Return to Amberley by Leigh Michaels - Read Online
Return to Amberley
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Summary

When her girlhood crush blossomed into marriage, Andie believed in a rosy future with the man of her dreams – until Todd's betrayal sent her from the beauty of Minnesota's winters to Atlanta to begin anew. But just a few months later, Todd walks back into Andie’s life – asking for her help.

The stone quarry they jointly inherited is for sale, and a good price would secure the future for both of them – paying Andie’s tuition and buying freedom for Todd to concentrate on his sculpture. They need to sell now, but the prospective buyer believes he can pick up the quarry at a discount while Todd and Andie fight through a divorce.

Todd wants Andie to rejoin him at the family home, Amberley, and put a false face on their failing marriage to convince the buyer and sell the quarry. But is Andie risking her heart if she returns to Amberley?

A new contemporary romance from best-selling author Leigh Michaels.

Published: Leigh Michaels on
ISBN: 9781502284594
List price: $3.99
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Return to Amberley - Leigh Michaels

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Michaels

CHAPTER ONE

Not a single stray sunbeam seemed to have descended on Atlanta on this cloudy, gloomy mid-January Wednesday, and business had been slower than usual. Now it was nearly closing time and there wasn’t a customer in sight, so it would be the ideal moment for Andie to retreat to her desk in the back of the little store and catch up on paperwork.

But sending out the credit customers’ monthly statements could wait till tomorrow; Valentine’s Day was just around the corner – relatively speaking, at least. Andie gathered up an example of each red or pink item in the small craft store, added everything she could find which was marked with a heart, and began fashioning a display for the front window. Besides being necessary work, the project occupied her mind, kept her fingers busy, and prevented her from going back to her desk and getting that envelope out of her handbag again.

She had found it waiting in her mailbox at the apartment complex last night when she got home from the store, and it had been haunting her ever since. It was just a plain, almost-square envelope, made of heavy pale-blue bond and addressed in a neat and anonymous script to Andrea Peterson Hayward. The name alone made her hands tremble as she ripped it open; it hadn’t even been necessary to look at the postmark. It could only have been mailed in Hamilton, Minnesota, and it must have come from Todd. Only Todd ever addressed her by her full formal name.

But it wasn’t Todd’s handwriting. She knew his bold block letters well enough, and the way they slashed across an envelope in the harsh black ink of the fountain pen he preferred. She ought to know; she’d been getting an envelope from him on the first business day of each month for nearly half a year.

This one was different. It must be from his attorney, she had thought as she pulled the contents out, though it wasn’t the kind of stationery she would have expected an attorney to use. Besides, there had been scarcely time enough for an answer to her letter – but perhaps that only meant Todd, too, was anxious to have the matter settled once and for all. This must be the response to her question about when she could expect her divorce to be final.

But as it turned out, the envelope held an invitation.

Andie had stared at the expensive engraving for a good five minutes, and in the full day since then, it had never quite been out of her mind. The invitation must have crossed in the mail with her own letter to Todd’s attorney, she thought as she stacked skeins of yarn into a pyramid. This piece of mail had nothing to do with her question about the divorce.

Before she’d finished her display, a regular customer popped in and bought a good deal of the merchandise she’d so carefully arranged in the window. Andie rang up the sale and filled two of the store’s big tote bags to overflowing. It’s a good thing yarn doesn’t weigh much, the customer joked as she gathered up her bulky purchases.

Andie smiled and waved, and after the customer was gone she made the rounds of the store once more to repair the ravaged display. She had to dig into the stockroom to find everything she needed, but as she was sorting out yarn and plastic canvas and needlepoint supplies, her gaze kept slipping to the bottom drawer of her desk where her purse lay – as if she could see through the wood and the leather to what she was beginning to think of as The Envelope.

Considering their divorce-in-progress, why would Todd have put her name on the invitation list, anyway? Because it was the correct thing to do? That didn’t sound like Todd – even though he must realize it would be perfectly safe to invite her because she wouldn’t actually show up.

She didn’t remember crossing the room, but she found herself with the pale blue invitation in her hand, inspecting the formal words as though she hoped to find the answer emblazoned there in silver script.

The trustees and curator of the Franklin Amberley Museum request the honor of your presence at the ground-breaking and dedication of the Museum on Saturday, January 25, at four o’clock in the afternoon...

Was Todd included in that polite request as one of the trustees, or perhaps even as the curator? Or had someone else – some helpful soul in Hamilton, some etiquette maven – decided that Andie Peterson’s name belonged on that list? She had once been – and technically, of course, she still was – Frank Amberley’s granddaughter by marriage. And she was fairly sure that Todd was keeping the divorce proceedings as quiet as possible until the final decree was issued. Someone who didn’t know about that might have thought it only right to invite her.

