Read Dare to Love Again (The Heart of San Francisco Book #2): A Novel Online

Authors: Lessman, Julie

Tags: #FIC042030, #Single women—California—San Francisco—Fiction, #San Francisco (Calif.)—History—20th century—Fiction, #FIC042040, #FIC027050

Dare to Love Again (The Heart of San Francisco Book #2): A Novel

© 2014 by Julie Lessman

Published by Revell

a division of Baker Publishing Group

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

www
.
revellbooks
.com

Ebook edition created 2014

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-3674-6

Most Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
www.zondervan.com

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

“With memorable characters and an effervescent plot that’s as buoyant as it is entertaining,
Dare to Love Again
is Julie Lessman at her zestful best. Romance readers who crave a high-octane plot and a hero and heroine who take sparring to a whole new level will
not
be disappointed!”


Tamera Alexander
, bestselling author of
A Lasting Impression
and
To Whisper Her Name

“Nobody pens a more splendid romance than Julie! The expert on dazzling dialogue, engaging characters, and wonderful romantic plots with a twist wins my heart over every time!
Dare to Love Again
has all the elements of great story-telling—close family dynamics, love, faith, and romantic passion melded together to create another outstanding story of the McClare family.”

—Maggie Brendan
, CBA bestselling author of Heart of the West and The Blue Willow Brides series

In loving memory of Leona Lessman—

a truly amazing mother-in-law who not only gave me the precious gift of her friendship and love but her incredible son as well. We miss you terribly but look forward to pinochle games in heaven with you and Ray, where I promise—I won’t escape to the powder room to read
People
magazine when I lose.

May your unfailing love be with us, L
ORD
,
even as we put our hope in you.

—Psalm 33:22 NIV

 1 

S
AN
F
RANCISCO
, S
UMMER
1903

Merciful Providence . . . I smell a rat!
Nose in the air, Allison McClare sniffed, the unmistakable scent of Bay Rum drifting into her empty classroom of the Hand of Hope School. Although not uncommon for an antiquated Victorian house a stone’s throw from the sewers of the Barbary Coast,
this
smell of “rat” was altogether different and far more frightening. She wrinkled her nose.

The man kind.

“I think you took a wrong turn, lady. High tea is at The Palace.”

“Oh!”
Body jolting, she whirled around at the bulletin board, almost inhaling the straight pin in her teeth. She blinked at a tall, disgruntled stranger cocked in the door of her classroom who might have been dangerously attractive if not for the scowl on his face. An unruly strand of dark hair, almost black—like his mood appeared to be—toppled over his forehead beneath a dark Homburg he obviously felt no courtesy to remove. He hiked a thumb toward the front door, his gruff voice a near snarl as he glared through gray-green eyes that seemed to darken by the moment, the color of stormy seas. “I assume that’s your fancy car
and driver out front? Well, it needs to move to the back alley, lady, whether you’re here to teach or just out slumming with the poor folks.”

The straight pin in her teeth dropped to the floor, along with her jaw, as she gaped, hardly able to comprehend the rudeness of this Neanderthal who’d be better attired in bearskin and club than the charcoal suit coat draped over his shoulder. Rolled sleeves of what might have been a crisp white shirt at one time revealed muscled forearms thick with dark hair like the brainless caveman he appeared to be. It was only two in the afternoon, but already dark bristle shadowed his hard-angled jaw, lending an ominous air to a man who possessed less charm than found on the head of her pin. Her nose scrunched, the smell of “rat” surprisingly strong due to a keen sense of smell and three near misses at the altar. She fought the squirm of a smile over his high starched collar with its off-center tie—loosened as if in protest to fashionable attire he considered a noose ’round his neck.

Like the one I’m envisioning now . . .

He squinted as if she were the intruder instead of him, daring to invade his cave. “What, cat got your tongue?”

Yes, you
pinhead . . . a
polecat
. She glared right back in silence, figuring if she waited long enough, his face would crack . . . something she’d pay good money to see. She almost wished she’d gone home with Mother and Cassie earlier instead of staying later on a Friday the week before they opened their new school. Her gaze flicked to the clock on the wall that indicated her elderly driver, Hadley, was on time to take her home. And not a moment too soon, if this barbarian was any indication of the rest of her day.

