When her brother makes a bad real estate investment, using their house as collateral, Elizabeth Abbot comes home to try and save her house. What she discovers when she gets there is worse. Her brother borrowed money against the house from the Jessopís, the richest family in town, a family she has always secretly resented for their wealth and power.
When she goes to the Jessop house to plead for more time to pay off the loan, she discovers that the elder Jessop is in hospital. His son Kyle has come home from the city to take care of his affairs. Away at boarding school growing up, Elizabeth has never set eyes on the handsome, yet arrogant Kyle Jessop, until now.
Kyle is not interested in pity stories, so Elizabeth must appeal to his father, a father who needs a live in nurse to get him back on his feet. Forced to give up her life temporarily in the city, Elizabeth has no choice but to move in to the Jessop home if she wants to save her house from repossession.
If you are in the mood for a good, old fashioned love story laced with some witty dialogue and a lot of passion, The Jessopís is just what the doctor ordered!
"Kyle Jessop is a monster!"
This was the first thing she heard, as a young woman came tearing down the steps almost knocking her off her feet. Oh, great, she thought, looking around her at the figure running down the street. This was all she needed considering the amount of mental preparation and courage it had taken her to come here to meet with Kyle Jessop. Suddenly, she noticed a plump gray haired woman standing at the top of the steps looking at her. She beckoned to her with one hand. Elizabeth managed to complete her journey up the stone steps. Her stomach was in knots.
"Ms. Abbot, I presume," she said. "Iím Winnie Jessop. I believe you are here to see my stepson, Kyle."
"Yes. Good day, Mrs. Jessop."
Elizabeth took one last look over her shoulder. The wailing woman had disappeared from sight. The older woman took her arm and led her into the house. She paused at the threshold and lowered her voice.
"I apologize for that," she said, shaking her head. "Kyle had to let her go today. I just didnít have the heart. She was stealing from us."
Elizabeth didnít know how to respond to that. It was the first time she had ever been inside the Jessop house. She looked around in wonder. As a child she had imagined what the interior of this house looked liked. It was grand with the floors of marble so shiny she could see the reflection of her shoes in it. But then, why shouldnít it be? The Jessop family had controlled this town for as long as she could remember.
Bringing herself back to the present she continued to follow Samuel Jessopís wife down the long corridor. She couldnít help noticing the window that ran the length of the wall from floor to ceiling, and beside it a carved staircase with a brass banister curving upward. There was one oil painting hanging in the hall, a picture of a meadow in the sunlight. Elizabeth stared at it mesmerized, until she became aware that the woman was waiting for her.
Elizabeth was led off past the long staircase into a tastefully decorated room with a small fireplace in the corner. There was wood and the smell of leather everywhere. Along the left side of the wall was an extensive library with aligned books. Directly ahead was a large, beautifully finished walnut desk with a brown leather office chair. Behind the desk, was a window that looked out onto a spacious lawn. Off to the right were two tan leather chairs separated by a round oriental carpet. The only thing that looked out of sync was the pile of file folders strewn across the desk.
"Take a seat," the woman told her. "Kyle will be with you shortly."
Elizabeth sighed and sat down. Although she had grown up in the same town with Samuel Jessopís son, Kyle, she hardly remembered him. He was a few years older then she was, and after his mother had left town Samuel Jessop had sent Kyle away to boarding school. Winnie Jessop was Samuelís second wife. Trying to concentrate on the town gossip was not making her feel any more relaxed.
Elizabeth rose from one of the chairs and went to look out the back window. To the right of the house was a full sized tennis court and on the left was one of the most beautiful flower gardens she had ever seen. In the distance beyond the tennis court was what looked like a large swimming pool. Turning around, her eyes strayed back to the many files on the desk. She wondered how many other people in town were in the same position as she was. Were all their names in those files? Maybe if they came together to fight the JessopsÖ
She moved toward the desk and lifted the corner of one of the files. Bending over she raised the cover just a little more. Then she jolted upright as she heard the sound of a deep male voice.
"I believe itís easier to read if you take the papers out of the folder."
