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Cold Day in July

Cold Day In July

Kensington
August 1, 2002
ISBN-10: 1575668211
ISBN-13: 978-1575668215

A Bayou Book

*Don’t miss the expanded version of this book, DEAD END, available January 2014.

Toussaint, Louisiana, a sleepy bayou town where people are accustomed to feeling safe among the cypress trees, the mist off sluggish waters and Spanish moss trailing from live oaks. Good time living to a zydeco beat. Yeah! Then, the body of singer Bonnie Blue is found, her neck broken. Local doctor Reb O’Brien doesn’t believe the gossip–that Bonnie accidentally fell to her death. She remembers all too well the murders of two other woman a couple of years earlier. The killer was caught and placed behind bars. Now, what happened to Bonnie raises chilling questions about a case thought closed–and someone is trying to frighten Reb into leaving well enough alone.

Marc Girard believes the dead woman may be his missing sister and, though he vowed to stay away from his hometown of Toussaint, he comes back to search for the truth–even if it means joining forces with Reb, a woman he left behind along with his past. With only each other to trust, their mutual wariness gives way to a passion that marks them for gossip in a town ready to explode–and makes them vulnerable to the greatest betrayal of all.

The Orphan

The Orphan

Mira
Mar 1, 2002
ISBN-10: 1551668831
ISBN-13: 978-1551668833

Latimer More, lodger at 7A Mayfair Square and widely known as “the most daring lover in England,” has finally found the woman of his dreams—Jenny McBride. But what startles everyone—Latimer’s fellow tenants, his family and even Jenny—is what an educated man of business sees in a poor, orphaned milliner’s assistant. However, Latimer has looked past the surface—past the demure protestations and patched clothing—and seen the fiercely independent and generous soul within the auburn-haired Scottish lass.

Latimer may be sure of his intentions, but Jenny has her doubts. Can she trust a man with the sort of reputation Latimer has with the fairer sex? Surely he is only toying with her and intends to toss her aside after he has tired of her? Moreover, even if Latimer is serious and Jenny were to accept his marriage offer, it would mean revealing the hold that the vile Morely Bucket has upon her.

The odious slumlord, Bucket, presses Jenny, behind on her rent, to offer up sexual favors in exchange for canceling her debts. Jenny has resisted so far, but Bucket has become more and more forcibly persistent as time has passed. Jenny believes that if Latimer were to find out that she was involved in such sordid goings-on that his interest in her would quickly vanish. But Jenny doesn’t know Latimer More well enough. He does find out, and it only intensifies his resolve to free the valiant waif from the clutches of the archfiend Bucket—but not before enlisting the aid of everyone at 7 Mayfair Square.

Out of Print

Tell Me Why – Excerpt

Tell Me Why

Kensington
August 1, 2001
ISBN-10: 1575668203
ISBN-13: 978-1575668208

"Ladies and gentlemen," Brandy Snopes said, tossing back her luxurious auburn hair and wetting carmine lips. "I give you-Carolee Burns!"

Applause broke out and Carolee entered from Brandy’s office at Bistro Brandy on Kirkland’s Lake Street. The full skirt of her black silk dress flipped about her calves. Her bare shoulders and the decolletage at the neck of the backless halter top were luminously pale.

Wearing a stretchy strapless dress of turquoise sequins, Brandy kissed and hugged Carolee, then backed away, clapping as she went.

Max Wolfe sat at a small round table to the right of the baby grand piano. To the right and with one table closer to, but not blocking, the makeshift space where Carolee performed.

He knew that she and Brandy were old friends–that they’d known each other since grade school. Max and Brandy had met more recently–four years ago when they’d had a brief fling and been lucky enough to realize they weren’t meant for each other but that they liked the friendship.

It was Brandy who let Max know each time Carolee was going to play at the bistro. He didn’t like feeling disappointed that this would be her last night here for more than a month.

When she sat down, the black dress swirled around slim ankles and drew attention to high, very sexy sandals.

She played, and Max sipped a glass of red wine. He didn’t know the names of her pieces, but every one of them turned him on. A feeling that he wouldn’t be anywhere else but watching her rattled him. Max Wolfe, the man no woman had managed to tame, had a bad case. Even though he’d been smitten by someone whose complicated life was public knowledge, including the fact that she wasn’t interested in a new man, he wasn’t finding a way to switch off his feelings. He lowered his eyes. If his history was repeating, the challenge she presented could add to her appeal.

He wasn’t looking for a way to stop the feelings.

She looked at him.

Max smiled, just a little, and rolled the bowl of his glass between his hands.

Carolee seemed to keep looking at him but he couldn’t be sure she actually saw him. When she played her whole body moved. She wasn’t thin and he liked that. He also liked the way she wore her thick, dark hair rolled away from her face and caught loosely at the back of her head. Her face was heart-shaped, her chin pointed. There was nothing typical about her. She’d been described as interesting but not conventionally good-looking. Max had spent more than one solitary evening enjoying visions of her, and wishing he could figure out how to spend a lot more time looking at her unconventional face.

"You again, huh?"

Max jumped and glanced up at a white-haired guy who was probably seventy, even if his light eyes could pierce a man.

"Have we met, Sir?" Politeness to older males had been an obsession Max’s father passed on.

"No," the man said. "I’m Sam. You expecting company?"

Max shook his head, no, and Sam promptly commandeered the second chair at the table.

"What d’you think of this place?" Sam asked. "Hokey, huh? Faux Italian."

Max smiled and glanced around at rough-plastered terra cotta walls and silk grape vines draped along pink beams. "I don’t know," he said. Bunches of purple plastic grapes dripped from the vines. "Have you been to Italy?"

"Nah. Why would I go somewhere foreign when I live in the best country in the world."

"I went there a couple of times," Max said. "I liked it. Beautiful country. Nice people. This place isn’t so far off some of the ones I ate in there."

Sam snorted. "I guess that puts me in my place. Did you have dinner yet?"

"Nope."

"You gonna eat?"

"No," Max said. "Just stopping in for a drink. Can I buy you one? Or are you hungry. Don’t let me put you off."

"Just coffee," the man said. "I’m not hungry and I abused the other privilege a long time ago. Now I don’t need it."

Max signaled a waiter and ordered coffee.

"I saw you here before," Sam said. "Several times. You must be a real music lover." His sharp eyes skewered Max again.

"Depends on the music. I like this. I heard her play in New York once. She’s got a supper club there. Or she did."

"Still does." The guy cleared his throat. "At least, that’s what I’m told."

"Nice place. Burns Near Broadway. Good food. But I’ve got to confess I went for her, not the food. She’s phenomenal. I don’t guess she gets to New York much now."

Sam shrugged and cleared his throat. "You live around here?"

"Uh huh. A condo. Here in Kirkland."

"I wish these bozos would quit talking and eating," Sam said of diners at the bistro.

Max didn’t point out that Sam hadn’t stopped talking since he sat down. "They do quiet down while she plays," he pointed out. "They know they’re in on something special. I keep expecting the word to spread so much it’ll be impossible to get in here, but this is mostly regulars and Brandy doesn’t advertise."

"Carolee wouldn’t come if things got out of hand."

Max noted Sam’s confidence when he made statements about Carolee Burns, but made no comment.

She ran her fingers over the keys and those who continued to eat did so discreetly. Sam’s coffee was delivered but he ignored it. He bent forward over a bright yellow table cloth, his eyes fixed on the pianist, and Max frowned. For Sam to have seen him here before meant the other man had also been present.

"What do you think of her?" Sam leaned close and whispered. "She’s something, huh?"

"Yes, something." Her fingers skimmed across the keyboard and she sang in a husky voice, a slow, husky voice. Her eyelids closed and he could see her eyes moving beneath. "Gutsy, too. I like that."

