At the time, Justine had been dating Warren Saget, a local developer. Warren was quite a few years older than Justine; in fact, he was just a little younger than her own father. Warren liked having a beautiful woman on his arm and Justine suited him perfectly. It helped that she was willing to keep his little secret—while he might be successful in the boardroom, his powers didn’t extend to the bedroom. When they were together, she often spent the night at his plush hillside house overlooking the cove, but that was more for show than anything. She had her own bedroom in Warren’s home. Justine knew very well what people thought, but she’d never much cared.
However, her mother did. Olivia Lockhart shared the general assumptions about her arrangement with Warren and had plenty of opinions on the matter. Justine didn’t enlighten her, because it was none of Olivia’s business. This disagreement between them had put a strain on the mother-daughter relationship. Her grandmother hadn’t been particularly pleased, either, but Charlotte wasn’t nearly as open in her disapproval. No doubt hoping to distract her from Warren, her mother had encouraged Justine to date Seth—although even Olivia had been shocked when Justine phoned to tell her she’d impulsively married him.
The marriage was practically as big a surprise to Justine as it was to her family. After a spat having to do with Warren, Seth had walked away from her. Justine couldn’t let it end like that, not with Seth, and she’d gone to him, hoping to make amends. To say they’d settled their differences was something of an understatement.
After the wedding, they’d only had that one weekend before Seth had to return to Alaska. In the weeks since, she’d heard from him intermittently, but he couldn’t call—or receive calls—while he was at sea, so their communications were few and far between.
Justine glanced at the time and tried to decide whether she should drive home and check the mail or not. If there was no letter, she’d feel depressed for the rest of the afternoon. On the other hand, if Seth did happen to send her a message, she’d be walking on clouds for days afterward. She needed a letter, a phone call, anything that would remind her she’d made the right choice in marrying him. Getting married was the only impulsive thing she’d ever done in all her twenty-eight years. She liked her life orderly and precise. The need for control had always ruled her choices—until she fell in love with Seth.
This commitment to order was one reason she fit in so well at First National Bank, rising quickly to the position of manager. Numbers made sense; they added up neatly; they were unambiguous. To the best of her ability, that was the way Justine lived her life—with strong convictions and with exactness, leaving little room for frivolity and impulse.
Out of habit, she looked up when the bank’s double glass doors swung open and watched as Warren Saget walked in, bold as could be. He moved directly toward her desk, his manner confident. Justine hadn’t seen him since her impromptu wedding. Unfortunately they hadn’t parted on the best of terms. Warren had been angry when he learned she’d married Seth and had made some ugly, spiteful remarks. Frankly Justine wasn’t up for a second confrontation.
She rose from her chair. At five-ten, plus her heels, she was as tall as Warren. She wore her straight brown hair long and parted in the middle, just as she had in high school, which emphasized her height. By standing, she sent a nonverbal message that she wasn’t about to let him intimidate her—and that she intended to keep this meeting short. She absolutely would not allow him to create a scene in front of her staff and customers. Zach Cox, a local accountant, nodded in her direction as he left the bank. Justine acknowledged him and returned her attention to Warren. “Hello, Warren.”
“Justine.” He met her eyes and the expression she read on his face told her that her fears were unfounded.
“I came to apologize,” he said. “I owe you that.”
“Yes, you do.” She crossed her arms and shifted her weight from her left foot to her right, conveying impatience.
“Can I take you to lunch?” he asked, then rushed to add, “It’s the least I can do. I said some things I shouldn’t have, and I’ve regretted it ever since.”
“I don’t think being seen together is a good idea.”
Warren’s pale brown eyes revealed his disappointment. “I can understand that,” he said, graciously accepting her refusal. To her astonishment, he sat down in the chair across from her desk.
Unsure what to expect next, Justine sank into her own seat.
“How’s Seth?” he asked. “Still in Alaska?”
She nodded. “He won’t be home for a few more weeks.” Twenty-eight days to be precise, if everything went according to schedule. She crossed off the days on her calendar every night as she slipped into her bed, alone and lonely. They hadn’t discussed the future; there hadn’t been time. One thing was certain—Justine hated the thought of her husband leaving her for several months each year. Already she dreaded next year’s fishing season, which would start in May.
“You’re looking good,” Warren said with a glint of admiration.
“Thank you,” she said, unsmiling.
He sighed. “I know you don’t believe me, but all I want is for you to be happy.”
Warren had been married and divorced twice and had asked her to be his wife on several occasions. Justine had always refused. She’d never had any interest in marrying Warren.
Aware of her growing attraction to Seth, Warren had purchased a startlingly large diamond ring in the hope of changing her mind. Justine hated to admit that the size of that diamond had briefly weakened her resolve. She knew Warren would have loved slipping the ring on her finger and claiming her as his exclusive property. But the man who’d pampered her was hurt and regretful now. He was asking her to forgive his angry reaction to her marriage.
