who knows what she looked like. I was too angry to see much.” “A grown-up girl in pajamas. I like it,” Jack said. “And she cooks?”
“Either that or she’s brilliant at making a mess in a kitchen. Pans and bowls were everywhere. And bread. From the smell of it, she’d been baking.”
Jack groaned. “I think I may be in love with her. Pajamas and baking bread. Where is this guesthouse and what’s she look like? Good face?”
“Okay, I guess. Nice eyes, but I wasn’t tempted.”
Yet again, Casey felt deflated. That’s what she got for snooping. Okay, so she could stand to lose a few pounds, but other men liked her curves. But not this snooty movie star. As Jack pointed out, Tate had no right to be angry at her for being in her own house, but that didn’t matter to this so-called celebrity!
Casey pushed away from the wall. She thought about leaving the container on the step, but she didn’t. As snotty as Tate Landers was, he’d probably throw the food out. It wouldn’t be good enough for someone so grand and glorious.
Jack was standing by the table, frowning down at his friend, when he saw movement outside. He went to the door and looked out.
A young woman carrying something in a wide container was quickly walking away. And from her pace, she wasn’t happy.
She had on jeans and a T-shirt, and he liked her shape. Her backside curved roundly, and when she turned slightly, he saw that she was quite full breasted. He was glad to see a normal, healthy woman. So many of the starlets he worked with were emaciated. But then, the camera added pounds, so they were under pressure to be very thin.
Her dark-red hair was pulled back into a swishing ponytail and the early-morning sun glinted off it. Jack couldn’t see her face, but if it was half as nice as the rest of her, he’d be pleased. All in all, he thought he should visit the guesthouse.
He looked back at Tate, who was glowering down at his cup of coffee. What in the world was wrong with him? In public, Tate was a very private person. When he had to attend something, he usually took his sister.
But when he was with his friends, he was nearly always relaxed and laughing. Jack knew Tate had planned to stay in Summer Hill for at least a month. Tate liked the company of his cousin Kit, who was old enough to be his father, but then, maybe that was why Tate liked him so much. And he’d talked about how he had other newly found relatives moving to the little Virginia town. It had all been good.
So why was he sitting at the table looking miserable? Why wasn’t he out exploring the place? And why was he dreading going to some local auditions? Tate was great with the armies of squealing females who followed him around.
Jack watched the girl disappearing into the trees. “What color hair does she have?” He purposely didn’t say who “she” was.
“Kind of red. I think it was natural.”
“Yeah?” Jack said.“ Anything else natural about her?”
The glower left Tate’s face and he smiled a bit. “From the way she jiggled when she ordered me out of the house, I’d say her upper half is quite natural.”
Jack raised an eyebrow.“ What were her pajamas like again?” Tate smiled broader. “Very thin and half unbuttoned. And crumpled up from being in bed. She didn’t have anything on under them.”
Jack was working to keep from grinning. “Are you sure you want to leave here tomorrow?”
Tate gave a full smile, something only his friends saw. “Go get dressed. I have a script to read and Kit doesn’t want me there until after lunch.”
“I think I’ll meet you there.” As Jack went up the stairs to his bedroom, he was chuckling.“ Not tempted, huh?”
ACT ONE, SCENE THREE
Bingley defends Darcy
“Hi,” Jack said from outside Casey’s door.
She was putting food into boxes and coolers as she prepared to take it to the old warehouse where the stage was being built. Unfortunately, she was using so much force that she almost broke a Pyrex dish.
“Hello,” Jack said louder as he knocked on the doorframe. Casey jumped. “Sorry, I— Oh. You.” Her eyes were wide. “May I come in?”
“Of course, but it’s a mess in here.”
“When a place smells as good as this one does, it’s beautiful to me.”
“I have to—” she began, but stopped. Jack Worth, her absolute favorite movie star, was standing in her kitchen. Her first thought was how odd it was to see this man life-size. He looked good, but he also looked human, normal. And right now she recognized what she was so good at dealing with: a hungry person. “Would you like something to eat?”
“Please,” he said.