She shook her head. It was difficult enough to understand what the invitation was all about; Frank Amberley had always been an odd duck – as her father had succinctly and frequently said. But this was the first she’d heard about a museum devoted to his memory.

However, the unknown person who wrote her name on that envelope had the correct address, so the trail must lead back to Todd. Perhaps he’d rather invite her than have her show up unannounced and make a scene about being excluded.

Well, he needn’t worry about that. She would write the nameless trustees and curator a polite little note declining the invitation, and that would be the end of it. And she would stop wondering why she had been included. It didn’t matter, and there was no sense in driving herself mad trying to figure it out.

She settled back into the window to finish her project, and she got so absorbed in velvet ribbon and silk flowers and ruffled lace that she didn’t realize the owner of the store had come in the back door until he dropped his briefcase right behind her. Andie uttered a little scream and jumped six inches, knocking over the bottles of glitter that she’d just finished stacking. What’s in that briefcase of yours, Richard? It sounded as if it was going through the floor!

Richard flung out his arms in a theatrical gesture. I packed in all my love for you.

Andie laughed. You should be careful about saying that before you see the sales figures for the week.

Don’t worry about it, Andie. The pre-Christmas rush can’t last all year round. People are still using up the supplies they found under the tree. Anyway, no brand-new store can be expected to pull in a positive cash flow every single week.

I’ve had a good run, though. She eyed Richard as he wandered across to check the register.

He gave a low whistle when the total came up. I should say you have. This calls for a reward.

Andie smiled as she put the last bottle of glitter back atop the stack. Richard’s idea of a reward was probably to name her employee of the month and give her a parchment certificate. He could be generous – he’d given her this job, after all, when her lack of experience would have made many a manager shred her application. But Richard was ...

She paused to consider. He was careful – she supposed that was the most accurate word to describe him. And of course his caution was why his string of craft stores continued to be profitable despite fierce competition from larger but less personal retailers.

"You mean a reward like all your love getting too big to fit in a briefcase? she teased. I was thinking about a raise, myself."

Or a nice dinner.

Perhaps a commission on sales, she countered.

Richard looked thoughtful. Ten percent of any increase over the previous week’s numbers.

Andie was startled that he’d agreed to anything of the sort. Not that he was taking much of a risk, considering she’d have to hustle just to match this week’s sales, much less increase them week after week. Maybe I should take the dinner instead.

"Maybe you should – because if you expect me to pay commissions, you can buy dinner. He grinned at her. Seriously, it’s paella night at Joe’s. You love paella – and I’m picking up the tab."

Sorry. She’d spent quite a few evenings with Richard over the last few months, because he often made her store the last one on his daily rounds. But their casual dinners were rare enough that when she had to turn one down she truly regretted it. It’s my turn to cook at home.

And Kerry will be disappointed if you don’t show up. Some other time, then.

You could come over and join us.

That invitation sounds half-hearted. Is your reluctance because I detest Kerry, or because she detests me?

You try harder to conceal it than she does, Andie admitted.

That’s something, I suppose. Thanks, but I’ll take a rain check. Did you finish the weekly sales report yet?

Everything’s in the database, and I generated the list of what we need to reorder. There’s a copy on my desk. Andie put the last twist on a velvet ribbon and tipped her head to one side to inspect the window one last time, then carried the leftover supplies back to the stockroom.

Richard was drinking a bottle of cranberry juice he’d taken from the employee refrigerator while he shuffled through the papers on her blotter. What’s this? He held up the invitation. Sorry, I couldn’t help but see it. Are you going?

Of course not. I just thought it was strange that Todd would send it – if he actually did.

Artists don’t look at things the way ordinary people do.

You mean the stereotype that they’re all about booze, psychedelic drugs, and group sex? Not Todd. He’d never do anything that would leave him with unsteady hands, because sculpture is the most important thing in his life. At least, I assume it still is.

That’s what I was talking about – the manic creative fog that artists believe excuses them from thinking like normal people.

Andie reached into the printer tray for the lengthy order list and held it out to him.

Richard was still looking down at the pale-blue parchment. "I don’t understand. A museum honoring Franklin Amberley? I’d have thought from your description of the man that the town was more likely to burn him in effigy."

Andie’s smile twisted slightly. I never pretended my view of Frank was impartial.

Considering what he did to your life, I would say– Richard stopped abruptly. A moment later, more calmly, he went on, How about letting me dispose of the invitation as it deserves? He pretended to tear the parchment into shreds. In fact, have you got a match?

