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Seasons in a Small Town Book 1: Spring

In rural Drago, Illinois, Zeke came by his “the Geek” nickname honest, more comfortable in the world of algebra and algorithms than high school’s social hallways.

Though that didn’t keep him from longing for the unattainable prom queen, Jennifer.

The one person who did understand his out-of-the-box brain was Darcie, his best friend.

After their high school graduation, Zeke and Darcie for one night jolted from friends to lovers. And then he left town, and she knew he couldn’t look back. What he didn’t know was the depth of Darcie’s feelings for him.

Now it’s 17 years later, and Zeke’s a self-made billionaire founder of a tech security firm, Darcie’s a local cop and Jennifer’s a divorced mom of a tween girl. And their little town is flagging.

At Darcie’s urging, Zeke returns to Drago to boost its economy. Will his new wealth attract the still-beautiful Jennifer? Or will Darcie, the one girl who always made him feel at ease, show him that true love knows no boundaries?

* * * * * * * *

Read about the inspiration for the Lilac Festival in Drago, Illinois, and other festivals: It’s Spring, and Time for Lilac Festivals

Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Virginia, outside Washington, D.C.

“You were two words short of giving the whole thing away. You do know that, don’t you, Zeke?”

Without breaking stride Anton Zeekowsky glanced toward Peter Quincy, his best friend and Chief Operations Officer, as they followed a sunny corridor toward his office.

He hadn’t known that. “Sorry,” he said briefly.

“Sorry? We’ve been preparing the launch of Z-Zap for nearly a year. A year. And you almost gave it away to that reporter. You’re the ultimate loose cannon.” Quince sighed. “God, I wish I could stash you on a deserted island for the next few weeks. I wonder if Elba’s available.”

What else could Zeke say, besides sorry?

I forgot?

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That wouldn’t go over any better, since chances were good Quince already knew Zeke had forgotten Z-Zap was still a secret.

It seemed a really long time ago that he’d had the idea that became Z-Zap. It had absorbed him then. Now it fell into the category of done, solved, completed.

New problems, new challenges were interesting. Z-Zap wasn’t anymore.

Especially not the launch.

Which Quince also knew and also didn’t want to hear.

“Slow down, Zeke. We already worked out once today.” Quince heaved a gusty breath as Zeke slowed his pace. “Next time I’m going to work for a boss who’s not six-five.”

Zeke chuckled. Quince was six-foot himself. Besides, there wouldn’t be any “next boss” for Quince. They’d always worked together. Always would.

That thought triggered a vague, unsettling memory.

What was it Brenda had said? Something about Quince. Something…

His assistant’s voice spoke inside his head “You better pay attention if you don’t want to lose him, Zeke.”

“Who?”

“Quince.”

Quince? He’s not going anywhere.”

“His job satisfaction is limping badly and if you don’t pay attention, you’ll be without a COO.”

Brenda was often right about things like that, as she never let him forget. But Quince? Nah. He’d never leave.

Still…

Zeke looked at him. “I am sorry about the interview. I know you worked hard setting it up.”

“I know you are.”

“I guess I should have been more aware when you handed that reporter off to Vanessa.”

Though she didn’t like interviews any more than he did, Vanessa Irish, Zeke’s partner and Chief Financial Officer, was brilliant with organization and finances, not to mention a heck of a lot easier to look at. Yet, for some reason, reporters wanted to talk to him.

All he wanted to do was work on the next puzzle.

“Handed the reporter off?” Quince said dryly. “Try unceremoniously yanked you out and shoved Vanessa in. No, don’t tell me. You were too busy being glad to get out of the interview to wonder why.”

This was the downside of Quince having known him from the first day of college.

“If I screw up and let it slip about Z-Zap, you still have another big launch to orchestrate with Z-Pix coming out, uh, soon.”

“October tenth, Zeke. October tenth.” The way Quince said it, Zeke knew he’d been told this before. Quince continued, “And don’t I know it that there’ll be more after that. So many that I’m exhausted. I wish you had a hobby or a vice or something so you couldn’t be so damned productive.”

Quince sighed again, this one so deep and heartfelt, that Zeke was reminded of Brenda’s warning about Quince’s job satisfaction — or dissatisfaction.

Zeke was frowning as they turned into his office suite. Brenda immediately stood and began spouting messages while she and Quince trailed him into his office.

“…and the last item is from your hometown—”

“Throw it out.”

“But—”

“From his hometown? What is it?” Quince asked, taking the paper from Brenda.

Zeke recognized that tone of voice and he didn’t like it.

