LOOKING FOR YOU | LAUREL HEIGHTS

 

lookingforyouGwendolyn Pierce has a secret. A big secret.

No one knows that the gourd artist is really the missing Grape Princess–the wine heiress who ran away fourteen years before. And that’s the way Gwen likes it. No paparazzi recording her every mistake, no stern family disapproving of her life. She has her gourd shop in Laurel Heights and lives in peaceful bliss.

Until she meets Rick Clancy.

The last person she should get involved with is a private investigator who finds her as suspicious as he does sexy. Only she can’t help herself, and she can’t help wondering if she can trust him with her secrets–and her heart.  { scroll down for sneak peek! }

 

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SNEAK PEEK

Looking for You—Chapter One

It was a dark and stormy night.

Gwen chuckled as she slipped on her red rain slicker. Good thing she was an artist instead of a writer. If words were her livelihood, she’d be the proud owner of a cardboard box instead of a lovely store in Laurel Heights.

Checking the straps on her rollerblades, she rolled through her shop, Outta My Gourd, stopping once to rearrange one of the displays. It still boggled her mind that she’d built all this. Ten years ago, if someone had told her she’d end up a gourd artist, she’d have immediately taken the person to a psychiatric ward.

If her family knew how she made her living, they’d definitely lock her away. No de la Roche would ever consider being anything so common as an artist, much less one who painted squash. The paparazzi would have a field day.

Which was why she ran away and became Gwendolyn Pierce, anonymous free spirit.

It’d been the best decision she’d ever made, and she had her grandmother to thank for it. If Mamie Yvette hadn’t encouraged her to leave the nest and find her own way, she’d be miserable and trapped instead of content and fulfilled. She’d come into her own. If Mamie Yvette could see her now, she’d wink in her sly way and ask how freedom tasted.

It tasted delicious.

It’d be perfect, if it weren’t for the fact that she couldn’t tell anyone who she’d been. Anyone. The more people who knew, the greater the chance of her secret getting out.

She stopped, hand on a light switch, and looked around her store. If her secret got out, she’d lose all this. She’d lose her independence and privacy. The media—she cringed, thinking what a zoo that’d be. Her friends would look at her differently, and she’d question anyone’s motive who wanted to get to know her.

The very thought was crushing.

But sometimes she just wanted to be loud. She wanted to cause a ruckus instead of living quietly in the shadows.

She wanted to be seen, to be acknowledged—for herself, not because of her name.

She wanted to accept the de Young Museum’s offer.

They’d called again today. They wanted her to participate in a special exhibit: “Artisans of the Americas: Past and Present.” They asked her to do a modern gourd project inspired from one of the ancient gourds the museum had on display. Other artists were participating, and in the end one project would be picked as a permanent exhibit in the museum.

Just the thought of it made her want to jump up and down with excitement. How incredible would it be to have her work displayed in one of the premier museums of the world? Her grandmother would have been proud of her.

But there was no way she could do it.

She couldn’t chance the recognition and attention it’d draw. What if someone recognized her as the missing Geneviève de la Roche and outed her?

She resented needing to hide.

Unfortunately, hiding was better than having to live under a microscope again.

Gwen flipped the lights off and went outside to face the unseasonal August storm.

Before, as Geneviève de la Roche, she wouldn’t have been allowed to rollerblade at all, much less rollerblade in rain.

“Before no longer exists,” she murmured to herself, locking the door.

The heavy click of the latch was like the past was shut behind her. Memories didn’t always stay shut away, but the further she got from them, the more distant they seemed.

Distant was just the way she wanted to keep things, because there was no way she was going back. Not that her family would take her back, anyway.

Except Mamie Yvette. Her grandmother would welcome her with open arms,chocolat chaud waiting, wanting to hear of all the adventures she’d had over the fourteen years Gwen had been gone.

Over the years, they’d had intermittent contact—brief, unsatisfying calls from disposable phones and such—but it’d been fleeting and infrequent. When Gwen had settled in San Francisco, Mamie Yvette had asked her not to gamble her happiness and call again, afraid someone would discover her location. It’d been three years since their last conversation.

She missed Yvette de la Roche.

Gwen shook off the melancholy that blanketed her whenever she thought about her old life and stepped into the storm. Holding her arms open, she embraced the rain and let it wash her thoughts away, focusing on the little things she appreciated so much—the crinkly sound of the slicker, the feel of the water weighing down her grown-out curls and running down her neck, the anticipation of the hot bath she’d have when she arrived home.

