Summer of Deception
Determined to unearth the truth about her DEA agent brother’s reported death, Rachel York takes a position at an historic Charleston plantation, but she finds she is ill prepared to deal with the plantation’s new owner. Luke Barrett may be handsome, but he is overflowing with bitterness and distrust.
Widowed and wounded, former Marine Corps Special Forces operative Luke Barrett has enough to handle with his little girl and an historic property to upkeep. The last thing he needs is a feisty, stubborn woman with whom to contend. Yet, Rachel’s determined spirit awakens something in Luke that he thought died a long time ago.
Luke begins to capture Rachel’s heart until the night she uncovers evidence he may be keeping his plantation solvent by allowing cocaine to be smuggled along his coastline.
Devastated by the possibility, Rachel must decide whether to confront him, even while she conceals secrets of her own.
When all the deception rips asunder in a hurricane, will love survive?
Charleston, South Carolina
Rachel York gasped when the taxi headlights pierced the stormy night and illuminated Barrett Hall in all its southern grandeur. Her travel fatigue faded, and she leaned forward, energized, as the cab crunched its way up the tree-lined shell drive to the entrance. At the gate, she exited the auto with her umbrella extended, and the taxi driver placed her large bag and tote at her side. Rachel thanked him, paid him, and hurried up the front walk, pulling her valise behind her. The vehicle disappeared down the drive, and darkness closed in as she made her way up the front steps.
On the wide porch, she propped her umbrella beside her suitcase, took a deep breath, and tried to ignore a shiver of disquiet that traveled up her spine. She would discover the truth. This summer job in Charleston was her first step.
The rain pounding against the slate roof stopped as quickly as it began. The moon angled out from behind a cloud, and Rachel glanced around the plantation’s wide portico with its six imposing columns and rocking chairs bathed in shadows. The brass horse-head knocker adorning the entrance added to its aura.
She held her wristwatch to the moonlight and grimaced. Ten o’clock. She’d arrived five hours late and with her cell phone dead. How early did the elderly Mr. Barrett retire? Did he think she would change her mind about his job offer? No way. It was an answer to prayer.
Rachel breathed in the moist air. The sweet smell of gardenias delighted her. Swinging her thick hair behind her shoulders, she lifted the knocker and let it go. The sound broke the quietness like a pistol shot.
A sharp bark from behind startled Rachel’s already antsy nerves. She whirled around. A gray German shepherd the size of a calf stood on the steps. She grabbed her umbrella and pointed it at the beast as if it were a sword.
“Gabriel, what are you growling about?” A tall man stepped into view from a path beside the house, shaking rain from his cowboy hat. The moonlight revealed his strong build and rich tan. He wore an eye patch and an olive green T-shirt etched with the word Marines.
When he caught sight of Rachel, he commanded the dog in a strong low voice, “Come, Gabriel.” The animal obeyed, and he snapped a leash on its collar. “Sorry if this big mutt frightened you. He’s not ferocious, but we don’t broadcast it. And the umbrella wouldn’t suffice for your defense if he wanted to attack—which he doesn’t.” The man chuckled, a pleasant sound in the shadows.
Was he a farmhand or some kind of security patrolling the grounds? Rachel breathed easier and lowered her umbrella. She opened her lips to speak, but the porch flooded with light and the door opened. Rachel turned.
A gray-haired woman in a wilted apron stood in the partial opening. She glared at Rachel with narrowed blue eyes that rounded as she spied the luggage.
“I’m Rachel York. Mr. Barrett’s expecting me. Sorry I’m so late.”
“Mr. Barrett, eh? He didn't tell me he was ’specting nobody, ’specially for overnight.” She frowned and pursed her lips. “And I'm the housekeeper. What did you say your name was?”
“Rachel York.” Not expecting me? And not just for overnight—but the whole summer.
The woman opened the door wider, and her eyes fell on the man in the shadows. “Oh, there you are.”
Rachel glanced back at the man and dog.
He spoke to the housekeeper. “Mrs. Busby, show our guest to the game room in about two minutes.”