“An invitation,” she started.

“To yet another reunion,” Zeke cut in. “Come on back to good old Drago High and relive those wonderful days when you were the geeky outsider ridiculed by the student body.” He dropped the sarcasm to add, “No thanks.”

“Doesn’t your mother still live in Drago?” Quince asked absently as he read.

“Yeah. I can’t pry her away. Not permanently. She’ll visit me, but just when I think I’ve persuaded her to move here, she announces it’s time to go back there.”

“He always makes her come here for visits, never goes home to see her,” Brenda volunteered.

“Thank you, Brenda,” Zeke said. “You can go now.”

She shrugged, and didn’t budge.

Quince looked up from the page. “This isn’t an invitation to a reunion.”

“Then route it to the foundation.”

“It’s not hitting you up for a donation, either. They’re inviting you to be Grand Marshall of the Drago Lilac Festival Parade, head judge of the Drago Lilac Queen Pageant, and guest of honor at the Drago Lilac Festival Dance. Got a few lilacs in Drago?”

A flash of memory came. Spring of senior year, standing a block away from the parade route, well back from the crowds along the curb waving at the bands and clowns and floats.

Something had a drawn him there. Though he would not stand at the curb and gawk with the rest of them. He’d leaned against a tree with that block separating him from the parade and the crowd.

And then the float he’d been waiting for.

The one with the Lilac Queen and her court. Pale purple and white flowers everywhere, so many he thought he could smell them even from this distance. A flash of hair gleaming in the sun, faces smiling, hands waving. Then it was gone.

Abruptly, Zeke realized Brenda was watching him with interest.

But Quince was carrying on the conversation as he so often had for Zeke since the day Zeke had walked into a freshman dorm and found he’d been assigned Peter Quincy III as his roommate.

“The invitation’s signed by Darcie Barrett. Do you know her?”

Zeke felt a tug at his mouth.

Darcie, sitting across the chemistry lab table from him, grinning as she recited that poem — again — until he was about to go nuts.

“Darcie was a friend.” The only person in Drago he’d counted that way.

“Kept in touch?” Quince asked.

Zeke turned away, picked up the mail Brenda had opened. “No. She left town, too. She must have let them use her name for this festival.”

“How about Jennifer Truesdale?” Quince asked, rattling the letter. “She signed along with Darcie Barrett. It says they’re co-chairs of—”

Zeke didn’t look up. “You mean Jennifer Truesdale Stenner.”

“It just says Jennifer Truesdale.”

He snatched the paper from Quince. “Let me see that.”

Quince let it go willingly. Zeke was aware of him bringing a large screen on the wall to life, but his attention was on the paper.

Printed in black on white, then written in slanted letters: Jennifer Truesdale. No Stenner cluttering up the end.

Jennifer Truesdale had dumped Eric Stenner?

The couple of Drago High had split up?

She was … available?

Anton Zeekowsky, founder and owner of a technology company that not only had weathered every tech slide but came out stronger each time, couldn’t form any other coherent thought.

Jennifer Truesdale.

Available.

Zeke’s brain short-circuited the way it had in high school. A glimpse of her long blonde hair could put him out of commission for days.

“So, where is Drago?” Quince asked, looking at a map of Illinois on the wall screen.

“Southwest of Chicago,” Zeke answered automatically. “West of Kankakee, east of Peoria.”

“And this Jennifer Truesdale?”

“Nobody.”

Brenda harrumphed, hands on hips. “No matter who she is, what you should be looking at is the other letter that came in the envelope. From your mother. Asking you — begging you — to accept the invitation and finally come home for a visit. How you can treat that sweet woman this way, I never will understand.”

Before he could defend himself by reminding Brenda that he brought his mother here to visit as often as she would come, provided her with as many conveniences as she would accept, and called twice weekly, Quince crowed from behind him.

Zeke turned and saw that Quince had zeroed in on the dot on the map that was Drago, Illinois. No other dots showed anywhere on the screen.

“I think we just found your Elba, Zeke.”

CHAPTER ONE

Drago, Illinois

“Keep your hands up!”

“Officer—”

“Quiet. Now, back up toward me. Slow… slow…”

Darcie Barrett eyed the figure inching backward across the parking lot of the long-closed D-Shop discount store. Broad shoulders V’d to narrow hips.

A one-on-one tussle might be a tossup if this guy was in as good shape as he appeared to be. So she’d make sure it didn’t come to that.

Especially since she really should have waited for backup.