"I know who you are, y’know," Sam said. "I bet everyone here does. Must be hard to hide when you’re bigger than anyone else around."

"It might be if I was trying to hide." Max didn’t want to talk about himself. "She shouldn’t be shut away in this backwater. She’s a woman who needs to be free and that doesn’t make her a bad wife-ex-wife-or mother. She got a bum rap."

The unwavering attention that comment brought him wasn’t too comfortable. "You ever been married?" Sam asked.

"No."

"Are you involved?"

"No." Max raised his eyebrows.

"I know, I know," Sam said. "Nosey old bastard, aren’t I? Just wondered. What d’you do now you can’t play football anymore?"

The waiter put a basket of warm bread on the table and Max tore off a piece. He made a diversion of gathering crumbs into a small pile. "I own a software company," he said finally. "And I help out with highschool football for The Lakes. I’m kind of a visiting motivator who gives pointers."

"Must have been a helluva shock. The accident. Trapped under a pickup like that. Then watching your best buddy get your job had to hurt."

"I’m a grownup. I got over it." More or less. "And Rob Mead is still the best friend a man could have. He couldn’t help what happened to me." Max didn’t want to talk about this anymore. Avoiding comments on what people liked to call his "tragedy" could keep him at home for long periods.

"Do you like kids?"

Startled, Max looked at him quizzically. He thought for a moment. "Yes, I guess I do. I don’t think I’d have wanted to get involved with a high school team if I didn’t."

"Ever think about having your own?"

"My own?" Max was having difficulty listening to Carolee Burns and understanding Sam’s oblique questions.

"Your own kids."

He gave that some thought, too. "With the right woman, sure." Carolee was looking in his direction again and he smiled, making sure his expression was open and friendly. She smiled back but he still didn’t think she was really aware of him.

"She’s a charmer," Sam said. "Never saw a woman with so much to offer who had so little confidence in herself."

"Maybe you’re right, but I like her just the way she is."

"You do, huh?"

"Well," Max drank more wine and followed it with a bite of bread. "Well, I don’t know her, do I. But I think I’d like her a lot if I did."

Sam sipped at his coffee and grimaced. "Swill," he said. "This stuff never saw a coffee bean. Do you ride."

"I’m sorry?" Max set his glass down on top of the wet circle that had already formed on the cloth.

"Horses." Sam said. "I’m getting a couple out at my place for when my granddaughter visits. I’m too old to keep up with exercising ’em."

"I grew up riding on my folks’ farm. And if that’s an invitation, thank you. I might take you up on the offer one of these days."

"That’s good." The man’s broad grin disconcerted Max.

"Do you know what this piece she’s playing is called?" Max asked to change the subject.

Sam considered, then said, "I Know You In The Dark. Strange she never wrote any words."

"Do you know if she wrote the music."

"Sure, she wrote it. When she was married to moron, the guy she was supposed to have taken advantage of. I ask you, does she look like she could take advantage of anyone?"

Good old Sam knew a great deal about Carolee Burns and Max intended to find out why. "She looks intense to me, intense but gentle."

"And she’s beautiful if you like a face that’s all eyes."

Max grinned. "She is beautiful."

"You must be pretty well fixed," Sam said offhandedly. "All that money from playing in the pros, and now your own software company."

"I can pay my bills."

The piece of music Carolee played didn’t need any words. Just knowing the title conjured images of heat and damp skin that caused Max to ache in places where he enjoyed the sensation. She was really sexy, he hadn’t noticed just how sexy before. Now and again she ran her tongue over her full lower lip and she kept her eyes closed almost all the time she played, only to open them with an vaguely startled expression, as if she was surprised to discover she wasn’t alone.

He could watch her and imagine she was playing for him, telling him she’d know him in the dark.

She didn’t know it, but they had things in common. The losses were different, but they had both lost. First her marriage had failed and her child had been all but taken from her. Then she’d chosen to walk away from a dynamic career. She could go back to the career. He didn’t have that choice. He’d been a wide receiver with the Broncos. Speed and his teammates’ confidence in his reliability went with the job. After the accident he’d brought himself back to excellent physical shape, but the metal plates in his legs meant he wouldn’t play again. Carolee obviously wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted for the rest of her life. Neither was he.

He’d just like to talk to her-alone. She might turn out to be vapid, but he didn’t think so, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d have plenty to say to each other.

Sam didn’t talk anymore and soon the only sounds in the restaurant came from the piano and from Carolee singing. Her mood changed with the mood of each piece but Max couldn’t get that one melody out of his head. I Know You In The Dark. He wanted to know her in the dark, and in the sunlight or the rain.

He’d been alone too long. It was time he found a new lady.

Max looked at a clock on the wall. Carolee had been playing almost forty-five minutes. A crowd hovered inside the front doors, straining to get a better look at her. He saw her nervous expression when she turned her head and saw them.

"Uh oh," Sam said, pushing back his chair. "She’s about had enough. Time to get her out of here."

Bodyguard, maybe? Or her driver more likely. Max pushed back from the table, too. He’d follow at a distance but make sure they got away safely.

The moment she finished the number she was playing, Carolee rose from the bench to bow and smile in all directions. The applause would be loud even in a much larger room. She walked toward Sam, caught Max’s eye, and veered away toward Brandy’s office.

A man reached for her arm as she passed. She sidestepped him, but without appearing angry.

"Parking lot at the back," Sam muttered. "She’s not usually this edgy. I’d better get her out through the kitchens."

"I’ll make sure no one bothers her," Max said, doing what came naturally and using his height and muscular weight to wall off a path from the office to the kitchens. "Tell her she’ll be fine and walk her out. These folks think she’s great, that’s all."

Sam opened the office door and said something Max couldn’t hear. Grinning and waving, Carolee came out, offered Max a grateful wink, and hurried into the kitchens.

Just that quickly she was gone.

And just that quickly Max was left with a wonderful picture of her winking one definitely green eye.

Italian music came from overhead speakers. Chatter and laughter meant everyone was having a good time and that they hadn’t noticed any awkwardness on Carolee’s part.

"Hey, Max," Brandy said, placing her tall, shapely body in front of him. "She’s great. You’ve got good taste."

"I like listening to her. Thanks for giving me a call and letting me know she’d be here."

Brandy ran her hands up and down his sides and puckered her lips at him. "I was watching you. You look lonely to me, Max. And frustrated, maybe? How about getting together later-for old time’s sake. No expectations, just good company."

He really did like her. "Not tonight, kid. I’m beat. Can I have a raincheck?"

"You bet." She pressed her elbows to her sides, showing off awe-inspiring cleavage. "Just one little kiss, though?"

He dropped a kiss on her brow but when she caught his head in both of her hands, he gave up and pressed his lips to hers. Fortunately he’d had enough practice to manage sliding contact. "That was nice," he said honestly. "We’ll get together soon."

"Oh, yes we will," she said. "Now run along."

He did as he was bid and didn’t get a single comment from the staff when he exited via the kitchens as Carolee and Sam had.

The lot behind the bistro was small, badly lighted, and smelled dank. Sudden shrieks from cats of the night startled him, but Max’s luck was holding. He made out Carolee leaning against the side of a one ton Dodge pickup. The hood was propped up and he could hear Sam’s voice spitting a venomous tirade from the depths of the engine compartment.

Max hadn’t expected to feel shy if he was ever more or less alone with Carolee, but he did. Still he pushed himself to amble toward the Dodge and call, "Hi, Sam. It’s Max. You having some trouble?"

Sam’s head emerged and he wiped his brow on his sleeve. "Nothing but trouble. Never has been."

"It’s been perfectly fine for fourteen years," Carolee said. "It’s tired and neglected is all. Time you traded it in."

