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By Linda Turner
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHesitating in the doorway of the Liberty Hill High School cafeteria, Lily Fitzgerald seriously considered slipping outside and leaving before anyone saw her. She shouldn't have come. She'd long since lost touch with the few friends she'd made in school, and she didn't really care for reunions. All everyone ever talked about was how many children they had and how successful they were, and that left her with little to say. She'd never married, let alone had children, and she didn't measure success in dollars and cents. So what if she had a healthy back account? She couldn't remember the last time she'd been happy.
"Lily! You came! I didn't think you would."
Glancing up from her thoughts to find Natalie Bailey sitting by herself at the table closest to the door, Lily had to smile. She and Natalie had been in biology together their junior year and shared a frog in lab. She wouldn't have said they were close friends exactly, but they'd enjoyed working together, and today, she appreciated a friendly face in the crowd.
"I almost didn't," she admitted honestly, joining her at the table.
"Me, neither," Natalie replied. "Then I felt guilty for not wanting to come, which is ridiculous. I'm thirty-three years old, for heaven's sake! I shouldn't let guiltcontrol my life."
"Don't beat yourself up over it," Lily advised. "We all do it."
Her tone was casual enough, but she didn't fool Natalie. Her blue eyes narrowing sharply, she said, "I thought that out of all of us, you'd be the one who did your own thing and found happiness. You were always so together."
Lily almost laughed out loud at the idea of her ever being together. For as long as she could remember, she'd never felt as if she'd had any control over anything, least of all her life. "It was a front," she said honestly. "I was just doing what my father and teachers wanted me to do, being who they wanted me to be. I figured if I played the game the way they wanted me to play, one day I'd be old enough to live my life the way I wanted."
"So has that day come?" Natalie asked, arching an eyebrow at her. "Are you doing what you've always wanted?"
She almost said yes because that was what was expected of her. All her life, she'd always done what was expected of her. But she wasn't a little girl anymore, and she was just so tired of telling people what they wanted to hear. "No," she said quietly, "I'm not."
"Neither are we," Rachel Martin said, blatantly eavesdropping from a nearby table with Abby Saunders and making no apology for it. Joining them, she frowned.
"So what's wrong with us? How come we're not married to a wonderful man and raising little angels like Susan Phillips? We're all as smart and pretty as she is. So why didn't we land butter side up in suburbia? Where did we go wrong?"
"I always let my father influence the decisions I made, and he never wanted what I wanted," Lily said grimly.
"Making him happy seemed more important than making me happy."
"I didn't think I was pretty enough to get a good man," Abby said quietly. "Which is why I'm dating Dennis. No one else seems to be interested."
"What?" Rachel exclaimed, shocked. "Of course they're interested! You just have to have more confidence in yourself. At least you're not stupid like I am. All I ever wanted was a baby, and what did I do? Waste years on a man who had a vasectomy without telling me. How dumb is that?"
"Stop that!" Natalie scolded. "You're not stupid. He's the bad guy, not you. You just believed the man you loved. I did the same thing. I worked six years to put Derek through college and law school because he told me I'd get my chance to go to school when he graduated and opened his own firm. Of course, he also told me he loved me, and all the time, he was playing around on me with his paralegal. So much for love. Now he's living on a Caribbean island with his new wife, and I'm raising our eight-year-old daughter by myself. And there isn't a damn thing I can do about it."
"Yes, there is," Lily told her. "It's not too late for you to go to school yourself. Get your degree and laugh in the jerk's face."
"That's easy for you to say," she retorted. "When are you going to stop letting your father control your life?
And when is Abby going to have the confidence to go out and find herself a good man?"
"And what about me?" Rachel chimed in. "I want a baby and the clock is ticking. How am I going to get pregnant without a man?"
For the first time since she'd walked in the door, Lily smiled. "You don't need a man, Rachel ... just his sperm."
"Oh, no!" she said quickly. "I'm not going there. If I'm going to have a baby, I'm going to do it the traditional way, with a man I love, a wedding ring, the whole nine yards."
"And that's the problem," Natalie said quietly. "We all wish our lives were different, but we're not willing to do what it takes to find happiness. Maybe that's the difference between us and them," she added, nodding toward the dance floor, where their happier classmates were dancing the night away. "They went after what they wanted. We didn't."
"Because we were afraid to take a chance and step outside our comfort zone," Abby said quietly.
Her expression grim, Rachel said, "It's been fifteen years since we graduated from high school, and we're still afraid! How long are we going to live like this?"
Somber, they all just looked at each other. That was a question no one had an answer for.
Excerpted from Deadly Exposure by Linda Turner Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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