Minutes later, Jack was seated on the far side of the island and before him was a feast. Casey had opened every container and dished out some of each to him. She warmed up the sweet-potato hash and fried fresh eggs to put on top.
“This is great.” He was eating a maple-walnut muffin and looking around the kitchen at the rows of jars of home-canned jams, their tops covered with red-and-white gingham. On a side wall hung skillets from four inches wide to one that could feed a crowd. Three tall, narrow bookcases were between the big doors to the outside and they were packed with cookbooks, binders, and card boxes. By the big stainless-steel stove were shelves packed with bottles of oil of different colors, most of them with herbs and peppers inside.“ I mean it, every inch of this place is great.”
Casey smiled, pleased by his compliment. If she’d been told she was going to meet Jack Worth, she would have said she’d instantly turn into a fangirl. But as she watched him eat, she realized she felt the same way she did with her brother. “Excuse me, but I need to pack things.”
“Go ahead,” Jack said.“ How are you transporting all of this?” “I have to call my brother to come with his truck.”
“Tate has a big pickup in his garage. I can get it and give you a ride.”
She blinked at him. To ride with Jack Worth? All his stunts with cars flying through the air seemed to run through her mind.
“I promise I’ll keep all four wheels on the ground.” “Then I’d rather go with someone else,” she said solemnly.
Jack laughed. “Okay, next time I’ll take the Jeep and we’ll find some rough roads.”
“You’re on.” She put a squash casserole into the cooler. “But you’d better not tell . . . him, the owner, who’s in the truck or he might not let you use it.”
“Bad first meeting, huh?” Jack bit into an apple muffin that had a salted-caramel top.
“Depends on if you like raging fury.”
He held up the muffin. “This is . . . mmmm! Anyway, that sounds out of character for Tate. He’s not like his screen image of the angry, brooding man. All I have to do is drive fast and a girl is happy. But what’s Tate to do to impress her? Smolder?”
“What does that mean?” Casey asked. “Wait. Don’t tell me. My friend used to say that Tate Landers only had to look at a woman and she’d start removing her clothes. I didn’t feel that. He looked at me like I was something he found on the bottom of his shoe.”
“That really doesn’t sound like Tate.”
Casey waved her hand. “Why are we talking about him? I loved that scene in your last movie where you grabbed the girl off the skimobile. I kept replaying it on DVD. What are you going to do next?”
“In September I start a movie about a spoiled, rich teenage boy who’s been kidnapped. I save him and along the way I make a man of him. So what part are you trying out for in the play?”
“None. I’m not an actress. I just cook.”
“This breakfast isn’t ‘just’ anything. Listen, with your talents, I could get you a job in L.A. at—”
“Thanks, but no. Not yet.” She was planning to say nothing more, but she couldn’t help a bit of a brag. “Ever hear of Christie’s in D.C.?” She knew he had, as she’d been told he’d visited, but she’d been too busy cooking to look.
“Yeah, of course. I’ve eaten there. That place was once great but it got to be a mess. You have anything to do with bringing it back to life?”
She didn’t reply, just gave a modest shrug. Her boss had hired her straight out of school and had dumped the whole job of restoring the big old once-great restaurant onto her young shoulders. “You can do it. I have faith in you” had been his answer for every catastrophic problem. And he always said it as he was running out the door.
“I am impressed.” Jack smiled the way he did at girls when the camera was on him.
Casey smiled back but thought that it wasn’t the same as seeing him on a big screen. He just seemed like a hungry man, handsome but not overly so. Maybe real life took away some of the magic of a celebrity.
Bending, she put utensils into a box. “Right now I want some time off. I need to think about where I’m going and what I want to do. That’s enough about me. Try these.” She handed him what looked like doughnut holes but were actually Italian bombolini. Inside was a pastry cream with a touch of orange liqueur.
“Heaven,” Jack said. “On second thought, forget the restaurant job. Move in with me and feed me every day.”
“Now, that’s a tempting offer,” Casey said. “Do I get sex with that?”
“Honey, feed me like this and you can have any body part of mine you want.”