"No way." Sam used a wrench like a baton. He made a growling sound and said, "Carolee Burns, meet Max Wolfe. You youngsters are to blame for all this planned obsolescence. If something breaks down, you want to throw it away and buy new. If I didn’t have a bit of arthritis, I could keep this thing going until we get home. It starts, but it’s touchy. If you could drive it, girl–"

"But I can’t drive a stick shift. We both know that. I’ll take some lessons."

"That’s not going to help us now."

Max tossed around the possibilities before saying, "I could drive you in my car, then come back and get you in the morning so you could deal with the Dodge."

"I’m not leaving my truck here," Sam said, all sharpness. "You might not get it, but there are a lot of young whippersnappers just dying to get their hands on something like this. If they couldn’t steal it, they’d strip it. I’d better get help."

"I could drive it for you," Max said and shook his head slightly. What was he thinking of, getting involved here?

Carolee spoke at last. "Then you’d be marooned without wheels."

"He could drive your car back," Sam said quickly. "We’d come into Kirkland for it in the morning. Max lives up the street here in a condo."

"I see." Clearly she didn’t see, but she wasn’t sure how to argue what Sam seemed so sure of.

"You two could drive out in my car while I drive this," Max said. "That would solve everything."

"What do you drive?" Sam asked.

"A Cadillac," he said and laughed uncomfortably. "One of the drawbacks of having mostly metal legs is that it’s more comfortable to stretch them out."

"We’re not driving your Cadillac," Sam said. "No way. Might do something to it. No, if you’d be kind enough to drive us back, you can use Carolee’s wheels for tonight."

Max wanted to ask how Sam intended to get anywhere tomorrow if he didn’t have a vehicle. He kept his mouth shut instead. The time always came to give in gracefully.

Carolee went to the driver’s side of the truck and Max handed her up. Promptly she slid to the middle of the bench seat and angled her legs to the passenger side of the cab. Sam got in beside her and slammed his door.

Max took a cleansing breath through his nose and climbed behind the wheel. "Here we go," he said and turned the key in the ignition. The engine turned over immediately and smoothly, but he treated the gas and clutch gently just in case.

"I’ll bring you home," Carolee said. "Then you’ll be put out as little as possible."

He shouldn’t be so pleased at the idea of spending more time with her–alone.

Beside him, close enough for their arms to touch, Carolee sat quite still. He wore a gray silk shirt and darker gray pants. It was impossible to ignore the warm feel of her when he turned the wheel. Each time he shifted, his hand brushed her thigh. When he glanced down, he saw that her skirts were hiked above her knees. The sight of her long, well-shaped legs tightened his belly.

"You and Sam seem to know each other," she said to him. "Do you fish?"

Questions, questions. "Not often."

"Play golf?"

"Occasionally."

"We met watching you," Sam said, evidently unnerved by the third degree. "He’s Max Wolfe the pro-football player."

"Ex-football player. Don’t forget to give me directions."

"Turn left on Central Avenue," Carolee said promptly. "Then take a right on Market Street."

Kirkland was crowded. Cruising cars jammed the narrow streets. Groups on the sidewalks hollered responses to blaring horns. Some danced to music blasting from clubs, and from vehicles with rolled down windows. Warm weather had brought out halter tops and shorts. In-line skaters dodged among walkers, skateboarders, cyclists and runners.

Sam’s truck didn’t have air-conditioning. "Don’t need it around here," he’d said and Max had been glad it was Carolee who responded, "You’re the only one who thinks so." But tonight Max enjoyed feeling the town’s energy, and smelling flowers in overflowing hanging baskets. He liked Kirkland a lot.

"Son of a . . . Will you look at this place?" Sam said. "Damn carnival. They think they own the roads. Look at that. No signal. Geez, move it, will ya? Honk, Max. We should be halfway to Juanita by now."

Carolee’s sudden laugh made Max grin and look sideways at her. She gave him a conspiratorial smile that wrinkled her nose and Max felt almost as if she’d put her arms around him. Intimate, that’s how her smile felt.

Early in the Morning

Early in the Morning

Zebra
August 1, 2001
ISBN-10: 082177221X
ISBN-13: 978-0821772218

Early in the Morning (SLOW HEAT anthology)

In Early in the Morning, a frustrated librarian is determined to drive her scholarly fiancé wild with desire before the wedding, but she may need some heavenly help to light the fire of a man who’s afraid of being burned…

Out of Print

Tell Me Why

Tell Me Why

Kensington
August 1, 2001
ISBN-10: 1575668203
ISBN-13: 978-1575668208

In TELL ME WHY, readers enter the world of pianist Carolee Burns. At its peak, Carolee’s celebrated career took her all over the world. Then, eighteen months ago, she dropped out of sight, emerging only occasionally to perform at Bistro Brandy, a tiny club in suburban Seattle. It is here that Max Wolfe watches in the darkness, a silent observer nursing a drink as Carolee’s poignant music washes over him. Drawn to her sadness, compelled to know the reason for her sudden withdrawal, Max searches for answers to his questions.

Carolee won’t talk about the ruin of her life — the sudden crashing end to her once-happy marriage, the agonizing estrangement from her daughter, and her ex-husband’s vindictive behavior. It’s enough that by reinventing her life, she has found some measure of peace.

However, that peace is about to be shattered. No sooner does Max dare to reach out to the woman he has watched from the shadows, than a tragedy reveals secrets that can’t be ignored — and that will change their lives forever.

Out of Print

Read an Excerpt

Finding Ian

Finding Ian

Thorndike Press
July 1, 2001
ISBN-10: 0783894570
ISBN-13: 978-0783894577

FINDING IAN is about Byron Frazer, a man who is easy on the mind and heart, and the eyes . . . Anyone who knew Byron in his lean college days wouldn’t recognize the confident, successful, charismatic loner he is today. He lives a double life. The public thinks he’s got everything going for him, but in private he wrestles with old guilt and doubts he’ll ever find what he wants–someone to make him complete.

When he was twenty-one, Byron became the father of a baby boy. The child was left in his care but he couldn’t look after him–mostly because there was no money. Byron gave up his son and spent the next thirteen years telling himself he’d done the right thing. But he doesn’t believe that now and probably never did.

A journey to Cornwall, England, “just to check on the boy,” turns into a face-to-face encounter with what life could become if the stars shine on Byron. He meets Jade Perron, a woman whose world is so different from Byron’s that they ought to need an interpreter, but they don’t. These two are a tornado together, in almost every way, and they become addicted to each other, but Byron’s son, Ian, could make it impossible for Byron and Jade to have a future.

Read an Excerpt

 

Finding Ian – Excerpt

Finding Ian

Thorndike Press
July 1, 2001
ISBN-10: 0783894570
ISBN-13: 978-0783894577

CHAPTER ONE

One shoe box with a broken lid. One lousy shoe box held together by a knotted length of graying elastic.

Byron saw the end of the thing beneath a pile of shirts he never wore. He’d probably have thrown them out years ago–only somewhere inside him where he tried never to look, hovered a warning not to go near that pile.

Ignoring the deluge of falling clothes, he pulled the box from a shelf in the walk-in closet, carried it to the bedroom, and dropped it on the bed.

It slipped to the floor. The elastic snapped.

The life of Byron and Lori Frazer spilled out.

Two years of loving scattered on a green and rust Chinese silk rug Lori never saw. Loving, and hoping, and praying, and daring to laugh–and losing. Thirteen years ago they’d lost the battle for a future together, and it hurt all over again, dammit, it hurt almost as much this morning as it had hurt then.

He went to twenty-foot-high windows overlooking a sheer drop to San Francisco Bay. Here, high up on the west side of Tiburon, he’d managed to find a kind of peace, a kind of insulation from the demands of his life that he’d rather leave either in his consulting rooms in the city, or at the TV station where he spent hours of every day.