Obviously not a farm employee. Or a guard. Rachel pulled her luggage into an elegant entrance hall lit by a grand chandelier. A delightful fragrance wafted up from roses on a side table. She propped her suitcase upright and dropped her carry-on beside it. Glancing around, she tilted her chin and smiled. What a place to have a job for three months. Even a nanny job.
Just who was the striking man?
The housekeeper disappeared down the hall, and Rachel tried to still a flutter in her stomach. How could her arrival be a surprise to the help? The woman soon returned and gestured for Rachel to follow. They turned past a curving staircase and down two steps into an enclosed patio dotted with plants and white wicker furniture. Rachel’s metal-capped heels clicked across polished brick.
The house appeared to be exactly the kind of historic residence she expected a southern plantation owner like elderly Charles Barrett to own. That day in the college office, Dean Woods described it perfectly as a Gone with the Wind setting. Her future employer laughed and nodded at them both.
The woman gave a brief knock at a door and opened it. She motioned for Rachel to enter and came in beside her.
Rachel inhaled the delightful woodsy scent of cedar chips and turned at the sound of the masculine voice she recognized from the porch.
“Hello, again.” The man and the dog stood in front of an unlit fireplace at the far side of the room. He wore a towel around his neck and Levis tucked into army boots. The German shepherd wagged its tail and started to move forward. But its master spoke a command. “Sit, Gabriel.”
The dog obeyed.
Rachel found it difficult to breathe as the man glanced from her hair to the stilettos peeking beneath her jeans. She resisted the urge to smooth her curls or straighten the blazer.
He cast aside the towel and strode toward Rachel and the housekeeper. His boots clunked on the hardwood floor.
Mrs. Busby spoke with a stiff voice. “Mr. Barrett, shall I place her luggage in your room, sir? Or a guest room?”
Blood rushed to Rachel’s face. In his room? “No—this is not the person I’m here to see.”
The housekeeper turned to her. “You said Mr. Barrett expected you, Miss York.”
“I would like to speak with Mr. Charles Barrett, if you please. He should be expecting me.”
The housekeeper’s mouth fell open, but the man waved her out the door. She left without a word.
He turned to Rachel, a corner of his mouth quirked up. “You mean my uncle invited you here to spend the night? That’d be a first.”
Speechless, Rachel stared at him, her cheeks hot enough to fry an egg. Raindrops glistened on his short black hair, and brown stubble darkened his chiseled face. The hint of a mustache floated above thin lips now stretched into a grin. Surely she was the victim of a joke—and by a most handsome man, even with the patch across his left eye.
He propped on the edge of the desk, folded his powerful arms, and met her burning glance. “Sorry, let’s start over. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an honest-to-goodness flush like the one lighting your face.”
“I’m Luke Barrett.” A smile showed even white teeth, and he leaned forward and extended his hand. The low, rich timbre of his voice vibrated through Rachel, and the scent of spicy aftershave tickled her nose. She took a needed breath and shook hands. Luke's calloused palm swallowed hers, and their gazes met. A tiny shock coursed through her.
“Rachel York,” she said, surprised at the tightness in her throat.
She tried not to stare at the patch and disengaged from his handshake.
He reached up and adjusted the black oval. “Won’t you sit down and tell me why you’re here?”
She moved to a chair and perched on its edge.
Luke sat behind the desk. A small, half-finished woodcarving lay in front of him. He swept the shavings into a trash basket and dropped the wooden piece and pocketknife into a drawer. Leaning back in his chair, he cracked his knuckles twice and gazed at her.
Rachel started to speak, but a grandfather clock nearby struck the hour, making speech impossible. Luke cocked his head until the chimes stopped.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Rachel said when silence again reigned, “but my plane was delayed by the storm, and I couldn’t get a phone connection. Has your uncle retired already?”
Something like shutters closed over Luke’s face. And he sat up straight, alert, similar to a tiger ready to pounce. “You might say so. You claim he was expecting you?”
Rachel’s empty stomach knotted.