Gasping, Elizabeth jerked away from the desk knocking several of the folders off in the process. Her face flushed with embarrassment as her eyes settled on the man who had entered the room. He was very tall with the build of an athlete, and his very presence seemed to make the room shrink in size. He was dressed casually in blue jeans and a tee shirt, but everything about him reeked of power. He had eyes and hair as black as coal and the sleekness of his muscular built reminded her of a leopard on the prowl. The only feature about him that spoke of some vulnerability was his mouth. The bottom lip was slightly fuller than the top, giving it a quality of sensuality that was intoxicating. She felt like such an idiot, like a child caught stealing cookies from the cookie jar. He moved forward, muscles bulging across his taunt chest as he held out his hand to her.
"Miss Abbot?" he said, lifting an eyebrow. "Iím Kyle Jessop."
She took his hand briefly. There was something unnerving about his touch. "I would like to explain..." she began, her face burning with shame.
He shook his dark head and stooped down to pick up the files. He was right in front of her, barricading her in the corner behind the desk. He stood up to his full height. He had to be over six feet tall. He towered over her five-seven frame. Holding the files in one strong, bronzed hand he regarded her with his dark eyes, as if he knew that she was uncomfortable and was enjoying it. He ran his eyes over her, taking in her shoulder length blond hair and her light blue eyes framed with thick black lashes. He moved his eyes over her long, tan legs and the tailored navy skirt she wore. It didnít appear as if he had any intention of moving. A smile played around that mouth.
"Please," he said, waving an elegant hand toward the two chairs on the other side of the desk.
She expected him to move out and give her space to walk. Instead, he turned his body sideways allowing just enough room for her to squeeze past him. She turned her back to avoid his gaze and slipped past. As she did, she couldnít avoid brushing up against his hard body, her buttocks coming in contact with his thighs, her back against his broad chest.
He could have stepped back to give her some space. He didnít. She had the impression when she slipped past him that he was going to move even closer to her, pressing his entire body against hers. It wouldnít have surprised her, given how the Jessopís figured they owned the entire town. The very fact that he didnít do that surprised her as much as the physical contact did, and she couldnít decide if she was glad or disappointed. Elizabeth came around to the front of the desk and glared at him. He blinked at her as if confused by her expression.
"First of all," Elizabeth began, "I do apologize for looking in your files, but if they are confidential, then perhaps they shouldnít be left lying all over the place."
Kyle Jessop sat down in his chair and leaned back placing his hands behind his head, which served to emphasize his muscular strength. "Although Iím having a hard time understanding how files, confidential or not, that are lying on my desk in my home could be considered left lying all over the place, Iíll take it under advisement. Anything else?"
Elizabeth cleared her throat. "Why did you refuse to see my brother?"
He cocked his head and lifted his wide shoulders. "I donít recall that I refused to see your brother. You are speaking of Corey, arenít you?"
"Yes. He came to see you in order to talk about the repayment of the loan. You wouldnít see him. Personally, I think that if you are in the process of trying to take away a personís home you should have the decency to give them the time of day."
Kyle Jessop narrowed his eyes. "Miss Abbot," he sighed, "Iím afraid I have no idea what youíre talking about. Who is trying to take away your home?"
Elizabeth dug the papers out of her handbag. She passed them across the desk to him, standing while his eyes scanned the two pages. He sucked in some breath.
"Huh, uh, well." He handed her back the documents. "Looks pretty straight forward. You borrowed some money from my father, the house at 54 Elm was put up as collateral. What exactly is the problem? Have you come to repay the loan?"
"No, I have not come to repay the loan," Elizabeth snapped. "Where do you think Iíd get that kind of money?"
He sat back and folded his muscular arms across his chest. "That is a question for you to answer. But since you were so generous in advising me on how I should secure my personal files I think I may be in a position to return the favor. In the future, when you borrow money you might want to have some vague idea about how you intend to pay it back before you put your signature on a contract."
