by Ines Saint
Pub. Date: 4/11/2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Gracie Piper is good at being invisible, and she likes it that way. At just seventeen, she took a very public stand against the boy who passed a revealing video of her all over school. Ever since, she’s staked her life on staying out of the limelight. But when she moves back to Spinning Hills, she comes face to face with her painful past. In the same historic building Gracie’s boss has assigned her to supervise renovating works the man who helped her find justice nine years ago, and nearly lost his own career in the process. A man who suddenly arouses feelings that make Gracie weak in the knees . . .
Josh Goodwin is sure he’s seeing a ghost when he spots Gracie in the halls of his office building. Taking her case was a professional risk that became all too personal when a bitter ex accused him of getting involved with teenage Gracie. Seeing her again is opening old wounds, and threatening brand-new ones—his campaign for County Prosecutor won’t withstand a brand-new scandal. But there’s something about sweet, gorgeous Gracie that brings out the crusader in him—and the thing he’ll fight hardest for is her love . . .
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“We won the contract for the Daytona-Montgomery County courts Building, and we want you to be the lead workplace designer on the project.”
The words had been on a constant loop in Gracie’s head. The first half of the sentence tugged her feelings one way and the second half pulled them in the opposite direction. One tiny comma separated a nightmare and a dream. One small word united them.
She’d been working hard to land lead on a project of this magni- tude. She hoped to own her own small workplace design business someday, and this would be an important learning experience. It was a challenge that, when all else was pushed aside, had both her left and right brain in a constant buzz of excitement and anticipation. Using both her creativity and technical expertise to optimize and har- monize workspace for eleven judges, the county prosecutor, and all court employees across multiple divisions, each with its own purpose and challenges. Functional, yet attractive and sustainable ideas that would enhance the life, productivity, and culture of the workers came to her day and night.
But whenever her thoughts necessarily turned to the actual build- ing in front of her, her stomach became heavy with dread. The coin- cidence involved defied logic. The building was home to records of her case against one of the area’s most prominent families—and to the man who’d been her champion.
The man whose life she’d unwittingly changed forever. All for taking up her case and her cause.
He didn’t resent her for it. That much she was sure of. Josh Good- win had a fair and just core, the depth of which she hadn’t fully appreciated and understood at the time. There had been no room for anything but gratitude that someone outside her family was fighting with and for her. But there was no way he could remember the experience with anything but the same dread she felt. Not after the way he’d been portrayed and everything he’d lost . . .
Tomorrow she had no choice but to take on both the project and the memories. Tonight, she’d take the first step on her own, with no one watching her.
Josh Goodwin sat at his desk, reading through incident reports and files the sheriff’s office had sent over, and making notes to re- quest additional information before making decisions as to whether they’d file, dismiss, or bargain.
A fourteen-year-old had brought a gun to school and hidden it in his locker. The file was short. Many questions arose and he made notes.
The next file was thicker. A sixteen-year-old star athlete had been caught with drugs in his car. He had a big-shot lawyer at Josh’s father’s firm. The lawyer had filed a motion to have the case dismissed . . . which meant that dinner with his parents’ later that week would be un- comfortable. It took discipline not to close his eyes and shake his head when he read the particulars of the case, but reserving judgment until he’d listened to all parties involved was the fair route.
The last file, an ongoing investigation, darkened his day. A well- known, local businessman’s son was being investigated for murdering his stepmom. There was evidence to suggest the boy’s father had put him up to it when he’d discovered his wife was having an affair. Time and time again, jealousy and feelings of betrayal enraged and darkened the human mind and heart, turning people into monsters. The evidence against the father, Max Parker, was strong, but it was circumstantial. Josh had taken it on because he had a special passion for cases involving injustice to minors—those were the cases
he’d cut his teeth on.
He leaned back, shut down his feelings, and thought about every- thing in each file before making a few more notes. When he was done, he threw his sports coat over his arm, locked up his office, and made his way down to the first-floor lobby. He needed to decide where exactly he’d be holding his press conference tomorrow.
When he walked off the elevator, a motion to his right caught his attention. He glanced over and caught sight of a figure taking off at a run. Security in the building was tight enough, but the fact that someone was running down a hallway at such a late hour was odd. Josh sighed and decided to follow.
When he got to the short hallway, there was no one there. He walked slowly, taking everything in. There were three doors and they were all shut, as they should be. He peered into each window and tried the handles one by one. They were all dark and they were all locked.
Only one door remained: a supply closet at the end of the hall- way. Aware that his dress shoes were clicking, Josh walked back to the elevator, slipped his shoes off, and made his way quietly back down the hallway and to the closet again.
“I know you’re there.” A muffled, female voice came from inside the closet a few seconds later. “And I know you think I’m up to no good and that you have some sort of moral responsibility to figure out what I’m up to, but I assure you I’m here to work. Please just leave.”
Josh rolled his eyes heavenward. Seriously? Only a teenager would ask an adult to take her word for something and leave her alone. And yet the words had been very adultlike. “I can’t leave until you show yourself and tell me exactly who you are and what you’re doing here.”
“Can we find a way for you to put your mind at ease that doesn’t involve me opening the door?”
Josh raked a hand through his hair. He’d been in plenty of un- usual situations. It came with the job. But this—this was new. And absurd. It had to be a teen, and maybe the teen was in trouble. “Why don’t you want to come out?”
“Are you one of our courthouse ghosts?” he asked. Humor some- times did the trick with kids.
