RINGOFTRUTHEBOOK (1), страница 1
Ring of Truth
By Jaclyn Weist
This is a work of fiction, and the views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author.
Likewise, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are represented fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Ring of Truth
Book design and layout copyright © 2015 by Dragons & Fairy Tales Press
Cover design copyright © 2015 by Jeff and Rachelle Hearn
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Copyright © 2015 by Jaclyn Weist
Printed in the United States of America
Year of first printing: 2015
For Gaye ~ The best neighborly-sisterly-friend a girl could ask for.
It constantly amazes me how much fun it is write a brand new shiny book. This book has been especially fun because it took me on a whole new adventure from what I’ve written before. True, my books always contain romance. I can’t write without it because it’s what I enjoy in other stories.
I want to thank my friend, Gaye, for reading my first attempt at romance, and for enjoying it enough that she threatened my life when the last twenty pages were cut off and she had to know what happened. Thankfully, we found them and she was able to finish. She’s been such a great cheerleader through all of my writing shenanigans.
Thank you to Laura, Lindzee, Liz, LaChelle, and Rachelle for reading through and helping me make the book come alive. Also, I want to give a huge thanks to Rachelle for yet another fantastic cover. Thank you to my family for putting up with my late nights.
Thank you to my fans for enjoying my books. I love you all!
And I want to thank Steve most of all. I love you!
Erin’s day started out great, but went quickly downhill from there. She’d worked hard on the presentation for work, and it was a success. She won the account for Smithson Jewelers, and if her proposal was accepted by the client, the ads would be displayed in all the top magazines in the country, just in time for the start of the Christmas season. Never mind that it was still August.
After the meeting, however, was announced that because of several cuts to the budget, most of her personal staff were laid off. She watched in dismay as they all left the office, carrying their belongings in cardboard boxes. She waved as her best friend, Carissa, trailed behind the others. They’d worked together from day one, and had been inseparable since. In fact, Carissa had helped put this ad campaign together. Now, she was gone, and Erin hadn’t even had a chance to say good-bye.
Then when Erin had gone back to her office to put together a list of the reasons why she needed to have Carissa hired as her personal assistant, she’d found a phone message that her cat had gotten loose and was now at the pound, and another one saying her parents would be in town for the weekend for a wedding.
She’d had it. She closed the door, walked inside her small, cramped closet and screamed. It was possible the others in the office could hear her, but she didn’t care. It was time to go home and take a hot bubble bath and forget, well, life. After saving her poor kitty, of course.
Erin printed out the list, then stormed into her boss’s office and waited for her to get off the phone. Debra held up a finger and lowered her voice as she finished the call. She smoothed her perfectly pressed skirt and reorganized her spotless desk before finally looking up at Erin.
“Yes, Erin?” Debra’s eyes had dark circles under them.
“I, um, I wanted to ask if I could have Carissa rehired as my assistant.” Erin cleared her throat and handed Debra the list she’d made. “She is the big reason my ad is so successful.”
Debra sighed and handed back the list. “I’m aware of how valuable she is to the company, but it was out of my hands. Corporate told me I had to let go of thirty employees.”
Erin stared in shock. “She’s finally in remission, and this is how you congratulate her?”
“It wasn’t my choice. I was given the letter last night.” Debra rubbed her eyes. “I’m sorry. Now, please excuse me, I have another meeting.”
Erin stormed back out of the office and wiped a tear away. She couldn’t believe this was happening. She shut down her computer and grabbed her purse and laptop bag before heading for the elevator. There was still another hour left of work, but she needed to get to the pound before it closed. No doubt it was her lousy maid who’d left the door open again. She’d have to talk to the landlord about her again. She chose the apartment because it promised free maid service once a week. What it didn’t say was that the maid was the landlord’s daughter, who sometimes left the apartment in worse shape than it had been in before. Maybe Erin could get a discount on rent if she didn’t use the maid service.
The rain was coming down in sheets when Erin got to the front doors of the office building. She could have sworn it had been sunny that morning. Apparently the weather wanted to match the mood she was in. She searched her purse, but the small umbrella was no longer inside. She pulled up the collar on her light jacket and hurried out, trying to flag down a taxi.
The taxi pulled up, Erin climbed in, and gave the drive the address. This wasn’t the first time she’d had to save her cat, and she knew it wouldn’t be her last.
As soon as she arrived at the pound, she handed off a few bills to the driver and hopped out. She shook out her coat before walking inside. The barking and meowing from the pound was loud but welcoming after the day she’d had. While she waited for the attendant to come to the front of the store, Erin studied the animals in the cages behind the counter.. There were more than usual, and some looked like they’d been caught in the rain as well.
“Can I help you?” a deep voice asked. A man Erin had never met before stood at the counter. His brilliant blue eyes and dimples had her breathless for a moment, and that southern twang made her homesick for Georgia. She cleared her throat while she tried to remember her name.