Jim Wade, the private investigator who’d worked for him for years, had obviously followed Byron’s offhand invitation to finish his coffee–even though Byron had excused himself from their meeting to come up here. While Byron watched, Wade slowly emerged from the two story house and sauntered to his inconspicuous brown Honda.

An inconspicuous car for an inconspicuous man who made his living watching, while not being watched. And he was good at it. Jim Wade was the perfect, unremarkable face in any crowd.

He glanced toward a cloudless blue sky, and the water that shimmered beneath an early March sun. Blue, on blue, on blue. Shaded bowls of blue, their rims dissolving into each other. Bougainvillaea in colors of ripe oranges, red, and a luminous purple, billowed over white stucco walls edging the steep cliffs. The twisted limbs of stunted pines backed the wall and made jigsaw pieces of the horizon.

Wade threw a battered black briefcase and the jacket of his brown and beige striped seersucker suit into the Honda, climbed in, and drove away from the parking area at the back of the house.

Then he was gone.

Wade was gone, and Byron was left with no one but himself to make the decisions he’d hoped would never have to be made. Not that the fault for what had happened could be set at anyone’s feet but his own. And he could choose to walk away from responsibility. After all, he’d turned his back on responsibility once before and been able to convince himself that what he’d done was for the best–for all concerned. And it might have been, mightn’t it?

He returned to the side of the bed and went to his knees. He started gathering pieces of paper and photographs. Notes. Pressed flowers that crumbled at the slightest touch. A bracelet of colored yarn–faded now–and with Lori’s name, in turquoise-colored beads, woven into the strands. Cards, Lori’s, and even some of Byron’s, handmade. They’d had so little money, not that he could have felt for a store-bought card what he’d felt for each of Lori’s simple designs, or her words that could not have been for anyone but him. “I promise I’ll never slow you down. I’ll only be free if you’re free. Be free, Byron. Love you, Lori.”

He hadn’t wanted to be free, not free of Lori, the sweetest, most honest creature ever to be part of his life.

He had owed her so much, but he’d failed her. And when he’d failed her, he’d failed himself. He had turned her concern for him into an excuse to do what he’d wanted to do–to avoid anything that might tie him down.

Hell, he didn’t know anymore. He hadn’t known then, but after all he’d been doing what Lori told him to do–choosing freedom at a time when to do anything else would make his way not just hard, but near impossible.

Byron Frazer had betrayed his wife.

The box should have stayed where it was.

A picture taken in Golden Gate Park. Lori clowning by a tree trunk. An insubstantial girl, with long, fine blond hair blowing away from her face, a bright grin, and gray eyes screwed up against the sun. He’d been playing his guitar and she’d leaped up to dance. She’d twirled and laughed, twirled and laughed, and he abandoned the guitar for their old point-and-shoot camera. Her slender body and well-shaped legs showed in shadow through a thin, flower-strewn, gauze dress.

His hands shook.

“Byron! Byron, are you here?” The unmistakable voice of his agent, Celeste Daily, came from the foyer. Celeste had her own key and never hesitated to use it. “Byron, darling, it’s me, Celeste.”

He listened to her inevitable exceedingly high heels clip on the terra-cotta tiles that covered the ground floor. She would be checking each room for him.

Celeste, his agent, and the woman who thought she owned him.

Tucking the photo of Lori into his shirt pocket, he made a rapid pile of everything else, and crammed it into the box. Then he pushed the box under the bed.

Celeste was already climbing the stairs.

What the hell was he going to do?

“Byron Frazer? Come out, come out. Be warned, I’m comin’ in if you don’t come out.”

Some might be beguiled by her playfulness. Byron knew her too well.

The bedroom door stood open to a wide balcony that ran around the second floor. This room, decorated for him by the strangers he’d hired to make the house peaceful–his only instruction to them–echoed the cool greens and creams, and soft white used in the foyer that soared to open beams above the upper floor.

Tall, slender, elegant in putty colored silk, her blond hair curving smoothly to chin-level, Celeste appeared on the threshold. She looked at him, and frowned. “Byron? Honey, what gives? There’s a studio full of people twiddling their thumbs and waiting for you over there.” She looked at the phone by the bed, took obvious note of the unplugged chord.

He could lie, say he was sick, had unplugged the phone to get some rest, then overslept. Only this wasn’t a time for lies. He shifted his foot slightly and the toe of his right sneaker made contact with the shoe box.

No more lying, especially not to himself.

“For God’s sake, what is it?” Celeste jiggled the car keys she held in one hand. “Oh, there isn’t time now. We’ll talk about it while we drive. I met Rachel outside, by the way. She’s not a happy camper. She likes early morning visitors less than you do. Good housekeepers are hard to come by–you’d better smooth her feathers.”

“Rachel’s fine. She enjoys complaining.”

He didn’t have to deal with what Jim Wade had told him. For thirteen years he’d avoided doing anything–why start now? He crossed his arms and felt the photo in his pocket.

The coldness, the old coldness he’d learned to ignore, it spread beneath his skin. His scalp tightened and he felt himself growing distant. Celeste’s mouth moved. He watched, even shook his head a little and turned away as if dismissing her, but he couldn’t hear her clearly anymore.

He drew a deep, deep breath and closed his eyes, willing himself to be calm, to stop himself from moving away, moving inside himself. It was Byron the quitter who ran away. He wasn’t that man anymore. He wouldn’t run again. Would he?

“Why didn’t you come to the studio?” Celeste asked. “Or at least call and say you’d be late.”

He struggled to concentrate. People thought him rude, arrogant, when he turned his silence on them, but he literally withdrew, just as his mother had withdrawn from his father’s mental and physical battering. In the end she had gone so far away she’d never returned…

“Byron?”

“We’re well ahead of schedule on the tapings,” he said.

“That doesn’t matter. You can’t leave that many people standing around doing nothing just because you decide to sleep in. That’s expensive. And it’s not your style. You can’t–”

“How do you know what my style is?” Much as he yearned to shout, he kept his voice steady. His father had been a screamer and Byron had learned to stuff down any urge to follow in good old dad’s footsteps. “You don’t know me, Celeste.”

Her large, violet-colored eyes grew hard. “If you say so. That’s a discussion that’ll have to wait. Right now I need you downstairs in my car. We’ve got some major opportunities lining up. You’re one hell of a success. I do know that about you. You’re thirty-four, and you’re already a media phenomenon. Dr. Byron Frazer, the country’s leading popular expert on the family–and every woman’s ideal man. Let’s go.”

“You go,” he said. “I’ve got some things to attend to. Be a love and go buy me time, hm?” He managed a smile. The instant softening in her perfect features brought him no pleasure. So he had a face and smile that had women eating out of his hands. Big deal. They wouldn’t want to come within miles if they knew what he really was. No woman worth knowing would want to.

“Byron, please–”

“I just told you I’ve got things to do.”

“You bet you do. If we hurry we’ll at least make lunch. Buddy’s talking about product tie-ins.”

“We’ve already got product tie-ins.”

“Other than tapes and videos and books.”

Byron rubbed his eyes. “I’m not talking about this now.”

“Because of the detective?”

He grew still, then slowly dropped his hands. “What did you say?”

Celeste walked across his bedroom to the simple teak writing table by the windows. She skirted the table and sat atop deep green corduroy cushions on a long window seat. “Rachel was outside dead-heading some flowers. Your Mr. Wade was just leaving.”

“My Mr. Wade . . . How do you know his name?”

“He stopped and said goodbye to Rachel, and she said, “Good bye, Mr. Wade.” Then Rachel rolled her eyes at me and said, “Detectives wanting coffee almost before my eyes are open.” Celeste crossed one long leg over the other and didn’t attempt to stop her skirts from slipping up her thighs.

“What’s happened, Byron? Why would the police be here?”

“He’s not a policeman. He’s a private investigator–and my business with him is private.”

She raised her silver blond brows, got up, and bent over the writing table.