It was a pitiful and honest yes. Josh was silent for a moment, too. Whoever was behind the door had something to hide, but he’d bet his career she wasn’t a menace. Still, it was his duty to get to the bottom of whatever was going on. Some leader he would be if he simply left. “Look, there’s no lock on this door. Nothing has prevented me from opening it. I’ve been trying to give you a chance, and I hope that shows you that you have nothing to fear from me. But it’s my responsibility to open this door and find out what’s going on.”
The door abruptly swung open and Josh instinctively moved to the side. He peered in and went cold all over. All he could do was stare.
It was a ghost.
As much as she’d done to change her appearance, Gracie knew he instantly recognized her. Everything about him registered shock. It was as if he was frozen in place. She swallowed hard but was unable to get past the lump in her throat. He looked exactly the way she re- membered him—spiky and mussed-up brown hair, sparkling dark eyes, and a handsome face. Tall. An athletic build that filled out his fitted suit. He looked the same, but her reaction was new. A jolt of heat infused her from head to toe the instant she looked at him. Embarrassment, most likely.
She hesitated before saying, “Hello, Mr. Goodwin.” The title Mr. sounded strange to her ears. He looked almost her age, though she knew he was a little over seven years older.
He’d been twenty-four and she’d been seventeen when they’d first met nine years ago. He, fresh out of law school. She, a high school senior.
She pushed her glasses up and avoided his eyes. “Actually, I go by Grace Dearborn now.” It was imperative they got that straight.
She forced herself to glance at him again. He’d straightened, but he was still staring. “What are you doing hiding in a closet?” he finally asked.
Something in her bristled. Not at him but at herself. She hadn’t been prepared to see him, but it wouldn’t do to start off on unequal footing. She was twenty-six. She was a professional. And she’d been caught hiding in a closet.
Pushing past her reluctance to speak, she took a quick, deep breath and gathered her wits to start afresh. “Surely you’re aware of the extensive remodeling project that will begin here in three months? The firm I work for, Midwest Workplace Design, is in charge, and I’m the lead workplace designer.” She turned and pretended to study the closet. “I’m—I’m checking everything out. Including the closets.” “Workplace designer, huh,” he stated with a short nod. “Creative yet logical. It fits. I wondered how you’d find something that utilized all your talents.” Not yet ready to face Josh’s intrinsic kindness, she merely shrugged a little. “And you’ve been checking out the supply closet this entire time?” he continued.
When she chanced another glance at him, he was wearing a play- ful smile. Another thunderbolt hit her, and this time it left her breath- less. That was new, too. And it hadn’t been embarrassment. Fear, maybe? No, she could never fear Josh. . . .
She straightened her shoulders, hoping to look confident. “There’s a lot to consider. People don’t want to waste valuable time when they come in here looking for supplies. Organization should be logical. The most-often-used necessities should be easiest to both find and access, preferably at eye level . . .” she went on, repeating things she’d heard a closet organizer they worked with say, before finally trailing off and clearing her throat.
Everything she was feeling was awareness, she admitted with a sinking feeling. Something she hadn’t felt in years but she remem- bered well. For her, it would forever be entwined with deep, devas- tating feelings of betrayal and distrust. Their eyes met and she took a step back. He must’ve noted it because his smile faltered and he took a step back, too. “You can come out, Gracie.”
Correcting him once more didn’t feel as important as it usually did. Gracie sounded okay coming from him. The way it still sounded good coming from family. Josh Goodwin had been honorable. One of the few men she knew she could trust, even though she hadn’t seen him in years. Maybe that was what her awareness was about. Eternal feelings of gratitude. Plus, seeing him again was unsettling, though not unexpected. But as her internal reasoning rambled on, her still-sinking stomach told her that wasn’t all there was to it.
It was all too much for her to try to figure out right there and then. She stepped out and caught the quick, up-and-down glance he gave her, and it made her take stock of what she looked like. Pale blond hair done up in a stylish yet no-nonsense bun. Olive pencil skirt. Low-heeled, knee-high boots. Off-white, fashionably bulky sweater. Peach-colored frames on her trendy glasses. Nude makeup. Fashion- able enough to look like she could fit the creative role she played, but nondescript enough to fade away and not draw attention.
“Who are you hiding from, Gracie?” he asked, looking straight into her eyes. There was warmth there. And she couldn’t handle it.
“I’m hiding from disruptions,” she answered and began walking down the hallway ahead of him, a mistake that left her feeling awkward and exposed. “I’m taking everything in. Silence and stillness is a must. Tomorrow my team and I will start observing everyone at work and begin asking questions so we can incorporate everyone’s needs into the design. Tonight, I needed to be alone.” She came to a stop at the end of the hallway and cast him a quick, over-the-shoulder glance, to see if he’d caught the small hint. It was obvious he had, but there was now pity in his eyes. Her cheeks heated up.
Josh set down his briefcase while he shrugged into his light coat. She was dismissing him and it was just as well. They were both un- comfortable.
Gracie, on the eve of his announcement. It was a worst-case sce- nario. The case that had defined his career had also almost derailed it, thanks to the lies and vitriol of both the people Gracie had been up against and the important people Josh had defied: a group he had once belonged to. It always brought up mixed feelings. Gratitude that he’d been saved from a meaningless life but also the sickening feel- ing that justice and honesty didn’t always win.
When Gracie turned to him, he was again taken aback by how much she’d changed—or rather, how much her experience must’ve changed her. I’m hiding from disruptions . . .
A ghost of the girl she’d once been. She’d even changed her last name. He picked up his briefcase again and stretched his right arm out to shake her hand. “I don’t know what to say. It’s nice to meet you, Grace Dearborn. We sorely need the renovations and updates your firm has been hired to do. But I’d like to talk to Gracie Piper someday to find out how she wound up where she is. I often wonder about her, you know.” And with that, he turned and left.
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