“Yes, I have a cat named Coco that was brought here. She’s white and fluffy, and has a pink collar with fake diamonds.” The collar had been a gift from Carissa for Christmas. She insisted that even cats need bling.
The man raised his eyebrows. “Diamonds? Wow. Spoiled cat. Although, I guess she’s not too spoiled if she was left outside all day. You know that’s illegal, right?”
“Of course I do. She got away while I was at work.” Suddenly those eyes weren’t quite as tempting.
“Did you forget to lock your door on the way out? This is New York, after all.” He grinned, but instead of making Erin comfortable, it annoyed her.
“Whatever. Just get my cat, please.” Erin was ready to get out of there before he found anything else to point out.
“I need to see some ID first.” He nodded to an older woman who came in behind Erin.
“Oh. Right.” Erin searched her purse for the paperwork. Her stomach dropped. “Um, it’s not in here. Can I just use my driver’s license?”
“As long as you have proof of residence, and a way to prove she’s yours.” His muscles rippled as he leaned on the counter.
Erin grumbled. “I told you, I don’t have those papers.”
He shrugged. “Sorry. I don’t make the rules.”
“People keep saying that.” Erin pulled out her phone and flipped through her photos. “There. How about this?” She showed him the pictures of her with her cat along with her driver’s lic
“Good enough. That’ll be thirty-five dollars.” He tapped a few keys on the computer in front of him.
“Thirty-fi—that’s ridiculous. I came as soon as I heard she was in here.” Erin wanted to get out of there before she started crying, and she knew she was close.
He pointed to a sign behind her. “Sorry, new regulation.”
Erin sighed and paid the fee. “Okay, now can I please have her?”
He grinned and left the room. “I’ll bring her out.”
Oh, brother. Erin smiled at the woman behind her and glanced around the walls. She hoped this was the last time she’d have to be in here. The new help just wasn’t the same as Mr. Dayley. He’d always been so accommodating.
“Here you go.” He held Coco out to her. “Maybe you should write your name on the collar, or get her microchipped. It would make it easier for everyone.”
Erin rolled her eyes. “She must have pulled the tag off again, and I don’t like the idea of having her microchipped.” Of course, if this kept happening, she might not have any choice. She held her cat close to her and took comfort in her purring. “Thank you …” Erin paused, realizing she didn’t know what to call him. She turned and headed for the door.
“It’s Jake,” the man called from behind her.
She turned back. “What?”
“My name is Jake.” His smile almost melted her annoyance. Almost.
“Bye … Jake.” She left the pound and smiled when she noticed it had stopped raining. She took a step toward the curb and shrieked when a car hit a puddle and water splashed all over her. Coco hissed and tried to climb up her shirt, scratching her in the process.
“Whoa, there.” Jake stood behind Erin and took the cat from her. “What happened?”
“Puddle. What are you doing out here?” Erin shook off her jacket and readjusted her bags before taking her cat back from Jake.
“I found this on the floor.” He held up Coco’s tag. “It must have come loose.”
Erin held Coco still so he could put it back on the collar. She couldn’t help blushing when his hand brushed up against hers.
“There you go.” He stepped back and smiled.
“Thanks again.” She was too flustered to think of anything else to say. She flagged down another taxi and turned to say good-bye, but Jake had already left. She climbed in and set Coco on her lap. The taxi driver shot a disgusted glance at Erin’s muddy clothes, but didn’t say anything.
After driving several blocks in silence, she finally arrived at her apartment. Erin paid him cash and climbed out of the car. Coco scrambled to get out of her arms, but Erin held onto her and scratched between her ears.
“What’s going on, sweetie? You’re not usually this skittish.” Erin walked into the building and grimaced at the Out of Order sign on the elevator before climbing the worn, wooden stairs up to her apartment on the third floor.
“There you are.” Carl stood in his doorway. “Your door’s been open all day. You should really make sure it’s locked behind you.”
Erin sighed. “You know you could have closed it for me, right? I had to pay thirty-five dollars just to get Coco back. I’ll just take that off my rent. And let your daughter know I don’t need her cleaning my apartment anymore.” She pushed her door open and walked in, making sure it was double bolted behind her, ignoring his protests.
The thought that someone could be hiding somewhere in her apartment crossed her mind, but she didn’t have much to take anyway. Besides, if she knew Carl, he would have made sure no one came near her door—even if he hadn’t shut it himself.
She dropped her purse and laptop on the coffee table to work on later, and changed into sweats and a T-shirt before listening to her messages. She jotted down a couple of the phone numbers for later, and groaned when she heard the five from her parents. They must have tried her cell phone before calling at work. She’d wait to talk to them until they called back. And they would.
Erin grabbed leftovers from her fridge and plopped down on her couch. She pulled out her phone and dialed Carissa’s number without having to look.
“Hello?” Carissa sniffled.
