New York Times Bestselling author Jude Deveraux’s latest release, The Girl from Summer Hill, will be available on May 3 and can we just talk about how excited we are to get our hands on a copy? If you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for Deveraux’s next hit like we are, then we’ve got a treat for you. Find a quiet nook to set yourself up in and enjoy the first chapter from The Girl from Summer Hill.
Act One, Scene One
Mr. Darcy is revealed
There was a naked man on Casey’s back porch. She would have called the police or, at the very least, screamed if he hadn’t been so damned beautiful.
Instead, without so much as a blink, she fumbled for the electric kettle and poured boiling water over the loose tea leaves in the silver strainer. Quite a bit of water missed the mug, went onto the granite countertop, and ran down to the tile floor, but she didn’t notice.
It was so early that it wasn’t yet daylight, and she hadn’t bothered to turn on the kitchen lights. But then he’d turned on the porch lights, and in the misty morning, as she looked through the screen door, it was almost as though he were on a stage.
He’d dropped his T–shirt and sweatpants on the stone path, then, totally nude and facing Casey, he walked up the three steps, his full male glory in view. He came straight toward her, as though he meant to enter the house.
Casey had just woken up, and when she first saw him, she thought she was still asleep and having the best dream of her life. Not only was his body beautiful, but so was his face. Hair, eyes, beard stubble, truly luscious lips. His skin was a dark golden color all over, and he had long, sleek muscles. His hair was long, down his neck, and in the overhead light it was so black that it seemed to glisten almost blue.
When he got to the porch, he didn’t open the screen door and come inside. Instead, he turned so she had a glorious view of his side.
Lord! Pecs. Abs. The curve of his backside, thighs like an Olympic skater’s.
Casey managed to blink a few times. Surely she was asleep. Surely he couldn’t be real.
He seemed to be doing something to the wall, and seconds later it started raining. That made sense. The deity who controlled the heavens should look like this man.
But, no, it was an outdoor shower that seemed to be attached to her little guesthouse. She hadn’t noticed that it was there—-for the few months she’d been in town, it had been winter. But yesterday had been so warm that she’d opened every door and window to let out the heat of her cooking. When she at last went to bed, the kitchen had been so hot that she’d just hooked the screen door and left the room open to the breezes.
She picked up her mug of tea and sipped it while she watched him lather himself with soap.
There was a tall stool near her, and without taking her eyes off him, she felt for it and sat down. As he ran his hands over his body, she was even more sure that she was dreaming. And she was just as sure that if she took her eyes off him she’d wake up.
She watched him soap his legs, and between them, then he moved upward. He had such trouble reaching the entire width of his back that Casey had thoughts of slipping out of her pajamas and joining him.
“Could I help?” she’d ask. He wouldn’t say a word. He’d just hand her the soap and she’d get busy.
Of course, she could use some cleaning too, so he would do her back. Or front. Or wherever he wanted to.
Maybe it was the way it was dark where she was sitting and so very light where he was that made it all seem like a movie. She sipped her tea and watched him, dreamily smiling at the scene.
She’d been working in the kitchen until midnight and it was very early now. Kit said he wanted the food at the playhouse by eight, and she took that to mean he wanted it set up and ready to serve. Last night she’d called her brother Josh to ask if he’d please, please find some tables for her. “Use sawhorses or tree stumps, whatever your great manliness can find,” she’d said in the voicemail she left for him. “Just so I have a place to put all this food. Kit said he’s expecting half the town to show up for the auditions. Double please? I’ll save you some of those cream–filled doughnut holes you like so much.” She said the last in a voice as cajoling as she could make it. Considering that she’d been on her feet for fourteen hours, she wondered if she sounded more pathetic than persuasive.
But looking at the beautiful naked man was making up for yesterday. He was rinsing off now. He reached up to the showerhead on the wall, pulled it down, and began spraying water over his entire gorgeous body.
Casey held the mug of tea to her lips, frozen in place. All she could do was stare. His long hair was wet, plastered to his skull. His profile showed his strong features—-and something about it seemed familiar.
He turned off the water, then looked around for something.
He needs a towel, she thought, and it ran through her mind that she could open the door and hand him one.