The driver had responded promptly to the flashing lights atop her patrol car by pulling into the empty parking lot — the dark, empty parking lot.

That might indicate this wasn’t the armed and dangerous kidnapper, last seen driving a sporty red or orange luxury car, possibly headed west on Illinois Route 285.

But if this was the car the APB had come in about, maybe this guy thought he could talk his way around her — best-case scenario — or pull something — not-so-good scenario.

All the while, a little girl could be terrified or hurt, and this could be the scumball who knew where she was. Maybe even in that car.

That thought had decided Darcie.

*

She’d given the dispatcher her location and the plate to run — as soon as the computers came back up. And then she’d started the drill to get the guy out of his car and under her control. Hoping backup would get here. Because she was no hero. But if the girl was in the car…

She stayed behind her open car door, both for protection and so she could give chase faster if he dove back into his car and tried to make a run.

“Okay. That’s far enough. Get on the ground. Face down.”

He looked over his shoulder, squinting hard against the glare of her headlights, as if trying to see her. The effort twisted the quarter of his face she could see into a grimace exaggerated by the harsh lights and drastic shadows.

Why was he looking at her? Checking to see if she was alone?

“Officer, if you would—”

“On the ground! Now. Don’t turn around!”

He’d started to turn toward her. She sighted her gun on him.

Maybe he saw that from the corner of his eye, because he faced away from her and lowered himself to the ground without another word.

“Spread your legs and put your arms out straight.”

He complied.

She heard a siren coming nearer. The sound dipped, meaning the car was going under the railroad viaduct at Main Street. Another three blocks.

She should wait. A couple more minutes.

What if that little girl didn’t have a couple more minutes?

She eased out from behind the car door, moved quickly to his side, pulling out the cuffs as she put one knee to his back to control him if he tried to get up. He grunted.

“Hands behind your back — now.”

She slapped the cuffs on him — one, two — and checked them. Then she breathed. The siren cut off as her backup pulled in front of the suspect’s car to box it in.

“Okay, get up.” She tugged at the cuffs, then backed away to give him room and so she could keep the gun on him without being so close he could knock it away. “On the car — no, face the car.”

“Got him,” Benny said from off to her left.

“I’m going to pat you down,” she told the driver. “Do you have anything in your pockets I should know about? A gun? Anything sharp? A needle.”

“Officer, if you would tell me—”

“Do you have anything in your pockets? A gun, a—”

“No.”

She patted the front jean pockets over narrow hips, found nothing more than a key ring. Nothing in the waistband. Around to the back — a very firm back — she pulled out a wallet and put it on the trunk. Down the legs, around the ankles. Nothing.

Darcie was starting to get a feeling about this.

Another car came into the lot and stopped. The door opened and she could hear the radio squawking to beat the band.

“Okay, turn around.”

A part of her she’d thought had sunk into permanent hibernation noticed that the front was as good as the back.

Tall — a good six inches above her five-ten — and the kind of face where even with part of it in deep shadow, you could see the bones had been put together well.

“Darcie!” Sarge called from the newly arrived car. “This isn’t the guy. They got him and the kid at a motel out on I-55. The kid’s okay.”

Through the buzz of adrenaline and relief — the kid was okay — Darcie knew she needed to make an instant switch from tough, in-charge cop to charmingly apologetic public servant.

“I’m sorry for this, sir. There was a kidnapping this afternoon — a little girl and—”

“They finally got the computers back up and Corine ran that plate you gave her, Darcie,” Sarge was saying.

“Darcie?” The no-longer-a-suspect repeated.

She continued her explanation, “The description of the suspect’s car matched the—”

“It’s a rental.” Sarge called. “Rented to—”

“Darcie Barrett?” The man said. “It’s me, Zeke—”

“—car you’re driving,” she finished.

“Zeekowsky,” the non-suspect and Sarge ended together.

COLLAPSE

Raves

“You laugh, you angst, you maybe shed a couple tears or two … and at the end of it you move immediately onto the next book because – unlike teenage Zeke – you don’t want to get away, all you want to do is go back.”

5-Star Review

Praise for the Seasons in a Small Town series:

“The town of Drago has insinuated itself into my heart and I can only hope there is another installment with this small town as its setting.”

“Strong characters with enough faults to make them human and real” yet “The other characters in Drago all add to the story rather than taking attention from the main action.”

“McLinn delivers a fun, engaging, and emotionally complicated romance.”

“Poignant, heart warming”  . . .  “Funny and heart-wrenching at the same time” . . . “Passionate and sensual without being distasteful or vulgar.”

 

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