Damn, he’d forgotten about the papers Wade had brought and left spread out.

Celeste picked up a photograph and studied it. “Who’s this?”

“No one you know.” No one he knew–he’d made sure of that.

On that terrible day he was never going to forget, Lori had said, “Byron, promise me you’ll put this behind you if something goes wrong. Promise me you won’t let anything stop you from doing what you want to do.”

“This is what I want to do,” he told her.

“But if. . . if something doesn’t turn out the way we hope? You won’t be stupid, will you? You won’t give it all up. We both know that would never work. You wouldn’t be able to manage everything.”

“No, Lori, we don’t both know that. You think you do. But nothing’s going wrong.”

“Promise me, please,” Lori said. “You’re going to be a great psychologist. You’re going to help people like us. Like the people we were when we were kids.”

“I promise you I’m always going to try to do what’s right.”

But afterward he’d lost his nerve.

“Nice looking kid,” Celeste said, and tossed the photograph down again. “C’mon, open up to me. What’s going on.”

“Back off, Celeste.”

“We’ve been through too much together for me to shrivel up just because you sound pissed.”

“I’ve got to leave California for a while. Maybe quite a while.” That had been the last thing he’d intended to say. But that was the answer, that’s what he had to do–what was right. Finally. The pressure on his chest lightened. He’d made his decision. “Yeah, that’s it. I’m going away. We’ve got plenty in the can at the station. If necessary they can go to reruns.”

“That’s the craziest suggestion you’ve ever made.” She hurried around the table and came to him, grasped his biceps. “You’re tired, that’s all. Everything’s gone so fast and you haven’t had a real break in two years. Take a vacation. Go to Grand Cayman for a couple of weeks. You like it there.”

“I don’t like it there. I’m going to . . .” No, he would not tell her or anyone else where he was going. “I’m going to visit someone.”

“Who?”

She never backed off, never gave up.

“My son,” he told her, meeting her eyes while, inside, he began to move away again. The faint, familiar buzzing began at the center of his mind. The palms of his hands sweated–cold sweat.

Celeste dropped her hands. “Son? What son? You don’t have–you can’t have a son, for God’s sake. What are you saying to me?” Her voice rose to a thin shriek.

“I have a son,” he said, and this time the sound of it felt more real.

“No. Where is he? With his mother?”

“I’m not talking about Lori.”

“Oh, my, God.” Clapping her hands over her mouth, she tottered to the bed and sat down with a thump. “Lori? We’ve known each other for years. We’ve been more than business partners, Byron. But now there’s a son, and Lori?”

“I’ve told you I won’t talk about Lori. I’ve got a son who needs me.” A son who might or might not need him, but Byron intended to find out for sure.

“That’s him.” She nodded toward the table. “The blond kid with the dog. I don’t get it. How could you do this? Dr. Frazer can’t have a secret kid stashed away somewhere. Or a wife, or ex-wife, or whatever. Think what that could do to your credibility. If you’d been straight about it up front, we could have made sure there was never any mess to clean up.”

A mess to clean up? “Please go . . . Celeste, please give me some space. This isn’t something I can talk about with you. Not with anyone. I need–”

“Oh, Byron.” She surged to her feet and rushed to him, wrapped her arms around him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Forgive me, please. I don’t know . . . You shocked me and I’ve never been good at shocks. Why aren’t I saying what I should be saying. This is wonderful. You have a son and he’s beautiful. He must get the blond hair from his mother, but I bet he’s got your eyes. What a beautiful boy.”

“You can hardly see him in that picture. He’s too far away.” Wade had been warned never to intrude on Ian, to make certain the boy was never frightened.

“I don’t have to see him any clearer to know he’s wonderful. He’s your boy. He’d have to be wonderful. A green-eyed blond. He’ll soon be fighting off the girls. I want to meet him. I want to come with you.”

There was only one person he’d like with him when–if–he met Ian, and she wouldn’t be available. “No.” He stiffened and gently disentangled himself from her. Forcing a smile, he said, “But thank you. Cover for me here, will you? Family is what I’m supposed to be about. You can say–without lying–that I’ve got a family emergency.”

“That man–the investigator. He’s working for you.”

He bit back a retort. “Yes, yes he is.”

“He came with all that.” She waved toward the writing table. “About that boy. You’ve been having his mother watched, haven’t you? Because you want custody?”

“You watch too much television.” His voice was jocular, he made sure of that, but his pulse hammered at his temples. Somehow he had to satisfy Celeste’s curiosity and keep her out of his business. “Nothing like that. Custody? Get real. What would I do with a kid? I analyze ’em, I don’t live with ’em.”

She smiled at that, nervously at first, then more widely and with confidence. “So why do you have to go see him?”

Blurting out his intentions about that hadn’t been smart. “Just to check out that everything’s okay. His situation’s changed.” Changed? Every shred of security had been pulled away from him and he’d been shuttled off to some relative he’d never met.

“You keep tabs on him through a private investigator. Why?”

“I don’t have to go into all that with you, but it’s the way it had to be.” Because, when the chips were down and he’d officially turned his back on the boy, he’d been unable to put him out of his mind. Making certain Ian was safe and well-cared for had felt right–essential.

“You don’t have whatever rights a father’s supposed to have in cases like this?”

She had to leave. She had to stop asking questions he didn’t want to hear, much less think about.

Her eyes flickered away, then back again. Something had changed in the way she looked at him. Wary? Questioning? He could almost hear her wondering what else she didn’t know about him, just how much he’d hidden behind a false face he’d perfected for the world.

“Look,” he began, stepping cautiously, thinking his way through each word before he spoke, “this isn’t something I ever expected. I thought the issue had been put to bed years ago. It all happened when I was a kid–twenty-one. It wasn’t supposed to become an issue again.”

“Ugliness has a way of not staying dead.”

“There’s nothing ugly–” he made himself take a breath. Of course she thought he was keep a dirty little secret, a secret he was ashamed of. “I know what you’re trying to say. I’m being absolutely honest with you Celeste. We’ve been in business together a long time.” An idea came to him. “Maybe you’d feel better if we severed that now–at least until I’ve straightened all this out and I can come back minus the baggage again.”

“No, Byron!” She fluttered around him. “Let me pour you a drink.”

“It’s the middle of the morning.”

“I could use a brandy even if you couldn’t.”

“Help yourself. I’ve got plans to make.”

The heels of her cream leather pumps were of a gold metallic material. When she moved from the rug to the rosy-hued madrona floor, the heel tips made muffled thuds.

He wanted to take a closer look at the photos of Ian. Through the years he’d avoided having Wade take any shots. Without a visual image it was easier to remain detached.

Ian hadn’t needed him before–not really. He’d made sure he was well provided for, and safe. And from Wade’s regular observations and reports, the boy was happy enough.

Celeste opened a cabinet fronted with etched glass, selected a decanter and brandy bubble, and poured a healthy measure of Hennessey. She drank too much but she didn’t want Byron’s opinion or advice on that topic.

She wandered back, a calculated, hip-swinging wander, and arranged herself in his favorite dark green leather wingback chair. She used one heel to pull the ottoman close, and stacked her feet. Celeste’s legs were her most remarkable feature, not that the rest of her wasn’t remarkable.

“How old is . . . Ian?”

“Thirteen.”

“You haven’t exactly been an active part of his life.”

He hadn’t been any part of his life. “No. It never worked out that way.”

“So why go rushing off now? Why not get through this season’s shooting and make leisurely plans to take some time off? It would be much simpler–”

“Simpler for whom? No, that won’t be possible.” The truth was that he only had Wade’s word for it that Ian was happy, and now, with this move, there was no assurance that life wasn’t very difficult for a thirteen-year-old uprooted from home and school during early adolescence.

