New Release Blitz: Jessamine Grove by D.J. Blankenship (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Jessamine Grove

Author: D.J. Blankenship

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/16/2024

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: NB/NB

Length: 72700

Genre: Contemporary, Florida, tutor, student, adoption, mystery, artist, opera singer, grief

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Jessamine: any of numerous often climbing shrubs (genus Jasminum) of the olive family that usually have extremely fragrant flowers.

When professor Neil Boehm arrives at Jessamine Grove to take on the task of tutoring a precocious child, he does not know that, like the flower for which it’s named, the picturesque jazz-age estate harbors deadly secrets beneath its glamorous façade.

As Neil unravels the twisted vines of Jessamine Grove’s past and the pain and suffering that were their fruits, he reexamines his own past and life choices and draws unsettling parallels between the history of the Grove and that of his own family history.

Uncovering old sins leads him to hope he can paint a brighter picture for his future.


Jessamine Grove
D.J. Blankenship © 2024
All Rights Reserved


Florentina Bay

Along with Sarah’s letter came an exquisite origami Christmas ornament. Not having a tree upon which to hang it, I attached the multicolored star to the toggle of my rucksack. Now, as I opened the bag, I admired it once more. I tried origami when I was a kid. Unfortunately, I never managed to produce anything that resembled the intended object. What other creative projects had I put my hand to? Shadow boxes, model rockets, the iconic “science project,” and finally, painting. All failures. Not for lack of intelligence or skill, but for a surfeit of impatience. I wanted everything I did to be perfect. Instantly. When it was not, I stomped on, tore up, or otherwise destroyed it.

Now, with the wisdom of maturity, I looked upon Sarah’s handiwork with more admiration than envy. I had learned to accept there were certain things I could not do—or do well—and it was a waste of time and energy to dwell on failures rather than concentrate on and hone strengths. This mindset had served me well in my career as an educator.

Sarah had bested me in artistic creativity, applying her crafty little hands successfully to everything from sewing and knitting to creating beautiful greeting cards and handbound notebooks. In her skill with, and love of, teaching, Sarah had been my equal.

As I pulled my thermos and the letter from my bag, I marveled at the passage of time. Almost thirty years since Sarah Lewis and I began work at Allerton Academy. The venerable Connecticut institution was in precarious financial straits when we were hired, holding tenaciously (or foolishly, depending on one’s perspective) to its old-fashioned curriculum and strict code of discipline while the outside world moved inexorably forward, and more successful private schools adopted contemporary education models. The anachronism of Allerton initially captured our shared romanticism—the feeling of having been hired as principles in a costume drama—and the reality of Allerton’s prestige and high standards that kept us on. From the start, Sarah and I entertained no false hopes that our honeymoon with Allerton would last forever, so we were both surprised the school managed to hang on for more than a quarter of a century.

With Allerton in its final death throes, Sarah, and I—and a few colleagues whose tenures matched or exceeded our own—faced the unenviable fate of being middle-aged and unemployed. Some, like I, chose early retirement. Others, without the luxury of a private income, scrambled to find positions commensurate with their experience working in an old-fashioned boy’s boarding school. Some found work abroad. A few, like Sarah, took positions as private tutors.

“Why?” I had asked Sarah, truly baffled.

Sarah had a promising new life awaiting her outside Allerton—a long suffering lover who had finally convinced her to accept his everlasting marriage proposal and follow him to wedded bliss and retirement in Italy. Instead, Sarah had opted for a two-year stint tutoring the precocious child of a wealthy Florida power couple.

“I can’t quit cold turkey,” Sarah reasoned. “I need some sort of transition. And I could use the extra cash. The Willoughbys are paying handsomely for the Allerton pedigree.”

When she divulged the figure, I was floored.

“Jesus. I can’t blame you for accepting. But what about Victor?”

Victor was the long-suffering boyfriend.

“His reaction was rather like yours,” she said, adding a few cubes of ice and a dash of scotch to her empty glass. “Victor has agreed to a compromise. He’s going to rent a condo nearby, and we’ll spend our holidays in Italy. When my contract is up, we’ll move for good.”

Halfway through the first year of that contract, Mrs. Willoughby passed away, and Sarah soon found herself reconsidering the wisdom of continuing in her position.

“I won’t be sad to leave this place,” Sarah had said in her letter to me, “but I worry about the boy.”

The boy. Max Willoughby.

How often, over the years, have we had that discussion about why some people choose to be parents? Ezra isn’t a bad man, really. But his parenting skills leave a lot to be desired.

Anyway, I’ve had enough. And despite his assurances to the contrary, I know Victor is getting antsy. For so many years, I used Allerton and my career to avoid a true, live-in commitment to Victor. I won’t do that anymore. I want to spend every moment of the rest of my life with the man I love.

And yet…

I don’t want to leave Max without knowing there is someone there for him. Someone to advocate for him. Someone to care for him. He’s certainly no day at the county fair, but there’s something about him. Sometimes when I’m with him I recall what you’ve told me about your own childhood. It’s the young Neil Boehm I see when Max rips up a perfectly good essay or kicks his easel to the ground when I offer the slightest constructive criticism about a work in progress. He has much creative potential but lacks a proper sense of self-worth—of confidence.

Though he denies it, the death of Mrs. Willoughby has affected Max deeply, and he turns to me more and more as a surrogate mother.

What I believe Max really needs at this stage in his life is someone who can be a mentor as well as both a mother and father figure. A buddy, a confidant. Ezra—though I do not doubt his love for his son—seems afraid of gentleness, of kindness, of, perhaps, showing himself as weak. He often forgets Max is a child, not a military cadet.

You’ve already guessed where I’m going with this, of course.

You’d start after the New Year.

Please, Neil. At least consider it seriously. Ezra has practically made up his mind to send his son to a boarding school in France. I think this would be disastrous for Max. If you agree, we’ll talk about it in more detail later.

I’ve already told Mr. Ezra about you—and he’s checked you out and is suitably impressed. And he seems, much to my feminist chagrin, to assume you would be less likely to run off and get married.

Would you? I wonder.

Details enclosed.



I received the contract from Ezra Willoughby even before I met him via video conference. Despite the feeling I was being railroaded—gently by Sarah, imperiously by Willoughby—I accepted the offer. The charm of the lifestyle of an aging beach bum was beginning to wear off, and as much as I cherished the pleasant memories sparked by my return to Florentina Bay, other, darker memories overshadowed them and made remaining there untenable.

Allerton Academy had been my home for more than half of my adult life. Where would I live out the rest of it? Perhaps a leap of faith was in order.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Born in New York City and raised in the San Joaquin Valley of California, D.J. now divides his time between Brooklyn, New York, and Bogota, Colombia, where he lives with his husband, a cat, and a dog. D.J. has previously published under the pen name Zev de Valera.


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