When he stepped toward the house as though he meant to enter, her heart seemed to stop. She was more fully awake now and she was aware that she’d just spied on a man taking a shower. Not exactly a polite thing to do. She certainly wouldn’t like it done to her!
When he put his hand on the door handle, Casey’s heart started pounding. She didn’t dare move or he would see her.
He dropped his hand and went down the steps, picked up his sweatpants, and put them on—-and she let out her breath. He would never know. Good!
But as he reached for his shirt, her cellphone rang. It had been charging and she’d forgotten it was on the counter. It kept ringing as she reached for it, then she fumbled and hit speakerphone just as it went to voicemail.
“Hey, little sis, I used a broadsword to cut down a couple of oaks and hacked out some tables. But I also borrowed a couple from the church. If you want me to pick you and your kettles up in my truck, let me know. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll see you at eight.” He hung up.
Casey hadn’t moved, nor had she taken her eyes off the man. When the phone rang, he’d dropped the shirt and turned to look at the door.
She was almost sure he saw her. She had on her white pajamas, the ones her mom had given her with the print of the dish running away with the spoon and the cow jumping over the moon. Too young for her, and they clung much too tightly to her curvy figure, but they were oh so comforting.
It had grown lighter outside and she knew she was probably visible inside the dark room. But maybe not. Maybe she could sneak upstairs and pretend she hadn’t seen him.
As quickly as she could, she put her mug down and slid off the stool.
But she wasn’t fast enough. He bounded up the steps and reached the door in seconds. When he tried to open it, the inside hook held.
Thinking she had a reprieve, Casey took a step toward the living room, but a sound made her turn back.
The man, naked from hip bones up, put his fist through the screen and unfastened the hook.
Okay, now she was scared. This man was big and he looked furious. She glanced at her cellphone but it was between her and him. Her little house was set in eleven acres of garden and woodland. If she screamed, no one would hear her.
“Did you get it all down?” He stepped closer to her.
His voice was deep—-and menacing. Maybe if she ran she could reach the front door and get out. But then what? The only house nearby was the big one, and it was empty.
She put her hands into fists at her sides, took a deep breath, and faced him. Minutes before, his size, the muscles, the sheer masculinity of him had been enticing, but now they seemed threatening. She didn’t think she could escape him, but maybe if she didn’t back down he’d go away.
“I live here,” she said. “You’re trespassing.”
He stopped only three feet away. “Like hell you do! Who do you work for? Where is it?”
Casey took a step back. What a voice he had! Loud and deep. And what he was asking was thoroughly puzzling. “I work for myself. I cater and do private parties.”
He took another step toward her. “And this is a sideline? Where are you hiding it?”
Confusion was replacing her fear. “What is ‘it’? What do you want?”
He picked up her cellphone, the charging cord falling away. “Please tell me you didn’t use this! I think I deserve better than a mobile phone.” He put the phone back on the counter, then turned, his eyes roaming up and down her.
Casey knew she was looking far from her best. Who wanted a gorgeous man to see her wearing pajamas that were perfect for a five–year–old? And her hair was a rat’s nest of tangles and probably full of flour and raspberry jam. She’d collapsed last night, not bothering to shower.
Maybe it was pride, but all sense of fear vanished. She put her shoulders back. “I don’t know who you are but I want you out of my house. Now!” She grabbed her phone. “I think the sheriff would like to hear about a man stripping on my porch and tearing out my screen to get inside my house and threatening me. Unless you want to be in handcuffs, I suggest you leave immediately.”
He stood there staring at her, saying nothing, but looking shocked. He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it. Turning, he left the house, the door slamming behind him.
For a few moments, Casey stood where she was, her nails cutting into her palms as she watched him leave. He didn’t stop to pick up his shirt but kept going, turned right, and moved out of sight.
Suddenly she felt exhausted. She made it into the living room and fell down onto the couch, her heart pounding in her ears. With her head back, she tried to use her breathing to calm herself.
The man had been so very angry!
When Kit had given her the little guesthouse to live in, she’d thought it was perfect. It had once been the kitchen of an old Virginia plantation, and the huge fireplace that had been used for cooking was in the living room. Years ago someone had added to the building, putting an excellent kitchen to one side and a bedroom and bath upstairs. There was even an herb garden just outside.