What could Elizabeth say since it was Corey who had signed her name on that document? She couldnít tell this man that Corey had committed forgery. God, her brother could end up in jail. No, better to let him think she did sign the contract. He was leaning forward, his eyes questioning. When she didnít speak he issued her a cool smile.
"Well," he said, standing up, "this has been pleasant. Please, if there is anything else I can do for youÖ"
"Mr. Jessop, you are the most impudent man I have ever met. This meeting has not been in the least pleasant and you know it, and it is not over. My brother was cheated by a con man who took the money your father loaned him and left him with worthless land. My family may not be as well off as yours, but we are honest people who do our best to pay our debts."
"You have quite a little chip on your shoulder there, donít you?" Kyle Jessop commented. "I detect a great deal of hostility. There is therapy for that, I believe."
"I donít need any therapy," she snapped. "This is about your father trying to take my house." She paused, trembling with anger. He watched her with half closed eyes, saying nothing. She clutched the side of the chair, and began again. "You donít need my house. It means nothing to your family. There has to be another way to settle this, a way that I can pay off this debt without losing my house."
Kyle shook his head. "Look, Miss Abbot," he lowered his voice, and met her eyes. "Iím truly sorry for your trouble, but this is out of my hands. You signed the contract and agreed to the terms. Iím in no position to alter it, and to be honest, even if I was, I wouldnít."
Elizabeth exploded. "Youíre a despicable man; you and your father! People like you enjoy ripping lives apart, taking away the last thing of value a person owns."
"You need to stop right there," Kyle Jessop told her. "First of all, I am not my father, and secondly you donít know me well enough to assume that Iím the devil himself."
"I think you are the devil, Mr. Jessop," Elizabeth replied. "Anyone who would not even attempt to understand, who would not even try to negotiate some fair agreement, given the fact that my brother was deceived, is heartless and cold."
"Negotiate?" Kyle retorted. "What is there to negotiate? What would you have me do? Apparently, you are in no position to pay back the loan, are you?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "No, butÖ"
"Well, then, what? What should we do?" He slapped his hands together and stood up. "Do you want me to wave a magic wand and make it disappear? Would you like to pay my father back a little each month until the year 2090?
"I find your behavior rude and condescending," she struck back. "Perhaps you are the type of man who treats women as if they were children. If that young woman I met on my way in is any indicationÖ"
"There was a poor young woman running out of this house when I arrived. She was obviously very upset."
"That poor young woman was stealing this house blind. If itís any of your business, my stepmother begged me to let her go. Unfortunately, she didnít take it well."
She met his eyes. "Obviously not. You seem to have a way with women."
He grinned. "Thank you, Miss Abbot. I like to think so."
"I did not mean that as a compliment. Your charm leaves much to be desired."
His dark eyes smoldered. "It seems to me that the longer this meeting goes on the more you assume to know about me. In fact, it appears that you may know more about me than I do myself."
"Well, to tell you the truth, the less I know about you the better. I can only judge your character based on this meeting and I think itís safe to say you are a cold and unyielding man."
He gave her an arrogant smile. "Itís funny, you are the first young woman to ever find me so."
"Well, thereís no accounting for taste."
His smile faded. Satisfied that she had managed to stump him for words Elizabeth felt more relaxed. She took a seat. Kyle Jessopís eyes widened in surprise at her persistence.
"I want only one thing from you, Mr. Jessop," Elizabeth told him, "and that is for you to agree to another meeting with me tomorrow."
He put his hands on his hips and gave her a blank look as if she had gone mad. Then his face broke out into a rakish grin. "I will be delighted," he bowed his dark head like some ancient knight about to be honored by the king. "Weíve had such a good time at this one, havenít we? But, eh, may I be permitted to ask why? Could it be you find me irresistible and are just making an excuse to see me again?"
Elizabeth scowled. "Iím not even going to grace that with an answer."
He laughed a deep heartfelt laugh that completely transformed his face. God, if only he wasnít so damned good looking. Those black eyes crinkling at the corners, the dark hair, thick, with the slightest wave to it falling across his forehead. The sight of him invaded her senses threatening to weaken her resolve. She tore her eyes away from him and scowled again.