Carefully, she pushed off down the slippery sidewalk. She hadn’t gone two blocks before a car slowed to a snail’s pace next to her.

Normally, she’d have ignored it and sped away, but it was the sort of car she’d always wanted: one of those old American tanks, restored to its original glory. Even in the deluge she could see the gleam of the dark paint and the fancy rims. She slowed down, admiring the beauty.

The window rolled down. Gwen started to smile automatically, but then she saw the driver’s face and her smile faded, replaced by a jittery feeling in the pit of her stomach and sweaty palms. For some reason, being around Rick Clancy always did that to her.

Of course he did. He was a private investigator, and she was a woman with a secret.

He leaned across the bench seats and scowled out the window at her. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Going home,” she said, wanting to smack his handsome face. Not that she’d ever admit she found his dark, mysterious looks intriguing.

That chiseled, manly face looked at her now, the same way it always did: with distaste. “It’s raining,” he said as though she were five.

“No wonder you’re a private investigator.” The rain stopped feeling invigorating and began to chill her. She drew her coat closed tighter around her neck. “You’re so astute.”

He studied her with sharp eyes. “Only someone insane would rollerblade in this storm.”

She shrugged, knowing it’d irritate him. “No one ever accused me of being sane.”

“Get in.”

She blinked in surprise. “You’re offering me a ride?”

“Yes.” He sounded like it pained him, too.

“Why?” she asked suspiciously. They didn’t get along. They hadn’t from the moment their mutual friend, Olivia, had introduced them to each other. She thought he was overbearing and bossy, and he considered her to be loony. Not that she cared what he thought—much. “You don’t like me.”

“I don’t trust you. There’s a difference.”

She stepped back from his probing gaze. He was too observant, and she had a past she didn’t want anyone to uncover. The last thing she needed to do was jeopardize the new life she cherished by getting friendly with someone who made his living ferreting out people’s secrets, no matter how attractive he was.

“I don’t trust you, either,” she said finally.

“Good, it’s unanimous.” He leaned forward. “Look, I’m only offering the ride because if Olivia finds out I let you trek home in this she’ll be pissed. You know Olivia.”

Olivia Parker-Wallace was the closest friend she’d ever had. Being from such a wealthy family, Gwen hadn’t had many friends growing up. It was hard to be close to people when you constantly questioned if they liked you for yourself or for your family name. Her brother Roger was kind, but he was so much older they’d never really been friends. She hadn’t had anyone except her grandmother.

That was one of the reasons she’d bonded with Olivia so quickly and completely. Olivia had grown up with her grandmother, too. Plus they were both shopkeepers in Laurel Heights. Olivia’s lingerie store was just down the block from Outta My Gourd.

Gwen hadn’t known Olivia long, but she knew Olivia had opinions, one of them being that she and Rick were meant to be together. So, yes, Olivia would have insisted that Rick give her a ride home.

Of course, Olivia didn’t know of Gwen’s past, or that hanging around a private investigator was the last thing she needed to do. She shook her head and said the one thing that was guaranteed to send Rick running. “Olivia thinks you and I should date.”

His expression didn’t change. “I wonder why that is.”

“I’m a catch. She thinks I’d be good for you.”

“Is that what you think?”

She thought she wanted to strip him naked and pour chocolate all over his body. But how idiotic would it be to invite a detective into her life? “What else could it be?”

“Maybe I’m the catch.”

He was a catch—she’d always thought so, even if she’d never verbally admit it. Successful, highly educated, and settled. Funny and smart. As if that wasn’t lethal enough, he was long and lean and hard, nothing soft or pampered about him. Every time she saw him, something in her went tingly and reckless.

It annoyed her.

So she laughed at his statement. By the look on his face, it’d sounded genuine enough to deceive him. Then again, why wouldn’t it? She’d been taught to hide her thoughts and feelings behind a facade before she could even walk.

Rick glared at her. “Look, my upholstery is getting wet. Just get in the goddamn car.”

“I’m capable of making it home on my own.”

“I don’t care. I’m giving you a ride.”

“Why?”

He leaned out the window. “Get. In.”

The glare on his face should have frightened her, but oddly she felt a shiver of excitement, very similar to the feeling she’d had the day she’d run away. Excitement mingled with a touch of fear and the knowledge that her life would never be the same from that day forward.

“Ridiculous,” she murmured. Getting a ride from Rick was nothing like running away from her family.

“It is ridiculous,” he growled. “We’re both getting soaked, and you’re standing there like a stubborn fool. For the last time, get in the goddamn car.”

Hell no, she thought as she opened her mouth and said, “Okay.”

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