They looked at each other and laughed because they knew in that age-old way that there would never be anything like that between them. He’d used his best smile on her and she’d felt nothing. As had he. They were destined to be friends and nothing more.
ACT ONE, SCENE FOUR
Bingley meets Jane
As Jack drove through the pretty little town of Summer Hill, he never took his eyes off the road and he obeyed all traffic signs. Casey didn’t know if she was glad or disappointed.
At the first stop sign, Jack said, “I played Bingley in high school. It’s what got me started in acting.”
He’d been sitting in a way that seemed to take over the driver’s seat, a kind of lazy, confident position she’d seen onscreen. But abruptly, he changed. He sat up straight, arms and legs close together, and quoted Mr. Bingley. “‘When I am in the country, I never wish to leave it; and when I am in town, it is pretty much the same. They have each their advantages, and I can be equally happy in either.’”
“That’s really good,” Casey said in awe. “I’ve never been able to understand how actors can be someone else. What happens if you have to do a love scene with someone you detest?”
“Did you see Runaway 3?”
“Sure. Your girlfriend was trapped on a mountain and you parachuted in and let your plane crash. When that federal agent found you two in the cabin, the look you gave him was priceless. I was sure you were going to shoot him.”
“I hated that woman. She complained endlessly.” “But you looked like you adored each other.”
“That’s why they call it acting. The nicest thing she said to me was that I drove recklessly just to mess up her hair.”
“But driving like a madman is what you do.”
“See? If you worked for me, you could have told her that and protected me.”
“If I heard her being nasty, I would have put sweetened yogurt into her breakfast smoothie. The extra calories would get her back.”
Laughing, Jack pulled into a big parking lot. Before them was a huge old two-story brick warehouse with about a hundred windows. There were a dozen vans outside, all of them with company names painted on the side: electrical, carpentry, heating/AC, plumbing, tile, and glass. It was early, but there was the sound of hammers and saws and men yelling orders.
Casey got out and went to the back of the truck to start un- loading. “Hey, Josh!” she yelled.
A handsome young man in jeans and a T-shirt came over and kissed her cheek. He was tall, over six feet, and his shirt showed his muscular chest.
“Could you give me a hand here?” Casey asked.
“Nope,” Josh said. “Not unless I get the bribe you promised me.”
Smiling, Casey opened the container of bombolini and held it out to him.
As he took a couple, he glanced at Jack, who was standing to one side of the truck.“ You look like that guy who—”
“He is that guy,” Casey said. “Josh, meet Jack Worth, and Jack, this is Josh, my brother.”
As the two men shook hands, Josh said, “I’m not really her brother. She’s a half sister of my sister—who is also my half sister.” He picked up a heavy cooler from the truck bed.
“Interesting relationship.” Jack put a box on top of another cooler and picked them both up.
Josh put down the cooler he was carrying, set a big casserole dish on top of it, and picked it up.
Jack started to put his cooler down but Casey stepped between them.“ Go, both of you. You can arm-wrestle later.”
The two men started walking side by side toward the warehouse, but then Josh stepped forward and Jack went after him. By the time they got to the doorway they were nearly running.
“Now there’s a bromance,” Casey muttered. “Do you need some help?”
She turned to see an older woman, quite pretty, with blonde hair and blue eyes. She was slim and looked fit.
“I’d love some help, but I believe in men making themselves useful.” She turned to the vans, which were all open to reveal the tools and supplies inside; a few men were nearby. “I have food,” Casey said loudly, “and as soon as I can get it set up inside, the sooner you guys can eat it.”
Within seconds, half a dozen men were at the truck, picking up containers and carrying them inside.
The woman laughed. “I’m Olivia, and maybe I can help you set up.”
“I’m Casey, and that would be great.” They started walking toward the open doors of the warehouse. “Did you drive in for the auditions?”
“Oh, no,” Olivia said. “I was born and bred in Summer Hill. I came with my daughter-in-law, Hildy. She’s trying out for the part of Jane Bennet.”
“That’s good,” Casey said. “I figured every female here would want to be Elizabeth.”