Her silence apparently ruffled his fur because his eyes narrowed, if possible, even more than before as he blasted out a noisy exhale, shaking his head as if
she
were the one with a pea for a
brain. “Great—a rich dame as dumb as she is lost,” he muttered, and every word his insolence had stolen from her lips marched to the tip of her tongue to do battle.

“Pardon me, Mr. Personality,” she said in a clipped tone that suggested he’d just crawled out from under a rock, “but the one who is lost here, you cave dweller, is you, so I suggest you lumber back to whatever crater you climbed out of and search for the manners you obviously left behind.” In a royal swoop befitting the school’s new drama teacher, she snatched the pin from the floor and jabbed it into the bulletin board as if it were the backside of this unsavory baboon and every other who’d broken her heart. Before the baboon could speak—or grunt—she whirled around with a flourish, satisfied to see a sagging jaw that likely resembled the mouth of his cave. She’d obviously rendered the beast dumb.
Good—a perfect match
for his brain.

“And for your information, sir, I am the new English and drama teacher for the Hand of Hope School for girls, so I hardly need some surly wiseacre telling me I took a wrong turn. Because trust me, mister . . .” Lips pursed, she did a painfully slow perusal from the glare of those turbulent eyes miles down to laced oxford shoes that were surprisingly well polished. Her gaze sailed back up past a lean body with muscled arms and massive shoulders to settle on an annoyingly handsome face. “If I needed a compass, I’d buy one.”

The grouch caught her totally off guard when the sullen slant of his mouth twitched with a hint of a smile, joining forces with a shuttered look that fluttered her stomach. “I don’t care if you teach angels to fly in the wild blue yonder, lady,” he said with a flip of a badge. “This is my beat, and you can’t park your fancy car out front. It’s an annoyance.”

Yes, I know the feeling.
She jutted her chin. “You don’t
look
like
a police officer,” she challenged, eyes narrowing at the stylish sack suit he wore that appeared of high quality even if it was as disheveled as his hair.

He exhaled with a slack of his hip. “Look, lady, I’m a plainclothes detective who’s off duty at the moment, all right? And if we’re going to get down to brass tacks . . .” He gave her a half-mast look that meandered from the diamond combs in her upswept hair, down the bodice of her silk shirtwaist, to her Italian kidskin shoes beneath her House of Worth skirt. The gray-green eyes narrowed in a squint. “I’m afraid you don’t look much like a schoolteacher either.”

If there was one thing she disliked more than a drafty classroom in an abandoned building in the wrong part of town, it was an obnoxious police officer scowling in that same drafty classroom as if
she’d
just committed a crime. Which, given the snide look on his chiseled face, she was sorely tempted to do. She folded her arms. “Well, then, if you are an ‘off duty’ officer, I fail to see what business it is of yours just
where
my driver parks our car.”

She stumbled back with a tiny squeak when he yanked his coat off his shoulder and barreled forward. His close proximity butted her to the bulletin board while he loomed over her like Attila the Hun. “Look, lady,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument, “I’m just looking out for your best interest here.” He stabbed a finger toward the front of the building, the heat in his eyes going head-to-head with the heat in her cheeks. “This is the bloomin’ Barbary Coast, not a tea party on Nob Hill. A pretty debutante in a fancy car and diamond combs is an engraved invitation to trouble in a district where I work my tail off to keep crime down.”

She blinked.
Pretty?

He gouged the bridge of his nose with blunt fingers, venting with a blast of air that smelled faintly of animal crackers. “All
right, okay,” he said in a civil tone that sounded forced. A hint of contrition laced his words as he held out a ridiculously large hand pert near the size of a baseball glove. “Maybe we need to start over. My name is Detective Nick Barone of the 14th precinct and you are—?”

Smitten.
Allison stared at his hand, then peered up at his striking face, the man so incredibly tall, it put a crick in her neck. Up close he was larger than life, older and more intimidating, the gray-green eyes such an unusual color, he might as well have hypnotized her with a watch swinging on a chain—she couldn’t blink, breathe, or move. Mouth slack, she finally swallowed hard, his bold gaze and the scent of Bay Rum from his shadowed jaw doing funny things to her stomach. She tried to speak, but it was as if those incredible eyes had fused the words to her throat. Her apparent stupor actually tipped his full lips into a charming if cocky smile that sent the warmth in her face straight to the tips of her fingers and toes.