"Youíre very cute when you scowl like that," he teased. "Do it again."
She decided the best thing to do was to ignore the comment. In the short time she had known Kyle Jessop she had discovered that he was a man prone to say outrageous things, things that seemed to come right off the top of his head. She made another attempt to get back to the point.
"Tonight, I will speak with a friend of mine in the city, a doctor where I work at the hospital. He may be able to loan me some money. I want you to explain to your father that I will pay down 50 percent of the loan in cash right away. Then between what I earn as a nurse and my botherís construction job we should be able to make arrangements to pay off the rest a little at a time."
"This friend of yours, Miss Abbot, your boyfriend perhaps?"
She glared at him. "I donít consider that to be any of your business."
He laughed and shrugged. "Fair enough, but one wonders what this so called friend of yours will expect in exchange for lending you all this money." He raised a dark eyebrow suggestively. "It is a substantial amount of money."
"There are people in this world, Mr. Jessop, who do things for reasons other than personal gain," she replied.
"Really?" Kyle Jessop commented, taking his seat again.
"Yes, really. But then you wouldnít know anything about that, would you?"
"Apparently not," he mocked. "Iím totally self interested. Anyway, in spite of being completely into myself, Miss Abbot, I will speak to my father about your proposal when I go to the hospital. But I canít promise anything. It is entirely up to him."
Elizabeth nodded, feeling she had made her point. "Thank you. You wonít regret this."
"Funny, but for some reason, I regret it already," he murmured.
Elizabeth remained stubbornly silent as Kyle Jessop stood up, a signal that the meeting was over. Elizabeth rose from her seat. The door flew open and a young woman stood there wearing a skimpy pair of shorts and a tank top. She was breathtakingly beautiful, her long brown hair swinging almost to her waist.
"Kyle, my love, there you are," she cooed, large green eyes shining at him. "Iíve been looking all over for you. You promised that weíd go swimming together." She paused, noticing that Kyle was not alone.
"Linda," Kyle said, smiling. "This is Miss Abbot. Miss Abbot, Linda, my sister."
Elizabeth reached out her hand, but Linda pretended not to see it. Instead, she issued Elizabeth a sideways glance, nodded briskly, and then blew Kyle a kiss.
"Well, hurry up," the young woman whispered. "You promised."
"Iíll be there shortly," he said. With that, the young woman issued Elizabeth one last glance and left the room. "Well," Kyle announced, the smile he reserved for Linda fading instantly, "forgive the interruption. I did promise to be elsewhere."
"Well, donít let me keep you," Elizabeth remarked.
He raised an eyebrow and gave her a cocky smirk. "So, what time tomorrow? Shall we say around 2:00 in the afternoon? I do have other things to do. Letís hope it doesnít take too long."
"That will be fine," Elizabeth replied, stiffly.
He had a way of making her feel that her presence was an inconvenience to him. With that, Kyle Jessop walked her out, bid her good day, and closed the door behind her. The only thing he left out, Elizabeth thought, was the boot.
Elizabeth stood across the street from the house for a few minutes and studied it from a distance. It looked the same to her as it had when she was a kid. It was set back from the road, the property scanning half of Cedar Avenue. The Jessop family had controlled this town for as long as she could remember. They had owned the only factory at one time. After it closed down due to the slump in manufacturing they had started developing the land around the lake and selling it. In the last five years several developments had gone up, along with a summer resort and a marina. With the factory gone many people in town were employed by Jessop construction, and in the various services that had sprung up around the boom in tourism. Even her brother Corey worked for them. People claimed that the Jessops was the only thing that kept Martindale from becoming a ghost town. Although Elizabeth couldnít argue with that it still seemed that the Jessops had far too much power in this town.
