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A Hickey For Harriet/A Cradle For Caroline
By Nancy Warren
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHarriet! You can't call a beautiful baby Harriet, she'll grow up wearing twinsets and kilts. Call her Ashley, Crystal, Jennifer, Britney, Macy ...
"Macy." The name passed softly between gently curving lips as Harriet slowly woke and the last wisps of her dream faded. Fully awake, she cursed her name as she did most mornings she wasn't running late for her job as copy editor at the Pasqualie Standard, Pasqualie, Washington's broadsheet newspaper.
A name like Harriet took the stuffing out of a person, robbed her of dreams. It was a name you couldn't help but grow into as surely as you turned out to have a red tint to your hair, freckles and one front tooth that overlapped the other. Harriet Adelaide MacPherson. It was hopeless.
With a name like Harriet, it was fate that she'd been raised by maiden aunts. That's right - aunts. One wasn't enough. She got stuck with two. Great- aunts in fact.
Her mother had died giving birth to her, just as though it were still Victorian times. Death in childbirth had conjured Dickensian images and frankly encouraged the pair of maiden aunts to come up with a name like Harriet. Of course she was sorry her mother had died, but she'd never known her, after all, so Harriet couldn't help being just a little resentful her mother hadn't hung on long enough to name her only daughter.
Still, Harriet was an optimist at heart. She pushed back the covers and rose, stretched in her flannel nightie and crept across her high-ceilinged bedroom to the ballet barre her aunts had installed for her years ago. Automatically, she put her feet in position one, held one hand gracefully outstretched, grasped the barre with the other and began her stretching routine.
Twenty minutes later she felt alive and ready to face the day. She showered, dressed, made her bed, carefully smoothing all the wrinkles from the bed-cover patterned in tiny pink rosebuds, and then descended the stairs and made her way to the old-fashioned kitchen.
"Good morning, dear," Aunt Lavinia said, glancing up from today's copy of the Standard. Though she'd retired a decade earlier, Lavinia still dressed every morning in a crisply ironed blouse and one of her endless tweed skirts. She abhorred trousers for women and, even though the only makeup she wore was lipstick, she wouldn't be seen at the breakfast table without it.
The newspaper crackled as she turned a page and continued reading. She tsked and then turned to Harriet, tucking her chin so she could regard her niece over her reading glasses. "I can see you didn't edit this piece." She pointed to a long-winded editorial, which, thankfully, Harriet hadn't in fact seen. "Three comma splices, two misplaced modifiers and a dangling participle."
"Whoever wrote it was certainly never a student of yours, Lavinia," Aunt Elspeth said, dishing oatmeal into three bowls. She wore one of her flowered cotton housedresses, support hose to ease her varicose veins, and the sheepskin slippers Harriet had bought her last Christmas.
A blue-and-white striped pitcher of real cream sat in the middle of the table; the aunts considered a brisk daily walk a certain antidote to cholesterol. A matching bowl contained brown sugar. A brown Betty full of strong English tea and three small glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice completed the breakfast.
Harriet took her usual seat, the one she'd sat in since she was old enough to sit, shook out her crisply ironed napkin and laid it on her lap.
She should move out, Harriet thought, as she thought at least once each day. Then she scooped into her porridge, made exactly the way she liked it, and sipped the tea Aunt Elspeth passed her - already milked and sugared to her preference.
Guilt smote her. She was the center of their lives. How could she leave them?
"What are you going to do today, dear?" Aunt Elspeth asked, her kindly wrinkled face turned to her.
"Never mind, Elspeth. Harriet's twenty-three. She's entitled to her secrets," Aunt Lavinia said firmly.
In a pig's eye. Harriet swallowed her porridge. Twenty-three or not, it would never do to speak with her mouth full. "I've got field-hockey practice after work. I probably won't be home until about seven. But don't worry, I can get dinner out."
"Nonsense, dear. Don't waste your money. I'll put on something you can reheat when you get in."
"Don't you have a date tonight?" Aunt Lavinia asked.
The elder and bossier of the aunts, Lavinia was a retired history teacher whose formidable reputation was legendary in Pasqualie. She rarely asked a question if she didn't already have the answer.
The porridge hit Harriet's stomach like a rockslide and she glanced up in horror. "Is that tonight?"
"I would have thought you could keep up with your own social calendar, not rely on a seventy-seven-year-old woman to do it for you."
"I forgot," she groaned.
"It would be very poor manners to forget a social engagement to such a promising young man."
Harriet sighed grumpily. "He's a mortician. How promising is that?"
Aunt Lavinia stared at her as though she'd flunked a pop quiz. "The fastest growing segment of the population is seniors. I'd say his career choice was extremely intelligent."
Harvey Wallenbrau had lived in Pasqualie all his life. He was only a couple of years older than she so he wasn't exactly a stranger. If his career choice was intelligent, it was the only thing about him that was. "He smells of formaldehyde," she said, wishing she'd said no to a date arranged by her aunts, just once. She knew they loved her and wanted to see her happily married, but this matchmaking mania was getting to be too much. Aunt Lavinia needed a new hobby.
"Oh, my stars, that's right," said Aunt Elspeth. She turned to the gardening club calendar hanging beside the stove. "He's coming for you at eight o'clock."
She could get angry. She could tell them they had no right to interfere in her life. She could move out and get her own place. But all their dreams centered around her, and for some reason, Harriet tried to fulfill their youthful hopes for them. Maybe it was because of Aunt Elspeth's well-known but never-referred-to disappointment in her youth, and the fact that Lavinia's fiancé had been killed in World War II.
But they loved her, and she loved them, and she'd get through an evening with a greasy-haired mortician somehow. So Harriet smiled brightly at them as though she'd spend all day looking forward to her date, already planning how she'd get out of having to agree to a second one.
Excerpted from A Hickey For Harriet/A Cradle For Caroline by Nancy Warren Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.