Celeste swirled her brandy, sniffed, tipped up the glass until she could poke the very tip of her tongue into the liquor. She kept her eyes downcast, but the affectation was deliberately sexual. He regretted the brief, intimate interlude they’d shared. The cost had been too high, but it was over and would stay that way, no matter how hard Celeste tried to find her way back into his bed.

She rested her head back. “What’s she like?”

“He . . . Oh.” He spread his hand over the pocket with Lori’s picture inside. “A wonderful woman. That’s all I’m going to say. That, and we had a child. Then something happened, something too awful to be true–only it was true. I had to make a decision and it meant I gave up being part of my son’s life. As long as everything was fine with Ian, it was fine with me. Now I’m not sure he is fine, and everything’s changed.”

“You’re wonderful,” she told him, drinking more brandy. “You’ll forgive me for overreacting, I know you will. And I am coming with you. You need someone to look after your needs, too.”

“No, Goddammit!” So much for being the expert on controlling temper. “No, Celeste. A man has to do some things alone. But I promise you I’ll keep you in the picture–as much in the picture as you need to be to do a good job for our interests here. And I appreciate your concern.” He went to the open door and stood there, pointedly waiting.

Uncurling her legs, Celeste got up slowly. She walked toward him until she was close enough for him to see tiny beads of moisture on her brow. The lady was thoroughly unnerved.

“It’s about the woman, really, isn’t it? You want to see if it’s still as good as you remember.”

Even the thought sounded disgusting. “You . . . You wouldn’t understand someone like Lori. I don’t want you to mention her again. Not ever. Do we understand each other?”

Pressing her glass into his hands, she made a silent “Oh,” with peach-colored lips. “Forgive me. I didn’t know you were in love with a saint.”

Anger confused him. “Give my apologies,” he said formally. “I will contact you–but I’m not sure when. Until then, you can say what I’ve told you to say: I’ve been called away on a family emergency.”

She started to say something, but he turned his back on her and went to sit at the writing table. He touched nothing until he heard her footsteps on the stairs. She moved quickly and soon the front door slammed hard enough to rattle windowpanes. Defeat wasn’t a word Celeste liked to include in her vocabulary.

Byron picked up the photo and looked closely at Ian. For the first time he allowed himself to wish he could see the boy more clearly.

Ian was bent over with his face turned aside to accept licks on his neck from the big, black lab he embraced with both arms. A thick head of blond hair and a grin. A tan from what Byron could make out.

He pulled out Lori’s photo and set it on the table beside Ian’s.

And he brought a fist down so hard the impact made him flinch. They should all have been playing together with the dog, laughing together. And Byron and Lori Frazer should be holding each other while they watched their boy romp, secure in his parents’ love–their love for him, and for each other.

He closed his eyes and rested his forehead on his hands. He didn’t want to think, not about that hospital. He didn’t want to hear it’s sounds and smell it’s smells–or see what he had seen there.

Why couldn’t he forget?

“It’ll get better, Byron, son.”

He tried to evade the doctor. “I’m not your son. I’m nobody’s son, never was.” He took several steps along the hospital corridor but, his legs were too heavy.

“Look,” Dr. Harrison said, “this is a tough one. The toughest. My god, I want to help you. Right now you feel–”

Byron’s teeth chattered. “You don’t know how I feel.”

Rubber wheels squeaked on the green and white tiles. The doctor caught Byron’s elbow and steered him closer to one wall. An orderly in blue scrubs pushed a gurney past–to the closed door of the room Byron and Harrison had just left.

“No!” Byron yanked his arm free. “Oh, no. Not yet, please.”

“Byron, why don’t we take a walk.”

The orderly had stopped. “Are you talking to me, sir?” He looked uncertainly at Byron, then at Dr. Harrison.”

“Carry on,” Harrison said.

Before Byron’s stinging eyes, the corridor’s beige walls rippled sluggishly as if they were under water.

He looked at Harrison, and the man with the gurney. They were all under water here, and sinking deeper.

“God’s not finished with me yet,” he muttered.

Harrison came closer, jutting his chin and frowning, his eyes vast and popping behind thick-lensed glasses. “You need some air,” he said.

“Don’t tell me what I need.” Byron pointed to the room into which the orderly pushed his white-draped gurney. “She needs air. My wife needs air.”

“I want you to lie down,” Harrison said. “I’m going to give you a shot of something to make you feel better.”

“Stop telling me something can make me feel better.” Byron sidestepped to the opposite wall. He held out a hand to ward the man off.

Harrison shook his head and said, “Okay, okay. Coffee, then. I’ll get us both some coffee. Come with me.”

“She tried to laugh,” Byron said. Tears burned his throat. “She tried to laugh and she said she didn’t think she’d die today because God hadn’t finished with her yet.”

“Lori had spirit.”

“She was twenty years old.” He reached behind him to feel the cool wall.

“And you’re only twenty-one.” Harrison folded his arms and bowed his head. “Too damn young, both of you.”

“Those people don’t know her,” Byron said. Breath fought its way in and out of his lungs at the same time. “I don’t want”–he rubbed his eyes and tried to focus–“I don’t want strangers touching her.”

“Byron–”

“I don’t want them seeing her like that. Putting their hands on her.” He made to go back the way he’d come, but Harrison stepped into his path. “I want to take care of her. Please. I can do it. Just tell me how and I’ll do it.”

“Hell,” Harrison said, almost to himself. “She’s . . . Lori’s at peace now, Byron. There isn’t any pain, now. Just peace.”

“She never weighed anything. I could carry her where she has to go, couldn’t I?”

“No.”

“Sure I . . . could. I–” With a clicking sound, his throat closed. “I want to hold her–just one more time. Please.”

The doctor’s hands came down on his shoulders. “If I could change this, I would. Damn it to hell, there are never any right words. You can’t hold her now, Byron. Lori’s dead. You’ve got to find a way to let her go.”

“I want to die. I want to be dead, too.”

The banging open of the door jarred his teeth together. He saw the orderly backing from the room.

This time the white drape covered Lori on the gurney. Webbing straps had been buckled over her body.

Laughter welled in Byron’s chest. “They think”–he pointed–“They’re afraid she might run away. And they’re right! Lori can really run. Give her a blue sky and soft grass and she can run . . . and run.”

They wheeled her past.

“Watch her,” Byron called. He wiped the back of a hand over his mouth. “Watch her, you hear? She’s fast.”

A nurse came to stand in front of him. He remembered her face, but not her name. “Will you let me take you upstairs, Mr. Frazer?” She had a light voice. “That’s where you need to be. It’ll help.”

“No.” He shook his head, and shook and shook it. “I can’t Not now.”

“Yes, you can.” Her fingers closed around his left wrist. “I’ll take you. For Lori, Mr. Frazer. You told her you’d be all right. Remember?”

“She wasn’t supposed to die.” Abruptly, the tension drained away. He just wanted to lie down. “Leave me alone.”

“I don’t think that’s a great idea.” The nurse tucked her arm firmly beneath his. “Upstairs we go. There’s someone who needs you to hold him. It’s time you were properly introduced to your son.”

Beneath his face, Byron’s crossed hands were wet. Tears? How long had it been since he’d cried? Not since that afternoon in a San Francisco hospital watching his young wife’s body wheeled away?

Or had he last cried some weeks later, in the dark, in the bed they’d shared?

Yes, that had been it. And he’d turned his face to the wall and prayed he would one day believe what he’d told himself in a lawyer’s office, that he’d been selfless in relinquishing his tiny baby boy to a couple who would never have children of their own.

Now that grateful husband and wife were dead and once more the boy was moving on, moving on to more strangers.

But this time Byron would do what he’d promised Lori, he’d try to do whatever was right.

Perhaps then he could stop hating himself.