“Hildy feels that her physical attributes predispose her to be Jane.”
“What?” Casey asked, not understanding. “Oh, right, I see. Jane is very pretty. That’s nice for your daughter-in-law.” She glanced up at the warehouse. “I haven’t been here since Kit bought this
place. Half the windows were broken and the inside was full of trash. Looks like it’s been cleaned up since then.”
“Wait until you see the inside.”
They went through a wide doorway toward all the noise of men and tools—and Casey gasped. The warehouse was in the final stages of renovation. It was a long, high-ceilinged space. A big stage was at one end, seats on raised tiers in the middle, and a closed-off area was for ticketing. What was especially startling was that a lot of one wall had been torn out and glass doors put in. Casey knew that when Kit bought it, the yard had been full of derelict pieces of machinery and some rather impressive weeds. That was all gone and in its place was a garden. As she watched, a crane lowered a twenty-foot-tall birch tree to two men who were guiding it into a big hole.
“Wow” was all Casey could say.
“Thank you,” came a deep voice that she knew well. “I take it you approve.”
She held her cheek up to Kit’s kiss. He was tall and elegant, his thick gray hair like a lion’s mane. “It’s beautiful.”
“I hear you had a bit of an adventure this morning,” he said. “It seems that the question is whether you saw or didn’t see.” His eyes weren’t on Casey.
“Do you know Olivia?” she asked. “And I’m not telling what I saw, but just so you know, fairy godmothers do grant wishes.”
Kit laughed, a rich, pleasant sound.
But for all that he was laughing at Casey’s joke, he hadn’t taken his eyes off Olivia—who was studiously watching the men in the garden. Casey looked from one to the other. “Olivia is going to help me serve, and her daughter-in-law is here to audition for the role of Jane.”
Kit dragged his eyes away from Olivia and consulted the clip- board he was holding. “And you are auditioning for what part?”
“None of them,” Olivia said firmly. “I’m just here to help my daughter-in-law if she needs me.”
The tables had been set up near the big glass doors, the boxes and coolers beside them. Three men were standing nearby, waiting for food.
“I better get busy.” Casey went to the tables, Olivia behind her. The two women worked well together, each seeming to know what the other wanted before it was done. Within minutes the big tables were covered with white paper, and breakfast items were set out. Kit had ordered dozens of pastries from the local bakery, so most of the food Casey had prepared could be saved for lunch. As they worked, the big warehouse began to fill up with people, all of them carrying copies of the script that Kit had written during the winter with the help of Casey and her half sister Stacy. He had complained about the difficulty of translating Pride and Prejudice into a script.“ She left out important dialogue and now I have to make it up.” Since he was referring to the very perfect
Jane Austen, Casey had groaned.
“Look at this,” he said. “The pivotal scene of the book is paraphrased. She doesn’t tell what Darcy said when he proposed, just that he insulted Elizabeth. How? What exactly did he say? Didn’t this woman have an editor?”
They had laughed over Kit’s complaints, but he got them back by making them read the lines aloud every time he rewrote them. They got to the point where they had memorized everyone’s lines.
Smiling at the memory, Casey began filling mugs from the big urn, while Olivia opened more boxes of doughnuts. The tables were soon surrounded by workmen getting coffee and pastries— and they didn’t seem to want to leave. “At this rate someone will have to make another run to the bakery,” Casey said. “I think I’m jealous. What did they put into these that makes them so popular?”
“It’s not the doughnuts, it’s the Lydias. And the girls are here for Wickham,” Olivia said. “Look.”
A table had been set up by the exterior door, and names were being taken and badges handed out. All the Pride and Prejudice characters were represented, but Lydia was four to one. Many women had a badge saying Lydia clipped to their shirts.
“What in the world is going on? I thought there’d be a lot of competition for the lead roles.”
Olivia nodded toward the stage. There in the center, talking to Kit, was a very handsome man. Dark-brown hair, broad shoulders, all of it encased in the red uniform worn by the officers in Meryton.
“Another one!” Casey said under her breath. “Another one what?” Olivia asked.