Kit had asked if she minded being so isolated, but Casey said no, that she loved it. The Big House—-which had been renovated and decorated before she arrived—-was locked tight and empty. For six years before she came to Summer Hill, she’d been the head chef of one of the busiest restaurants in D.C. After the noise and controlled chaos of that place, the quiet of the old plantation had been bliss.
But this morning had turned scary.
She was beginning to calm down, and she needed to think about what she was going to do now. All in all, she thought she should call the sheriff and report what had happened—-including her embarrassing voyeurism.
She was still holding her phone and she saw that she had a voicemail from Kit. As she touched the screen, her hand was shaking.
“Casey, my dear,” Kit’s strong voice said, “I know it’s late and I hope you’ve gone to bed, but I just wanted to tell you that the owner of Tattwell has returned. I know you think I own the place and I apologize for the subterfuge, but my cousin swore me to secrecy. Still, I feel I should warn you in case you see a couple of strange men on the grounds. The owner is Tatton Landers and he’s with his best friend, Jack Worth. They are both very nice young men, so I hope you’ll welcome them. I must go. I’ll see you at the auditions.”
Casey listened to the message twice to try to get all the information it contained. Jack Worth? she thought. That was the name of an actor she really liked. Her last boyfriend had been a fiend for his movies and had all the DVDs. They had never missed a new Jack Worth movie.
But he wasn’t the man on the porch.
Casey took a breath. This was ridiculous! Jack Worth was a common name. Kit couldn’t have been referring to the actor.
On impulse, she tapped the other name, Tatton Landers, into her phone’s search engine, and it redirected her. There he was. The man she’d watched showering on her porch had thousands of photos on the Internet. Most of them were in period costume: a knight in armor, tight Regency trousers, a leather jerkin like Robin Hood would wear.
“Of course,” she said aloud. “Tate Landers.” She’d never seen one of his movies, but a friend of hers used to talk about him. She loved romantic movies and went to all of them. They’d never interested Casey so she’d only half–listened to what her friend was saying—-and had teased her friend about them. “You have a Ph.D. in psychology but you drool over some actor who says, ‘Oh, Charity Goodheart, your eyes are like emeralds. Please be mine.’ ”
“You don’t get it, do you?” her friend said. “We live in a world of metrosexuals. Tate isn’t like that. He throws women over the saddle of a horse and tells them to shut up.”
Casey was aghast. “What would you say to one of your clients if she told you her boyfriend did that?”
“I’d give her the number of a center for abused women and make sure she went. But that’s real; Tate is fantasy.”
Casey shook her head at her friend. “This guy is an actor. In real life he probably wears pink shirts and gets his eyebrows waxed.”
“Not Tate! I read that he—-”
Casey had thrown up her hands. Her friend had tried to get her to go to romantic movies, but she wouldn’t. With her workload she had little time off and she wasn’t going to waste it on some drippy saga.
Now it seemed that she was living in a house on property owned by some big–deal movie star—-who hated her.
And rightfully so, Casey thought. It was one thing to watch some half–naked guy mow the lawn, but when people spied on public figures they often ended up in court. And went to prison.
What was it he’d said? “Where is it?” And “Please tell me you didn’t use this! I think I deserve better than a mobile phone.”
“He thought I was photographing him,” she said aloud. When he thought she’d snapped the pictures on a cellphone, his ego had been hurt. In spite of the gravity of the situation, she couldn’t help smiling. No wonder he ran away at the mention of the sheriff. Wouldn’t the tabloids love a photo of the romantic hero in handcuffs?
Casey stood up. “I have to fix this,” she whispered. She needed to apologize and explain, then apologize some more.
She looked at the clock on the mantel. It was still early, so she could take about an hour to do what she did best. She was going to cook something wonderful and take it to him. She’d use her best I’m–sorry voice to make him forgive her. And she’d assure him that she had entered the room just as the phone rang, so she’d only seen him with his shirt off.
That’s good, she thought. A few lies, some of her honey–glazed chicken, and a good strong mimosa, and maybe he wouldn’t kick her out of her very comfortable little house. Or put her in jail.
She had a plan.
Excerpted from THE GIRL FROM SUMMER HILL by Jude Deveraux Copyright © 2016 by Jude Deveraux. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.