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Amber By Night
By Sharon Sala
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe back alley between Fourth Street and Beauregard Boulevard was not the best place in Tulip, Georgia to break down, but worn u-joints were not a model of consideration. And, considering the fact that it was nearly sundown and the only thing stirring in Tulip at this time of evening was air, Tyler Savage was in a bit of a fix.
He lay flat on his back beneath his pickup truck, cursing the fading light and his bad luck all in the same disgusted breath. And, because he was so focused on finding and stopping the flow of oil dripping from somewhere up above his head, he didn't hear the sound of running footsteps coming down the alley until they were almost upon him.
Instinctively, he turned to look and got a fairly good view of a woman running down the alley. From where he was lying, he couldn't see much above her neck, but he got a real good look at the gray sweatsuit she was wearing. It was nondescript, but that was where ordinary ended. She had exceedingly long legs, a trim figure and a bosom that was bouncing enticingly as she ran.
Out of appreciation ... and partly out of habit ... he whistled and then grinned when she broke her stride. But before he could drag himself out from beneath the truck and procure an introduction, a large dollop of oil took the opportunity to fall. It landed directly on the bridge of Tyler's nose before splattering equally in both directions and blinding him to everything but the quick sting of oil filming across his vision.
"Son of a ... "
He grabbed for a rag, but not in time to stop the damage. With another muttered curse, he came out from under the truck, wiping at his eyes with the rag and both hands. By the time he could see, she was nowhere in sight. In disgust, he kicked a rear tire with the toe of his boot and started walking in the direction of Raymond Earl Showalter's house. Raymond Earl owned the only garage in town and, in his single days, had been a good running buddy of Tyler's.
As Tyler walked, he kept trying to think who in the world that woman could have been. To his knowledge, none of the females in Tulip were much prone to physical fitness to prolong their youthful appearances. They seemed more inclined to the old southern way of life of getting married while they were still in the bud. It was only after several years of wedded bliss and all the babies they intended to bear, that a goodly portion of them saw it as their just due to bloom to full figure. And to the ladies' credit, none of the husbands Tyler knew seemed upset with the deal.
So, if he hadn't imagined what he'd just seen, and he was pretty sure he hadn't lost his instincts for the opposite sex, there was a new girl in town. But who in the world was she?
While Tyler was eliciting Raymond Earl's aid, Amelia Beauchamp was hunkered down in the front seat of Raelene Stringer's old car and praying for all she was worth as Raelene sped out of town.
The near-confrontation in the alley had been a close call, Amelia's first since starting her charade. The fact that she'd almost been caught wasn't nearly as frightening as who'd nearly caught her.
Tyler Savage, of all people! Her heart was still pounding as she finally straightened up in the seat and began putting on her makeup and fixing her hair. She yanked down the sun visor and then grimaced. You sissy, she thought, and then relaxed as her hands flew about a task that was now familiar. The fact that her heart was racing and her eyes were glitter bright was entirely due to that man. Tyler Dean Savage was Tulip's resident rake. That he was also single and constantly on the make did nothing to help her equilibrium.
Amelia had had a thing for Tyler Savage for more years than she cared to remember. Unfortunately, Tyler wouldn't have given Amelia the time of day. She glared at herself in the mirror and sighed. But Amber ... that was another story. If only, she thought, she dared be one and the same.
The grandfather clock standing guard in the darkened hallway struck an accusing two o'clock, in the morning, that is - as Amelia Beauchamp crept back into the house where she lived, shut and locked the front door and then breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
Another night of secrets was behind her, and with only six hours of promised sleep beckoning her to her bed, she slipped quietly up the staircase and into her room, taking care not to step on the third step from the top. It squeaked.
The beautiful face staring back at her in the mirror over her dresser would have shocked her aunts. They would not have recognized their Amelia. She leaned forward, frowning at her reflection as she slipped dangling ruby earrings from her ears. With weariness in every movement, she brushed her rich, brown hair into a smooth, orderly fashion and coiled it into one long loose braid. Jabbing her finger into a jar of cold cream, she swiped the thick lotion roughly across her mouth and eyelids. Red lipstick and gold-flecked eye shadow came off on a handful of tissues which she then flushed down the toilet. There could be no lingering reminders of Amber in this house. This is where Amelia lived.
As she stepped out of her sweatsuit and stuffed it in the back of her closet, an owl hooted softly outside her bedroom window, the only witness to Amelia's deceit. Grabbing a nightgown from a hook on the door, she slipped it on, savoring the familiarity of this fabric as opposed to the shiny red satin that she'd worn on the job.
No sooner had her head touched the pillow than her eyes closed. Aware that she sighed, it was the last thing she heard until morning when Aunt Wilhemina's voice echoed loudly up the staircase.
"Ahmeelya! It's past time to get up. You'll be late for work."
Amelia groaned and rolled out of bed. It was her own fault that she felt like hell, but if her plan worked, it would be worth it.
When she'd first come to live with her great-aunts, Wilhemina and Rosemary Beauchamp, she'd been a skinny, too-tall nine-year-old and they, the only living relatives that could be found after her missionary parents were killed in a Mexican earthquake.
Amelia had been used to living rather freely from country to country - from custom to custom. The culture shock she experienced when she came to live with two old-maid aunts was similar to the shock they received when she arrived. But the Beauchamps were nothing if not proper, and what was right was right. Kin was kin. Here she was. Stay she must. So they began to mold her into a smaller, younger replica of themselves and thus began the starching of Amelia Ann.
Yet in spite of their persistence, she managed to retain most of her own personality during elementary and secondary schools. She even managed to exhibit some independence during her college years in nearby Savannah. She'd kept a fairly normal social life during that time, which had even resulted in one serious suitor who'd lasted clear up to the time she introduced him to the aunts. After that, things were never the same between them.
Amelia supposed that he'd looked into the future, seen the responsibilities of not only a wife but two elderly females to look after, and bolted. She'd been mildly devastated at the time, but it had passed sooner than she would have liked. Her suitor had absconded with love, her trust in men and her virginity. It took the heart right out of her independence.
She was unaware that with the passing of time, she'd begun dressing like her aunts, acting like them and even had a future mapped out by them. And time had done her another rare favor. Her broken heart had completely healed and her trust in men in general was normal. The only thing that could never be returned was her virginity. In some small measure, she was glad. She would hate to die an old maid - and a virgin.
Excerpted from Amber By Night by Sharon Sala Copyright © 2003 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.