“Beautiful man. It’s my day for them. I’m beginning to feel like a magnet attracting bits of very pretty steel.”
“Hey, Casey!” Josh called from atop some scaffolding. “You gonna try out for Lydia?”
“No, but I think you should try out to be Wickham.”
There was a collective gasp from half a dozen young women who gazed up at him with smiles and fluttering eyelashes.
“I’ll get you for that.” Grinning, Josh returned to plastering the wall, his back to the girls.
Eight of the Lydias hurried to Casey. “Do you think Josh will play—” “Will he audition with—”
“Can he wear a uniform?”
“Have no idea. Doubt it. Absolutely not,” Casey said. “Who wants an eight-hundred-calorie pastry?”
All the girls backed away except for one. She too had Lydia pinned to her top, but she didn’t look like the other girls, all of whom had on enough makeup to start a business. This girl was pretty and blonde, tall and thin, and she kept her head down as though she was too shy to meet Casey’s eyes. She took her dough- nut and a mug of orange juice and went to the side of the room to sit down and read her copy of Pride and Prejudice.
“What an extraordinarily pretty young woman,” Olivia said in such a way that Casey glanced at her. She was about to ask a question that might get Olivia to reveal something about herself, but Jack came to the table.
“Where have you been?” Casey asked. “Hiding from the autograph seekers?”
“Are you kidding?” he said. “All the prettiest girls are chasing the uniform.” He looked toward the stage, where the man in red was contemplating the girls sitting in the front row. It was a whole line of Lydias.
“You poor guy,” Casey said, “but I’ll tell you a secret.” She leaned toward him. “I just saw Reverend Nolan’s van pull up.”
“What does that mean?”
She stepped behind him, put her hands on his shoulders, and turned him to face the exterior door. “Keep your eyes on that doorway and you’ll see what I mean.” She went back to the other side of the table.
“I take it this means Gizzy Nolan is going to audition,” Olivia said. “Elizabeth or Jane?”
“Sorry,” Casey said. “She’s going for Jane.” “Poor Hildy,” Olivia said.
Jack was watching the doorway but nothing was happening. He was about to turn away when an incredibly pretty girl walked in. She paused a few steps in and looked around. The bright out- door light was behind her and a breeze moved her long, thick hair. The shape of her was extraordinary, tall and slim but with a magnificent bosom. Small waist, curvy hips, and long, long legs. But her body was nothing compared to her beautiful face. She was like the princesses described in fairy tales: blonde hair, eyes like sapphires, full pink lips.
Jack, used to seeing spectacularly beautiful young women, could only stare.
“Darn!” Casey said loudly. “Gizzy didn’t wear any makeup today. When she does, she’s a knockout.”
Turning, Jack looked at Casey in disbelief, then gave a little guffaw of laughter. “Is that local humor?”
Casey smiled. “It is. If you want to meet her, I suggest you get over there fast or you’ll lose your place.”
Three young workmen were putting down their hammers to go toward her. Jack covered the distance in just a few steps.
Olivia frowned. “That guy’s a movie star. He’ll leave soon. Gizzy’s dad won’t like that.”
“I have an ulterior motive. In high school, Jack played Mr. Bingley, and he doesn’t have a movie until the fall. If he could be enticed to stay here and be in our little local play, we’ll be sure to have sold-out performances. And since it’s all for charity . . .”
Olivia smiled. “So you’re dangling Gizzy in front of him as bait?”
“Oh, yeah. There always have to be sacrifices for the greater good.”
Olivia laughed. “Somehow, I don’t think Gizzy is going to mind. But since you and Jack seem to get along so well, why don’t you dangle yourself?”
“As much as I love Jack on the screen, seeing him in person isn’t the same. Actually, I was wondering who the guy onstage is. He’s not from around here. If I could act, I might try out for Lydia. Think I could pass for fifteen?”
“I think you should try for Elizabeth. Who’s going to be Darcy?”
Casey lowered her voice.“ Josh doesn’t know it, but Kit plans to coerce him into playing the role.”
“Josh has no idea what’s in store for him?”
