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Gina Tessereck mentally braced herself for the wave of guilt she always felt at upsetting her mother. To her surprise, it didn't come. Cautiously she probed and found nothing. Nothing at all. It was as if all of her feelings were locked behind a tightly closed door. A door she didn't dare open because if she did ...
"I asked you a question, Gina! Why didn't you let me know you were home from work early? You know how much I worry at the least little unexplained noise. Really, at twenty-seven, you'd think you might have learned a little consideration. It won't be long before I'll be gone, and you can do exactly as you wish."
Gina looked up from the suitcase she had been haphazardly flinging clothes into, and studied her mother's small, delicate features. Why had she never noticed the hardness in her mother's china-blue eyes or the petulant droop of her mouth?
"What is the matter with you? Why are you standing there gawking at me? You haven't lost your job, have you?" Helen's voice sharpened.
"I didn't lose it, Mother. I resigned it. Effective immediately."
Gina walked over to her closet and opened the door, instinctively rejecting the clothes inside. All those ruffles and soft pastels didn't suit her. They suited her mother's petite figure and blond coloring. On her own five-ten frame they looked fussy, and the pale pastels made her look washed-out.
Never again would she buy something that didn't suit her simply to keep the peace, she vowed as she closed the door with a decided snap.
"How many times have I told you not to slam doors?" her mother demanded.
"I don't know," Gina said honestly. "But I do know that this is the last time you'll ever have to do it, because I'm leaving."
"Leaving!" Her mother clutched her chest and started to gasp. "I feel ..."
Gina watched with a feeling of numbness. "You missed your calling, Mother. You should have gone on the stage."
Turning away, Gina scooped the last of her underwear out of her dresser drawer, tossed it into her suitcase and yanked the zipper closed.
Her mother's mouth fell open in shock at Gina's totally unexpected response. "How can you say that to your own mother?"
"Come to that, how could you lie to your own daughter? Your doctor called me at work this morning and asked me to come by his office on my lunch hour. It was a most enlightening meeting." Gina cringed at the humiliating memory. "He gave me a lecture about how I was stifling you. About how you'd told him I'd sabotaged your efforts to get a job to help fill your time since Dad died." Gina's rigid control cracked slightly at the thought of her beloved father. "The doctor also assured me there was absolutely nothing wrong with your heart."
"You probably misunderstood him," her mother insisted. "You really aren't the world's brightest person, you know."
Gina ignored the oft-repeated comment.
"And after I left his office, I got to wondering what else you might have lied to me about, so I went to see the lawyer who handled Dad's estate."
"You had no right!"
Gina's light blue eyes momentarily darkened with anger. "As one of the beneficiaries, I had every right. I found out that, far from leaving you almost penniless as you'd claimed, Dad left you more than enough money to live on. Not only that but he left me enough money to finish my degree."
Gina jerked her suitcase off the bed and started toward the door.
"But you can't leave me!" her mother screamed. "I love you."
Gina paused and looked back at her mother. "Is love your excuse or your explanation for what you've done?"
Her mother ignored the question. "Where are you going? What are you going to do?"
"I'm going as far away from here as I can get, and as for what I'm going to do, I intend to start living instead of just existing," Gina said as she turned and walked out the door.
Gina gently touched the brakes of her car as she rounded a sharp bend in the narrow Massachusetts road and saw the lights of a small village directly ahead.
She shifted restlessly, trying to relieve some of the stiffness driving all day had caused. Her stomach, as if in sympathy with her muscles, gave a sudden rumble, reminding her that it had been a long time since lunch.
When she reached the village, she slowed to a crawl, looking for someplace to eat. Finding a brightly lit diner, she parked in front of it.
Grabbing her purse, she got out of the car and automatically locked it. A fugitive gust of crisp September wind raised goose bumps on her bare arms and whipped her reddish-brown hair into her face. She absently pushed it back as she considered unlocking the car and digging through her luggage to find a sweater. Finally she decided she wouldn't be outside long enough for it to be worth the trouble.
She started toward the restaurant and then paused when a garish sign across the street advertising Bill's Bar caught her eye. Turning, she studied the faintly dilapidated building, taking in what seemed to be a score of neon signs advertising beers, most of which she'd never heard of.
Her gaze swung back to the restaurant. It looked staidly middle class and boringly respectable. Whereas Bill's Bar looked daring. Adventurous. In keeping with the new life she was determined to carve for herself.
Definitely Bill's Bar, she decided.
Not giving herself a chance to change her mind, she quickly crossed the street, pushed open the bar's door and stepped inside.
Nervously her gaze swept the crowded, noisy room. Feeling conspicuous, she hurriedly sat down at an empty table near the door. Picking up the cardboard menu lying on the red-and-white-checked plastic tablecloth, she studied it. It was heavy on imported beers and light on food.
A middle-aged waitress appeared a few minutes later. "What can I get you?"
"A bowl of chili, apple pie and a cup of coffee," Gina said.
"Won't be a minute." The waitress headed back to the kitchen, calling out Gina's order to someone named Margie as she went.
Excerpted from Dr. Charming by Judith McWilliams Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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