7B – Excerpt

7B

Mira
Mar 1, 2001
ISBN-10: 1551667959
ISBN-13: 978-1551667959

Stella’s Thoughts and Excerpt of 7B

The Mayfair Square series has hooked me. I think I’m going to pop over to London in the summertime this year and do more digging around. 7B is Sibyl Smiles and Hunter Lloyd’s (soon to become Sir Hunter Lloyd) story, but I want to think about a few things for the next MS book. Ooh, I’m so excited about 7B — I just love the old-fashioned gas lamp on the cover. They’ve made the glass look like glass. By the way, I’d like you to imagine a teensy bit more snow on those winter pansies! But let’s think about 7B for now and look at the lay of the land.

Sir Septimus Spivey, resident ghost at 7 Mayfair Square, and incurable meddler into the lives of those who live there, has the following to report on Sibyl and Hunter:

"Females. I should have known that even so placid an example as Sibyl Smiles could become difficult. Her sister, Meg, is a headstrong creature, a daring and unpredictable specimen if ever I saw one. Sibyl is the pale shadow, or should I say that she used to be the pale shadow. I cannot imagine what has come over her, unless it is jealousy of her sister, and a determination to prove that she, Sibyl, is capable of equally flamboyant and unsuitable behavior. Oh I am almost certain she trembles within. I have seen how she gathers courage to embark on each outrageous step she plans, but embark, she does. And what if she accomplishes her aim to achieve independence of the most extraordinary kind? Well, then, I shall not only be foiled again, but doubly foiled again.

"You see, my plan is that at last that cold fish Hunter Lloyd, Hester’s nephew and another unwanted occupant at Number 7, will decide that a man in his position — barrister, y’know, and about to be knighted, although I cannot imagine why — must have a wife and a residence of his own. So, Hunter marries Sibyl. Sibyl marries Hunter. The result is obvious, or so I had hoped."

You see — when he was alive, Sir Septimus designed Number 7 and considered it a crowning achievement. He can’t stand the idea of lodgers living there and is determined to get rid of them by any means.

"I believe Hunter may have noticed Miss Sibyl. His gaze lingers, y’know. But Miss Sibyl’s mind is elsewhere. She is rehearsing; making ridiculous faces in front of the mirror. Practices walking with a devil-may-care swagger. A strut. The silly chit is determined to put on a self-assured air, a worldly air, even. With her newfound friends, a group of drab, bluestocking creatures destined for the shelf, she is devising a plan to obtain what she wants most in life.

"Miss Sibyl Smiles wants a child."

"She does not want a husband."

"I shall overcome."

*   *   *   *   *

Poor old Spivey, it would be so much easier on him if he admitted he has no idea about the workings of the "modern" mind. Perhaps you’ll understand exactly how determined Sibyl has become if you listen to a conversation she has with her older, married sister, Meg.

*   *   *   *   *

Sibyl could not stem the rush of blood to her neck and face. "You are examining me, Meg, and looking for flaws. You’ve decided I’m different, well, the only thing different about me is that I, too, wish to have a baby. Why not?"

Astounded, Meg saw when Sibyl ran out of breath. She slumped onto the chaise and Meg didn’t know what to say — a quiet extraordinary turn of affairs for one who was gifted with quick wits.

At last she recovered a little and said softly, "You are eight and twenty. Hardly ancient. You will have your own children, dearest. Why should you think I expect otherwise?"

"I’m tired of waiting," Sibyl said. "There is no eager husband panting to sweep me away. I do not grow younger. The time for me to bear children is now, and that’s what I’ve decided to do . . ."

Unwillingly, Meg made herself consider what Sibyl had actually told her. "I will not question your sincerity in this matter," Meg said at last. Perhaps she had misunderstood Sibyl. "You have met someone who has asked for your hand. You do not love him, but you have accepted him because you want a child at once. That is what you mean?"

"No." There was only determination in Sibyl’s tone. "There isn’t a man in my life, yet."

*   *   *   *   *

What Sibyl hasn’t told her shocked sister is that a man has been selected, the only man Sibyl can imagine approaching with her wild request — and she does intend to ask him, in a most straightforward manner, to help her achieve her heart’s desire.

*   *   *   *   *

"Is this a bad time?" Sibyl asked, entering Hunter’s rooms as soon as he called for her to come in. "I apologize if it is, but I have something to ask you and I want to do so before my courage deserts me.

"I was only joking, of course." She smiled and played casually with he double ruff at her neck. "Courage isn’t likely to desert me, not when I ask a favor of a dear old friend."

"Glad to hear that," Hunter said, but felt unaccountably disquieted by the impression that she had either become more bold, or was pretending to be.

*   *   *   *   *

Hunter already has an inkling that something is different about Sibyl. What follows is extraordinary. Sibyl bungles her request, giving Hunter the impression that she intends to go to the Continent and simply "find" a man to become her child’s father. For her part, Sibyl is embarrassed by her own awkwardness and decides she must "get on with it."

*   *   *   *   *

"What I require cannot be accomplished without a man." The next breath she took was so hard. She would tell him what she would like, tell him straight. "What could be better than to know the father of one’s child is an honorable man, a man one likes so much?"

This was an encounter Hunter would never forget. "Certainly sounds like an absolute requirement to me." She had no interest in a husband, but he would save her from herself, no matter how difficult that proved.

Sibyl could scarcely hear for the pounding of her heart. "Then we are agreed. Surely you know the man I would choose, don’t you? There is only you who could be the perfect one. Will you do this for me, Hunter?"

*   *   *   *   *

As you see, this relationship is off to a most unusual start. Perhaps you think Hunter will turn Sibyl away and everything will fizzle. Or that Sibyl will change her mind and return to her usual, sensible self. Well, I’m very sorry, but for Hunter Lloyd and Sibyl Smiles, nothing will ever be the same.

 

7B

7B

Mira
Mar 1, 2001
ISBN-10: 1551667959
ISBN-13: 978-1551667959

Welcome back to 7 Mayfair Square, an elegant London town house where the unusual is routine.

Sibyl Smiles possesses a most unfashionable leaning toward independence. At eight and twenty, she remains unmarried, yet fostered one great desire: to be a mother. To that end, she requires…a willing gentleman. There is only one man she dares present with such an outrageous request—Hunter Lloyd, her neighbor at Number 7.

Hunter is stunned—Sibyl wants to seduce him! But now is not the time to be distracted by the woman he secretly adores. He has just successfully defended a friend of the king in a sensational trial and has been warned that his life and Sibyl’s are in jeopardy.

Although Hunter is determined to protect her from their enemies, Sibyl is equally determined to carry through with her plan—no matter what challenges come their way…

Out of Print

Read an Excerpt

Once and for Always – Excerpt

Once And For Always

Mira (April 1, 2000)
ISBN-10: 1551665808
ISBN-13: 978-1551665801

Buy at Amazon.com

PROLOGUE

He was the most quiet eighteen-year-old boy she’d ever met. At least, he was quiet around her. She’d seen him being pretty rowdy with his friends.

"Do you like being in Wales?" he asked. "It must be a lot different from America."

Caitlin looked up at him. He stared at the ocean. "I do like it here," she said. "It’s different and that’s exciting." Every day this week he’d followed her from school and asked in his soft Welsh voice if he could walk her home. And each day she’d said yes, her heart thumping, a funny tingling in her arms and legs.

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and kicked at rocks underfoot. She liked the way he dressed, casually but more tidily than most of the other boys in the local school. And she liked him being tall because she was too.

"How long will you stay in Tenby?"

"Until it’s time to start school in Los Angeles in the fall. I wish I could be here longer but I need to be back in the States for my senior year of high school."

"Why did you come?"

Anyone else would have asked these questions when they’d first met. Not Trevor Morgan. Until today he’d barely said two words to her. Their afternoon walks had been carried out in silence until he said goodbye at the gate to her grandparents’ yard. Now the strained set of his fine features, his big hunched shoulders, the occasional sidelong shift of serious gray eyes let her know that he’d probably rehearsed what he wanted to say a dozen times and agonized again and again trying to get started.