“None, but if I’ve learned anything since I’ve been in Summer Hill, it’s that Mr. Christopher ‘Kit’ Montgomery gets whatever he wants. The owner of this warehouse said he would absolutely, positively never sell this place.” Casey waved her hand. “You see what happened there. So anyway, if I played Elizabeth, I’d be pre- tending to fall in love with my brother. Yuck!”
Olivia smiled. “I can see your problem. Too old for Lydia, Lizzy is out, and Jane . . .”
“Will be given to Gizzy.” She nodded toward the doorway. Jack and Gizzy were talking, and they made a very good-looking couple. As tall as Gizzy was, Jack was taller still, and her very feminine good looks were balanced by his rough handsomeness.
“I see you’ve done my work for me,” Kit said from behind them.
Immediately, Casey understood what he meant. “You must know that Jack doesn’t have a movie until September and you probably know he played Bingley in high school. Did . . .” She paused. “Did the other one tell you?”
Kit’s eyes widened. “Are you referring to my cousin Tatton as ‘the other one’?”
Casey shrugged. “Sounds like him to rat on his friends.”
Kit made a sound of astonishment. “I thought he was the heart- throb of all women.”
“Not this one,” Casey said. “You want something to eat? I have some of those orange crêpes you like.”
“No time now, but please save some for me.” He was studying her in speculation, as though trying to figure something out.
“So how are you going to get Jack to agree to be in the play?” “I’m going to wait until he comes to me and begs for the role.” He looked at Olivia, lowered his voice, and spoke directly to her. “It was Elizabeth, but now it’s to be Mrs. Bennet.” Turning, he walked away.
“What was that about?” Casey saw that Olivia’s face was red. “Nothing,” she said. “Do you think I should go buy some more pastries? Or cupcakes for lunch?”
“It’s too early to know if we’ll need them.” Casey was staring at her, but Olivia wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Did Kit mean he wants you to play Mrs. Bennet?”
“I have no idea.” Olivia busied herself with rearranging food containers.
Three men came to the table asking for coffee and more doughnuts. Their conversation was full of “not fair” and “who does he think he is?” and “he should go back to Hollywood where he belongs.” When they left, Casey and Olivia burst into giggles.
Jack and Gizzy had moved out of the doorway but were still talking. When he caught Casey’s eye, he excused himself and came over to the table. “You have any more of those . . .” He trailed off as he glanced at Gizzy, then back again. “She’s smart and funny and as delicate as glass. I’ve never met anyone like her.”
Casey glanced at Olivia, then back at him. “Look, Jack, we don’t know each other very well, but you’ll have to trust me on this: Gizzy is not made of glass.”
Jack didn’t seem to hear her. “She’s trying out for Jane, and of course she’ll get the part.” He hesitated. “I was thinking I might audition for Bingley.”
“What a great idea,” Casey said. “Have you asked Kit yet?” “Yeah, but he doesn’t like it. He said some L.A. guy will call me and I’ll fly away and leave them hanging. But I’m free until September and I could stay at Tate’s house.” He gave Casey a pleading look. “You’ll cook for me? Fill that big shiny box in the kitchen?” “I could do that.” Casey tried to sound as innocent as she could manage. “If you can persuade Kit, that is. Hey! I have an idea that might help your case. If you have some L.A. publicity people, maybe you could get them to promote the play. Tell Kit they’ll do it for free. After all, it is for charity.”
“Brilliant idea,” Jack said. “I’ll make some calls and get it done. Wish me luck.”
“I feel in my heart that Kit will consent to give you the role.”
Smiling, Jack went back to where Gizzy was waiting for him.
Olivia was shaking her head. “I’m worried whether you and your co-conspirator are going to get into heaven.”
“I think He forgives more when it’s for charity. Besides, who knows? Maybe Jack and Gizzy will be a match.”
Casey and Olivia looked at each other. A lot of men fell for Gizzy’s outward beauty, but when they got to know her, they were turned off. She was a fearless daredevil inside the body of an angel. “Nah,” they agreed. “It won’t happen.”