Samuel Jessop made his money in the stock market. The family had never mixed with the locals. Some scandal had surrounded the family back when she was a child. She recalled her parents talking about Samuel Jessopís wife who ran off with another man. Samuel Jessop had a reputation for being cold and ruthless, and people said they didnít blame his poor wife for leaving him. Seemed his son, Kyle, was a chip off the old block. What stirred far more talk was that when Mrs. Jessop left she had abandoned her infant son. As soon as the boy was old enough Samuel Jessop had sent him off to a private boarding school. Six or seven years her senior Elizabeth didnít remember setting eyes on Kyle Jessop before today. A few years after his wife left him Samuel Jessop married his housekeeper, Winnie Clarke. They had a child, Linda, the young woman she had met today in Kyle Jessopís office.
It was not surprising that the Jessop house had always been the grandest house in town. When she was a child she would stand on the street corner and admire it. Those overarching weeping willow trees and sculptured flowers were still there. The front door had that huge brass doorknocker shaped like the head of a lion that had fascinated her. Twisted ivy vines covered the stone structure leading up to at least six windows on the second floor. To the side of the house stood a large gazebo with two lawn swings facing each other. The land ran back for miles and Elizabeth knew there was a large rose garden and a tennis court out back. The pool had been a more recent addition.
Tearing her eyes away she began to walk home. She thought about the meeting she just had. Kyle Jessop had to be one of the most insufferable men sheíd ever met. Of course, what could she expect? He was a Jessop after all. However, she had been unprepared for how attractive he was. Anyway, after tomorrow, sheíd never have to lay eyes on him again.
She began to walk faster, then slowed as she came to the center of town. She hadnít been home in a few months, but nothing had changed. She had spent most of her life here in Martindale, only to go off to Franklin Center a few years ago to work in the hospital. She walked down Main Street taking a detour so that she could revisit her town. There on her left was the fire hall beside the Martindale Dry Cleaners. She made her way around the fire hall and walked past the grocery store. She could smell Mrs. Adams donuts as she approached the bakeshop. And there was the magazine stand where she used to spend hours browsing. It looked like it was closed.
A few cars rolled down Main Street and onto Cedar Avenue. Some people blew their horns and waved at her, but Elizabeth could only make out a blur of faces. A few people crossed back and forth in front of her in the distance, some carrying grocery bags. She recognized Mr. Thompson who used to be the high school principle with his spectacles perched high on his nose, and Bill Smoothie, the barber.
As she rounded the corner onto Elm she sighed deeply. She knew she was putting off the inevitable. She needed to go home and talk to Corey again, but they had had a huge fight last night. She was very angry with him when he showed her that letter. Elizabeth had waved it in front of his face.
"It says here the loan has to be paid in full by the end of this month or they will take possession of the house. Who sent this, a lawyer?"
Corey lowered his head. "No. I think it was the old manís son."
"Son?" Elizabeth cried, standing up and pacing around.
"Yes, the old man is in the hospital. He had a heart attack. Apparently the son is looking after his affairs until heís up on his feet."
Her eyes scanned the letter again. Underneath was a copy of the agreement that Corey had made with Samuel Jessop, at the very bottom corner was her signature.
"I canít believe you forged my name on this! Every time I think of itÖIÖdidnít you think that one day I would find out?"
Corey swallowed, averting his eyes. "I thought I would have made money by then, paid off the loan, and well, if you did find out then it wouldnít have mattered."
"Of course it would have mattered; you committed forgery!" She closed her eyes, trying to hang on to her temper. "You could go to jail for this."
When she opened her eyes she noticed that there were tears in Coreyís eyes. She tried to smile at him. After all, she loved him so. He was all she had. When their parents were killed in a car crash Elizabeth had struggled to not only raise her adolescent brother, but to pay off the house. Sheíd had to turn down her acceptance at the nursing school in the city pursuing a nursing assistantís certificate through correspondence instead. At the same time she had held down two jobs. The only thing that kept her sane was her writing, and the hope that one day these hard times would come to an end.