They carried on along the cliffs toward her grandparents’ house which lay north of the bustling fishing and resort town of Tenby on the southwest coast of Wales. Just as Trevor had suggested, everything here was foreign to Caitlin. With each day Los Angeles felt farther away and less real.

Trevor stopped walking and faced the sea. "Would you like to sit down for a bit?"

No eighteen-year-old boy back home would be so diffident, so uncomfortable around a girl who interested him. Caitlin was very sure she interested Trevor.

"Yes. There’s a hollow over there. Right at the edge of the cliff. We’ll be mostly under the wind."

Wordlessly he took her hand and guided her through wildly rustling scrub grass into a sandy bowl above a sheer drop to chrysolite green water. As soon as she sat cross-legged on the coarse sand he let her go and dropped down beside her.

"Only another week before school’s out," he remarked.

"Mm. A month hasn’t really been long enough to get much of a feel for the differences between curriculum here and back home. But I’ve got a good idea. And I am looking forward to the summer vacation."

"What will you do?" Now he looked directly at her. His eyes were a steely gray, like the ocean below them on a cloudy day. "I mean what will you do in the holidays?"

"I haven’t really thought about it too much. Help my grandparents around the house, I suppose. And come out here to walk. Maybe sail a little if I can rent a boat. And swim, of course."

"I’ve got a sailboat."

Instantly he became red and poked holes in the sand with a long forefinger.

She mustn’t laugh or he’d think she was amused at him rather than delighted. "Is that an invitation?"

"I suppose so."

"Then thank you. I’ll look forward to it. Do you like to swim — when you’re not playing that awful rugby, that is?"

"Rugger isn’t awful. It’s a great game."

"If you say so." She wouldn’t tell him that the only reason she’d gone out to the school playfield to watch the team practice the strange rough game was because she wanted to see him. He was as noisy as his teammates out there; yelling and pushing in a sport she didn’t understand although it reminded her of American football without helmets and pads for the players.

"We won’t be playing rugger in the summer," Trevor said.

"Does that mean you might want to come swimming then?"

"With you?"

She was the one with the reputation for reticence. The tables were being turned here and she enjoyed the sense of power. "Yes, with me. You take me sailing because you’ve got a boat and I’ll take you swimming because I can swim."

"I can swim, too."

They laughed and Caitlin felt him relax a little.

"Your family runs that big tavern in town, don’t they?"

He nodded and stuck a blade of grass between square even teeth. "The White Knight. Only it’s a pub in this country, not a tavern. My grandfather ran it before my Dad took over."

"And one day I suppose it’ll be your turn."

"No." He sounded adamant. "Not me. I want to go to school in London and become an accountant."

Before she could make the mistake of saying that being an accountant sounded boring, a gull swooped in, squawked, flapped its wings furiously at the sight of Trevor and Caitlin and swept away again. The dried grass around them smelled sweet, the salty aroma from the sea, warm.

Trevor leaned forward and his striped tee-shirt stretched over a broad back. "Where did you get a name like Caitlin? It’s Irish, isn’t it? Caitlin Rhys. They don’t match. You said your father grew up here and you can’t get much more Welsh than Rhys."

When he said her name it sounded different, lilting, nice not flat the way she was used to hearing it. She glanced at his strong tanned arms, his straight brown hair tossed this way and that in the breeze. "My grandmother came from Ireland. Her mother’s name was Caitlin and that’s where it comes from. I guess that’s where I got the red hair too, just like Dad. They call him Red."

"I’ve never seen him. Does he have blue eyes like you too?"

"Yes." Her stomach felt jumpy. Just as she’d been watching him, noticing everything about him, he must have been doing the same with her.

"They say in town that your father’s a big film producer in Hollywood and your mother’s Eileen Allen the actress."

"That’s right." She didn’t want to talk about all that. Here everything was quieter, more down-to-earth, and much as she loved her parents she’d rather not think about the make-believe life she often felt she lived.

"Will you be an actress like your mother? You’d look lovely in the pictures."

She couldn’t see his face but his cough made her certain he was blushing again. "I don’t want to act. I want to go into design. Clothing or something. I’m not sure what."

"I see." The way he said it suggested he didn’t see at all. "You live in Hollywood they say. I can’t even imagine that. It’s something out of the pictures to me."

"It wouldn’t be if you went there. It’s ordinary. But actually I live in Beverly Hills. That’s close to Hollywood though.

"What’s it like to have lots of money and live in a big house with a pool and servants and . . ." He closed his mouth. "That’s rude to ask personal questions. I’m sorry."

"It’s okay. And living that way is okay too, only it’s better here."

He scooted around until he faced her. "You mean that?"

"Yep. This is the first time I can remember when I felt free. You shouldn’t have to wait until you’re seventeen to feel free."

Trevor let sand slip through his fingers before he replied. "I like you, Caitlin Rhys. I’d like to swim and sail a lot with you."

She leaned forward and folded her hands over his. "I’d like that, too," she told him.

He sighed, keeping his eyes on their hands until the silence made Caitlin nervous. She swallowed and swallowed again, waiting for him to say something. He didn’t.

"Trevor," she said when she couldn’t be quiet any longer, "look at me." When he did she leaned to touch her mouth to his and felt him jolt. He pulled back, his eyes startled, then put a hand on each of her shoulders.

He’d never kissed or been kissed by a girl before, Caitlin realized. The idea thrilled her. She returned his gaze, thinking how firm yet gentle his mouth had felt.

The next kiss was better, a lot better. With Caitlin’s guidance, Trevor learned quickly.

The sun was much lower when she remembered that her grandparents would wonder why she was so late getting home.

* * *

"Do you have to go back?"

"You know I do."

Trevor held her so fiercely she could hardly breathe. "Tell them you won’t. Tell them you’d rather go to school here."

August was drawing to a close but the sun beat down into their little hollow above the ocean with more intensity than it had all summer. Caitlin shifted until she could kiss Trevor’s neck. Her insides hurt, and her throat, and her eyes stung.

"Tell them." He shook her slightly and rested his cheek on her hair. "Come October I’ll be in school in London. But it’s not so far and we can see each other there or here whenever I can get the money."

He was old-fashioned. Throughout the vacation weeks he’d refused to allow her to pay for as much as a candy bar and she’d let him spend his earnings from helping his father because she wouldn’t risk hurting his ego.

"Caitlin, will you stop with the silence and say something?" When he was anxious he sounded even more Welsh than usual.

She wanted to stay right where she was forever. But in some ways she saw what had to be more clearly than Trevor. "I must go home to my parents. You know how your mother and father would miss you if you went away then said you didn’t want to go home to them."

"That’s different. I’m the only kid they’ve got."

Caitlin shook her head. "You aren’t thinking. I’m the only child my folks have. But that isn’t the point. I don’t want to go, Trevor, but I have to."

"I love you," he said and she knew he was crying.

Her own tears began. "I love you, too. And I’m going to write to you every week. I promise. Every week."

He sniffed and held her away to see her face. She would go, just as she said she must. Somehow he had to imprint in his mind the way she looked: her tall almost frail body, the long red hair, shot through with sun now, the slender face that showed barely a trace of tan . . . her blue, blue eyes.

"Will you write to me, Trevor?"

"Yes," he whispered. "I’ll write every week, twice a week. And one day we’ll be together again. Promise me that, cari."

He’d called her cari many times before she’d asked what it meant and he’d told her it was Welsh for love. His heart hurt with the love he felt for her.

"We’ll be together again," she said. Her cheeks were wet and he kissed salt tears.

"Forever?" he asked. "Tell me we’ll never stop loving each other and one day we’ll find a way to be with each other forever?"

"Forever," she said. "I promise."

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