“Well, perhaps we could go for lunch,” Justine said and knew she’d made the right decision when Warren’s face instantly brightened. She laughed at the way he bounded out of his chair, not bothering to disguise his eagerness. Seth wouldn’t mind her seeing Warren on a social basis now and then; Justine was sure of that. He respected her independence and her good sense, and he realized she’d never abuse his trust.
“Where would you like to go?” he asked. “Any place you want, you name it.”
“D.D.’s on the Cove,” she suggested, choosing his favorite restaurant.
“Perfect.” He smiled approvingly.
Justine reached for her purse and followed him toward the front door, which Warren held open for her. “Shall we walk?” she asked. D.D.’s was only a couple of blocks away, but Warren usually preferred to drive.
“Sure,” he said. He was making a real effort to be accommodating. He stopped himself from taking her hand, she noticed, and was grateful. She’d actually missed Warren. Yes, he had his faults, but he could be a good conversationalist and had a sharp mind. There was a history between them, too, a history that had more to do with friendship than romance. In his own way he loved her and she cared for him, too, although not with the same intensity she did Seth. With her husband, the attraction was physical and powerful, but in the few days they’d spent together before he left for Alaska there hadn’t been time for much conversation. Their intense hunger for each other had overwhelmed them both. Justine didn’t need words to know how Seth felt. His lovemaking proved it again and again.
That weekend seemed like a dream now, and she wondered if what they’d discovered could possibly be real.
At the restaurant, Warren and Justine were seated outside. The patio wouldn’t be open much longer. Already autumn was in the air, but Warren chose to dine alfresco instead of at a table inside, knowing she enjoyed the sunshine.
“I hope we can still be friends,” Warren said, smiling as the waitress handed them menus.
“That would be nice.” She told herself again that lunch every now and then wouldn’t bother her husband. Seth wasn’t the jealous type and for that matter, neither was she.
Justine and Warren had a common interest in the financial world, so there was plenty to discuss. Their conversation over lunch went smoothly and the ache in Justine’s heart had lessened by the time they finished. She still missed Seth dreadfully, but didn’t feel nearly as alone and lost as she had earlier in the day. Warren hadn’t asked to see her again, hadn’t pressured her at all. After lunch they said farewell outside the bank, she thanked him for the meal and he left.
Later that afternoon, as she drove toward her apartment, Justine’s spirits were high, higher than they’d been all week. But when she approached the row of mailboxes outside her building complex, she hesitated, afraid to find out if there was a letter from Seth.
She needed to be reassured of his love because her greatest fear was that he regretted their sudden marriage. Her heart pounded as she unlocked the box and slid out the mail.
She sorted through the advertisements, junk mail and two bills a second time, just to be sure. Another Friday night alone in front of the television, she thought. She could phone her mother, but Olivia had been dating Jack Griffin from The Cedar Cove Chronicle and was probably busy anyway. Feeling defeated, Justine walked into her apartment and tossed her mail on the kitchen counter, kicking off her heels.
A few weeks ago, she would’ve relished a Friday night to herself. Warren almost always had plans for them. But all of that was irrelevant now, and feeling sorry for herself didn’t serve any useful purpose. If she missed Seth, then she should do something that would make her feel close to him.
His sailboat came immediately to mind. The Silver Belle was moored at the marina and Seth had given her the key. When he wasn’t fishing in Alaska he lived aboard the vessel. Or at least he had until their marriage. They hadn’t even talked about where they’d live when he got back…. That could wait, but right now, she needed the comfort of being in his home, among his things. If she spent the night there, she could wrap herself in his blanket, sleep in his clothes, breathe in his scent. She’d slept there several times and always felt better.
Pleased with the idea, Justine changed out of her business suit and into jeans and a sweatshirt. She collected a novel, a new CD for her Walkman and fresh clothes for the morning. She’d pick up dinner on the way to the marina.
She’d just reached the parking lot when she realized she’d left her cell phone behind. If Seth phoned, he’d call that number. Heading back to the apartment, she unlocked the door and opened it to hear the muted peal of her phone. She lurched for it, pushing the talk button with a sense of urgency.
“Hello, hello!” she shouted. “Seth? Seth, is that you?”
Only a dial tone greeted her question. Quickly she checked Caller ID—the number was unfamiliar, although prefaced by 907, the Alaska area code. She punched it in, letting the phone ring ten times before finally giving up.
Grinding her teeth with frustration, Justine sagged onto the edge of the sofa and rammed her fingers through her hair. It was Seth; it had to be. He must’ve called her from a pay phone on the wharf.