“Now, I know you can talk, ma’am, because you shot enough barbs to qualify me as a member of the cactus family, Miss—”

“Mc—” She coughed, clearing the knot of awkwardness from her throat as she tentatively placed her hand in his. “McClare—Allison McClare.”

He hiked a thick, dark brow. “The McClares of Nob Hill—as in Logan McClare?”

“My uncle,” she said with a shy smile, wondering how a caveman could go from heating her temper to heating her skin within four powerful strides and a smile that could thaw ice.

He responded with a sharp rasp of air through clenched teeth. The temperature in the room suddenly plummeted along with her hand when he jerked his away, his smile as stiff as an iceberg during an Antarctica winter. “I see,” he said with a glacial look
that broke the spell of his eyes. “A snob hill debutante used to doing whatever you blinkin’ well please.”

Her mouth sagged open before she snapped it shut with a plunk of hands to her hips. “Look here, Mr. Barone, when you see a sign out front that says ‘no parking,’ you come see me, all right, and I will make good and sure Hadley parks elsewhere.” She smirked. “
If
you can read.”

“It’s-pronounced-‘Ba-ron-ee,’ long
e
,” he ground out, slanting in with those mammoth hands planted low on tapered trousers. The motion parted his open waistcoat to reveal a shoulder holster with gun, stealing a rush of air from her throat. “Look, missy, I don’t have time to be a nursemaid to some spoiled rich kid who doesn’t have the sense God gave a gerbil. If you insist on rubbing your old man’s money into the faces of every sick and starving whoremonger, cutthroat, or murderer roaming these streets, be my guest—you deserve what you get.”

Gun or no, Allison stepped forward, head snapping up while she contemplated suing him for whiplash. “Well, Mr. Ba-lon-ee, long
e
, I’d like to see
you
‘long’ gone from my classroom, but we don’t always get what we want, do we?” She jabbed a finger toward the door like a schoolmarm reprimanding a student, eyes burning more than her cheeks. “So why don’t you take your little gun and your little snide attitude right out that door, mister, because you are seriously putting a cramp in my neck.” She swished her fingers under his nose as if to shoo him away. “Go—pester somebody who’s actually breaking the law, you oversized bully, or I’ll give you something to arrest me for.”

The airheaded oaf actually stood there and laughed with a fold of arms. “Is that right? What are you going to do, Miss Mc-High-and-Mighty? Sic your butler on me? That dolt appeared as lost as you when I asked him to pull around back.”

“He’s
near
deaf
, you brainless barbarian!” she shouted, his insult to Hadley unleashing her Irish temper. “Okay, that’s it.” She stomped to the blackboard to snatch her pointer and smacked it on her desk before waving it at the door. “Out—now!”

“Ahem . . . excuse me, miss,” Hadley interrupted, “but is this hooligan disturbing you?” Straight and staunch at the door, her beloved butler stood impeccable as always in black jacket and tie, studying Mr. Pinhead with his usual air of calm. “I will be happy to escort him from the premises if you like,” he said, chauffeur hat in hand and silver head tipped in question.

The buffoon laughed again, scratching the back of his neck. “Look, mister, I’d hate to break any of your bones—”

“Oh—good idea!” Allison charged forward with stick in hand. She stopped two feet away to award Hadley her sweetest smile. “Thank you, Hadley, but that won’t be necessary—I’ll be out shortly.”

“Very good, miss,” the elderly man said with a click of heels, allowing an uncharacteristic hint of a scowl at the pinhead before disappearing down the hall.

She poked the pinhead’s chest. “Out—now!”

“Hey, that smarts!” he said with a laugh that bordered on a growl.

“Oh, as if you’d recognize anything ‘smart,’ you dimwit—out!” She prodded him toward the door without mercy while he fended her off with hands in the air, laughing so hard, she whacked him one good. “You think this is funny, mister? Let’s see you laugh when I file a police report for harassment.” She walloped him on the shoulder, which wiped the smirk off his face.

“Hey, lady, do that again, and I’ll arrest you for assault on an officer.”