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All The Way
By Beverly Bird
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSaturday, September 3 Millsboro, Delaware
The murmur of the diners' voices was muted and pleasant, the air redolent with hints of garlic and bread baking in the open-hearth kitchen. Olivia Slade Guenther was content, enjoying herself and the time with her daughter, then he walked into the restaurant.
His gaze rolled idly over them, then it jerked back to pin them into their flamingo-pink, not-quite-leather booth. Liv felt shock fly through her - icy and hot all at once, searing her nerve endings, then numbing them. Panic gripped her and she thought of running.
It was out of the question. For one thing, Vicky was still digging into her buttermilk-fried chicken, and she was chattering in judgmental tones about the pink rococo ceiling over their heads. And he was between them and the door.
Besides, Liv was damned if she'd let him see her sweat. She gathered air into her lungs and fell back on one of the many lessons she had learned at her Navajo grandmother's knee. You are what you think you are.
"I'm tough as nails," she muttered aloud.
"What?" Her daughter looked up at her, still chewing.
"Eat your dinner."
Vicky swallowed, frowned. "I was."
"Then concentrate on it."
"Mom, it's just chicken - and it's not evenas good as Aunt Kiki's. How much can I think about it?"
There was that, Liv thought. Vicky was often too smart for her own good - not to mention her mother's.
Hunter Hawk-Cole was three feet away now, approaching them.
"Don't say a word," Liv hissed under her breath.
"Because I said so." Liv groaned aloud. They were the very words she had promised herself she would never say to a child of hers should she be blessed enough to have one. Then she opened her mouth and they fell out, shattering like fine china on the restaurant table. Less than a minute after he had walked back into her life, Hunter was once again challenging everything she knew about herself.
He stopped beside their table. One glance at Vicky and his midnight-blue eyes narrowed with speculation. No matter that Vicky was small for her age, that she could easily have passed for seven or even six. No matter that Hunter had every reason to believe she was Johnny Guenther's daughter. Liv knew he'd figured it out that quickly - Vicky was his own.
Her heart started pistoning. Tough as nails indeed. "Of all the gin joints in all the world ..." Hunter's voice trailed off. "Well, Liv. What were the odds of us running into each other again on the East Coast?"
His voice had always reminded her of smoke. It had a way of sliding over her skin, of heating it to the point where she'd no longer needed promises. Liv grabbed her wineglass and downed half of its contents. "I was hoping for slim to none."
"Then you've turned into a gambler after all." His words went through her like a knife that had been passed through flame. Liv was saved from answering by a group of Hunter's fans.
As soon as they recognized him, diners popped up from the surrounding tables like hyacinths in a May garden. They crowded him, holding out menus, napkins, a few prepurchased race-day programs. He signed each of them without a smile, accessible enough but keeping that look about him that she'd noticed on television. It said there was something inside him that no one would ever touch again.
She knew what had changed him - or at least what he'd probably like her to think it was. Not you, Liv. You're the only person who ever knew when I was gone. There had been anger and betrayal in his eyes when he had spoken those words to her, eight and a half years ago over a scarred oaken bar. But in the end, he'd gone.
When Hunter handed a menu back to a diner who was surely going to have to pay for it, silence proved to be too much for Vicky. She swallowed the last bite of her chicken. "What are you, famous or something?"
"Or something." Hunter finally grinned for Vicky's benefit. The curve of his mouth melted everything inside Liv as though the past eight and a half years hadn't happened.
"Are you a movie star?" Vicky asked. Hunter rested his palms on the polished surface of the table to lean closer to her. Liv felt something shrivel inside her as the man and child went nose to identical nose - then there were those same blue eyes, the same onyx hair, that stubborn thrust of both their jaws.
Vicky did not look like Liv. And she didn't look like Johnny Guenther at all. At least, Liv didn't think so. She had never forgotten a plane or an angle of Hunter's face, but she had a hard time recalling Johnny's features.
"Nope," he told Vicky. "I drive cars."
"That's not special."
"It is when you do it very, very fast."
She thought about it. "My mom never does that."
His eyes angled off her, to Liv. "Still methodical about getting where you're going, Liv?"
"I'm exactly where I want to be, thanks." Her nerves were beginning to feel like cut crystal, painfully fragile under her skin.
"Divorced?" His dark-blue eyes fixed on her ringless left hand.
Liv let go of her wineglass as though a snake had suddenly appeared inside it. She dropped her hand to her lap, under the table.
"And touchy about it," he concluded.
"Now that all the social niceties have been exchanged," she replied, "you can feel free to go." Her throat felt too tight for the words.
He shot a brow up as though considering it, then he shook his head. "I don't see that happening this time around."
It was a promise and a threat. Liv had never known him to hesitate to make good on either one.
He straightened from their table, and she watched him stroll to one that had apparently been reserved for his party at the back of the restaurant. Those incredible blue eyes raked her one more time before he was seated. Liv took Vicky's hand quickly.
"Come on, honey. Let's go."
"But I want dessert! That bread pudding -" Vicky broke off when Liv practically lifted her from the booth.
"We'll stop at an ice cream stand on the way back to the motel," Liv promised.
Vicky wrinkled her nose. "Oh, yuck, Mom. Please."
"For once - just for once - couldn't you be a normal child?" But it wouldn't happen, Liv thought helplessly, it could never happen, because her daughter had been born into a lie and, to Liv's great despair, nothing in her life had ever been very normal at all.
Excerpted from All The Way by Beverly Bird Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.