Finally, they did. Elizabeth paid off the house, earned her degree, and proudly watched as Corey walked up to the podium to accept his high school diploma. When she was offered the job at the hospital in the city it was Corey who urged her to go. He had just turned 19. Even though he would miss her he told her that she no longer had to watch over him as if he was still a child. Just before she was to leave Corey got a job working on one of the Jessop construction crews. She never imagined that everything she had worked so hard for would all come crashing down around her like this. Sitting there with his sad blue eyes, his shoulder length fair hair badly in need of a trim, he reminded her so much of Daddy. She walked over to him, and squeezed his shoulder.
"What about this guy who sold you the bill of goods?" she asked, softly. "Edward Walker; have the police been able to locate him at all?"
"No. It seems that Mr. Walker makes a pretty good living selling people swampland and then disappearing. Oh, Liz, I really thought, you know, what with the rise in tourism around here that I could sell off that land for a small fortune. Just think, Sis, you could have retired from the hospital, came home to Martindale, wrote your stories. It would have been like old times, you and me."
Elizabeth leaned over and hugged his neck. "I know you had the best of intentions, but you should have talked to me first." She relinquished her hold on him, and sighed. "You should have never gambled with the house like that, especially since you borrowed the money from the Jessops."
Standing away from him she stared out the back window. She studied the old tire, which hung on the tree, the old tire she had spent hours swinging back and forth on as a child.
"Why do you hate them so much?" Corey asked. "I never understood that. Even before you went away you used to go on and on about the Jessops all the time."
"Hate them?" Elizabeth turned to her brother. "I donít hate them. Maybe Iíve resented them a little, thatís all. While we struggled, they never had to. They had everything and thought nothing of gobbling up half this town. Now they want the only thing we have, the one thing Iíve worked so hard to hold onto. If we lose this all that struggle will have been for nothing." Tears came to her eyes and one rolled down her cheek. "But maybe youíre right, maybe I do hate them because itís happening to us."
She turned away from him again. Corey placed his head down on the table. After a few moments Elizabeth pulled herself together and sat down at the table. She took a sip of her coffee, which had grown cold, and made a face pushing it away.
"Oh, Corey." Her anger flared again. "Itís not a situation where we can pay the money back a little at a time. Itís all or nothing! Whatever possessed you to agree to such a thing?"
Corey paced the room. "The deal was supposed to pay off right away, a simple transfer of money. I would buy the land from Walker one day and sell it off the next, pay off the loan and then keep the profits. Thatís the way it was supposed to work."
"Well, it didnít work that way, did it?"
Elizabeth shook her head. There was a strained silence. After a few minutes she walked out of the room. She was far too angry to continue the conversation. Sheíd have to go and see Samuel Jessopís son and try to straighten out this mess. She was worried about losing the house, but most of all she worried about Corey. He had committed forgery. If anyone found out he could go to jail.
Suddenly, she was standing in front of her little house. She had been so deep in thought on the way over here, she had lost track of where she was. She looked at the huge picture window where she sat as a child on rainy days, breathing in the fragrance from the lilac tree in front. Beside the window was the new aluminum door she had installed last year, its newness standing in sharp contrast to the old wood frame windows. Her eyes flew over the lawn. It was crying out to be mowed. The grass looked yellow in the mid afternoon sun.
As she started up the path she looked down at the cement. The pavement had started to crack again. She also knew that the roof was in need of repair and it was getting time to repaint the little wood porch. She unlocked the door and went inside. She called out Coreyís name, but there was no answer. She walked through the living room picking up a blanket from the floor and a stray cushion, which had fallen off the sofa. She bypassed the hallway that led to the two bedrooms and bath, and headed into the kitchen. There were a few plates lying in the sink and her fern was badly in need of water. She washed up the dishes and gave the plant a drink then slipped outside the back door.
The backyard with its huge maple trees and squeaky lawn swing was her favorite place in the world, always a refuge from the summer heat. She had such happy memories here. She sat down on the swing, and looked at the flowerbeds. It seemed that Corey had been faithfully watering the roses; they waved at her in greeting in the late afternoon breeze. Then the momentary contentment she was feeling dissipated. She pursed her lips and surveyed her property.
"My house; mine and Coreyís," she murmured grudgingly. "And no Jessop, no matter how rich or how powerful is ever going to take it away."