Since when was Richard offering to deal with her mail? Or for that matter, growing incensed over her past? No, thanks. I’ll take care of it. She reached for the invitation and dropped it back into her bag.

I thought you said you weren’t going. Why keep that thing?

Because I don’t understand why Todd sent it. If I only knew why... Her voice trailed off. You’ve already violated your own resolution, Andie. You weren’t going to wonder about it anymore.

You haven’t heard from the attorney yet?

She shook her head.

It’s taking him a long time.

The mail has been slow. The invitation took almost a week to get here.

Richard sipped his drink. Why don’t you call him? The attorney, I mean, not Todd.

I’ve tried. He’s always in court or with a client, and the secretary will only say that she’s not authorized to give out information. It’s been four months, Richard. I can be patient for another week or two.

Is it patience you’re feeling, or fear of what you might find out?

What do you mean?

Maybe they’ve already got the whole thing arranged behind your back, so you won’t get a dime.

Todd wouldn’t do that.

What if you’re the only one who’s trying to be fair? Richard set the juice bottle aside. Look, I’ve stayed quiet because I know it’s not my affair.

It certainly isn’t, she wanted to say.

But it hurts me to see you living in limbo – waiting for your soon-to-be-ex-husband to get around to setting you free.

For all I know, he’s already done it.

You’d have gotten official papers. Trust me, I know about divorce. His voice was dry. Richard hadn’t ever told her much about his past, but Andie didn’t need a crystal ball to figure out that his marriage had been unpleasant and the subsequent divorce a battleground.

Todd isn’t like – Your ex-wife. Andie bit off the sentence.

You don’t know what he’s doing behind the scenes, he went on. You don’t know what stage things are at. You can’t plan ahead.

I know these things take time. It doesn’t bother me.

"Well, it bothers me. Richard slapped his hand down on the desk. It isn’t fair for him to keep dragging this on. I’ve tried not to give advice because I didn’t want to make things harder on you. But I can’t keep quiet anymore when this affects us."

The floor seemed to rock under Andie’s toes. Us?

Andie, you must know how I feel about you. How I have felt for a couple of months now. He ran a gentle finger up the back of her neck to where her glossy red-brown hair, clipped stylishly short, lay against the nape. "You do know – don’t you?"

She had thought of Richard as a good employer and an understanding, patient friend. But she had never once considered the possibility of anything more. She hadn’t thought of their occasional evenings out as dates – though it now seemed he had. Had she been a fool to assume that a man and a woman could simply be friends?

On the day she had left Todd, and Hamilton, Minnesota, and the big stone house called Amberley, Andie hadn’t cared if she even met another man. Not much had changed in that department in the subsequent four months. Falling in love was certainly nowhere on her agenda. I’m still married, Richard.

You told me your marriage was a legal maneuver, nothing more.

"And it was. It is. That doesn’t make it less real."

If that stubborn Scandinavian morality of yours is getting in the way—

It’s not, she said shortly.

Good. Then there’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t be together.

How had she missed seeing that he was growing serious? Careful, cautious, fiscally-watchful Richard didn’t take his other employees out for dinner – only Andie. Why hadn’t she realized what was happening?

Andie shook her head in confusion. Richard—

Come on. Don’t tell me this is too sudden. He slid an arm around her. I think it’s past time for me to stake my claim.

His mouth found hers before she could do more than utter a tiny squeak of protest. He kissed her slowly and softly; the caress left her feeling comfortably warm and fuzzy. Of course it wasn’t the most stunning kiss she’d ever received...

Don’t even think about that.

Richard’s kiss was refreshing, relaxing, and pleasant – not at all like tasting dynamite. But then Andie had found out the hard way that dynamite could blow people to bits.

He drew back a fraction of an inch and smiled down at her, looking just a little smug, and bent his head to take her mouth again.

From the stockroom doorway, a cheerful voice said, Oops. I’ll just close my eyes and feel my way back to the entrance.

Richard swore under his breath. "What is she doing here?"

Andie slipped out of his arms. Kerry!

Sorry, darling, her roommate called over her shoulder. I didn’t see a thing. I’ll just be out here studying your new window display till you and Dickie-bird get finished ... uh... taking inventory.

Andie? Richard’s voice was sharp. Why is that woman fingering the merchandise in my store?

So business still trumps kissing, Andie thought. That’s a relief. She’s not here to pick up trade secrets. Her car’s in the shop, so she walked over to catch a ride home with me.

Sometimes that crazy roommate of yours drives me to desperation.

Kerry is my best friend.

"I know – and if she’d clean half the makeup off her face and stop using bright purple nail polish, I might be able to take her