“It’s that bad, huh?” Erin felt horrible that it had taken this long to get back to Carissa. She should have called the second she was out of the office. Her mind instantly started planning ways to help her best friend feel better.
“Yeah, but I’ll live. I was getting bored there, anyway.” She tried to sound cheery, but Erin could hear the pain behind it.
“I guess that means you don’t care that we got the account?” Erin couldn’t help the excitement that flowed through her. She’d been up against five other people, trying to get this campaign.
Carissa squealed. “Seriously? Okay, that makes this day so much better.”
“I’m glad. I’ve been feeling so bad for you.” Erin played with the tassel on her grandma’s old afghan that hung over the couch. “How did Matt take it?”
“He’s fine. We’re both disappointed, of course, but at least he got that raise. That way we can still pay for the dress. Of course, we still have to get on the schedule. They’re still booked way out.”
Erin cringed. Carissa’s wedding was only a few months away, and every dress shop was full because of brides wanting to have their Christmas weddings. “We’ll figure out a way to get you in. You need your perfect dress.”
“Yeah, I do.” Carissa sighed. “So, did you do anything to celebrate the new account?’
Trust Carissa to turn the conversation back on Erin. “I wish. This day has just gone from bad to worse.”
“Uh-oh. What happened?” Carissa gasped. “You weren’t put on the account with Nate, were you?”
Erin rolled her eyes at the mention of Nate. He was the ultimate competition and a total jerk. “No, thankfully. Mom and Dad are coming to visit, and Coco got out again. And the new guy at the pound is irritating.”
Carissa laughed. “Irritating, huh? And yet, you took the time to mention him. Is he cute?”
“You have no idea. But that’s beside the point. I had to pay thirty-five bucks, and he went out of his way to be annoying.”
“Uh-huh. And does this guy have a name?”
Erin could sense the grin through the phone. “Jake. And it’s not like that.”
Carissa laughed again. “You’re hopeless. Now, are we going to go get some ice cream, or what? I need sympathy, and you need to spill. I want all the details.”
Erin looked down at her untouched plate. Leftovers could wait. “Sure. Meet me at the diner.”
There was only one diner worth going to, and it was only a few minutes from Erin’s apartment. The food was fabulous, and it was noisy enough that they could talk boy problems or whatever else without worrying about anyone listening in.
“See you in ten.” Erin ended the call and tossed her phone on the couch.
She would have changed, but it was late, she was tired, and it was the diner where she’d poured her heart out many times before. No one would know she usually wore sharp suits and had her own corner office—and that’s exactly how she wanted to keep it. Tonight was for her friend.
Jake watched Erin go and shook his head. She was feisty and beautiful, and while her southern drawl was muted, he’d picked up on it immediately. And he was pretty sure he’d messed up any chance he had with her. He’d had all of the procedures drilled into him until he could repeat them back in his sleep, but he still felt bad making people pay for their own pets. When she’d left the collar behind, he was sure it was the perfect chance to ask for her number, but he’d chickened out at the last second. And he’d probably never see her again. Unless her cat got out again.
“She’s quite a looker, isn’t she?” an older customer said, chuckling.
Jake blushed. “Yeah, she is. What can I do for you?”
After helping her find the perfect dog, Jake finished up the paperwork for the day, then checked to make sure each of the animals had e
He needed some groceries, or he’d have nothing to eat the next day, so he walked quickly toward the corner store a few blocks away from his apartment.
The store was quiet, with only a few shoppers among the aisles—one reason he liked this place. It was off the beaten path. He picked up a basket and headed for the produce. It wasn’t quite the same as fresh off the tree, but he needed something he could grab on the way to work every morning. Two women gossiped near the potatoes, but stopped when he walked by. Their appraising eyes made him uncomfortable, so he chose to ignore them.
Jake picked out what he wanted and headed for the bread aisle. His mom would never have approved of his PB&J sandwiches, but until he got his next paycheck, he didn’t have much choice.
Once he had everything he needed, he checked out and left the store, making sure to grab a newspaper on the way out. A small diner sat on the corner a few blocks away from his apartment, and he made a note to head there after payday. For now he could deal with eating a sandwich.
Jake walked the few blocks to his small apartment complex. It wasn’t much, but it’s what he could afford. He picked his way along the hallways, avoiding the toys from the neighbors’ kids. Two young kids raced past, giggling and yelling to each other.
Jake set the groceries down on his counter and put the food in the empty cupboards. He poured himself a drink and dropped onto his couch. While he sipped his juice, Jake went through the classifieds and circled any ads that had to do with acting. A few looked promising, while others had been there for a few weeks, and he’d already tried to get auditions. It was always the same thing. He had great looks and acting, but he just wasn’t right for the part. It was hard to hear, but he wasn’t about to give up. He needed to prove that he could do it. To himself, to his parents. To Melody. He pushed his ex-girlfriend out of his head.